Guide To Fishing The Tongariro

Welcome to one of the worlds most famous fisheries, first made famous in the 1920's by world renown American author and Angler Zane Gray in his book about New Zealand fishing called "The Anglers El-Dorado".

Since then the mighty Tongariro has been fished by many famous people including presidents and the Queen mother.

Although it is often thought that fishing is harder now than it once was - probably true in some respects, the hydro electric scheme that takes water off high off the river actually serves a great purpose in regulating and reducing the flow of the river.  In many respects "taming the beast".  This means that much more of the river is accessible to the fisherman nowadays.

A major environmental catastrophe is threatening the existing of fly fishing in New Zealand - the super invasive algae known in-affectionately as "rock snot".  At present it has been eating its way through over 30 South Island rivers after first being identified in 2004, but has not as yet been detected in the North Island.  Please help to keep it this way.  This algae first came from overseas - North America is suspected although I believe it originated in Europe.  Please do not bring your own waders or wading boots.  Hire them when you get here or if you use a guide then the guide will likely provide them for free.  Most tackle shops hire equipment.  Our fishing licensing agencies are at present considering banning felt soled wading boots because of the difficulty in sterilizing between rivers but as the bureaucratic wheel is a slow one to turn it is being requested of us not to wear felt soled boots between known infested rivers and clean ones.  We would prefer you not to bring any at all to our area particularly from overseas or the South Island.

Take care when releasing fish.  Try to avoid handling them as your hands will remove the protective slime on them and burn them, allowing infections to enter.  Use proper unhooking tools - they are cheap.  Keep the fish in the water and release as quickly as you can.  If the fish is struggling you may need to hold them gently mouth forward into the current for a little while to allow oxygenated water to pass through the gills.  Use the heaviest line weight and line that you can get away with and still catch fish.  Play the fish as heavily as you can without busting off to reduce the fight time.  This will decrease the amount of lactic acid build up in the trout and increase its survival chance.  Basically do things as quick as possible.

  • Lower river through Grace Road off state highway one about 500m north of the state highway 1 bridge crossing the Tongariro.  Drive to the end of Grace road and park there.  About 30 meters back up the road is a track going off on the south - upriver side.  Don't take the track next to the sign at the end of the road.
  • Half way down Grace Road on the left side is another small gravel Road.  Follow this road to the end and park there.  This gets you to the Bain Pool, Plank Pool, and by walking downstream to the Reed pool.  Following the track down will eventually get you back to the end of Grace Road.

  • Herekiekie street is the first Road on the left down Grace Road and driving to the end of it will put you on the rock wall above the Bridge Pool
  • Parking on either side of the Main Road Bridge will allow you to fish around and under the bridge and also the next pool up under the big cliff known as the Lonely Pool.
  • Driving South over the Bridge into Turangi, turn left down any of the side roads and you will end up on Taupehi Road.  There are two tackle shops along Taupehi Road and all of the little side roads on the same side as the tackle shops pretty much end up at the river allowing you to fish (in order) the Judges Pool, Island Pool, Major Jones Pool, Breakfast Pool, and Hydro Pools.  Driving to the end of Koura street and parking there will place you at the Major Jones bridge which is a foot bridge crossing the Tongariro.  If you cross this you can walk miles upstream on the True left hand side of the river fishing various pools on the way up.  The track goes up past the Redhut swing bridge and dies out at around Boulder Reach.  This track takes you past the Kamahi Pool, Admirals Pool, Stag Pool, Cattle Rustlers, Lower Birches, Upper Birches, Silly Pool, Kowhai Flat, Duchess Pool, Shag Pool, and Redhut Pool where a swing bridge is crossing the river and coming out on the other side.  There are various other little side roads off the main road that also allow you to access from the other other side river at various points.
  • Driving past Turangi heading south on state highway 1 you come to numerous signs like Admirals Pool, Redhut Pool, etc.  These are all useful apart from the old one that read Dreadnought pool where the water can be much more easily accessed by taking the first left just past the bridge crossing the Poutu Stream and then taking the first left again and driving to the end.  This gets you to the Cliff Pool and Boulder Reach areas.  If you had taken the first left over the Poutu stream bridge and driven to the end along the old gravel road instead of turning left halfway down you would end up at the Blue Pool.  There are two other useful stopping points on the way to the Blue pool which save you walking to get to the Big Bend and Boulder Pool.  After parking at the Blue pool carpark there are 2 other significant pools to be reached by following the track up river on the carpark side - sand pool and fence pool.
  • Further up river and futher down state highway 1 heading towards Wellington is another side road on your left point towards the dam or Poutu intake.  Taking this to the end you will arrive at Beggs pool, which is the last access point.  there is a huge section of water in between only accessible by raft.

