Chapter 6. Other Sea-Run Trout Fishing Rivers
The Complete Guide to Sea-Run Trout Fishing by Allan Burgess
Assume that sea-running brown trout are present in all New Zealand rivers south of Coromandel – certainly for part of the year at least. It is also reasonable to assume that sea-run brown trout are migratory based on their need for food and the need to reproduce.
Brown trout have been able to colonise every water-way and stream quite naturally as a result of their sea-ward migrations. Canterbury, Otago and Southland have well established sea-run brown trout fisheries that have long been popular with the angling public. In this book so far we have looked at fishing for them in the fast-flowing Rakaia River and the more sedate Waimakariri River.
If you remember one of the key differences between the fishing in these two rivers is the location where most of the angling activity takes place. In the Waimakariri River, most sea-run trout angling is focused 4 or 5 kilometres from the mouth. While at the Rakaia River anglers are able, when conditions are favourable, to fish for sea-run brown trout in the sea all the way back to several kilometres upstream from the sea. If we accept that sea-run trout are going to be present in almost every other river south of Colormandel then it becomes a matter of deciding just where might be the best places in each coastal river to fish for them.
There are a number of factors to consider. Firstly some rivers have flows that are so low their mouths close off from the sea. Some rivers might run for most of the year but close off during high summer when there is very little rain. When these low-flowing rivers do open to the sea trout will often enter even though they may be open for only a short period of just weeks or even days. A good example of this is Canterbury’s Lake Ellesmere and Lake Forsyth. The water level in both of these coastal lakes continues to rise flooding surrounding farmland until eventually, the council employs contractors to create an artificial opening to the sea. When that happens smelt run in through the cutting followed by bright silver coloured sea-run brown trout. We know this because anglers begin to catch these trout soon after the cuttings are opened.
There are a lot of smaller rivers of this nature which can and do produce excellent sea-run brown trout fishing from time to time. However, the problem is that many of these smaller rivers are inconsistent. That is fine if you live locally and can fish the river when conditions are right to do so. This isn’t very helpful if you live a long way from the river. Without good up to date information about the state of the river mouth, you could very easily be making a wasted trip. The Opihi River in South Canterbury is a good example. Some years the trout and salmon fishing can be very good if the mouth stays open for a time. Otherwise, it isn’t much good. It pays to regularly check the Environment Canterbury website river flow charts. This will at least give you are a fair idea of what to expect.
Any river entering the sea during the whitebait season is a candidate for sea-run brown trout fishing. If the river mouth beach area is very shallow any trout that have entered the river is likely to be further upstream. Try casting the deeper looking likely runs above the lagoon if present.
An unlikely looking river mouth may be tidal. It may actually be a better sea-run trout fishing proposition than you might think at first glance once the tide starts to run in. Watch for any bird activity. Also, watch the surface of the water for any telltale swirls from feeding trout.
Here is a list of known sea-run trout fishing rivers on the Canterbury coast. If you are fishing in a different part of New Zealand, such as the South Island’s West Coast, you will note that most of the rivers there such as the Haast, Hokitika, the Okuru and so on, are very similar in nature to the Hurunui and the Rakaia. The same greywacke stones, tidal river mouth lagoon, and fast water flow that slackens in the lower tidal reaches as the tide rises. In these rivers, sea-run trout fishing will be good from the surf to several km upstream.
The smaller rivers may be running too low for all-day fishing and your best chance of catching a trout is when the tide comes in, or by casting into the river where it meets the sea. Fishing these places early in the morning and late in the evening will also greatly increase your chances of catching a sea-run brown trout.
Hurunui River – North Canterbury
A difficult river mouth to access as a shingle spit divides the coastal lagoon from the sea. Good sea-run trout fishing from late August to the end of January. Casting over the lagoon possible from the camping ground bank on the north side of the river mouth. In many ways similar to the mouth of the Rakaia River as discussed earlier but on a much smaller scale.
There are no large populated settlements close to the river mouth. Sometimes even during the summer period, you can be the only angler there despite the river being clear and fishable. On several occasions, I have caught salmon in the lagoon during January, on zed spinners, while being the only angler present. The Hurunui has a different catchment and sometimes it is clear and fishable when the larger rivers to the south are discoloured and unfishable. This fact is worth remembering if you are in Canterbury and are pressed for time. The Hurunui River is generally considered unfishable for trout and salmon if flowing above 70 cumecs.
