It had taken months to finally arrive but Thursday May 14th was the day Hamish and I had been waiting for since we opened our 2014 Christmas presents. There, in amongst the parcels with the names of others, was a small envelope which contained a voucher telling us that we would be sharing a guided fishing trip with Kiyoshi Nakagawa (Yoshi) in the rivers around Rotorua. High fives all round.
As the day approached we both were checking the MetService forecasts regularly to see how the weather would unfold. Wednesday’s forecast was for light showers all day but as there had been precious little rain in the preceding days this was unlikely to cause too many problems. Late in the afternoon Yoshi texted to confirm that we were good to go which was exactly the news we’d been longing to hear.
Gear was packed into the car eagerly on Wednesday evening and at 4.15 am on Thursday morning we were both up and at it. By 5.00 am we’d had breakfast, packed a light lunch and were heading south on the motorway chatting excitedly. We discussed at length what we wanted to achieve during the day. Hamish was keen to beat his personal best of 4lb or catch a brown. Either option would make his day. I was just happy to sit back and let him improve his skills under Yoshi’s expert tutelage as having a son who is a mad keen trout angler means that I get to go fishing more often.
We rendezvoused with Yoshi on SH 5 near Ngongotaha and having looked at the rivers he decided that it would be best to focus initially on the Waiteti stream. He told us to follow his car and lead us downstream to an access spot he knew. Here we slid into our Gore-Tex cocoons (waders plus raincoats), laced up wading boots, assembled rods, filled our showerproof backpack with essentials and allowed Yoshi to set up our traces, carefully absorbing every detail.
The Waiteti is a narrow stream with a bottom that alternates between gravel and sand. The deeper pools tend to have sandy bottoms and the riffles and glides are river shingle. Our plan was to target the faster shingle based runs that tend to be around calf to knee deep, stalk close and “flick nymph” to sighted fish.
With this in mind Yoshi set up 9’ traces with three flies attached. A large Stimulator dry fly was knotted to the butt end of the trace as a working indicator and a single length of fluorocarbon was knotted to the bend of this fly. Three quarters of the way down the trace Yoshi attached a short dropper and knotted a small Otters egg onto it. The remaining point fly was either a double or single tungsten bead traditional natural nymph. This was altered during the day depending on how deep and swift the glide being fished was.
By now we were starting to focus on the day ahead and little was said as we walked across a paddock and carefully negotiated the bankside willows to get to the stream. Here, Yoshi immediately spotted a couple of trout sitting in a depression behind a gravel fan and carefully directed Hamish into a casting position about two rod lengths below them. An elbow plus wrist flick followed and the flies catapulted towards the trout only to sink and pass them by unmolested. Next cast needs to be slightly longer and to the left whispered Yoshi. Hamish duly obliged and all three flies landed perfectly in line with the trout. Three seconds later the word “Strike” shattered the calm and the line hissed through the water as Hamish set the hook. Second cast and he was in. Game on!
We were under strict instructions to strike downstream and turn the fishes head towards us so that it ran downstream and did not spook the remaining fish. Hamish executed this manoeuvre perfectly and I watched from the willow stands as the feisty trout zipped past into the next pool. It was a small rainbow of around 2 ½ lb which took very little time to subdue and get into the net. The perfect confidence booster to start the day!
Upon returning to our starting spot the second fish had disappeared so we began walking carefully upstream, Yoshi leading and spotting. Hamish caught similar sized fish in the next few glides and dropped a couple of others and was quickly into the groove.
Meanwhile I was marooned on zero and fishing like a novice. Casting too quickly, too short, wrong line and missing fish on the take. My attention was continually drawn to the Stimulator, instead of watching the fish and listening to Yoshi, which inevitably meant late strikes and missed opportunities. Eventually after a couple of glides I managed to get it right and hook up on a decent fish only for it to tear off downstream, snag the trailing fly on some underwater detritus and get off leaving a straightened hook. For me, it was starting to shape into one of those days. Time to calm down and take stock!
