Following other anglers comments on the new Taupo fishing regulations in the TRM Daily Report yesterday, anglers will be interested in a summary by Tongariro veteran – Herb Spannagl:
New Hope for Taupo
I still recall fishing the Tongariro during the winter of 2006 when for the first time in over 36 years fishing this river I felt the need to make a size limit mark on my rod. That season the trout size and condition was so shockingly poor that during a week long trip none of our party kept a single fish to take home. Little did anybody know then that this was the beginning of a serious downturn of this world famous fishery that lasted well over a decade. Theories abounded but the official view was that because during the winter of 2005 the thermocline in the lake had remained intact, this had prevented the mixing of the water column and with it the redistribution of benthic nutrients. In a lake that is already nutrient poor (as can be seen by the clarity of its water) this natural calamity affected the entire food chain and led to the collapse of the smelt population, which is the primary food source of the lake’s rainbow trout. As I had spent most of my working life in natural resource management this explanation sounded reasonable, even though I knew that the lake had been enriched from increased human activity over the decades I had fished there. While the above is a plausible explanation for the primary cause, the lack of a recovery for almost a decade is more complex and took longer to understand. At its basis is the variable relationships between trout and smelt that exists in a “Wild Fishery”. Or as Taupo Fishery Manager, Dave Conley prefers to liken it to sheep and grass in a paddock. Too many sheep and not enough grass results in starving and lean sheep. The skill of a farmer or fishery manager is to keep both in a good balance. While a farmer can either reduce stock or buy in more food, a fishery manager’s most practical option is to increase the trout harvest. Recognising that the numbers of starving trout have slowed down the recovery of smelt the regulation changes proposed by Department of Conservation and the Taupo Fishery Advisory Committee are designed to a) speed up the smelt recovery and b)to maintain a better trout/smelt balance in the future. Their response to the current imbalance is the proposal to increase the harvest by raising the daily bag limit from three to six fish and and by dropping the minimum size from 400mm to 350mm. It also helps that regulations can now be changed very quickly via a more flexible annual Angler Notice System.
The second proposal is more contentious and involves allowing boats to fish to within 200m off a stream mouth. While it may not affect shore based fisher’s success at deep drop-offs, it will nevertheless be seen by many as an unwelcome intrusion in an otherwise peaceful setting. At shallow rips boat disturbance could also prevent fish coming within casting reach. There are a number of rips where anglers often wade out a considerable distance to fish over the drop-offs. At the Waimarino Stm. mouth this can be as much as a 100 or so metres. With a boat fishing reduction to 200m boats would be a mere 100 away from shore-based anglers. Modern technology such as HD fishfinders, Insight Genesis mapping and GPS controlled MInkota electric motors have almost taken the guesswork out of fishing. Using these powerful aids jiggers could locate concentrations of trout, park right over them and extract trout after trout right in front of “not too happy” wading fly fishers. If the authorities think there is an advantage in boats fishing closer than 300m than that is what one would expect people would routinely do. Having witnessed several ugly confrontations between wetliners and nymphers in the past I question any rule change that generates new tensions between anglers.
Proposal number three more clearly defines “fly fishing” by amending the current regulations to include a maximum leader length. This closes a loophole that has allowed some Czech Nymphers to flick out weighted bombs with long length of nylon line in “fly fishing only” waters. I pointed this out to DOC a couple of years ago and am pleased with the proposal to address this omission . However, I am not so thrilled with the suggestion to also introduce a maximum fly weight. It is now generally accepted that some weight is needed to reach the bottom hugging trout on their spawning migration. Nymphers use weighted flies and wet liners use lead or tungsten impregnated lines to get down to the fish. And lets face it, anglers only want their bombs to get down to the fish and not to the centre of the earth. It follows that too much weight only produces snags and phantom strikes and this alone makes over weighting a self defeating exercise. To keep their offerings in the strike zone successful anglers need to constantly adjust the sink rate of their flies according to water depth and current speed. Besides, there is only so much weight that can be cast with a fly rod and fly line before things get terrible wrong. Lastly just picture a ranger laboriously working through your voluminous fly box with a set of jeweller scales. Given all the above, fly weight is by practical necessity self policing and does not need to be regulated.
The fourth proposal is really a catchup with the much more flexible Fish and Game license categories and includes a family and senior license to attract new participants and retain older ones for longer. The number of Taupo license holders have halved since the nineteen-eighties. It could be argued that this and the progressively reduced bag limits as well as the wide spread adoption of “Catch and Release” have collectively reduced the trout harvest, which DOC thinks has been the most likely cause of the present decline. Getting more people to fish is not just a revenue gathering exercise, in the Taupo fishery it is a vital management necessity.
The fifth proposal clarifies “Child” as being under 18 years old.
I have fished at Lake Taupo since 1970 and over those decades my interests have broadened from just catching fish to understanding the mystery of how this fishery works. I agree with most of what DOC has proposed as I can see it will give the department better tools to manage this important fishery. You can study these proposals in detail on: http://us12.campaign-archive1.com/?u=8e1c721aa3e435f2b8e56cf91&id=df3c8b0c52&e=75b0c2db77.Unfortunately by the time you read this the official public survey will be finished. When I talked to Dave Conley the final response had been 1534. Whilst opinions will be varied, it shows the high level of public interest in the management of one of the world’s great fresh water fisheries.
PS Ironically the 2017 season is shaping up as the best for many years and anglers might feel that the crisis is over and some of the proposals are out of date. This may be so but the real benefit of more management flexibility is to respond more quickly and effectively next time this wild fishery is heading for a dive.