Monday 20 May 2013

Tongariro and Poronui, NZ, Pt 3, December 2012

Georgina Swan plays a nice rainbow trout; Poronui guide,
 Craig Aspinall, attempts to net
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 the third and final part of the feature.


A typical Waipunga River run
DAY THREE bloomed moody and stayed that way. The sun poked through between bouts of scudding white puffy clouds and grey-capped stillness. Craig decided it was a good day to tackle the Waipunga River, a tributary of the Mohaka about 30 kilometres up State Highway 5, and good 60 minute walk upstream.

It is a river of extremes, caught for much of the distance we covered between towering cliffs and forests. The wind eddies and curls, one moment in your face, the next at your back, before falling away to dead calm around the next bend. It isn't a big river but it is a perfect trout river. 

Long riffles, big pools, stony bottoms, dead timber lining drop offs. It comes as no surprise that the Waipunga has one of the highest densities of trout per kilometre on North Island.

A nice 4lb Rainbow hen for Georgina ...
and a happy guide
A word of warning though: it requires a fair amount of wading and crisscrossing from bank to bank. We were lucky in that water was quite low which made it easier to wade but Craig warns it flows much higher and can be very difficult to get far up at all. Its waters flow fast even at moderate levels.

Craig was intent on sight casting to trout and Georgina struck early in a nice deep pool when a rainbow hen of better than 4 pounds obliged by taking a hare'n'copper beadhead and running downstream before thoughtfully beaching herself.

Swimming the fish
I should have had an even bigger fish which swirled incessantly beneath a brown beadhead nymph, before a change of depth driven by a switch to a bigger beadhead made its mind up. Craig was calling it up from the depths but I anticipated his call to strike too early. The result was a puzzled trout looking up at a rapidly disappearing fly. Craig shed a few more hairs.

A couple more big fish were disinterested and we managed to spook another two. But there was still plenty of fun to be had. Between us we caught five 'pannies', perfect pan-sized rainbows with bodies like little footballs, which took off with abandon, flipped, flopped, tail-walked, splished and splashed before running out of steam and submitting to the indignity of having a fly removed from their mouths.

Craig couldn't understand why Georgina and I considered this so much fun.
A typical small Waipunga Rainbow for Mike
In New Zealand, trout don't seem to count until they are at least 45 centimetres, but for Australian mountain stream fishers like us there's an absolute joy in catching these little scrappers.

So six for the day, three each and a bundle more missed. But somewhat surprisingly the moment I will always remember had nothing to do with fish; flashing across the sky, high above this wild river, a pair of very rare New Zealand Bush Falcons reminded us that here in these towering ancient forests they are making their stand for survival.

A raft of the endangered Blue Duck ... fantastic
Earlier we had the pleasure of seeing two separate rafts of the also endangered Blue Duck which is endemic to New Zealand – 15 in all, and a hint that the country's conservation program is working for this rare shelduck.

To see the falcons though, well, that was special.

So this was our North Island adventure. We proved that wilderness fishing is not just the pursuit of mad British actors or men who began their fly fishing story with cane and enter the twilight with nano carbon lightweights slung over their shoulders.

Georgina fishes with an
Innovator HLS 9ft 6wt rod
 matched with a Greys
G-Tec 350 
Our New Zealand fly fishing tale has just begun and we intend to write many more chapters. It would be remiss not to thank our guide, Craig Aspinall, a man whose own fly passion is night fishing; he put us on the fish day in, day out, and made this part of the story possible.

Also to everybody at Poronui, especially Lodge Manager, Eve Reilly  and head guide, Grant Petherick, all we can say is that the time on the river was equalled by the time away from it. And that is just as important.
The final night's dinner in the underground wine cellar was unforgettable (check out the gallery linked above for photos).

We have already returned to the Tongariro and Whanganui rivers since this trip and that report is up next on The Wet & The Dry

There were plenty of line-busting big rainbows and dozens of smaller trout to be caught. We ended up with 44 in three days of incredible fishing in near perfect Autumn conditions!

Georgina and Mike with Poronui Lodge
 manager, Eve Reilly
And we'll introduce you to legendary New Zealand guide, Ken Drummond, one of the nicest guys in the business.

See you on the rivers. The trout are waiting.

Mike Gee is a dual Walkley Award winning journalist, author and editor. Georgina Swan is a multiple award-winning journalist, editor and communications expert. They work to fish.

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