Targeting the Big Summer Browns of the Tongariro

The Tongariro river is home to some very large brown trout and is an incredible year-round fishery. You could say it has become famous as anglers travel from around the world to try their luck on the notoriously hard to catch brown trout.

Over the summer months the brown trout really show up in numbers as they move in to the system from the lake. It’s not unusual to find a pool that is holding great numbers and I can recall a day that I counted between 40 and 50 fish holding in one pool very close to the Turangi township.

Catching a fish, particularly during the day, can be extremely challenging and probably more so as the summer progresses. By this time the fish have received plenty of attention from anglers and have become accustomed to being bombarded in the daylight hours.

That said, I have found that when trout are holding in large pools they seem to have a sense of security due to the sheer volume of water and other trout that surrounds them. Let’s not give the trout too much credit here though, it’s hard to believe but trout only have a pea size brain. I have witnessed big brown spook and have been disturbed then start feeding again in a short space of time. This seems to be a pattern relative to the habitat outlined above and having been constantly disturbed.

On a typical day you can expect to see and cast to many fish, however getting a response to your presented fly can seem near impossible. It’s as though the trout have tunnel vision and lock jaw all at once. Persistence is the key here, it’s a game of percentages and your efforts will eventually pay off with an eat. Remember all fish are catchable and are capable off switching on and off when it comes to feeding, its often just about timing and being Johnny on the spot.

Here are some methods to effectively target the brown trout of the Tongariro river and how best to fish these…


Matching the hatch is once again the rule. Terrestrial season is upon us and if the air is rich with cicada chirping, you can bet it's time to tie one on. Cicadas are a great source of food and the brown trout key in on these. Windy days are ideal as the cicadas are more vulnerable to falling on the water and trout get tuned into this. Also, the riffled and distorted surface is an advantage to you as it’s harder for the fish to see out plus your fly line and leader has less impact and is more disguised on the water surface. Make your leader a minimum of 15ft in length, this allows for good separation between fly and fly line. Considering the size of the trout and the volume of water it would be silly to go too light in tippet especially when the catch rate is low, you would hate to bust one off. 6-7lb tippet is ideal and I would be very hesitant to go any lighter than 5lb.

While the big pools are very enticing, and you will see a lot of fish, they would have to be the most challenging water on offer. Browns often hold deep during the day and prove hard to catch. The water’s surface is smooth and this often makes it hard to generate any interest but don’t write them off completely. A higher percentage option is to search out for the waters between the big pools, riffles, runs, pockets and even braids are the more profitable options. Browns love this water and are often more receptive to the fly. The faster water speed allows less time for the trout to observe the fly, while the water surface is riffled and disguises the leader and tippet.

Classic Cicada Olive

When casting to a sighted fish, rather than getting straight in behind and laying your leader over top off the fish, instead stand to the side more to keep low and present the cicada fly to the side of the positioned fish with just enough lead so it can be seen. Doing this keeps the leader clear and out of view and the disturbance from the leader landing on the water is further away from the fish. Don’t be scared to impart some movement to your terrestrial fly as this can generate interest and is enticing to the trout. A few short strips can make a difference.

Cicada fly on a rod and reel



A nymph can always be added to the dry. Vary your dropper length to suit the water and situation you’re fishing. Fishing deep in the pools with a large stonefly is worth doing and you can also add a dropper fly, a mayfly or caddis is always a good choice on the Tongariro.

Clearwater Caddis Green

Fish this rig under an indicator which can be attached to leader where you need. A stealthier option is to remove the indicator completely and once you’ve made your cast just look for the plop from the fly landing and watch the fish closely, looking for any movement. A tell tail sign the fly has been eaten is the flash of the white mouth. When fish are clearly visible, I also recommend removing your indicator to put emphasis on making your first cast count. Position yourself in order to eliminate any possible issues with drag. Position the fly so there’s enough lead for the fly to sink into the zone and hold on.


This is another very good option to have in your arsenal during the day. Flies like a Rabbit or Woolly Bugger can be swung with a floating or sinking lines in the pools, runs etc. Some off the stubborn browns can be woken up with large articulated bait fish patterns like a Sex Dungeon. Position the fly so it ends up in front of the fish, now move the fly away with violent strips and this can often seduce a fish to move off station and wallop the fly before it gets away.


The Tongariro has some amazing hatches with all sorts of bugs coming off at different stages of the year but it’s the caddis hatches that are dominant in the summer time. This is a great time to target brown trout as they switch mode from their day time antics to feed on the abundant morsels. An up and across approach with a caddis dry will take fish, and the option to have a nymph as a dropper is also a nice addition as this more closely represents the emergence off the caddis. Skating the dry fly is also effective, cast across hold on to your line and just let the flies swing. You can also fish an unweighted or lightly weighted nymph on a floating line. Cast across and let the nymph swing through the water. This is a great way to emulate and emerging caddis or another nymph and can often be more effective than a dead drifted dry fly.


This would have to be when the big Tongariro browns are most vulnerable and many fish are caught in the dark including very large trophy trout. Brown trout are great night time feeders and predate on all sorts things like koura and small trout for an easy meal. This heightened feeding activity leans in favour off the angler as trout are more easily fooled under the cover of the dark night sky. Now is the time to hit the pools and get revenge on the stubborn fish of the day time shift. It’s a good idea to scope out a pool or pools you intend on fishing in the dark as this will give you the lay of the land. Identify where the fish are holding then figure out where you will cast and where is the best place to swing your fly. Choose a rod between 6 and 8 weight with a slow sinking fly line, 3inch per-sec is a perfect sink rate for this job. Tippet, heavy 12-15lb and fly choice could be any large lure really, but my suggestions would be a size #2 Rabbit or #4 Woolly Bugger and a dark colour is preferable.

Galloups Mini Dungeon

An articulated streamer is a good option also, a perfect example of this is a Galloups Mini Dungeon Natural #6, this is a great small trout imitation. It pays to have a fly that’s bold with a good silhouette and imparts movement. When fishing, make sure to stay in contact with your swinging fly and be ready for some savage takes! Heavy tippet is best here in order to absorb how violently the fly can be hit. We are talking about serious fish here, hooking a fish is one part and landing is another. I Have found the flowing water against the trout's body mass is an advantage to the fish and can be tricky to deal with. Heavy tippet is needed here which will enable you to apply more pressure during the fight with a better chance of stopping the trout from getting away.

Well I hope there is something there that you can take away and put to practice. We are very fortunate here in New Zealand to have such great fisheries and the Tongariro is high on the list. Not too long ago now brown trout of Tongariro where not the favoured species of trout and were almost not wanted. These days it’s a healthy and thriving fishery and a has major significance so get out there and give it a nudge. And check out the video below from Andrew Harding (who also supplied all of the image for this article) for what you can expect when you hook one of these monsters!