Canterbury Lakes

Lake Sarah and Lake Grasmere Trout Fishing – Canterbury high country


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Lake Sarah and Lake Grasmere

This is the first trout fishing lake 2km along the Craigieburn Road headed south-east from the small township of Cass. The lake is easy to spot being next to the shingle road. This is grand alpine country and one of the most beautiful parts of New Zealand.

Lake Sarah

Lake Sarah is one of the smallest lakes in the Pearson Group at just 20 hectares. It has been set aside as a fly fishing only water. Although small in size it has a deserved reputation for producing the odd fish over 3kg although most would be a little over 1kg.

There are both browns and rainbows in the lake. This water is surprisingly deeper than the landscape suggests. There are patches of Raupo around the shoreline blocking access here and there but there are plenty of good casting spots.

Given the water depth anglers fishing a sunken lure or nymph might consider allowing extra time for their line to sink before retrieving. Recommended lures include; Olive or Brown Woolly Buggar, Mrs Simpson, and Hamill’s Killer.

Small wet flies are also worth trying. Interestingly in New Zealand Fishing Flies by the late Robert K. Bragg the author makes reference to Canterbury lure patterns being used to fish the Canterbury high country lakes. Patterns like Hopes Silvery, Orange Witch, and Brunton No.1 can all be used to good effect when fishing the high country lakes though you might want to tie them in smaller sizes!

Popular and effective dry flies for Lake Sarah include: Coch-y-bondhu, Black Gnat, Peveril-o-the-Peak, Red Tipped Governor, beetle and cicada imitations around January and February have also proven very effective.

Regulation Change In September 2011 North Canterbury Fish & Game announced that the use of non mechanically propelled vessels is now permitted at Lake Sarah. It means you can now fish in Lake Sarah from a float tube, dinghy or kayak provided you use oars or paddles only. Motors are not permitted.

The fishing season runs from the first Saturday in November to 30 April. There is no winter fishing extension. The bag limit is 2 trout per day.

Video: Lake Sarah…Exploring New Water in 2016 by Kevin O’Hanlon.  All tackle in this video supplied by the Fisherman’s Loft, Christchurch.

Fly Fishing Lake Grasmere by Martin Langlands

Lake Grassmere is a popular location for many Canterbury anglers; it is positioned on the main west coast road halfway between Porters and Arthurs Passes with very easy access by car.

This lake is a wildlife refuge to many birds, mostly swans, Canadian Geese and Paradise ducks and to a lesser extent the rare Crested Grebe.

However, of most importance to us is the Rainbow and Brown Trout. During pioneer days Machinaw Trout were introduced but failed to establish. Trout populations have changed a lot here in the past years, the number of large trout seemed to have dropped leaving a fair population of Rainbow Trout 1-3kg and lesser but larger browns of 1-4kg.

The reason for this, I suspect, is due to large numbers of larger trout removed by anglers in the 70s also too, the large numbers of birds upon the lake tend to affect the water quality perhaps limiting the available trout food. Anyway, roll on scientific research. Let’s talk about the present day and discuss some fishing methods to apply to this high country lake.

November is the opening month for Lake Grassmere and this time sees the trout actively feeding under the surface on snails, Damsel Fly Nymphs, Dragonfly Nymphs, Waterboatman, weed caused caddis and occasional Bullies. While some trout will rise to dry flies in November the number becomes greater from December onwards.

Trout rise to Midges, Green Beetles and adult Damselflies. These hatches last until late February then it is back to subsurface fishing for March and April with lure patterns becoming very effective.

Let’s start with the ideal day (mostly weekdays) when it is calm and warm. During these conditions, most anglers fish to sighted trout cruising near to shore and over the mud flats. This method tests the angler’s casting accuracy and delicacy. Place the nymph ahead of the trout’s path, let it sink if you have time then give the nymph a twitch. With any luck, the trout will take the fly, if not let’s look at some options. I use a 10-12ft long tapered leader with a tippet of 3.4.5lb test.

Favoured fly patterns for sight fishing are Pheasant Tail Nymph #14 #12, Waterboatman #14 #12, Damsel Fly Nymph #10 #12 and Dragonfly Nymph #8 #10. Often I start with the larger Dragonfly Nymph and if trout don’t take these I step through the above options. If possible use the Dragonfly Nymph on the lake’s bottom so as to kick up a little mud. When retrieved, this imitates the insect’s natural motion.

There are many Dragonfly Nymph patterns to try. I prefer Creedon’s Creeper, Bragg’s Dragonfly Nymph and Puff. To use the other nymph patterns mentioned no special techniques apply, just your spotting, casting and striking abilities. During the more common windswept days blind casting these nymphs and retrieving them slowly can be productive, the challenge here is to fish likely places i.e. close to the lake edges and over weed beds. Also, the use of a small lure can work in these conditions; popular patterns are Hammill’s and Marabo leeches.

The most accessible parts of the lake are shallow so I use a floating line 95 per cent of the time.

