By Allan Burgess
Table of Contents
- Re-Captured Tagged Trout Shows Phenomenal Growth Rate
- Upper Section of Tekapo Canal Closed to Fishing from 1 June to 31 August 2022
- Overnight Camping is Not Permitted Beside the Canals
- Twizel Campgrounds
- Freedom Camping
- Reason for the Twizel Canals Fishing Boom
- Steep Decline of the Sea-Run Salmon in Canterbury a Factor
- Spawning Time! When to Fish the Twizel Canals
- When Salmon Escape from the Twizel Canals Farm Cages
- Flow Rates are Important when fishing the Twizel Canals
- If the flow has stopped try fishing a different canal
- Serious Fishing – In search of the Canals 30-pound plus Monster Trout
- Tackle for the Twizel Canals – Soft Baits are the most Popular
- The Rise of Fish Eggs for Fishing the Canals
- Fly Fishing is possible in the Twizel Canals – Most fish are taken on spinning tackle
- Twizel Canals Fishing Maps
Here are some Twizel Canals Fishing Tips to get you started. There is 58 km of hydro canals in the Mackenzie Country between Tekapo and the small South Canterbury town of Twizel. The canals have become a tremendously popular freshwater fishing destination over the past few years. There are regular angling visitors travelling to fish the canals from as far away as the North Island and Australia.
Re-Captured Tagged Trout Shows Phenomenal Growth Rate
7 June 2022. Earlier this week Central South Island Fish and Game released details of two recently recaptured tagged brown trout taken in the Tekapo Canal. When removed from Lake Tekapo and tagged in July 2020 one of the two fish measured 415mm and was estimated to have weighed 1.5-2 pounds.
Amazingly, when re-captured by Scott Miller about 22 months later it had grown to an incredible estimated weight of 22 pounds. That equals an annual growth rate of about 10 pounds (4.5kg). The really interesting thing about it is that trout in Lake Tekapo only grow to a maximum size of three to five pounds (1.3-2.3kg). Here is the fish after it was recaptured by Scott Millar in the Tekapo Canal. Scott released it back into the Tekapo Canal where I’m sure it will be growing even bigger!
A second brown trout re-captured in the Tekapo Canal after being netted and tagged by Central South Island Fish and Game from Lake Tekapo at the same time grew even bigger. It put on an estimated 14 pounds (6.3kg) of growth per year.
Upper Section of Tekapo Canal Closed to Fishing from 1 June to 31 August 2022
Overnight Camping is Not Permitted Beside the Canals
Anglers are allowed to fish the canals at night however overnight camping on the roads around the canals is not permitted. You must camp in designated areas only.
The Twizel Canals are ideal for anglers with campervans. The access roads around the canals are generally wide and tar sealed with a few minor exceptions. There is enough room for parking your van on the side of the road and enjoying all the comforts that fishing from your own mobile home brings. The only place where the road is a bit narrow is beside the Tekapo Canal past the “Fish Bowl” or Stilling Basin.
In much of New Zealand, we have very good drive-up access for trout fishing. However, in most places, if you are unfamiliar with the terrain you need to play it safe and stick close to the main roads in order to avoid getting hopelessly stuck. Almost everywhere it is better to park and walk but at the Twizel Canals, you are pretty safe.
Many campervanning visiting tourists from overseas, as well as from New Zealand, include a wonderful and relaxing day or two of fishing at Twizel on their itinerary as they circumnavigate the South Island.
If you plan on doing any fishing, you must, of course, purchase a Freshwater Fishing Licence before doing so from Fish and Game New Zealand. You can read all about it here: General Fishing Licence Info.
If you are not really a super keen angler chasing a 30-pound trophy trout and you don’t have all the right tackle, keep in mind that you are permitted to fish in the canals with a baited hook. This is the leisurely way to fish and will simplify the tackle you’ll need. All you have to do is cast out, sit back and wait for a fish to come along.