The next glide we came to was an absolute honey. At least a dozen fish could be seen finning on the gravel, pre-occupied with feeding and occasionally darting about to chase away any trout that moved out of its designated position. Yoshi and Hamish approached them stealthily from below and got within two rod lengths of the rear most trout. Out flicked the nymph combo and seconds later I saw the rod scythe back in perfect harmony with Yoshi’s cry to strike. The rod arched into a graceful curve as the fish headed downstream into the deep pool immediately below the glide. It was a brown and a nice one at that. Once in the sanctuary of the deeper water the fish started to fight dirty seeking out the willow roots and tendrils trailing lower in the water column. Seeing this Yoshi implored Hamish to hang on, apply side and make the rod work to draw the fish back into clear water. This was white knuckle fishing at its best. Fortunately the trout was unable to resist the continual pressure and in no time was flapping suspended in Yoshi’s net. The weigh scale dropped immediately to 5 lb which was a new PB for Hamish. It was a stunning fish in absolute prime condition, short and fat, the colour of butter. Interestingly someone else had hooked it as it had a small Hare and Copper nymph trailing from its neb.
Hamish and Yoshi went back into position and managed to hook and land another three fish in quick succession. Amazingly the next fish also had an extra fly adorning its jaw where it had been hooked and lost before. There was another fish in the remaining pod that clearly had a Glo bug embedded near its dorsal fin so these fish had obviously seen plenty of anglers before.
We continued on further for a wee while and then retraced our steps back to the car for an early lunch. Hamish had managed to land 10 fish by this point and I had only managed to land 3. Hamish’s brown was easily the fish of the morning, my biggest being a beautifully coloured 4 ½ lb rainbow jack. As you can see Yoshi got some epic images of both fish.
After a lunch of hot Mushroom soup and baguette we headed off in the cars to fish another stretch of water several kilometres away.
Tackling up in the car park we again carefully made our way down a track through the established riverside vegetation to the water. Crawling and crouching through the undergrowth to check out what the first run held. What we saw was a revelation. There were at least 6 huge brown trout holding station and interspersed amongst them a few smaller rainbows. Hamish and Yoshi carefully slid into position behind them but it was to no avail. Three casts later and it was over. These fish had seen it all before and slowly slid across the gravel to take sanctuary under the far bank.
We headed upstream and it was finally my turn to fish again. The next glide was above a dog leg in the river and it also was holding a few massive browns that were gently finning to hold station. We got behind the rear most fish and I roll flick the nymphs above it. Nothing doing. Yoshi whispered that the next cast had to go to the left which it duly did. Perfect. Down drifted the nymphs and the big brown moved to intercept. The mouth flashed white. “Strike” said Yoshi but he was a nano second late as the rod was already moving. The hook hit home and the fish took a second or two to realise that something was amiss. Then, it started shaking its head and thrashing on the surface to try and rid itself of the source of its problems. This did not work so it turned and charged off downstream with me in hot pursuit. It powered into the sanctuary of the pool which marked the dog leg and started to bore deep. I could see that it was desperate to get under a rock shelf so applied side to stop it. “Harder” urged Yoshi as the fish closed in and started to dislodge sediment. I locked up the reel and bent the rod as hard as I dared. The fish inched forward until we reached a stalemate. The fish could not move under the ledge and I could not budge its thrashing form from next to the rock shelf. Every tail beat and pulse dislodged another cloud of silt. This continued for a minute or two until eventually the big jack yielded and allowed himself to be drawn inexorably towards Yoshi’s net. In Yoshi swooped and the fish was ours. It was a stunner, 9 lb. of prime, brown jack. High fives all round. The sense of relief was palpable.
