Herb Spannagl squeezed one last trout-jigging expedition in at the end of the last season, and found the effort well worthwhile.
With autumn well underway at the time, the idea of sitting in the kayak with a wet butt and cold feet was becoming increasingly unattractive. I had been mentally wrestling whether I should do one more trout-jigging trip to Lake Rotoiti before the gain wouldn’t be worth the pain.
So when I saw a big, fat high-pressure system moving onto the country in early May, I bit the bullet and booked my accommodation. Luckily, most of the gear I’d used on a previous trip was still in its container, so I only had to charge the fish-finder batteries and pack some food and plenty of warm clothes.
I arrived in Rotorua late afternoon and spent the evening rigging up for an early-morning start.
That night the temperature dropped below zero, and the following morning my car was covered with a glistening layer of ice. Had I left it too late?
By the time I pulled up at Hinehopu the sun had melted the frost, but an icy breeze was wafting across the lake from the south.
After rigging up the ‘yak, I launched off the sandy beach. Surprisingly, the water temperature was a relatively balmy 17 degrees.
On my last trip, I had done well in this general area, but this time my sounder showed few smelt and only the occasional trout. Disbelieving the empty screen, I covered a fair stretch of the northern cliffs for the same poor results. The only sensible option was to look elsewhere.
As I drove past Ruato, I noticed several boats fishing off the eastern point. Such a promising sign was definitely worth closer inspection, so I paddled out with my eyes glued to the fish-finder.
Past the 30m mark, strong fish arcs and clouds of smelt showed on the sounder screen at 28m, prompting me to put out the drogue and drop my flies. The rainbow braid made it easy to position my offerings at the right depth, and after a few jiggles I had the first hit. It felt like a good fish, but halfway up it came off.
More arcs showed in groups and singles. My flies were definitely in the strike zone, because I felt several small knocks before a solid weight pulled my rod tip down. Braid pulled from the small overhead reel as the strong fish powered off towards the surface, then jumping and diving several times before I managed to secure it in the net. This exceptionally deep-bodied trout pulled the scales down to 3.1kg.
After a few drifts, I found concentrations of fish in certain areas and marked them with waypoints for repeated drifts. (Prior to the trip I had upgraded to a new sounder-plotter unit and attempted to download the Insight Genesis Social Map for this lake. I usually manage simple IT tasks, but this site turned out to be the most challenging internet obstacle course I have ever tried to negotiate, leaving me stumped and frustrated.)
I would have loved to see the underwater topography beneath my kayak, but luckily the fish were so concentrated that I could get by without this information. When trout showed on the sounder, they were all holding around 28 metres down, and with my rainbow braid marked for that depth, I managed to extract several more prime specimens.
It makes one wonder why trout hold at such precise depths. After a lifetime working in the outdoors, I am well aware nothing in nature happens without a reason. I can only assume that wind-generated currents had pushed nutrients against this shore, stimulating a rich, multi-layered food chain that attracted trout from other parts of the lake. By sheer luck, I had stumbled on such a mother-lode.
With the saying ‘Never leave fish to find fish’ ringing clearly in my mind, I fished the same area for the next couple of days. As it was the weekend, more and more boats turned up. Most were jigging, but a few tried to thread their way through this maze dragging lures. Jigging is such a vertical exercise that boats can fish reasonably close together and still cover different fish. However, trollers need a lot more room to avoid tangles with others.
During the afternoon, I got to know a couple of anglers in a small dinghy who had been trolling without any success and were clearly frustrated seeing fish being landed all around them. Luckily, they had a spare rod and reel loaded with braid; I tied on one of my three-fly rigs with a two-ounce sinker attached to it, then instructed them to motor into 28-metre-deep water, drop the rig to the bottom and mark their single-colour braid so their flies would fish at the right depth. It must have worked, because some time later they motored past holding up two silver-sided beauties.
Until then, it had been reasonably calm, but in the late afternoon the wind came up, forcing me to put the drogue out. On one of my drifts I hooked up and straight away knew this was not a run-of-the-mill fish, heading off into the wind and pulling my kayak broadside to the oncoming waves. Then it jumped a good 50m away, hitting the water with a big splash.
With the fish pulling one way and the wind pushing me in the opposite direction, I had to pump the rod hard to slowly bring the big fish towards the kayak. Close-up I could see that this was a potential double-figure fish, and knowing it was only hooked on a fine-wire #10 dry-fly hook tied to 6lb fluorocarbon tippet had me really worried.
Time and again the fish burrowed under the hull, scraping the leader against the roughened side of the kayak. I was sweating blood by the time I eventually managed to slip the net under and hoist it clear off its watery home.
Later, upon landing at the Ruato beach, I asked a shore fishermen to take a few photos of my 4.3kg trophy. It turned out to be a smidgen under the 10lb glory mark, but since I had not caught a double-figure trout for a few years, it was a great catch all the same.
The weather forecast promised another cracker day coming up, tempting me to stay on, but with my big chilly-bin already bulging with trout, I left Rotorua a happy man.
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