Waikato River Hydro-Electric Dam Tail-Race Trout Fishing By DJ Moresby

Waipapa Dam, Lake Arapuni, Hydro-Electric Dam Tail-Race Trout Fishing

By DJ Moresby

Approaching the “Tail-Race” or water outlet of a typical New Zealand Hydro-Electric Generation Dam one can normally hear the mighty roar of rushing water long before you can see it. Once you set eyes on this huge leaping foaming surging mass of white water it’s quite normal to think in terms of not standing too close! There can be however a very strong incentive to do so.

On top of the Waipapa Dam. “Don’t fall in!”

The turbines of a hydro dam act a bit like a berley ground bait mincer. Put lots of ground bait in the fishy water and you get fish! One hour’s drive east of my Te Kuiti home the Waikato River is linked by a whole series of these Hydro-Electric Generation Dams nose to tail. That is to say, each tail-race is a “Berley Mincer” that empties into the top of the lake formed by the next dam.

Sound like a hot spot to cast a line for a trout? If you said yes you’re not wrong! All these lakes are well stocked with smelt, rudd, small carp, freshwater crayfish, and insects. Each flood in this high rainfall area washes millions of earthworms into the rivers, side streams and eventually these lakes. It’s not surprising then that the trout in these lakes, browns and rainbows, are some of the best-conditioned fish you will ever see anywhere.

Trout from the muddy waters of the Waikato River are highly regarded filleted and cut into small rectangular skin on pieces they make excellent baits for catching kahawai! However, where this self-same Waikato River flows through the electricity generation lakes the “mud” settles out of the water and the trout can be used as people food and taste real fine “almost” as good as a correctly prepared long-finned eel!

The fact that these lakes rise and fall with the fluctuating electricity demands of the country does in my opinion help to put more food in the water. You could fry some of these trout in their own fat, no butter required. Catching them; folks write books on trout fishing and still don’t cover the subject. This article involves me taking you to just one place and time. A spur of the moment trip out to the hydro dams mentioned.

Taken from the top of the Waipapa Dam, looking towards Lake Arapuni. The buoys are to stop anglers approaching and fishing the Dam Tailrace.

It was 9 pm and my girlfriend was driving from Taupo to see me. I was thinking in terms of, it’s been too long since she’s been over, should gather some fish to eat. Fish is a proven aphrodisiac and all that.

The phone rings. It’s Jason Farrow, a friend from Otorohanga. “Denis, flatmate,” he says, “did you know that the smelt are still running at Waipapa and the trout are going mad on them!”

Five minutes conversation and Jason, Darren Adam, who is another fishing mad friend, and flatmate, and yours truly, have decided to depart for the Waipapa Hydro Dam tailrace from Jason’s place at 5 am the next morning. In fact, it was 5.30 am before we got on the road aquaplaning our way across the country in the pouring rain.

Sometimes things just fall into place regardless of poor organisation, and so it was today. The rain stopped as we arrived, it grew light enough to see our way down the concrete steps to the tailrace just as we finished rigging our rods.

The Gear:

All of us had left essential gear behind in our desire to just get up and go do it. Not that we were overly worried about that. We came to catch fish and we knew we could adapt whatever we had to catch something. A “Tokoroa Chicken” is one of the top local lures used in Central Waikato Hydro Dams, for your education, if you’ve not seen one “down south” it’s a small bit of lead, coloured with feathers and a hook attached.

“Who’s got one today?” “Whoops none of us! – Ouch.”
“Jason, where is your fluorocarbon trace?”
“Sorry, Darren I think I’ve left it at Justin’s …. with all my trout flies and lures!”
]ason, “Denis got any trace?” “Got some Daiwa 5 kg Crystal Clear and there is this 2 kg Maxima Ultragreen.”

The verdict was loud and clear on the trace, use nothing less than 5 kg. “These are big fish, Tail-race” says Darren. He would be using 11 kg mainline and 8 kg trace as too many unstoppable fish had wasted him here in the recent past. Fish of up to 16 old fashion pounds in weight are said to have come out of this lake (Arapuni) in recent months. Darren and Jason expect to catch at least one 4 kg plus trout on most trips.

The Tailrace. There could be 50 or more trout at any one time in the water shown in this photo!