Most of the river is open all year, however from the fence pool up is only open after the 1st of December and before the 1st of April.

The Tongariro and all Taupo tributaries are fly fishing only - no spin fishing.

If you don't have everything you need then you can hire it from one of the two shops in Taupehi Road or from one of the other 2 tackle shops in Turangi town center - there are four tackle shops in total in Turangi.

Nine foot graphite fly rods are the norm.  Typically in winter use a 7, 8, or 9 weight with 8 weight pretty standard.  For nymphing use a weight forward floating line and for wet lining a fast sinking shooting head or sink tip line.

Winter Fishing

  • Wet lining/streaming - stand in the water up to your knees and cast across stream depending on how fast and deep the pool is and what line you are using you may cast across and down or across and up.  Try to hold some of the line out of the water and mend to try and keep the line as straight as possible until you can no longer do so.  Everyone has a different way and different flies.  When using streamer flies like the most common olive wooly bugger you will use anywhere from 2 feet to 6 feet of leader from 8 pound to 12 pound going shorter and heavier when the water is dirtier.  If you are wet lining a big glow bug/egg pattern then you will probably have a really short leader of just a few inches or 2 feet maximum.
  • Nymphing - stand as near as you can to high and dry.  Only get in the water if you have to for some reason.  Nymph as per normal but with a big floating indicator attached to the end of your fly line - available from the tackle stores.  From the indicator run around 11 feet of 6 pound flouro-carbon leader material to your first fly which would typically be a 4mm tungsten bead head nymph.  Off the bend of the tungsten bead head nymph - referred to as the bomb - with a clinch or uni knot tie another 2 foot of 6 pound flouro and attach your second trailer fly which will most likely be in the mornings and evenings and when the is color in the water from recent rain a glow bug/egg pattern, and when the water is clear and in the middle of the day your trailer nymph will most likely be some variation of a pheasant tail, or hare & copper.

Summer Fishing

  • You can use the same techniques as in winter but go lighter and smaller generally.
  • Dry fly - from early summer onwards using lighter gear like a 6 weight and a dry fly can be deadly.  Any water that holds fish will do and even if the fish aren't seen to be rising the will often come up.  Early summer a size 10 Royal Wulff is the norm and then later on in the season when cicada's are about larger terrestrial patterns are the go.  In the evenings try swinging an elk hair or Goddard's caddis or a spider pattern.  To be honest the trout in the evenings will pretty much attack anything.  A hair and copper seems to work pretty well also.  Normally in the evenings you will tend to catch a lot more juveniles but it is actually great fun, they often fight harder than the adult fish at this time of the year which are normally recovering after spawning, and the strikes are very visual as your flies skim across the surface leaving a V wake.

Of much debate is a term we refer to as "fishing etiquette".  This is an unwritten law amongst fishermen that stops much frustration with other anglers and stops the inevitable attempted drowning and other such mishaps that do occur should these set or unwritten laws not be abided by.  In the old days before nymphing, fishing etiquette was a relatively simple affair.  Aside from the tweed jackets and other such attire that you would be fitted with, you were required by law "fishing law" to treat other anglers with respect in the manner described following:

  • An angler proceeds from the head of a pool to the tail of a pool casting across and letting the flies swing downstream before retrieving - in the old days this was the method of fishing - called wet lining the more correct term is streaming.
  • An angler should keep working down the pool at a reasonable pace say 2 steps per cast allowing other people to start fishing behind them and working there way down the pool also.  You do not jump in downstream of them and start fishing the water that they are slowly getting to as they were there first.  Steps should be a normal walking step - not a baby step.
  • Should an angler hook a fish and play it to the bank he retains his position in the chain of people walking down the pool.  You do not jump into his spot and continue fishing.
  • Once an angler has gone down as far as they want to the return to the head of the pool and join the queue to continue again - sometimes in the old days you would need to sit down and wait your turn to get back in the river as some pools could handle 20 rods (20 people fishing and hooking up) with more waiting the chance.

Along comes nymphing and the fun begins

When techniques and gear became available allowing nymphing on the Tongariro "fishing etiquette" became confused and tempers frayed.  When nymphing, an angler does not work down a pool like the traditional method but instead starts from the tail and moves up.

However this does not actually break the fishing etiquette laws if you actually think about it.  Fishing etiquette is all about common courtesy and allowing everyone a fair chance of fishing.  Logically the first person there should get first crack and so on and so on, however the first person there should also not be a greedy and hog the hot spot to themselves.

