Central South Island

Twizel Canals Fishing Tips – Ohau, Pukaki and Tekapo Canals, Maps Video

By Allan Burgess

Table of Contents

Twizel Canals Fishing Tips – Plus 35lb rainbow video

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.

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.

Tom Racz with a handsome rainbow jack trout weighing over 12 lbs taken in the Ohau A Canal, Mackenzie Country. Twizel Canals Fishing Tips.
Releasing a big rainbow trout caught in the Ohau A canal. Photo: Allan Burgess – Twizel Canals Fishing Tips.

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.

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 over eight hours to be crazy.

Many of the big fish are taken at the Ohau A wall. The fish are difficult to land and many are lost.

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.

Salmon taken in the Tekapo Canal on a Tasmanian Devil lure. Note the worn down tail. A sure sign the fish is an escapee! Photograph courtesy of Logan Ahlfeld.

1. 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.

Underwater image of 31 lb rainbow jack trout in spawning colours released back into the Ohau A Canal.

2. 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.

A bright silver salmon from the Tekapo Canal. Fish this size are great for eating. Photograph courtesy of Logan Ahlfeld.

3. 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.

Rainbow trout taken in Ohau C Canal in almost still water conditions. Photograph courtesy of Paul Spicer.

4. 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.

5. 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.

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When the water flow stops because the power company is experiencing reduced demand for electricity the canal becomes in effect a very long narrow lake. Drift fishing then loses its effectiveness and anglers are better to switch to lake fishing methods. A more active approach is more likely to produce results such as fishing a small spinner or soft bait minnow.

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. 

Looking across the Stilling Basin – often called the Fish Bowl – at the southern end of the Tekapo Canal. The entrance to the canal is at the top left of the picture.

Standard tackle for the canals is a 7-foot rod designed for 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 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.

7. 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.

Soft bait 5cm minnows. I’m often asked which soft-baits I use for fishing the canals. I prefer certain colours because I have been successful with them in the past. I’ve also found that you can be casting away with a particular colour sometimes without success. Then as soon as you change to something else you often get a hit straight away. It pays to carry a selection. I have been successful on this colour plenty of times. They are Dragon V Lures. The top two are Bandits, and the bottom two are Lunatics.  These have a bit of everything including bronze, red and green with black spots. I also use as much weight as I can to get the lure down near the bottom, given the flow rate. I also like to paint the lead heads with gold nail polish.

Here are a couple of nymphs that have proven top fish takers on the Ohau A Wall. They are the Black Tungsten Bead Head Attractor Nymph and the Wiggle Legs Bluebottle Pheasant Tail Nymph.

Fishing the Bowl on the Tekapo Canal.

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.

8. Fly Fishing is possible in the Twizel Canals – Most fish are taken on spinning tackle

Michael Levitt from Australia caught this rainbow jack on fly rod and reel.

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.

9. Twizel Canals Fishing Maps

Map showing the Tekapo Canal at the Lake Pukaki end. Note the small lake called the Stilling Basin – often called the Fish Bowl by anglers. A lot of salmon are caught here. Best fishing is when the canal is flowing. Map courtesy of Digital Globe and Google 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.

Map of Twizel Township, Pukaki and Ohau Canals. Map courtesy of Digital Globe, Cnes/Spot Image, and Google Maps. There are more detailed fishing maps in The Complete Guide to Fishing the Twizel Canals.

Above: Mouse-Over carousel to change picture. Double-click to enlarge.

You might also like: Egg Rolling Fishing Method in the Mackenzie Country Canals

You might also like: Mackenzie Country Canals Mid-Winter – Angler Etiquette – Photo Gallery

You might also like: Landing and Releasing Big Trout in the Canals Video – Don’t Panic Stay Calm

You might also like: Dressed Jigs for Monster Trout and Salmon in the Twizel Canals – Video

You might also like: Bikini Trout Twizel Canals Fishing Story

Jacob with a big Twizel Canals brown trout taken at night. Photo courtesy of JacobFishing_NZ on Instagram and Facebook.
Absolute beast of a brown trout caught in the Twizel Canals during 2019. Photograph courtesy of Lance Gill and Fish The Drift NZ.
Paul Spicer caught this 28lb whopper of a brown trout at the Twizel Canals. Photography courtesy of Paul Spicer.
Pat Noone caught this “mega-monster” 30 lb-7 oz rainbow jack from the Twizel Canals during winter 2019. Congratulations Pat.
Bryce Helms 41 lb brown trout. The monster brown trout, was caught in one of the Twizel Canals by Bryce Helms in the South Island’s Mackenzie Country. It tipped the scales at 19.05kg. That was just 50 grams short of the world record.
Chris Anker with a rainbow hen about to be released back into the Ohau A Canal.
Michael Levitt caught this rainbow jack on fly fishing tackle.
Richard Bell and huge rainbow jack in vivid spawning livery. An outstanding fish and equally outstanding photography.
Malcolm Bell from The Complete Angler tackle store in Christchurch City pictured with a big rainbow jack.
Tom Racz with a handsome rainbow jack trout weighing over 12 lbs taken in the Ohau A Canal, Mackenzie Country.
Jayden hooked this awesome rainbow jack on the Cleardrift lumo egg just as the sun disappeared! Drift fishing the Tekapo Canal. Photograph courtesy of Lance Gill and Fish The Drift NZ.
Allan Burgess caught and released this pretty coloured brown trout from Ohau A canal.
The monsters keep coming. Here’s a 27lb Rainbow trout from the Canals. Photograph courtesy of Lance Gill and Fish The Drift NZ.
Zack Reid with a stunning winter-time rainbow jack in full spawning colours.

This post was last modified on 14/05/2022 1:27 pm

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