Just to complicate matters you aren’t permitted to fish with just any old bait like cut fish fillets, or squid! But you are allowed to use shrimp that you can get from most supermarkets. You can read all about Natural Bait Fishing in the Twizel Canals, how to do and the rig to use in my downloadable ebook here.
There are several commercial campgrounds in Twizel. The one that I like and recommend is Lake Ruataniwha Holiday Park & Motels. There is an onsite shop selling a limited selection of fishing tackle. Accommodation ranges from studio motels to two small cabins. During the wintertime, Twizel can be very cold at night with the temperature dropping to at least minus 10 degrees C. You have to get the heavy frost off your car’s windscreen before you can head off back to the canals in the morning.
If you’re anything like me and you’re going to spend virtually the whole time you’re in Twizel fishing then perhaps one of these little cabins with the heater on may be all you need for a good night’s sleep. Lake Ruataniwha Holiday Park & Motels.
The Twizel Holiday Park is good too. I have only stayed there once. It is closer to the middle of town but it was completely booked out on several occasions when I tried to get a room there. Twizel Holiday Park. It is too cold to stay in a tent during the winter so I advise you to phone and book your accommodation in advance.
Lake Ruataniwha. There is a freedom camping ground off Max Smith drive between the road and Lake Ruataniwha, little more than a stone’s throw from excellent fishing in the Pukakai and Ohau Canals. There are no toilets. It is designated for certified self-contained vehicles only. This is a really beautiful spot overlooking the lake. I have stayed there on several occasions in my campervan during the winter. It is a very large area which I shared with just a couple of other anglers.
Lake Pukaki. Freedom Camping is also permitted around parts of the shore of Lake Pukaki for self-contained vehicles only. The Pines camping area on Hayman Road. Not only do you get a great view of Mount Cook on a clear day, but you are also close to the Tekapo Canal and Fish Bowl.
There are three more freedom camping areas at the southern end of Lake Pukaki. One at the start of Haymen Road, and two off State Highway 8. These camping areas are all designated for self-contained vehicles only.
Here is a full list of the 9 free (or almost free) campsites around Twizel listed on Camplify.co.nz
Updated 22 March 2022
- Lake Pukaki Overnight Campervan Parking (free).
- The Pines (free).
- Lake Wardell Rest Area Overnight Campervan Parking (free).
- Lake Poaka Campsite (free).
- Round Bush Camp (free).
- Lake Middleton Campsite – Department of Conservation. $8 per night (per adult) Click for more info.
- Lake Ruataniwha Reserve (free)
- Falstone Creek Camping Ground $20 per night (per family)
- Ohau C Camping Ground $30 per night (per family). There is a lower winter rate. Click for more info.
Reason for the Twizel Canals Fishing Boom
There are several obvious reasons for this angling boom! There are very big trout and salmon in the canals some of which weigh over forty pounds! There are also very good numbers of large rainbow trout weighing between 15 and 20 odd pounds with plenty of fish weighing around the 30-pound mark also.
Secondly, these big fish are relatively easy to catch; especially if you can put the time in. All that is needed is a bit of knowledge to set you on the right path to success.
Steep Decline of the Sea-Run Salmon in Canterbury a Factor
I’m sure the steep decline of the Sea-Run salmon fishery in Canterbury over the past two decades has greatly contributed to the increased interest and subsequent popularity of fishing at the Twizel Canals.
Salmon anglers all the way up the east coast of the South Island now regularly travel to Twizel to get their fishing fix. Whereas in the past they would have had to drive over many braided rivers holding large salmon in order to make the three and a half hour (almost 300km) drive each way from Christchurch City.
A mate of mine used to travel down to the Twizel Canals 20 years ago. I remember him inviting me to go with him on several occasions but I declined. He would make the long journey there and back in a single day because the fishing was that good he deemed it worth the effort. Personally, I thought he was nuts! I had no trouble catching trout and salmon in Canterbury. I considered the round trip of at least seven hours to be crazy.