  • Firstly if is a case of first in first served i.e.  the first angler to a pool in the morning has right of way i.e.  if they are nymphing then from wherever in the pool they start from whether you are nymphing or wet-lining you do not go upstream from that angler in that pool, and similarly if the first anglers is wet lining you do not go downstream from them in this pool.
  • Secondly, each angler should keep moving at a step per 2 casts either upstream or downstream depending on whether nymphing or wet-lining.
  • If a wet liner starts and a nympher goes in behind then within a few minutes you will be able to go in between the 2 and start working your way in whichever direction you want and so on and so on.
  • To make things simpler it is better to not even think in terms of wet lining or nymphing but think in terms of upstream fishing or downstream fishing.  Occasionally a nympher will work there way down a pool or a wet liner work there way up.  This is perfectly acceptable on the Tongariro - if not slightly unorthodox.  The only reason why wet liners rationally move down river and nympher up is to not spook fish before you have cast to them - however because the Tongariro is so big and deep and there are so many fish this is generally not a consideration.
  • It actually makes more sense for you if you are a nymphing and there is a wet liner in the pool for you to nymph your way down river behind the wet liner.  This makes life a lot simpler for everyone.  I.e.  keep the pattern of moving going started by the person there before you, the same principal obviously works the other way around.
  • When you are fishing from the opposite side of the river as someone else then exercise common sense.  If the river is wide enough you should both be able to fit in.  The etiquette rules are there to give everyone a fair chance.  If its first thing in the morning and you are nymphing and there is a guy already wet lining down the far side then it is probably alright to begin fishing provided you are not going to significantly interfere with fish that he is working towards and provided you in no way hinder his casting by putting your flies in a spot that are likely to catch his.  While it may be considered rude by some people for you to do this i.e.  start fishing ahead of someone from the other side, the Tongariro is a big river with lots of people trying to fish it and it actually can accommodate people doing this and hence allow more people to simultaneously fish a pool.  3 examples of this are the bridge pool, the hydro pool and the big bend.
  • Do not wade straight out into the middle of pools like the hydro pool in order to cast across to the far side.  Other people will at some stage be wanting to fish from the other side and cast to where you have just walked through the middle scaring all the trout.
  • Sometimes you will meet some old fulla who is just standing there wet lining and not moving.  Don't get upset with him, it may be that he is unstable and not safe to wade and needs to stay in the one spot for safety.  In this case just talk to him and find out what his intentions are and then work around him - if he is not moving then he won't mind you going around him - if he is not moving and says you are not allowed to go around them just do it anyway because technically he is not abiding by fishing etiquette anyway.
  • If you are unsure then ask someone.
  • If others don't seem to be moving then just ask them what there intentions are.  If they are standing still and hogging the lie then just ask them if they know about the unwritten fishing etiquette rules of the river.  If they are a rude b..d who doesn't give a damn then do whatever you want i.e.  throw them in the river if you are bigger than them or just fish above or below them.

I once arrived at a pool in mid season with a friend and Australian guy that my mate had kindly offered free guiding to as he hadn't had much luck the previous day by himself.  We had looked to get into 3 other pools on the way to this one but each had other fishermen already in them and when we got there there yet again this pool had people in it - a busy weekend.  The guy was nymphing so we sat down and waited for 5 minutes and he didn't move at all, so I asked him politely if he wanted to stay fishing that spot at the bottom of the pool and if he did then we would just nymph up ahead of him.  The pool was a big pool.  He asked me why we didn't just go and fish somewhere else as he was there first and was going to take as much time as he wanted to fish his way up the pool.  I reminded him politely of the fishing etiquette and then put a mark on the ground level with him to see if he started moving.  There were 3 of us and only one of him and cumulatively we outweighed him and fortunately for all he started moving and we were able to fish.  Had he not moved at a reasonable pace then I would have had no hesitation to jump in ahead of him and start fishing up.  He lacked common courtesy and was not abiding by the etiquette hence there would have been no need for us to either.  I.e.  he couldn't have it both ways - he could not expect anglers to abide by the etiquette and come in behind him when he himself was not abiding by fishing etiquette and moving forward.

It all boils down to common courtesy.  If you don't have any and I meet you on the river then don't expect me to show any in return. 

The Bridge Pool

The Bridge pool "a law unto itself" is generally regarded as the locals pool.  Here the rules differ.  Just do whatever everyone else is doing i.e.  normally no-one will be moving, the locals all have there favorite spots or head to wherever there are fish being caught.  Just go with flow.