Roaring Stag & Rising Trout, Pt. 2

Pick your passion at Poronui on New Zealand’s beautiful North Island.

The author and his big sika buck.

 

The conclusion of Doug Painter’s adventure article. Click here to read Part 1, or pick up a copy of Sporting Classics’ January/February 2017 issue to read the whole piece.

 

Keeping in mind that the seasons in New Zealand are opposite to those in the northern hemisphere, March through July are the key hunting months, with fishing available from October through May. Midsummer, our January and February, is the most popular fly fishing time frame, with lower water and heavy terrestrial activity on the top. If you plan to both hunt and fish, mid-March, when I was there, is an excellent crossover time frame.

Many great fly fishing lodges boast that they are “close” to top-rated rivers or streams, waters that, as good as they may be, are typically also open to all, whether float trippers, streamside anglers, or both. That’s great for public access but can put a good amount of pressure on the resource and make for tough fishing, even when conditions are prime.

By contrast, Poronui Ranch has almost 25 miles of world-class trout water on-site: the Taharua—a spring creek—meanders down the valley, while the Mohaka River—a tumbling freestone stream—wraps itself around the property’s border. If that isn’t enough, the helicopters based at the lodge can, in a matter of a few minutes, put you on the headwaters of the area’s remote mountain streams, some of the best but least-fished waters in New Zealand. Guests can expect, the lodge notes, to fish new water everyday—no matter how long their stay. “World class” has become an overused superlative, but not in the case of trout fishing at Poronui.

The lodge has suitable water for a range of fly fishing skill levels and physical abilities. If you’re up to the challenge, Poronui will offer you the chance to catch a trout, or two, of a lifetime. I’m talking about trout measured in pounds, not inches. As they would say in Boston, these big boys are “wicked smart” and demand stealth and top-notch presentations if you want to hook up.

Even then, your best may not be enough. Indeed, my two most memorable fishing experiences at Poronui were with fish I didn’t land.

My first morning out we fished a stretch of the Taharua, slowly making our way up the bank looking for a feeding fish. My guide, Sean, spotted a big brown quietly finning in midstream. At first I thought he was pointing to a submerged log big enough for the lodge’s hearth!

I inched forward on my knees until I was about in line with the trout. On this beat, the bank of the creek was about 15 feet above the water, forcing me to think of both drop and distance on my cast upstream. I was pleasantly surprised when my nymph landed delicately in the pool about 15 feet above this bruiser of a brown.

Unfortunately, I was still on my knees when the fish took my nymph and raced downstream. My rod swished through the tall grass like a scythe cutting wheat. In an instant I was down to my backing, and then the fish broke me off, seemingly with no more effort than Muhammed Ali flicking off a weak jab.

On my second day I took a ten-minute helicopter ride to the banks of a remote stream on Maori land in the next valley over from the lodge. Heavily canopied, the stream had a dark, primordial feel to it, a place where trout grew to huge proportions in the depth of hidden pools and where anglers waded softly and spoke in hushed tones.

On one stretch, the vegetation was so thick that I had no choice but to cast directly upstream, a presentation that minimizes any sort of natural drift. Nonetheless, it was a tactic that worked, a fish taking my nymph the moment it hit the water. His first run was up the riffle toward a large pool; a good place for us to duke it out, I thought.

He quickly, however, sensed the error of his ways and charged downstream. I was standing in the middle of the stream with the water up to my thighs. As I was about halfway turned around, this massive rainbow passed me within inches, like a miniature submarine blasting across my bow. I held my rod up high, but about 40 feet downstream he dived under an old deadfall and snapped my tippet in a flash. I won’t admit to a trout giving me a bit of a fright, so I expect it was the cold water that caused me to feel a slight shiver traveling up from my wading shoes.

 

The lounge and other rooms in the spacious lodge reflect a truly upscale ambience, but with a cozy, down-home feel.

 

If you’ve hunted and fished a few more seasons than you care to remember, you know that it’s not the game bagged or fish brought to creel that are the true measure of time spent in the great outdoors. In a sense, it’s everything else: It’s catching a glimpse of a red stag, his massive antlers back lit in the setting sun, just before he slips back into heavy cover. It’s dropping your fly across the stream and a few feet above a nice rise and hearing your guide murmur, “Nice cast.” It’s an evening at the lodge, enjoying a wonderful dinner and then having a brandy or two with a newfound friend.

No doubt, Poronui has all the ingredients that go into making a world-class lodge, from great hunting and fishing to a superb cuisine and lovely accommodations. But the lodge also has a secret sauce that sets them apart—the friendliness of their staff and the passion these men and women have for what they do. Sure, I’ll remember the stag I shot and the big fish that got away. But what I’ll miss is the men and women with whom I shared good cheer and great times in a land like no other. Thanks for all you did to make my stay an exceptional experience.

And hats off to you, too, Nicolas. You really did deserve that ration of rum.

 

The beautiful Taharua River flows past Poronui’s main lodge and cabins, which evolved from what was once a rustic fishing camp.

 

 

IF YOU WANT TO GO

Poronui Ranch has much to offer non-hunting and non-angling guests, from superb equestrian facilities to a variety of nature excursions and high-quality Maori cultural experiences. I also highly recommend spending some added time on the North Island seeing the sights and enjoying some unique New Zealand adventures. Along with booking my trip at Poronui, here’s the itinerary that Kit Schultze of Esplanade Travel (kit@esplanadetravel.com) put together for me. I enjoyed every minute of my tour.

From the lodge we headed southeast to the coastal town of Napier, which, after a 1931 earthquake, had its downtown rebuilt in the then-popular Art Deco style. It’s an architectural gem in a totally unexpected locale.

Just south of Napier is the island’s famed Hawke’s Bay wine region. In keeping with New Zealand’s outdoor tradition, Kit had arranged a wine tour for me—not by car, but on a bike! This tour follows a well-laid-out trail around the Ngatarawa Triangle and allowed me to enjoy tastings at wineries including Unison, Te Awa, Ash Ridge, Trinity Hill, Salvare, Ngatarawa, and Triangle and Abbey Cellars. About halfway around the loop, I had a superb lunch at the Te Awa winery. I was a little wobbly at the end, but what a hoot.

From Napier it was on to the lakeside town of Rotorua. Here, in 1908, the New Zealand government built a bath house designed along the lines of European spas. It was the country’s first investment in tourism. Today, the bath house is a museum, the best part of which traces the history of the Maori, who first came to these islands between 800 and 1,200 years ago. The Rotorua area has an active volcanic past with many geothermal activity, from boiling mud pools to high-shooting geysers. Well worth the visit.

From Rotorua I headed north to Auckland, with a side trip to the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves. Comfortably situated in the Heritage Auckland hotel, I took a short walk the next morning to the ferry terminal and boarded a boat for a ride out to Waiheke Island, famous for its beaches, scenic beauty, and great vineyards. First up on the island was an extraordinary zip-line experience—three rides, each over 200 yards long, traversing some of the islands virgin forests. Then it was off to the Stonyridge Vineyard for a tour and lunch, followed by a tour of the island and a final tasting at the Mudbrick Vineyard, famed for both its wine and beautiful gardens. After a night back in Auckland, I left for home the next day.