Trout Fishing in the North Island of New Zealand

North Island Trout Fishing

by Ron Giles

A comprehensive article on some of the best trout fishing waters in the North Island of New Zealand.

Autumn can be a time of mixed weather in New Zealand as the summer sunshine is usually replaced by autumnal rains. In regions like Canterbury and the Hawkes Bay, this can often be the first rainfall for several months. This change in the weather pattern can be used to their advantage by the thinking troutfisher. With higher flows in the tributaries, many trout are encouraged to move up from the main rivers into the tributaries heading for the spawning redds. The fish are in excellent condition, having put on weight during summer, preparing for the rigours of the spawning process. The temperatures in the South Island can be rather cool and most anglers are likely to need to wear waders. For these reasons, I usually head for the North Island, where it is a bit warmer and you can still fish without waders.

If you want to know the best rivers to fish in the North Island - buy my ebook from Amazon here

My favourite fishing spots for this time of year are to be found in the centre of the North Island, from Rotorua through to the East Coast. The beauty of this area alone is enough to plan a visit, even if you live far away and have to book flights and make hotel reservations. And, of course, the fishing is superb. There are some major river systems in this area, as well as many lakes, all of them harbouring wild browns and hard-fighting rainbows. As New Zealand's rainbow trout are derived from steelhead strains, many of the resident lake trout will start moving from the lake into the rivers, heading for the spawning streams.

By targeting the rivers feeding the lakes and the tributaries of the major rivers, April anglers can greatly improve their chances of picking up a big fish or at least a good baIn the Rotorua region, the most important river system is the Rangitaiki River which drains into Lake Aniwhenua situated not far from the township of Murupara, about one hour's drive from Rotorua. Lake Aniwhenua is a artificial lake, formed in 1980 by damming the Rangitaiki River for hydro-electric generation. Such new lakes often fish extremely well for the first few years, as the trout feast on the food provided by the drowned foliage. 

Lake Aniwhenua was typical in this respect and was known for the huge number of trophy (ten pound plus) fish taken in the first few years after the formation of the lake. The fishing has settled down somewhat in recent years but trophy trout are still caught every year. The lake fishes best at the change of light, both morning and evening. Access around the lakeshore is reasonable at both ends and especially on the eastern side. The western banks are mainly scrub and bush so can only be fished by water-borne anglers. Fishing from boats or float tubes is very productive and is probably the best way to quickly find where the fish are.

Not far from the lake, the Horomanga River is crossed on the road to Murupara. This is one of the main spawning streams of the lake and as soon as the first rains hit the area, this small river is filled with spawning trout. Many fish in excess of 8 pounds have been taken from this river although in the last few years the average weight has dropped to a more modest but still very respectable 4 pounds. The best fishing is to be found in the first few kilometres up from the quarry at the end of the access road. Heavily-weighted nymphs are needed to get down to the trout as they tend to hug the bottom of this fast-flowing river. Double fly rigs are the best solution as a size 14 tail fly will look more natural.          

The next river up the road is probably the pick of all the rivers in the Rotorua region. There can be few rivers more beautiful than the stunning Whirinaki River as it flows through the magnificent native forest of the World Heritage Forest Park that encompass the upper reaches. 

It is a river that presents hugely-different characteristics, ranging from the small bush-encased head waters; down through the mature native forest section; into the gorge with its classic, picturesque pools; through the swifter willow-lined section; down to the lower river punctuated by big, slow pools with pine trees perched precariously on the cliffs above; till it finally emerges into the flat, open farmlands just before its junction with the Rangitaiki River, not far above Lake Aniwhenua. The river carries a good population of both rainbows and browns averaging around 3 lbs.

The fishing is not always easy ad there are a few traps for newcomers but once you know its foibles, it would be unusual if you did not pick up a fish or three during a day's fishing. The most important lesson is not to waste too much time fishing the gorgeous-looking pools. The reason is that most times when Whirinaki fish are feeding, they are in the riffles or broken water. When you fish this scenic river, it is important to keep this lesson in trout fickleness to the fore. If you concentrate on fishing the riffles and broken water, you are likely to have a productive day, on either dry fly or nymph.

The upper reaches of the river require a quite a hike from the end of River Road and an overnight camp would allow you more time to explore the many kilometres of available water. It might be worthwhile as shown by when a client of local guide, Graeme Ryder, took a 13 lb trout there in 1998. It is delicate water so a 5 weight outfit is all that is needed.

For the day tripper, the water from the ravine down is a better proposition. Access is easy from short tracks from River Road to the river. There is only a mile or so of fishing from the last access up to the ravine. However that short stretch takes you through some of the most beautiful, mature native bush in New Zealand. The bush continues alongside the river as far as the township of Minginui. Below here, the river flows through farmland and then mainly pine forest. Although this may not be as pleasant as fishing in the native bush stretches, the fishing can be very productive in this area. The water changes character in the lower stretches and the river takes on a quieter nature. Here the fish average 3 pounds.

Fishing a dry fly downstream on the Whirinaki River

You can get more information on rivers/lakes to fish in this region from my ebook

Flyfishing New Zealand North Island - buy it from Amazon here