The central North Island backcountry fly fishing season has started with a hiss and a roar. There is nothing more satisfying than taking a novice angler like our client above and getting them casting to and landing stunning wild trout – this is the essence of fly fishing guiding which I wish every client could experience (although of course we can’t control nature). Some good patches of dry conditions have meant a lot of insect life on rivers such as the Whirinaki, Whakapapa and Waimarino, and this means the trout are feeding well and also looking up to the surface. Dry-fly dropper rigs have been working well with a Royal Wulff or Parachute Adams trailing a tiny natural nymph such as a Pheasant Tail through the tails of pools and ripples in water a metre or so deep.
It’s crazy that it is mid November and we are still picking up fresh run spawning rainbow trout when fly fishing the Tongariro River. A lovely couple from Australia hooked over a dozen earlier this week and two were in such great condition they were sent off to Whiskery Mike in Turangi to be smoked. When I started fishing the Tongariro 35 years ago the spawning runs were over by the end of August, but in recent years the Department of Conservation rangers have recorded two thirds of trout in the fish traps being in September and October. The winter season got off to a slow start as there was not a lot of rain early on then we got three short sharp floods in May where the Tongariro topped 300 cumecs, compared to a regular flow around 26 cumecs. This got some early spawners in the river but we then had no more significant rain triggers until a 419 cumec flood in September. As a result, the rivermouth fishing was superb as there were large numbers of trout stacked up ready to run, and then from late June onward we got a steady stream of spawning trout, not heading up in huge runs but more of a constant trickle. Our annual fishing comp at Tongariro Lodge in September saw some of the best fishing we’d seen in many years, with a number of anglers having days of 20+ hook-ups. It was also refreshing to see the lower braids in the Tongariro River coming back after being washed out last year. During our comp I found one lovely ripple where I sat and counted dozens of rainbow trout moving up and I hooked 15 in an hour and a half before stopping to just sit and enjoy watching them.
Summer is meant to be long, hot and dry which will see an explosion of both insect life and weed growth, meaning wading will be more slippery, but the trout will be fatter and in great condition. As rivers will be low and clear we will need to be stalking quietly and casting more accurately, with longer leaders and naturals in the 16 and 18 sizes. High temperatures will see a good cicada season which is great for guiding as it is one of the most thrilling things to see a big shadow up ahead of you and to cast a big black cicada letting it splash on the water only to see the flash of a tail and a big green snout suck in your fly. The hardest part can be remembering to say ‘God Save The Queen (or King)’ or ‘God Bless America’ or ‘Ripper Bonza Beauty Grouse’ (depending where you’re from) before you strike and set the hook!
FAQ: When is the best time to come if I want to catch lots of trout?
The highest concentration of trout in local rivers are in winter when single pools can hold dozens and dozens of fresh run trout. This is the time when lucky (or skilled) anglers talk about 20+ fish days, but this can come down to pure luck with timing. There is a sweet spot of a few days immediately after we’ve had heavy rain and lots of trout have entered the rivers. The water is still a bit dirty but is dropping and you get a combination of less visibility for the trout to see you or to inspect your flies too much, and also the fact that trout are fresh in the river and have not sat in a pool for two weeks watching dozens of anglers walk past and seeing hundreds of identical glo-bug flies floating past. May through July is when there is the most pressure from eager locals wanting to catch trout to eat, and then in August and September things get a little quieter especially on weekdays. So if you have complete flexibility to plan a trip then September can be a great month although it pays to check when the New Zealand school holidays are on. It’s also worth noting if bringing a non-fishing partner that New Zealand in the middle of winter can be wet and cold and not nearly as fun or attractive as in summer.
As we head into the silly-season we wish you all a happy and safe Christmas. We’ve got some great fly fishing guides on our team in the South Island around Queenstown, Twizel and Tekapo, and we’ll be heading down that way for an adventure in late summer. If you or any friends or relatives are planning a trip our way then get in touch and we can organise some unique fishing for them. All the best and tight lines.
Roy and the team