Published On: Thu, Mar 16th, 2017

Twizel Canals Fishing Ohau, Pukaki and Tekapo Canals – 35lb Rainbow Trout Video

Twizel Canals Fishing Tips – Plus 35lb rainbow video (scroll down)

A handsome rainbow jack trout weighing over 12 lbs taken in the Ohau A Canal, Mackenzie Country.

A handsome rainbow jack trout weighing over 12 lbs taken in the Ohau A Canal, Mackenzie Country.

Here are some Twizel Canals Fishing Tips to get you started. There is 58 km of hydro canals in the Mackenzie Country between Tekapo and the small South Canterbury town of Twizel. The canals have become a tremendously popular freshwater fishing destination over the past few years. There are regular angling visitors travelling to fish the canals from as far away as the North Island and Australia. There are several obvious reasons for this angling boom! There are very big trout and salmon in the canals some of which weigh over forty pounds! There are also very good numbers of large rainbow trout weighing between 15 and 20 odd pounds with plenty of fish weighing around the 30-pound mark also.

Secondly, these big fish are relatively easy to catch; especially if you can put the time in. All that is needed is a bit of knowledge to set you on the right path to success.

A mate of mine used to travel down to the Twizel Canals 20 years ago. I remember him inviting me to go with him on several occasions but I declined. He would make the long journey there and back in a single day because the fishing was that good he deemed it worth the effort. Personally, I thought he was nuts! I had no trouble catching trout and salmon in Canterbury. I considered the round trip of over eight hours to be crazy.

Many of the big fish are taken at the Ohau A wall. The fish are difficult to land and many are lost.

Many of the big fish are taken at the Ohau A wall. The fish are difficult to land and many are lost.

Facebook and cell phones have greatly contributed to the Twizel Canals fishing bonanza. Information about big fish being caught now spreads at lightning speed. Where once a photograph of a big fish might have appeared in a fishing magazine weeks after being caught; nowadays that same photograph is flashed around the internet to thousands of people before the fish has even stopped twitching. In those days to catch a really big trout required knowledge and experience. You had to find out for yourself where the fish were. Trial and error were needed to find, hook and land a trophy size trout. If you were lucky a mate might put you and a few close friends in the picture but generally, you were on your own.

Here are some Twizel Canals Fishing Tips to get you fishing more productively.

Salmon taken in the Tekapo Canal on a Tassie Devil. Photograph courtesy of Logan Ahlfeld.

Salmon taken in the Tekapo Canal on a Tasmanian Devil lure. Note the worn down tail. A sure sign the fish is an escapee! Photograph courtesy of Logan Ahlfeld.

1. Flow matters!

Canal fishing improves considerably when there is a bit of current. For the water to flow the gates need to be open to allow water to enter the canals from the storage lakes. Flow is also created when water is being drawn from the canals down the penstocks to the turbines, to generate electricity. The more flow the better. When there is flow larger predatory trout move to take advantage of food items like insects and small fish being carried to them. They lie in wait for food to come to them much like river fish do. Productive fishing can be had at the upstream end of the canals where water is tumbling in from the supply lakes.

Image of 31 lb rainbow jack in spawning colours released back into the Ohau A Canal.

Underwater image of 31 lb rainbow jack trout in spawning colours released back into the Ohau A Canal.

2. Spawning Time!

Browns, rainbows, and salmon move upstream to spawn in New Zealand during the colder months of the year. Generally, salmon spawn first, followed by browns which move into lake tributaries from April onwards. Rainbows run up rivers from the lakes to spawn from May through August with rains the catalyst for the movement. However, trout and salmon in the Mackenzie Country Canals are landlocked; or should that be canal-locked. During winter rainbow trout in spawning colours run upstream as far as they can go. This movement is perhaps triggered in canal-locked populations by the opening of the intake gates, and outflow from the power generation dams.

One thing we do know is that a constant stream of big rainbow trout in spawning colours can be caught at the intakes of the Ohau, Pukaki, and Tekapo Canals from May onwards. If the generators are operating big rainbows and at least some browns will be in the white-water directly below the inlet gates. Perhaps the best, certainly the most popular place to catch them is the at the Ohau A inlet which lets in water from Lake Ohau.

A bright silver salmon from the Tekapo Canal. Fish this size are great eating. Photograph courtesy of Logan Ahlfeld.

A bright silver salmon from the Tekapo Canal. Fish this size are great eating. Photograph courtesy of Logan Ahlfeld.

