World Wide Fishing!

Flyfishing Taupo (New Zealand) Streams & Rivers

By Barry Schultz and Ivan Turner (aka B.J. and Ike)

We have been asked by LadyFisher to write an article on a recent flyfishing trip to the Taupo region. Our initial reaction was one of apprehension as neither of us considered ourselves particularly competent in that regard.

However on reflection have decided perhaps we should pool resources and attempt to do so for several reasons namely :

    (a) It was the U.S. that kindly sent us fish stocks originally.

    (b) Ike & B.J. met through this website, FAOL.

    (c) We would like if possible, to clarify some misconceptions that appear to exist about the fishing down here.

Firstly we would like to emphasize the type of fishing, methods etc. described in this article are applicable to Taupo winter fishing conditions and should not be assumed to be suited to other areas or seasons in New Zealand. Possibly the most significant difference in this type of fishing, is the relative lack of 'spookiness' displayed by the fish whilst in this mode.

The fish: Are all self sustaining wild fish therefore tend to be strong fighting fish. There are also small population of resident fish in rivers, mostly in upper reaches.

Ike's trout

Browns: Stock came from U.K. via Tasmania, are usually larger in size than rainbows, many exceeding double figure weight (although N.Z. has converted to metric, most fisherpersons still quote their fish in pounds (as makes them sound bigger) They tend to spawn earlier, February, March onwards, and generally group in certain pools in the river, as well as having their preferred spawning steams.

They can sometimes offer exciting evening or early morning dry fly fishing in lower Tongariro river early in season. Most large brown's are either targeted in certain pools, mainly on wet line, or more commonly, night fishing the river and stream mouths into the lake early in the season.

Rainbows: Some confusion exists due to poor record keeping but it would appear the ova came from the Russian river, Mc Cloud and Sonoma creek. They were originally ordered as and thought to be, brook trout. However, they were from steelhead stock.This has proved to be a fortuitous misunderstanding, as they have adapted well by developing traits uncharacteristic of the species. Namely in many areas they have managed to thrive without running to sea. In the Taupo region under discussion they compromise their urge to 'go to sea' by returning to the lake and run the rivers/streams to spawn usually about April to August. Many fish also return to the lake after spawning at a time coinciding with the hatching of vast numbers of smelt and recover condition by gorging themselves, often allowing them to spawn a second or third time.

Lake Taupo was originally formed by volcanic eruption, which must have been quite a 'bang' as it is 238 square miles in area, 550 ft. at deepest point with over 85% exceeding 165 ft. It contains 620 cubic kilometers of pure, clear, fresh water. It is estimated any water entering lake averages 10.6 yrs. before flowing out the only exit, to form the Waikato river.

Taupo region is an active volcanic plateau area in central North Island with several nearby mainly volcanic mountains rising to around 9000 ft. There are several skifields and resorts situated in the locality. The area also offers boating, kayaking, hunting, tramping, mountaineering and a variety of outdoor adventure pursuits.

It's flyfishing only in the rivers/streams, most common methods are wetline and nymphing. Trolling, harling, spinning, downriggers and jigging are permitted in lake only. As a general rule once in river fish are not in a feeding mode and are feisty, you have to annoy them or grab their attention somehow.


For wet line usually fast sink shooting head with short leader (6 to 10 lbs.) 3ft max. to keep near bottom. Weight 7 to 9 gear most favoured. Flies like wooly buggers, rabbits, red setters and such like in 8 to 10 size or even bigger if the water is cloudy. Bright day = brighter colours, dull day = darker or muted colours. Maximum of two flies allowed but most use only one. Cast across, let swing down and around, short retrieve, short pace downstream, repeat.

Generally you need to annoy fish to get a reaction so you need to get nymphs down to bottom as soon as possible in mostly fast, reasonably deep water. To achieve this usually weight forward floating line, two fly rig with rod length leader approx. 9 to 12 ft. according to depth and flow of water. Leader is non-tapered 6 to 10 lbs. quality mono, though flourocarbon is becoming popular, despite extra cost.

