When is the best time to fish the Tongariro?SWMBO gets asked this question every week (I duck it) when is the best time to fish the Tongariro?. Her stock answer is whenever you can get here!Every year we try to answer the same query and every year it changes based on varying patterns from the previous year! It really is that changeable.But there is more to it than just trying to time it for the trout spawning runs.That is fine for Kiwis who just have to hop in a car for a weekend trip but explanations to this perplexing issue are for serious West Islanders. We understand they have to do much more preparation and go to much more expense. So we will try to consider all the aspects.Locals will tell you the best time is always in the few days after a ‘fresh’ as every time we get some decent rainfall, regardless of the month, it usually triggers a fresh run up the Tongariro.However the weather here is very erratic and the forecasts are nearly always wrong and misleading…A feature of 2016 season, compared to other seasons, is that generally everything is at least a month late.(i.e. At the moment many have remarked as we still have raiding parties of Tuis attacking the Kowhai trees in flower. Up north they lost all their flowers over a month ago. That late season behaviour pattern should carry through to 2017.)That was the situation back in November 2016 – now it is back to normal with the first spawning runs following floods a little earlier than usual.
To follow a similar late pattern, if your club were planning a Tongariro fishing trip for February it might be smart to aim for March or April.The attractive element then is you will have a choice of several pools to yourself that may have not seen another competing angler for several days.Also in the warmer temperatures there is more variety in fishing methods – apart from the usual wet line and nymphing rig using weighted nymphs, anglers also cast a little dry fly or dry and dropper rig.
Swinging a dry fly in late summer is arguably the best fishing of all on the Tongariro. Add in the evening rise going off bonkers like it has for the last week and the late summer stands out.Remember to avoid Easter peak time – in 2017 Easter Friday holiday is on March 30 to Easter Monday on April 2.Moon phases are another consideration. For fine weather always pick a full moon although some anglers swear the fishing is best with no moon.Aussie anglers are very important to TRM as they usually stay one or two weeks and return again and again. TRM have just had the Bellarine Fishing Club staying for the eleven days and they have been replaced by another Melbourne club – Mornington Peninsula Fly Fishing Club. Unfortunately the weather for the last week could not have been worse with two floods – the first over 100 cumecs followed a few days later by another over 200 cumecs plus a storm of earthquakes.. That destroys any arguments for recommending fishing during the full moon in November.Some regular Australian anglers, who have been consistently successful over many years, have their own special method which they swear by – to time it perfectly so can then stay for much longer periods. They only come when cheap flights and the specials deals are on. So the other timing factors may not be as crucial as you imagine.Meanwhile we have had another similar fishing club request for our opinion – as to the ‘best’ time when there is not too much pressure on the river. They cannot time it immediately after rain as they need a couple of months warning to get organised.They understand the trout are always here so the timing is an important decision.Tongariro River’s world famous tradition was based on the winter spawning runs. Up until about ten years ago the most popular time was July-August (school holidays) as the winter runs were concentrated into a much tighter time frame.Now they can happen at practically any time.For 2016 it was a very late season. Arguably for TRM anglers the best fishing month was October, but it is not as simple as that. For an enjoyable relaxed fishing holiday, we suggest crowding – angler pressure – is probably the most important issue to consider and to try to avoid.If you target any of the long weekends or more popular public holiday periods then you have to expect the trout to be ‘spooked’ by excessive numbers of keen anglers thrashing the pools to a foam from 5 am. If you arrive at 9 am and find the pool empty it is often because the anglers have already been and gone back to refuel… Often later in the day plenty of trout can be seen but will not respond after being hammered at first light.For a more relaxed enjoyable fishing holiday the peak times should be avoided regardless of how many fish are supposed to be lined up waiting for you.Having said that we also have to add that those who know there way around the river tracks never have a problem. All they do is walk (waddle in waders?) a little further away from the various car parks to find ‘virgin’ water.Of course the more popular pools get thrashed. TRM anglers’ usual advice is to avoid all the town pools including the Braids, Bridge Pool, Major Jones, Breakfast Pool, Hydro.The more remote pools often get overlooked. Last week on a tiki tour around the pools – to introduce a new angler to the choices available – there were 8 cars in the Braids car park, one in Stag, one in Red Hut (some others were obviously bikers) and one in Blue Pool. The only angler met up at the Sand Pool had landed six…The ‘best’ time also depends on knowing what you are looking for? These comments are more aimed at keen anglers just wanting to catch lots of trout without specifically aiming at back country browns or trophy (Lake