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The two gems of Rotorua

By Mike DavisNZ Fishing World
The two gems of Rotorua

The Rotorua region is largely perceived by the angling community as a lake fishing destination, and for good reason – the city of Rotorua is surrounded by thirteen lakes, all within half to three quarters of an hour’s drive of the main street in the CBD.

None of the lakes in the Rotorua region have large spawning tributaries entering them, so the streams that do enter the lakes are few and generally fairly small.

Most river fly fisherman in the North Island will head to the larger Taupo tributaries to chase the spawning rainbows that enter over the autumn and winter months, but they’re missing out on the wonderful fly fishing experience of targetting large fish in small water – especially in the Ngongotaha and Waiteti streams that enter into Lake Rotorua.

Little streams with big fish

While being fairly small, the Ngongotaha and Waiteti streams give the angler an intimate and personal experience. They both produce quality sight fishing when clean, as they are both spring creeks, and carry rainbows that average 3-4 pound but produce large bows that will reach double figures on good years.  

The brown trout are in a different league altogether and on any given year they will average 7-8 pound in weight and often reach a staggering 15-18 pound when growing conditions are optimal. They are some of the biggest wild fish to be found in the country and will test the ability of the very best anglers on the planet. Many are hooked but very few are landed as they duck and dive into every piece of available cover. Undercut banks and fallen debris from the overhanging trees help these huge fish to evade coming to the net.

The Ngongotaha stream is open year-round from the mouth up to the State Highway 5 bridge at the Agrodrome, while the Waiteti is open from the mouth up to the bridge in the middle of town year round. Through these sections the streams are open to both fly and spin anglers. 

Upstream from these points both streams are open from the 1st of December through to the 31st of June to fly-only anglers.

There are limited angler access points along the streams that are clearly marked and there are three access signs along Paradise Valley Road along the upper Ngongotaha giving easy access to all. Much of both streams flow through private property but many of the landowners are very good to deal with to genuine anglers who show some respect. Generally it only takes a half decent chat to the owners and earning a little trust and most of them are very accommodating. The biggest problem they face is seeing anglers just clambering over their fences uninvited and helping themselves.

Over the year the streams are fished fairly heavily but most of the pressure comes on after April, when anglers try to come in and chase the spawning rainbows as they leave the lake and migrate upstream to spawn. Many anglers don’t realise that the rainbows are entering the stream year round to spawn and large numbers of rainbows can be spotted by the angler on any given day.  When numbers of rainbows are high in the streams some of the pools can appear to look black, and it is not until the fish move and suddenly you can see the bottom then you realise you were looking at a huge school of fish.

The brown trout, on the other hand, congregate at the steam mouths around the start of December, as they follow the smelt around the lake and then enter the streams from there.

The brownies will stay in the streams for a long period of time until their spawning runs finish up towards the end of May.

Getting down to business

Back at the stream mouth of the Ngongotaha the brownies can be targeted successfully by anglers spotting and stalking the flats around the front of the mouth. Targeting these fish is very much like bone fishing the flats up in the islands and it is very much a patience game. The best time to target this area is at first light, early in the morning before the wind gets up. Once the wind gets up it is too hard to spot the fish, making this type of fishing hard. 

By walking the flats and scanning the water 15 metres in front of you, very large brown trout will be seen cruising across the shallows and generally they will be feeding well. By casting small size 10 or 8 Woolly Buggers or Mrs Simpson flies, 3-4 metres in front of the fish, giving a slight strip of the fly and then letting it hang you will be amazed at how many of these huge fish you will hook, as they accelerate to investigate the fly. 

The shallow nature of the Ngongotaha stream mouth means that one only has to fish with a floating line or a slow sinking intermediate fly line. If needed, the angler can also fish a polyleader off the end of the floating fly line to achieve the required depth.

The mouth of the Waiteti is slightly different in that it has a deep hole for the anglers to fish into, and the rainbows wait and hold in here until they decide to run the river proper. Large numbers of rainbows will hold in this hole at the front of the river and they will generally wait until there is some rain, a barometer drop, or a fresh before they run the river and head upstream.

