Lake Hayes Trout Secrets – Central Otago – 12km from Queenstown

Lake Hayes Trout Fishing Secrets

by Dick Marquand

Dave Moss with a plump golden Lake Hayes brown trout.

From the high bank overlooking the bay, I had a good view of the big brownie hen as she cruised her beat along the edge of the littoral zone. Her tail erupted a cloud of sediment as she rushed towards the shore of Lake Hayes taking a morsel from the sandy bottom. “Probably a dragonfly nymph,” I thought to myself.

As she cruised on past out of sight, I decided to stay put and await her return, so that I could determine her beat. Sure enough, a few minutes later, I spotted her coming back, working the deeper water. As soon as she had passed below me, I carefully made my way down the steep bank to the sandy beach to prepare my ambush.

The rippling surface of Lake Hayes sparkled in the warm afternoon sun. I cast my No, 12 Coch-y-bondhu dry and it landed gently on the surface of the lake, above the steeply shelving drop off. I knelt down on the beach in order to keep a low profile and waited in anticipation.

A few minutes later I caught sight of a shape slowly moving along the edge of the drop-off. On approaching the floating fly, it materialised into what was obviously a big trout.

“Rise you golden beauty,” I said out loud as a mouth broke the surface and engulfed the small dry. I paused for what seemed to be an eternity, struck and was rewarded with a solid hook-up. The fly rod curved down with the Hardy Prince making sweet sounds as the trout ran deep into the dark waters. The constant power of the Loomis IMX eventually commanded the situation and after a fight lasting just over ten minutes, I eased a beautifully conditioned golden flanked hen fish to the water’s edge. Although reluctant to kill her, I had released the previous three trout, and besides, I wanted one to take home. She weighed 3.2kg and was one of my heavier Lake Hayes trout. As I wandered back to my vehicle, I grinned, I felt very satisfied with the morning’s results.

Lake Hayes is located about 12 kilometres from Queenstown, beside the road to Cromwell (State Highway 6). The lake is of glacial origin and has an average depth of around 33 metres with an area of just over two square kilometres. The legal status of this lake is Wildlife Refuge and Recreation Reserve. The lake provides a basis for a wide variety of passive recreational activities including windsurfing, yachting, rowing, swimming, picnicking, and of course, fishing. Public access to Lake Hayes is from State Highway 6 and the Lake Hayes/Arrowtown road, where picnic areas are signposted.

I am sure that most readers will have seen Lake Hayes featuring on postcards and calendars as the location is famous for its scenery, particularly during the autumn months when photographers and artists are able to take advantage of the clear blue skies, the mountainous background and the golden foliage of the surrounding willows and Lombardy poplars.

The waters contain brown trout, redfin perch, long-finned eel, Koaro (a native Galaxid) and at least one species of Gobiomorphus (a native bully).

According to W. H. Spackman, brown trout were first put into the waters around the Wakatipu area in 1874. In his book “Trout in New Zealand – Where To Go and How to Catch Them” (published in 1893), Spackman reports a Mr Arthur (Chief Surveyor of Otago) mentioning that in 1882, a brown trout was poached out of Butels Creek (the main inflowing tributary which is now named Mill Creek) weighing 28lb. Spackman also mentions – “Lake Hayes is very full of trout, some being supposed, from appearance, to weigh over 20lb.”

In the late 19th century, Lake Hayes was let for commercial trout netting to supply the local fish market. Many of the trout were smoked in a commercial smoke-house, the remains of which can still be found on the side of the lake below State Highway 6.

In more recent years, the New Zealand Wildlife Service operated a fish trap set up to catch spawning runs of brown trout in Mill Creek. Ova was collected and distributed to various acclimatisation societies throughout the country.

Of concern to Fish and Game Officers is the continuing poaching of spawning brown trout from Mill Creek. These illegal activities usually take place late at night after the pubs have closed, by low life individuals who care little about the future of the trout fishing resource. Occasionally, one of these poachers is apprehended, usually with a net or a spear, and a bag of fish. The financial penalty that is dealt out by the judicial system does little to deter others involved in these activities.