As the heat of summer builds up dry fly becomes more popular. Dry fly patterns commonly used here are Black Gnat #14 #12 #10, Loves Lure #12 #10, Green beetle #14 #12 and adult Damsel Flies. The Black Gnat and Loves Lure are ideal for the situation where only the occasional trout is rising.

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Casting out to likely places and just letting the pattern sit still can be very good fun even during windy periods. Early December onwards can see large hatches of Green Beetles on calm warm days. Trout can often be seen selecting these insects from the surface in a slurping motion; cast out to these trout a green beetle dry and look out, be sure not to disturb the water too much as this will spook the trout.

Also on the very hot calm days trout frequently rise to adult Damselflies, the rise form can be identified by the splashy nature with trout sometimes leaping out of the water. I use a Red Braid Damsel dry fly in this situation casting to the rising trout giving the fly a twitch to attract attention.

Not mentioned yet is the aspect of night fishing Lake Grassmere. Excellent trout especially large Browns can be caught using lure patterns; favourites being Hamills, Marabou leeches and Woolly Bully (Buggar) in larger sizes. It is important to locate an area that is easy to cast from at night and be very careful wading due to the presence of quicksand. The technique is very simple – just cast long and slow retrieves, sometimes using a sink tip line over deeper water.

Lake Grassmere is truly a gem full of charm and surprise. I hope this article will help you. Expressed are my approaches, many will have their own – that is what makes dry fly fishing so interesting. I hope you have good luck and release a few more trout for the future.

Guided NZ fly fishing and fly fishing lessons in the South Island of New Zealand with professional fly fishing guide, Martin Langlands – Troutlands

Lake Grasmere by Allan Burgess

Lake Grasmere is a smallish 65-hectare lake with easy access from SH73. It is about 1.5km long by 500m across at its widest point. It is approximately 3 km further up the road from Lake Pearson. Turn at the Wildlife Refuge sign into the paddock and walk down a gentle slope some 600 to the lake. It used to be possible to drive down the track but not anymore! This is an attractive trout fishing lake with thick bush on the very steep hillside opposite the access track. The shoreline is quite swampy in places.

Unfortunately water quality can be poor at times probably due to the high numbers of visiting birds on the lake. The fishing is good and the lake is recommended both as a dry fly and spin fishing water.

Lake Grasmere contains both rainbow and brown trout with most fish averaging between 1 – 2 kg. Though there are certainly heavier fish taken. As is the case with other Canterbury high country lakes, the food supply for trout is not plentiful and consequently, trout do not grow quickly or to a large size. Strange as it might seem I am reliably informed that several decades ago a brown trout weighing 14 lbs was taken from Lake Grasmere on a Tasmanian Devil spinning lure!

Lake Grasmere is a top Canterbury dry fly water. Popular and recommended dries include: Adams, Kakahi Queen. Various Manuka Beetle imitations are effective around Christmas and throughout January when, as with most Canterbury high country lakes, these insects fall on the water in huge numbers. First light is the best time to fish beetles before the trout have had their fill. When the lake is calm a very small size 12 or 14 Cock-y-Bondhu can bring about the desired result otherwise the fishing gets harder in the middle of the day.

Damselfly patterns are particularly effective from January to early March when they will be willingly taken from the surface by rising rainbows.

Favoured lures include: Mrs Simpson and Hamill’s Killer fished on a sink tip line. Try a small Muddler Minnow or Black Pete fished close to the bottom as the sunsets.

Recommended spinning lures include: green, brown or gold Tassie Devils. A No.10 green Johnson’s Kobra fished slowly over the weed is also a top producer. Though not as popular as they once were a black and gold Toby retrieved in a quick-slow motion over weed-beds is a sure-fire winner for both browns and rainbows. Also effective are blade spinners such as Mepps and Veltics. These can be cast out over the drop-offs and allowed to sink well down before beginning a slow retrieve. Both are proven fish takers at Lake Grasmere.

Regulation Change In September 2011 North Canterbury Fish & Game announced that the use of non-mechanically propelled vessels is now permitted at Lake Grasmere. It means you can now fish in Lake Grasmere from a float tube, dinghy or kayak provided you use oars or paddles only. Motors are not permitted.

The fishing season for Lake Grasmere is from the first Saturday in November to 30 April. There is no winter fishing extension. The bag limit is 2 trout per day. Both fly and spin fishing are permitted.

Please note. Although we try to keep info on fishing regulations up to date you are advised to always check the Fish and Game regulation booklet that comes with your fishing licence before you travel to distant water and start fishing.

Click or tap the above map to enlarge and zoom in and out.

The Pearson Group of fishing lakes fill with water drained from the Waimakariri River basin. The mostly small lakes straddle State Highway 73 between Christchurch and the West Coast. The highway can be very busy during the summer tourist season. See Lake Sarah, Lake Grasmere, Lake Pearson, Lake Hawdon, Lake Marymere. 

This post was last modified on 22/10/2021 1:04 am

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