I booked a trip in as soon as I got back. But I'd sort of screwed up and booked to arrive the day he was leaving. That's how I roll.
But I kept that booking at the motel, and let the proprietor know I'd be down late, with dog in tow. I rolled into town pretty late, got set up in my unit (I'd be on the water before anyone else! Haha!), tucked Layla into her blankets in the back of the truck and then tried to get to sleep. Unfamiliar bed, main highway noise, trucks rattling the windows... ahhh shit here we go. The alarm blared at 04.30. I drank coffee, ate, fed her royal blackness, pulled on waders and boots, loaded the truck and got going. We were second car in the car park - 3 guys were readying themselves in the dark to assault Reed's pool, an easy piece of water suitable for geriatrics. Just sayin'. I let them know where I'd be and Layla and I set off down the track. We needed to make 3 crossings to our spot. In the dark I readied my wading staff and stepped into the first and most gentle crossing. I fell over halfway across.... water sloshed around under my raincoat and made its way down my legs. It was mild out luckily, or I'd have been heading back for a change of clothes. We made it into position without further mishap and sat on the bank waiting for a glimmer of light. It was still dark when I made my first cast, setting the anchor by feel and swinging barely more than the head and tip - I retrieved the fly through some slack behind a log jam WHAM a fish hit with purpose and rocketed downstream before the hook pulled. NOT COOL.
As the sun rose I moved through the pool, covering the water carefully. 2 more hits came, one fish shaking loose after a good minutes of head shaking runs and the other a bump as the fly moved through the prime water. In this pool its better to fish through once then rest the water for an hour or more. On the way downstream I dropped Pete a line. He would be walking Kaiser so told me he'd come down the track on the opposite bank. The water here is enticing, emerald green depths hard against the far willow lined bank, shallowing my side over rounded stones and pebbles. The deal is to cast hard into the far bank, throw a mend to help the fly sink and swing deep to shallow. Its nice water. In my minds eye I'm in Alaska or NW USA casting for a fresh from the sea steelie. The takes here can be subtle but this one isn't as the fish hits with a thump-thump - lift and I'm on. Immediately the fish takes to the air, leaping, leaping all the time boring upstream and I cant get him on the reel. Stripping yards of running line in is no way to get control and with slack in the system the fish jumps one more time above me, gives me a finny salute and shakes the hook. Pete shows up and we yell greetings across the river. Layla sees Kaiser and wants to join him. She's a brave little thing, swimming over to the faster water but the bank's not climbable there so she paddles around before returning. Pete observes that her activity can't be great for the fishing - I on the other hand have a notion that fish aren't really put down by dog activities, having on numerous occasions taken fish immediately or soon after Layla's invaded a pool or run. Pete says he'll be free for a fish later on so we arrange to catch up. I decide to head upstream and see how Miles is getting on with his client. They're in the braids, fishing a small run with a couple of other guys on each side of them. Reminds me of shags on a pier. I don't want any part of that in my fishing. But they're catching, and as a guide his primary role is to catch. His dog Paddy and Layla catch up and play in the long grass beside the river. We natter for a while, watching client Warren cast, his budgie indicator drifting back down. Across the river, one of the shags briefly hooks up, then the fish is gone. We agree to catch up later for a tour of the upper river pools.
I part ways with Milo and head down to the pool I started in. No one's in there. Cool. My wet feet are starting to chill a bit so this will be the last run before heading back for a change and clean up. I've barely set foot in the run when not one, but three budgie casters descend on the run from the far bank. This water holds a maximum of one Spey guy or 2 nymphers (one operating per bank) and when they enter the water with no by-your-leave my stress levels rise a bit. The Tongariro is, unfortunately, notorious for a lack of courtesy. Some call it etiquette. I try not to lose my shit, instead I'm dropping my fly at the foot of the most upstream guy - he's trying to achieve the impossible anyway. With a high rocky bank behind him and a double nymph rig there's no way he can switch the direction of his cast to cover the lie. I throw an off-shoulder cast slightly upstream and overcook it a bit - I'm snagged in the fast water. F*CK!!! I haul back, and the rod takes on a bend that it wasn't designed for - then the snag takes line ... I don't kill many trout (1 in 5 years) but this gleaming fat hen is a fine candidate for the smoker so I take a rock and kill her. Layla, basking in the sun, watches over the fish where I lay her in the shallow water edging the pool. I make my way back into position. Nympher #1 has moved up to the next pool. Nympher #2 is tangled in the scrub atop the rock bank. Nympher #3 is snagged on the notorious snag in the tail. I figure these guys aren't from around here. No one in the know would risk rig after rig on that underwater eater of flies. In the fast water a fish hits and goes. A good fighter this one, solidly refusing to be subdued. He's a fine fresh silver jack and will make a great smoking partner to the earlier hen. Nymphers 2 & 3 move on. Nympher #1 returns and begins casting very near the snag when the inevitable happens. Time for me to move anyway. Layla and I cross the tail where I call to #1 fluff chucker that the snag he'd hit probably has $ thousands of flies adorning it.
|For the smoker|
At the motel I clean my fish and into the refrigerator they go. A change of clothes. Off we go to Miles's digs. We kick back in the sun, grab a smoke and coffee and catch up. Client Warren's a really nice guy. We head upstream, Miles has intel that the Fence Pool is full of fish. I hate that pool, deep and swirly with an ugly upstream eddy on the near bank. Not swinging water. Evil nymphing water, but anyway I leave them to it and head down to the Whitikau. Wet prints on the bank show that some one's left the water recently. I need to hit the far bank where the fish hold, and get a couple of feet of drag free drift. I struggle. Guys like Jase and Greig can do this with regularity. I get started and Pete appears on the bank, armed with his #4 trout spey. He casts beautifully and is in the groove immediately. I get it right occasionally and get an elusive hit; but the fish bites and is gone. Pete and I natter about what I can't remember. We head downstream and drop over the bank to the Reef Pool. That pool has changed a lot. The deep heavy flow beneath the reef on which one stands is interrupted by a large rock so the heavy near bank chute at the tail is gone, replaced by a more sedate tail out. Pete sends me to the head and begins to probe the tail. His hit comes early as he swings under the bank, a natural holding lie. But its gone. My take is positive and the fish rips line. Shortly Pete nets a fine silver fish.