O?) Rainbows. OK?The truth is there are always plenty of trout in the river and with over ‘fifty pools to fish before you die’ there are always plenty of opportunities if you go looking for them.In addition to the fifty pools, the fish are strangely forced to swim between them and these precious runs and reaches are often neglected by anglers.Many of these – i.e. on the TRB across the river from the main road car parks, are within easy walking distance from TRM or best accessed by TRM bikes – hint, hint. You hardly need a car.So having considered the last 12 years the ‘best’ time selected for a club team to visit is Autumn in March-April-May when weather conditions are more comfortable – when wet wading is still possible – and the angler pressure is much reduced.During the summer the cicada hatch is very popular as the trout will look at nothing else. But after the hatch is over for several weeks the trout keep looking for them. That is often over looked.December is too close to Christmas and holidays, January is NZ’s traditional holiday time when the river is also subject to many more canoes and rafting etc., February is similarly always too busy with tourists (i.e. TRM is already almost booked out and turning tourists away for February) and too crowded on the river but by March the pressure is usually off.I have to admit some bias – after looking back over the last decade, the most trout I have landed has consistently been in March. But that may have as much to do with when SWMBO lets me escape from the laundry as the river conditions. At that time the warm temperatures encourage wet wading in sandals which is so much more enjoyable than the survival course during winter runs.It is also a good time to target other rivers in day trips to Wanganui River, plus Whakapapa, Rangitikei, etc. Some of these close off for spawning from the end of May but the Wanganui (below the Whakapapa confluence) is open all year round. Ditto other local lakes.Also we must add that if you dial up TRM website to check on bookings then please ignore it and contact us or email directly.Usually SWMBO has to block off most units to prevent the dreaded OTA’s – online travel agencies – ‘cherry picking’ odd nights out of the best months for one night tourists. There are plenty of other motels catering for them.TRM’s booking strategy for the last 12 years is to narrow the aim at regular fishos who we know always return again and again at their favourite time.So now you know… Ph 07 386 8555 or 0800 187688or email: firstname.lastname@example.orgNow just to confuse you we repeat another analysis in the article by Alan Bulmer previously published in September 12, 2016
When is it best to fish the Tongariro?An interesting article follows – pinched from Active Angling NZ. Many thanks to Alan for this and many other thought provoking articles on trout fishing. This type of analysis used to be regularly provided by DOC in the Target Taupo but it appears we now have to rely on the knowledge and enthusiasm of a few anglers instead. Alan and many others have suggested to TRM for a long time, they think it is time Fish & Game got involved in the Taupo Fishery… What do you think?
WHICH MONTHS ARE BEST TO FISH THE TONGARIRO?Back in the day most anglers timed their trips to the Tongariro river to coincide with the main rainbow trout spawning runs which occurred over the winter months. Between 1960 and 2000 these runs were mostly concentrated between May – August.However there has been a major change in the timing of the rainbow trout spawning runs since 2002 and the fabled winter runs have moved to considerably later in the year. Remember that the data is based on trap results in the spawning streams so the fish probably will be in the lower river around 4-8 weeks earlier.I recently stumbled upon an excellent Doctoral thesis by Elizabeth Heeg entitled “Population genetics and spawning time of Lake Taupo rainbow trout” which documents these changes. http://researcharchive.vuw.ac.nz/xmlui/handle/10063/2046As you can see from the graphs below by 2006 the main runs had switched to October-November. This is a fascinating development which has fisheries scientists baffled. It also seems to have by-passed many anglers as they still appear to be targeting the winter runs, even though these are now comparatively small.
Several years ago I read an article in Target Taupo which also mentioned the trend so I started to visit Turangi in late November to take advantage of the later runs. Mid-late November is a great time to fish the river as there are fresh fish present, the days are warmer and you also get an evening rise when the conditions allow. Contrary to popular belief fresh run fish do rise at dusk to take advantage of hatching insects so the action can be hectic.
Below is an excerpt from my fishing diary showing just how good the fishing can be on the cusp of summer.
“The day dawned postcard perfect. Still with brilliant sunshine and cloudless skies. After a late breakfast we opted to head south to Waikato Falls to see how many fish were holding in the pool and runs immediately below the dam.
There was some awesome lenticular cloud hanging around the summit of Mt Ruapehu and we spotted a lot of fish including a lovely trout of around 5 – 6 lb cruising nonchalantly in the eddy behind the dam. This fish almost knew it was safe as the water was closed to angling for another week. I’ve already posted these images.
It was again hot (24C) but by mid afternoon a steady westerly breeze of 10 knots has sprung up to take the edge off the heat. We opted again to only fish the evening rise at the Duck pond and spent the day checking out the Tongariro to see where the fish were holding.
