Glenorchy, Anglers’ Eldorado, Rees, Dart Rivers, Diamond, Lake Wakatipu

Glenorchy Fishing, The Anglers’ Eldorado

Glenorchy, The Rees and Dart Rivers, The Diamond System – Diamond Lake, upper Diamond Creek – Reid Lake, and lower Diamond Creek – and Lake Wakatipu

by Dick Marquand

Without a doubt, one of the most interesting and productive areas that I have been privileged to fish for trout is at the head of Lake Wakatipu, near the small settlement of Glenorchy.

While working for over fifteen years in the Queenstown area as a Fish and Game Officer, I spent much of my spare time and work time at Glenorchy. I took every opportunity to familiarise myself with this anglers’ eldorado.

It did not take me long to realise that Glenorchy has everything the trout angler could ever want, offering a wide variety of angling opportunities in a variety of waters for both rainbow trout and brown trout. May I add that all this is offered amidst spectacular breathtaking scenery!

Let us take a look at this fisheries resource, the locations and the methods that I have found to be successful.

The Glenorchy Lagoon

This productive brown trout fishery which is underrated and overlooked by the visiting angler is one of my favourite angling locations. It can be found on the outskirts of Glenorchy between the Rees River and the road which gives access to the Rees and Dart River valleys. Access to the eastern side of the lagoon is from this road, while access to the western side involves a short walk across rough pasture land.

The lagoon and the surrounding swampy wetland is important fish and wildlife habitat, values which are reflected by its status as a wildlife management reserve. The lagoon consists of two bodies of water which are joined in the middle by a narrow channel. The southernmost portion of the lagoon is very shallow and has limited angling value, particularly in mid-summer when the emergent aquatic vegetation flourishes. It is the northern section of the lagoon that provides the greatest angling opportunities.

The Rees River has many attributes of a wilderness fishery, low fishing pressure and large trout amidst breathtaking scenery.

The shallow waters of the lagoon are rich in aquatic invertebrates such as dragonfly nymphs, damselfly nymphs and backswimmers. During a hot summer afternoon, a haze of adult damselflies can be seen around and over the lagoon where they provide a little extra for the hungry brownies. On such days, above the chorus of frogs, you will hear the constant plopping and splashing of trout as they attempt an aerial connection with adult dragonflies.

The observant angler will be constantly rewarded by seeing brown trout quickly swimming just below the surface tracking dragonflies and then explosively leaping from the water to intercept these low flying morsels. Do not let anyone tell you that brown trout do not take these large predatory insects, on many occasions I have seen them do so. The brown trout also eagerly accepts any adult damselfly is unfortunate enough to get stuck in the surface tension of the water.

Obviously, the best time to fish the Glenorchy Lagoon is during the summer and autumn months when the insect life is most prolific. The best success that I have had is during the hottest part of the day, especially when a gentle breeze ripples the surface.

These brownies require a careful approach and the angler must be aware that even the slightest movement around the edge of the lagoon seems to disturb the wary fish. I tend to find an area that looks promising, keep a low profile and attempt to intercept the brownies as they cruise to within easy casting

Successful Dry Flies

My favourite flies include a mudeye or dragonfly nymph imitation, especially during the late spring
and early summer months. A proven pattern is the McDonald Mudeye Damselfly nymph imitations work well, as do the backswimmer and water boatman patterns. Dry flies that I have used successfully at this location include the Black Gnat, Molefly and the Red-bodied Humpy. The latter fly works particularly well on calm hot summer days when myriads of adult damselflies can be seen hovering, mating and egg-laying in paired formation, and resting on the aquatic vegetation around the edge of the lagoon.

The Woolly Bugger or Leech Fly is another of my favourite patterns for this water.

These brown trout are generally in good condition with an average weight of around 1.25kg. I have caught some fine brownies from these waters weighing up to 2.7kg and have lost much larger trout. The problem, especially on calm clear days, is using a tippet that is fine enough to fool a large brownie, yet strong enough to command control on a fish that is hell-bent on reaching the aquatic vegetation and snags.

Spinning Gear

Threadline angling is permitted in Glenorchy Lagoon and the best success with this gear is on windy days and during the short period when change-of-light occurs in the early morning and late evening. Under the Otago Fish and Game District Anglers Notice, the Glenorchy Lagoon is covered by the term “all other waters,” and as such, at the time of writing, is open to fishing from 1 October to 31 May.

