troutFishing New Zealand
There are many options for fishing in New Zealand. The trout fishing options are well covered in the articles on this website. Most flyfishing visitors head for the South Island to pit their skills against the wily brown trout that can be spotted and fished to. Of course there is also good flyfishing for rainbows, sea-run browns and salmon in the South Island.
The North Island is more known to fly fishing anglers as the place to go to fish for the running rainbows in Taupo. These fish used to run up the spawning tributaries in winter but those runs now more commonly happen in Spring. There is also great trout fishing an hour up the road in Rotorua, be it for browns or rainbows and in lakes or rivers. Perhaps the best fishing is to be found on the East Coast from Gisborne down through the Hawkes Bay including those mighty rivers - the Ruakituri and the Mohaka.
Below is an extract about my favourite Mohaka tributary from my ebook Fishing for Trout - Flyfishing New Zealand. That ebook can be purchased here from Amazon.
The Waipunga River is a big, brawling river trapped in a gorge for most of its length. That makes access difficult and deters all but the hardiest of anglers. On my first visit, after a few abortive attempts, I managed to get down into the river at one of the bridges. It was then a matter of slogging my way up the torrent for about six hours to the next bridge. This included grabbing onto toitoi to pull myself up the strong flow; several hairy crossings; some chest-high wades; and negotiating rocks that had the grip of a greased pig. ‘Why bother?’ I hear you ask! Well I guess the fact that I hooked 15 trout up to 6 lb might answer your query. By the time I hauled myself out at the abutments of the next bridge, I was absolutely shattered but could not believe the number of hungry trout that had fastened onto my nymph.
The trout were both brown and rainbow with rainbow being more abundant. Size ranged from 0.5 kg to 2.75 kg with an average of around 1.4 kg. Of course in this river you are lucky to land a third of what you hook. The fighting power of these strong fish in the fast flowing water was incredible. You had to make an early decision as to whether the fish was worth being dragged over the slippery boulders maybe 400m down the river. After a couple of these chases, I soon learned to yank the fly out of any fish under 1.75 kg, figuring they were not worth the slip-sliding charge down the river; trying to hang onto the rod with one hand and the streamside bush with the other. Then, you faced the arduous slog back up to where you hooked the fish in the first place. It was necessary to fish with a 3 kg leader, and you learned to bulldoze the smaller fish into the bank before they got out of control, as well as to how to keep the pressure on the bigger ones to save you a long walk.
Since those early days, I have fished most of the river from its headwaters in the pine forests right down to the junction with the Mohaka at Glenfalls. This has involved trekking up from the mouth a long way through the farmlands, getting lost along the maze of forest roads trying to reach a new section of water, risking the wrath of local hunters by using their secret access tracks, sneaking through the mainly defunct Works Camp to get at ‘private’ waters and whatever else was required to properly explore the river.
Waipunga tributary near old Works Camp
You could never say it was easy fishing. The access is horrific and unless you are an accomplished ‘bushbasher’, some of the stretches are impassable. However the quality of the fishing makes up for all that pain and whenever I have had a bad day elsewhere, I know I can always head back to my favourite stretch on the Waipunga and hook enough fish to restore my confidence.
The best stretch I have found is in the middle of the area where the main highway follows the river for several kilometres. Access is gained by picking a way through the blackberry, down a three metre bank and into the knee-deep water. It is possible to edge along the bank to the bottom of this pool but I think it gets a thrashing from the clients of a local guide. For whatever reason, I have never got more than a tiddler out of that first pool. However, the next pool up is a beauty.
It has a very deep hole where a large overhanging tree on the right guards the head of the pool. The first lie is two thirds of the way down the pool where the fish sit in about 1.5 m deep water as the main flow loses some impetus. All that is required is to chuck a weighted nymph into the centre of the pool and let it drift down. It usually takes a few casts to get the fly correctly trucking down the centre of the pool where the fish generally are lying.
To get at the deep head of the pool, it is necessary to cross the river as the foliage prevents a cast from the road side. As long as the river is at normal flow, this crossing is not too bad. I usually wear a pair of stocking foot 3 mm neoprene waders on the Waipunga. These are waist waders but with a roll up top that makes them chest high for the odd deeper crossing. Once across the river, it is an easy right-handed cast straight up the middle of the pool to the rapids at the top. However, being left-handed, it is a difficult reverse cast to achieve this. (Why is it that all the best lies are on our ‘wrong’ casting side? I suspect a conspiracy here somewhere). A heavy ‘sinker’ nymph is now required to get down quick to the bottom of the pool. It is necessary to get ready for a savage take. Then the next worry is how to keep a frantic 2 kg rainbow in the pool when he is intent on reaching the safety of the Mohaka River 20 km away!
After solving that small problem, it is time for the first ‘bushbash’ of the day. There is now a sort of a track that avoids the worst of the blackberry and leads around the big willow to some of the best water on the river. For the next 100 m or so, the stream briefly loses its headlong charge downstream and the flow is gentler. The middle of the river is a 1.5 m deep run with many rocks to break the flow – perfect nymphing water. Whenever you see a stretch of water like this, the expectation level shoots up and the concentration improves. You are thinking ‘well if I was a fish, I would think this is a great place to feed’. Usually, two or three fish from this stretch will prove you right.
A good tactic is to fish the far side of the run for fish lying in the slacker water along the far bank. It is necessary to lift any loose line out of the water so only the leader and indicator are left drifting down at the same speed as the current. Any line left in the faster water will very soon drag the nymph at more the speed of the faster water. However, as the fish are lying in the slower water, any wary trout will not look at a nymph travelling faster than the current in which it is lying. The longer the rod, the further you can reach over the faster water to follow the drift of the fly with your arm so you get the maximum drag free drift. The flash fishing books now describe this technique as ‘high stick nymphing’ or ‘No Indicator’ nymphing. Forget the fancy terms – all you are trying to do is get your fly to come down at the same speed as the water you want to fish.
Having hopefully snared a few trout, it is time to pull your way, toitoi by toitoi, up the side of the stream, bypassing an unproductive stretch of rapids. At the top of the rapids, there is a large boulder with a deep pocket that is worth a cast. One of the biggest fish I have hooked in the Waipunga took hold of my nymph as it swung around the boulder one fine August day. After a few jumps to show me what size he was, he then shot into his bolthole under the boulder and refused to budge. I suppose if you were more patient than I was, you could try to outlast these ‘boltholers’ but you would have to sit on the rock and commune with nature for a few hours. I’m not convinced the fish would get tired first.
Once above the rapids, it is time to cross over, as the ‘Neverfail Pool’ has been reached. This is a wide, deep pool with reflections from the mature totaras that stand guard above. It seems a shame to disturb the ‘picture postcard’ perfection of this pool so I sometimes sit down and have lunch. You can occasionally hear the traffic on the road above and you wonder how many thousands of people pass by here every year without knowing about the little piece of Paradise they are missing. Fortunately piscatorial desires soon overcome aesthetic musings and it is once more back into the fray. This is an easy pool to fish and I often reserve it for any visitor that is stupid enough to agree to slog this far up the river with me. The fish are not usually bigger than 1.5 kg but that will be big enough for them to tear off downstream with your unsuspecting guest in hot pursuit yelling for assistance. If you’re a harder man than I am, you could leave them to it and probably have an hour or so uninterrupted fishing while they get carted down the river. However as my guests are usually customers, this is not a good commercial option! So off I go, net at the ready to shorten the flight downstream of another Waipunga rainbow.
Big Waipunga Rainbow
You can buy the North Island ebook that has a chapter on the Waipunga River here