New Zealand Fly Fishing

The Tongariro – a river steeped in history and folklore

Flowing from headwaters set in deep and rugged volcanic mountains, the Tongariro winds its way to the delta of Lake Taupo, the second biggest lake in the Southern Hemisphere. Within this massive freshwater lake, Rainbow and Brown trout introduced in the latter half of the 19th century, head up the Tongariro to spawn. In the 1920s famous American writer and angler, Zane Gray ‘discovered’ this rich bounty of fighting trout and informed the world. From then on there has been a steady stream of anglers for whom the Tongariro is an integral part of their fishing ‘bucket list.’


Fly fishing at the River Birches

Located on the banks of the Tongariro River, River Birches is in the heart of New Zealand’s finest fly fishing region. A few minutes walk or a short drive will take you to Tongariro fishing pools that are internationally renowned: The famous Major Jones pool, The Duchess (named after the Duchess of York) and many others immortalised by fishing writers are still fished today by a variety of anglers from all over the world.

Whether you’re new to fly fishing or an experienced angler, the Tongariro is a superb environment to catch trout. And the friendly staff at River Birches will organise everything you need from waders, licenses, rods and transport, through to arranging an expert guide who will put you right in the trout catching zone. Even if you have never fly-fished for trout before, a guide will show you the basic techniques and get you started. A day (or half-day) fishing the banks of the Tongariro is a magical experience.


Discover a bounty of other fly fishing rivers in the region

Apart from the famous Tongariro, there are other great trout-laden rivers nearby. The Tongariro-Taupo is a short drive away as are the Hinemaiaia and Waitahanui. These rivers feed into Lake Taupo and are situated within easy driving distance of River Birches.

Various fly fishing techniques* can be applied to these rivers depending on conditions. Wet fly fishing with a sinking line is popular especially on pools on the Tongariro, such as the Hydro and major Jones, while nymphing remains the most widely used technique as pools are often swift, relatively shallow and rocky. Dry fly fishing is an option during the summer when hatches of beetles and cicadas are abundant. (See below for more information on these techniques.)

While selected rivers, lakes and streams are closed over the winter months, fishing all year round is possible on the Tongariro and other selected rivers.

For the more experienced or adventurous angler, a helicopter can whisk you away to ‘big brown country’ where the Upper Rangitikei, Waipunga and Mohaka rivers hold some of the finest (and biggest!) brown trout in the North Island. These rivers are renowned for dry fly fishing, especially in summer, so be prepared for some challenging and exciting action! With a little notice, River Birches can help organise a wonderful fly fishing excursion like this for you.


Don’t forget the lakes

Nearby Lake Otamangakau and Lake Rotoaira both hold excellent stocks of both Rainbow and Brown trout. Lake Otamangakau is known for the excellent quality of its fish and the good possibility of trophy-sized trout for the more skilled angler.

Both these lakes are normally fished in small boats, rubber zodiacs, kayaks or float tubes. While fly fishing from a boat (usually nymphing or dry fly) is common, fishing from the bank is also possible and quite productive in the right locations.

For those who have no fly fishing skills but still want to fish, Lake Taupo offers a multitude of fishing excursions and day trips by professional operators and guides. It’s easy to jig for trout while taking in the spectacular surrounds of Lake Taupo - something the whole family can enjoy.


Learn about the fishery at The Tongariro National Trout Centre

Whether you’re into fly fishing or not, the Tongariro National Trout Centre is a fascinating place to visit. You can see and feed wild trout, and get a close-up view from the freshwater aquarium. A museum and visitor centre houses an impressive collection of trout fishing memorabilia and educational material on the history and ecology of the fishery. The Trout Centre is a very popular attraction and is just five minutes drive from River Birches. Learn more at


Catch, release, or eat?

While catch and release is the norm for trophy or larger trout, guests are welcome to keep their catch and eat it, providing the number and size of the trout don’t contravene the local fishing regulations. Your fishing guide will assist you in this matter. River Birches is fully equipped to cook and serve your trout the way you like it. Pair your trout with a fine New Zealand wine and you may enjoy the most memorable and satisfying meal of your trip!

*Taupo fly fishing techniques explained:



Nymphing utilises a small fly, which simulates a hatching insect. The nymph is normally weighted and fished below the surface. A strike is indicated when the line moves suddenly, for nymphing and that is cast upstream, and allowed to drift back with the flow of the current.

The most popular nymphs for the region are Hare and Copper, Pheasant Tail or Stone-fly variations, either weighted with a gold or black bead-head. A smaller nymph or Glo-bug (imitation egg) often acts as the ‘dropper’ nymph.


Wet Fly

This approach employs a sinking line that takes the lure or streamer fly under the water.
For the Taupo area, many anglers prefer a fast sinking line with a relatively short leader of around one metre (three feet) or a little longer depending on water depth.

The sinking line is cast across the current and left to drift downstream. A variety of flies are successful in the area from smaller wet flies that imitate hatching insects to larger streamer flies such as Woolly Buggers, Rabbits, Mrs Simpson and Parsons Glory, which represent the larger aquatic life forms.

The smaller wet flies (or ‘wee wets’) are best fished with a slower sinking line with the fly closer to the surface.


Dry Fly Fishing

A successful technique when insect life flourishes. In the Taupo area, this is generally spring and summer, especially summer evenings on rivers like the Tongariro. The dry fly simulates an insect emerging to the surface or falling on top of it.

The floating line is usually cast upstream towards a rising fish and left to drift back towards the angler with the trout rising to take the fly (if it deems it appropriate). A longer tapered leader of approximately four metres (12 -13 feet) is normally required. Cicada and Blowfly flies work well in the latter half of summer, but most traditional dry types such as Adams, Blue Duns and Caddis are also effective. The old adage of ‘match the hatch’ obviously applies.