After dinner the breeze died appreciably and conditions were perfect for the evening rise with an air temperature of 20C and water temperature of 16C. Unlike the previous evening the rise proper started at 8.40 pm. Given that there had been quite a lot of gusty wind in the late afternoon, I decided to start fishing with #14 green beetle well before dark. I’d seen a couple of manuka beetles the previous evening and figured that some may have been blown into the river during the afternoon. Third cast into the head of the riffle and the fly got absolutely hammered by a trout which smartly turned tail and headed down river in a withering burst. It took to the air, flopped back into the river sideways and then charged repeatedly for the far bank, taking me into the backing. Fortunately it soon tired and started to circle around the eddy before throwing in the towel. Surprisingly it was a recovering hen and only weighed a nudge over 3 lbs. However, despite being a tad on the thin side, it quickly recovered from its exertions and swum off strongly. Within three casts I was in again and soon had another trout of around 3 lb. in the net pending release.
After this initial flurry of activity the fish started to rise in earnest so I swapped to a brown sedge. Bad choice as I did not get any touches in 15 minutes. All the while the trout were splashing and slurping noisily. Next I switched to a Mallard & Claret for 20 minutes and still could not elicit any interest. In despair I next tried a grey bodied, parachute pale hackled fly which looked like a spent Adams. The next 10 casts lead to 5 fish taking the fly. Each flopped on the surface or jumped and somehow spat the hook. I checked the fly after each fish and everything seemed in order. Eventually in despair, I turned on my headlight to discover that the nylon had looped back over bend of hook and was strung tightly across the gape to the eye. This effectively stopped the point from penetrating on the strike.
Slapping myself hard I removed the fly and changed back to # 14 sedge pattern. Success! Immediate hook up and within minutes I had another 3lb clone flapping in the net. By now the massive sedge hatch had tailed off appreciably so we opted to call it a day.
The next day dawned sunny, relatively cloudless with a light zephyr puffing languidly from the West. Ideal conditions to have a few hours prospecting Major Jones pool. The air temperature by 9.30 am had reached 22C. Before I left Auckland Tony Bishop suggested that I prospect with a hopper and a nymph so I took his advice and tied on a large Stimulator and a size #16 gold bead head Hares Ear on a 4′ dropper. Truck and trailer.
I started casting methodically fishing the fly upstream and within minutes was dreaming about nothing in particular. Casting metronomically and stripping in slack line automatically to keep tight to the Stimulator. Next I got fixated on something moving on the far bank and stared hard to see what was causing the disturbance. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the Stimulator pause, struck and came up solid on a trout which did not take kindly to having its nostril pierced. Off it went downstream but it was not heavy and soon was under control, thanks to constant side strain. It was a small recovering hen of around 2.5 lb that had taken the small nymph. Quickly released it to fight another day.
About now several trout started to rise so I removed the Stimulator and nymph rig and replaced it with a #14 parachute spent spinner (stripped peacock herl body, golden pheasant tippet tail and dark brown hackle). I carefully waded in behind the hind most rising trout and pitched the fly about 6′ ahead of it. The fly landed softly and the trout rose in slow motion to engulf it purposefully. Passing on my regards to the Queen I struck carefully and set the hook. The trout was small (~ 2 lb) but it charged about the tail for several minutes before I could beach and release it. Meanwhile several other larger trout kept on rising steadily blissfully unaware of what was happening below them. Licking my lips I carefully waded into position to cast again. No sooner had I done this and started false casting than four rafts and a couple of kayakers hove into view at the head of the pool making a hell of a racket, splashing each other and squealing with delight. The trout immediately froze rigid synchronously and engaged turbos as they headed out into deep water and safety. I muttered a profanity laden sentence to myself which specifically questioned their lineage before winding in and heading home, steam venting from every orifice.
Eventually I calmed down and began setting up for another evening foray to the Duck pond. By the late afternoon the weather had turned cloudy. It was still warm but rain showers were forecast for late in the evening. Bankside at 7.30 pm the air temperature was still 21C and water temperature 16C.
Learning from past experience I attached a green beetle fly to imitate any manuka beetles that may have been blown unceremoniously into the river. Tonight this was studiously ignored, as was an Aoteapsyche nymph and the up until this trip “never fail” Hoflands.
Again I noticed a hatch of pale grey flies and switched to #16 deer hair CDC caddis. Bingo! Within six casts I’d hooked three trout and landed two. The first fish was 2lb. and second 3.5 lb. The latter fish fought like it was much bigger. Strong runs into the current, surface jumps and dogged resistance. It was a long fish that would easily have gone 5 lb. when in peak condition. With the extra weight it would have been hard to stop in heavy water.
