High Country Lake Fishing in Canterbury

Crystal clear waters offer excellent sight fishing opportunities. High Country Lake Fishing.
Crystal clear waters offer excellent sight fishing opportunities around Canterbury High Country lakes.

High Country Lake Fishing in Canterbury

By Peter Langlands

When fishing lakes you don’t have to worry about floods, strong winds or low flows. Lakes are a relatively dependable fishery. In this article, I will look at lake fishing strategies and then discuss some locations.

Lakes are quite different from rivers and the trout are not as easily located in lakes as they roam over a larger area.

One of the advantages of river fishing (when the rivers are fishable !) is that you can read the water and pinpoint the location of fish (or high probability water for prospecting) with some experience.

Lake fishing requires a quite different approach to river fishing

In lakes, the challenge is finding the trout and putting the fly or spinner on their nose. Lakes can be read to a certain extent like rivers, although it generally takes more effort to put your fly right in front of the trout.

For a start, let us look at some locations where there is a high chance of finding trout.

High country lake fishing. Fishing the dragonfly nymph along the edge of the raupo.
Fishing the dragonfly nymph along the edge of the raupo.

River mouths and creek mouths are key places to find trout. These areas are always worth carefully fishing. Trout (especially rainbows) will be found in concentrated numbers around river mouths for several reasons.

Rainbow trout are found around river mouths during November and December after having dropped down the river after spawning. Brown trout are also found in concentrated numbers around creek mouths during the early winter when the fish are ready to spawn. With several lakes open in the high country during the winter the areas around creek mouths are worth fishing carefully. But remember that regulations state that you can not fish within 200 metres of creek mouths during the winter season.

Food items are also washed into the lakes by streams and fish will cruise along the drop-off next to river mouths looking for food swept into the lake by the rivers.

A third reason why trout will concentrate around river mouths is that they offer cooler water in the height of summer than the rest of the lake. Rainbows are especially attracted to river mouths for this reason. Also, remember that many high country lakes have cold water springs flowing underneath the lake. The location of these springs is usually discernible by clear patches of sand amongst the weed beds. Again rainbows are attracted to these areas over the summer when the lake’s temperatures soar the cold water springs offer a cold water refuge.

Hooked up after stalking the edges with a tiny waterboatman pattern.
Hooked up after stalking the edges with a tiny waterboatman pattern.

Shallow weed beds are the most productive parts of lakes. They are a food powerhouse with prolific numbers of freshwater snails on which the trout graze, in addition to damselflies and dragonflies carefully fish these areas with a slow retrieve with a black and peacock or damselfly pattern. The latest damselfly patterns with marabou tails have lots of action and trout will nail them!

Shallow areas of sand or mudflats on the edges of the lake are worth approaching very carefully. Trout will cruise these areas for waterboatman and work into the shallows with their fins sticking out of the water. The opportunity for sight fishing in this environment is awesome but very challenging.

You usually require a gentle ripple on the water’s surface to mask your cast. The trout will dart along the edge chasing, waterboatman. Use a small size (16-18) waterboatman pattern and light tippet (i.e. 5X). Give the fly a slight twitch as the trout approaches. The vast sandy shallows of lake Bemnore are a very popular location for fishing the flats- a bit like fishing for bonefish really.

Steep drop-offs along the edge of lakes are worth stalking as they usually adjoin a hillside. The elevated view allows the angler to spot trout well in advance. Typically the stony lake edge will be 2-5 metres wide before sloping away into deeper weed beds.

Trout will usually cruise right along this edge. This edge acts like a fish highway and the sudden change in the lake‘s depth means that the trout will cruise along a narrow band of the lake‘s shoreline. The black and peacock is a very effective fly pattern in this situation.

Another approach is to cast a large dragonfly nymph or small lure (Hammil’s Killer or the universally successful Mrs Simpson) on a slow sinking line parallel to the edge. Find a good drop-off (i.e. steep with weed beds adjoining) and give each spot a few hours. it is an approach which works well especially in the height of summer when the trout dart out of the deeper cool water into the warmer shallows.

Overhanging trees and logs along the lake’s edge are worth carefully checking out. Brown trout love this environment as it provides the fish with cover. Because of the enclosed nature of this environment spinning is usually the most effective fishing method.

I have found Veltic spinners to be particularly successful. During the summer you can cast at a short range and parallel to the lake‘s shore to rising fish. Green beetle patterns seem to be dynamite. Because trout generally tend to be more territorial around snags it pays to continually move along the shoreline.

Areas, where willows or beech trees overhang the edge of the lake, are always worth fishing. During the summer the fish will rise to willow grubs falling off the willow trees.