Jason was our resident “trout great” expert in that he had two years of selling the stuff in a sports shop. Smelt flies he says …. then lumo flies, then any fly with a yellow body and a brown tail. I dived into my tackle box looking for those small green luminous flies only to remember losing the lot on my last Taupo trip!

We had some smelt flies, we also had some yellow body flies. Jason knew their names which were of no relevance except, one they would work, and two we did not have enough of them allowing for snags and the gear we would lose.

“We’ll get some bait” Jason says, “no worries.” We caught the bait … no worries.

Darren picked up another smelt fly in the car park that some other fisherman had dropped some time! We are an adaptable lot. As I find people arguing about bait for trout a lot I won’t name ours. I will say that some of the Waikato Hydro Lakes are in the Eastern Fish and Game area, no bait allowed! The rest are in the Auckland area where bait is allowed. We were in the Auckland area.

Next up Hooks:

After several years of trial and error firing his bait right at the base of the dam Darren is now working the water 50 metres down. I’m 50 metres down again. The tailrace is spewing white water at full throttle, less than ideal conditions. Maybe everyone in Auckland has decided to have toast for breakfast and turned their electric heaters on too! Darren and Jason both announce they are getting hit, losing bait, the trout are there!

At first light, standing on the rocks below the Waipapa Dam.

Ten casts later and Darren has hooked one. A nice fat rainbow hen of about 1.2kg comes in. He releases it. We all hope to keep limit bags of five fish each but have agreed between us anything under 1.5 kg goes back. I’m snagged and lose my hook sinker and trace. The first of six lots of terminal tackle I’ll lose today using light line.

Darren and Jason are getting snagged too, but using a heavier line they are pulling free, gear intact! In the time it takes me to tie a new rig Darren lands another rainbow of about 1 kg. That goes back too.

Passing on “knowledge” to the next generation. Waipapa Dam, Waikato River.

A couple of lost fish between us then those Auckland folks turn their electric toasters off, the water in the tailrace flows at half volume, the surging foam is gone. Both Darren and Jason start seriously applying themselves. When the volume of water eases off like this the trout can move about easier and it becomes easier to hook them. Darren is into a better fish which I net it for him. It was 1.8 kg – one to keep.

Jason is hooked into a keeper too. Darren lands it. I’m snagged again. Jason has a big grin on his face as he says to Darren one keeper each … but not for long as while I’m tying on my third lot of terminal tackle Darren is into something that is testing the drag washers on his reel. I net it for him 2.6 kg? A very fat rainbow hen.

While Darren is dealing with his fish I stand on his rock, he points out a patch of water he’s been casting into. Darren is saying something about letting my sinker roll past a certain spot before a trout will hit without looking up from re-baiting his line. “Can’t do that Darren!” “Why not?” “Because I have got a fish on already mate!” It is just as well too that was my last bit of bait. Darren puts the landing net under it, another 1.5 kg and a keeper. Something to fatten up the girlfriend so I’m contented and tie on a smelt fly.

Jason hooks into a good keeper. It’s 2 kg plus. I put the net under it for him and snap a photo. Darren gets another keeper and releases 2 more of 1.4 kg each. Jason loses two big ones. Each because he has done his drag up to pull free of a snag and failed to undo the drag. Both fish made a spectacular sight jumping at close range. He then lands a third keeper. I figure its 50 gm short of the 1.5 kg mark and he is just keeping it to “rass” Darren along. Three keepers each like.

Standing in the waters of the Waipapa Dam, during a heavy shower, the author!

Right, then the Aucklanders arrive at their factories, on go the electric-powered lathes, presses, welders. Our dam race is all white water and the bite dies off. I try a lure, and another lure and another and another, wish I’d not bothered, no bites and two expensive lures are decorating the bottom of the tailrace. With none of us getting bites we stop to eat smoko. A mate of Darren’s arrives with a young lad in tow.

Bert Robertson Darren tells us, this guy really knows his stuff. We watch him hook fish after fish. A lot of them don’t stick on his small hook. He loses a bit of gear to snags and a big fish breaks him off. He is a light lineman …. but he and the lad land a couple of keepers while the three of us wipe out. The fish really like whatever he is using. I wander over and ask if he minds me snapping a photo of him landing a fish. No problem he says. Shows me what he is using a ball sinker that is slightly smaller than ours, to match his lighter line and what is doing the damage is a very small greeny-yellow luminous fly!