There are a lot of guys around, an indication that the runs have finally arrived upriver.
Next stop is Blue Pool. Pete takes the upper half of the tail and I go in below the big rock. Its such sweet swinging water. We know its been hammered today but by now all the holding water will have been fished. So hitting the far bank and combing the water where fish will have retreated to is important. Its late afternoon by the time we're done. I'd had 2 hits and Pete one, for no hook ups. We really don't know why our hit to hookup conversion rate is so low. I mean we've debated it extensively, theorised that hook up configurations are less effective than hook down, and vice versa... but we just don't know for sure. Pete who's observed a million billion zillion fish eats in his many years as a guide doesn't subscribe to 'short takes' and 'tail nips'. He knows that fish hit streamers amid-ship which is why when fishing articulated double hook flies he removes the rear hook to make the fly compliant with local regulations and not the forward hook. We agree to meet at his 06.30 the following morning for breakfast, giving me time for a pre-dawn assault. Heading back to town with a 19.00 dinner date with the boys to meet, I realise that despite having already gone hard for 12 hours I'm still keen. We jump out at the Island Pool and head across the bouldered rockscape. Layla likes it here, lots of grass holds quail and she's lit up. 2 guys are nymphing the head of the run and I slide in below them - literally - the bottom here is uniform smooth round small rocks coated with algae. Wading staff mandatory as each step is a slippery lottery. Layla visits the upstream anglers and barks at them. I call her back. I need to be out of the water by 6. Under the waterfall a fish takes and stays on, flashing dark red in the late afternoon sunlight. I'm in shin deep fast water and without a net (curse my damn short memory!) I need to move downstream and bring the fish into the lee of the near bank where the current swings wide. He's well hooked and is well disgruntled. He gives me a tail spray as he swims away. I slip-slide my way back up. This is nice water but I'm yet to hit a fresh fish in here. The line tightens and I'm in again. Another dark fish, a recovering hen. The tail out is lovely looking water but I come up with nothing. Back at the truck I realise I'm stuffed.
04.45 and the alarm goes. Its cooler this morning. Layla is awake in the truck and wolfs down her food before toileting. Coffee and weetbix on board and we're away. We're the first car in the park this morning. I figure I'll get through one run and choose the "Lodge Run' which gave us so much fun last year. Jase had told ,me that the floods had altered the run somewhat. Layla and I stumble to the head of the run. Again I start fishing in relative darkness. But I stuff up and over cast, hitting the far bank. Breaking the fly off I know I'll have to wait for a bit of light to tie a new fly on. Upstream a car drives to the edge of the Lower Bridge pool. The original troll hole. With enough light available, a new fly is bent on. Conscious of time I fish faster than I might normally and its only near the tail that goods are produced. A small fat jack eats in the heavy water, and takes quite some subduing before going back.
Pete and I eat eggs, bacon and fried spuds on his front porch. Life takes some interesting twists and meeting honest genuine nice people like Pete and Sherrie is such a bonus. Layla's staying for a day date with Kaiser and Sherrie. Pete and I head out. We'll start up at Mill Race. Amazingly only one other car's in there. We're almost set when Sean Andrews (Cat 3 Fly Co.) and his mate pull in. Same plan but with limited water he agrees to head elsewhere. A call from Andy and he's looking for water too. Pete and I get to Mill Race. The head's occupied. There, 2 nymphers work the juicy seam. We jump in the tail. I find this water very hit and miss but usually good for a fish. Not today. Andy, Sean and his mate are in Carty's Run. We regroup and decide to head upriver. Talking to Sean, its fishing double handers that brought him back to this river. That's a common theme amongst the spey guys, the challenge of swinging flies for the thrill of the take is the summit, the very apex of fishing this river. Andy and Sean's mate (sorry I am so bad with names) fish the Whitikau while Pete, Sean and I talk. The river is busy, a couple of canoeists carry their white water boats upstream. Saying good bye to Sean, Pete and I head downstream. We soon bump into Greig, the speymesiter. We have a chit chat and drop into Reef. Its already been thrashed from the far bak so hopes are not high, Greig leaves shortly and we need a new plan. With limited time we make the call to head to the lower river. And its a good call, only a couple of cars are in the park, Pete draws the Stump and I head up to the Lodge Run. A couple of nymphers are in there on the far bank. I could easily jump in but I'm not given to bad angling manners. It shits me, so why do it to someone else? Rather I head down to the messy water above Pete. Jase says its "no good". The rush of the river heads down the True left under an undercut bank before the flow charges headlong into a thicket of stumps of old trees. Floods have driven this river path, having destroyed some fine old pools in the process. I'd hit fish from the far bank before, where the heavy water slackened under the cut of the bank. So fish definitely held... but with the main rush of water closer to the far bank I'd struggle to drift a fly through the holding lie. Technical water keeps a lot of guys away. In the fastest of fast water the fly came up tight and I was connected to a fish that took line at an alarming rate before turning away from the snags at the very last second. In no way would she come out of the main flow though and it took quite a lot of side pressure to draw her forth, each time though he charged back in the shelter of the torrent. Finally the fish gave in, and unhooked charged home.
And it was time for me to head home as well. Layla had had a fine morning with her mate. So had I. Always good kick'n with Pete.