If the fish have only been in the streams for a few days they are generally pretty easy to hook – especially if they have entered during a fresh and the rivers have a little colour in them. When the rainbows enter en masse, they will eat almost anything and will provide the angler with amazing sport, but the fish will become progressively harder to hook the clearer the streams get and with the increased pressure the fish receive from anglers. 

When the streams are carrying colour it is imperative that your flies are seen by the trout. This is when using flies such as glo bugs, or flies with a hot spot incorporated into them, will come into their own. To remain successful as the streams begin to clean up, change your flies to look more natural, such as using small pheasant tails or a hare and copper.

The greatest thing to remember is that it is less about fly pattern and more about fishing at the correct depth that will see you successful or not.

In the lower pools towards the mouth, many people will swing large wet flies like a grey ghost and as you move upstream the majority of anglers will be nymphing. 

Some of the locals have got their own special rig which is set up with a heavy glo bug, a smaller natural nymph attached off the shank of the hook and then the grey ghost 30 centimetres behind the trailing nymph.

Even though you are allowed to fish three flies, most will fish with two flies when fishing the nymph. One nymph will generally be much heavier than the point fly and can be a very successful way to catch the trout in the more open water. The only problem is when really large fish are hooked and they are trying to run under the snags or undercut banks – you have one fly trailing that can then get snagged up on loose debris, causing many large fish to be lost.

When I know that the river is carrying large browns, I tend to fish one small fly and will put a small BB split shot 30 centimetres above the fly to reach the required depth needed. By using split shot, it eliminates the extra hook trailing through the water, so there is less for me to worry about when really big fish are hooked.

If you find that you are not hooking fish or are only catching really small fish, such as in the 1-2 pound bracket, your flies won’t be getting down fast enough especially in the big deep pools. The large fish tend to occupy the eye of the pool while the smaller fish will hold in the very tail of the pool.

To fish the streams well, the angler has to be prepared to lose flies on the bottom and on submerged snags. On the runs, most fish will be sitting along the edge in the shadows next to the blackberries so there will be times when your flies will end up caught in the bushes on the far side. If you look closely when walking upstream, you will often see where others have busted off in the trees with loose nylon hanging down from some of the branches.

The two streams are not regarded as a dry fly fishery, but fish certainly can be brought up to take the dry fly. This is the exception though and not the rule. 

Once hooked, the fish go absolutely ballistic, especially big browns. My friend and I have a rule that states if someone hooks a trophy-sized fish, the mate will do anything in their power to help land it. This has meant that a few swims have had to be taken over the years by the guy trying to net the fish. The golden rule is to not let the large browns get downstream of you. Usually when this happens it always ends in catastrophe with either a bust off or with the fish running you through snags.

Training grounds

The great thing about fishing the Ngongotaha and Waiteti streams is that they will teach you how to play fish and to not let the fish play you, if you are going to land your fair share of fish. The skills learnt on these streams will help all anglers to become more successful in landing large fish on other streams.

The streams are ideally suited to fishing #6 outfits. Don’t use light tippets, with the lightest being 8-pound test. After a fresh I have been broken off while using 12 and 15-pound tippets in the past. Much of this will depend on the colour of the water, so when clean and clear, drop down to 8 pound but if the creek is carrying some colour it will pay to beef up your tippet strength.

With the large numbers of fish running the streams every year, it makes the fishery a wonderful place for both young and old anglers and is a great place to teach new fishers how to fish, simply because they have many opportunities to hook and watch fish. Having the ability to watch fish will help the angler learn more about fish and how they react to certain situations, different weather conditions, varying river levels and during times of high fishing pressure. 

During the school holidays many kids will be found exploring the easier pools to fish. The Ngongotaha locals tend to stick to the few pools in the middle of town and those who are from out of town are usually found poking around the upper reaches of the streams.  

Most spread themselves out well throughout the streams and with both streams only two minutes’ drive apart, options are available if your favourite pools have someone in it.

The Ngongotaha and Waiteti are amazing waterways that have forever been supplied with huge numbers of large fish from the parent body of water, Lake Rotorua.

The fish will leave you spellbound as you hook plenty, but many experiences end up in tears as these huge fish destroy many anglers’ dreams. Once you manage to land one of the massive brown trout, the experience will be totally addictive and will see you coming back for more.

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