Jason, our “Trout Expert” had also been watching the flies Bert tied on and said most of his fish came from a “Ginger Mick” and a “Yellow Rabbit” size eight. Something to think about. Bert departs and his timing, like his fishing, is good, the rain now buckets down on the three of us! If Bert can do it so can we, I say, and start casting into the spot he hooked most of his fish.

The third cast I hook and land our smallest fish and get laughed at for my trouble. It’s about time to go but just then the Dam shuts down to maybe half-power again. Has Auckland stopped for smoko? Darren wants a fourth keeper fish to be one up on Jason. I’m figuring I’ll tie a 2 kg trace on and try it.

Jason is happy enough just sitting on a rock watching. He points me to the bit of water he’s been fishing. On my third cast, something decent takes my smelt fly and melts line off the spool. The fish comes in around Darren’s feet and he asks me do I want it netted. I tell him about the 2 kg trace and he very carefully puts the net under a 2.7 kg 100% condition factor rainbow. Jason snaps a photo of me holding it up in the rain while Darren is landing his fourth keeper. Yet another “fat” 1.5 and rainbow.

No browns around today. There is always that 5th fish Darren? We cast and my last smelt fly goes the way of most smelt flies fished on two kg trace at this location. Darren lands his fish no problems on his 8 kg trace, it’s just under 1.5 kg though so it gets to swim away, as do we, up to the car and home. We have kept 9 fish weighing close to 18 kg in total. And I’ve some good photos for the story you’re reading.

Darren Adam and Jason Farrow fishing below the Waipapa Dam, on the Waikato River.

This story is only one small aspect of fishing the Waikato River Hydro Lakes. Just to round the story off will touch on some other points. I’ve been seeing this sweet young lady who lives at Taupo. The result of that is currently I have both a full season Taupo trout license and a standard New Zealand trout license. Sort of had to like consider how well it would go down if you’re talking love and commitment to a certain lady resident of Taupo, you walk into a sports shop with her on your arm and ask for a one day license!

Anyway, I’m dropping a line in at Taupo and elsewhere too for trout, and there is a great certainty in my mind. If I want to catch trout the Waikato River Hydro Lakes are the place to go.

What about boat fishermen you ask? Tell me where around Taupo can you get to launch a boat off a ramp for free? As a regular visitor to Taupo seeing the $10.00 boat ramp fee signs up all over makes my blood boil. Several Taupo locals have told me it gets them too. They pay huge rates to their council for lakeside amenities and then get socked ten dollars a time for launching a boat. Not that Lake Taupo is alone in such practices. But the Hydro lakes I fish don’t have such fees. They are still a part of the user-friendly country most of us grew up in.

Let’s go upriver from Waipapa to Lake Maraetai near the town of Mangakino. I was last there 3rd and 4th of December. Not to catch a trout but to put a fyke net in for an eel. I had the whole lake to myself. There were huge trout leaping out of the water all over the place. I don’t like to carry a trout rod when I’m chasing eels with a fyke net. Someone might get the wrong idea. So did not touch a trout that trip. But did stay with a friend Warren Jakes in Mangakino.

View Larger Topographic Map Waipapa Dam.

One sunny morning Warren says to me look out the kitchen window Denis, see that lake? Do you know how many boats motor up that lake for a fish on an average week? About two he figured was average, and one of those boats was his! He takes me down to the boat ramp. There was no ramp fee. I’m back in real New Zealand! No other boats out either. Not a fisherman in sight. Out in the lake, a big splash as a fish broke the surface chasing smelt. It beats me, Denis, he says. Taupo is just up the road. It beats me too Warren! Though having said all that I expect to be heading back to Taupo to fish again this winter. But not near those boat ramps! And possibly not even near the edge of the lake!

The fishing regulations may well have changed since this piece was written. As always check your fishing license booklet before you go fishing especially if fishing somewhere new.

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Bert Robinson and his grand-nephew landing a “keeper.”

This post was last modified on 14/03/2024 2:07 pm

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