Waikaremoana backcountry New Zealand. Image by brena.nz

Fly fishing for trout in northern Hawkes Bay

Grumpy McMurdo General

Lake Waikaremoana is surrounded by mature native bush and offers some of the best dry fly fishing in the North Island.

Lake Waikaremoana

The lake was formed 2200 years when a huge mountain crashed into the ravine of what was the Waikareteheke River. This created a huge dam behind which the lake formed. There is a much smaller lake positioned several hundred feet above the main lake which was also formed by a major landslide.

The fishing in the lake itself usually peaks in the middle of summer when large brown trout can be seen cruising the shallow lake edges and will be supping in cicadas with care-free abandon. There is little fishing that is as adrenaline-producing as seeing a large brown slowly approach your fly in still water.

Lake Waikareiti offers good fishing for smallish rainbows for those prepared to hike two hours up the trail. A dinghy can be hired at the lake from the Department Of Conservation (DOC) and this is the best option as shore access is limited.

Your heart is in your mouth as you try and control those twitches in your rod hand as the trout leisurely inspects your offering. Then finally it decides your fly is acceptable and swallows the untasty morsel. Now it is necessary to control that urge to raise your rod too early. So you count to three and gently lift the rod. A solid take ensures and you are solidly connected to a wild Waikaremoana brown.

Waikaremoana Trout Fishery Map
Lake Waikaremoana fishing map

Although autumn fishing in the lake itself is not as productive as during the summer months, it is the time that the rainbows and browns start their move up the main spawning stream, the Hopuruahine River.

A large number of fish will be found confined in a rather short stretch of water. Tales of twenty fish in a day are very common but only if you can strike the river on a day when you have it to yourself. They average around 3 lb with the odd one going up to 8 lb. Other spawning fish will be found at the Mokau inlet. So the April Waikaremoana angler should concentrate their fishing efforts on these two hot spots.

See also: About trout fishing at Lake Waikaremoana

Ruakituri River

Not far away is one of the best trout rivers in New Zealand. The Ruakituri River is known by anglers far and wide as the home of some of the strongest, wildest trout in the whole country.

The Ruakituri is an isolated river that rises in the remote Urewera National Park, draining the Huiarau Range and flowing for many kilometres through rugged bush before it tumbles 300 feet over the Waitangi Falls. Above the falls, access is limited to those well-equipped trampers who are not only familiar with the terrain but also sufficient experience to cope with rapid changes in weather conditions.

Below the falls, the river tumbles down terraces of bedrock, between steep, bush-flanked valley walls until fingers of farmland meet it at the top end of Papuni Station. The station is on Papuni Road, which is reached by turning right off Ruakituri Road, just before the Erepiti Gorge. The road is open as long as you check-in at Papuni Station homestead.

From the road end, there is a track up to the Waitangi Falls but it is too far to fish above the falls for a day fisherman. Below the falls, the river is strewn with colossal boulders, brought down by the regular, flash floods the Ruakituri trout have to endure.

There is a huge variety of water, ranging from strenuous rapids, to deep, slow pools flanked by sentinel boulders, to riffly runs that just have to hold fish. It is no place for fine leaders and delicate techniques.

Anything less than a 6 lb leader is pointless, as the violent Ruakituri trout make effective use of their angler-unfriendly environment.

 Trout from northern Hawkes Bay river
Trout from a northern Hawkes Bay river

Brown and rainbow are found in equal proportion, dependent only on the type of water fished. The size of fish can be daunting. They average 4 lb and there are plenty of 10 lb fish in residence. Landing these monsters in the fast, bouldery water is never easy and tales of lost fish will dominate your evening story-telling – even more so than usual!

Emerging from the long gorge, the river takes on a different character as it meanders through farmlands to meet the Hangaroa at Te Reinga. Access is easy through the farms bordering the river. Along this section, you have a better chance of spotting your fish, but great stealth is required as there is not much cover.

The river has lost its impetus and flows wider and slower. There is more weed growth in summer, which can to be annoying. Long leaders are essential and the increased angling pressure in the more-accessible lower reaches make the trout rather wary.

The Ruakituri then meets the Hangaroa River and their combined flow crashes down the Te Reinga Falls and join the Wairoa River at Frasertown. No matter what type of water you prefer to fish, the Ruakituri can offer it. You can fish dry, nymph or wet.

Te Reinga Falls in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
Te Reinga Falls in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand

You can fish big slow pools, fast turbulent water, pools of huge depth, riffly rocky runs, and swirly backwaters. You can fish in rugged Urewera bush, in deep shadowed gorges, or from farmland meadows – what river has more variety? And that has fish that commonly go over 10 lb? No, whatever criteria you use, the river has something for everyone.

The best stretches of water for the flyfisher are at the end of the Papuni Station farm road. The track to the Waitangi Falls starts from here and it pays to walk up an hour or so before starting fishing.

