Lake Alexandrina Winter Fishing – Mackenzie Country Trout Fly Fishing
Video: a quick look at the baches (cribs) at the southern end of Lake Alexandrina. The Complete Guide to Fishing the Twizel Canals by Allan Burgess
Rain and sleet thrashed against the south facing windows as a cold icy wind raised squeaks of protest from loose iron on the roof. Back home it was hard to believe that just a few short days ago I had been basking in the glorious sun. A perfect day at Lake Alexandrina, in the Mackenzie Country, and I had been lying back in the tussock sipping a cup of tea, wondering when winter was ever going to arrive.
Well, it was certainly here now, but my memory of that perfect day will keep me warm right through until summer. It had started with my wife saying that if I was going to fish then l had better go soon because there wasn’t much time left. It was near the end of July and the winter extension on Alexandrina would soon end.
Sunday morning, after the frost had cleared, found me heading towards Burke Pass looking at the beginnings of a nice fine day. As far as I could recall l had not left anything behind. Most unusual! You know how it is, you’re on your way but something is not quite right, oh well you figure it must be something minor ….. and it is! Like your rod or your sleeping bag. No, this one was looking good.
Tossing the essentials into my hut at the Tekapo Campground, I cooked up some lunch, filled the thermos and drove out to the lake. It had clouded over a bit and cooled down quite a lot so I rugged up warm after parking at the north end.
I took my rod, not with any real intention of ﬁshing as the day was getting on a bit, but to try out an idea I had for a ’Little Flicker’ type of fly line. It attaches to the end of my regular line in place of the tapered leader. It is sort of a mini ﬂyline of braided dacron over a core of ﬂat shooting mono. The idea is that you can slide the braiding up and down the mono to adjust the weight position on the line. It has a tapered leader attached to the front as per usual. I designed it for those close in little flicks where you have to get your fly out only a few meters from shore at the most. This to me has always been a source of trouble, as my 8 wt. rod did not even begin to work until a few meters of the line has been let out. The rather energetic flailings of this angler on the bank have given the odd ’Troutus Uncatchabilis’ a case of the giggling hysterics I am sure.
I walked down the track beside the feeder stream at the top of the lake and was attracted by the sound of splashing. Rainbows were still on their spawning run and I spent quite a fascinating time watching the spawn in action. I wandered the shore marvelling at the extensive array of birdlife this wonderful lake holds. It really is a southern jewel.
I had recently added a 4wt. rod to my collection (of one) and was yet to christen it. After a few casts and a little weight adjusting, I was quite happy with the handling of my new outfit and looked forward to the following day. A final cast to see what range I now had, saw me casting out as far as I could. The retrieve was a hurried affair but to my amazement, as the lure drew near I saw that it was being followed in by the big blunt head of a decent sized trout!
The lure was a giant fluffy marabou thing l had once tied in the hope that some blind trout might have accidentally fallen on it and hooked itself. It was curiosity bringing the trout in, wondering no doubt what that high-speed thing was! Needlessly I stopped hauling but the fish had me well and truly spotted and finned back out to the deep. I know it was laughing at me but I didn’t care. One, because trout were always laughing at me and I am used to such humiliation, but two, I now knew there were trout at hand and that they were interested in bullies!
A quick scout of the area produced one more cruising brownie and a rough idea of the lie of the land. Back to the car and back to the camp, just wait until tomorrow.
That night I tied up a couple of 12ft. leaders, stretched and de-glossed them, and generally prepared me to do battle with the wily trouts on the morrow.
Thinking back on my exploration that afternoon I realised that most of my lures were far too big and a search of my fly boxes revealed only two possibles of acceptable size. l had better be careful not to lose them! My new outfit had worked well and the ’Little Flicker’ line was allowing single cast presentations with the leader stretched out straight and true. I was delighted with that. The 4wt. rod was letting the line kiss down lightly on the water. Now, this was progress.
One thing though that has been continually annoying me for many years is the damnable habit of the tippet to hang in the surface film and not allow the fly to sink. I have tried every preparation I know of, and several homemade concoctions as well. They work well once, but unless one continually re-coats the line after every cast, they just don’t last! There is nothing more frustrating to me than to spot a good fish, get into position and get a good ambush cast out in the right spot, only to have the fish pass underneath the line hanging up in the surface film. l don’t want to tie a crankshaft in the line to get it to sink! Somehow a lure with that much weight just doesn’t swim naturally. Help! Does anyone have a solution?
In those glass smooth clear water conditions I am using long leaders and by necessity a small lightly weighted lure. How can I get it to the bottom in a hurry? I went to sleep with that thought in mind.
Monday, dawned bright and clear. It was going to be a beauty. l had a quick breakfast, made lunch, filled the all-important thermos and got away early. It was even quite warm when I arrived at the lake, so quickly grabbing everything I went forth to do battle.
Learning time was over. This was the day to catch me some fish! I quietly stalked the edges, keeping as far back as visibility allowed, but amazed at how well I could see into the glassy smooth water with the sun behind me. The first fish saw me first and finned rapidly away, but a cruiser this early was a good sign.
