New Zealand’s cool, clear streams and lakes have enabled rainbow and brown trout to flourish from the mid 1800s, when both species were introduced. Rainbow trout from California and brown trout from England thrived in these rich waters and today are the primary species for recreational anglers. My recent trip to Rotorua, on New Zealand’s North Island, coincided with the opening of the trout season. I was in for a treat, as I joined hundreds of keen anglers counting down in anticipation.
Over the years, huge trophy brown trout have been caught on the very first day of the season, with fish over 10lb (4.5kg) being the target weight for anglers. We were planning a three-day assault, with some land-based fly-fishing mixed in with some boat trolling and jigging. Along for the trip was my fishing mate, Michael Guest, who is always up for a new challenge.
New Zealand’s two main islands offer spectacular natural attractions, from snow-capped mountains to active volcanoes. Rotorua, in particular, has been bestowed with some incredible scenery, and its famed geysers, mud pools and thermal springs are known throughout the world. Perhaps best of all for fishos, basing an itinerary around a fishing trip means you get to experience some fantastic angling, while also exploring this incredible landscape. Picturesque crater lakes are everywhere – the Rotorua region alone boasts 15, all of which can be fished.
Direct flights from Sydney to Rotorua make it easy, with Air New Zealand taking just over three hours to cross the Tasman. We had arranged accommodation close to our fishing grounds, with the Wyndham Vacation Resort nestled right on the shores of Lake Rotorua. In fact, the famous Ohau Channel runs right through the property, so we could not have been in a more idyllic location. The channel boasts some of the area’s greatest brown trout record catches. Cabins overlooking the channel were well-appointed and provided the perfect base for our fishing adventure.
Waking up to a glass-flat lake in the early morning light provided the perfect start to our first day. We were catching up with local guide Glenn Skinner, who was planning to hit the lake for some lead-line trolling. Glenn picked us up from the resort jetty and within five minutes we were readying our lines for deployment.
At first it was difficult to get my head around trolling using fly rods packed with sinking line. Glenn explained that this method was the best way to present small flies underwater as naturally as possible. We were able to run a combination of two flies on one rig and a fly and Tassie Devil on the other. The line was set at around 30m behind the boat to ensure that the lures were running at the right depth to get the strike. Glenn watched his sounder closely and as we passed fish sitting in 4m of water, he adjusted his line length to suit.
The fly rod arced with the weight of the lead line dragging behind, and the reel was set to run freely if a fish struck.
Our first troll along the edge of a drop-off saw the Tassie Devil hit hard; a spirited rainbow leapt from the water in protest and was soon in our waiting net.
According to Glenn, the temperature of the lake has a lot to do with where the fish are holding at any particular time of the year. That’s the thing about fishing in a new area – it would be impossible for me to come across the Tasman and attempt to get out on the water and get hooked up within 20 minutes without local knowledge. This is where using an experienced guide pays huge dividends. Professional guides are out on the water every day, finding new grounds, locating the bait schools, and finding the feeding grounds of the target fish.
There are many variables to consider when trying to catch fish consistently. Glenn knew where to find the fish and he has the experience to back his chosen rigs and technique. Three months later would have seen us fishing in a totally different part of the lake and possibly changing methods to best present the artificial baits.
TRICKS OF THE TRADE
Catching fish is way different to fishing. Catching fish requires a considerable amount of preparation, and working out where the fish are is only half the battle. Once you know where they are, it’s then a matter of coming up with the best technique to catch them. Sometimes it’s not so easy, but the more time you spend actually out on the water, trying new tactics for that particular time and place, the more success you will have. Practice and preparation make a massive difference when it comes to angling success.
The morning ticked on with several nice rainbows falling to flies and a couple of fish hooked on Tassie Devils. Glenn had the lake wired and it was great to see so many fish about.
Day two saw us out on Lake Rotoiti. Here jigging was to be our mainstay technique and although we have spent time jigging all over the Pacific, this was different again. We were using a long 12ft trace of 6lb fluoro-carbon attached to 4lb braid on an overhead barra-style combo. We had three ‘smelt’-type flies (smelt is a small species of Kiwi fish) attached via three-way swivels, around a metre apart on the leader. It was a very different type of rig and one designed specifically for jigging trout.
Glenn’s unusual method was proven over his years spent fishing on various New Zealand lakes. Fish would be spotted at a particular depth on the sounder, and we would then send our rigs down to the bottom and raise them to where the fish were holding. Then it was a matter of ‘twitch, twitch, glide’, keeping the flies gliding at exactly the same speed and depth. Michael and I found it difficult to master the technique, but we were determined to keep trying and in the end we both hooked and landed a couple of beautiful 4lb rainbows.
Our final outing was to be the icing on the cake. The Ohau Channel was closed to fishing when we arrived in Rotorua, but the hours were counting down to the opening of the trout season in this famous stream.
The channel links Lake Rotorua to Lake Rotoiti and acts as a major thoroughfare for migrating trout. Huge fish have been caught at first light in the channel mouth and Michael and I had to be ready early to claim our prized spot at the weir.
The weir protrudes out across the channel mouth and keen anglers can wade out to get a better drift into the large hole. A stainless steel rail that stretches out across the channel mouth allows anglers to fish the deep pool below the weir. This hole is a great ambush spot for brown and rainbow trout as they feed on the millions of smelt that pass through the channel on their spawning run.
An official 5:00am start kicks the trout season off and keen anglers with fly rods are soon waving their wands in an effort to catch a fish. The channel is fly-fishing only, so you can imagine the early morning chaos as 100 eager anglers stand on the bank, all casting into the fast-flowing stream. It’s a bit comical really, as it’s pitch black, with torch lights shining everywhere and tangles galore. Trying to land a fish without getting snagged by a dozen other lines is almost impossible, but with a little patience it can be done.
Brown trout in the 8-9kg weight class have been caught here in the past, so everyone’s willing to work through the mess and do their best.
Watching 100 or so anglers standing a few metres apart casting flies out into a fast-flowing stream looked suicidal, so we ventured out to the weir to get a better shot. The water was roaring and dressed in waders to keep dry, we held onto the rail and prepared to send our flies into the hole. This was not traditional fly-fishing by any means. We held our heavy nine-weight rods out to the side and let out 32ft of high-density, fast-sinking line.
My chartreuse smelt pattern fly sunk quickly and an unusual pull on the line meant I either had a fish, or I had hooked one of the many other anglers fly-fishing out across the stream.
Fortunately, this time I was lucky. I held my rod tip high as I worked the rainbow to the bank. It was a miracle that I didn’t get a tangle, and I was over the moon when I finally had the 5lb female glistening in the early light. Michael landed a fish around the same size just moments later, and that was it for us that morning.
We wandered the bank to talk fishing with other keen anglers and some of the boys held up some pretty good catches.
Trout fishing in New Zealand has to be the perfect escape. With so many sights to see and things to do, catching fish in magnificent settings like the lakes around Rotorua is just a bonus!