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Long-time fishing guide and Tongariro Lodge owner Tony Hayes has a seasonal secret.
Summer may be justifiably popular with anglers but the industry stalwart says winter’s charms are vastly underrated in the Taupō region.
And he ought to know.
Tony has been pulling trout out of Central North Island lakes and rivers since boyhood and is the co-creator of one of New Zealand’s best-known fishing lodges. This year, the Tongariro Lodge celebrates its 40th birthday.
“Winter fishing hasn’t got the wide international appeal,” he says.
But really, there is fantastic fly fishing to be had around here in winter. The fish are the best size and quality of the year. And this region has the best winter fly fishing in New Zealand by a long shot.
While a small number of other New Zealand lakes remain open year-round, he says river fishing is limited elsewhere.
“Whereas here, we’re targeting a very large number of adult rainbow and brown trout that are running up the rivers to spawn, so they’re in their prime condition. They fight very hard and there’s a lot of them. And 75 percent of all the fish that spawn out of Lake Taupō run into the Tongariro River and right past the lodge.
"It’s the main fish highway and it’s coming past our doorstep.”
Tony says the region won its global reputation with anglers through fantastic summer fishing, including in remote wilderness areas that are not fishable in winter. However, he is also a fan of cold weather charms.
With the wilderness experience, you might never see another soul all day but, in winter, there’s a camaraderie on the rivers. You’ll meet fishers from throughout New Zealand.
“It’s also the scenery, those mornings when there’s frost on the ground and you get those beautiful, clear, still mid-winter days. It’s hard to describe. There’s a clarity in the air in winter.
“And there can be very good fishing on the lake, on a calm day, when you’re on a nice boat or a launch and you have a hot drink and you’ve got those beautiful snow-capped mountains to look at. It’s gorgeous and there’s no experience needed.”
In many ways, he says, the lodge comes into its own in winter.
“That’s when you get the true ambience, with people sitting around the open fire telling tall tales and admiring all the photos and mounted trophy trout on the walls. Or using the library, reading about the history of the Tongariro and the area. Some very famous books have been written about this area.”
Guests can also expect to find photographs of famous people, including the queen mother, who have fished the river. The lodge has hosted notable sportspeople and world-renowned anglers, former American president Jimmy Carter and author Wilbur Smith, as well as actors Robert Mitchum, Michael Keaton and Liam Neeson.
The lawns of the 9 ha property run down to the Tongariro riverbank, with direct access to some of the best pools on the river. Most of the villas and chalets feature art, images and artefacts from an earlier fishing era and several have fireplaces.
This is exactly what Tony envisaged when he and his “mad keen fisherman” friend Shaun McCann left for Canada while in their early 20s. They were determined to improve their guiding skills and learn more about the industry before returning to establish their own place.
“I always had this sort of vision of setting up a fishing lodge. There was very little else like this established in the whole country that specialised in catering to the offshore market. We were very much pioneers.
“A lot of our clients are just starting from the very beginning, just learning. Then we’ve had some of the very best, the world’s expert anglers, who fish in different countries in the world and come back here every year.”
Historically, most have visited between November and April.
“Of course, it’s beautiful in summer but the lodge has a romance about it in autumn and winter.”
This really is the best way to appreciate the area and enjoy the river. Some of our guides have been with us for 20 or 30 years or more so they have an intimate knowledge of all the little nooks and crannies where the fish are lying. Or where to go to get away from the more populated spots. They’re fun to be with and not at all intimidating, whether you’re experienced or a learner.
So you need to fish deeper, and get the fly in front of the fish. The most popular methods are upstream nymphing or downstream wet lining or Euro and Czech nymphing.
If the conditions aren’t right or there are non-fishers in your party, there are lots of great walks to do around here in winter. The Tongariro River Trail is one of the best-kept trails in the country and very, very popular with mountain bikers. Some people get a guide and snowshoe the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
The Tongariro River has the highest population of trout in New Zealand by quite a long way, especially in those winter months.
Beyond the Tongariro, our other smaller, more intimate Taupō rivers also have their own beauty as they gently meander through New Zealand bush. Try the Waitahanui, Waimarino, Hinemaiaia or the Tauranga-Taupō rivers.
It’s relatively mild compared to Canadian winters but, in New Zealand terms, it’s cold.
Tongariro Lodge is New Zealand's most iconic trout fishing lodge. Situated on the banks of the legendary Tongariro River on the Southern shores of Lake Taupo. Enjoy the outdoors in style perfect for trout fisherman and outdoor enthusiasts.$199 - $595
Tongariro Lodge makes the perfect base to enjoy the World Heritage Tongariro National Park and are experts at arranging Heli-Hiking, Guided Walks and the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.$200 - $1,500
Tongariro Lodge Guides are the most experienced guided fly fishing operator in Taupo for over 36 years now. Guides provide access to the best wilderness trout fishing in the world by 4WD, boat, raft and helicopter.$550 - $950
Enjoy a warm and unique fishing lodge and après ski atmosphere, with roaring fires in stone fireplaces, comfortable lounges and friendly staff waiting.
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