No weight is allowed, however regulations allow weighted flies up to size 10 hook. Therefore is usual to have first fly weighted to act as 'sinker' then a point fly tied to this about 8 to 12 inches away. Indicator ( yarn only) is clipped to end of flyline. Cast is up and across mending line as required to achieve natural drift. Drift can continue downstream past angler where fish are often taken as well as on final swing. Any dipping or movement of the indicator should be 'struck.'

Nymph anglers generally work their way upstream, the opposite to wetliners so sometimes this causes problems, nevertheless should be able to be resolved with a little give and take.

Once again due to added weight of nymphs and need for reasonably long casts probably 7wt. rod is the minimum required. Flies like glo bugs are the most common, also hare /copper, pheasant tail and halfback. Weighted fly is not so important unless you want to get attention however better to have minimum obstruction to sinking.

For night fishing one can use sinking, floating or sink tip according to preference and conditions. Leader about 6 to 8ft. heavier material 12lb. plus as fish can not see it so well in dark and tends to tangle less. Cast out into lake, into or at side of rip, start gentle or jerky retrieve, be prepared for hard hit. Flies dark wooly bugger, black marabou, scotch poacher, craigs nightime for browns and rainbows. Luminous glow flies charged with torch or camera flashlight, for rainbows and browns. Fish caught at night usually prime eating fish as have been preparing condition to run river.

Our Adventure
June 6th - 8th, 2000

Other than on fishing chat sites we met for first time mid afternoon on Tuesday. After hurried preparation was decided to nymph fish the Tauranga Taupo river in the mid lower reaches with the remaining daylight, accompanied by Monty, B.J's golden retreiver. There had been some rain over previous days, so were hopeful this may have brought fresh run fish into river.

As most of the rivers have been dramatically altered by severe floods, it was decided time would be best spent initially with an exploratory excursion.

Ike soon upset those intentions by hooking into a fish in short order which after leaping several times managed to break free. He soon repeated the scenario by hooking, landing and releasing a good fish. B.J. was invited to fish same spot and was soon connected to a well conditioned fish about 6 lbs.

B.J. and Monty opted to explore a little further upriver whilst Ike continued to have success in original spot. Darkness fell in what seemed very short time, nevertheless it was two very contented anglers and one dog that made their way back to the club lodge in Turangi for dinner.

Whilst still fired with enthusiasm decision was made to night fish Whareroa steam mouth on Western side of lake. Unfortunately, rip from stream was going along the beach, although it did break though just as we were leaving, driven away by heavy rain and lack of fishing action. Ironically when decision had been made to leave, was hand lining fly line back in to remove fly when fish took.

We have a suspicion hand-lining may be illegal but was unintentional and was a new experience, particularly in the dark.

The rain that evening possibly was part reason for Ike developing a severe bout of flu and having an uncomfortable night, not enhanced any by B.J.s snooring!

Next day went to Tongariro river, angler pressure was heavier and Ike suffering effects of flu. One fish was taken by us from blue pool, however other anglers that had familiarised themselves with the river since being altered by floods, appeared to be more successful.

It was decided a visit to the chemist in town to get something to counter the effects of the flu was called for. This proved to be a prudent move as seemed to improve things for Ike in relatively short time.

Returned to Tauranga Taupo late in the afternoon with very little daylight left. Just on dusk B.J. connected to beautiful maiden run fish that ran out untold line several times and took over 10 mins to get to bank. Was a little short of 7lbs but had tiny head of 2 or 3 yr. old fish. Unfortunately we did not take our cameras this time, so fish was somewhat less photogenic when snapped about three hours later.

Next day went further up river deciding to leave a very peeved Monty at home in deference to his 13 yrs. of age, the many river crossings and the distance involved. Fishing again proved to be excellent with Ike once again showing his ability to read the most likely spots fish were holding. At an earlier stage this ability to 'sense' fish, had been endorsed when he took three fish, on three casts.

Possibly the most significant overall feature of the fish caught was their condition, which on average was much better than normally expected. Of the twenty odd fish landed there were no really big fish, however only two would have been in less than prime condition.

