The central North Island spawning runs are famed the world over, and for good reason, the fishing can be super, or it can be utterly poop! Sadly, for many newcomers to fishing the Tongariro, Tauranga-Taupo and Hinemaiaia, the latter is often the norm. These aren’t easy fisheries for a visitor, both kiwi’s and overseas anglers usually struggle on the numbers front. It’s a fairly specialised method chucking heavy flies using big indicators, it’s not really fly fishing at all, but the method is a hell of a lot of fun when it all comes together.
Here’s a couple of tips for maximising your fly fishing success on the Tongariro predominantly, through the colder months on nymph.
1) FISH LIGHTER GEAR
The Tongariro is not a big river, it’s about the same size as your bog-standard South Island backcountry river, would you tackle these with an 8wt or 9wt set up? No, you wouldn’t and this river is no different - this is 2021, not 1985 and it’s not really deep either. Scale back your gear to a 6wt or 7wt outfit. The fish are not large (unless you encounter a big brown) and a 6lb+ fish is quite rare, you can chase most fish in the heavy water, and the lighter gear is a LOT less taxing on the body casting all day. We use 9’ 6wt rods for nymphing exclusively, I particularly LOVE the 906-4 Scott NZ Special, built on the Sector saltwater blank, this thing has got power to burn and can handle anything the “big river” can throw at it! Even a gale head wind won’t phase it and it’s just oh-soooo light in-hand! I’ve said this before - I still think the NZ Special 906-4 is the best heavy-nymph rod I’ve ever fished. I don’t believe in “the man upstairs”, but if he exists, I’m sure he had input into this rods design. The Scott Centric 907/4 is an excellent option too as it is forgiving yet powerful so you get the benefits of fast action power with the feel and forgiveness of a light rod.
2) PICK AN AGGRESSIVE FLY LINE TAPER
This isn’t a fishery where presentation is paramount. I roll cast more than I overhead cast, so love the Airflo TRC lines for such purposes. However a torn rotator-cuff and a bout of tennis-elbow has seen me move to the new Airflo Superflo Universal, and Airflo Superflo Power Tapers of late, and what sensational lines they are. Both excellent roll casting lines still and on these abrasive, pumice-filled waters, the Airflo’s outlast any other line 10:1, that’s a fact! The longer belly of the Universal Taper really aids in mending which is something you’ll want to master to catch fish consistently. In fact, mending control is so important! Remember, if you move that indicator through your drift the fish won’t touch your flies. Treat that indicator like a grenade pin and you should be fine.
3) FISH SMALLER INDICATORS
Ditch those huge shop-tied shuttle-cocks, and tie up your own smaller versions using a dacron loop as the attachment to the fly line, they are lighter, less inclined to tangle and the clips won’t damage your fly line. They float just as well, but a pre-treat a week prior with some Loon Aquel, and a treatment on the day of use, and you’ll be floating for days on end. The small indicators cast easier with less resistance and are still just as visible if treated properly. I quite like the Loon Tip Topper indicators in the small size, their pre-applied floatant is simply the best you can get, the recipe? As closely guarded as KFC’s secret herbs and spices.
4) USE A LIGHTER LEADER
Tapered leaders have little application on these run-fish, in fact, they will hinder your drift as the heavy diameter of the butt section and the thinner tippet promotes a “curve” through the water column and you will lose crucial contact when a fish takes your nymphs. Go level, anything from 12 feet through to 18 feet depending on the water being fished and breaking strains from 6-8lb, anything more is overkill, mono leaders really shine here due to their stretch characteristics, but fluorocarbon is an excellent choice when fishing the snag infested waters of the Tauranga Taupo and Hinemaiaia rivers. 8.4lb Trouthunter fluoro is the go in these locations. Also remember in this fishery, you are not relying on the transfer of energy to lay out a leader, but rather the weight of your flies, false-casting is pointless, and water-loading is the norm. A dumped cast of two flies as close as you can get to your indicator results in a very quick descent and maximises the time your flies are in the zone.
5) YOU CAN GO YOUR OWN WAY
Don’t stand in line for a pool, go and explore the pocket water, scale your gear back to a standard back country dry / dropper rig, or use the New Zealand Strike Indicator for a sliding – adjustable depth solution and probe the holes, pockets and slots littered throughout these rivers. Often you will catch MORE fish than those lined up in the pools, drifting down on each other and tangling lines all over the place. Some of the most productive winter water is the fast runs where nobody goes, these are predominantly rainbows we are dealing with here, they love to hang out in the fast stuff and due to the nature of the Tongariro, often the boulders on the bottom are large, and provide great lies for running fish to congregate. It may not look overly fishy from the surface but trout don’t need much boulder structure to get them to hold. The upside of this fast water is you often don’t get many refusals, you’re simply drifting, then FISH ON, you won’t know what hit you.
6) PICK GOOD FLY FISHING GEAR
Ditch those restrictive, sweaty, momentum-sucking 7mm neoprene’s and grab a pair of Simm’s breathable waders, the difference is night and day, and with a good polyprop layer underneath, you simply won’t go cold. If you do, I suggest a visit to the Turangi Bakery to add some more fat to ya bones. Breathable waders allow so much more movement and are superior for covering distance. Go for a big walk, your body will thank you, and you’ll encounter “untouched water”. Put a good Gore-Tex shell in ya pack and you’re good to go whatever the weather and with minimal bulk, you’re at a fairly high elevation here and things can turn nasty real fast.
7) YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE A TROLL
I know people who will sit in the bridge pool for days on end, how boring! If trout-for-food is your main goal, by all means, go for it, but standing in the ugliest, barren pool on the river in front on NZ’s main highway for hours on end? You’re really missing out on a fantastic experience on what is an extremely scenic river in its mid to upper reaches. But hey, if you want a social experience only a few steps from the car then there’s no harm in that either.
8) HANDLE YOUR FISH WITH CARE IF YOU PLAN TO RELEASE THEM
Being so plentiful, run-fish are often handled poorly. Trout are magnificent creatures and even a scungy one has an important role to play in the river system so don’t hold them out of the water for an unnecessary amount of time, squeeze their bellies or thrust their face into a camera lens to make them look huge, give them the respect they deserve.
9) CLEAN, CHECK, & DRY
I’m sure Didymo has been introduced to these rivers a thousand times over, but that’s no reason to be complacent. If you’ve ever fished the Mararoa in Southland, you’ll know why we all need to make an effort to conserve these magnificent waterways, nobody wants to fish in a river full of green snot.
10) HAVE FUN OUT THERE
This is the most important bit. Get out into the wild weather, cold temps, and dark days and shake your fist at mother nature screaming “is that all you’ve got!” while you’re hooked up to some winter chrome goodness and sleet belts you in the face. If you’re well prepared with good gear then these are the days to remember.
ABOUT ANDREW HARDING
Andrew Harding is a die hard fly fisherman that spends more time on the water than most of us do at work. Check out some of his amazing fly fishing film work over on his Youtube channel.