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Rotorua, there’s more to it than just the fishing

December 19, 2019
Rotorua, there’s more to it than just the fishing

With the 2018-2019 trout season now open as of October, keen anglers are dusting off the waders, stretching the curls out of the flylines and eagerly hoping there are a whole bunch of new, never before seen, fly patterns to pack into their already bulging fly boxes.

Evening fishing on the shores of Ruato Bay, an area best fished over winter

Now’s the opportunity to put in for a leave pass and log some serious me-time along the peaceful lake front spots, or up one of the world class rivers that flow around one of NZ’s true trout capitals, affectionately known as Roto-Vegas.

It’s not until you get there that the characteristic sulphur aroma and other-worldly landscapes remind you that Rotorua is really one damn amazing place.

Yes, the fishing is incredible if you know where to go and what to do, but that is really only part of the appeal of this extraordinary part of the world.

Pinch yourself sometimes that you are not on another planet

What goes on in Vegas…

Rotorua is actually world class on a number of levels that attract the tourist dollar from overseas and within NZ for good reason.

The opportunity to fish is certainly a key driver, but taking the family along to experience some of the other magic, or getting a few mates together for the weekend is something you could really get a big kick out of.

Quite often an early morning or evening fish, can be followed up with some other activities top round out a trip.

Photo credit Cameron McKenzie Photography

Photo credit Cameron McKenzie Photography

Action adventure for the keen at Mountain Bike Rotorua

The stunning redwoods forest offers a number of activities unique in quality that make a trip worthwhile in their own right.

The mountain biking is possible the best that the North Island has to offer, with over 450 kilometres of trails that vary from picturesque beginner/kids stuff, to World cup race downhill trails complete with optional shuttle service.  The bike rental offering is comprehensive and this is a great option for the action oriented year round without even having to bring your own bike.

There is also some other less strenuous treetop entertainment that can be enjoyed outside of fishing time that is a relatively recent addition to the forest.

The redwoods treewalk features a  553m walkway through the Redwood Forest, suspended from 100 year old majestic redwood trees. Featuring a series of suspension bridges that can be easily traversed without harnesses or protective gear, it is suitable for all ages and provides a birds-eye perspective of an already world famous forest setting. It is an inspiring, refreshing and rejuvenating nature experience. Featuring a collection of sculptures by NZ artist David Trubridge that light up at night, it all becomes pretty magical for adults and kids alike.

Spring and summer fishing

In October the lake temperatures are still cold, meaning that the layers of water are well mixed, spreading the fish throughout the lake at different levels and depths.

Because of this, all methods of angling are usually pretty consistent and from a boat you will catch fish harling, trolling, jigging and fly fishing, with no single method radically better than the other until the lakes warm up in December.

The early fish caught will either be fat two-year-old maiden fish or they will be returning kelts trying to put on condition after spawning. Many fish will supplement their normal diet of smelt with the energy-rich koura or fresh water crayfish and also the shy cockabullies’.  As a result, the best conditioned trout will be caught close to the bottom regardless of what method you are using.

Julian Danby with a typical spring rainbow

Flies such as dark green and brown boobies and wooly buggers are effective imitations of these bullies, and work really well fished at night also.

Boobies, in case you are new to the term, are essentially wooly buggers tied with wafting maribou plumes, and a very prominent float tied to the head.

They are fished using a fast sinking line and a very short 60cm trace.  The line sinks to the lake bed, but the boobie fly floats above the weed avoiding snags and appearing just like a small fish cruising above the weedline.  A slow twitching retrieve works the fly tantalizingly along and can induce some pretty aggressive strikes if you’re in the right place.

Ask the local tackle stores such as Hamills, Hunting and Fishing, and The Outdoorsman about what flies are working, and where is fishing well.

While up in the hills most of the rivers and streams in the early season will be flowing at pretty high levels even though many of them will be clean. Like the fish in the lakes, the trout in the rivers will be feeding hard trying to put on weight after spawning.

Because of the extra water in the streams many fish will stay in surprisingly small streams until either excessive angling pressure pushes them back down into the parent water, or the streams lose too much water during low flows.

A stunning river brown - photo credit Mike Davis

As the trout in the lakes are primarily feeding on smelt, patterns that imitate these baitfish such as Grey Ghosts, Rabbits, and Ginger Micks are a good choice.  Pick up some freshly tied patterns that have a UV element tied into them for better success.

If you are taking your own gear, a floating line is good for the shallower edges, and a clear intermediate sinker in clear or camo is best to fish drop offs or streamers in places such as the Ohau Channel.

A good selection of flies to hit the lakes with in Spring and summer.  The smelt patterns are UV treated for extra attraction

Nothing beats local knowledge

There are a great number of popular spots to fish, but if you are a visitor to Rotorua you will find that the fish behaviour is affected by numerous factors, and only the locals will have a handle on where is firing.

To get the most out of your day I highly recommend engaging a reputable guide that can get you onto the fish.  This will give you a guaranteed best chance of hooking up, and after that you at least know what to do over the next few days yourself.

I spent a morning with Rotorua Trout Guide Julian Danby on board his unique boat, a purpose built, specialist fly casting platform, and we hooked a few nice fish to kick off the day.

Julian is a great guy, and accommodates trips up into the rivers, spectacular heli-fishing, boat fishing, or even saltwater fly fishing excursions over summer.

Another fishing option he offers is the opportunity to chase the unusual tiger trout, surely on any keen freshwater fisherman’s bucket list.

Lake Rotoma is very deep and crystal clear with little influx or outflow of water.  To this end the fish are hatchery raised and stocked.

Tiger trout are a sterile cross between a brook trout and a brown, and have a distinctive mottled pattern that varies from fish to fish, but guarantees a buzz if you’re looking for a bit of novelty factor in your freshwater repertoire.

Julian Danby with a nice Rotoma tiger trout.  Check out those colours

There’s a lot to be said for some of the stunning locations that we know about in NZ, but so often take for granted.  Every now and then you just need to get out of the grind and get yourself booking a trip.

Maybe it was the relaxing thermal pools, the fishing, or the fact that there was something for the whole family to do, but driving back home after a family trip to Rotorua left us all keen to get back there again soon.

Eat Street in Rotorua central city offers a variety of choices to satisfy food and beverage desires

If you are thinking about giving the art of the fly a go, or want to know a bit more about the streams down there, check out these articles for more.

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