‘School’ is not a word you usually hear in relation to trout; kahawai, yes; snapper, yes; trout, no. There were so many fish, at one stage I thought that the bottom of the river was shifting only to realise that it was in fact the backs of so many trout moving as one to get out of the way of our raft.

They were not only numerous, they were also big: as we cruised through the shallows from one bank to another, I went to put my foot on a log only to see it split in two as two very large trout scooted off in different directions.

Now this may seem like a fisherman’s story, and I guess it is, but unlike my usual fishing tales, this one is true. Sometimes referred to as the top end of the Tongariro, this section of the river is closed for fishing for a portion of the year from July 30 until December 1 to assist the trout with spawning (a bit of privacy for those intimate moments). We were lucky enough to get up there on December 2 , finding a fresh, almost untouched, virgin fishing ground stacked full of unbothered fish.

It is not an easy place to get to – you can tramp in, but that limits the areas you can reach and the access to the river is down fairly steep banks. So we opted to raft our way down with a guide from Rafting New Zealand in Turangi – their details are hereabouts somewhere.

You can do this type of fishing trip most of the year (just the upper part of the river is closed for spawning), but to be there within a day of the upper section opening for fishing was amazing. I have never seen so many trout anywhere! It didn’t, however, mean they were any easier to catch, but the odds were in our favour.

Our guide, Jimmy Jarvie (senior rafting guide at Rafting NZ) and also a hell of a good fisherman, put us on all the right spots all day. The walk down to the put-in at Poutu Dam set the scene: there were the usual Deliverance jokes and fake banjo noises, but most of all we shared a feeling of anticipation.

We really didn’t know if it was going to be as good as everyone said it would be, but the moment we entered the water it was evident there were a LOT of fish.

The put-in below the dam is under a pretty spectacular, high, bush-covered cliff lapped by cold, clear water. That alone would have been worth the trip. But as we watched the fish scatter before the boat, the smile on my good mate Tony Lennon’s face said it all – this could be nothing but a good day.

The first sandy bay we pulled into was on a long looping bend, the water a deep, dark green.

We could hear the constant ‘plop-plop’ of fish breaking the surface over the noise of the river. Within moments the first fish was landed and released and we fished for about 25 minutes before moving on to the next pool.

This set a tone for the day: raft, fish, catch, move. We could have stayed in one spot all day, but part of the fun of this fishing trip was rafting the river and we wanted to make sure we had time to see it all. It seemed that around each bend there was another remarkable pool or little backwater. Jimmy knew the river like the back of his hand and said in his four years as head guide he thought he would have been down it over 1000 times. He knew all the little extra places that you could easily miss; a few spots we had to raft past and then walk back into to gain access, but what every unique area shared in common was lots of fish.

I have to give full kudos to Jimmy at this point: not only did he put us onto the fish but he kept us, and all the gear, out of the water. He also showed great skill and dexterity when it came to netting the fish.

At one stage, after we had not caught anything for a wee while, Tony hooked into the fish of the day. Tony, a relative newbie to trout fishing, was at a bit of a loss on how to bring this very large trout to the bank on an 8lb line and at one stage there was a lot more line out and down the river (connected to the running trout) than there was left on the reel. But due to Jimmy’s rock-hopping, plus his deep wading abilities, the big boy was netted. The phase used was, “It wasn’t pretty, but it was pretty effective!”

We saw one or two other anglers on the river that day and some of them may have caught bigger fish, but none of them had bigger smiles. We lost count of how many fish we caught, but there were big ones, small ones, rainbow and brown trout, all set against one of the most amazing backdrops in New Zealand. The fishing was great, the rafting was fun and the company was exceptional.

A huge thank you to Rafting New Zealand, whose professionalism and customer care sets a standard in the industry. If you don’t want to fish, just go rafting with them; if you want to fish as well, that’s the cherry on the cake.
Rafting trips go every day, but make sure you book. Fishing is a special occasion, so just ring up and chat to make sure they can fit you in.

Rafting New Zealand    027 579 7838   www.raftingnewzealand.co.nz