3. Escapes!

There are many thousands of salmon contained in nets at the four fish farms. Mt Cook Alpine Salmon is upon the Tekapo Canal. The other three farms are near Twizel; Mt Cook Alpine Salmon on the Ohau A Canal, High Country Salmon on the Wairepo Arm of Lake Ruataniwha, and Benmore Salmon floating on the Ohau B/C Canal. Every so often there are escapes from these salmon farms. Towards the end of 2011, there was a release of 36,000 salmon smolt from Mt Cook Salmon’s hatchery. There have also been escapes from the other fish farms.

In 2013 there were enormous numbers of escaped salmon weighing around four pounds being caught around the fish farm on Ohau A. I remember one-afternoon hooking and releasing something like 17 salmon. There all had the tell-tale worn tail fins of salmon that had been reared in the holding pens. These are excellent eating fish.

News of such escapes travels like wildfire over the internet. One day I climbed up a low hill overlooking the rafts on Ohau A to take some pictures. Incredibly I counted 450 rods from that one spot. There were many campervans and cars lining both sides of the canal adjacent to the fish farm. Sadly, there were people taking way more fish than the two they were permitted to take. I suspect many were also fishing without a license! Certainly, there are aspects to fishing the canals that bring out the worst in some people. A very good angler I spoke with recently said he was mostly a fly fisherman. He reckoned the blokes where he worked regarded his trips to catch and release big trout at the canals meant he had, “gone over to the dark side.”

When there has been a recent escape fishing near the fish farms can be very productive.

Rainbow trout taken in Ohau C Canal in almost still water conditions. Photograph courtesy of Paul Spicer.

Rainbow trout taken in Ohau C Canal in almost still water conditions. Photograph courtesy of Paul Spicer.

4. No Flow

When there is no, or very little, water movement in the canals you are essentially fishing a big, long, featureless lake. The best fishing method to employ, if you are not inclined to fish a shrimp bait, as many do, is to dead-drift a soft-bait. When the water is very slow moving, or still, a very light jig head 1/16th or even 1/32 of an ounce is used to simulate a small fish drifting naturally down from above. This method has proven very effective. Only a few turns are made on the reel just to keep in touch with the lure. It is not retrieved at all as one would a spinner.

5. Try some other areas of the Canals

I have it on very good authority that many of the best fish are not caught at the fish farms or the lake inlets. The Ohau C Canal, in particular, has a reputation for producing some huge fish. The article by Rasmus Gabrielsson, from the Cawthron Institute, shows that there are big fish right throughout the canals. The canal fishery is most certainly not sustained just by fish pellets alone. I invite you to read the article: Study Shows the Twizel Canals Fishery More Self-Sustaining than First Thought.

Looking across the bowl at the southern end of the Tekapo Canal. Twizel Canals Fishing Tips

Looking across the Stilling Basin – often called the Fish Bowl – at the southern end of the Tekapo Canal. The entrance to the canal is at the top left of the picture.

6. Tackle

Standard tackle for the canals is a 7-foot rod designed for 6-8 lb line. Preferably graphite and designed for casting soft-baits rather than spinners. Such a rod will be stiff in the butt yet fine at the tip. The rod is teamed with a suitable eggbeater reel spooled with 150 meters of braid. Unless you have a very small reel you will have to partly load the spool first with sufficient backing line to ensure your braid fills the spool to within 2 mm of the edge of the spool otherwise casting distance will suffer.

Many anglers make the mistake of fishing with a heavier 6-8 kg rod better suited to salmon fishing in Canterbury. If you are dead-drifting nymphs from a dam wall with a light sinker into the “washing machine” it isn’t going to matter. But if you want to cast 1/16 ounce jig heads you will cast much further and feel way more hits on the lure with a rod designed for the purpose. The rod that works best for me is a Berkley Dropshot Series BDS701M. It is a 4 kg rod so is about as heavy as you would want to go for softbaiting the canals. I have this rod matched with a Shimano Aerocast 4010. This outfit is also huge fun when kahawai fishing. Many fish the canals on even lighter gear which is particularly effective when casting light jigs. You will be able to feel bumps on the lure with a 1-3 kg rod that you’ll miss on a heavier outfit. You can read more about the best rods and reels for fishing softbaits in the canals here at The Complete Angler’s Softbaiting 101.

