Dale with first big brown trout caught fly fishing with the New Zealand Fly Fishing Company Taupo fly fishing guides

Taupo & Tongariro River Fly Fishing Report & Review Summer 2023

Roy Bowers Fly fishing reports

Summer in New Zealand has come and gone, and almost like clockwork on the 1st of March temperatures overnight seemed to drop a few degrees.

It’s that awesome time of the year again where there are great fly fishing options everywhere around the Taupo region and Central NZ North Island backcountry waters. Brown trout are beginning to come up the local rivers ready to spawn, while recent rain has spurred an increase in feeding. The river mouths have trout feeding up to put on condition for spawning, and the backcountry rivers have some beautifully conditioned trout after months of chomping cicadas and other abundant insect life. We are incredibly lucky to live here.

nice rainbow trout caught on learn to fly fish day

The end of December saw a huge downpour which was frustrating as we had some lovely clients coming fishing and conditions were less than ideal for them. Dustin, one of our top guides, was able to read the conditions and completely change plans and still get them into fish. It really highlighted that whilst we can’t control the weather or the fish behaviour, we can control and change our methods and approach – this is the real value of a fly fishing guide who not only has a Plan A and Plan B, but also a Plan C and D and E.

Since then most of summer has been fairly settled with long hot spells and a lot of insect life. The Mohaka River to the east has still been recovering from the cyclone a year ago, but other rivers to the east have produced quality rainbow trout in abundance for clients who are willing to ‘bush-bash’ a little in places to get to remote spots. Our favourite backcountry rivers like the Whanganui to the south of Lake Taupo have provided lots of action over the past months with clients getting some magic photos holding browns and rainbows in the 5-8 lb range. More often than not clients lose these big fish simply because all instructions go out the window as your jaw drops and you freeze and watch the line peeling off your reel, while your guide is telling you “keep your rod tip up and lets run after it!” Dry fly droppers have worked well fishing pocket water with a C3 Woomfah or Churnobyl above a size 16 Code Red or Flashback Pheasant Tail.

Into February and March, with low clear conditions and trout having seen more anglers, you need to lengthen your leaders and apply more stealth approaching pools. Always fish the near water first as often you’ll see a lovely brown trout fin out from under your feet and head to deeper water as you inadvertently step over it toward where you think the fish are holding.

Dale first NZ brown trout caught fly fishing with the NZ Flyfishing Co Taupo Fly Fishing Guides

Tongariro River fly fishing has been a bit hot and cold (figuratively speaking) through February and March and doesn’t seem to be holding the same numbers of brownies as this time last year. They will arrive with the next drop in the barometer, and reports from boats jigging in the lake suggest there will be bumper numbers of spawning rainbows up in the winter months. Right now those fish are gorging on smelt 40 metres below the surface of Lake Taupo, but from May onwards we’ll see more of them in local rivers. The latest trout data from the Department of Conservation who manage the fishery, suggest fish numbers and quality are high, but not quite at the peak of 2021. Whilst the brownies seem slower up the Tongariro, the Waitahanui River has been holding some lovely brown trout which can be incredibly fussy and even harder to land as they know every snag in the river and use them to their advantage. They have been moving up quite quickly and at times you’ll return to a beat in the river that had a number yesterday to find that today they’ve all gone. If you find one in a pool and are casting to it, don’t give but literally throw every different fly in your fly box at it – we’ve seen fish sit for 20 minutes or more ignoring offerings only to suddenly attack one.

Our South Island locations have been producing some lovely brown trout, with fishing from Christchurch in February going great for those who don’t mind a good walk, while Queenstown fly fishing has seen fewer fish landed but clients still delighted with the ones they do hold onto, and with the epic locations they visit. Twizel fly fishing has been our red hot location down south with a few amazing days where there was a sudden change of temperature such as snow on the hills and then the trout all turned on.

Autumn fishing is looking good in all locations and we love this time of year as the summer rush has gone and there is less pressure on the rivers. The cicadas stop but the lace-wings take their place in the food chain, and whilst you might not still be able to swim in the lake or ocean, you can enjoy some really great fishing instead.

FAQ – When is the best time to come fly fishing in New Zealand if I am beginner?

We teach beginners to fly fish all year round, and as always we are 100% committed to helping clients experience what it’s like to hook and land a good strong trout. Quite often we have the situation where an experienced fly-fisho brings along a partner who wants to enjoy the scenery and adventure, and simply ‘have a go’ at fly fishing, and this usually happens over the busy summer period where we get most of our international clients.

If you have flexibility and want the easiest time to learn to fly fish then come to Taupo in the winter-spring months from June through September. This is when hundreds of trout are coming up the rivers in waves to spawn. You can’t sight-fish as easily as in summer, and the weather can be cold, but the trout are generally easier to hook and there are more of them. The Department of Conservation encourages anglers to keep some of their catch so you can even take a couple home to cook or have them smoked at the local butcher.

Two final notes –

Friends who were out fishing this summer support a really great charity called Casting for Hope that incorporates fly fishing into helping women with cancer , the website is here and Facebook page here so please take a look and follow them if you can because they do some really great work.

I’ll hopefully be in Austin Texas later in the year talking to some adventure travel companies and if possible attending some fishing expos, so if you are nearby come and say Hi. I’ll have more info in the next fishing report.

Until next time, tight lines, stay safe and make the most to enjoy the blessing of the outdoors and the friendships that come from fly fishing.

Roy and the NZFC team