Lake Heron – at 6.3 sq kms the largest of the Ashburton Lakes

Spin fishing on the western side of Lake Heron.
Spin fishing on the western side of Lake Heron.
Spin fishing around the shoreline of Lake Heron. In the back ground Mt Sugarloaf is shrouded by low cloud.
Spin fishing around the shoreline of Lake Heron. In the background, Mt Sugarloaf is shrouded by low clouds.

Lake Heron/Oturoto Trout & Salmon Fishing

Lake Heron Map (scroll down).

Lake Heron is the largest of the Ashburton lakes covering 6.3 square km. The distance around the shoreline is 19 km. The average depth is about 35m. Early pioneer T.H. Potts named the lake after the white herons he found on the lake. The Maori name for Lake Heron is Oturoto.

It is shaped like a letter Y and sits in a valley between the Taylor Range and Wild Man’s Brother Range.

The Mellish Stream and the Swin River flow into Lake Heron. The outlet is Lake Stream at the northern end, a tributary of the Rakaia River. There is good fishing access along the lower part of the western shoreline from the road. A four-wheel drive is advantageous for reaching the shoreline around the southern side of the lake but is quite walkable from the campground.

This view of the shoreline at the southern end is more typical. Much of the water close to shore is shallow obliging the angler to wade out some distance.
This view of the shoreline at the southern end is more typical. Much of the water close to shore is shallow, obliging the angler to wade out some distance.

Hakatere Conservation Park protects nearly 60,000 hectares of land in Ashburton Lakes District, mid-Canterbury, South Island. The spectrum of recreation activities possible in Hakatere Conservation Park is covered in this brochure. A map of the area helps identify where activities can take place.

Browns Trout, Rainbow Trout and Quinnat Salmon

Lake Heron holds brown trout averaging about 2.5kg with heavier fish, not unusual and rainbow trout averaging about 2kg.

Quinnat salmon move into the lake from the Rakaia River to spawn in the Mellish Stream and then die.

The lake also contains small landlocked quinnat salmon. These are offspring of sea-run fish which remain in the lake instead of going to sea. These small salmon weigh not much over a pound and make up most of the catch.

There are some excellent fat rainbow trout in Lake Heron together with brown trout which are usually harder to catch.

Although there are plenty of fish in the lake, they can sometimes be difficult to catch. First light is the best time to fish which means getting up early during December and January.

Aerosmith range viewed from Lake Heron on 26 February 2024.
Aerosmith range viewed from Lake Heron on 26 February 2024.

South Island Sports Fishing Regulations 2023/2024

As with the other Ashburton lakes, the fishing season opens on the first Saturday in November to April 30. There is no winter extension for Lake Heron. Fly, spinning, and bait fishing are all permitted at Lake Heron.

The minimum length for salmon killed in waters of the Central South Island Region shall be 300mm except in lakes where the minimum length shall be 250mm. In Lake Heron, the minimum length shall be 300mm and the maximum length shall be 450mm.

The bag limit in Lake Heron is 4 sports fish.

There is no minimum length for trout.

At the southern end of the lake near the camping ground trees overhang the water to provide plenty of cover for trout.
View taken at the southern end of the lake. Trees overhang the water to provide plenty of cover for trout.

Motorboats are not permitted on Lake Heron. Trolling or casting from rowed craft is permitted.

Please note that this is intended as a quick roundup of the Sports Fishing Regulations for Lake Heron. We urge you to study the booklet supplied with your fishing licence before fishing any lake, river or stream. 

Fish & Game Sports Fishing Regulations for the South Island pdf brochure.

Kayak fishing is popular but beware of strong winds

One must be very careful of the strong northwest wind which can quickly cause the lake to become rough. If taking a dinghy be prepared not to use it if conditions are marginal. In recent years fishing from kayaks has gained in popularity. Although you could walk around Lake Heron in a day, that would be about 19 km. A dinghy or kayak permits fairly easy access to water that could otherwise not be reached. For safety avoid paddling or rowing out into the middle of the lake. Stay well clear of anglers fishing from shore.