Lake Hayes is an anglers’ paradise. The brown trout offer the angler with a variety of experiences during the 12 month fishing season. I have had the most luck during the summer and autumn months using dry fly patterns like the Humpy, Black Gnat and Coch-y-bondhu. As evening approaches, I change to a sedge or caddis pattern, and on occasions when massive Chironomid hatches occur, I fish with a greased leader and black or brown midge nymphs. This is a specialised method of angling that when mastered, can provide both exciting and challenging sport. Presenting a midge pattern nymph amidst thousands of naturals can at times be a frustrating and seemingly impossible situation. I look at it as the ultimate challenge.

During the hours of darkness, I prefer to fish the Mill Creek inflow with a Mrs Simpson or a Hairy Dog on a floating or a slow sinking fly line. The fly, or more correctly the feathered lure, is cast and allowed to sink before being retrieved with a series of slow pulls. The best nights are those without a moon.

Redfin Perch juvenile soft-bait (7.7cm) for targeting big brown trout in Lake Hayes. Use just enough weight to take the lure down. Too much weight will make the lure appear “unnatural.” Try a slow stop-start retrieve.

Spring and early summer are the seasons for using the “mudeye” or dragonfly nymph patterns. A cruising brownie is spotted, its beat determined, then a careful cast places the nymph in a position that the trout will most likely intercept. If you have positioned the nymph well, you wait until the brownie approaches the nymph then give it a series of short sharp jerks. The trout will usually race in and grab the nymph, so all that is needed is a firm strike to set the hook. The northern shoreline of the lake provides the best opportunity for this method of fishing.

It is during the Christmas holiday period when the juvenile redfin perch form an important part in the diet of the brown trout. Schools containing many hundreds of these juvenile perch are herded to the surface or to the edge of the lake by large hungry brownies. These fish are selective and some anglers find them very hard to catch. I have experienced exciting sport fishing for these trout using a small smelt pattern fly on a slow sinking fly line, from either the shore or a boat.

Lake Hayes – The Secret Weapon

U20 Flatfish in the frog pattern originally designed in Ontario by Charles Helin.

In Lake Hayes, it is illegal to fish for trout from a boat while under mechanical power. Trolling while using oars is a very successful method of catching these brownies, particularly if a “secret weapon” is used. The “secret weapon” is the time-proven, never fail U20 Flatfish in the frog pattern. This deadly lure was originally designed in Ontario by Charles Helin of the Helin Tackle Company. On Lake Hayes, it is absolutely deadly.

To get the ‘best results from this lure, a keeled lead is placed about a metre or so in front of the lure and this is run back behind the boat on a light thread-line outfit. Large redfin perch also find this lure too good to pass up.

Rapala CD5 – earlier version.

Spin fishing with thread-line gear also has its following on Lake Hayes. Favoured lures include the black or brass wedges, especially those with a yellow side. Rapala CD 5 plugs in the rainbow trout pattern are especially deadly on the larger brownies. I would also include a frog pattern U20 Flatfish in my tackle box.

Another successful method I have used when thread-lining from the shore is by using a weighted dragonfly nymph imitation beneath a plastic bubble that is partly filled with water. This works well on windy days when the surface of the lake is choppy.

Redfin perch are a sport fish in their own right and Lake Hayes is full of them. Although the majority are of small size, occasionally redfin are taken from these waters weighing up to two kilograms. This species is voraciously cannibalistic and generally, the larger redfins are taken after they have swallowed a smaller specimen that is hooked and struggling. Perch are a lot easier to catch than trout and provide an ideal quarry for youngsters. A fishing licence is required to fish for redfin perch.

Lake Hayes courtesy of Google Maps.


Lake Hayes is open for fishing all year round (the season goes from 1 October to 30 September each year). As I have mentioned previously, trolling is not allowed from a mechanically propelled boat. The bag limit for trout is six per angler per 


This post was last modified on 13/03/2024 3:32 pm

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