John Pool (a.k.a. Dragonfly Man), a regular participant on the NGTO board, recently returned from a 10-day fishing trip to New Zealand and posted the following article on this odyssey.
NGTO'er Hooks Up With Kiwi Trout
The quest to fill our fly fishing cravings takes us to the most special places on this earth. The spot may be the 30th trip of the year to our home-water, where instead of becoming bored we find ourselves even more focused because we're now picking up on some of the subtle changes that come with each new day. Or maybe its a little further afield, say to some of the legendary streams of the Smokies. Or maybe even an all-to-infrequent trip to Yellowstone or a bonefish flats in the Bahamas. As my good fortune would have it, my latest fly fishing adventure took me literally half way around the world. I don't pretend to be a "one day wonder" full of facts on this destination, but I've enjoyed reading other NGTO'ers accounts of their fishing trips and would like to share some of my observations with those who might be interested in one Georgia boy's take on this.
Following a Friendship Force exchange which brought two New Zealand ladies to her home for a week's stay in North Georgia, a close friendship developed between my mother and her Kiwi visitors. Over the past few years, she has visited them in New Zealand twice and they've been back here once. She had been wanting to return for a visit to New Zealand for several months but didn't wish to make the trip alone this time. She had mentioned a couple of times that she'd like me to go with her to visit New Zealand and I'd responded, quite vaguely, that maybe I could do that one of these days. Then she happened to mention that another of her Kiwi acquaintances had just retired and said he'd be glad to take me for a week-long trout fishing outing if I'd make the trip. Being the good son that I am, quickly I had a change of heart when told this and immediately began to make plans to go. As a result, I ended up spending May 17 through 27 in New Zealand. All told (traveling to and from airports, waiting for connecting flights, and that long 12-hour flight across the Pacific), it takes almost 24 hours to get from Jasper, Georgia to Turangi, New Zealand where I met up with Don Gibson, my Kiwi fishing host for the week. Don is a member of the "Tongariro And Lake Taupo Anglers Club" (TALTAC) and we stayed in the club's lodge which is simple but very comfortable. We also prepared all our dinners there in the clubhouse kitchen where I sampled some great domestic brews, a different bottle of red wine each evening, local lamb on the grill, steak and kidneys (a new dish for me) and fresh trout fixed several ways. Every day it was off to the stream before daylight, fishing all day, back to the TALTAC clubhouse for dinner and talking fishing with the other 8 or 10 members who were there (all dedicated flyfisher-persons) 'til bedtime. What could be better? Good fishing, good food and drink, good company. There was one more good part: The room fee at TALTAC is $15 per day (with the exchange rate, that's less than $7.50 U.S.) Besides the airfare which was over $1,000, the whole trip cost less than $600. I'm sure it would have been several times this much if I'd had to arrange for a guide, stay in a motel, eat in restaurants, etc.
New Zealand is best known for sight fishing to big browns and rainbows in crystal clear streams. But this isn't the "game" at this time of year. New Zealand's seasons are exactly six months ahead -- or behind -- ours, with winter now coming on strong. In the North Island location where we fished, the temperatures were in the 40's and 50's with fresh snow visible on the nearby mountains and frequent light rain at lower elevations. For the whole week, we fished for rainbows running up the Tongarira River from Lake Taupo to spawn.
Lake Taupo is big -- some 23 miles by 15 miles -- created when an ancient volcanic explosion created the huge calderia that's now filled with water (much like Yellowstone Lake). While in the lake, the rainbows feed on prolific smelt-type baitfish and grow to over 18 inches in just two years. When they leave the lake, the fish are bright silvery and only color-up after being in the river for some time. The rainbows are big, broad-shouldered, deep-bellied averaging 4 to 6 pounds with a few 7-pound-plus fish showing up too -- and bigger ones at times I'm told. Length-wise, the fish I saw were from 17 inches to well into the high twenty-inch range. My best fish was a 24-inch jack (male) that was fresh out of the lake and in perfect shape.
When they leave the lake, the fish run up through the rapids and then hold in the deep pools to catch their breath before continuing their trip upstream to the spawning tributaries. The pools all have their names -- the Bridge Pool, the Judge's Pool, Boulder Reach, Break-Away, etc. The fish come up in waves and may or may not be holding in any particular pool at any given time, so it takes some prospecting. With Don's years of experience on the river and keen angling skills, we were lucky in that we hit pools that held fish often, hooking up with at least five or six really good fish every day. But some guys complained about being out of sync -- always a pool or two behind or ahead of the fish.
The fish don't actively feed on their way up the river -- they're too intent on procreation to waste time eating. But if the right fly passes in front of their nose, they'll take it on instinct. I saw two methods being used on the Tongariro's spawning rainbows -- wet-lining and nymphing.
Wet-lining involves attaching a length of heavily weighted flyline to your backing -- as much as you and your rod can handle -- to get the fly down on the bottom where the fish hold. Cast down and across, then work the fly back slowly. Take a couple of steps down river and repeat the process until: BANG! FISH ON! What would you guess the fly of choice for this type fishing would be? If you picked olive wooly-bugger you're right -- sound familiar?