Facebook and cell phones have greatly contributed to the Twizel Canals fishing bonanza. Information about big fish being caught now spreads at lightning speed. Where once a photograph of a big fish might have appeared in a fishing magazine weeks after being caught; nowadays that same photograph is flashed around the internet to thousands of people before the fish has even stopped twitching.
In those days to catch a really big trout required knowledge and experience. You had to find out for yourself where the fish were. Trial and error were needed to find, hook and land a trophy size trout. If you were lucky a mate might put you and a few close friends in the picture but generally, you were on your own.
Here are some Twizel Canals Fishing Tips to get you fishing more productively.
Flow Matters! The Canals Fish Better When The Water Is Moving!
Canal fishing improves considerably when there is a bit of current. For the water to flow the gates need to be open to allow water to enter the canals from the storage lakes. Flow is also created when water is being drawn from the canals down the penstocks to the turbines, to generate electricity.
The more flow the better. When there is flow larger predatory trout move to take advantage of food items like insects and small fish being carried to them. They lie in wait for food to come to them much as river fish do. Productive fishing can be had at the upstream end of the canals where water is tumbling in from the supply lakes.
Spawning Time! When to Fish the Twizel Canals
Browns, rainbows, and salmon move upstream to spawn in New Zealand during the colder months of the year. Generally, salmon spawn first, followed by browns which move into lake tributaries from April onwards. Rainbows run up rivers from the lakes to spawn from May through August with rains the catalyst for the movement.
However, trout and salmon in the Mackenzie Country Canals are landlocked; or should that be canal-locked. During winter rainbow trout in spawning colours run upstream as far as they can go. This movement is perhaps triggered in canal-locked populations by the opening of the intake gates, and outflow from the power generation dams.
One thing we do know is that a constant stream of big rainbow trout in spawning colours can be caught at the intakes of the Ohau, Pukaki, and Tekapo Canals from May onwards. If the generators are operating big rainbows and at least some browns will be in the white-water directly below the inlet gates. Perhaps the best, certainly the most popular place to catch them is at the Ohau A inlet which lets in water from Lake Ohau.
When Salmon Escape from the Twizel Canals Farm Cages
There are many thousands of salmon contained in nets at the four fish farms. Mt Cook Alpine Salmon is upon the Tekapo Canal. The other three farms are near Twizel; Mt Cook Alpine Salmon on the Ohau A Canal, High Country Salmon on the Wairepo Arm of Lake Ruataniwha, and Benmore Salmon floating on the Ohau B/C Canal. Every so often there are escapes from these salmon farms. Towards the end of 2011, there was a release of 36,000 salmon smolt from Mt Cook Salmon’s hatchery. There have also been escapes from the other fish farms.
In 2013 there were enormous numbers of escaped salmon weighing around four pounds being caught around the fish farm on Ohau A. I remember one afternoon hooking and releasing something like 17 salmon. There all had the tell-tale worn tail fins of salmon that had been reared in the holding pens. These are excellent eating fish.
On or about 14 June 2019 some 2000 mature salmon – that were due for harvest later in the year – escaped from Mt Cook Alpine Salmon in the Ohau C Canal. This set off a “feeding frenzy” of anglers from around the South Island. Fishermen and women converged from everywhere to line the banks of the Ohau C Canal that weekend.
News of such escapes travels like wildfire over the internet. One day I climbed up a low hill overlooking the rafts on Ohau A to take some pictures. Incredibly I counted 450 rods from that one spot. There were many campervans and cars lining both sides of the canal adjacent to the fish farm. Sadly, there were people taking way more fish than the two they were permitted to take. I suspect many were also fishing without a license! Certainly, there are aspects to fishing the canals that bring out the worst in some people. A very good angler I spoke with recently said he was mostly a fly fisherman. He reckoned the blokes where he worked regarded his trips to catch and release big trout at the canals meant he had, “gone over to the dark side.”