The next I spotted from a slight rise and since it was heading away from me I had the advantage. I realised as I went down the slope that as long as I kept my shadow away from the fish then it would have to look into the sun to spot me. I have caught them like is before. I had on my smallest little fish imitation, a killer style with pale yellow body and some Paradise Duck flank feathers.
The cast was perfect and the fresh-coated leader sank obediently. My quarry turned and slowly approached where the lure lay concealed on the bottom. I twitched the line and nothing. Another twitch, this time, it was seen. The fish darted forward. I saw the wink of white from its open mouth and tightened. Pressure! There was resistance there all right. I lifted the rod and the mirror surface of the lake exploded into a spray of water and fish. Yahoo. My first on the 4wt.
After a couple of powerful runs, I managed to bring it in close enough but on reaching for my net discovered I had left it back in the car! My wife had always told me I had the potential to be a complete idiot. I think she may be right! Oh well, I had planned on letting the first on my new rod go anyway, so I relaxed the tension and soon it spat the barbless hook. Yahoo again! That was great. Typical that I would catch a fish when l didn’t have a net. I was a bit loathe to go all the way back to the car for it, but I just felt this was going to be a good day, so off I went. A good thing too.
On my return to where I left the rod, I was delighted to see another fish just along the shore. Same approach, good cast but no response to my seductive wiggles on the line. Waiting like a statue l stood in a half crouch, frozen to the spot, feeling very exposed on that open slope. Finally, the brownie turned outwards, just enough time to gently lift the line clear, whip it back and delicately plop it out again.
Perfect. Sometimes I do good! The fish was undisturbed and headed back toward my lure. Twitch… twitch… come on see it twitch. Yes! The brownie darted forward only to turn away at the last and resume its cruising. I covered it again but lined it with a sloppy cast. Gone. (Sometimes I don’t do so good). Much enthused I continued along the bank. In some south-facing slopes, frozen snow made footing a bit slippery but at least the swampy bits were frozen and firm to walk on. It was getting quite hot by now, hard to believe it was the middle of winter.
Coming to a small point I saw a ripple ringing out from close in under a tussock. No bird went splashing madly away so I figured …. .. yep! There was the distinctive silhouette of a tail cruising close in. I walked quickly forward unhooking my now proven lure from a rod ring and, holding the fly between thumb and forefinger, let flick a delightful little cast that had just the last metre of line touch the water, no sooner had the line settled when a big snout slowly appeared. Just the faintest hint of a twitch had the fish well and truly hooked. You beauty! Unlike the last, this fish didn’t leap at all. It just headed for the deepest middle of the lake like an express train peeling meter after metre off.
I walked quickly forward unhooking my now proven lure from a rod ring and, holding the fly between thumb and forefinger, let flick a delightful little cast that had just the last metre of line touch the water, no sooner had the line settled when a big snout slowly appeared. Just the faintest hint of a twitch had the fish well and truly hooked. You beauty! Unlike the last, this fish didn’t leap at all. It just headed for the deepest middle of the lake like an express train peeling meter after metre of the line from the screaming reel. I was down to the backing before I managed to arrest that charge and turn its head. The wee 4wt. didn’t have the power to stop them too readily, but it sure was fun! I was under orders to bring back a fish for dinner
I was down to the backing before I managed to arrest that charge and turn its head. The wee 4wt. didn’t have the power to stop them too readily, but it sure was fun! I was under orders to bring back a fish for dinner so, on seeing the condition of this one decided to keep it. A beautiful 3 1/2 lb hen. On opening it up to see what it had been feeding on I was amazed to find a wee trout fry deep in its stomach. It wiggled! So I put it aside and continued with dressing the fish. I kicked a hole in the dirt and buried the guts, leaving the fish in the shade with a rock inside at the edge of the lake. I would collect it on the way back.
Remembering the wee fish, l found it again and plopped it into the water. It ﬂoated for a while then high-tailed it for the bottom, apparently none the worse for wear! Lucky fish I reckon.
The next fish I got onto was a biggie. I was full of confidence by this time so decided to save the small lure that I knew was working and try something else. I chose a black nymph. I was further down the shoreline than I had previously been and had to walk quite a ways high up on a terrace to clear the willows. I can see why the locals fish from rowboats. From high on the hill, I looked down into a clear patch and saw three fish cruising close in. One of them was much larger than the others, 5 maybe 6 lbs so l waited till they were out of sight and hurried down the hill trying not to send any rocks ahead as a calling card. On reaching the bottom I hurriedly cast only to snag up on a matagouri bush behind. Looking back to the lake I was dismayed to see my monster looking straight at me not ten feet away. I froze.
The other two cruised past in no hurry at all. I was half turned and in a very awkward position but dared not move. After an eternity all three moved on and I hurriedly untangled my line, all the while cursing those horrid bushes so perfectly designed to snag and hold a line. Finally with my nymph in the water where it should be l settled down to wait. And wait and wait. I just knew as soon as l packed up or moved at all they would appear again and I would spook them.
