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“I love the place,” the former Aucklander and ex-Australian resident says of his Central North Island home.
“The environment is amazing, you’re surrounded by stunning water – the clarity of it - and amazing mountains covered in snow. There’s the wildlife, the deer, and I have enjoyed dipping into what Taupo has to offer in terms of the bush and hunting.”
But it is the region’s fishing that has captivated him since childhood. The man who calls himself Joe The Piscator from Te Kupenga Fishing Charters reckons he was probably two years old when his father first placed a fly rod in his hands, alongside the Hinemaiaia River. Every summer, Joe and his siblings would fish from a boat with their dad and uncles, or cast from the riverbank at Hatepe, south of Taupo township. The youngest Milicich was fiercely competitive, always trying to keep up with and out-fish his older and younger siblings.
“I’m 36 now and I’ve been dragging lures and fly fishing around this lake for that long. It holds a very special place in my heart and that love of fishing has always been there.”
While much of his adult life has been spent in the surf industry - he worked for surf brand Billabong and technology company GoPro – it was the promise of a professional fishing career that ultimately brought him home from Australia.
Moving to the Taupo region in 2017 was a no-brainer. He became a registered fly fishing guide while his wife Nici took an emergency department nurse job at Taupo Hospital. Nici loves the lake as much as her husband does, courtesy of long summers spent at her family bach at Kinloch, while the couple’s young daughters Hazel and Abbie are already learning to fish and dabbling at fly tying.
However, Covid scuppered Joe’s original plan to develop his own charter boat business.
He was successfully guiding international clients and had just commissioned construction of a customised charter boat when the pandemic struck in early 2020. He has since switched gears to captain “the best looking trout catching machine on the lake” for seasoned tour company Chris Jolly Outdoors.
The Stabicraft vessel dubbed Te Kupenga – ‘fishing net’ in Te Reo - is the newest addition to the Jolly fleet which:
He has developed his own jigging rigs and is also a handy fly tier.
The latter skill is one he dabbled in as a boy but mastered during the first Covid-19 lockdown, to keep body and mind occupied.
“I bought myself a large motorised kayak, too, and I did a lot of private fishing to look after my mental health. Fishing, for me, is a massive mental health thing. I think it’s amazing that I can tie a fly at my desk, then work my bum off to go out and catch a fish on that fly. To me, there’s nothing in the world that beats that."
“It’s a feeling I want to pass on to my clients. It’s not just a matter of coming out with me and slapping fish in the bin. My goal is that they leave my boat with some fish and perhaps release some fish, that they go away with a real appreciation for the lake, the surrounding area and for fishing in general.”
He already offers customised trips for couples, families or serious fishing buddies, including private fly fishing lessons, and has created a series of instructional videos offering tips for trolling, jigging and spinning. Plans are afoot to add packages for younger people, including school groups.
In the meantime, his own daughters are learning how to fill a smoker with wood chips and hold a fishing rod.
“I’m never a dad to push that but, just now and then, I’ll certainly encourage it. They had their first time out on the boat a couple of weeks ago and they loved it.
“My hope for them is that they learn to love fishing in this place the way I do. For the mental health benefits and the interesting people it will bring them into contact with. Maybe even for the career prospects around guiding, boating, skippering or just creating a job out of your passion. But mostly for the sheer joy of it.
“And I’m starting to see the spark of that joy in them now.”
The one that most interests you! Whether you’re in a kayak, on the beach, beside the river, holding a fly rod or trolling from a launch, every style of fishing can be productive year-round. It pays to seek expert help if you’re new to a particular method though. And always check licensing requirements for the area/time of year you want to fish.
Autumn and winter are spawning time, which brings larger numbers of fish into river systems that flow into the lake, so this is a fantastic time to learn to fly fish. This doesn’t mean you won’t catch trout in the lake though and a cold, clear winter’s day can be magic on the water. Spring and summer months see trout heading back into the lake, though they are somewhat in recovery mode, feeding back up to recondition themselves. Those long warm days are a great time for family excursions on a boat or kayak.
It depends where you are. When fly fishing upriver, go for very small size 14/16/18 natural nymphs. Stone fly patterns will appeal to a hungry trout year-round. Try summer bugs to tick a dry fly "eat" or a "surface/top-water strike" off the bucket list. Around Taupo, that means trying green manuka beetle and cicadas to cast a nice floating presentation out to a rising trout. Along the beach edges, try throwing a "smelt pattern" or a "woolly buggar'' into the shallows or at a river mouth in the early hours of the morning or the late evening.
Look out for some new, in-depth instructional videos from Joe The Piscator in coming months.
It’s all about two golden rules; preparation and positivity.
Be prepared. That goes for everything, starting with your safety. Have a plan. And at least one back-up plan. Focus on a few key aspects each trip. When fly fishing you may want to focus mainly on casting accuracy and technique. On the lake, perhaps take 10-15 minutes each trip to learn more about your boat’s depth sounder and know what you really are seeing on your screen. Always make sure gear is clean and functional, to avoid any failures due to lack of maintenance or care. Have some extra jigging rigs tied up on foam blocks to save time if there is a tangle or wanting a quick change whilst jigging. Having a good supply of extra leader/tippet & terminal tackle (swivels,clips,sinkers etc) An organized tackle/fly box is crucial in saving time!
Be positive and decisive about what you are doing from start to finish. Decide where and how you are going to fish. Be confident that the fish will take that fly you chose or that new lure you are so excited about. If the day is unsuccessful and you’re tempted to throw away all your fishing gear, don’t. Remember what you gained. You DID learn more about catching a wild animal in its own environment. You added more to your memory bank and your thought process deepened as you strived. You know more for next time. Don’t let frustration stop you from a truly rewarding experience when it all comes together.
It’s a Latin word for fisherman or angler.
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If you're not local to the Taupo region, it can be hard to know where to best fishing spots are. So, to help you on your way, we’ve compiled our top fishing spots.