When there has been a recent escape fishing near the fish farms can be very productive.
Flow Rates are Important when fishing the Twizel Canals
When there is no, or very little, water movement in the canals you are essentially fishing a big, long, featureless lake. The best fishing method to employ, if you are not inclined to fish a shrimp bait, as many do, is to dead-drift a soft bait. When the water is very slow-moving, or still, a very light jig head 1/16th or even 1/32 of an ounce is used to simulate a small fish drifting naturally down from above. This method has proven very effective. Only a few turns are made on the reel just to keep in touch with the lure. It is not retrieved at all as one would a spinner.
Above: A four-pound salmon is reeled in at the confluence of the Ohau A and Pukaki Canals. Salmon this size are very good eating and are being constantly replaced in the canals by Fish and Game releases and the occasional escape.
If the flow has stopped try fishing a different canal
I have it on very good authority that many of the best fish are not caught at the fish farms or the lake inlets. The Ohau C Canal, in particular, has a reputation for producing some huge fish. The article by Rasmus Gabrielsson, from the Cawthron Institute, (now manager of North Canterbury Fish & Game) shows that there are big fish right throughout the canals. The canal fishery is most certainly not sustained just by fish pellets alone. I invite you to read my article: Study Shows the Twizel Canals Fishery More Self-Sustaining than First Thought.
Bait fishing also comes into its own when there is no water movement.I have seen plenty of fish caught in the Stilling Basin at the end of the Tekapo Canal on lures like Tasmanian Devils and small silver spoons. It pays to take a variety of tackle with you when heading to the canals so that you can switch methods as and when the need arises.
Serious Fishing – In search of the Canals 30-pound plus Monster Trout
Tackle for the Twizel Canals – Soft Baits are the most Popular
Standard tackle for the canals is a 7-foot rod designed for a 6-8 lb line. Preferably graphite and designed for casting soft-baits rather than spinners. Such a rod will be stiff in the butt yet fine at the tip. The rod is teamed with a suitable eggbeater reel spooled with 150 meters of braid. Unless you have a very small reel you will have to partly load the spool first with sufficient backing line to ensure your braid fills the spool to within 2 mm of the edge of the spool otherwise casting distance will suffer.
Many anglers make the mistake of fishing with a heavier 6-8 kg rod better suited to salmon fishing in Canterbury. If you are dead-drifting nymphs from a dam wall with a light sinker into the “washing machine” it isn’t going to matter. But if you want to cast 1/16 ounce jig heads you will cast much further and feel way more hits on the lure with a rod designed for the purpose. The rod that works best for me is a Berkley Dropshot Series BDS701M. It is a 4 kg rod so is about as heavy as you would want to go for soft baiting the canals. I have this rod matched with a Shimano Aerocast 4010. This outfit is also huge fun when kahawai fishing. Many fish the canals on even lighter gear which is particularly effective when casting light jigs. You will be able to feel bumps on the lure with a 1-3 kg rod that you’ll miss on a heavier outfit. You can read more about the best rods and reels, and the techniques for fishing soft baits in the canals here at The Complete Guide to Fishing the Twizel Canals by Allan Burgess.
It pays to have at least one spare rod kept in your vehicle in case your main rod suffers some sort of accident or malfunction. You wouldn’t want to drive a long distance to the canals only to shut your only rod in the car door before you even cast a line. Rods being shut in a car door is the single biggest cause of accidental breakages. It is a mistake easily made particularly in the dark.
The Rise of Fish Eggs for Fishing the Canals
A couple of years back almost all anglers fishing the canals did so using 5cm soft bait minnows (pictured just below). Casting and retrieving this type of lure worked well and still does. However, experienced and successful anglers realised that fishing very small soft bait eggs and Glow-bugs actually increased their strike rate. This seems on the surface to make little sense. Why would a 30-pound plus rainbow trout be interested in a single tiny 5mm fish egg drifting along in the current? Surely a fat 5cm long imitation of a small fish like a bully would be more to a big trout’s liking!
