(Should be compulsory reading for all Tongariro anglers – Images of the Bridge pool and “flood protection” works from TRM library. Herb is probably better known for having given his time to the trout centre over many years to teach the Tongariro Roll Cast)
It is well known that nothing worthwhile can be achieved when two parties with different objectives talk past each other. That is if they even get as far as meeting face to face. These days finding out what the other side thinks is increasingly done via digital consultations with often very short time windows. It is also not uncommon among public bodies to regard such a one-way feed back as sufficient to tick the box of public engagement. Such an exercise is definitely not a good negotiating model with which both parties can arrive at a mutually acceptable outcome let alone celebrate a win-win solution.
Recent Flood Protection Works
What brought this subject to my attention is the just finished flood protection works by the Waikato Regional Council in the bed of the Lower Tongariro River . Although I shall focus this discussion on the works immediately downstream of the pool directly below the SH1 bridge my ultimate aim is to draw attention to the need to preserve, create and enhance in-stream fishing locations as an equally important objective of any future flood protection work programme. It can no longer be business as usual.
The narrow river channel above and beneath the HW 1 bridge creates sufficient current energy to prevent the deposition of any sediment activated during flooding events. However, as the pool widens this concentrated energy is dispersed resulting in the deposition of the mobilised material to form an extensive boulder and shingle hump at the tail of this pool. Such humps eventually divert the flow and in the case of the Bridge
History and Significance
Let me emphasise that at the time of writing I have not visited the river and base my observations on aerial photos, published plans, 48 years fishing this famous river and a long career in environmental management, which includes working with streams and rivers. Above all as an angler I have an intimate knowledge of not only what is good trout habitat but also what is considered good fishing water.
During those years I have seen many changes to the river, some through uncontrollable natural events and others by generally insensitive and often misguided human intervention in the lower river. Without being too nostalgic or critical I can honestly say that from an angler’s perspective the Tongariro is not what it used to be.
When one considers that the Tongariro River is one of the finest trout fishing destinations on the planet and supports a valuable fishing tourism industry in Turangi and the greater Lake Taupo region, preserving the in-stream fishing environment must have equal ranking with other river management activities. Drilling down further the Bridge pool is the most used fishing spot on this river with the lower Bridge Pool not far behind in popularity. Both pools are very productive, are right in town, have safe and easy wading and have vehicular access. This whole area is prime fishing real estate and to see a large part of it wasted as a vision-less canal of racing water earns no credit for those who brought it about nor to those who did nothing to come up with something better.
To get some background I talked to Waikato Regional Council Taupo Zone Manager Allan Kirk and DOC Fishery Manager Dave Conley. I am grateful for their patience in what must have at times sounded more like an interrogation than an interview. Both gentlemen were very helpful with information about time constrains, consents, consultations, iwi involvement etc, etc. However, what caught my ear was first the comment that the channel plan had been the well publicised preferred option, which quite surprisingly was also supported by the various angler representatives. Secondly, I was told that the Regional Council never offered alternatives to the channel option at any consultation meetings. If that really was the case than I am truly disappointed by the lack of imagination by the council and by the apparent meek acquiescence by the fishery managers and by those bodies that claim to speak on behalf of anglers. To hope that the next flood will sort something out is a poor substitute for “good will”co-operation. The Waikato Regional Council has consent to do flood prevention work in the Tongariro for many years into the future and since I have not seen any angler needs addressed in previous works I can only fear of more negative outcomes for anglers. This is a truly scary prospect and I urge fishery managers and angler advocates not to sanction any new proposals unless it also incorporates verifiable fisher friendly design features. Good advice is available and the responsibility to find it rests with the council.
Sadly engineers the world over seem to see wild rivers as a challenge to be tamed, straightened, bled of their life force and kept imprisoned within solid confinements. From personal experience I do not regard engineers as the high priests of environmental sensitivity. I clearly recall that during the construction phase of the Tongariro Power Project there was a rumour that the Upper Tongariro had been diverted, leaving the mighty Waikato Falls without water. I decided to have a look. Sure enough what was once an thunderous water fall had been reduced to a pathetic trickle. When I voiced my disdain to the local engineer he looked at me and with a straight face said: “You know sometimes waterfalls are more beautiful with less water”. Ridiculous as this may sound I think this man actually believed that. Later on in my work in Egmont National Park I frequently battled with council engineers that were hell bent on straightening the scenic access roads leading up to the road end visitor centres. When I saw dazzle marks on a number of massive rimus and towering ratas that were to be taken out I walked with a few staunch park board members and the engineer up the road and we fought over every tree. Eventually good reason prevailed and while some corners got eased none of the giants were sacrificed .
Going back to the Tongariro I don’t even believe that the loose aggregate plug they have pushed against the rock wall will last as water hates flowing in straight lines. Every half decent flood will keep mining away this apron of unconsolidated shingle, which will all end up in the Lower Bridge Pool. Some of it will go through and some of it will probably pile up in the wider parts until the whole river bed gets rearranged by floods in excess of a thousand c/megs. I really hope that this unintended sleuthing does not bugger up the second most popular fishing pool on this famous river.
What Anglers Are Looking For
The Taupo fishery is blessed with an abundance of trout fingerlings that emerge from the extensive spawning and rearing habitat of its numerous feeder streams. What is now in short supply in the Tongariro River since the flood of 2004 and poor man-made interventions are angler friendly in-stream features where the migrating trout hold and anglers can e
Food For Thought
Our society values sites, structures and landscape features of scenic, cultural, historic and religious significance. Only recently the Whanganui River has been accorded the legal status of a person in recognition of its meaning to local Maori. For over a century the Tongariro has also been hallow ground to many thousands of anglers and although it does not yet enjoy the same protection let us hope that in future a more culturally sensitive Regional Council will recognise this special relationship in its dealings with this much revered river and its many friends.
P.s. It is now midway through the 2019 winter fishing season and sadly my predictions about the unintended consequences of last year’s river works have been realised. Throughout the year small floods have sluiced a lot of the worked over boulders, shingle and sand into the Lower Bridge Pool and have spread it thorough-out the pool. This has shallowed the lower half and virtually destroyed the fish holding environment that only a year ago was truly exceptional. The tail is now so shallow that the bypass into the Swirl Pool is without water. Ironically the river has already cut a new channel into the boulder wall, which future floods will progressively widen, thereby exposing the poorly planned works of a year ago.