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Fishing 101 with Simon Jolly

So many trout, so many strange terms. Taupo charter boat captain, business owner and guide Simon Jolly offers an overview of the vast trout fishing opportunities around the region, as well as a cheeky guide to fishing terms.

Chris Jolly Fishing Charter Boat on Lake Taupo


Most people don’t understand how remarkable the Taupo region is for fishing.

It is so unique, it’s maintained a worldwide reputation for fishing since the early 1900s.

Part of that is the diversity of the fishery – all those rivers, lakes, streams – and the ability to fish all year round but also the size and health of the fish and the numbers of them. The stunning scenery. A lake so big it’s like an inland sea. It’s the whole package.

The Tongariro River is regarded as the best rainbow trout river in the world if you’re a fly fisher but we have plenty of brown trout, too. And the lake is this historic, volcanic gift to trout fishers, 622km2 that can be fished 365 days a year. This region provides a huge number of options to be able to catch fish, whether you’re going on a boat, trolling or jigging, or spinning. And in summer, the smelt that trout feed on go into shallow waters to breed and the trout follow them in so it’s a lot of fun to walk along the beach and cast to them. You can catch a fish off the lakefront downtown if you want to. 

The fishing wouldn’t be like this here if it wasn’t for Lake Taupo. Trout are born in the rivers but you’ve got to have a massive food source for them to grow big fast and stay in good condition. The lake provides that. You’ve got to have extremely clean, cold water with the right consistency of gravel river bed in order for them to spawn and the rivers have that. We also have two other lakes you can fish within the license area; Lake Otamangakau and Lake Kuratau.

People from the United States come over here to fish and go ‘holy cow, this is ridiculous’. Over there, the fish are small, there’s a small time period you can fish and here, there’s an ability for anyone to do it. When you compare it to other fisheries around the world, fishery licenses are cheap. Especially for kids. And it’s easy to get gear.

They can’t believe this is a wild, sustainable fishery. Most people think our local hatchery was set up to stock the lake but it was initially put in place as a backstop in case there’s a natural disaster.

Of course, there are all the other activities you can do here as well. Jet skiing, water skiing, rafting. I started fly fishing when I was five or six years old and I’ve been working on the lake in the family business for 30 years, 25 years as a professional skipper. My dad started the company (Chris Jolly Outdoors) in the late 70’s as an excuse to go fishing. He was farming in the Manawatu but we moved up here, bought a sports shop, and within a year had a charter boat on the lake, taking people out fishing. Now we have five boats and we also take people fly fishing, mountain biking, hunting, hiking, all sorts.

There’s so much here and so much variety on the lake. On the western side, you have sheer cliffs rising 30m straight up out of the water, with bush and birdlife and waterfalls. It’s stunning and there’s no road access so it still feels isolated. The eastern side is not as dramatic, it’s more populated but still, only relatively small pieces of foreshore are actually populated. There’s always somewhere on the lake that’s calm.

And the fishing is awesome all over the place. I can take you out to a spot where you can get a fish within 20 minutes.

All those ways to catch all those fish can lead to a bit of confusion for newbies so I’ve put together a guide to some essential fishing terms.

Bag limit. You are not at an airport, the fisheries officer won’t care how many bags you’re carrying. But you do need to know how many trout you can take home with you each day. In the Taupo region, the bag limit is six legal-sized trout per license per day.

Bail. If you’re in a boat on Lake Taupo and someone yells ‘bail’, check your feet. If they’re wet, grab a container and start scooping water out of the bottom of the vessel to stay afloat.

Barb. No, not your sister’s friend. The barb is that gnarly little pointy bit set back from the tip of a fish hook, designed to stop the hook from coming out of a fish’s mouth. Experienced fishers who plan to release their catch after it’s caught will either crush the barb or use a barbless hook.

Catch and release. A 2006 movie starring Jennifer Garner. Also the delicate art of returning your newly-caught fish to the river, so it can grow bigger and stronger and swim another day.

Caddis. While a cad is a dishonourable man, a caddis is an aquatic insect with two pairs of hairy wings. Trout love to gobble both caddisflies or larvae so it is one of the most common nymphs used by fly fishers.

Drifting. If someone offers to take you drifting, do not expect a smoke-filled, turbo-charged car race featuring big exhaust pipes. In this case, drifting means fishing while slowly moving your boat at the speed of the wind.

Dry fly. Despite the name, this form of fly fishing definitely requires water. However, it utilises bait that mimics the bugs that sit on top of the water. Wet flies resemble small fish that live underwater before they hatch and float to the surface.

Fly fishing. No one is expecting you to tie a dead housefly to the end of your line. This world-famous fishing method relies on the weight of the line to carry the hook through the air. By contrast, spinning and bait fishing use heavier lures or sinkers to fire that line towards a fish. Flies are the artificial bait designed to look like the creatures that trout like to eat.

Jigging. If you’re on the dance floor, a jig is a lively, leaping dance. In the aquatic context, it’s a type of fishing lure and jigging involves constantly moving the rod tip to make the jig move.

Nymphing. Forget what you know from Greek mythology. In this case, a nymph is not a beautiful spirit lurking in the river or trees, it’s another name for the type of fishing bait that looks like the kind of insect larvae found underwater. Nymphing is another form of fly fishing.

Tackle. If you’re asked for tackle on a boat or riverbank, it is bad form to leap at a person sideways to knock them to the ground. They just want to borrow a hook or a gaffe, a reel, float, fly or some other bit of fishing equipment.

Trolling.  Nothing to do with nasty social media practices. In this case, trolling means sitting on a boat with your fishing line dangling over the side, while the vessel slowly motors around the lake edges towing your lure or flies.

Spawning. Frogs do it. Mussels do it. And fish also spawn - release eggs into the water - too. A female trout can lay thousands of eggs, which are deposited in a shallow gravel nest to be fertilised by the male.

Spinning. While fishers are famous for spinning truth-stretching yarns, spinning is an entirely legitimate fishing activity. It involves casting a lure from the shore of a lake or the edge of the river.

Waders. A cluster of long-legged birds that stride along shorelines and mudflats. Also, odd-looking fishing attire involving long boots attached to waterproof overalls that generally stretch up to the chest and keep a fisher dry while standing in the water.

Learn more about the Taupo region's remarkable fishing here. 

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