The nymphing set-up, which is the method Don is devoted to and we fished all week, is: a big yarn indicator attached at the leader-flyline connection, at least 15 feet of 8 lb. mono for the leader, a "Bomb" at the end of the leader with a glow-bug on a 10-inch dropper. In the New Zealand fly-fishing-only waters where we were, you aren't allowed to attach lead weight directly to your line. To get the glow-bug down, these fishermen have developed heavily weighted flies they appropriately call "Bombs" for this purpose. Different fishermen seemed to have their own Bomb "patterns" and Don's was a 2XL #12 hook with three big split-shot large enough to fill up the long shank crimped on. Over this, he uses black heat-shrink electrical sleeves as a cover with just a tad of red floss hanging off the rear. Only one fish during the whole week hit the Bomb -- the rest took the glow-bug.
While I can get by on North Georgia streams and rivers, I'm not a very accomplished caster. In New Zealand, my double-haul shortcomings were very apparent, especially at the first of the week before any practice with the big yarn indicator, long leader with heavy bomb on the end. With the long leader, it was hard enough to just get the hefty bomb up out of the water and into the air for another cast. Add gusty winds, blackberry briars grabbing for your backcast and trying to stand on bowling-ball sized rocks while making a cast and you begin to get the picture. I feel lucky that only once during the week did I have to wear a pink glow-bug as an ear adornment -- not too becoming on me, but not bad enough to stop fishing until meeting back up with Don later to have it yanked out. Before the trip, Don had advised me that I would need an 8-weight outfit which I didn't have. I purchased a Cabellas 8-wt. 9-ft. 5-pc. Stow-Away outfit for the trip and found, while the rod could have been a little stiffer, it preformed quite adequately (not based just on my modest skills but in Don's opinion too -- he can lay out 70 feet of this awkward nymph set-up with ease).
As a North Georgia angler, I mistakenly thought a glow-bug was a glow-bug. Not so. All the locals have their favorite intricate patterns they tie. One TALTAC regular -- Bob from Tasmania who travels to New Zealand for a six-week stay at the club every year -- showed me his assortment of glow-bugs at the tying bench one evening over drinks. He has developed one pattern for day break, a mid-morning pattern, an early afternoon pattern, and so forth. Don (my host) showed me how to tie his "secret" glow-bug but I've been sworn to silence even though I'm on the other side of the world. He seemed a little miffed at me when I allowed two elderly flyfishers to have a look at the fly I was using after they watched me land a good fish at the Break-Away Pool. Most all of Lake Taupo's tributaries are designed as "Fly Fishing Only." This encompasses a huge area and one evening I mentioned to one of the TALTAC regulars that in the U.S., we have a few fly-fishing-only streams, but nothing like New Zealand. He replied in his proper-sounding accent (and I admit I didn't always catch on to the Kiwis' subtle humor right away, but he sounded serious), "Fly fishing is the proper way to angle for trout. Here in New Zealand we don't compromise our principles in the name of democracy like you do in America." The local guys also gave me a little (I think good humored) grief about Americans' fixation on catch-and-release. The Tongariro limit is three fish a day with an 18-inch size limit. While the rainbows and browns were originally stocked in New Zealand many years ago, they have adapted quite well. There are hatcheries and stocking programs in some areas, but the Taupo/Tongariro fishery is self-sustaining with no supplemental stocking necessary. These guys believe in eating some trout where the fishery can support it and know with proper management, they can do that and still have plenty of fish for tomorrow. After eating trout sushi one night (paper-thin slices of fresh rainbow fillet, dipped in a mixture of wasavi paste and soy sauce), I may have to keep a couple of fish this summer to see if this treat was as good as I thought it was back in New Zealand or if it was just because I'd just finished 12 hours on the stream and half that many of those good dark beers.
On my last night in New Zealand, I went back to Rotorura to have dinner with my mother and a group of her friends. Of course, they wanted to know how the fishing had gone and, of course, I said it was like a dream come true, with me catching my heaviest trout ever. One fellow said, "I guess this will spoil the fishing for you when you get back home." He wasn't a fisherman and didn't understand that a six-inch brookie or a 12-inch wild brown can make one just as happy as a 24-inch rainbow -- it all depends on where you are and what the stream has to offer. No, I'm perfectly content to be back in North Georgia, challenged by our local fish. But I must say: I'll never forget those big Kiwi rainbows and congenial New Zealand flyfishers.
-- John Pool (Dragonfly Man)
Casting Tip of the Month - Common Casting Errorscourtesy Atlanta Fly Fishing School
From conversations with other FFF certified casting instructors around the country, our instructor’s web linked message board, and my personal experience teaching hundreds of students each year, I would have to say the MOST common error is stopping the rod too far back on the back cast. It is often caused by “breaking” the wrist.
A list of the 15 Most Common Casting Errors is reprinted below by permission of the copyright holder Gary A. Borger.