I'm often asked which soft-baits I use for fishing the canals. I prefer certain colours because I have been successful with them in the past. I've also found that you can be casting away with a particular colour sometimes without success. Then as soon as you change to something else you often get a hit straight away. It pays to carry a selection. I have been successful on this colour plenty of times. They are Dragon V Lures. The top two are Bandits, and the bottom two are Lunatics.  These have a bit of everything including bronze, red and green with black spots. I also use as much weight as I can to get the lure down near the bottom, given the flow rate. I also like to paint the lead heads with gold nail polish.

I’m often asked which soft-baits I use for fishing the canals. I prefer certain colours because I have been successful with them in the past. I’ve also found that you can be casting away with a particular colour sometimes without success. Then as soon as you change to something else you often get a hit straight away. It pays to carry a selection. I have been successful on this colour plenty of times. They are Dragon V Lures. The top two are Bandits, and the bottom two are Lunatics.  These have a bit of everything including bronze, red and green with black spots. I also use as much weight as I can to get the lure down near the bottom, given the flow rate. I also like to paint the lead heads with gold nail polish.

Here are a couple of nymphs that have proven top fish takers on the Ohau A Wall. They are the Black Tungsten Bead Head Attractor Nymph and the Wiggle Legs Bluebottle Pheasant Tail Nymph.

Fishing the Bowl on the Tekapo Canal.

Fishing the Bowl on the Tekapo Canal.

You will also get greater casting distance if you fish finer diameter braid. I have been using Sufix 832 Advanced Superline. Sufix 832 at 20 lb breaking strain is equivalent in diameter to 6 lb monofilament at 0.23 mm. Sufix 832 at 10 lb breaking strain is equivalent to 4 lb mono at 0.20mm. If you go right down to Sufix 832 at 6 lb test it is the same diameter as 2 lb test monofilament at just 0.14 mm in diameter. The lightest 6 lb test stuff is super fine and great for casting light lures but at $40.00 per 150-meter spool, you won’t be able to use it for much else. Note the difference between Sufix 832 with 20 lb or 10 lb breaking strain is just 0.03 of a mm. The 20 lb stuff is fine enough and will also be good for salmon and kahawai fishing. It’s up to you.

This huge 35lb rainbow trout jack in spawning colours was caught on Ohau A Canal in mid-winter 2016. To see the exclusive video of it being caught you must be registered and logged in. Membership is free.

This huge 35lb rainbow trout jack in spawning colours was caught on Ohau A Canal in mid-winter 2016. Filmed by Allan Burgess. To see exclusive video of it being landed you must be registered and logged in. Membership is free.

I like to add two-rod lengths of 15 lb mono as a shock leader joining the two lines with an FG knot. Here is a link to a good Youtube video showing how to tie this knot. It works wonderfully well. You can barely feel the knot pass through your rod guides. Quickest Way to Tie the FG Knot (The Strongest Braid to Leader Fishing Knot).

A fluorocarbon leader is better but more expensive than mono. Fluorocarbon will sink faster and be less visible to fish. Again it is up to you which you prefer but the fish don’t seem to know the difference.

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Exclusive Fishingmag.co.nz Members Only Video: This massive 35lb rainbow jack trout was caught in Ohau A during winter 2016. It was taken on a black boobie fly fished from the OhauA intake wall. To see this exclusive Fishingmag.co.nz video you have to be a registered member and logged in. Membership is free.

Tekapo Canal at the Lake Pukaki end. Note the small lake known as the bowl. A lot of salmon are caught here. Best fishing is when the canal is flowing. Twizel Canals Fishing Tips

Map showing the Tekapo Canal at the Lake Pukaki end. Note the small lake called the Stilling Basin – often called the Fish Bowl by anglers. A lot of salmon are caught here. Best fishing is when the canal is flowing. Map courtesy of Digital Globe and Google Maps.

Finally, when fishing the likes of the Ohau A wall with nymphs or streamers your safest bet is to use very small three-way swivels and make up your dropper rig with uni-knots for your backbone and droppers. I lost count of the numbers of good fish people would loose as a result of trying to tie dropper knots in light fluorocarbon only to have the line break at the knot. Remember these fish can be very big and are frequently foul hooked. Any weakness in your gear will quickly be found out!

Map of Twizel, Pukaki and Ohau Canals.

Map of Twizel Township, Pukaki and Ohau Canals. Map courtesy of Digital Globe, Cnes/Spot Image, and Google Maps.

About the Author

Profile photo of Allan Burgess

- Fishingmag.co.nz website editor.

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