By now it was getting late so we pulled the pin and headed home.
Buoyed by yesterday’s effort in the Major Jones, I headed out onto the river in the late afternoon to target fish that were rising or holding in the shallow shingle. Another sun drenched day, the only saving grace being a strong wind gusting 10 knots down river. This serendipitously blew the fly line away from my head when casting which is always a bonus.
I attached a # 12 deer hair blowfly and managed to hook two rising fish briefly. The second snapped the bend off the hook at end of the shank. This calls for a change in tactics I muttered to no one in particular.
On went a #14 Glister nymph in combination with a #14 fawn bead head maggot fly. I started casting directly out from where I stood, slightly upstream of perpendicular. I reach mended late in the forward casting stroke to deposit the fly line upstream of the visible trout. What happened next will live with me forever. I hooked the first trout at 1610 hours and proceeded to hook 14 over next 80 minutes, landing six. All around 2.5 – 3.5 lbs. One fish did not fight at all, one took off like a Polaris missile in the highest jump I’ve ever seen and one launched a full on attack at me and spat the hook at my feet from a rod length away. A stunning session. I described it afterwards as “Fishing from a highlights package”. Given that it took several minutes to get back to the shore, it was virtually a trout a cast! For the record the air temperature was 22C and the water temperature 16C.
Fly fishing is often as much about confidence and positive mental attitude as anything else so you can probably guess how pumped I was when we set out after dinner for our daily dose of Duck pond. Again nothing began moving until 2040 hours, well after sunset. This was probably due to the strong westerly wind, gusting 15 knots, that buffeted our mostly sheltered spot.
I attached the # 16 deer hair CDC caddis and waited. Once the trout started rising steadily I waded in carefully and started casting. As soon as the fly started to skate it got slaughtered and I hooked 5 fish in 50 minutes. Remarkably we landed all of them, Sandy dealing expertly with two. The second fish which hit the caddis was an altogether different proposition from the rest. It flopped heavily on the surface, tore off line in short powerful bursts and stayed deep shaking its head angrily. Classic behaviour for a big brown. It took me well into the backing twice and much longer for the Hardy Angel Smuggler to wear down but eventually it succumbed to the relentless pressure. It was only 6 lb but it was short, deep of shoulder and well proportioned. An absolute beauty. Unfortunately I could only get a shot of its flank with my mobile. The other four fish were all in 2.5 – 3.5 lb bracket and fought strongly as well.
What a day! Hooked 21 trout in a nudge over two hours, landing 11. Epic does not even begin to describe it.
The weather during the next day was average and fishing would have been uncomfortable on account of the wind and misty rain. So we opted to go to the hot pools and generally explore and focus on the evening rise.
When we got to the Duck pond at 8.00 pm it was overcast and misty rain permeated the session. Thankfully the westerly wind did drop to a manageable10 knots but the air temperature plummeted to 13C in roughly an hour and a half. It was cold and fewer fish rose before 9.00 pm.
On went the #16 deer hair CDC caddis at dusk but we opted to sit and wait. I started fishing steadily between 2100 – 2140 hours as the trout came on the chomp and managed to hook three, all landed. Two by Sandy. The largest was a 4 – 4.5 lb brown which fought doggedly to the bitter end.
Last day and the weather was again a curates egg. One minute it was bright and sunny, the next it was heavy showers. The only constant was the relentless south westerly which gusted to 20 knots at times.
I took my chance just after lunch and headed to the Major Jones for 1.5 hours. It was sunny and overcast for first 30 minutes then closed in and started to drizzle steadily. The air temperature struggled to reach 16C at the hottest part of the day and there was a fair amount of wind chill involved.
To cut a long story short, I fished the entire session with small bead headed Glister nymph and fawn maggot nymph. I hooked a fish during preparation for my first cast and 5 others in total. The biggest was 3.5 lb, rest all around 2lb. Compared with what had gone before it was hard fishing. Bigger trout were clearly visible but they would not be tempted.
What a week. Hooked 47 trout and landed 27 in 15 hours fishing. Roughly one fish landed every 35 minutes. Only saw one other angler fishing all week but everyone I bumped into was catching plenty. There are some big fish hanging off the Tongariro delta at present and they will run up soon to spawn, probably with the next flood”.
So there you have it. Head down to the Tongariro in October-November when the river levels and atmospheric conditions allow and it should all be on! Fish the evening rise. You will not be disappointed.