Leave passes – Every angler with a better half needs them. Sometimes the passes are abused, sometimes the passes are few and far between and other times they are saved up and banked into a special account titled “HELL YES MOTHER-FLIPPING NEW ZEALAND”. Well that is what mine was called anyway…
More than six months in the making and I had a dose of the-day-before-I-leave jitters. Not in the sense that I was nervous or scared or anything, I was just amped to be heading into the unknown, where stories of giant trout have taunted my dreams and crystal clear water had adorned hundreds of pages of literature I’ve read over the years, firmly embedded into my cranium. I was at my workplace and I received a call from my manager that I will never forget. “We need to see you at 3:30pm….”. Had I done something wrong? No. Had I shagged the bosses wife? Hell no. Did they make me redundant on the spot? Yes they did. Times are tough, money is hard, here’s your bloody farewell card.
With the support of my amazing wife Ami and her persistent encouragement to plough on with the journey, I did indeed commit to the mission and flew to NZ that next day. On the plane, I sat next to a lass from the UK who was embarking on some sort of population forecasting role with NZ Government, consisting of employment rates and the economy and then the whole conversation morphed into a blur of contrast between our lives, our direction and our passion for completely different elements of life. Pretty sure she farted at some stage too.
After a quick overnight stay in Auckland I ran into a couple of dodgy looking Aussies at the domestic airport – It was my travelling companions Paul and Shaun. Seems they had taken a ‘long cut’ and instead of flying from Nelson-Wellington-Taupo they had to fly to Auckland as some crazy guy on helium tried to blow himself up. Actually that story is incorrect, I just thought that whole helium scenario sounded cool. They took me by surprise as I wasn’t meant to be seeing them for a few hours in Taupo. This gave us time to have a yarn and they easily whet my appetite with stories of rewarding fishing on their few days on the South Island with Mike Kirkpatrick from Latitude Guiding.
The boys stuffed their faces and we all boarded the 12 seat crop-duster bound for Taupo. I think this is where you are supposed to have already organised your hire car. At this point we stood around waiting to bargain with someone over some old beast that could lug our sorry arses around for a couple of weeks but there was no-one to talk to! A quick taxi ride into Taupo saw us sneaking around hire-car yards eyeing off potential candidates but being a Sunday, hardly anything was open. We had to settle for a more expensive but reliable option and set off in our jam-packed Corolla. *Tip: Book beforehand.
Around 40 minutes later we arrived at what would be our base camp – The Turangi Bridge Motel. Situated in the township of Turangi and right on the door-step of the world famous Tongariro River. (Highly recommended – Great service, great meals!). After Paul introduced us to the friendly Kent that runs the place, we quickly rigged up to explore some water a short drive downstream. Paul had been here a few times before so was quite familiar with a few pools but it seems flooding had changed the river dramatically, turning braided runs into channels and where machinery had shaped the river too. Still, Shaun and myself were wide-eyed and soaking up as much of this waterway as possible. We spotted a few fish but mostly under the cover of thick willows. Shaun and myself sighted two fish on a snaggy bend and one fish in particular was sitting high in the water column, just hanging for a dagwood. With the sound of cicadas filling the air, my line was already attached to a small commercially tied pattern so that it what I threw. After covering the fish a few times, it was clear that it my offering was not sufficient. I clipped it off and tried a small black spinner as we had seen a few earlier – This also drew no response. I went smaller again and tried a CDC caddis but… nothing. Oh well instead of going smaller I’ll go bigger! I tied on a gnarly size 8-ish black foam cicada pattern that I tied back at home – It was far from pretty but it was big and buggy looking and had legs. The first cast with this thing a metre in front of the fish and he spotted it (how could it not!), that’s when I realised that this fish was deeper that the clear water made me think, and that the fish was probably over 5lb. It rose from a couple of feet to wrap its big buck jaws around my fly. After seeing numerous films on New Zealand fly fishing and the emphasis on waiting, not to mention my striking-too-early spell, I did just that, waited. Probably enough time for me to mutter to myself “He took my manky home-made” and then I lifted. Not only was there nothing-ness but I actually saw my fly slide out of the gap in this fish’s jaws!! Missed it!! As you do when you miss a fish a instinctively threw my fly back out so as not to get hooked up behind me and subsequently spooked the fish. I was disappointed but far from gutted – It was awesome to see that take and this spurred me on for more. Just around the bend Pauly hooked onto a little one and by this stage we had to pack up shop and leg it back to our car.
