There will be several hundred boats criss-crossing the calm waters of Lake Tarawera early on Sunday morning. Many of the anglers will be nursing fuzzy heads for they will have celebrated renewing friendships with others they had not seen for a year, in fact since the previous opening of the trout season.
For October 1 is the traditional opening day, a day which aficionados anticipate eagerly, counting down the days just as they do leading up to the opening of duck shooting season on the first Saturday in May.
Season openings are a powerful part of the fabric that is such a rich part of our outdoor heritage. May it always be so.
In fact it is so important to some people that the calendar controlling such institutions as our courts can be affected. The whole justice system in the Bay of Plenty would grind to a halt on opening day many years ago when we lived in Rotorua. A fishing buddy, who happened to be the Crown prosecutor for the region, would ring up at the start of the year and ask, ”What are the openings and closings, boy? I’ll put them in the diary and then we can sort out the court days.”
Last year the weather threatened to put a dampener on opening morning on Lake Tarawera
So by the time the opening of duck shooting, scallops, trout and whitebait were recorded along with their respective closings, which also required appropriate celebration, the court diary had quite a few days crossed out. But what was an extra day or two in a remand cell for an alleged transgressor when there were trout to be caught?
And so it will be this weekend.
Many of the faces will be the same, if bearing a few extra lines and crinkles. Our opening celebrations go back for over 50 years, and there are few of the originals left. There are more empty seats as the seasons roll by.
But the trout are always the same. They come to the net with silver flanks gleaming bright as a newly minted coin. These are prime Tarawera rainbows, and most will have one fin missing. This has been clipped off by the fisheries officers at the Nongotaha Hatchery where the baby trout are raised for stocking lakes and streams throughout the North Island. A different fin is removed each year, so the trout can be identified and their growth monitored. But it does not affect their speed through the water, or their ability to slash at the tiny smelt which look just like land-locked whitebait. The trout love them just as we love whitebait, and our slim flies with sparkling silver bodies and yellow feathers plucked from the neck of a bantam skin make a good imitation. Good enough to fool the rainbows as we troll the flies slowly along the edge of the weed beds.
As the light gradually gains hold over the darkness, promising a new day, and the great grey bulk of Mount Tarawera looms over the lake, threatening to overwhelm everything as it did on that terrible morning of June 6, 1886, the anticipation is boiling over as the first lines are paid out behind the boat.
There is a splash a few metres away, then another. Like all animals and fish the trout start the day by feeding. These fish are chasing smelt near the surface, which is why the boats are bunched together on this spot called White Cliffs. The sandy banks on the lake edge mark a wide shelf which spreads out in a huge arc, and the harling lines slide over the weed beds which cover the sand a few metres below.
The high pitched metallic screech of an old Hardy fly reel shatters the silence, for the new four-stroke outboard motors can barely be heard, and the game is on. It is a welcome sound, the sound which has haunted dreams for weeks. The reel is old one, scratched and battered. It was forged by hand in England in the 1950s, and like all old things it is not just the sentimental value which enriches its performance; it is of far better quality than the modern replacements. They just don’t have the same sound; in fact some just emit a plastic clicking which would have old-timers shaking their heads in wonder at where we have all gone so wrong.
The long fly rod bends and shakes, the trout splashes, the reel sings again and the anglers in the boat rejoice. Another opening day has started.
Sea temperatures are starting to creep up, and this will signal an improvement in the snapper bite. Fish are starting to turn up in traditional areas like the worm beds between Rangitoto and Tiritiri Matangi Islands, and there are plenty of work-ups north of Waiheke Island. In Northland waters the winter fishing has been consistent, while the Bay of Plenty has kingfish over the deep water pinnacles. All that is needed is some settled, warm weather to trigger some excellent spring fishing. Fish can be slow on the bite in cool temperatures, so light line and small baits or lures can be used to entice strikes. Even a tentative nibble can be deceptive, and on hooking up turn out to be a respectable sized fish.
Bite times are 8.35am and 9pm tomorrow and 9.20am and 9.45pm on Sunday.
Tip of the week
When trolling for trout on the lakes the wind should always be taken into account. For example, more fish will be hooked when travelling with the wind as the boat can be steered more accurately than when battling a headwind. So if fish are hooked on a particular run, like along the edge of the mountain on Lake Tarawera, then when that leg is finished the gear can be brought in and the boat run at speed back to the start.