Canterbury Winter Trout Fishing

View looking downstream from Waimakariri River Gorge Bridge.
View looking downstream from Waimakariri River Gorge Bridge.

Canterbury Winter Trout Fishing with Peter Langlands

Yet on another occasion, I enjoyed a calm sunny day, with the sun’s warmth bouncing off the stones. Quite pleasant, with the snow-covered Southern Alps glistening in the distance – and it was in late May! Better still, the sea-run trout were aggressively hitting the spinners in the ice-cool water. So the take-home message is, that the weather can be more pleasant in the middle of winter as opposed to the middle of summer if you carefully keep an eye on the weather. This article is about how to minimise your Canterbury winter trout fishing opportunities.

The best weather in the winter is when there is a slow-moving high-pressure zone centred over the South Island.

Winter trout fishing requires good preparation for success. Canterbury winter trout fishing.
The author with a winter caught trout. Successful fishing requires good preparation.

The Approach to Canterbury Winter Trout Fishing

Winter fishing can be immensely enjoyable, with no crowds, but you must think critically about the weather and be flexible about your timing. I am quite lucky in that I can go fishing throughout the week, so I tend to carefully pick my days out. Some basic considerations for enjoyable winter fishing are the wearing of polypropylene and having access to neoprene waders if any wading is involved.

Even standing on the beach in a cool southerly can be bitterly cold and it is good to have waders for insulation. Lighting a beach fire or having a gas stove is also good and you can cook up some hot food (including freshly caught trout). Winter fishing can therefore be quite sociable. The aroma of sausages cooking on the fire or hearing wood crackling in the still cool air adds a certain sense of enjoyment.

Be prepared to have a break every couple of hours to maintain concentration in the cool conditions. Taking a thermos of hot soup or coffee is also a good idea. If you are feeling comfortable you will have better concentration, which results in improved fishing.

Winter fishing can require more preparation than a casual summer fishing trip. Preparation also involves checking that the lake is not frozen over and that there aren’t two-metre snow drifts on Porters Pass if you are heading inland.

Generally, riverflows are low and clear in winter but phone the river report service before heading out. Given that you have prepared yourself, let’s look at some easily accessible winter fishing locations.

1. Lake Lyndon

A good winter fishing option. I have written many times about this lake, but it is just such an easy lake to fish in and is reasonably productive.

The lake is only an hour’s drive away from Christchurch and has a shingle road along the entire length of its southern shoreline, with several embayments to fish in if you require shelter from a strong wind. Lyndon also has shingle around its entire shoreline, which means you can easily and comfortably walk around the lake.

Lyndon has a good population of rainbow trout, with the fish averaging about two pounds. You have a reasonable chance of catching a three-pounder as the larger fish move out from the lake’s depths around August as part of their spawning cycle.

Hamills Killer - mallard version (left) and the dyed partridge feather version (right).
Hamill’s Killer – mallard version (left) and the dyed partridge feather version (right).

Fishing a large dragonfly or small Hamill’s Killer is effective when retrieved slowly over the deeper parts of the lake’s shoreline with a type 2 sinking fly line. More gaudy orange-coloured lures are effective around August when the trout are fired up with spawning activity and are highly responsive to this colour. A friend of mine, Greg Kemp, reports having successfully stalked rainbows in the shallows fishing a small glow-bug to them. Spinning with Tasmanian Devils is also effective.

It pays to keep on moving when fishing, as the fish, are likely to be in clusters especially later in the winter season when they are spawning. It pays to vary fishing methods and locations, as the fish tend to be a bit ”on and off” in Lyndon. So some perseverance is required.

2. Lake Coleridge

A lake I honestly don’t know much about, but my gut feeling is that being a large clear cold water lake, its population of trout is small, relative to the amount of water. Therefore you have to know the key sites to fish around Coleridge. One popular site is near the Ryton Rivermouth. Fishing with luminous doll flies for rainbows at night is definitely a neoprene waders situation.