The answer is that big trout mostly hold station near the bottom of the canal where they sit and wait for food to come to them. Why would a big fish waste energy swimming up and down if it didn’t need to. The name of the game is to fish your egg imitation in such a way that it drifts naturally along in the current until it comes within easy striking distance of a big fish. Obviously, you need at least a little bit of flow in the canal to carry the egg along to the waiting trout so it doesn’t work that well if the flow has stopped.
To make this method work efficiently you need to walk along the bank so that the egg drifts along close to the bottom as opposed to being repeatedly cast and retrieved as you would a spinner. This walking downstream along the bank to keep in touch with your offering as it is drift fished with the current is widely known as egg-rolling. It borrows some of the key aspects of fly fishing rather than spin fishing. Egg rolling is the most productive fishing method for catching really big trout in the canals. You can read all about this method in my article here Egg Rolling Fishing Method in the Mackenzie Country Canals, pay careful attention to the videos on this page to learn the finer points of egg rolling.
The light rods used to fish the canals are usually 4kg or less. These fine diameter rods won’t take any abuse and are easily broken. Many anglers upgrade their rods over time which makes the old redundant rod an ideal backup. Having the right rod for fishing the canals makes a big difference to your fishing enjoyment. Being able to cast a lightweight soft bait and jig head all the way across the canal and stay in touch with the drift to feel every bite of a fish even if it just mouths the lure will make a big difference to your hookup rate.
You will also get greater casting distance if you fish finer diameter braid. I have been using Sufix 832 Advanced Superline. Sufix 832 at 20 lb breaking strain is equivalent in diameter to 6 lb monofilament at 0.23 mm. Sufix 832 at 10 lb breaking strain is equivalent to 4 lb mono at 0.20mm. If you go right down to Sufix 832 at 6 lb test it is the same diameter as 2 lb test monofilament at just 0.14 mm in diameter. The lightest 6 lb test stuff is super fine and great for casting light lures but at $40.00 per 150-meter spool, you won’t be able to use it for much else. Note the difference between Sufix 832 with 20 lb or 10 lb breaking strain is just 0.03 mm. The 20 lb stuff is fine enough and will also be good for salmon and kahawai fishing. It’s up to you.
Fly Fishing is possible in the Twizel Canals – Most fish are taken on spinning tackle
Sure you can fish much lighter gear but it will take a lot longer to land a big powerful trout, exhausting and stressing the fish in the process which significantly lessens its likelihood of survival should you wish to release it. Try to land any trout or salmon you plan on releasing as quickly as possible.
I like to add two-rod lengths of 15 lb mono as a shock leader joining the two lines with an FG knot. Here is a link to a good Youtube video showing how to tie this knot. It works wonderfully well. You can barely feel the knot pass through your rod guides. Quickest Way to Tie the FG Knot (The Strongest Braid to Leader Fishing Knot).
A fluorocarbon leader is better but more expensive than monofilament. Fluorocarbon will sink faster and be less visible to fish. Again it is up to you which you prefer but the fish don’t seem to know the difference.
Twizel Canals Fishing Maps
Finally, when fishing the likes of the Ohau A wall with nymphs or streamers your safest bet is to use very small three-way swivels and make up your dropper rig with uni-knots for your backbone and droppers. I lost count of the numbers of good fish people would lose as a result of trying to tie dropper knots in light fluorocarbon only to have the line break at the knot. Remember these fish can be very big and are frequently foul hooked. Any weakness in your gear will quickly be found out!
You might also like: Egg Rolling Fishing Method in the Mackenzie Country Canals
Tekapo Tourism Webcam At least 10 views of Lake Tekapo and Tekapo Township are updated throughout the day.
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