Description & Directions
The Ruakituri is an isolated river that rises in the remote Ureweras and
drains the Huiarau Range. It flows for many kilometres through rugged
bush before it tumbles 100 metres over the Waitangi Falls. Above the
falls, access is limited to those well-equipped trampers who have not
only local knowledge but also sufficient experience to cope with rapid
changes in weather conditions. Below the falls, the river tumbles down
terraces of bedrock, between steep, bushflanked valley walls until fingers
of farmland meet it at the top end of Papuni Station. The farm is on Papuni
Road, which is reached by turning right off Ruakituri Road, just before the
Erepiti Gorge. The road through Papuni Station has been the subject of
court action as to whether it is a public or private road. At the time of
writing, the road is open as long as you check in at Papuni Station
From the road end, there is a track up to the Waitangi Falls but it is too far
to fish above the falls for a day fisherman. From the falls down, the river is
strewn with colossal boulders; brought down by the regular 'flash floods'
the Ruakituri trout have to endure. There is a huge variety of water, ranging
from strenuous rapids, to deep slow pools flanked by sentinel boulders, to
riffly runs that just have to hold fish. It is no place for fine leaders and delicate
techniques. Anything less than a 2.5 kg (5.5 lb) leader is pointless as the
strong Ruakituri trout make use of their angler-unfriendly environment.
Brown and rainbow are found in equal proportion, depending only on
the type of water fished. The size of fish can be daunting. They average
2 kg (4.4 lb) and there are plenty of 5 kg (11 lb) fish in residence.
The gorge behind Papuni Station sees the main tributary, the Waipaoa
Stream enter the river. This stream does not look substantial at the point
of entry but is rather deceiving as it runs underground thanks to a rockfall
a kilometre up the stream. It is well-worth the slog up to the fishable water.
Below here, the river slows its headlong charge and there is more of the
classic rapid/pool/rapid common to most rivers. There are more fish but
they are smaller with a lot of rainbows around 1.5 kg (3.3 lb). The whole
stretch is easily accessed by getting permission from the farmhouses along
Ruakituri Road. You can get into Erepiti Gorge itself via a track that starts
in the clearing on the right just over the Erepiti Bridge. This section of the
river is characterised by huge deep pools set among boulders the size of
a house. The river has cut a deep channel through the papa rock and the
huge deep pools cannot be plumbed by a flyfisher. There are some big
fish in this section but it requires some real heavy tackle to get anywhere
near them, unless they are feeding on the surface.
Emerging from the long gorge, the river takes on a different character as
it meanders through farmlands to meet the Hangaroa at Te Reinga. Access
is easy through the farms bordering the river. In this section, you have a
better chance of spotting your fish but you will need to be very stealthy,
as there is not much cover. The river has lost its impetus and flows wider
and slower. There is more weed growth in summer, which can to be
annoying. Long leaders are essential and the increased angling pressure
in the more-accessible lower reaches make the trout rather wary. From
there the two rivers that have adjoining headwater catchments, crash
down the Te Reinga Falls and meet the Wairoa River at Frasertown.
Tales and Techniques
No matter what type of water you prefer to fish, the Ruakituri can offer
it. You can fish dry, nymph or wet. You can fish big slow pools, fast
turbulent water, pools of huge depth, riffly rocky runs, and swirly
backwaters. You can fish in rugged Urewera bush, in deep shadowed
gorges, or from farmland meadows - what river has more variety? And
that has fish that commonly go over 5 kg? No, whatever criteria you use,
the river has something for everyone. This was never more dramatically
demonstrated than on our first visit to the river. Rory and I were staying
at Cemetery Camp just down from Papuni Station. With the permission
of the farmer, we had been fishing the stretches of water up from the end
of the farm road. The track to the Waitangi Falls starts from here and we
had been walking up an hour or so before we started fishing. There is some
excellent water up from where the track leaves the river. The first stretch is
a long, rock-strewn run, flanked by steep bush on one side and overgrown
farmland on the other. At the top of the run is a beautiful pool that long remains
etched in my memory. The main flow of the river is concentrated in a narrow
chute at the head and then opens out to a wide pool dotted with huge boulders.
In and around the big rocks there are numerous secondary flows. These enable
the trout to shelter from the strong current while easily sampling the steady
flow of food going past their snouts.
I went up to fish this pool while Rory stayed around the slower pools further
down. I put on a size 8 Stonefly with a size 14 'Flash Harrey' - basically a
rough Hare'n'Copper with a pearl Flashabou wingcase. Choosing a
secondary flow that came around a large boulder on my side of the
river, I tossed up the rig with the usual open loop. This was to avoid
getting a hook through an ear as the upstream wind lowered my back
cast. In plopped the two flies a metre above the boulder and the
heavily-weighted stonefly dragged its baby brother fly down very
swiftly. Around the boulder they swung and into the pocket behind.