The water clarity in this lake is staggering. In the picture above the water is about a foot deep. There isn't much weed growth in the shallows.
The water clarity in this lake is staggering. In the picture above the water is about a foot deep. There isn’t much weed growth in the shallows.

For trolling behind a rowed dinghy, or kayak, I recommend you try a bibbed minnow such as a Rapala Shad Rap SR5 or Fingerling Hi-Catch. These lures are very effective as they dive down a couple of meters.

The clear water in Lake Heron makes smaller spinning and trolling lures more successful. Try harling with a small grey, green, brown or black Woolly Buggar in a size 4 or 6.

Peter Shutt, in his classic book Fishing in the South Island of New Zealand, recommends you try a Hamill’s Killer or Hopes Dark feathered lure when fishing Lake Heron. 

The most efficient fishing method, given the water clarity, is certainly harling a smallish fly such as a Hamill’s Killer, Mrs Simpson, or an olive Woolly Buggar or small Rabbit Lure in size 4 to 6, from a kayak or row boat. New Zealand Fishing Flies.

Though you often see the swirls of big trout taking insects off the surface, the fish are difficult to spot fly-fishing from the low shoreline or when wading. This can be a bit frustrating and leaves you mostly blind casting. With enough height above the water and the aid of a good mate acting as a spotter, ambushing a big brown trout on its beat is a great tactic. 

View of Lake Heron looking across towards the towering Mt Sugarloaf 1,236m from position marked View 1 on the Hakatere Heron Road shown on the map below.
View of Lake Heron looking across towards the towering Mt Sugarloaf 1,236m from the position marked View 1 on the Hakatere Heron Road shown on the map below.

With the wind blowing trout are generally difficult to spot when sight fishing with the fly rod. Therefore most of the trout and landlocked salmon fishing in Lake Heron is done by spinning. Most anglers spool their spinning reels with a 6 lb monofilament line. This line weight makes for good casting distance and the ability to cover plenty of water while blind fishing. For spinners try a black and gold Toby or Glimmy. Other good spinning lures include green or brown Tassie Devils or the No.10 Super Kobra.

There is a very good shelttered camping ground right at the southern end of the lake. There is no power but there are toilets. Camping fees are very low. This camp ground is very popular during holiday periods.
There is a very good sheltered camping ground right at the southern end of the lake. There is no power but there are toilets. Camping fees are very low. This campground is popular during holiday periods.

The period 1 March to 30 April is when sea-run salmon will be present in Lake Heron having returned up through the Rakaia River and Lake Stream, then across Lake Heron, to spawn and die in Mellish Stream.

Lake Heron is a truly wonderful part of New Zealand. You should allow at least two or three days to fish it properly as well as have a good look around. Avoid being in too much of a rush. This is wilderness camping. Everything you need for fishing and camping you must take with you. The nearest service station where you can buy petrol is Methven. There is a pub and a Holiday Park at Mt Somers 40 km from Lake Heron. The Lake Somers Holiday Park has a camp store selling a limited range of items. They have very good cabins and powered sites for campervans.

Lake Heron Camp Ground information.

Extensive Department of Conservation Hakatere Conservation Park pdf brochure.

Arrowsmith Station Lodge at Lake Heron. Mt Arrowsmith Station is a genuine working high country station and can provide a variety of accommodation options to suit all group sizes and budgets.

Lake Heron Map sourced from LINZ. Crown Copyright Reserved
Lake Heron Map sourced from LINZ. Crown Copyright Reserved

YouTube video

Check out this very good video of Kevin O’Hanlon float tubing on Lake Heron. You can purchase all the gear seen in this video from the Fishermans’ Loft tackle store in Christchurch. Yes, they have float tubes too! There are some really good fishing tips for this lake so pay careful attention.

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