Hamish was up next. The fish had moved up slightly in the run so Hamish and Yoshi had to a little further to stalk to get into position to cast to a trout that easily looked bigger than the one that we’d just caught and released. Out flicked the nymphs for nil result. This happened multiple times for the same return and I sensed after 10 minutes that they were about to give up and move on. Then, as if it realised this, the big brown drifted sideways and absolutely slaughtered one of the nymphs. Hamish struck and came up solid. The next few minutes flew past in a blur. I can remember the fish taking off downstream, angler and guide running as fast as possible to keep up, mountains of spray as Hamish’s size 13 boots whacked through the shallows and then quiet as they disappeared around the corner. It took me a few minutes to catch up. By now they were two pools further downstream and no nearer to landing the leviathan. Hamish was holding it but there was no doubting who was in control. Then the big fish turned and took off again this time under the far bank. The trailing fly snagged on an underwater obstruction and the fish was gone. We were emotionally gutted. 15 minutes ago we were revelling in securing a 9 lb jack and now we were distraught at losing something bigger.
Taking a minute or two to take stock we checked and re-tied traces and moved upstream. Eventually we came to another run where there was a couple of big browns holding station. Hamish and Yoshi ghosted in behind them on the far side of the stream and Hamish flicked out the nymphs. From my position to the side I could see everything unfold in slow motion. The flies drifting closer, the fish’s mouth open and close, the strike and the angry response. It was epic. This was another good trout and it was again going downstream fast. Fortunately this time though Hamish was able to keep up, turn its head and hold it in the downstream pool where it alternated between thrashing on the surface and boring deep to find somewhere to hide. Eventually all of the activity took its toll and it came close enough for Yoshi to net, yet another big brown jack. This time 8lbs. Another round of high fives and cheers followed. Hamish had just doubled his PB and caught his third brown in the space of 5 hours!
When we all caught up to move upstream a few minutes later Hamish stated the obvious. “Dad this is like fishing in a highlights package and it is just so cool”.
The next few pools were also full of big trout and one or two were splashing on the surface occasionally. This was a sight to really quicken the pulse and best of all it was my turn again. Yeeha!
Yoshi and I slid into the water and made our way upstream. What we saw next was unbelievable. There were two huge fish holding station. From behind their bodies were heavily tapered (like a carrot) and the shoulder width was massive. I’ve heard people talk about trout that were “big enough to put a saddle on” and now I knew what they meant. This pair owned the glide and occasionally circled it deliberately to disperse intruders. Yoshi watched them move about and told me to wait until he said “execute”. When the call came I was ready and out flew the nymphs. Time and time again. Eventually after a few close encounters with the bankside foliage I was able to get the bigger of the fish to take the point fly and set the hook. Unfortunately somehow the fish also managed to hook itself in front of the adipose fin with the dropper fly as it rolled so I was attached to a fish of around 12 lb near the tail and had absolutely no control over it. It headed past thrashing and rolling its way downstream and we all got to see its impressive bulk. There was a simultaneous sucking in of breath as we marvelled at the depth and its shovel sized tail. It calmly moved into a calm patch of water lower down in the run but as Yoshi tried to get close it bolted and snapped the trace like cotton.
Much the same thing happened when I eventually hooked its partner with the exception that only the point fly was taken. I fought it for several minutes in the fast flowing glide where it splashed and crashed about the surface as I kept its head up and held on for grim death. It started to tire and we began to believe that we would get a trophy but again circumstances conspired to thwart us just as Yoshi was moving in to get the net shot. Bugger!
We called it a day at that point and packed up to head home. Yoshi confirmed that we’d hooked over fifty fish during the day and landed 26, Hamish top scoring with 16. Fortunately I’d managed to land the biggest fish at 9 lb. which saved me from too much ribbing. I also managed to catch 7 fish to Hamish’s 6 in the afternoon session and restore some credibility after a truly average morning by my standards.
Once again Yoshi the master had done the business. What a phenomenal day, truly unforgettable.
Look Yoshi up at Totally Fly in Auckland. He is an absolute legend. You will not regret going fishing with him.