The indicator stopped abruptly and I struck hard to straighten the
leader in the turbulent currents. Nothing happened. Then the indicator
slowly moved out into the main current - and kept going! The fish was
big and strong and unruffled by this temporary distraction. On up
towards the head of the pool it went. I gave it heaps of side-strain.
There was an impasse for about 30 seconds as the fish strained against
the powerful butt of the 6/7 rod. The agonizing tug of war was finally
won when the fish was turned and started coming back to my side of
the river. I was grateful I had decided to take the heavier rod with the
more solid butt. You could break a lighter rod trying to bulldoze these
size fish. After a few more turns around the pool and a fair bit of me
clambering up and down boulders to stay in contact, the trout was
beached between the rocks. A fabulously proportioned brown hen
lay at my feet. Pulling out the camera, I took a couple of shots and
then measured her against my rod butt. After extracting the fly, I steered
her back into the flow and off she took, undamaged but no doubt a little
wiser. Sitting down, I measured the length of the fish from the mark on
the rod. Thirty-one inches! (79 cm). I had caught a couple of thirty inch
(75 cm) Mohaka rainbows that had weighed in at over 10 lbs (4.5 kg)
and this fish was much deeper and wider than those. I decided 12 lbs
(5.5 kg) was a realistic estimate to claim before she grew a couple more
during the evening storytelling.
When I had regained my composure, I fished the pool for another 30 minutes
but without success. It was likely that the pool had been too disturbed by
her thrashing about, so I made my way down the river. I fished fairly quickly,
as I did not want Rory fretting over my absence if I was too long getting
back. I was also keen to tell him all about the 'big one'. Rory was ensconced
in his favourite pool just opposite where the track leaves the river. As I gingerly
crossed over the slippery tail of the rapids above, he waded out of the pool.
Then he bent down and held out something as I got closer. It was a stick.
"What's that, your only catch today?" I politely enquired.
"It's my fish, smartass," he replied.
"Doesn't look much like a fish to me. Are you sure you haven't been on the whisky already?"
"Yeah, yeah," replied Rory, "it is the size of the rainbow I caught right
here one hour ago. Thirty-one inches and twelve pounds. So beat that!"
Well it was my pleasure to inform him that although I could not beat his fish,
I could certainly match it. We sat down and told each other the story of our
big fish. It did not take long to work out that we were each catching our 12 lb
fish at around the same time but 2 kilometres apart. Unfortunately for Rory,
he did not have his camera with him and had to rely on his stick for proof.
Since then, among those who know the story, he is always asked - 'caught
any good sticks lately?'
Rory had caught his fish in much different water to mine. The pool he loved
was a big slow one, with a papa rock forming the far bank of the forty metre
long pool. The water moved very slowly along the edge of this papa bank and
you just knew that it was deeply undercut. This made it a perfect place to
harbour big trout - cover, depth and food going past their noses. I had
found it a bit slow and boring but Rory, with his more patient approach,
had struck the big time. He only had to cast his fly in at the top of the
current inflow and then just commune with nature as the fly made its
leisurely way through the pool. You could even walk your fly down
the pool and fish the whole pool with just one cast.
When I had fished this pool a few days before, I had tended to lose
concentration as the fly made its way slowly down through the pool.
That was fatal, as the takes in this slow water were very gentle. The
indicator tended to briefly hesitate or just move imperceptibly sideways.
Unless you were concentrating hard, you would miss the take. Rory
disliked casting heavy flies so slow water that only needed light nymphs
suited him fine. Such is the attraction of the Ruakituri - something for
Later on that trip, we decided to make the big effort to tramp to the
Waitangi Falls and briefly fish above the falls - water that was known
for big fish. We knew our fishing time would be limited, as it was
supposedly a three hour tramp from the road end to the falls. And
not easy-going either. The first hour was spent basically following the
river, passing water we had fished in the previous days. Then the
well-formed track left the river and headed straight up a steep
heavily-bushed ridge. We laboured away for another hour and
reached a point where there was a boundary marker noting that
we were now in a National Park.
Well, whoever administered the park in those days, must have been short
of cash as from that point on, the track disappeared. Even the usual
orange metal track markers nailed to the trees were nowhere to be
seen. We did see some strips of orange plastic tape stuck to branches
and decided to follow those. This was fine until we came to a large
clearing that looked like it had been dug up with a rotary cultivator.
Rory informed me that it was the work of wild pigs. It was hard to
believe how they could root up so much earth with just their snouts.
On the far side of the clearing, we could see the magnificent Waitangi
Falls framed by the dense bush, but they were at least an hour away.
We scouted around the edges of the clearing but there was no sign
of any more plastic strips and no track was evident. We reached
the conclusion that what we had been following were markers left
by hunters to guide them or their mates to pig shooting heaven.
There was no sense in carrying on with no sign of a track; getting
lost in this wild country was asking for trouble.
