NGONGOTAHA – TROPHY TROUT MECCA

(Words – Alan Bulmer/ Images – Kiyoshi Nakagawa)

The day dawned cool and clear in Auckland. I had slept fitfully as I always do before a serious fishing trip, scared to drop off unless I missed the alarm and excited about what the day would hold. I was already up when the alarmed sounded at 4.15 am, ready and breakfasted by the time that my fishing guide for the day, Yoshi Nakagawa, arrived at 5.00 am. Our fishing destination for the day was the famous Ngongotaha stream near Rotorua, 2 ¾ hours’ drive away by car. The drive south to Ngongotaha was uneventful aside from a small smudge of fog which we encountered as we passed through the heart of the Waikato. Virtually no traffic to spoil the trip.

When we reached the car park by the side of the Ngongotaha stream it was almost 8.00 am and the air had warmed to a bracing 9oC. The weather forecast was for a high of 18oC and it was so still and clear that it was as if the world was holding its breath. The stream was slightly up following a heavy deluge late the previous week and still held a tinge of colour. All of the bankside vegetation was flattened so it had been a decent spate. The river condition was absolutely perfect for sight fishing to visible trout.

Yoshi suggested that I don my waist waders as we would have to walk through a couple of deep stretches during the course of the day. I set up my Scott 9’ # 6 weight rod, attached the Hatch fly reel with a suitably weighted floating fly line and we were good to go. I left Yoshi to set up the trace to suit the conditions and he opted for a dry fly indicator (liberally coated in floatant), a bead head Hare’s ear nymph and a single Otters egg fly. All attached in series. The standard “truck and trailer” rig as it is commonly known. For those interested in the detail, the entire trace was roughly the length of the rod.  See image of the flies below.

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The Ngongotaha stream is not large, at places only three rods lengths wide. A classic sequences of riffles, interspersed with the odd deeper hole and slightly deeper glide. Yoshi explained en route to the stream that today would be all about short casting and accuracy. When I saw the stream and the pod of trout holding in a depression in the first riffle I immediately could see why. What happened next came as a shock though. Yoshi told me that he wanted me to get within two rod lengths of the fish and simply pitch the flies using an overhand roll cast ahead of the rear most trout. I was instructed to strike downstream when he yelled strike and watch the fish. There was little more than the trace and a few feet of fly line outside of the rod tip. You have got to be joking I thought to myself.

First two casts were a disaster, both catching willow tendrils that hung over the stream like Venus fly traps. I’d got the hang of it by cast five. The nymphs plopped in, the fish at the rear moved sideways as if scripted and pounced on the nymph like it had not seen food for a week. I struck hard as Yoshi mouthed S, came up solid and turned its head in one motion. It was not best pleased and took off downstream like a bullet train. I tried to stop it running too far and managed to wrest it to the surface where it promptly spat the hook. Fish 1, Alan 0. “Never mind” said Yoshi. “Plenty more fish in the river”.

Yoshi was correct. Every piece of holding water contained trout and some of the deeper pools were packed with up to 30 fish. The average size was impressive and there were some absolutely huge fish (~ 10 lb) amongst them. We moved up the river systematically pitching flies in front of any fish that looked like it would take. Yoshi could pretty much tell by looking at the trout which would take and he was rarely wrong. We never hung about casting over fish that had refused a well-placed cast twice.

I got off the mark in the second pool and this 4 lb fish almost sped between my legs after it charged downstream following the strike. It was brutal, “no holds barred” angling as you’ve got to clear the line, stop them from running too far and then quickly regain control of the line. The rod bends from tip to butt and every sinew from your wrist to shoulder strains to gain control. When a big trout takes off in a stream that is only 3 rod lengths wide it gets exciting really quickly as they can move at an impressive lick in short bursts. When they take to the air it gets doubly difficult. Apparently rod breakages are common. If you do not dictate terms from the outset you inevitably get dusted.

Five pools up the river and the score was fish hooked 12, landed 6. I was getting the hang of it by now but still losing way too many fish for my liking.

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Next we came to a deep hole where the river bent back on itself. It was loaded with trout but much deeper. Yoshi immediately opted to change the set up. He removed the original trace and attached around 30’ of a special two tone Japanese monofilament to the fly line. He next tied a short trace to this using a three turn surgeons knot and left a coloured tag showing as an indicator. To the tip end he added another short length of nylon (again using the three turn surgeons knot) and left a long tag hanging from the knot. He re-attached the Otters egg to this length of nylon as a dropper and attached a twin bead nymph to the tip to take the egg down. The distance from the heavy nymph to the coloured tag was roughly 1.5 – 2 times the water depth.