We finally unpacked our gear and made a bee-line directly for the lodge for a beer or twelve. Who should we see plonked up at the bar but one Mike Hughes (Tongariro Fishing Guide). Paul had experienced some amazing fishing with Mike in the past and as the area was generally fishing tough due to the lack of rain, Mike was only too happy to share some info about spots and flies. If that wasn’t generous enough, Mike escorted us the next day to a productive stretch on the Tongariro and told us the best spot to cross. What a nice bloke!
Keen to get something on the board we carefully crossed a dicey section to access the sweet spot. It was a nice open section that gave Shaun and myself a good chance to flip a few bombs around. Before long, Shauno hooked his first North Island fish – A nice little rainbow. I followed suit soon after further up!
Before long the drizzle had turned into pelting with rain – It wasn’t really what I had dreamt of but with the amazing clarity in the rivers over here, you could still polaroid quite effectively. Pauly eyed off a couple of fish in a tasty looking run and basically threw the whole box at them. I tried my luck and was reject too. When times are tough, you have no option but to either throw the old rock fly or a stinkin’ old glow bug. The fish finally spotted the glowing yarn of doom and accepted!
We encountered a few tough fish along the way, some appeared to be feeding and others were not doing a thing. Pauly was doing a marvellous job at hooking random items in the water, including stocks and logs. In a run further up we were just about to pack up shop but I spotted a small fish slashing on the edge. I cast in the vicinity and had a very small fish attempt to take my chunky foam fly three or four times before it gave up. I continued to search the area while perched up on a big rock and eventually launched out a long cast straight into the honey hole. A nice fish grabbed the dry and I’m onto my first NZ fish on dry! Getting fish to eat the dry in the Tongariro region seemed to be the exception rather than the norm, so most of the time we persisted with indicator nymphing. I’d never done it this heavy and on this scale but one tool that simplified the process was the Strike Indicator Tool. It was a no-brainer for tying on new yarn or changing the depth of your nypmhs. Anyone thinking of fishing heavy bombs in NZ or indeed anywhere in the world should invest in this sweet little innnovation. Click the video for more!
After a bite to eat we headed to the Bridge Pool and some runs not far away to see out the day before settling into some NZ brews. Well, that was the plan for me and Shaun – Paul isn’t really into beer. What a weirdo. Our staple beer for the trip seemed to be Macs Gold – It was easy to drink, tasty and refreshing and we could buy it from the local supermarket. Kent sold it at the lodge for a bargain rate too!
Most mornings were spent grabbing a choice-as brew from a coffee van that pulls up in the lodge car park each morning. She was a top bird and handled a good stir from us Aussie yobbos at regular intervals. We would then polaroid a few fish from the highway bridge before trying to catch them. This was to be my curse. Despite my best efforts over the trip, I couldn’t seem to hook a fish at the bridge pool. Pauly was smacking them, Shauno was molesting them and I could barely flirt with them. The more I became frustrated, the more my casting action fell from mediocre to abysmal. The more crap my casting became, the more I thought… shit, I have to find a job when I get back home. Funny how negativity spawns more negativity. It was awesome to see the boys towel a few up here though, especially Shauno who quickly named a small shallow run after himself and cursed anyone who dared to set foot in the place. In a desperate time of need I snuck into Shauno’s run while he slept in one morning and whimpered away with my tail between my legs. Pretty sure Shauno caught one after I’d been there. Bastard!
The Back Country
We had been looking forward to our chopper mission into the wilderness. We hooked up with a crowd called Heli-Sika who dropped us to a remote river, chartered our gear further upstream to a hut and would then collect us further upstream the following day at a pre-arranged rendezvous point on the river. It was pretty wild in the chopper as the wind was howling through the endless valleys. The fishing opportunities must also be infinite around here! When they dropped us off, I couldn’t help but feel a little at home with a variety of beech trees bearing a striking resemblance to our myrtles back home. One species in particular must be very closely related.
