WHICH MONTHS ARE BEST TO FISH THE TONGARIRO?

Back in the day most anglers timed their trips to the Tongariro river to coincide with the main rainbow trout spawning runs which occurred over the winter months. Between 1960 and 2000 these runs were mostly concentrated between May – August.

However there has been a major change in the timing of the rainbow trout spawning runs since 2002 and the fabled winter runs have moved to considerably later in the year. Remember that the data is based on trap results in the spawning streams so the fish probably will be in the lower river around 4-8 weeks earlier.

I recently stumbled upon an excellent Doctoral thesis by Elizabeth Heeg  entitled “Population genetics and spawning time of Lake Taupo rainbow trout” which documents these changes. http://researcharchive.vuw.ac.nz/xmlui/handle/10063/2046

As you can see from the graphs below by 2006 the main runs had switched to October-November. This is a fascinating development which has fisheries scientists baffled. It also seems to have by-passed many anglers as they still appear to be targeting the winter runs, even though these are now comparatively small.

angling-effort-tongariro seasonal-variation-in-spawning-runs

Several years ago I read an article in Target Taupo which also mentioned the trend so I started to visit Turangi in late November to take advantage of the later runs. Mid-late November is a great time to fish the river as there are fresh fish present, the days are warmer and you also get an evening rise when the conditions allow. Contrary to popular belief fresh run fish do rise at dusk to take advantage of hatching insects so the action can be hectic.

Below is an excerpt from my fishing diary showing just how good the fishing can be on the cusp of summer.

Which nymph should I choose?
Which nymph should I choose?

24 November

“The day dawned postcard perfect. Still with brilliant sunshine and cloudless skies. After a late breakfast we opted to head south to Waikato Falls to see how many fish were holding in the pool and runs immediately below the dam.

There was some awesome lenticular cloud hanging around the summit of Mt Ruapehu and we spotted a lot of fish including a lovely trout of around 5 – 6 lb cruising nonchalantly in the eddy behind the dam. This fish almost knew it was safe as the water was closed to angling for another week. I’ve already posted these images.

It was again hot (24C) but by mid afternoon a steady westerly breeze of 10 knots has sprung up to take the edge off the heat. We opted again to only fish the evening rise at the Duck pond and spent the day checking out the Tongariro to see where the fish were holding.

After dinner the breeze died appreciably and conditions were perfect for the evening rise with an air temperature of 20C and water temperature of 16C. Unlike the previous evening the rise proper started at 8.40 pm. Given that there had been quite a lot of gusty wind in the late afternoon, I decided to start fishing with #14 green beetle well before dark. I’d seen a couple of manuka beetles the previous evening and figured that some may have been blown into the river during the afternoon. Third cast into the head of the riffle and the fly got absolutely hammered by a trout which smartly turned tail and headed down river in a withering burst. It took to the air, flopped back into the river sideways and then charged repeatedly for the far bank, taking me into the backing. Fortunately it soon tired and started to circle around the eddy before throwing in the towel. Surprisingly it was a recovering hen and only weighed a nudge over 3 lbs. However, despite being a tad on the thin side, it quickly recovered from its exertions and swum off strongly. Within three casts I was in again and soon had another trout of around 3 lb. in the net pending release.

After this initial flurry of activity the fish started to rise in earnest so I swapped to a brown sedge. Bad choice as I did not get any touches in 15 minutes. All the while the trout were splashing and slurping noisily. Next I switched to a Mallard & Claret for 20 minutes and still could not elicit any interest. In despair I next tried a grey bodied, parachute pale hackled fly which looked like a spent Adams. The next 10 casts lead to 5 fish taking the fly. Each flopped on the surface or jumped and somehow spat the hook. I checked the fly after each fish and everything seemed in order. Eventually in despair, I turned on my headlight to discover that the nylon had looped back over bend of hook and was strung tightly across the gape to the eye. This effectively stopped the point from penetrating on the strike.

Slapping myself hard I removed the fly and changed back to # 14 sedge pattern. Success! Immediate hook up and within minutes I had another 3lb clone flapping in the net. By now the massive sedge hatch had tailed off appreciably so we opted to call it a day.

25 November

The next day dawned sunny, relatively cloudless with a light zephyr puffing languidly from the West. Ideal conditions to have a few hours prospecting Major Jones pool. The air temperature by 9.30 am had reached 22C. Before I left Auckland Tony Bishop suggested that I prospect with a hopper and a nymph so I took his advice and tied on a large Stimulator and a size #16 gold bead head Hares Ear on a 4′ dropper. Truck and trailer.

I started casting methodically fishing the fly upstream and within minutes was dreaming about nothing in particular. Casting metronomically and stripping in slack line automatically to keep tight to the Stimulator. Next I got fixated on something moving on the far bank and stared hard to see what was causing the disturbance. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the Stimulator pause, struck and came up solid on a trout which did not take kindly to having its nostril pierced. Off it went downstream but it was not heavy and soon was under control, thanks to constant side strain. It was a small recovering hen of around 2.5 lb that had taken the small nymph. Quickly released it to fight another day.

IMG_0272

About now several trout started to rise so I removed the Stimulator and nymph rig and replaced it with a #14 parachute spent spinner (stripped peacock herl body, golden pheasant tippet tail and dark brown hackle). I carefully waded in behind the hind most rising trout and pitched the fly about 6′ ahead of it. The fly landed softly and the trout rose in slow motion to engulf it purposefully. Passing on my regards to the Queen I struck carefully and set the hook. The trout was small (~ 2 lb) but it charged about the tail for several minutes before I could beach and release it. Meanwhile several other larger trout kept on rising steadily blissfully unaware of what was happening below them. Licking my lips I carefully waded into position to cast again. No sooner had I done this and started false casting than four rafts and a couple of kayakers hove into view at the head of the pool making a hell of a racket, splashing each other and squealing with delight. The trout immediately froze rigid synchronously and engaged turbos as they headed out into deep water and safety. I muttered a profanity laden sentence to myself which specifically questioned their lineage before winding in and heading home, steam venting from every orifice.