Dry fly fishing around overhanging trees is always exciting as you prospect every nook and cranny. Because fish are very territorial in such environments it pays to move around. I always find wading down the beech tree shoreline at Lake Grasmere to be rewarding whether prospecting with a Veltic spinner or with a dry fly during the summer.

The author with a victim of the green beetle. High county lake fishing in Canterbury.
The author with a victim of the green beetle.

Beaches which the predominant wind blows onto (ie; the nor-west) can provide some very exciting fishing- even after the wind has died down. Loose pieces of weed can be seen floating in the waves along with dislodged nymphs, snails and terrestrial insects.

The trout will cruise along these beaches, into very shallow water, indeed sometimes with, their fins sticking out of the water! Even if the wind is strong take your flyrod along and make short casts into the waves. or wade out into the shallows and cast parallel to the lake’s shoreline. Either cast a big dragonfly nymph or dry fly (even a large cicada pattern in the height of summer) into the waves. Because the trout only gets a brief look at fly in the waves they are more likely to be deceived.

Fishing dragonfly nymphs along the edges of bulrushes or raupo is a good way to catch trout. Lakes Evelyn, Sarah, and the lagoon at Lake Pearson all have significant sections of shoreline lined with raupo. Access can be difficult so why not try fishing from a small boat? You are allowed to fish from boats in both Lakes Evelyn and Pearson.

Fishing deep water can be very productive, especially at night for rainbow trout. Using a type two sinking line and a small lure such as a black Mrs Simpson is very effective in Lakes Lyndon, Coleridge and Heron in the deeper water.

Also, night fishing with small lures in the shallows is worth trying on occasion. Again Lake Lyndon fishes very well in the late evening with small lures in the shallower water. At Lake Lyndon, the fishing comes alive just after dusk. Use a small marabou lure and retrieve it quickly on a floating line. The takes are savage‘ it is not uncommon to land over a dozen fish in an hour! Great fun.

Fishing the high country lakes is a lot easier when the trout are rising. For me when l think of the high country lakes I think of dry fly fishing. You can see where the fish are. It is the visual nature of dry-fly fishing that makes it so exciting. l have found using two flies to be an effective way to fish. Use a larger marker fly such as a large or Black Gnat and a small foam green beetle on a dropper. You can give the fly an occasional twitch, but generally l find dead drifting the flies the most effective way to entice the trout.

Lakes worth checking out:

Pearson

Fish a Black Gnat around the lake’s edges. The Flock Hill Bank also offers good sight fishing for cruisers and dry fly fishing.

Grasmere

Use a small damselfly nymph with slow retrieves over the weedy shallows adjoining the shingle beach

Lyndon

Fishing in the evening with a small lure in the shallows after dusk Benmore- stalking the sand flats with a waterboatman pattern.

Marymere

Use a large foam beetle pattern either sight or blind fished with a light northwester blowing.

Loch Katrine

Stalk the shallows with a waterboatman.

Emma

Early morning rise to caddis flies around the lake’s shore or fish a small marabou damselfly nymph in the weedy shallows.

Monck (Catherine)
Stalking the edges with a black and peacock. Also a very good lake for fishing during a green beetle rise as long as there is a gentle breeze blowing across the lake’s surface.

Boat Fishing

Boat fishing shouldn’t be overlooked. Not only are boats useful to fish from but they also offer access to more remote parts of the shoreline on the larger lakes.

Drifting along the edge of a lake and casting dry flies into the edges, underneath beech trees and around willows is a very exciting way to fish. l am amazed at how few people use boats whether they be small canoes or dinghies, on our high country lakes, it is great fun. Just watch out for the nor-west!

Blue damselfly, kekewai. The males are blue and black shown here, while the females are more greenish. Found around stillwater, near reeds and rushes. Flies October to May. Photo credit Kane Fleury, taken at Ocean Grove, Dunedin. Length 45mm. https://inaturalist.nz/photos/32412296
Blue damselfly, kekewai. The males are blue and black shown here, while the females are more greenish. Found around stillwater, near reeds and rushes. Flies October to May. Photo credit Kane Fleury, taken at Ocean Grove, Dunedin. Length 45mm. https://inaturalist.nz/photos/32412296

Trout flies that I wouldn’t leave home without when going up to the high country lakes are;

Creedons Creeper (Dragonfly nymph)
Marabou damselfly
Black Gnat
Foam Green Beetle
Woolly Bugger (in sizes 4-10)
Mrs Simpson
Black and Peacock (snail pattern)
waterboatman
Hare‘n‘copper

Lake fishing is challenging. There is a wide range of tactics to use and sometimes you have to use almost all of them before you’ll catch fish! Nonetheless, lakes are a lot more relaxing to fish in than rivers and even more so if you use a boat l. Also, the lakes offer dependable fishing, While I still spend most of my time fishing on rivers I find heading up into the mountains and fishing the high country lakes to be a refreshing experience.

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