It can be very cold especially after sunset but Lake Coleridge offers excellent mid-winter fishing.
It can be very cold, especially after sunset but Lake Coleridge offers excellent mid-winter fishing.

A small hard-core group of anglers regularly travel up to Lake Coleridge in late July and August to fish the lake shallows near the Ryton Rivermouth. I’ll definitely give it a go this season and am keenly anticipating a bit of night fishing. According to experienced anglers, the rainbows hit the luminous flies like freight trains. What could be more stimulating than fishing under a clear starry night with the moonlight reflecting off the lake, and glistening snow on the mountainous backdrop?

Another way to fish Lake Coleridge is trolling. If trolling, stay close to shore and make sure that your lure is getting close to the weed beds. Ideally, you should be occasionally fouling up weed on your lure. Deep diving Rapalas are worth trying.

3. Rakaia Rivermouth

While the river mouth is famous over the spring and summer for its salmon run, it is frequently deserted during the winter, except for maybe the occasional bach owner collecting driftwood from the beach.

In contrast to the summer season, the river frequently flows low and clear throughout the winter. Also maiden (non-spawning) brown trout feed in the tidal part of the river mouth throughout the winter. These fish range in size from 1 to 5 pounds, and are covered with chrome silver scales.

The fish are usually in good condition and coming out of the cold water they are splendid eating. Unlike the summer, the trout are most active in the middle of the day (that is the warmest part of the day). The trout will aggressively hit spinners and a local favourite is the traffic light Tasmanian Devil.

Tasmanian Devil Traffic Light No.56
Tasmanian Devil Traffic Light No.56

Another option is to explore the channels upstream from the mouth. Use an indicator and fish with a large nymph, if you find a semi-stable side channel so much the better. One of my friends caught a nice trout at the Dobbies Ford access point on the river fishing with nymphs, about 6 kilometres upstream from the mouth. I suppose spinning upstream would be worthwhile, but try the mouth first.

With big rainbow jack trout like this one to be caught over the winter months it isn't surprising the Twizel canals have become so popular. Photograph courtesy of Charles Smith.
With big rainbow jack trout like this one to be caught over the winter months, it isn’t surprising the Twizel canals have become a very popular destination for Canterbury anglers. Photograph courtesy of Charles Smith.

4. MacKenzie Country Channels is the Top Spot for Canterbury Winter Trout Fishing

Further afield the MacKenzie hydro channels are open year-round and have a good population of both brown and rainbow trout. It is the rainbow trout that are most active in the colder months. I remember fishing at the pool at the end of the Tekapo-Pukaki channel in late May about some years ago. It was a magical evening with an orange sunset over the jagged peak of Mount Cook. I caught several beautiful rainbows at dusk with a Veltic blade spinner. Fishing next to the Tekapo-Pukaki-Ohau channel salmon farm is worthwhile. A live worm fished with a small running sinker is an especially effective method.

The Mackenzie Country canals can be fished throughout the winter months.
The Mackenzie Country canals can be fished throughout the winter months.

Spinning with a Veltic or weighted Tasmanian Devil is also effective, given that the trout have a dependable food source next to the cages, that will continue to feed them throughout the winter. Give it a go! The Complete Guide to Fishing the Twizel Canals.

Brown trout caught on a Veltic blade spinner during winter. Canterbury winter trout fishing.
Veltic blade spinners are effective fish takers for sea-run brown trout during winter.

5. Lower Ashley River

A winter fishing option worth checking out, especially in August. A live bully fished in the current should tempt an early-season sea-run brown trout in the estuary part of the river. Don’t forget fly fishing to a mayfly rise. Yes, mayflies rise in late winter, especially in the mid-afternoon.

The Ashley River is only 30 minutes drive north of Christchurch.

Generally, Canterbury winter trout fishing is for either rainbow in the high country, or for sea-run brown trout near the coast. You have to be an opportunist to maximise winter fishing. It is a time when you can use fishing methods that you wouldn’t otherwise choose to use during the main fishing season. Just being in the outdoors on a sunny winter’s day is very stimulating. I hope that you enjoy winter fishing as much as I have!