It didn’t take us long to rig up and make our way into the crystal clear water and Pauly soon spotted one. This would be the first of several fish behaving badly – Some would ignore everything and others were quite happy to take the fly. In any case, it was an amazing location and we encountered a few fish in the 8lb range that we couldn’t get a fly to due to the vertical cliff faces with dense rainforest from which we spotted them!
It seems so long ago now but we all managed a few good fish in the 2-4lb mark and Shauno was on fire with lots of fish coming to hand. Paul managed to tempt a couple of fish that would have been over 5lb and displayed amazing colours. One fish in particular came to hand as we could almost hear the echoes of the chopper on its way to collect us – Good timing Paulos! The lads were towelling them up using their Tonic Eyewear and after trying them on, I was very impressed. My personal highlight was just being in this amazing location, days’ walk from anywhere and surrounded by true beauty. Snaring some great fish was a bonus and the whole mission was my favourite aspect to our NZ mission. We certainly didn’t encounter huge numbers of fish out the back but the quality of these rainbows was more than sufficient. We were told that monster browns lurk in the right locations but we didn’t see any. Both dries and nymphs scored fish fairly evenly between them but landing a couple on my home-tied dries was satisfying!
Below is a larger gallery of the Backcounty journey… too many to choose from!
Of course after returning from such an epic journey, all we wanted to do was get drunk and find a titty bar or something. We didn’t do that, but it sounded tough. Instead we opted for some dirty take-away on the way home at some ridiculous hour and managed to slide a beer or two in before falling in a heap for many hours.
You would think that we might go and check out some hot springs or do some general sightseeing by this stage but no, we just went fishing instead. We weren’t exactly here to procreate with arachnids or skinny dip in the warmest water you could find – I’ve seen Paul’s man-back and it aint my cup of coffee! We kept ploughing away on the big T river and checked out some rivers during spells of enthusiasm. One such river was a full days’ mission and we snuck off, keen as ever. It was kind of back country, but also quite accessible for those who know how to get there. We stomped off downstream to walk as far as we could to then fish our way back before dark. There was some very cool fishing here and most of our fish came to dries but we still encountered tricky fish that would only eat the nymph and sometimes after many presentations. At one stage, I gave up on a school of 7 or 8 fish only to have Shauno come through and catch two of them in quick succession – The kid has gills.
We all scored a few fish and spent around 4o minutes trying to tempt a really great fish on the edge of the main flow. This fish was probably between 8-10lb and has become way bigger with every person I tell! Paul reckons it ate my fly at one stage but I’m a stubborn bastard and refuse to admit it. I managed to catch one fish that took me into the backing twice and I thought it must have been huge, only to learn that I foul hooked the thing, still fun though! We finally encountered a couple of browns paired up and Paul converted his target. Shaun had a crack at the next one and got it to eat after a few attempts. He played it well but the fish busted him off, only to jump clear out of the water 2 or 3 times trying to throw the hook. It was pretty cool to watch and I think Paul filmed that bit. It’s in the film I’ll embed below.
On the way back to the car it was starting to get dark but we couldn’t resist smacking a few pools, it would be a crying shame to leave them out. Paul blamed the fading light but I reckon it was his casting that caused this…
The next day we fished a very low ‘TT’ River – It needed rain but it was beautifully clear and a pleasure to fish. Some sections were far to low to hold fish but due to the masses of water that often rush through here, holding water was a plenty and that holding water is what we aimed for. We caught a few fish here and there but it was pretty tough going and the fish were exceptionally spooky. Not helped by the fact that we encountered a family swimming, some rafters coming downstream and a guy who’d been fishing upstream of us all day. Still, I was happy to get a couple more on Stu’s Deadly Cicada which along with my own patterns, had been pretty good to me.
They say all good things come to an end but I wasn’t too deterred, we had experienced some unreal fishing in tough conditions and the scenery was to die for. The people were friendly, the country has their act together in terms of their fishery, their tourism and their amazing environment. We fished hard to end the trip and I was happy to finally trick some fussy feeders on the evening rise with the trusty old F-Fly the night before I flew home. The boys stayed on a few more days where they had some rad fishing with Fishy Steve and Shauno landed a beauty. Thanks for the run fellas and thank you to everyone who helped us along the way. I’ll see you next time New Zealand, you really are fully sick eh bro.
Below is another clip and some more photos – Enjoy!