Tyro on the Tongariro River – The Judges, Major Jones and Breakaway Pools

Tyro on the Tongariro River

by Piscator

Tongariro River Double hauling in the Cliff Pool. Tyro on the Tongariro River.
Tongariro River Double hauling in the Cliff Pool.

With mixed feelings of nervousness and anticipation, I sat on board flight NM 26 to Taupo on a frosty Christchurch morning. I am going for the first time to fish the world famous Tongariro River.

How will this angler measure up to the task of double-hauling nine weight lines and heavy so-called ‘bombs’ on this much-vaunted river?

I struck up a conversation with the man sitting next to me and as it turns out he is going up to fish the Hinemaiaia. Chris and I are soon deep in conversation and in no time at all the wind-whipped surface of Lake Taupo lies below us as we approach the runway.

My friend Bill is waiting for me to whisk me away on a whirlwind tour of the local waters. Bill is fortunate to live in Turangi (although his retirement there wasn’t entirely by chance!) and l count myself fortunate to have met Bill through his daughter who is a customer of mine.

Bill with a good fish. Tongariro River.
Bill with a good fish.

Back to Bill’s house for a bite of lunch and to renew acquaintance with Bill’s charming wife Pam and then it’s off to the river for a demo of the local casting style ‘a la Bill’ on his favourite hot spot of the moment. I watched in quiet reverence as Bill hurled a double of two bug-eyed monsters rearwards and was impressed by the graceful fluid motion of the knees bend, obligatory, but recommended to avoid the forward missile trajectory path.

Eventually, he hooked into an obviously uneducated, juvenile rainbow which was released in embarrassed haste as Bill explained it was the smallest fish he had caught all season and had no right to be there.

We left and did a quick tour of some famous Tongariro pools where Bill pointed out the regular lies, some of them being fished by what I concluded must be some of the regular liars. Then it was off to buy me a licence so my Tongariro experience could begin early next day.

Staying at the TALTAC lodge (Tongariro and Lake Taupo Anglers Club) I spent the evening in conversation with other anglers whose general consensus of opinion was that rain was needed to bring fresh runs of fish up from the lake and put some colour into a too clear river. The fishing was hard and experienced Tongariro veterans had failed to take fish that day. Later I lay in my sleeping bag in happy anticipation as the rain drummed on the roof. I fell asleep between the snores of my cabin mate and double-hauled my way through the night interspersed with the taking of numerous limit bags of enormous trout.

I was awakened early next morning by George, my cabin mate as he arose to keep an appointment with a certain Major Jones. A quick snack and George was away into the still dark, wet morning. Fifteen minutes later well muffled and waterproofed, I followed him into a lightning, but a gloomy day.

I chose to fish the Breakfast Pool as it seemed appropriate at that early hour, but if any fish were present it seemed they had already dined as my offerings went unmolested. l moved up to fish the Hydro pool whose surface was now boiling due to the heavy rain. A mountain bike with rod holder attached was leaning against a tree, its owner one of the local Maori was sheltering under another. The fever had me so I fished on undaunted and unrewarded until it was time to head back for my lunchtime rendezvous with Bill.

The rain had eased somewhat by now and Bill fancied a go in the Breakaway Pool where we found ourselves in good company as Neil Cameron, the president of TALTAC was among the four anglers fishing.

We joined the end of the line and took it in turns to hook into a generous supply of snags! Tackle retailers delight as we tied up new leaders and attached heavy nymphs for the second and third times. Eventually, Bill called out that he had something on which felt strange, but must be a fish as it was moving upstream, he retrieved line until he Saw two nymphs which weren’t his, one of them attached to a fish trailing a length of line which slipped over Bill: and the fish was gone. I couldn’t help remarking how aptly named the pool was.

Thursday night the rain persisted down again and l was surprised to see the river on Friday morning apparently untouched by it and as clear as ever. The clouds blew away to reveal a startling blue sky and a pristine winter’s day emerged as we set off with renewed hope. First up was Bill’s hot-spot and I pretty soon hooked into my first Tongariro River rainbow – a magnificent specimen of about two pounds! A keeper for mid-winter on the Waimakariri River, but hardly what the script called for up here.