As we retraced our path through the dense bush, I remember thinking
how the British soldiers a hundred years before must have had similar
problems. A Company of fully equipped infantry had chased the wily
Maori Chief, Te Kooti, all the way from Gisborne and through this
only-just-penetrable jungle. Te Kooti had lead them up the river but
whenever the army came to a gorge, they had to make their way out
of the river, over the steep ridge and back down to the river - all while
towing artillery pieces and carrying all their equipment. Needless to
say Te Kooti made short work of the weary remnants in a well-planned
ambush further up the river. When we finally reached the river we
managed to pick up a fish each but it was poor reward for 6 hours
of effort. It is probably better to fish on up the river, rather than
head for the falls, if you are only on the river for a day.
Fishing the Papuni or Erepiti Gorges is rather different to the upper river.
To fish these incredibly deep pools, you have to get 'down 'n' dirty'.
It is not everyone's idea of fun to cast heavy lead-weighted nymphs
on 6 metre leaders but a big fish may make it worthwhile. However,
it is easy to lose such fish in the gorge pools. They tend to go deep
into the tumble of rocks at the head of the pools and they just won't
come out, no matter what tricks you try. I don't enjoy fishing the
gorge that much as you soon get tired of chucking the heavy flies
around, especially if the wind is blowing.
If this is also not your cup of tea, you can wait till late afternoon/early
evening when the fish come out to feed nearer the surface. We decided
to do this one evening on our second trip and wandered down to the
long stretch of riffles below Cemetery Camp. I had read that fish
moved up in early evening to feed in the riffles and wanted to try a
new technique that I thought might suit such water. Rory went further
on down to fish the next pool while I attacked the riffle. It all looked
rather swift and I was starting to doubt if a fish would bother with the
effort required to hold in this broken water. As usual, the trout had
other ideas and second cast into the riffle, the indicator disappeared.
I struck hard. And snapped off the fly.
An expletive disturbed the quiet of the evening. Tying on another offering,
I recast. I was using what is now called a 'shortlining' technique. I first
read of its use in Charles Brooks, Nymphing for Larger Trout.
Brooks used a sinking line and fished downstream with heavily-weighted
nymphs. Instead of a sinking line, I tried the technique using a floater.
Like the Brooks' method, you cast 45' across and upstream. As the
line comes down towards you, instead of retrieving with your line
hand, you lift the rod to take in the excess line. Because the water
is so fast, you would have difficulty manually retrieving line quickly
enough to stay in touch with the fly. As the fly passes you, the rod
is lowered to allow more line onto the water. This has the effect
of lengthening the dead drift of the nymphs. You then fish out the
drift, allowing the line to tighten at the end of the drift. This brings
the nymphs off the bottom as though they were swimming to the
surface. As the line tightens further, the nymphs rise up near the
surface. Be ready for a heavy take if a fish sees those rising
nymphs. You can also give the line a twitch at this point if you
want to give the flies a bit more action.
With the sinking line 'Brooks' technique, it is normal to retrieve the
flies towards you with a varying retrieve. However with a floating line,
the nymphs are pulled up much nearer the surface and there is not
much point in retrieving when they are high in the water. When the
flies have risen, it is time to recast. Because you have heavy flies
on, the best idea is not to false cast. Lift the rod high and use the
drag of the current to load the rod. Now pull firmly with your line
hand to break the surface tension between the water and the line.
As the line breaks free, swing the rod forward, pulling further
down with your line hand to generate more kinetic energy. Using
an open loop, you chuck the whole rig maybe 10 m across and
up the river.
Basically, with this modified Brooks technique, you are aiming to get
down quick in the fast water but to use the rod to control the excess
line. This method is best used with big rough water flies and a Woolly
Worm is always a good starting point.
On that evening that was what I had on when I had snapped off the
fly on the strike. I tied on another, attached a new tail Flash Harrey
and chucked them in 45 feet up the riffle. Nothing on that drift so I
moved down a pace or two. In they went again. The indicator
disappeared. This time I just lifted the rod and let the current hook
the fish. Because the fish do not have much time to inspect the fly in
such fast water, they tend to hit hard. It is not necessary to strike
strongly, as they will virtually hook themselves. That's what
happened with this fish and off it went careering down the riffle
straight into the pool that Rory was fishing. The abuse flowed
soon after. The trout jumped high, landing with a splat that freed
the hook. Derisive laughter from the far bank. Sometimes you
wonder why you fish with such unsympathetic people. But at
least the new technique had proven its worth.
It is a good technique to try on any faster water and certainly it
suits the rough stretches of the Ruakituri. It is only one of various
techniques you will need to fish this river as the variety of the water
and the size of the trout make this river unique in New Zealand.
Add to that the beauty of your surroundings and you have found
trout fishing heaven. ~ Ron Giles
The above is a chapter from Ron's book Hooked on Trout - how
& where to catch large trout in New Zealand. Ron offers free
advice on flyfishing for trout in New Zealand at:
http://www.trout-fishing-new-zealand.com. Thanks Ron for sharing it with us!