||When I recently decided against pulling a sicky and taking off with my flatmates on a Mokes mission, Sean and Billy accused me of batting for the other side. I told them that as much as I’d love to hook into a few giant snaps, I’ve got better things to do than hang out with no hopers like them. Truth is, I really did. The big snaps could wait another month or so because the Tongariro has been going off this year, and I didn't want to miss any of it.
I’d decided a while back to put a concentrated effort in this season and make sure I timed my trips down from Auckland with the fresh rains that put runs into the river. I missed the Easter run as my mate Cecil and I were rafting the Rangitiaki and having a blast with the fresh run of fish at Aniwhenua. The same rain put good fresh into the Tongariro and plenty of anglers enjoyed a very heavy run of excellent fish.
The volcanic plateau dried up for six weeks after that and the river naturally dropped to very low levels and became crystal clear, making the fishing really difficult. The fish were still in the river from Easter but had obviously bunkered down into the deepest lies to take shelter from the constant rain of deadly pom poms. Only the old and the wise were catching them though. I was obviously not one of them.
My first trip down was on the fifth week of this dry spell and it was timed with the reunion of a few good mates who hadn’t seen each other for a while. We played up from the word go and it lasted most of the weekend so the fishing probably suffered a bit. The All Blacks kicked the Aussies butts so we were still ecstatic. Greg and Fritz caught a few on Saturday but Rol, Matt and I were useless.
On the Sunday morning I was the only one to get out of bed early after the rugby... in most places I suspect! It certainly paid off though as I had a great morning on the Poutu. While waiting for the sun to provide enough light to see your indicator, I was joined by another angler who was exploring the river for the first time. We worked the water together and had a great couple of hours taking eight fish between us. When I got back to the motel the boys were just stirring from deep comas and showed no signs of motivation but were pleased to see we had fresh fish for dinner.
When a good dump of rain hit the country the following week, I had already made up my mind a long time before what I’d be up to that weekend. I called Alan Simmons in Turangi on Thursday night to check out the conditions and he told me that he had put clients onto 37 fish that day in one pool as the river level was coming up. It was looking hot and I was chomping at the bit to get down there.
I raced down alone and on arrival in Turangi on Friday night, was disappointed to find the river as high and dirty as it was. The volcanic ash tends to settle pretty quick but I still didn’t see any opportunity for a morning fish in it. I made my mind up to head back up the Poutu as it would probably clear faster.
Sure enough, at first light I could see a good metre into the water and I was very confident that there would be plenty of fish in the river with the fresh. I had the place to myself and caught seven beautiful fresh fish, releasing all but one and probably lost that many more. The fish were there for the taking in all the obvious lies but could prove a real handful in the fast water once hooked. You can’t charge off after a fish in this river if it decides to take off downstream. I’ve watched several friends take dips here to my huge amusement, yet nervously realize that my time is most likely coming. The morning was capped off with a real treat, a fish that was destined to make my season.
I was keen to get back to the main river as I had a sneaking suspicion I was missing something of epic proportions. But I just couldn’t pull myself away, the fishing was sensational right here. So I pushed on upstream.
I found myself casting to several fish in shallow water in front of me, with one good hen obviously laying her eggs. I had been using a relatively heavy bomb to get my glo bug down in a hurry and initially thought I’d hooked the bottom when my indicator stopped. I struck anyway and to my amazement watched one the bigger fish do a vigorous headshake that transmitted down the rod and confirmed the hook up. It had taken the bomb! I was even more amazed when the fish rolled on the surface and I saw the huge silvery girth of a big brown hen. This was definitely a good fish, and considerably bigger than anything I'd been attached to for several years.
The heart was racing as it rolled directly downstream on the surface and into my legs, while I was on furiously stripping line on my tippy toes and reaching for the sky with the rod tip. I hopped out of the way and it dropped into the pool below me and sat on the bottom for a minute or two, giving me the opportunity to assess the minute chance I had of stopping it if it decided to run. I concluded that it wasn't worth thinking about as lady luck was going to have to play her part if I was to have any chance.
On 6lb fluorocarbon I didn’t see that time was going to make much difference so I loaded up with as much side pressure as I dared and the fish obliged by swimming straight into the bank like an eel. I walked downstream to get behind it and had the net waiting as I turned her around into the current again and she swum straight into it! I couldn’t believe it, the fish of a lifetime in a couple of minutes. As soon as I lifted the fish out of the water I knew she was over 10 lbs and unfortunately time was up for this old girl.
I excitedly raced back to town to try and find anyone with some scales so I could weigh my fish. The first person I met was a cheerful little old lady at the bridge pool. She had a grin from ear to ear but unfortunately no scales. She was giggling about how good the fishing was all over the river and wasn’t too surprised when I told her about my big one. She wandered down to the stream and threw out a neat cast with her wet line and hooked up on the first swing. She was still giggling as I left her playing the fish.
I got the big brown onto the scales at the Smokehouse and she weighed 11lbs on the dot. That made for a hell of a lot of beautiful cold smoked trout. I'd been taken completely by surprise with this fish. I'd been spoiled by the big fish at Aniwhenua a few years before but when that lake had settled down I basically wrote it off as a freak occurrence and adjusted my expectations of fish size back to more conservative levels. 10lbers were the domain of the backcountry anglers that made the effort to go where know one else has been, or if came from the Tongariro, the very lucky. I certainly felt pretty lucky and it goes to show that they aren’t just myths, they really are there and if you put the time in then sooner or later you will probably get connected to one of them.
I had several more really successful trips and was keen to get stuck into some wet lining as a revival was obviously on. I generally concentrate on nymphing the main river with emerging trout patterns in different shades of orange, but I’m always keen to try something new. On a trip with Mark Kitteridge I watched him take fish after fish in one of the pools below the road bridge on an Olive Woolly bugger. This encouraged me to have a go, but as luck would have it I think he got the last one and it didn’t take long for me to change back to glo bugs so he wouldn’t leave me to far behind. As nice as it is to watch mates catch fish, it’s always better if you’re getting a few more.
I'm fascinated by wet lining. It looks a fabulously relaxed way to fish, but there is a learning curve and I’m still on the flat bit at the bottom. The appeal to me is in the explosive take and the ability to cast a decent amount of line without having to duck as the bomb comes through threatening to knock you out. It obviously requires a lot more ‘feel’ than nymphing to get the fly swinging across the boulders in the faces of the fish, but the results speak for themselves.
Your never on a level playing field whilst trout fishing. The conditions are alway changing around you and to succeed you have to be versatile and able to adapt. Don’t get stuck in pools if nothing is happening or discount water that knowone else is fishing. The Tongariro is a big river and the vast majority of Taupo trout make their spawning run up it. That’s a lot of fish, so when the run is on you shouldn’t be surprised to find them throughout the river. Look around and find your own water, you may be pleasantly surprised. And if you’re real lucky, you might even get hooked up on one of the submarines that cruise up this magnificent river.