A word of warning to those of you who may be tempted to wade these waters. Without a doubt, you will scare your wary quarry and consequently miss out on your best opportunities. Whatever you do, do not be tempted to wade or cross the lagoon with bare legs as these waters contain hungry blood-sucking leeches as well as the schistosome worm that causes “duck itch.”

The Rees River

The scenic Rees River lies between the Richardson Mountains on the east and the Forbes Mountains on the west, beneath the scenic grandeur of Mount Earnslaw. Glaciers, snowfields and alpine streams are the origins of the Rees which flows down through indigenous beech forest before breaking out and meandering across a wide river valley. About halfway down this valley, the river picks up Muddy Creek, a flowing slurry of mud and silt. During most of the angling season, the section of the Rees between this confluence and the outflow into Lake Wakatipu is turbid from this high silt load.

Access to the upper Rees Valley is by driving up Rees Valley Road until the car park at Muddy Creek is reached. Anglers are advised against negotiating this unstable crossing unless by 4WD.

The Rees River is a rainbow trout and brown trout fishery with the most productive section lying in the clear water above Muddy Creek up to the Hunger Stream confluence. Above this major tributary, the Rees flows through beech forest and from experience, I have found this water to only contain small resident brown trout.

The results can be rewarding for the angler who perseveres with fishing that section of the Rees lying between Muddy Creek and Hunter Stream. Some large rainbow trout and brown trout have been caught (and released) in these waters over recent years. Anglers with local knowledge have a distinct advantage over those who have not, as much time can be wasted fishing unproductive water.

Although spin fishing is a legal method in the Rees River, it is the fly angler who gets the best results. Early in the angling season, I prefer to fish upstream with Pheasant Tail and Hare and Copper nymphs. Later in the season when the days warm up and insects abound, I have the best results with terrestrial dry fly patterns such as the Black Gnat, Humpy, Coch-y-bondhu and the various cicada imitations. While walking back downstream, I generally fish a killer pattern such as a Hamills Killer or a Mrs Simpson on a sinking fly line. I cast across to the opposite bank and let the current swing the fly through any productive or promising runs and pools. This method of fishing is deadly and provides spectacular sport, particularly for rainbow trout.

At the time of writing, the open season for this water is from 1 November to 31 May. Tributaries of the Rees River include Diamond Creek, Reid Lake and Diamond Lake. They are located on the eastern side of Mount Alfred, between the Dart and Rees Rivers, and are known as

The Diamond System – Glenorchy

A successful angler nets a brown trout from Diamond Creek.

The system is recognised as both an exceptional brown trout fishery and important wildlife habitat, having the status of a wildlife management reserve. In order to avoid confusion, we will break this system into four parts, these being Diamond Lake, upper Diamond Creek, Reid Lake and lower Diamond Creek. 

Access to Diamond Lake is from the Glenorchy / Paradise Road which skirts its eastern shoreline. The main feeder stream is the Earnslaw Burn which originates high on the ice and snow-clad slopes of Mount Earnslaw.

During the summer and autumn months, brown trout can be seen cruising the shallow margins of the lake. These trout rise freely and will accept a wide variety of terrestrial patterns such as the Black Gnat, Coch-y-bondhu, Green Beetle, Humpy and Molefly. At the height of summer, the cicada patterns will produce explosive takes, especially along the western shoreline where the indigenous forest borders the lake. At other times of the year, cruising trout can be “ambushed” successfully with dragonfly and damselfly nymph patterns, and killer pattern flies.

The angler who prefers spin fishing will get the best results from using the Black Toby, Wedges (particularly the black, black and yellow and brass colours), and on occasion, the Articulated Trout. I have also had proven success using rainbow trout patterned Rapala CD 5 plugs.

The upper section of Diamond Creek (which lies between Diamond Lake and Reid Lake), is accessed from either walking around the south-eastern shoreline of Diamond Lake or by walking upstream from the bridge on Priory Road.

This slow-moving creek meanders through flat farmland providing good holding water in the deep pools and gentle curves. Some great fishing is available, particularly on warm summer evenings when large numbers of caddis hatch. During the days that terrestrial insects abound, good sport can be had by fishing a small dry fly such as a Coch-y-bondhu or Humpy. Despite the low fishing pressure this portion of the creek receives, the trout are usually wary and require a stealthy approach and a careful presentation.

Reid Lake is a small shallow weed-infested water that is recognised as one of the best brown trout fisheries in the Wakatipu Basin. During spring and early summer, it fishes best with dragonfly nymph imitations. When the days are warm, large brown trout can be seen cruising the shallows and these are generally easy to tempt with a Damselfly Nymph, Midge Pupa or a backswimmer imitation. For dry flies, try a small Molefly or a Red-bodied Humpy. Again, a stealthy approach and a careful presentation are essential if the angler expects success.

