Duchess Pool in decline?
TRM just had another angler wanting to know what has happened to his favourite – ‘world famous’ (?) – Duchess Pool?
It may look the same but was not holding any trout as usual… Strange… I concurred as last week when I was exploring the upper river pools on my bike I could only count 3 trout in it – compared say to about 15 in Cicada Pool or 20 plus in Admirals.
First your Geography lesson… Previously TRM have invented stories when pools get obliterated by sand banks slowly moving down the river with each small flood. In the good ol’ days these did not occur as there was adequate flow to carry all the debris out to form the delta. But in the last forty years half the flow has been diverted to Lake Rotoaira so the flood debris gets strewn along the river bed. This aggradation (‘aggradation’ is the geographic term for the process of a river depositing sediment on its bed, therefore raising its bed and causing flooding) debris contains more than just pumice and gravel. Often it includes volcanic ash which would be toxic to trout. The sand drifts cover the healthy gravels and restrict any insect life – caddis etc. so the spawning runs flash through such sand banks very rapidly. But as there was no sign of any sand bank at Duchess Pool we cannot explain why (?) so the usual editorial strategy is applied to confuse you and distract any readers still surviving this by repeating TRM’s Pool Report for the Duchess Pool from 2006 – which was an update of the May 2005 report.
If nothing else, such interesting pool descriptions confirm why the Tongariro River retains its world famous status. Fly fishing the Tongariro is traditionally much more rewarding to the soul than just fishing any other river. Purist fly fishos (like Murray) respect the historical connections more and cannot understand how other fishy destinations, such as Mataura or Twizel canals, can ever compete with such rich history…
Instead of adding old photo images, first have a quick squiz at Murray Cullen’s short video of his 2014 Duchess Pool methodology:
August 2006 Update
The new hot spots nearby – no-name pools above and the run below the Duchess, are reported to be increasingly popular but they could easily disappear – or improve? – after the next fresh. The braided river below the Duchess changes with each fresh and is worth a close inspection if anglers are already in the Duchess Pool. The river course above Duchess, below Shag, changes with each flood and are becoming more braided.
The pool at the head of Duchess, or below the old ‘Racecourse’ where the tumbling white water turns sharply left against the cliff, was originally known as Gentlemen’s Pool, but disappeared when the 1958 flood diverted the river into the old by-pass. The pool was so named because of the high number of jack fish that were caught here After 2004 flood this pool has reformed at the head of the Duchess.
Naming History (X Barbara Cooper’s Pools of the Tongariro – 1975)
Duchess Pool is named after Queen Elizabeth, wife of George the Sixth, then Duchess of York when the royal couple paid a visit to New Zealand in 1927. The Duke and Duchess expressed a wish to do some fishing while they were in New Zealand and a special camp was set up on Kowhai Flat. Later the buildings were moved to the Hatchery at the Birch Pool.
The camp was built with labour from Rangipo Prison Farm. To keep the visitors supplied with fresh bread, it was brought by horse-wagon from Waikune Prison which had the nearest bakery. The Duke and Duchess were taken to various pools but with indifferent success. The Duchess had remained in camp one day when the Superintendent of Rangipo Prison arrived with the supplies. He mentioned to the Doctor accompanying the visitors that they were camped near one of the best pools on the river, although it seems that until then they had not fished it. The Duchess went out and caught the best fish of the day there.
Zane Grey and his son fished this pool on a return visit in 1932. A letter from C. A. Whitney in NZ Fishing & Shooting Gazette, June 1932, recounts the following: ‘Practically all Zane Grey’s fishing was done on the Kowhai Pool some four miles above the bridge over the Upper Waikato (Tongariro) … He had a long plank stuck out into the river from the end of which he and his son cast their fly into the best part of the pool, and in this way they were able to reach the fish lying in midstream. Visitors were deluded into imagining very long casts being made with short rods. I watched both fishing on an afternoon with a light wind from behind and was not greatly impressed with their casting and especially the way in which the fly lit on the water.’
The Duchess – May 2005
Another pool which has changed considerably since the February 2004 flood is The Duchess. After the previous “Great Flood” – 24 February 1958 – the Duchess also altered significantly – so it is only the general location which has remained unaltered. Access is north along the LHS riverbank – about 15-20 minutes from the Red Hut car park via Kowhai Flat. Please respect the access over private property
After the 2004 flood the most visual change immediately apparent from Red Hut bridge was the disappearance of the island above the bridge and changes to the course of the main channel – from the RHS to the LHS – these are indicative of significant alterations to the pools and river bed all the way down past The Duchess. Changes further upriver – to what was The Breakaway – were even more dramatic.
Prior to the 2004 flood The Duchess was fished from both sides but now it is more suitable from the LHS only. The depth of the pool has been reduced with the deep gut – hookup zone – now spread wider with the main flow on the RHS. The general pattern is to nymph below the big boulder or wetline at the head of the pool. The broad expanse of boulders extending from the Shag Pool indicates that The Duchess will continue to change in depth and character with each new flood.
Although this part of the river may take longer to access, it is still popular, but is now reported to be struggling to justify its previous reputation. However, despite this condemnation,
The Duchess pool still deserves compulsory attendance if only out of respect for its traditions and natural beauty.
In the 1960 book Freshwater Admiral – on the Tongariro that was – Harold Hickling describes the pool much more eloquently in technicolor prose as follows – …..In the precipitous cliff on the far bank are strata that range from white to deepest brown; nearby on lower ground rise tall poplars, like golden church steeples in the fall; and, as a pediment, the river, here white where it tumbles over the rapids, there in deep water an indigo blue changing to emerald and aquamarine as it shallows…. That is what I was going to say too.
Hickling suggested this might well be called the Royal Pool of the Tongariro due to the series of visits by Royals – named after the Duke and Duchess of York who camped and fished here in 1927 followed by Queen Elizabeth. Devotedly following the early Royals are their subjects, in the form of various Governors General, who were obliged to confirm their aristocratic breeding skills by trying to improve on the Royals precedent by fly fishing The Duchess – just like shoal fish? These included angling Excellencies – GG’s including Lord & Lady Bledisloe, Lord & Lady Galway, Sir Cyril Newall, Lord Cobham, etc. Prince Charles broke the regal pattern in 1981, fishing the Birch Pool whilst anglers like Zane Grey did not even deserve a mention. So you are following in many regal foot steps.
Few river pools in the world could claim such a provenance of noble angling history, so it deserves a compulsory flick – just to say you¹ve been there, done that.