I think of the past to enhance the future. Trout are the name of the game – trout that are reaching maturity and at the peak of their lives. These fish generally feed hard before reaching their chosen spawning areas.
Trout are creatures of instinct and habit, so find them in a bend on a stream today and you will probably find them there again at the same time next year. Consequently, you can use your experience from previous visits to put you onto the fish again, hopefully at a time when they are active.
I have fished thousands of hours at Lake Tarawera in the Rotorua district, spent mainly at Te Wairoa. That time has given me a great insight into the movements and habits of the trout that visit this part of the lake. The attraction for them is the Te Wairoa Stream, which they use for spawning. The short stretch of water from the lake up to the waterfall (as far as they can get) produces ideal spawning water, and attracts many hundreds of fish every year once they get the spawning urge. The trout have sanctuary when in these waters, because the stream is closed to fishing.
The stream is small – the outflow from Green Lake further up the escarpment. Funnily enough, these two lakes are amongst just a handful of lakes where the trout will spawn in an outflowing stream. In Tarawera they use the Tarawera River, which flows down to the sea in the Bay of Plenty. In the Te Wairoa the trout drop down from the Green Lake to spawn above the falls, while Tarawera fish run up the same stream to spawn below the falls – an interesting situation when you think about it.
Fish & Game has a trap on the Te Wairoa Stream not far upstream from the lake. Here fish are caught and used as brood stock by the hatchery in Rotorua. Fish & Game also tags and releases these fish for scientific purposes, and gets a tally of the fish that run the stream while the trap is in operation, which is usually during the winter months. It also allows them to weigh and measure the fish to see if there are any major changes in the fishery from year to year. As trout are released into the lake every year, F & G can adjust the numbers of released trout, or the size of the fish released, and importantly, the timing to suit any dynamic changes in the fishery gleaned from trapping figures. All trout in Lake Tarawera are rainbow trout. Those that are released into the lake come from Tarawera stock.
At the mouth of the Te Wairoa Stream, the bottom drops away from less than a metre deep to over 30 metres deep very close to shore. The trout find this barrier as they come into the area and look for a way up the stream. Because of their vulnerability in the shallows between the lake and stream, they are reluctant to make a dash for it during daylight hours. Instead, they mill around in the deep water not far from the mouth of the stream. In the past the gatherings were known as ‘rafts’, and could be seen from the track as dark masses of fish just under the surface. If you weren’t aware that the trout would do this, you wouldn’t look twice. Fish in their hundreds would wait for rough weather, the night time, or just a lift in stream volume – and then would run through and disappear to safety.
I learned a very important lesson one day while standing on the track watching a raft of rainbows as they circled around in the deeper water out from the stream mouth. I saw a single fish swirl and poke its tail out of the water. Now if I had seen that from water level, I never would have expected that fish to be one of a hundred within casting range. Also, these fish tend to be on the move all the time, and are only within the casting range of anglers at the mouth for short periods of time. This makes fishing the stream mouth easier to understand: the fish can be there one minute and then gone for an hour, simply because of the way they are milling around.
You have to remind yourself during the quiet periods that these fish are not feeders– they are waiting to go spawning. Just because there are hundreds of fish, this does not mean they will bite for you.
Fishing at the stream mouth is quite public. Anglers form a line just back from the drop-off and cast their flies into the deeper water beyond. There is only room for about ten rods before it gets dangerous. Other anglers and tourists will stand on the track looking down on the activity and offer comments about what is going on. It is a lot of fun during the day and a few fish get caught.
The spot is notorious for what we call ‘five minute pickers’ – no, not the trout, but uninformed anglers, who walk around from The Landing, have a few casts, then pull out and tell us that the fish must be at the beach, so they are going there. These guys catch very few fish, because to be successful at Te Wairoa you need patience and to be at one with the environment. You also need to understand and feel the pulses of fish as they come and go; you need to know when to chat and when to be deadly serious. It comes with experience.
I reckon I could catch more fish in a couple of hours at Te Wairoa than a newcomer will catch in a full day – I would need to pick my fishing time though. Such confidence (not cockiness) sees experienced anglers walk in and take a fish when others have been there for hours catching nothing. I am not saying that it is easy fishing by any means – it’s just easier when you have confidence and the knowledge to be there at the best times.
I have given away the secrets of when to be at Te Wairoa (dark, rough and dirty), but how should you fish it? My preference is for the slowest of sinking lines. This allows me to fish down through the water column and show my fly to any and all fish present. I have caught quite a few on floating lines in the dark, but if the trout are holding deeper, which they do sometimes, your chances of success are reduced.
My sinking lines are density compensated, which means they sink straight, giving me direct contact and a quick response if any fish takes my fly. I use fluorocarbon leaders around one-metre long that vary from 3kg to 7kg breaking strain, depending on the conditions. If it is really rough and windy (man, I love those conditions), then I use the heavy stuff. It is easy to create a wind knot in your leader during such conditions, and the heavy line gives you a chance with a heavy fish. Conversely, if it is flat calm, clear and still, I will use the light stuff.
Some nights the fish will slash around on the surface right in front of you on the edge of the drop-off. Or they will surge around behind you (quite scary when it is quiet). So fish short and heavy for the best results.
Flies are interesting here, and can make the difference between success and failure. When fishing the early season you will see trout chasing smelt in the morning and evening. I have found – as have friends I have fished with here – that slim smelt flies are very effective on such fish. I favour Silver Partridge, Parsons Glory (both yellow and green, tied with a seal’s fur body not chenille), Silver Dorothy and Green Orbit (again, with seal’s fur body). I will confidently use any of these in the dark if the trout are moving. If they are able to see and chase smelt, then they can see and chase your flies
Actually, it was a night session in Lake Rotoiti that nailed that lesson home: I caught two double-figure trout at Ruato one night on a Silver Dorothy fished in the moonlight. Since then I have never worried too much about having black flies on at night.
Having said that, it is good for the mind and concentration to make some changes for a night fishing session. I like lumo flies, but quickly put them away if they don’t produce. I don’t know why it is, but some nights the trout want something else.
My other flies are: Gary’s Green Marabou in a range of sizes down to size 10; Woolly Buggers in black and green; and a good old Fruit Salad in #8 and #6. It was on a Fruit Salad fly that I took my biggest Tarawera rainbow – a fish over 6.5kg. Most flies will take fish, but Boobys have been catching them for me around at The Landing, and I have had more than a few on Red Setters over the years at the stream mouth. Try your favourites, because you never know, and fish them slowly, varying your depth until you find out where the trout are lying. It could be a count of 10 before you reach them. Use a floating line, or retrieve too soon, and they will never see your fly.
So give Te Wairoa a shot this winter, as there are some great fish to be caught there. Check the local regulations first though, as there are some rules that apply specifically to this stream mouth.
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