Some of the best fishing I have experienced in Reid Lake is at the height of a flood when the lake is spread over the marginal farmland. During these times, the trout appear to lose their usual caution as they gorge themselves on worms and terrestrials displaced from the paddocks.

Immediately downstream of Reid Lake, Diamond Creek is a deep, slow-moving weed infested water that contains brown trout which can weigh in excess of 3kg. These fish can be taken on a Damselfly Nymph during the day, but I have had the best success during the warm summer evenings with various caddis pattern dry flies. The Brown Beetle dry is another favourite, particularly in the late evening as darkness starts to fall. The biggest problem facing the angler is not so much enticing a trout to take the fly, but how to land a large fish which is intent on burying itself amongst the thick submerged aquatic weeds.

From here, Diamond Creek flows along the edge of Mount Alfred, meandering across farmland before finally reaching the Rees River. This section offers a variety of water to the angler, from slow deep pools to fast ripples and runs. Polaroid glasses will enable the angler with a trained eye to spot brown trout as they sway in the current feeding on nymphs. A careful cast upstream with a Pheasant Tail or a Hare and Copper Nymph will likely produce the required results. When the weather is warm and terrestrial insects abound, success can be obtained by floating a Molefly, Humpy, Green Beetle or Coch-y-bondhu along the undercut bank on the opposite side of the creek. This explosive fishing is very exciting and is definitely not recommended for the faint-hearted.

Yes, the Diamond system is a fascinating brown trout fishery that has an almost intoxicating effect on anglers.

At the time of writing, Diamond Lake and Reid Lake are open to angling from 1 October to 30 September to spin fishing and fly fishing, with a bag limit of six. Diamond Creek is open from 1 November until 31 May to spin fishing and fly fishing with a bag limit of three.

View looking up the Dart River near Glenorchy. Photo, Stewart Watson Photography.

The Dart River

The Dart River is the major tributary of Lake Wakatipu, originating largely from the glaciers of the Humboldt Mountains and the Forbes Mountains. For the majority of the angling season, the main stem of this river is slightly turbid from the glacial silt that it carries. Consequently, this river receives very little angling pressure.

The secret of the Dart fishery lies in its tributaries. One of the more interesting is the Routeburn River, Southern Lake’s latest catch-and-release water. The Otago Fish and Game District Anglers Notice dictates that those anglers fishing the Routeburn River must release any trout unharmed, immediately upon being landed. The other tributaries of the Dart River contain similar-sized trout and as these are not plentiful, the angler has an obligation to limit his or her kill.

I have experienced some great trout fishing in the Dart River just downstream of these tributaries, where the clear water pushes the turbid water aside. Again, it is the Taupo killer pattern flies that I prefer to use at these locations. At the time of writing, the open season for the Dart River and its tributaries is 1 November to 31 May. These waters are also open to spin fishing.

Lake Wakatipu

I hope that most readers will have read my article on fly fishing in Lake Wakatipu which appeared in the April/May issue of this magazine. If you were unable to obtain this issue, it can be purchased from the Editor.

Very briefly, the part of this lake that lies close to Glenorchy offers a wide variety of angling opportunities from dry fly fishing around the edge during the summer and autumn months to fishing with Taupo streamer flies or spinning gear around the mouths of the Dart and Rees Rivers, especially during the autumn, winter and spring months.

There are other locations near Glenorchy such as spring creeks, backwaters and ponds, and some of these contain trout of trophy proportions. It is up to you to find these exciting places as I believe that I have put you on the right track. When you do, nurture the fishery, and remember that the future of this recreational fishery is in your hands. Remember also that your licence to fish is not necessarily a licence to kill.

There is good accommodation for the visiting angler at the Glenorchy Hotel or the Glenorchy Holiday Park. An alternative is the Glen-Roydon Outdoor Lodge where Eileen Todd and her staff provide accommodation at very reasonable rates in an atmosphere that typifies the local friendliness shown towards visitors with an interest in angling. Eileen’s son John has been a Glenorchy resident and angler for many years and is recognised locally as the area’s top trout fishing guide.

The visiting angler can either employ the services of a fishing guide or be independent and poke around here and there.

If you decide to fish in this area, you will find that it will captivate you and keep calling on you to return. I am sure that like me, you will heed this call and find Glenorchy to be an anglers’ eldorado.

This post was last modified on 13/03/2024 3:55 pm

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