I was instructed to roll pitch this rig (he described the rod motion as “painting the sky”) into spots that he nominated. Mayhem ensued with a hook up almost guaranteed on every cast, at least initially. By now I was striking at every movement and hooking up regularly. Several of the trout I foul hooked and they dropped off during the fight. Some stayed attached and had the indignity of having a hook removed from parts of their anatomy which were more acquainted with processed food rather than fresh food. We stayed in this pool for quite a while and by the time we moved on the score was fish hooked 42, landed 21. I was still only catching 50% of what I hooked but it was like fishing in a highlights package.

On we went upstream steadily hooking fish, losing some and landing roughly the same number. When we broke for lunch and retraced our steps I had hooked 48 fish and landed 24. I’ve never experienced trout fishing like it. 48 fish in roughly 4 hours. A fish on every 5 minutes, one landed every 10 minutes. Stunning.

We opted to fish after lunch in a different stretch of the river. Here it snaked through a beautiful copse of trees and contained a couple of much deeper pools. By now my shoulder was aching and I was casting like a one armed paper hanger, and an inebriated one at that. Whereas in the morning session I only lost a couple of flies, in the afternoon it was as if every branch was conspiring to restrict progress and grabbing flies like their existence depended upon it. In the two hours after lunch I lost 14. Ouch!

This new stretch was a revelation. It was “big brown central”. I saw at least three brown trout that were over 8 lb. One took the fly, turned towards me to show off a pair of shoulders that you could have strapped a saddle on, narrowed its gaze and spat the hook as it sauntered past leaving a wake that a super tanker would have been impressed with. My knees still knock at the memory.

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Time was running out when we reached Yoshi’s honey hole. “If we are going to get a trophy” he opined “it will be here”. The hole was deep, so deep that the water seemed endlessly dark and foreboding. Water entered in a narrow chute from the left, swirled around the outer edge and exited from the right. A slight eddy in the eye of the pool. Yoshi pinched on three large split shot and we descended onto a steep rock ledge. He showed me where he wanted the cast to be placed and told me how to manage the line. Steep lift to remove the slack and allow the rig to sink, draw the rod tip to the right when the flies touch the bottom and twitch it slightly as you move the flies across the current. First cast and the flies got absolutely hammered on the first twitch. We were about 8’ above the water and the fish went deep. The rod strained to lift the dead weight on the end. After what seemed eternity a fish showed itself and it was a rainbow of at least 6 ½ lb. Just when we thought we had it beaten it rolled on the surface and shed the hook in a flurry of foam. “Blood my dear Nora” I volunteered. Gutted. “No sweat” said Yoshi. “Plenty more fish in this hole, let’s do it again”.

Two casts later and the flies got walloped by a much bigger fish. Yoshi picked it for a brown as it stayed deep and kept on shaking its head as it calmly lapped the eddy like an Ethiopian long distance runner, always hugging the bottom tightly. Tiring of this game after five minutes it headed under the rock ledge we were standing on and started boring into the bank. There was nothing we could do to move it. Eventually after 10 minutes of resistance the line broke. Another expletive. This time Nora was asked about her sexual proclivity. If you get my drift.

This was getting wearying and if my arms ached at the start of the session they were throbbing by now. New trace and off we went again. After about ten casts I again hooked up on the twitch and this fish again gave all of the classic signs of a big brown trout. Circuit of the pool and then under the ledge. However this time I was able to get a better line angle onto it and it very quickly gave up boring into the bank. What came next took us both by surprise. It headed to the top and took off upstream through the chute. “Let it go” yelled Yoshi as he jumped into the thigh deep water and waded to the other side in pursuit. The fish headed upstream into my backing and then held. It then turned to retrace its path straight into Yoshi’s swooping net. I was ecstatic. 7lb of Ngongotaha brown. Stunning fish. The attached picture does it justice and shows just how chuffed I was.

By now, I’d had enough and told Yoshi that I was done. The afternoon session of 2 hours was much slower with 8 fish hooked and only 4 landed. This brought the total for the day to 56 hooked and 28 landed. I’ve never experienced anything like this before. Yoshi is a fishing guide at the top of his game. His skills are immense. Thanks mate, for a day that will remain indelibly etched in my memory forever.

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