We fished hard in many famous name pools until day’s end with nothing to show for our efforts, except sweaty wader insides. That night in an attempt to even the score I cast a luminous doll fly into the Major Jones Pool and pulled out a one and a half pounder!

Saturday dawned with a good frost and I slept on, oblivious to the call of the river. An hour after daybreak l wended my way downstream preceded by a tiny rifleman flitting from shrub to shrub. I took this as a good omen and quickened my step towards the Judges Pool where seven hardy souls stood waist deep waving their rods at the morning sky. Fish were taking and two were hooked and lost before l joined the eager line of anglers edging nervously upstream through the slippery boulders.

My indicator sailed cockily along in front of me and suddenly dived under. I was ready for it, reflexes honed to an adrenaline-charged awareness. Up went the rod to the feel of a good fish, I took a step backwards and fish and I parted company as I fell over a boulder someone had carelessly left in my way. Staggering to the bank to wring myself out I was consoled by the general air of camaraderie and merriment now prevailing amongst my fellow anglers.

It says something for the human spirit that Sunday morning found me up long before dawn preparing for another round in which so far the fish were winning hands down.

First light found me down at Judges again squinting to see my indicator in the gloom. Suddenly it was all on as a heavy fish tore downstream then went down to sulk on the bottom. I put more pressure on, but all seemed solid and l had that awful feeling the fish had me around a rock, l could feel a rubbing sensation up the line and moved down to apply pressure from a different angle. l breathed a sigh of relief as it came free and ran again, after that it stayed deep resisting vigorously any attempt to regain line. Finally, after a fight lasting fifteen minutes l beached a magnificent hen fish. She looked freshly minted, short, deep, silver and without a blemish, pretty as a picture. Later on the TALTAC scales, she weighed in at six pounds with a condition factor of 58:5. Not my biggest rainbow, but certainly my best so far.

I thought this was a turning point, that was a mistake as Monday ended fishless despite my best shot. I even tried wet lining in the lower river.

Bill was tied up with some visitors for Monday and Tuesday so it was Shanks’s pony for me. I awoke to the sound of heavy rain on the roof Tuesday morning and it was blowing half a gale! Cold squally rain swept the river as I wet-lined down the true right bank somewhat dispiritedly, glad to have fortified myself with a good hot breakfast. Little did I suspect that I was due for a change of fortune as two down-streamers moved into the Island Pool ahead of me, silently I wished them in warmer climes. Detouring to come out below them I found myself at the Judges Pool and was surprised to see it empty of anglers unless you count one lonesome Shag.

The wind and rain had moderated a little. I did a quick calculation – twenty minutes back to TALTAC for the nymphing outfit, twenty minutes to reach judges on the other side. I could be fishing in forty minutes if I didn’t hang around.
Well, to cut a long story short I made it and within an hour was homeward bound with the welcome weight of two jack fish weighing me down.

Early morning at the Judges Pool.
Early morning at the Judges Pool.

That night I begged a ride to the Tauranga-Taupo River mouth with another angler. We fished with floating lines, short leaders and luminous squid lures.

I tried a double by attaching a green Fuzzy-Wuzzy below the squid. The river banks were well frequented right down to the lake’s edge, but only one angler stood in the lake itself. With no hesitation, my companion waded straight in and as l followed l found it to be safe enough. I flicked about three metres of line out into the gentle flow while I stripped more off the reel.
Bang! fish on and running for the centre of the lake by the feel of it. Not a lot it could do though with a heavy leader and no snags to help it. l soon pulled a lovely little hen of about three pounds up onto the fine grit beach. Easing the Fuzzy Wuzzy out of her jaw I quickly released her to fight another day.

John had warned me he was there for his limit or midnight, whichever came first. l would face a long wait in the car if l killed a fish this early on. I waded back out again and soon John was into a fish and what was this? l was into John, his waders actually. I played ]ohn, John played the fish and we all ended up on the beach, albeit with the help of some bad language from you know who. Shortly after I landed a nice fish of six pounds which l killed for my limit.

It had been a good day! I rounded off my Turangi holiday with another nice fish from the river next morning, before packing to catch my flight back to Christchurch.
My overall impression? I’ll be back!

This fish had a condition factor of 58.5. Tongariro River rainbow trout.
This fish had a condition factor of 58.5. Tongariro River rainbow trout.