December 29th, 2008

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
This is where our readers tell their stories . . .

My Accidental Fishing Adventure
By Bill Hillman, (wgflyer) Rowlett, TX

New Zealand turned out to be a wonderful choice in destinations. After six months in Australia I went there without much prior knowledge of the place, other than the general tourist brochure spiel about mountains and fjords and volcanos and stuff, but it turned out to be so much more than that.

I began by taking a bus from Auckland to a place called Rotorura, known for its geothermal activity. That is an interesting place. Poke a hole in the ground there and steam comes out. I saw steam emanating from around a fence post! And the hot springs there provide heating and hot baths in all the hotels as well.

But after a day or so of marveling at geothermal wonders, I began to search for other entertainment and noted at the tourist information desk that there was a spring near by where trout spawn every year. Rainbow Springs was just a mile or so from the hotel so I walked over for a look.

The pathway to the headwater of the little creek formed by the spring follows the creek for a while before reaching the spring and I couldn't help but notice trout roughly as long as my arm sprinkled here and there in the creek, in less than a foot of water, for pretty much most of the hike.

At the spring itself, a kind of outdoor aquarium had been constructed, fed by the creek and walled with glass inside a shelter, but without closing off the creek. Behind that glass was a whole bunch of big rainbow trout, huge rainbow trout. Monsters, actually.

So I asked the guy who worked there if they fed them to keep them there. He said that, no, they didn't. The fish came up the creek from the lake to spawn.

"You mean there are trout like this in the lake?" I asked.

"Yep". He said. "And every year this season they spawn in all the tributaries."

Well, I have to say that I like being a tourist, and sight seeing and all that, just as much as the next guy, but when I discovered this little tidbit of information the whole nature of my trip changed in an instant.

Next stop was a tackle shop where I bought a fly rod, some accessories and a license. The guy who sold me all that stuff told me that the next lake over, Taupo, was better than this area, and the next day my thumb took me there.

The adventure began on a strangely named stream, Waitahanui, which ran into Lake Taupo. The Waitahanui River is clear as glass, apparently spring fed, and full of waving weeds. In fact, it reminded me a lot of Idaho's Silver creek both in size and character. I got a cabin right near the mouth of the stream and began fishing with great enthusiasm.

The guy at the tackle shop had talked me into a sinking fly line and a box full of flies called "rabbits" in various colors. I'd never used a sinking line before and so found it somewhat of a challenge, but eventually I got one of those trout. This was a rainbow, small by local standards, but roughly 18 inches long, and I had him for dinner. But otherwise, in the week I was there I only got one more, of similar size, and lost a few. It was kind of anticlimactic.

But the cabin I had rented on the stream was expensive and I was a low budget tourist, so I hitched back to the small town of Taupo and got a cabin there, much cheaper, and used that for my base of operations.

The map showed another stream a bit farther along the lake, past the Waitahanui, and I thought I would branch out a bit and try it. Getting a ride along the lake road proved not too much of a problem and I generally made it there in about an hour or less from the first show of the thumb.

This place was called Hatepe, though I don't know if the creek was named that or not. But this was a stream more like what I'd cut my teeth on in the mountains of California and Idaho. It was rock and gravel, riddled with riffles and pools and was absolutely beautiful. Apparently, though, there were no more trout here than in the Waitahanui, and after a few days I was beginning to experience some depression. That's when Leon showed up.

He was ambling along the bank on his way back to his cabin when he noticed me up to my thighs in cold water trying to hand twist an orange rabbit through a deep pool. After the traditional query on my luck, and noting my negative response, he suggested that I shove my rod tip down to the bottom and continue my retrieve from there. Noting the two 5 pound trout hanging from his belt I took this as credible information and did as he suggested.

Within a few twists of the hand I got a hit, fought him for a while and lost him. And then I lost three more while Leon stood there looking down at me. Bloody pitiful, I was.

When the action stopped I climbed out and we made our formal introductions. Leon said that the trout were right on the bottom and my sinking line hadn't been getting down deep enough in the swift current.

Our conversation took off from there and I found that Leon wasn't using sinking line. He hated sinking line, a sentiment I was beginning to share. I was a dry fly guy, for the most part, fishing wet only when the drys wouldn't stay dry, which with my skill set was often. I'd never fished near the bottom and this sinking line was a pain. But Leon wasn't using dry flies, either. Leon was using nymphs.

Leon was an amiable guy, and was happy to expound upon his technique. Nothing special about it. Just nymphing. But the nymph he used may be rather unique. I call it a tapeworm, for lack of a better name. He tied them himself with copper wire, building a nymphy kind of body, then covering it with white, teflon pipe tape, finishing it off with a spiral of black ribbing and a whisp of dark hackle.

I agreed to meet him at his cabin the following morning for a demonstration, but when he found out I was thumbing my way to and from the stream he offered accommodations for the night so we might get an early start.

His lovely wife accepted the inconvenience with grace and good humor and, after Leon beat me 3 out of 3 games in chess we all crashed for the evening.

Early the next morning, Leon and I hopped into his car and drove a mile or two upstream to some pools he was fond of. There he waded in at the bottom of one of them and proceeded to demonstrate his technique. As I watched, he also caught and released six huge trout.

Very impressed, I left him to his success and struck out to fish a few of my own pools. I still had my sinking line and my rabbits, which did nail a trout or two, using his advice from the day before, but at the end of the afternoon it was my couple verses his 14, and I was convinced of the need to reconfigure.

Along about 3 pm I again bumped into Leon, who informed me that my friend had been looking for me. This was strange, because Leon was the only person I knew in New Zealand.

Shortly thereafter I did encounter a fellow who was looking for me, and he turned out to be a policeman!

Apparently, the manager of the cabins in Taupo noticed my absence the night before, noticed that all my stuff was still in the cabin, and put out a missing persons notice to the police. It isn't unheard of for fishermen to drown in local waters, especially the outlet river of Lake Taupo because it is subject to rapid water rises when the dam releases.

The kind policeman radioed in my safe discovery and then confided in me that he'd been looking forward to the kayak ride down the river, the next phase of the search had I not been found. I felt kind of sheepish, having caused all this trouble, but I thanked the man profusely for his concern. I didn't have to thumb my way back to Taupo that evening, but I did have to go down to the police station and collect my stuff. They'd taken it for safe keeping.

The Taupo Cabins manager apologized again and again for causing me all that trouble, while I apologized for causing him such concern, and I made him take my trout for his family's dinner before he could get away.

What nice people.

I stayed in Taupo Cabins for a month, fishing most days while the season lasted. Toward the end, there, we began getting dustings of snow, as winter was approaching, but the fishing was outstanding once I adopted Leon's methods. The occasional trout I brought back were alternately donated to the manger, or used in the communal kitchen to solidify new friendships with other tourists passing through the area and staying at the cabins. By the time I finished there I think I knew half of the tourists in the country.

But for the last week or so of the trout season I moved over to Turangi so that I could fish the Tongariro River, not doing quite so well there as I had on that Hatepe stream.

When the trout season ended I recommenced the tourist aspect of the trip. Leon entertained me with an overnight sail on his home built yacht in waters off off the coast near Auckland before sending me on my way to other destinations in country. In those travels I encountered many of my new friends on and off in the various hostels on both North and South Islands.

New Zealand turned out to be a great place to visit and comes heartily recommended both for its natural wonders and as a fisherman's paradise. But New Zealand's real treasures are its people. May they live long and forever prosper. ~ BH

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