After a poorer snapper season last year, this summer has fished really well in Northland. Aidan has very much been obsessing with his free diving and spear fishing but hasn’t lost his first love of fishing! He has also been out with his .22 air gun shooting possums and rabbits. I don’t know if it’s age creeping up on me but I’ve been quite happy with the freezer being added to, without me having lifted a finger. Finn and Hayley have also been back in the water, both in salt water & fresh water. That leads me to the latest expedition Aidan and I have had; trout fishing in Te Urewera back country.
Mataatua marae today and circa 1907 above
Te Urewera is a rugged hill country in the heart of the North Island, land of the Tūhoe iwi (tribe), romanticised and vilified and betrayed. Driving south-east from Rotorua through flat, fertile land of orchards and farms, this was once Tūhoe land, until in the 1860s they were forced by the Crown to retreat into the bush clad hills of Urewera. Soon after the headhunted Maori leader and warrior Te Kooti went into hiding in Urewera. Government forces and other Maori tribes used the scorched earth tactics, punishing the Tūhoe people for their alliance with Te Kooti. At Ruatahuna Tūhoe honoured him by building the most ornate meeting house in the country of its time, built between 1874 – 1888.
Our good friend Derek Slatter has been going to the Ureweras for several years and has a well-established contact with some of the locals. Now that his two sons Jack & Scott have become old enough to partake in the fairly advanced tramp into remote bush area, he has enjoyed introducing them and some of their teenage mates to the back country. I couldn’t join them on last year’s trip but Aidan did. This time as last time also with Derek’s mate Mark and son Dylan. This year we were also invited to stay our first night, after the long drive from Whangarei, in the historical Mataatua marae. We arrived there on Thursday night and the following morning we did the four hour walk into the first hut. On Saturday we walked another hour to the next hut, where we stayed two more nights. At midday on the Monday we were then helicoptered back out. Derek, Mark and I back to Ruatahuna to collect the cars, while Aidan, Jack, Scott & Dylan were picked up and flown to the helicopter base at Murupara.
Being above average interested in cooking I brought a limited amount of ingredients to my back country kitchen. Aidan was giving me hell about my backpack only containing food ingredients and that I was going to be negotiating rivers carrying a little chili plant through the rapids. Not quite that bad but everyone was happy to dig into freshly cooked trout in between the brought dry food. The average trout size caught on this trip was a bit smaller than the average last year. A major flood after they were in last year made changes to the riverbeds and many fish would have been washed further downstream. There were still fish to be caught though and we released several of them.
Above with my first Urewera trout, the average size on this trip. On the right with the biggest fish, approx 1.7 – 1.8 kg. Aidan caught one slightly smaller which he released. I always enjoy the trout fishing. It’s something I’ve done a lot of back in Scandinavia but on the Northland east coast salt water is predominant and takes priority. So on this trip Aidan and I gave the deer hunting a miss. At this time of the year you’ll find the stags high up on the ridge tops with their hinds, while younger, frustrated animals can be found in the lower bush. We still saw deer every day we were in the bush, both Reds and Rusa. Reds being the most common, at one stage reaching pest like numbers which required government led culling programs. Rusa being the least widely distributed deer species in NZ, most of them found in Urewera. Derek shot a Red on last year’s trip and Mark shot one on an evening hunt on this trip. Mark pictured right with his son Dylan, ready to carry it back to the hut.
Aidan looking down on a stretch of the Whakatane River where he caught his biggest trout last year. This year we didn’t find anything but eels in that particular part of the river.
When it rains it rains. Luckily, we only had a few hours of that kind of weather. The river quickly rose and retreated again. Water spiders found in the riverbeds are apparently good trout bait. We stuck with artificial flies and lures. I had some of my Scandinavian tackle but the lure that primarily seems to do the trick in NZ is the Mepps Black Fury spinners Mepps was developed by an engineer in France in 1938 but put into mass production by the American Sheldon family in the 1950s. Below more trout dished up for the teenagers, while Scott cooked bacon & eggs for breakfast.
Derek & Mark chilling out between activities. Mark made some mean “special coffees”, which could easily become addictive. Aidan’s last trout of the trip was caught in the morning before the helicopter arrived; it came home with us.
The dense bush is only carved out by the river running through it. Above right we saw the first hut we stayed in and below just as we’re coming out to the edge of the bush near Ruatahuna. Kia ora rawa atu. Ngā mihi. Ka kite anō.