World Wide Fishing!

Ruakituri River, New Zealand,

By Ron Giles, New Zealand

Beautiful Pool

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 homestead.

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.

Ruakituri Rainbow

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.

Ruakituri River

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.

Nymph Rig

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.

The Big Brown

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!" he insisted.

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 everyone.

Super Scenery

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.

Big Fish - Deep Pool

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: Thanks Ron for sharing it with us!

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