I've just come back from a day and a half fishing in New Zealand's Lake Taupo region. An opportunity presented itself for me to escape the city and head north to fish one of my favourite spots - the Waitahanui River mouth. So I packed the car, kennelled the dog, and made the four and a half hour drive north.
Waitahanui is an iconic trout fishing spot. Located about 10km south of Taupo township, the small village is home to a couple of small fishing motels, and not a lot else. But what draws the crowds - of both anglers and tourists - is the mouth of the Waitahanui Stream which is known by the locals as the "The Rip."
I have been coming to Waitahanui for as long as I have fished, but in recent years less so. This is mainly because in my early days I didn't know how to fish on a river - so most my fly fishing was confined to fishing river mouths - where all you had to do was cast straight out and slowly retrieve a lure back towards you. Later, I would cut my teeth on the Tongariro River, and focus on fishing the rivers themselves. Fishing the mouths seemed all a bit too easy. But recently I have rediscovered how much fun it can be fishing the river and stream mouths. Especially at night, when the fish come in close to shore, and even tiny stream mouths seem to attract big fish.
The Rip itself is perhaps one of the most photographed fly fishing spots in the country, and is often referred to as "the picket fence" due to the anglers who wade out to the edge of the drop off and stand shoulder to shoulder. As the sun sets in the evening these anglers look like fence posts dotted across the mouth. It's popularity has waned somewhat over the years - just today I saw an old photo of the rip, and counted at least 30 anglers stretched across it. Over the weekend the most I saw at one time was four.
I did three sessions on the rip. The first was on dusk on the Friday evening when I arrived. The wind was up and blowing onshore - resulting in white-cap waves breaking on the beach. I stood on the shore and fished a shooting head fast sinking line for about thirty minutes before calling it an evening. The next morning however the wind had completely died off, and the lake was glassy. When I arrived there were already two anglers out in the rip, but just as I prepared to step off the beach and wade the 30 metres out to them I noticed a dark shape on the sand about three metres from the beach. Closer investigation confirmed it was a trout - sitting in the slack water off to the side of the main current of the river flowing into the lake. It slowly moved into the current, and I cast out and across with a brown Woolly Bugger, started slowly retrieving, and felt the light suddenly go tight. My fathers advice from many years ago when I first fished the rip rang out "It's deep and fast here, and sandy - you wont snag the bottom - so strike at anything that stops your line." Good advice - and a couple of minutes later I had an superbly conditioned rainbow on the bank. Proving yet again that when fishing early morning you should "fish your feet first." I very nearly walked straight out onto this fish in my eagerness to get to the rip. Instead, I ended up landing a fish from behind the anglers standing out in the lake. None of whom had caught a fish that morning.
Overall though the fishing was slow. So I made the decision to travel south to Hatepe - a small lakeside village through which the Hinemaiaia stream flows before entering Taupo. This is another well producing river mouth, and one I hadn't fished for some time. Unfortunately I forgot that the bottom here is more rocky, and I had left my intermediate sinking line for my 6wt rod back at the accomadation. All I had was my 8 wt Sage with a fast sinking shooting head line. Within the first 30 minutes I had lost three flies to snags. I had also had a couple of strikes but had failed to hook up. When I eventually did - a decent sized brown that broached the surface briefly enough so I could see him - I ended up break the fish off. Several missed strikes later, and I finally figured out what was going on. As I kept hitting the bottom, the needle point of the hook had become blunt. I quickly change to the last Rabbit Fly I had - and tried again. As I retrieved slowly I felt a sudden tug - and then nothing. This is reasonably common when fishing a fly such as a rabbit, as the fish will hit the tail of the fly and miss the hook. I slipped the line out a foot or so, and slowly started retrieving again - and got hit violently. This time the fish stuck. Another hour of fishing and I had landed another fish - taking me to three kept for the day (Taupo is the only fishery where I will keep fish to eat - but more on that in another post).
The next morning I joined three other anglers in the rip at Waitahanui - but after thirty minutes with no one getting a touch I again headed to Hatepe. And within an hour had a lovely 4lbs rainbow on the beach.
So, a reasonably successful short trip. And a number of lessons learnt for fishing these two rips:
Any fly pattern works,....but Rabbits work best! As a rule I usually fish exclusively with Woolly Buggers when wetlining. Mainly because I am lazy, and I know they catch fish. But this time I decided to fish rabbits. Due to the fact I lost so many, I ended up fishing all the ones in my fly box - and it didn't seem to matter what colour I was using - as all were getting hit. This fly is a classic for a reason. It works.
If you get hit on the retrieve, then pause, slip some line, and start retrieving again. There is the chance that the fish simply missed the fly. If it is aggressive and you dump it back in it's face again, then there is the chance it will have another go.
Vary your retrieve. I generally use a very slow retrieve. This wasn't working, so I sped up - and I started to get hit. So if one method doesn't work, try something else. Likewise - change flies.
Fish your feet first in the morning. Fish will move in close to shore in the night, and some will be sitting right in the mouth close to shore. Fish the close water before moving out into the deeper.
Check your hook point often. Especially if you are hitting the bottom. If its blunt, sharpen it up - or change flies.
While most anglers will target the change of light - you will catch fish all day long here. So dont discount going out in the day. Numerous fish were feeding on the surface around me - and there was obviously fish sitting in the deep water off the end of the drop off where the river mouth enters the lake. You just need to get down deep to get them.