Lake Hawea – Large deep lake contains rainbow, brown trout and salmon

Lake Hawea, Rainbows, Browns and Salmon

At 35 miles long and covering some 124 km² Hawea is a big lake. The maximum width is 8km. Lake Hawea is 345m above sea level. The maximum depth is 392 m. The deepest part of the lake is around 50 m below sea level. Being high above sea level the area around Lake Hawea can be very cold during winter. During high summer the days can get very hot. Open season for fishing on the lake is all year

Starting back in 1958 the lake level was raised by some 20 m for hydroelectricity generation. Water from spring and early summer rain, together with snowmelt, is held in Lake Hawea to be released over the winter through an outlet gate at the southern end of the lake. The enhanced flow travels down the Hawea River to join with the Clutha River at Albert Town. From there the water flows down the Clutha River into the head of Lake Dunstan. At the southern end of Lake Dunstan, the Cromwell Gorge carries the much-enhanced flow onto the high dam at Clyde to generate hydroelectricity. 

Lake Hawea from near the Neck looking across towards Kidds Bush.

The rise and fall of the lake impacts fishing. You can easily see if the lake level is low because there will be a very wide stony area around the lakeshore devoid of plant life. Generally, the lake level rises in summer and falls in winter. Trout fishing improves as the lake rises and fish come closer to shore to feed on insects that have become inundated by the rising water. Denuding of shoreline vegetation tends to send the trout into deeper water.  

Fish & Game have stocked all these waters with brown and rainbow trout together with landlocked Quinnat salmon. There is good angler access to the southern end of Lake Hawea near the small Hawea township. The built-up area is nowhere near the size of nearby Lake Wanaka about 16 km to the southwest. At the southern end of the lake, there is a very good general store and cafe, along with a pub and motels. On the other side of the lake outlet, there is a holiday park popular with those in campervans. Access to the only concrete boat ramp around Lake Hawea is also through this campground. Lake Hawea Holiday Park. A big landlocked Quinnat, or Chinook, salmon caught in Lake Hawea.

There is reasonable road access to parts of Lake Hawea for spin fishing and fly anglers along state highway 6 however, most access to the lake along here is quite steep. There are a couple of places where you can get close to the water without much effort. These are easily spotted as you drive along. 

The southern end of Lake Hawea showing the only concrete boat ramp on the lakeshore.

One of the best places to fish for both spin and fly anglers is the Timaru River delta. The in-flowing Timaru River is approximately 15 km drive up the western side of the lake from the township. Rainbow trout congregate around the river mouth during spring. Shore anglers need to be very cautious here as quicksand around the delta can be dangerous especially when the lake level has dropped recently for electricity generation. For spin fishing Peter Shutt in his excellent book Fishing in the South Island New Zealand, recommends a black and gold Toby or small zed spinner the same colour. He also recommends letting a Mrs Simpson (red) or Hamill’s Killer (green) be allowed to swing around in the current when fishing the Timaru and Dingle Burn River mouths. He also says that spin fishing at night is generally productive at these river mouths, too.    

For Otago Fish & Game access pamphlets for Lake Hawea, and other Otago waters, click this link and scroll to the bottom of the page Fish & Game .pdf access pamphlet.

At the northern end of Lake Hawea, there is good fishing access and boat launching and camping at Kidds Bush by travelling about 3km along Meads Road which branches off state highway 6 near the Neck. By boat launching, I’m talking about putting a trailer boat in the water from the beach with a 4wd vehicle. Kidds Bush is a great overnight stopover if you are travelling a roughly circular route around the South Island. Fishing around this part of the lake can be more sheltered from the howling nor-wester.

The best method of gaining fishing access to Lake Hawea is by boat. The majority of fish caught are taken by trolling anglers fishing various bibbed minnows like Rapala Shad Rap, Tasmanian Devils, and the like. A downrigger can be very effective for this when used in conjunction with an electronic sounder to determine the fish-holding depth and location of the drop-off line. On a big deep lake like Hawea, a boat is a considerable advantage.

On a typical day, it can be calm at first light, which is the best time to fish, with the nor-west wind increasing in velocity as the temperature rises. Caution must be exercised at all times as the lake can become very rough when the wind gets up.

According to Fish and Game fish stocks in Lake Hawea comprise of 60 per cent rainbow trout, 29 per cent Quinnat salmon, and 11 per cent brown trout, with trolling anglers accounting for around 70 per cent of fish taken. However, spinning has a better catch rate.

Shoals of landlocked salmon move around Lake Hawea. According to Fish & Game, October and November are good months for shore fishing at the southern end of the lake near the holiday park. Bait fishing seems to be more popular in Otago than it is in Canterbury. Some big fish can be taken in Lake Hawea with this method – especially at night. Check your F&G guide booklet for the type of baits that are permitted. 

Hunter River and Dingle Burn

Some of the best backcountry fly fishing can be had in the Hunter River at the far northern end of Lake Hawea, and the Dingle Burn which is just past halfway up the lake on the eastern side. These are wilderness rivers that are difficult to access by 4wd vehicles. Permission must be sort from Hunter Valley Station and Dingle Burn Station respectively. It is possible to access and fish these rivers with guides by helicopter. There has been some controversy about the Hunter River in the past with some groups being upset after tramping in or going in by 4wd only to have helicopter parties arrive suddenly out of nowhere disturbing both fish and anglers!

Otago Fish & Game have introduced a Back Country Controlled-Period Licence for the Hunter River and the Dingle Burn together with half a dozen or so other “world-famous” backcountry rivers. It is in effect an endorsement on a whole season licence and not an extra charge. The aim of which is to monitor and share these waters fairly by allocating sections of the river for certain periods. This only applies between 1 February and 31 March.

The mouths, or deltas, of both the Hunter and Dingle Burn, along with the Timaru River, can be approached and fished by boat. Given the size and difficulty of access to these rivers, this is the best way of getting to them. You can drive to the mouth of the Timaru River as mentioned above.  


Sandflies can be a nuisance around parts of Lake Hawea. So be sure to carry and use plenty of insect repellent. I recommend Okarito Sand-fly Repellent

Bag Limits Lake Hawea Fish & Game .pdf access pamphlet

Bag limits for Lake Hawea: 6 acclimatised fish. Permitted fishing methods include fly, spin, and bait fishing. Open season for Lake Hawea is all year 1 October to 30 September. This is for the 2016-2017 year. You must have a current Fish & Game Sports Fishing Licence to fish at Lake Hawea. Always check the current regulations in your booklet issued when you purchase your fishing licence especially if fishing a new and unfamiliar area. Fishing regulations are reviewed annually so always check your guide booklet before fishing any water.

Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea. Sourced from LINZ. Crown Copyright Reserved.

This post was last modified on 16/09/2021 9:21 pm

Leave a Comment
Published by

Recent Posts

How to Catch Fish and Where

How to Catch Fish and Where - The Complete Kiwi Beginner's Guide By Mike Rendle…


Fishes of Aotearoa by Paul Caiger

Fishes of Aotearoa (includes both fresh and saltwater fishes) By Paul Caiger New Zealand has…


Fishing the Tongariro – A History of Our Greatest Trout River

Fishing the Tongariro - A History of Our Greatest Trout River By Grant Henderson  Since…


Porare – Girella tricuspidata

Porare - Girella tricuspidata - How and Where to Catch Porare By Allan Burgess Although…


Jack’s Sprat Trout Fly

Jack's Sprat Trout Fly - An old favourite for targeting rainbow trout in the lakes…


Counting on it – Fish & Game staff checking on wildlife numbers to manage species

Counting on it - Fish & Game staff checking on wildlife numbers to manage species…