Lower Selwyn River – Lake Ellesmere Brown Trout Fishing

Lake Ellesmere and its famous tributary streams.
Lake Ellesmere and its famous tributary streams.

Lower Selwyn River – Lake Ellesmere – Brown Trout Fishing

Nowadays the Selwyn River, where it enters Lake Ellesmere (Te Waihora), doesn’t look that inviting to the would-be trout angler. The water is easily stirred up by the wind and can be quite muddy looking! Sometimes the lower river can be clear. At other times the discoloured water works its way upstream. This problem is the result of worsening eutrophication in Lake Ellesmere. This muddy river water is cleared when there is heavy rain causing flooding. The heavy rain also endangers the hut settlements on the lower Selwyn as the water rises to the top of the stopbanks.

Before the arrival of European settlers, Lake Ellesmere was much larger in size. At times it would spread all the way back to where the township of Lincoln is today. Eventually, it would breach the Kaitorete shingle spit closing it off from the sea and the level would drop back naturally. Amazingly hundreds of years ago the Waimakariri River once flowed directly into this sprawling coastal lake. You can see video of Lake Ellesmere being opened to the sea here.

The mouth of the Selwyn where it enters Lake Ellesmere.
The mouth of the Selwyn where it enters Lake Ellesmere.

Today it covers some 180 square kilometres. This is about 20,000 hectares. It used to spread out to cover 30,000 hectares. But now bulldozers are used to cut a channel to release the water and prevent this from happening. The lake is now about two metres deep at most but would once have been as much as five metres deep.

There are also eels, flounder and yellow-eyed mullet in the lake but alas nothing like the numbers there were in the past! Today fertiliser runoff from surrounding farmland is a major problem causing dirty water in the lake.

The water colour looks a bit muddy here! You might be blind fishing but there are still brown trout in the lower Selwyn River! Watch and listen for swirls on the surface as the brownies chase the silveries.
The water looks a bit muddy here! You might be blind fishing but there are still brown trout in the lower Selwyn River! Watch and listen for swirls on the surface as the brownies chase the silveries.

As mentioned in Selwyn River Brown Trout, George Ferris once described the Selwyn, in its heyday, as being looked on as “the best brown trout river in the Dominion.” Sadly this is not the case today. However, there are still many very good brown trout caught in the lower Selwyn River and the many other streams that feed into the lake.

The Lower Selwyn Huts are sometimes flooded when the lake lever gets very high.
The Lower Selwyn Huts are sometimes flooded when the lake lever gets very high.

Anglers fish the lower Selwyn for brown trout usually from late evening and after dark. That is when the big brownies enter the river mouths chasing silveries (smelt) and bullies.

These are usually taken by lure fishing with the likes of Hope’s Silveries (red, white and black versions), Red Shadow, Barred Rock, Chamberlain’s Lure, Black or Yellow Rabbits and so on. All of these Canterbury patterns being fished on a slow sinking line.


View Larger Topographic Map Lake Ellesmere and its tributary streams. Click on map to zoom in and out.

Another fishing method is to lip hook a silvery or bully and toss it out to be found devoured by a marauding brown. See also Night Fishing with Lures – Hart’s Creek, L2, Halswell and Selwyn Rivers

The Lower Selwyn is only 30 minutes from Christchurch by car. There is good vehicle access to the lower river with Days Road running alongside the stopbank. Just park your car and climb up the bank.

There is good fishing access along Days Road but the water looks murky in this picture. The best time to fish is in the evenings and after dark. Try spin fishing with a black and gold Toby during the day. A Toby will also take fish at night but most anglers fish with a sunken lure (fly). You can see Lake Ellesmere beyond the bank on the far side of the river.
There is good fishing access along Days Road but the water looks murky in this picture. The best time to fish is in the evenings and after dark. Try spin fishing with a black and gold Toby during the day. A Toby will also take fish at night but most anglers fish with a sunken lure (fly). You can see Lake Ellesmere beyond the bank on the far side of the river.
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