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Spring September-November

Riverstone Fly Fishing Tongariro River

Spring and 1st October for most waters, marks the opening of many locations that have been closed for the winter, the headwaters of Taupo tributaries, the backcountry areas and trophy still water fisheries within the Tongariro National Park. Some of these fish best right after opening before the water levels recede as the weather warms and others improve toward Xmas time when the water warms and insect life becomes more prolific.

Early in the season the smaller streams and the tributaries of larger rivers, are often the place to be. There are a number of superb locations around the Tongariro National Park, the King Country, and Hawkes Bay that are especially suitable for day, multi-day or campout trips. A 5-6 weight rod with a double nymph rig is the usual setup and as the water is still fairly cool, breathable waders and cleated wading boots.

With the Taupo fishery spawning runs now becoming later in the season the Tongariro River and Tauranga-Taupo River are often at their peak during September and October, and an excellent time to consider a raft trip through the Tongariro River Gorge. Depending on the size of the water, conditions, and your experience either a 6 weight or 8/9 weight setup and a deep or shallow two nymph technique is recommended. Especially on the warmer evenings the caddis and dry fly fishing also begins to come into its own.

Lake Otamangakau, Lake ‘O’ or the ‘Big O’ is one of the few Tongariro fishing locations with a reputation for consistently producing trophy fish (10lb plus). The lake usually starts to fish well when the damselflies begin to hatch around November and isadjacent to the Tongariro National Park with spectacular views of Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngauruhoe. The standard technique is to use 1 or 2 nymphs below a dry fly or indicator and either stalk the large Browns that cruise the lake margins, or fish ‘blind’ with a longer leader and small indicator or streamer pattern to the rainbows feeding in the channels between the weed banks.

Summer December-February

Riverstone Fly Fishing Tongariro River

In the summer between 40 minutes and 2 hours drive from Taupo, there are many streams, rivers, and lakes offering solitude and large trout.While there are many great day trip locations reaching the best fish often requires 2-3 days or camping out near the river. Another option is to simply hire a helicopter! We fish throughout the central North Island and go wherever the fish are and your itinerary allows.

As river flows are lower and insect life more prolific anglers using a 6-weight set-up will experience good caddis nymph, mayfly, cicada and green beetle dry fly fishing. Summer is also when many large terrestrial insects begin to hatch and are blown onto the water offering oversize and irresistible meals. The Cicada hatch during January and February can be remarkable, with large surface feeding trout becoming vulnerable to large dry fly patterns.

The extremely underrated Brown trout fishery on the Tongariro River also begins to fire around this time. These fish often become more vulnerable after the river is receding from a ‘fresh’, though for those prepared to put in the time fish between 3-15lb can be targeted on either a light nymph rig or the dry fly and nymph dropper approach. Rainbow trout are also often feeding prolifically to regain condition after spawning.

On the lakes throughout the central North Island trout can often be found within easy reach of the shoreline chasing spawning smelt or damselflies in the shallows and stream mouths. Night or change of light fishing at the smaller stream mouths is especially popular during the summer, especially wherever cold water flows into the warmer lakes in the Rotorua Lakes district and the Lake Taupo tributaries.

A 6-weight rod is the most versatile setup and is appropriate for nearly all locations during the summer, though some smaller waters are certainly more suited to a 4-5 weight setup. As it warms rocks can become slippery, so wading boots with cleats are strongly recommended.

Breathable waders are sometimes useful in summer but can become uncomfortable when it’s really hot. Often the more practical option – particularly on ‘back country’ rivers where the terrain can lay waste to expensive waders – is a pair of short trousers over polypropylene (thermal) leggings, with a neoprene stocking boot and the usual wading boots.


Autumn March-May

Riverstone Fly Fishing Tongariro River

In the backcountry throughout the King Country, Hawkes Bay, Rangateikei and Urewera’s trout will have already begun their spawning runs and are in prime condition from a summer of heavy feeding. Often the weather is a little bit cooler though often very settled and solitude can readily be found, so this is a great time to target trophy fish either in the backcountry, or the Tongariro and Waitahanui rivers where the brown trout runs are in full swing.

In the Taupo and Tongariro regions trout are found at stream mouths prior to beginning their spawning runs and can often be in a very aggressive mood. Fishing is often best when the barometric pressure is dropping prior to a ‘fresh’ of water going through the rivers as fish congregate near the stream mouths before, beginning their spawning runs to the river’s headwaters. While some trout will have already begun their spawning runs, in recent years the main rainbow trout runs have happened predominantly between June and October-November.

The Rotorua Lakes District is unlike the Taupo fishery a stocked fishery where juvenile Rainbow trout are bred in captivity for their superior genetic traits and released various stream mouths and beaches around the 13 lakes within the region. Particularly on Lakes Rotoiti, Tarawera and Okataina these can in good years average 6lb with 10lb+ fish a distinct possibility. The tributaries of Lake Rotorua also get large runs of Brown trout with many also reaching double figures in size.

Smaller tributary streams of the larger rivers also start to come into their own again as water temperature drops and the flows begin to rise, providing better cover for fish to move upstream. This is a great time of year to go on ‘safari’ and hit a number of these streams looking for these early migratory fish. Lake Otamangakau also remains open until the end of May and often fishes well after heavy rain.

There are many opportunities during the autumn and gear selection will vary according to the location and conditions. Either 6 weight, 8/9 weight setups, breathable or neoprene waders may be the best choice.

Winter June-August

Riverstone Fly Fishing Tongariro River

Each winter tens of thousands of trout run the rivers and streams of the Taupo fishery in a massive spawning migration to the headwaters and tributaries. It is estimated that one-third of all Lake Taupo rainbow trout run the Tongariro River, although in recent years the timing of these ‘runs’ are becoming more variable and can begin as early as April-May or and can last until October-November.

The standard method in winter is to use an 8-9 weight rod and fly line to fish a wet fly on a sinking line downstream or cast one (usually heavily weighted) nymph and one unweighted, upstream with a floating line and 8-12ft leader. For the more experienced angler, a 6-weight would be fine in most conditions. Either neoprene (thermal) or breathable waders are suitable, with the breathable version recommended for any longer walks.

If you prefer small streams using a 6-weight rod and fly line try the Waimarino, the Waiotaka, Waitahanui or the Hinemaiaia rivers. The Tauranga-Taupo River is suitable for the 9-weight style set-up or 6-weight depending on the anglers experience and water levels. For those prepared for a long walk seeking solitude, the upper reaches are recommended. When targeting migratory rainbow trout remember its critical to be fishing on the bottom, so put away the Adams #16 and add weight.

With all the action in the Taupo fishery at this time of year, other locations outside the District which remain open throughout the winter are often ignored and are well worth exploring. The fish are often in their best condition of the year and there are very few other anglers. Many spawning release locations in the Rotorua District where trophy 10lb+ fish are regularly caught, also remain open.

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Tongariro River

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Backcountry Wilderness Experience

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