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However, the wildly-popular Tūrangi business can also count copious quantities of nostalgia and roll-up-your-sleeves hard slog in its recipe for success.
In many ways, owners Jason and Tracy Bethune were born to take the helm of the historic tackle shop, with its charming café tucked into an impossibly small space out back. She has the necessary culinary skills courtesy of years spent managing a café and running the kitchen at the fishing lodge the couple owned and operated for eight years. He is a highly experienced fly fishing guide and outdoorsman who has spent most of his life in the Taupō region and knows exactly what gear works best.
“I started fly fishing and tying when I was nine,” Jason says. “It was just an innate interest. I was 13 when we moved to Taupō and I spent just about every night after school fishing, not doing homework. I’d bike to the edge of the lake and fish around the edge.”Jason
Tracy learned to fish at Lake Rotoaira, where she holidayed with family throughout her childhood summers.
Together, the couple farmed sheep, beef and deer at the Western Bays end of the lake. They also fished together, and Jason dabbled in guiding while dreaming of owning a fishing lodge; she would cook for guests, and he would take them hunting or fishing. A dairy farming stint provided the funds needed to buy Troutbeck Fishing Lodge, on the banks of Tauranga-Taupō River.
“We loved it. I started guiding full-time then. But people were also coming to the lodge just for Tracy’s food. It was ideal preparation for Creel.”
A year after selling the lodge – buyers approached them out of the blue – they learned Jason’s favourite tackle shop was for sale.
“It was a bit of a no-brainer,” he says of their decision to seize the opportunity. It had the nostalgia as the oldest fly fishing shop in New Zealand and that big reputation. We were already customers. In fact, I've been a customer for more than three decades - I bought my first decent fly reel here when I was 18 or 19."
“And of course everyone loves the Creel Café. Between the fishing shop, the café and the guiding, it was made for us. And the guiding is huge, right from beginners to fellow guides from the United States. In the last 12 months, I’ve done 255 days. In February and March, we’re having to turn people away.”
Jason says his work with international guests gives him an even greater appreciation for the region’s natural beauty and fishing options, from shore or boat, helicopter or raft.
“We’re all over the place, obviously fishing the Tongariro up the road and the Waipakihi River on our doorstep and all the other tributaries and other rivers nearby."Jason
"Or catching lots of fish 20km into the back country, on a quad bike, with scenery to die for. In there, there’s rimu, matai, totara trees, wild deer and pigs and goats and a huge amount of bird life, including who (blue ducks).”
Some of his clients have become friends, like the three generations from one Australian family who have been visiting the region to fish with him for 10 years.
Visitors also like to hear about the tackle shop, which was established in the 1920s by local guide Joe Frost to sell handmade rods and hand-tied flies. His successor Geoff (Pop) Sanderson developed the infamous Red Setter trout fly, and three more owners stamped their own mark on the beloved store before the Bethunes took over in mid-2021.
Along the way, the building was relocated from a flood-prone zone to its current site. Visitors will see the same well-worn wooden floorboards that eager anglers have been treading for a century, and they can still see flies being tied by hand on-site.
These include the latest owner’s personal line of flies, such as Jason’s Rainbow Bomb and Jason’s Blue Bead.
“I haven’t given them clever names because they’ve always been a bit of a secret. But they’ve caught a lot of fish for me and my clients, and now people can buy them in the shop.”
Keen as they are to preserve all the building’s iconic features, the Bethunes have no qualms about mixing up the café menu and changing stock in the shop. Plans are afoot to expand the tiny kitchen, to better manage hectic summer days when Tracy can start cooking as early as 4.30am and finishes as late as 10pm.
Everything is made from scratch, on-site, from the leek and bacon pie or the spicy beef burger to the walnut brioche and ‘best in the world’ ginger bread. Tracy is keen to expand the café offerings with more delicious gourmet dishes and the best coffee in town.
Jason has already doubled the amount of stock on offer in the shop, adding big-name fishing products such as Simms waders and his personal favourite brands.
“I refuse to have a product here I wouldn’t recommend. When we bought Creel, I ordered absolutely everything I use for guiding, right down to the best quality dried food and gas cookers we use for heli trips. It’s become much more of a one-stop shop, but I know what works and I have a pretty good idea of what people really need.”
Fishing lodge owner, Tony Hayes, is sharing why winter fly fishing is the best in the Taupō region and the cozy charms of the Tongariro Lodge in the winter months.