|Mike fishing a bank run on the Whanganui River|
Words: MIKE GEE Photos: MIKE GEE and GEORGINA SWAN Video: GEORGINA SWAN
"We outfished the 2008 French World Fly Fishing Championships team, 11-0"
It's becoming a pleasant habit. Fly into Auckland on North Island, New Zealand, at Easter, drive to Turangi, stay at Sportsman's Lodge, hit the mighty Tongariro River and the superb Whanganui River, add in the beautiful Tauranga-Taupo (TT) River, catch a lot of fish, drop a whole lot more, and have some of the best trout fishing you'll ever experience.
This time it was a flying visit over Easter; two-and-a-bit-days, five hours on the Tongariro, three hours on the Tauranga-Taupo and a day on the Whanganui with our mate and guide, Ken Drummond. The weather stayed perfect - 21C days, a little cloud, the odd drizzle over night. And the fish? Over the years we've always asked 'where do the small trout go in New Zealand rivers?' The answer in 2015 is all over the place.
The rivers were literally teeming with little tykes starting at around 10-12cm. They were everywhere: small, crazy hyped-up rainbows. In one hour on the TT, we cast small size 16 dry flies into every possible river scenario: riffles, pools, currents, flat patches, under banks, and no matter where we cast one of these little trout would have a go at the fly. If we had dropped to size 20 or smaller, we could have caught 60 in an hour.
|A typical 'tyke' taken from the Tongariro River; they were everywhere in the region|
Our first hour hour on the Tongariro was a late afternoon burst just up from the Judges Pool after driving down from Auckland in Easter Friday traffic (tip: leave early to avoid the worst of it). First cast I had a 20cm rainbow on a hare and copper gold beadhead nymph, the top fly in my two nymph set-up - with a pheasant-tail nymph as the dropper. To be honest, the little bugger scoffed the fly on the swing, thus reducing the skill level involved in catching it to not much at all. However, I'll always take it!
It should be said that this weekend there was plenty of 'picket fencing' on the Tongariro in the more popular spots, yet strangely if you walked and bush bashed for 300-400m you had a lengthy section of water to yourself. When we left on Monday morning around 8am there were six fly fishers in the water just down from the highway bridge which crosses the river in about 200 metres. Not our idea of fun.
|Nearing dusk on the Tongariro River|
Easter Saturday dawned as near perfect as days get. It was market day in Turangi which means cake, fairy floss, more cake, stuff, and more cake stalls. We ventured into Sporting Life to see if they could help with Georgina's wader problem. While they didn't have the right size in women's waders they did spend 25 minutes finding a pair of men's waders that would fit her well and then took her damaged waders away to repair. When we came back two days later the holes had been fixed and there was no charge!
Founded by Graham and Cathy Whyman 30 years ago - the nicest couple you could meet - and run with the assistance of an all-star team including arch blogger and fly fishing fanatic, Jared Goedhart, Sporting Life not only looks after all the needs of the fly fisher hoping to nail a Tongariro monster but is a real part of the legend of fly fishing in the region. And what these people don't know about fly-fishing probably hasn't been discovered. So a big hats off and thank you to everybody at Sporting Life.
|Georgina pulled six rainbows in as many casts |
from this corner pool on the Tongariro
With the river beginning to fill up around us - there were at least three flyfishers in the Blue Pool - we decided to take lunch and then head for somewhere a little less crowded.
|A nice feisty rainbow from the Tauranga-Taupo river|
Wading upstream at this time of the year is easy - none of those large, slippery boulders that dominate the Tongariro and Whanganui, just a nice sandy bottom with plenty of crossing points. But like all impossibly attractive fly streams, the TT has a sting in its tail: timber. Many of the best pools and runs have some associated wood - and that, of course, is where the bigger fish tend to sit, and we saw at least three or four nice specimens that refused to budge. The question was if they did, could we keep them out of the timber once hooked. Hopefully, we'll answer that in future trips.
|It doesn't get much better than this: Fishing the TT|
as the sun sets
Easter Sunday promised some rain but dawned a little cloudy before giving way to the sun as the day progressed. We had a date with our mate Ken Drummond, who has been guiding in this region for years. It was our third time out with Ken following three previously memorable days that featured 'the submarine' and a fishing orgy on the Whanganui that saw us catch 41 and drop 12 trout over two days.
This time round Ken decided we should revisit the scene of that exciting - although very wet - first trip and see what damage we could do on a fine day. The Whanganui is one of my favourite three New Zealand rivers. Classic back country fishing through pools, runs and rapids it's broad sweep carries more than a hint of difficulty and danger but the promise of plenty of fish. And, once again, it didn't disappoint.
On this section which runs through private property, the Whanganui is about a perfect trout river as you can find. As we stood on the rock laden banks, small trout hurled themselves out of the water close to the far bank where the water ran still and fast, their targets so small they could hardly be seen.
|This Whanganui rainbow weighed in at 4.25lb|
|Five pounds of Whanganui rainbow|
The afternoon session was spent fishing longer runs in deeper water. Georgina pulled out a couple of nice fish in the 2.5-3.5lb range while I landed a couple of those feisty smaller fish and dropped a nice 3.5-4lb fish that hopped out of the water five times before finally managing to throw the hooks.
|Georgina and Ken shared the credit for this fish|
But a word of warning: never underestimate the dangers associated with big New Zealand rivers like the Tongariro and Whanganui: Ken went over despite using a wading stick and got a soaking from head to foot while I ended the day by sliding down a high bank, hitting a flat rock which was wet and very slippery, meaning there was no grip for my boots which went out from underneath me and I slammed back down into the surface. A week later the bruising on my arms is beginning to fade, the internal soft tissue damage in my back is beginning to heal and the fractured rib is a little less painful. It could have a been a lot worse. According to my doctor 3cm to the right and the bole on the rock that slammed into back would have slammed into my spine; 5cm south it would have hit a kidney. I was lucky. I walked out of there.
|Selfie with Whanganui trout|
All up the day delivered 12 rainbows with another six dropped. For the trip, we came away with 29 fish landed and 12 dropped in just over two days - about 14 hours - of fishing.
To Ken Drummond - you're a legend!, the folk at Sporting Life, Sportman's Lodge, and the people of Turangi and its surrounds, our thanks. You make these trips so special. And, of course, we will be back.
Oh, and one final thing, we would like to state for the record that we outfished the 2008 French World Fly Fishing Championships team which were revisiting the Whanganui the day we took it on and fished upstream from us. End result: Australia/New Zealand 11, France 0!!!!!
The beauty of a release from Georgina Swan on Vimeo.
Mike fished with an Orvis Helios Tip Flex 7-weight rod and Orvis Battkenkill Large Arbor IV reel. George fished with a Sage One 6-weight rod and Grey's G-Tec 350 reel.