Out of New Zealand's most loved trout rivers, the Tongariro River is the most unique of all. Here's why fly fishers love it.
What makes a great fishery? Ease of access, length of season, and number of fish.
Not only does the mighty Tongariro River tick all those boxes, it sits in a class all by itself. Its illustrious history is well documented with famous pools like Admirals, Major Jones, Cattle Rustlers, and dozens more adding to the mystic and tradition. The similarities to the famous steelhead and salmon rivers of the world will not be lost on well-travelled anglers.
The key to this fishery is Lake Taupo, the largest lake in New Zealand, and the Tongariro, its biggest tributary. This is the “ocean” that the young fish enter into and begin to fatten themselves up on smelt. Three or four years later, up to 60,000 wild rainbow trout – averaging about four pounds each – will enter the river and disperse into about 25 kilometres of fishing water. This takes place throughout the year, giving the Tongariro an almost infinite season, especially in years when the cicadas are hatching.
Adding to the fishery are brown trout, which average six or seven pounds – although every year fish twice this size are reeled in. But in the crystal clear water, they are notoriously challenging to fool and will test your craft. As a result this awe-inspiring area attracts the most skilled and patient of anglers, many of which will also fish for the browns after dinner and into the dark. This is where the expertise of a friendly local guide can be priceless – the best are able to discern the wraith-like trout amid the ripples, runs and rapids, coupled with a genuine passion for the sport.
Access to the river, beginning at the top, starts at the Kaimanawa Road Access. This is where several rafting companies begin their whitewater trips; they also do floats just for fishermen. This is a semi wilderness experience until you get down to the access to the Blue Pool, just over the Potu Stream Bridge on Highway 1. From here down to the Highway Bridge in Turangi, the river is easily accessible with a couple of footbridges and trails along both banks. Some anglers with rowing skills and life jackets will also float this stretch.
From the Highway Bridge in Turangi down to the lake, the gradient flattens out and there are access points off Grace Road on the east bank along with several from the town side. Boating to the river mouth and walking up from the bottom is another option, especially for those targeting the big browns in the lower reaches that test and torture talented anglers all summer long.