by Allan Burgess
One of the controversies that surround fishing in the Twizel Canals relates to the percentage of trout that survive after being caught and released. Some of the big trout captured and let-go back into the canals clearly don’t survive. Evidence of these being sightings of dead fish floating past “belly up.”
In my experience fishing at the canals, I would say as many as 90% of the big trout caught are released – certainly, that would be the case with most of the highly experienced expert fishermen I have fished with. In fact, many people who fish the canals release every single fish they catch. It seems to me that most anglers will keep the salmon but release all the trout they catch. There are exceptions of course. Some “blokes” will keep every single fish they legally can. Others will keep every single fish period. As for the salmon, most that are taken by anglers are probably kept for dinner of bottling. Fair enough as the salmon are being constantly replaced. Furthermore salmon die after spawning.
It is Central South Island Fish and Game (CSI Fish & Game) that are responsible for monitoring the fishery and setting catch limits. On 5 August this year, CSI Fish & Game announced a Precautionary Closure to the Upper Tekapo Canal trout fishery (upstream of State Highway 8) from June 1 to August 31 in 2021. See details about this winter 2021 Precautionary Closure.
This part of the Tekapo Canal has come under enormous fishing pressure from anglers trying to catch big spawning rainbows using the popular and successful egg-rolling technique and other methods. Egg-rolling being a fishing technique whereby an artificial fish egg – usually a soft bait egg – is drifted down the canal close to the bottom with the aid of small sinker to imitate this natural trout food. It is a particularly effective method when employed over winter when the trout are spawning. However egg-rolling works all year round and in any of the canals.
The section of the Tekapo Canal that will be closed for three months next winter is widely known as the Magic Carpet between State Highway 8 and Lake Tekapo. This spawning area up until about five years ago was virtually unfished. CSI Fish & Game are worried that if substantial natural spawning does take place along this section it could possibly have a seriously detrimental effect on the fishery. Afterall trout and salmon swim upstream to spawn and therefore congregate in this section of water even if it is just a canal. Note that all the other Twizel Canals are open all year.
I have read many posts on social media from concerned anglers who paint a picture of gloom and doom. They frequently say that this sort of massive fishing pressure on the Twizel Canals will eventually ruin the fishery. The canals certainly get a lot of fishing pressure from anglers who travel from far and wide to experience this magnificent fishery. Anglers, both locals and overseas visitors get to catch a big trout in the canals that they would otherwise only see pictures of in books. It really is a world-class fishery.
Some of the top anglers who fish the Twizel Canals have suggested to me that the canals be made catch and release only. Personally, I wouldn’t like to see that happen. But it would be better to see that change than there be no fishery at all. So far the canals seem to be holding their own.
Many also believe that fish don’t survive catch and release in the canals as a result of well-meaning anglers going about the process incorrectly. If trout are kept out of the water for too long, squeezed underneath, dropped on the stones, played to exhaustion, have their gills damaged and so on, then they won’t survive the catch and release experience.
If you do intend to release a fish it is important to have a plan devised ahead of time. This applies to the novice as well as the more experienced. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen anglers net a big trout, lift it from the water and carry it up onto the stones and place their net down with the fish in it. They then start fumbling around looking for their scales to weigh their fish and find their camera after searching through their bag to take photographs. And all this after the poor fish has been played on very light line to total exhaustion.
Have Twizel Canals fish release plan
If you have a mate to net the fish for you it helps a lot, especially with really big trout. You need a large net for the next bit. With your fish securely in the net don’t lift it out of the water. Instead, draw the net to the water’s edge and leave the fish in the net for the moment.
If you are going to take a picture you can do so with the trout still in the net and the net still in the water. However, I understand that you will likely want to take a photograph of you holding the fish. In that case, have your mate get the camera ready to take the picture before you lift the fish from the net.
Have your mate take six or so photographs one after the other the instant you have lifted the fish out of the water then lower the fish back into the net straight away. Wet your hands first before lifting the fish.
It is important to get a good grip around the base of the tail especially if the fish is still green or it will launch itself onto the stones (yes I’ve made that mistake once or twice because I didn’t want to squeeze too hard). With your other hand hold the fish under the gill plate with you hand as flat as possible. Don’t squeeze its stomach. This whole process of taking photographs should take less than ten seconds. It might sound a bit silly but you can practice the whole thing at home.
Now you can focus on releasing the fish by bending over so as not to lift it from the water again. Your long-suffering mate may be able to take a few more snaps of it being released. Point the fish upstream so water is passing through its mouth and gills and wait for the fish to swim forward from your hands.
Anything we can do to increase the chances of a released fish surviving and going on to spawn can only be good for the fishery as a whole.