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Winter in The Other New Zealand Fly Fishing Destination
Tony Bishop

If you were to read the magazines, watch videos, and view reports on the net, you could get the impression that New Zealand fly fishing was confined to the South Island - or the 'Mainland' as South Islanders call it.

The South Island Fishery has a great deal going for it; big fish in clear water, demanding fishing for good and better fly fishers. Most South Island waters are open during Summer, but closed during Winter. But the North Island has superb fishing, in clear streams and rivers as well, especially throughout the central North Island, and especially for anglers prepared to venture off the beaten tracks. But many of these streams and rivers are closed over Winter too. So what do do, apart from tie flies, tell lies, and wait?

The good news is that much of the Lake Taupo area, on the Central North Island Plataeu is open over Winter, and it is the time Rainbow and brown trout head up the rivers and streams (all 47 of them that flow into Lake Taupo) to spawn. (Most of the rivers have closures on the upper reaches to facilitate undisturbed spawning from the end of June.) This draws big numbers of fly fishers, most of whom it must be said are there to catch fish to eat, and many who are fixated by chasing numbers.

Many anglers do not fish in the Taupo area during this period, putting it down with horror stories of crowding, and 'chuck and duck' casting of heavy nymphs, or streamers on heavy shooting heads, on 9 wt. rods to fish lying deep and invisible. [More] Others fish the river and stream mouths with big rods all day and into the night. All the subtlety of a brick they cry, and it is an accurate description of many if not most of the fishing and fishermen. But these anglers forget that skilled fly-fishers with a penchant for seeking water where the total experience of fishing is not necessarily reduced by low catch numbers are a minority of fly-fishers.

So what opportunities are there in the Lake Taupo area for fly fishers who want to avoid the crowds at the wellknown pools and don't wish to use elephant guns? There are plenty. All the rivers will have good numbers of fish, all in superb condition, all wild and all fit, great fish. The average weight is 2.2kg. (4.5lb).

Most of the reputation for crowding is aimed at the Tongariro river; she is big, boisterous and over winter full of fish. Sadly most of the wellknown pools will be full of anglers too, at least in the head and midsections. But tails of pools, the long low rapids, and the riffles, will have few if any anglers. The riffles and low rapids are all very fishable using Czech nymphing or the US Hi-sticking techniques. These roily waters hold big numbers of fish, but the 9wt, high lead content brigade, cannot fish it becuase their dredging methods hook-up on the rocks and boulders way too often. All these sections can be fished with a 6 wt., using a sinking line, or nymphs off a weight forward floater. Actually the heads and middle sections of most pools can be fished with a 6 wt. too, but being surrounded by flying lead bombs is not for me. The only time lower line weight rods become an issue is when it is blowing; remember we are talking winter here, and it does get a tad breezy at times. So do you move to a bigger rod? No. Move to a smaller river. And we are talking here of distances that require only a 20 minute drive. In fact these days I rarely fish the Tongariro, except over summer when there is marvellous fishing also - and no people.

The smaller rivers are likely to have some anglers in the well known pools, but the water between them will be barren of anglers. The reason these areas are free of anglers is that casting needs to be accurate, as does line control. There are snags a plenty, and the banks have the last remnants of Trifid colonies (marvellously disguised as Blackberries) which reach out and grab terminal tackle. These gnarly areas hold good numbers of fish. Fish that have had few flies swinging past them, so they are less gun-shy.

So what flies are used?

The masses will be tossing Glo-bugs with plenty of lead above them to sink them rapidly to the bottom, and they will probably fish them all day. But my dairies show, and guides agree, that Glo-bugs are great at dawn and dusk, but lose most of their efficacy once the sun is fully on the water, or gone from the water. I have found going down to size 12 or 14 nymphs, gold-beaded anythings, or size 12 caddis constructed from gold translucent glass beads with a very light over-dubbing of some fur or other, are very effective. You will probably need some lead above the flies on a 12 ft. or more leader. You will need an indicator, but make it as small as possible. Tying your indicators onto 'O' rings makes for an easy to move indicator to allow for differing depths.

If using a wet-line, any streamer will do if it is in the right place, and putting in the right place is critical, but you should have some Wooly Buggers and Red Setters in you fly box. Steelhead flies work well too, as well they might, the Rainbows in Taupo are Steelheads.

So what is the attraction of this fishery; remembering it is colder than a mother-in-law's stare? There you stand, up to your testimonials in just above freezing water, rain being blown down your neck, and thinking, what the hell am I doing here. The answer to that question is soon answered when a fighting-fit, bright silver, red-flecked, deep bellied, large-tailed, rainbow jumps on your fly and goes crazy, jumping all over the pool. Suddenly the cold and wet disappears. And as you let the fish swim away with a 'what the hell was that' look on it's face, you can think of the Mainlanders tying flies for the new season still months away, and thinking what a mad bunch North Islanders are, and a smug smile is in order.

[Disclosure - I was born and raised in the South Island and learned to fish there.]

Tony Bishop

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