Having devoted some energy to the lace moth challenge, in the next few days we focused on the other available river practice water: the Whanganui and another strench of the Tongariro.
New Zealand's third longest river, the Whanganui is known for being the world's second natural resource to be given its own legal identity, with the rights, duties and liabilities of a legal person. As we find out, it is also a great river to fish, with a healthy population of strong wild rainbows and browns of various sizes. The sectors we had for practice were below the competition water. This river is bigger than what most of us fish on a regular basis, with a variety of water to cover: pockets, runs, glides and rapids.
Team members practicing on the Whanganui under the watch of Captain Donald Thom and our local guide Neil Hirtzel. Photo: Ivo Balinov
There were no surface feeding fish here and we focused on other techniques. It did not take long to find out that some of the shallow tailouts hold good numbers of small rainbows willing to take a swang fly. Some of us were more comfortable using a traditional wet fly technique while others would just swing flies with their nymphing rig. The fish were responding well to both. Not all were of the minimum competition size, but there were enough counters to be worth targeting them. Unlike Whanganui's bigger fish these were easy and fast to land. Not surprisingly, it did not take us long to spot that the other teams practicing in the area had quickly figured this out, too. This alone was just a small part of what we needed to have in our arsenal to successfully fish a competition session.
Not surprisingly in the deeper runs, riffles and pocket water nymphing was best for us. We were not catching very high numbers of fish, but the action was steady with mostly rainbows of various sizes and the occasional nice brown. There was no lack of big, strong fish and, again, we had to figure out the right balance that would allow us to hook and land a maximum number of trout during a 3-hour competition session. Right or wrong, we settled to using 0.16 mm colored sighter and 0.135 mm Arcay XTR fluorocarbon tippet, which has a breaking strain of 4.2 lbs (1.9 kg). A sighter thicker than 0.16 mm was no fun handling in the wind, plus with us using 0.135 tippet we could use a sighter portion of the leader that is marginally stronger and benefit from the extra sensitivity. Using 3/4 wt, 10.6 nymphing rods with this leader setup allows us nice drifts and good sensitivity, while still giving us some backbone to handle big fish. We had, however, to accept the fact that some of Whanganui's big, energy loaded fish would not be landed; in a competition session, depending on how productive the fishing is, we were even thinking of breaking off some big fish on purpose to avoid wasting time and disturbing long stretches of our beats. We did not get to compete so we did not get the chance to see if we have the guts to pursue this approach. It is definitely easier to plan than to be brave enough to execute it...we all like landing trophy trout:).
Colin Huff with a nice Whanganui brown. Photo: Keefer Pitfield
The river could be fished with various nymphing techniques, but for us a long distance tight-line approach (aka the Spanish style) worked best. The Whanganui is a big river and using long casts allows us to cover a lot of water, while also making it possible to reach spots that are hard to wade to. In smaller rivers the Spanish style also helps avoid spooking fish. I am not sure if Whanganui's trout were disturbed or not but getting too close to them. In case, if they were using this nymphing style would have addressed this issue, too. From what I have heard, the winning Czech team used an extra long leader on this very same river at the World Championships in 2008 starting a debate that eventually led to the present FIPS Mouche rule that limits leaders to two rod lengths. Good or bad, this has pushed the development of competition legal, low diameter extra soft nymphing fly lines that allow long-distance nymphing. I know there are different views on this, but having tried both approaches I personally tend to agree with those who believe that using a proper fly line for this style is actually better that an extra long piece of mono. The fly line is much easier to handle and at this distance one has to figure-8 or strip line to stay in contact and adjust the drift as needed. With no ambitions to be an expert, I can say that the best line that I have tried for this technique is the Arcay Spanish Nymph line, developed by our team's coach David along with a couple of other members of the Spanish national team.
David Arcay posing with a Whanganui resident. Photo: Colin Huff.
Our setup, from anchor fly to fly line was: about 6ft of tippet with two flies 60 cm apart, followed by the length of level bicolor sighter material needed to bring the total leader to two rod lengths. After trying many nymphs it seemed like a few simple pheasant tail variations along with a classic Spanish Culirroja (red but) perdigon produced the best results. A combination of two size 14 or 16 nymphs with 3 mm copper and silver beads, or 3.5 mm bead on the anchor fly with a 3 mm on the top dropper, covered well most water. We tied our nymphs on Hanak BL 230: a very reliable, strong hook with the right profile for the nymph patterns of our choice. An extra heavy anchor fly was needed here and there in heavy currents and deeper pools. Once a spot was well covered, a repeat with black beaded nymphs seemed to keep some of the trout interested.
Having David as a coach, pushed our learning curve up once again. I am sure all members of our team can't wait for the COVID-19 craze to be over to get back to the streams and work on internalizing all the nymphing subtleties he showed us.
We tried streamers and they produced some big aggressive fish, but for us the action was not consistent enough to consider this as a key technique. Some of us would have probably had a streamer set-up waiting on the bank as a last resort if nothing else was working.
After fishing the Whanganui a couple of times, we returned to the Tongariro, this time the upper stretches above the competition beats. We all fell in love with this piece of water: one of those special spots where beautiful surroundings and spectacular fishing merge together into pure happiness. The fish were not rising here, but there was plenty of great nymphing water and some seriously strong fish.
Beautiful pool on the Tongariro. Photo: Ivo Balinov
The nymphing technique and set-up we used was the same as the Whanganui but the Tongariro was producing higher numbers of fish.
Ian Troup releasing a Tongariro rainbow that took him for a walk. Photo: Ivo Balinov
The Tongariro's fish seemed to be mostly in two size ranges: smaller fish of up to 30 cm and big trout of 45 cm and above, with many 55+ brutes. The Tongariro, we were told, has fish running up from lake Taupo year round so this explains the gap in sizes between the adolescents and the mature lake run fish. The majority were rainbows, with the occasional big brown holding close to the banks. I will remember for a long time "snagging" on the bottom in a shallow pocket and after reaching down to release my fly seeing the "snag" move into deeper water and one of the strongest, biggest browns I have ever hooked explode into several jumps and a fast long run before breaking me off and leaving me shaking.
Underwater shot of Tongariro rainbow. Photo: Keefer Pitfield
All of my teammates will have memories from the Tongariro. David and Colin will probably never forget a pod of extra big rainbows they took turns hooking in a deep run: "mamitas", as David nicknamed them. They lost some, but also landed some. Needless to say, we all want to be back one day...
Nymphing the Tongariro. Photo: Ian Troup
Ivo Balinov, April 10, 2020
More about Ivo:
Ivo has been fishing for over 35 years. His experience covers North America, Europe and the Caribbean. He is an experienced instructor who has helped countless people with their first steps into fly fishing while also coaching many advanced anglers, including several national champions of Canada as well as members of Canada's National Youth Team. He himself has learned from some of the world's very best competition anglers from the Czech Republic, Spain and the UK.
Ivo has been a successful competition angler with top finishes at major tournaments including team gold and individual bronze at the 2016 Commonwealth Fly Fishing Championships, team silver at the 2018 Commonwealth Fly Fishing Championships and numerous top finishes at national, provincial and regional tournaments in Canada. He has served as Pro Staff for several fly fishing brands and is now Co-owner and Marketing Director of Smart Angling.