Updated: Mar 30, 2022
The Tongariro River is one of New Zealand's top fly fishing destinations, famous for it’s winter fishing as large runs of big trout move up through the river to spawn.
The river holds both rainbow and brown trout. The rainbows are more numerous and average around 3.5lb but with many over 5lb around as well. The browns tend to be fewer and harder to catch but when you do catch one it is likely to be over 5lb and a number of 10lb+ fish are caught every season.
During the winter nymphing, wetlining, trout spey and euro nymphing are all popular and successful methods each with their own advantages.
Access to the Tongariro is really good throughout the winter fishing areas which stretch from the delta in lake Taupo to the fence pool on the upper river. The Department of Conservation has a good access map that you can download from their website. It gives the main pool names and shows the access points and tracks around the river.
The pools do change with time and floods can have a big impact on what they look like and how they fish. The winter sections of the river is casually divided into three main parts: the upper river, the town pools and the lower river. The character of the river changes gradually from a fast bouldery river with big pools and runs separated by rapids in the upper reaches to mostly gravel and willow lined with some braids in the lower river.
The spawning runs of rainbow trout go roughly from June to October the timing of which is greatly influenced by the weather. A decent amount of rain that raises the level of the river significantly normally signals a few days of great fishing to follow as fresh fish move up the river from the lake. Early season can be hit and miss on the river and this year has been particularly quiet with very low river levels throughout the North Island rivers.
The key is to keep moving and searching until you find the fish and really check those spots that are more challenging to fish or access as that’s where you may find the fish. Often this time of year the lower river tends to be more productive and it is worth leaving the scenic upper reaches and moving down river.
The fish tend to congregate in specific spots as they make their way up the river and if you find one fish there may well be more. The river can be very busy during this time of year and it pays to look for fish where the majority of others are unlikely to look. Little hidden side channels or difficult to fish spots can sometimes yield very good results.
The size of the river can be daunting for those new to fishing big rivers and rightly so. Crossing and wading can be dangerous and is not recommended if you are unfamiliar with it. There are still plenty of options to get to all the pools without the need to cross with the network of tracks that go all around. Take extreme care when crossing, wear a wading belt, use a wading stick and make sure you know how to cross safely.
Most of all have fun if your catching fish or not, that is what it is all about. If you want a bit more info and tips have a look at the video below where I share the info above and a bit more along with some nice footage of the river and catching some of the fish in it.