Saturday, 11 May 2013

Tongariro and Poronui, NZ, Pt 2, December 2012



Mike Gee with a beautiful Mystery Creek rainbow around the 5.5lb mark 

There are plenty of stories about the wonders of sight casting to big New Zealand trout, and the joys of heli-fishing in remote wilderness country, but can the average flyfisher actually cut it or is it really a level too high. Sydney husband and wife team, MIKE GEE and GEORGINA SWAN, took up up the challenge. This is part two of a three-part feature.

THE FULL 45-PHOTO GALLERY FOR THIS ARTICLE

DAY TWO dawned  as a perfect blue sky day for heli-fishing. Our destination was a river known throughout the Taupo region as ‘Mystery Creek’ – a 15-minute chopper ride from Poronui. Craig promised sight fishing to big rainbows. Better still – it hadn’t been fished for seven weeks.

As ranges rise and fall away at your feet it’s easy to forget fishing for a while and just wonder at wilderness New Zealand. There’s a lot of it. Only four million people stretched across two islands. Amid the forests and peaks, valleys caress the hillsides and rivers shimmer blue and white through its deserted heart. The odd deer scrambles up a mountainside as the chopper’s blades catch its attention. On a bad day it would be the most inhospitable of places; on this day it was perfect.

Mystery Creek from the air
Mystery Creek is a mostly shingle bottomed river that hugs some relatively low (by New Zealand standards) cliffs and meanders easily walked scrub and grass covered flats. It is literally in the middle of nowhere. Its water does run gin-clear and the fish are as big as the legends say they are.

It does have a name but the Poronui guides like to keep it under their hats. I could tell but I won’t.

This is what sight fishing to rainbows is all about. We spent the better part of seven hours working our way down to the helicopter pick up point and it was never less than challenging but well within the reach of the trout fisherman who can cast consistently and with some distance.

Mike stalks - and catches ... a scale
Because of the gin-clear water casts of up to 50 metres are necessary some of the time and they need to lay nicely on the water otherwise some – not all – of the fish spook.

My first catch of the day was a scale. It’s the first time I’ve brought in a scale. Close, but too slow on the strike. The weight was there for a few seconds; that surge for the bottom of this modest riffle. Then gone. Still, it was enough to boost the confidence. And I've still got the scale tucked away ... err, somewhere.

After spooking a couple, Georgina delivered what I consider the best moment in her trout fishing career. The rainbow was swimming in a lovely stretch of deep water abutting a moss and plant-covered cliff face; patrolling its beat it moved regularly up and down. 


Georgina Swan hooks the first trout
You don’t even have to catch them when you can watch trout like this just doing what comes naturally.

So after a little stalking, Georgina was in position as the trout headed off upstream. Just before it turned she plopped the blowfly imitation down behind it. The sound was audible from metres away. To the trout it must have been even louder. It turned and sighted the source of the noise and moved with supreme confidence and languid grace towards its target. That large mouth opened and sucked the fly in. Craig didn’t even have to call strike. Georgina held her nerve, counted one-two-three and struck.

The battle was relatively short but worthy of such a fish. At least five pounds, perhaps six, he was a glorious beast of a rainbow.

Hard to pick who was happiest .. our guide Craig Aspinall or Georgina  
Half-an-hour later she landed a second. Again the water was probably no more than 10 metres wide with a pool and a deeper channel cliff-face side. This time the cast and the Tripney blowfly imitation was upstream and a drift down past the fish.

Her third rainbow – on a hare’s ear beadhead from Australia – was taken from a corner pool. This time the drift was much deeper so Craig changed the tippett length and put on a slightly larger beadhead.



Georgina plays out her second fish
It's a good tip for any fly fisher: always think about the depth you need to reach when using a wet and alter what you are presenting to the fish accordingly.

In the meantime, my casting had taken a turn for the better and I’d lost another fish by the narrowest of margins.

Finally though, my moment came. In one of the deeper pools a 5 pound-plus rainbow was actively feeding. We positioned, the cast was good (but not difficult), the fish cruised up, looked and thought better of it. Change of fly; a slightly heavier beadhead to sink further down in the water column; the rainbow had missed it completely the first time. 

And this beauty was her third
Second swim-by and a cast later it didn’t. I struck with conviction – Tongariro Lodge’s Tim McCarthy had constantly emphasised a year earlier: If you are going to strike, strike like your life depends on it. So I did. The jolt of contact fires the adrenalin instantly. This rainbow though didn’t want to sprint, it wanted to deep dive, to roll over and over and to turn back on itself.

Trout have their own ways of dealing with the fly fisherman but if you absorb the tactics you see in the videos, digest the tips in specialist mags, and, most importantly, listen to your guide, you will land at least a fair proportion of the fish you hook.

Oh, and, when in New Zealand - Let It Run. Every guide says that, again and again and again.

Mike celebrates his Mystery Creek rainbow
So a very average trout fisherman had now landed a trout in the Tongariro and Mystery Creek. It’s the stuff of dreams.

Between us, Georgina and I spooked or lost a couple more fish – Georgina just too slow twice on one fish, although after the day she’d had I fancy she had nothing left to prove. But the final act played out in the shallowest of ripples in a section no wider than five metres.

Craig had seen a fish that neither Georgina or I could see but he pointed out the slightly larger rock it was tucked in behind in the riffle. The sun was at the wrong angle so I couldn’t see the Parachute Adams on the water’s surface at all. Just a lot of shimmer and reflection. I took directions and fired off three casts. 

Mike fished with an Orvis Helios #5
Tip Flex with 
an Orvis Mirage #5 reel

 ... the rod suits my casting action
 and both are extra light
The third went straight over its nose apparently. There was nothing delicate about the take. Craig screamed ‘strike’, and next second this truly enraged trout took off across Mystery Creek like a speedboat in overdrive. The white bow wave was entrancing as was its reaction on reaching the far side, where it just flipped and ploughed back the way it had come, passing through the slack as I hastily hauled it in and snapping the line on one of the rocks in the shallows. 
For me, it was just about the best five or 10 seconds of the trip.

The power was breathtaking as was its mad rush for freedom. This was wilderness fishing at its most elemental.

it was a fitting end to a day that lived up to everything we had heard about heli-fishing in New Zealand. It isn't cheap but it is worth every cent. A fly fishing must! And all of the trout we caught are still out there waiting for you.

Mike and Georgina at the end of an outstanding day's fishing


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