The last few years have seen a changing pattern in the fish in this area and it is speculated this could be the result of floods coupled with volcanic eruptions.

Ruapehu eruption

The theory goes something like this. When Ruapehu erupted several years back ( I was fishing river at the time, had new floating line ruined by falling ash and grit which burnt into surface. Probably did rod guides no good either) it put ash silt and worst of all lava (volcanic mud flow) into rivers. This was viewed as very serious at the time for fish population and breeding as was also followed by a series of very severe floods. Many were predicting disastrous consequences for the fishery, so the actual results that transpired, came as somewhat of a surprise.


Many more fish than expected survived despite the river running grey and smelling strongly like sulphur or burnt gunpowder for some time. What nobody had anticipated was the ash that fell on the lake killed off the top layer of zooplankton that the smelt rely on for food source. It was subsequently discovered the top layer was of low nutrient value and when the high value lower layer bloomed to become the primary food source for the smelt, they suddenly grew to huge size.

When the trout returned to the lake as normal and fed on the 'super' smelt they in turn grew to bigger than normal size. (Still not as large as early days when fishery was in it's heydays and the plentiful fish averaged over 10lbs.) So we had a season following with fewer fish of immense size, I remember it as a season of great battles with not too many fish landed. It would appear now population has grown again and size is dropping but condition improving.

Will be interesting to see what the future holds, we are fortunate to have a dedicated team of largely fellow anglers in charge of managing the isheries and whilst they cannot be expected to be right 100% of the time, are overall doing a great job, with anglers' interests at heart.

Was pleasing to see we had our licenses checked by an officer and a survey taken as to angler satisfaction with present operation etc. The officer concerned went about his duties in a very efficient yet courteous and helpful manner. The law abiding Ike was able to produce his, but B.J. had a leisurely stroll back to the car with the ranger to locate his.

Annual license fee for Taupo fisheries Approx. U.S $ 25 Fish per day 3 Catch and Release, no limit. Minimum keepable size is 18 inches.


Thanks for sending us the fish in 1885. Hope you will agree we have taken pretty good care of them by and large. Hopefully we will continue to do so and maybe a few of you may like to come on down to check up on them, also do some fishing while you are here. We are fortunate they have no predators here other than man, as New Zealand has no native animals, all have been introduced. We did apparently have a significant naturally established grayling fishery that mysteriously disappeared almost overnight. Equally puzzling as to where they went, is how a Northern hemisphere fish came to be here in the first place, pre-European settlement, however that is another story . . .

It is probably worth a mention also, that to protect the wild fisheries no sale of trout, farming, commercial fisheries or importation are permitted in N.Z. However a couple of Government owned hatcheries do operate to raise fingerlings from wild fish. These are used to supplement any water which would not be sustained by natural breeding, maybe due to lack of sufficient spawning area. This does not apply to Taupo region. Farming of salmon is allowed under strict control.

In fact some very interesting breeding programs are underway, some experimental, others firmly established and proving very successful, such as breeding from selected 'fly caught fish' then holding back from spawning for their first year. Fish grow to a bigger size and are more inclined to react to the fly. (Known here as R strain.)

Most rivers have a Queen's chain either side of rivers/streams which allows anglers access. There have been several attempts of recent times to gain private water by restricting access. The angling fraternity are vigorously opposing the ability of vested interests achieving this. ~ Ike and B.J.

More Fly Fishing Down Under:

Fly Fishing New Zealand
The Art of New Zealand Flying Fishing
Arthur's Lake, Tasmania
Trout-Tracking in New Zealand
Flyfishing Taupo (New Zealand) Streams & Rivers
Stalking the Large Trout of Australia
Fly Fishing the Northern Territory
Olympic Bass
The Best Trout Stream in the World
Ruakituri River, New Zealand
Matching the Hatch
A Guide to 'Cracking' the Mystery of the Mataura

Fly fishing in the Mitta Mitta Valley of NE Victoria, Australia
Bream on the Fly - Australia
A Very Rough Guide to Fishing New Zealand

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