There is some excellent water upstream from where the track leaves the river. At times you will have to get ‘down & dirty’ and fish with heavy gear to reach the fish lying at the bottom of the pool that may be twenty feet deep.

At other times, the fish will be out in the riffles and a medium-size beadhead nymph, fished down the riffles, will usually find a few feeding fish. Even in April there may be an evening rise and you can often score a big fish on a dry fly. It is only one of various techniques you will need to fish this river as the variety of the water and the size of the trout make this river unique in New Zealand. Add to that the beauty of your surroundings and you have found trout fishing heaven.

See also: About trout fly fishing the Ruakituri River

Mohaka River

Further down the road, past the small township of Wairoa, can be found the lower reaches of the mighty Mohaka River. This river is perhaps the most consistently productive river in all of the North Island.

It is a long river, rising in the Kaweka Mountains and flowing more than 80 miles through a mixture of bush and farmland to meet the sea at Mohaka, about 20 miles south of Wairoa. The numbers of trout vary greatly throughout the river as Mohaka trout tend to be very mobile.

If you strike the area where they have taken up residence, you can expect to hook maybe five trout on a good day and they will average around 3 lb.

There are some misconceptions about the Mohaka. The first view most anglers get of this well known Hawkes Bay river is the fleeting glance down from the lofty heights from one of the road bridges.

The first impression is ‘BIG’ and it is. But down at the river level, it looks a lot different. You would miss out on a lot of fish, and a lot of fun, if you fished this river using only big river techniques. This is because the brown trout will be usually found along the edges, in the shallow water while the rainbows will normally be in the riffles and runs.

Although the riffles can look rather fast, especially out in the middle of the wide river, the flow is not as fast as it looks. There are rocks in the middle of the riffles and the fish lie behind them and are sheltered from the strong current.

But sometimes the river must be fished very differently. Especially when you encounter a huge pool with heavy rapids at the head, leading to a section where the strong flow has carved out a very deep pool, with fast water on the far side.

It will appear that you would be better off fishing the pool with a spinner rather than a fly. But often you will spot a good fish holding ten feet deep at the edge of the main flow. Then it is time to dig out the flybox and scrounge around for a heavy nymph.

Find something like a size 10 Halfback Bugeye and tie on a size 12 Hare’n’Copper to the bend of the heavy nymph. Chuck in the whole rig with a prudent, open-loop cast. The heavy rig will plonk into the fast water just below the rapids and sink quickly. Then you have to decide whether to watch the indicator or the fly – such is the clarity of New Zealand rivers.

If you watch the trout, you may see it take the nymph while the indicator twelve feet above had not begun to move. Another lesson – when you can see the fish, don’t worry what the indicator is doing. By the time that moves, the fish may have spat out the fly.

Certainly it is not pleasant fishing when you fish with such a heavy rig but there are occasions on the Mohaka when you also have to get ‘down & dirty’. This is likely in the fall, especially if a cold southerly wind is blowing. In these conditions, the fish will be all lying deep in the pools and you had better fish heavy or go home empty-handed.

If this does not appeal, then it is wise to fish the various tributaries of the Mohaka as in April, the fish are starting to run up these small waterways to spawn.

See also: About trout fly fishing the Mohaka River

Let us guide you on a trout fishing day trip or multi-day fly fishing backcountry adventure designed to suit your style, ability & time. Book or enquire about fly fishing for trout in Hawkes Bay with Tony Hildesheim today.

About the Author

Ron Giles is a New Zealand trout fishing writer and author who has been flyfishing for 30 years. During this time, he has travelled extensively on business around New Zealand and always taken along his fly rod. He has fished all the major rivers and lakes in NZ as well as a large number of trout waters known only to local anglers and their friends. This `inside’ information has seen him catch more than 30 trout over the magic 10lb mark.

The information in his books come from the records Ron has kept of every fishing trip; detailing weather, river conditions, trout hooked, technique employed and successful flies. Usually the flies are of his own making as Ron has tied his own flies right from when he first started fishing. His creations are eagerly sought-after by his angling friends, as his flies always seem to have a special appeal to trout.

Ron has been a member of the Auckland Freshwater Anglers Club for 40 years and always enjoys the chance to swap fishing stories. These have provided the basis of his regular contribution of articles on trout fishing to a variety of magazines and web sites. In all his writing, his aim is to inform but still entertain the reader. He has an easy-to-read writing style that enables him to keep the reader’s interest even when writing about a very technical subject.

  • Hooked on Trout – how & where to catch large trout in New Zealand – published by Reed Publishing in 2000.
  • Catch That Trout! Fishing the South Island of New Zealand – published by Reed in 2002.
  • Catch That Trout! Fishing the North Island of New Zealand – published in 2003.
  • 101 Ways to catch a trout – published in 2004.
  • Catch That Trout! Fishing New Zealand – published in 2005.

Ron provides a unique service by offering free advice on flyfishing on his high rating website: www.fishing-new-zealand.com