The Full House in New Zealand

// Photography by Tim Foster

Last updated on January 9th, 2024.

Miles Rushmer
Latest posts by Miles Rushmer (see all)

In cards, the Full house is a fist full of Aces and Kings. Fly fishing New Zealand, it’s bringing to hand the meritorious capture of a wiley brown trout and a tempestuous rainbow trout in the same day.

Make both these trout over the ten pound mark and you’ve got the kind of Full house that really appeals to me. A double digit brown and rainbow in the same day. Is there anywhere else in the world where one can indulge the dream? I doubt it very much and it all happens right here when fly fishing in New Zealand in the Bay of Plenty.

With the advent of modern media I’m sure that if there was such a place where one could achieve such glorious heights of fishing accomplishment, the likes of Facebook, magazines and forums would be pumping out images and expletives onto screens across the planet. But you don’t see it, confirming just how difficult this fly fishing feat is to achieve. Whilst the capture of a trout on the fly is an achievement in itself (try taking fishing and making it as hard as you possibly can, and then try to enjoy success), many hold the pinnacle of this gentle art in the fooling, fighting and fondling of a double digit trout to be the highest peak one can achieve.

The capture of a ten pound trout on the fly, whilst irrelevant to many purists, is also the culmination of many years of pursuit for most. There are several reasons for this, but basically trout of this size are hard to come by, and they simply don’t get that big for no reason. They are often wise and wiley, having seen many approaches by anglers before, and end up well versed in their botched attempts to “get one over nature” itself. Take this to the next level and you have the Full House – one of each, in the same day – that’s fly fishing New Zealand.

So imagine my surprise when it occurred to me that this fly fishing feat is easily accessible, and definitely achievable, right here in the Bay of Plenty in New Zealand. Many moons ago I learnt to fly fish the shorelines of Rotorua’s fantastic lakes. Okataina, Rotoiti and Tarawera held large numbers of absolutely whopping rainbows that were hard-wired to return to the shoreline spots they were released at several years prior. The three year old trout were averaging 7-8 lbs in weight, and the four year old fish were pulling the spring down to well over the 10 lbs mark. All this happened during the depths of winter and it was always best during the hours of darkness.

I learnt to love fishing in the dark for these behemoths. There’s something about it, haunting the lakeside during vampire hours in the inky blackness with senses on point and a peace seldom found. It’s a fairly relaxed form of fly fishing where one simply sits on the beach in a deck chair, focusing on the short line in front of you, putting all your thought into ever-so- slowly imparting life to your carefully selected fly.

The takes are vicious, exploding you from serene quietness to all hell breaking loose with a single bite. I’m hooked to it and actively pursue this winter windfall. One day, several years ago we pushed further and further into the jungle of the Kaimai/Mamaku Range and discovered a crystal clear spring creek absolutely loaded with gigantic browns. These weren’t just ten pounders. Some of these fish were closer to twenty pounds, and they were everywhere. All around us, under our feet and crashing into our waders. Wild trophy brown trout of gargantuan proportions, and there were hundreds of them in the system. Never had the term “dream stream” been so completely and utterly true.

Many years have been spent tangling with this water and people came from all around the world to come and fish it with me. Literally hundreds of trophies came to my well worn net, all to be lovingly released . Over the years I learnt how the seasons affected the browns within. High summer you’d pull them up to the surface with large dry flies, and during early winter they stayed on the shallow shingle and gorged on the eggs of the early spawning rainbows that had turned up in their hundreds.

Hang on – early winter. When the trophy rainbows begin to hit the shoreline on the lakes as well. The possibilities started to dawn on me for targeting both species in the same day which eventually became one of my signature guided trips. The thing was, that the fishing for the big bows happened during darkness, and the monster brown hunt happens when the light is high so you can spot your targets.

Perfect, and with a mere 40 minute drive between the trophy brown stream and the lake it was completely viable. I secured access to a comfortable holiday house that happened to perch on the lakeshore only 50 yards from one of my favourite big rainbow spots and April/May and June are now my preferred months on the fishing calendar.

Fly fishing New Zealand, the trout fishing day begins at 5 am, and terminates on the stroke of midnight. The alarm goes off at 4 am. You spill out of bed and hammer a coffee or two then fall off the verandah into your deck chair on the beach out front and cast for big bows for a few hours in the dark. Dawn always brings an air of anticipation and is often the most beautiful time to sit and reflect on your day ahead. Seldom is this fast and furious fishing, but the fish are big and it only takes one to secure half your hand!

Around 9 am you cook up a good breakfast before heading into the hills armed with 9 weight fly rods, heavy tippets and a sharp pair of eyes to do battle with the mighty browns that dwell in the small shingle streams. The day is spent stalking and taking shots (often bow and arrow casts shorter than a Tenkara cast) at target after target. Much like hunting, but in a target-rich environment. Hooking these giants is one thing – landing them is another. The challenge is real, and more often than not, success is enjoyed. If luck is on your side you already banked your big rainbow that first morning, and managed a trophy brown to the net that day – Full house.

Returning to the lake house around 4 pm one relaxes for an hour or so, enjoys a hot meal then hits the lake after dinner again for another shot at your trophy rainbow. Because your accommodation is right there, you can fish until midnight enjoying a dram or two from your beach perch. It’s a big day’s fishing, however you can fish as much or as little as you like, with your bed being 50 yards from the fishing. The next day you repeat the process. I’ve found that two full day’s and nights is about as much of a fishing fix as one can handle so trips are limited to this . There’s no two ways about it, you’ll see more big fish than ever before, and with any luck you’ll bank your Full

I’ve since been lucky enough to find myself on another trophy stream. I call it the Blue Ribbon stream for several reasons – one being that it actually looks like a blue ribbon snaking through the shingle, and rocks, studded with emeralds in the form of ferns and underwater gardens. Sapphire blue pools with broad nuggets of gold on the bottom complete the imagery that you’ve just stepped into a treasure trove.

The browns are massive and there are so many rainbows that you’ll trip over them. A trout stream simply does not get any better. One could be forgiven that they’ve landed in a crazy wildlife encounter where trout are the main stars. Is there anywhere else in the World that one can indulge this fly fishing dream? I doubt it very much.

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