This is an excellent fishing river which often produces good catches of sea-run trout, salmon and kahawai in the surf for those prepared to travel the 114 kilometres (90 minutes) by road from Christchurch. There is good trout fishing for at least a kilometre upstream from the mouth.
If you have a quad bike you may prefer to travel up the Nape Nape Road and ride along the beach to the mouth from the south. This will put you on the seaward side of the lagoon after a ride of about 2km headed north-east along the loose shingle beach.
I used to fish this river mouth a bit in the past by driving along the beach from the mouth of the much larger Waimakariri River some 12 kilometres to the south. I have spoken to other anglers who fish it and have done well catching good sea-run browns from time to time. The tidal lagoon can be quite wide and the mouth and river are perhaps best fished with a black Toby or by spinning with yellow-rabbits and a lighter D lead. Personally I think there are better options than this water.
Over 20 cumecs it gets very muddy looking and fishes best around 15 cumecs. Strong winds can also stir-up the bottom of the lagoon. There are flounder, mullet and whitebait present in the lead up to Christmas. There are certainly sea-run trout present and worth fishing if you like a challenge. The flows can get very low during a hot summer particularly during February,
March and April.
Rivers Flowing into Lake Ellesmere
This is a somewhat unlikely looking lake for sea-run brown trout. This fishery, in general, is not a fraction of what it once was half a century ago. However, plenty of good fish enter the lake when it is open to the sea. The mouths, and lower reaches, of the rivers that enter Lake Ellesmere, still offer excellent fishing early in the season. Perhaps the best of them is the Selwyn River. A lot of big sea-run browns are taken in the lower channel on a live cock-a-bully. As the lake level falls the water clears and there is good fishing with all the Canterbury patterns. These were made to imitate cockabullies and smelt. Black Rabbit lures are good too. Spin fishing with Black Tobys is also good in the evenings and at night. Soft-baits also work very well.
The Kaituna, Halswell, LII, and Harts Creek all produce some really big sea-run trout. These rivers, together with the Selwyn, are often fished in the evening and particularly at night. A great place to fish is where discoloured lake water pushing up the inlet streams meet the clear river water.
A good mate of mine used to catch a lot of fish in the Selwyn and Harts Creek on small Veltic and Mepps blade spinners. He also fished a lot at night.
This is the last river we are going to discuss. The “Rangi,” as it is affectionately known by most anglers in Canterbury, is also much like the Rakaia River but on a smaller scale. The Rangitata might be smaller but some years it produces almost as many salmon as the Rakaia River.
I have done quite a bit of salmon fishing in the Rangitata River over the years; particularly in the surf. The Rangitata has suffered from low flows over summer in recent years. On occasion, the river mouth has all but closed off and you can walk across from one side to the other. The best sea-run trout fishing takes place from late evening and into the night during November and December. When the salmon are running from November onwards this water gets a lot of attention from salmon anglers being belted during daylight almost constantly by zed spinners.
Like the Rakaia, you can fish the faster water of the gut with feathered lures like the Yellow-Rabbit, as well as the lagoon, and the braids above the lagoon. Above 130 cumecs the Rangitata River becomes quite unfishable. I have caught salmon in a pocket of blue water on the south side of the river mouth even when the river has almost been in full flood! The lagoon can be very wide and is best fished with a Black Toby when a bit of distance is required.
Many of the smaller rivers, particularly on the South Island’s West Coast, all have sea-run brown trout. As we discussed earlier the brown trout go to sea for a time before returning to the rivers. As a result of this migratory behaviour, the smaller rivers are self-stocking. Always assume that between September and February sea-run brown trout are going to be present and fish the rivers accordingly.
Where the trout will be in the river system depends on the individual river, water depth, and flow rate. On many of the smaller rivers with shallow sandy beaches, the trout will run-in with the tide and are more likely to be found a bit further upriver where there is more cover and deeper water. At the mouths of the larger rivers, the trout will be more included to hang around hunting silveries and whitebait in the faster water