I was on the point of flagging it after maybe fifteen minutes when I suddenly realised that one of them was right out in front of me. How they get there without one seeing l do not know. I had been watching the whole time. It was not the big one so I let it pass, the next wasn’t it either. Where was my monster? Oh hell, it was right there at my feet almost touching the shore. I frantically stripped line in with my fingertips hoping against hope the slight movement would not be seen. I could see my nymph darting across the bottom and so did one of the trout, but not the big one! I stopped reeling and let everything sink among the bottom clutter. This was getting ridiculous, the tension had me rigid but I had to let everything go past and wait for the return. I breathed again. The nymph was still in a good position so I left it there.
Sure enough, they soon returned. The big one in the lead. Perfect. I waited till it was about a metre from my nymph and gave it a twitch, it was spotted immediately and the fish turned to follow. I twitched again….. again ….. .. again. Come on take it. It followed the nymph in closer and closer then finally decided to take almost at the shoreline. I saw the white of its mouth open and close and tightened! Instantly all hell let loose and I was splashed with water. I recall a tremendous whack on the rod and an image of shimmering golden flank amid the spray as this big trout leapt vertically from the water. Suddenly the line went slack and I ducked as something black hurtled toward my head. It was the nymph and in dismay, I watched my mighty fish fin it for the deep water. On retrieving the line from its tangle of bushes I discovered that the hook had straightened. I was fair shaking with the adrenaline of it all so tidied up and found a nice sunny spot to sip on a refreshing cup of tea and ponder what might have been. Gosh, it was a nice fish. What a great day I was having! I ate my lunch there and stretched back into the tussock enjoying the warmth of the sun.
Lunch over I headed down a bit further, landed and released two more and pricked another before losing it in a very similar manner to my monster. I think they are so close in and there is so little line out, there is no leeway for stretch or give. The line is instantly tight and must be very quickly released once the hook has set in order to let the rod work as it should. All part of the learning curve I say. I wasn’t complaining, I was having a great time.
By now I had landed four, keeping one, and pricked two others. I had tried for maybe ten more but had either spooked them with inept casts or been refused. I was a long way from the car so turned back for the return journey. The sun was now on my left shoulder and I would have to be careful of shadows on the water.
One really funny incident had me giggling at my own stupidity. I had cast a decent sized fish and in the now familiar routine of twitch till the fish response saw it dart toward my lure and the familiar wink of white from the opening mouth. I tightened and was rewarded with the solid pressure of a well-hooked fly, lifted the rod into a mighty arch but could not understand why the trout just swam nonchalantly on, till it dawned on me that I was firmly attached to a 20 lb rock! For some reason, I found this extremely funny and cracked up giggling fit to burst.
I worked my way back but the fish were fewer now and seemed a bit more, wary. I retrieved my taken fish and hooked and landed one more with a superb cast that plopped the lure down right next to the fish’s shoulder. It turned and snapped and so number five was released after a spell of aerobatics from a small but very strong fish. I was delighted with that so packed up my rod and headed back to the car.
That was enough for me and I still had a way to drive home. It was one of those glorious days out of the bag that one is privileged to experience every once in a while. One that provides me with fond memories these cold dark winter nights. Now if only I could find a way to make the leader sink.
“Lake Alexandrina is 7.2km in length. It was named after Alexandrina Robinson, a sister of William and John Robinson, partners with John McGregor in Glenmore Station. The trout, for which the lake is now famous, were liberated by John McGregor in 1881. McGregor said that the young trout were sent from Christchurch by train to Albury and by coach from there to Burkes Pass by Elijah Smart and Maxwell Black. It was midnight when they arrived at Burkes Pass, where McGregor was waiting. McGregor took possession of the trout, drove straight-away to Lake Alexandrina and liberated them there just before dawn. All the trout, except three, survived the long and varied trip.” From rootsweb.ancestry.com Here is the link Trout were first introduced into Lake Alexandrina, Gray’s Creek, and the Upper Pareora Rivers on 14th October 1881. There are also some very interesting old photographs showing the baches (cribs) at Lake Alexandrina. Interesting history including nearby Lake McGregor and Lake Tekapo.
Lake Alexandrina Fishing Season and Bag Limits
Open Season for Lake Alexandrina and its tributaries 1 November – 30 April. Permitted fishing methods are fly and spin fishing. The daily bag limit is 4 trout of which only 1 may be a brown trout. The salmon limit is 2 fish.
Winter Season for Lake Alexandrina 1 June – 31 July. The winter extension bag limit is 2 trout or salmon, but no brown trout.
Fishing from boats is allowed on the lake. However, down-riggers, paravanes, metal-cored or wire lines and weights to assist sinking of trolled lures are prohibited in Lake Alexandrina.
Lake Alexandrina Trout Tagging Video with Central South Island Fish and Game.
Above: Over 20 volunteers from the Lake Alexandrina Conservation Trust help Central South Island Fish & Game Staff tag trout as part of a six-year-long research project.