Eventually I calmed down and began setting up for another evening foray to the Duck pond. By the late afternoon the weather had turned cloudy. It was still warm but rain showers were forecast for late in the evening. Bankside at 7.30 pm the air temperature was still 21C and water temperature 16C.

Learning from past experience I attached a green beetle fly to imitate any manuka beetles that may have been blown unceremoniously into the river. Tonight this was studiously ignored, as was an Aoteapsyche nymph and the up until this trip “never fail” Hoflands.

Again I noticed a hatch of pale grey flies and switched to #16 deer hair CDC caddis. Bingo! Within six casts I’d hooked three trout and landed two. The first fish was 2lb. and second 3.5 lb. The latter fish fought like it was much bigger. Strong runs into the current, surface jumps and dogged resistance. It was a long fish that would easily have gone 5 lb. when in peak condition. With the extra weight it would have been hard to stop in heavy water.

By now it was getting late so we pulled the pin and headed home.

26 November

Buoyed by yesterday’s effort in the Major Jones, I headed out onto the river in the late afternoon to target fish that were rising or holding in the shallow shingle. Another sun drenched day, the only saving grace being a strong wind gusting 10 knots down river. This serendipitously blew the fly line away from my head when casting which is always a bonus.

I attached a # 12 deer hair blowfly and managed to hook two rising fish briefly. The second snapped the bend off the hook at end of the shank. This calls for a change in tactics I muttered to no one in particular.

On went a #14 Glister nymph in combination with a #14 fawn bead head maggot fly. I started casting directly out from where I stood, slightly upstream of perpendicular. I reach mended late in the forward casting stroke to deposit the fly line upstream of the visible trout. What happened next will live with me forever. I hooked the first trout at 1610 hours and proceeded to hook 14 over next 80 minutes, landing six. All around 2.5 – 3.5 lbs. One fish did not fight at all, one took off like a Polaris missile in the highest jump I’ve ever seen and one launched a full on attack at me and spat the hook at my feet from a rod length away. A stunning session. I described it afterwards as “Fishing from a highlights package”. Given that it took several minutes to get back to the shore, it was virtually a trout a cast! For the record the air temperature was 22C and the water temperature 16C.

141124 - Nicely coloured Rainbow

Fly fishing is often as much about confidence and positive mental attitude as anything else so you can probably guess how pumped I was when we set out after dinner for our daily dose of Duck pond. Again nothing began moving until 2040 hours, well after sunset. This was probably due to the strong westerly wind, gusting 15 knots, that buffeted our mostly sheltered spot.

I attached the # 16 deer hair CDC caddis and waited. Once the trout started rising steadily I waded in carefully and started casting. As soon as the fly started to skate it got slaughtered and I hooked 5 fish in 50 minutes. Remarkably we landed all of them, Sandy dealing expertly with two. The second fish which hit the caddis was an altogether different proposition from the rest. It flopped heavily on the surface, tore off line in short powerful bursts and stayed deep shaking its head angrily. Classic behaviour for a big brown. It took me well into the backing twice and much longer for the Hardy Angel Smuggler to wear down but eventually it succumbed to the relentless pressure. It was only 6 lb but it was short, deep of shoulder and well proportioned. An absolute beauty. Unfortunately I could only get a shot of its flank with my mobile. The other four fish were all in 2.5 – 3.5 lb bracket and fought strongly as well.

What a day! Hooked 21 trout in a nudge over two hours, landing 11. Epic does not even begin to describe it.

27 November

The weather during the next day was average and fishing would have been uncomfortable on account of the wind and misty rain. So we opted to go to the hot pools and generally explore and focus on the evening rise.

When we got to the Duck pond at 8.00 pm it was overcast and misty rain permeated the session. Thankfully the westerly wind did drop to a manageable10 knots but the air temperature plummeted to 13C in roughly an hour and a half. It was cold and fewer fish rose before 9.00 pm.

On went the #16 deer hair CDC caddis at dusk but we opted to sit and wait. I started fishing steadily between 2100 – 2140 hours as the trout came on the chomp and managed to hook three, all landed. Two by Sandy. The largest was a 4 – 4.5 lb brown which fought doggedly to the bitter end.

28 November

Last day and the weather was again a curates egg. One minute it was bright and sunny, the next it was heavy showers. The only constant was the relentless south westerly which gusted to 20 knots at times.

I took my chance just after lunch and headed to the Major Jones for 1.5 hours. It was sunny and overcast for first 30 minutes then closed in and started to drizzle steadily. The air temperature struggled to reach 16C at the hottest part of the day and there was a fair amount of wind chill involved.

To cut a long story short, I fished the entire session with small bead headed Glister nymph and fawn maggot nymph. I hooked a fish during preparation for my first cast and 5 others in total. The biggest was 3.5 lb, rest all around 2lb. Compared with what had gone before it was hard fishing. Bigger trout were clearly visible but they would not be tempted.

What a week. Hooked 47 trout and landed 27 in 15 hours fishing. Roughly one fish landed every 35 minutes. Only saw one other angler fishing all week but everyone I bumped into was catching plenty. There are some big gravid fish hanging off the Tongariro delta at present and they will run up soon to spawn, probably with the next flood”.

So there you have it. Head down to the Tongariro in October-November when the river levels and atmospheric conditions allow and it should all be on! Fish the evening rise. You will not be disappointed.

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