Makarora River Discoloured – The Young and Blue Rivers, Cameron Flat

Craig Norton fishing the high bank Cameron Flat, Makarora, Otago. Young and Makarora Rivers.
Craig Norton fishing the high bank Cameron Flat, Makarora, Otago.

Makarora River Discoloured – The Young River, Blue River and Cameron Flat

By Monty Wright

The morning was clear as we set off from Hawea to fish the Young and Makarora rivers at the head of Lake Wanaka. With the very wet weather that they have experienced since New Year along the West Coast, many of the showers have dribbled over the mountain range and made Lake Wanaka exceptionally high. This was quite obvious to us as we motored along past Waterfall Creek and up past the head of the lake where the Makarora River enters.

If all else failed for the day we intended to return there as some of this water often held good numbers of fish which were easily accessible from the shallow margins around the edge. Reaching the gate that goes down to the Young we, unfortunately, met a couple of anglers who had spent the night there and were heading out to fish elsewhere. They informed us that the Makarora River had been very high the day before and you could not cross at the normal crossing point because of the colour of the water.

Of course, like all anglers, we had to see it for ourselves so we travelled on down to the crossing and found that they were correct.


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The water level was very high in the Makarora River and crossing it was impossible, although the Young River did look to be in good order on the other side. We came back out and headed up the valley past the Blue where we hopefully thought that maybe the discoloured water was coming from.

Sure enough, a lot of water had dropped out of the system when we got to Cameron Flat. The Cameron River itself was running clear so we assembled our gear and headed off in each direction to see if we could catch some fish in the slightly discoloured water.

Craig Norton an Australian visitor, on his first-time visit to New Zealand, accompanied me and we dropped down and over the high bank hoping to spot some fish but unfortunately again we were unsuccessful. I have fished this pocket of water on several occasions in the past using large dry flies when the big brownies and rainbows just come from nowhere and hit it really hard.

The one remaining spring. Makarora River.
The one remaining spring.

Craig started covering the water with a large humpy without success and I fished the edge. of the deep water using a hopper pattern. We had only gone a few metres when up came a brown trout, which quickly rolled underneath the fly and disappeared back into the murk.

A few casts later in the same place, it did the same thing but unfortunately, on neither occasion did it attempt to take the fly. Craig persevered with large flies right up the edge and I changed onto a big hare and copper flashback just to see if I could get the odd trout’s attention but unfortunately, all these methods were unsuccessful. We then saw our other fishing companions walking back to the vehicle from upstream so it was obvious that they hadn’t seen anything either.

The wind had got up at this stage and we headed off back down to fish the head of the lake for those brownies that cruise the margin and in amongst the weeds taking damsel flies, waterboatmen and the occasional hopper off the surface, well, that was the plan anyway. In the past years, there has always been a big backwater with clear springs coming out of it feeding some of this area. Unfortunately, the river has now cut through the high bank above and when the Makarora is in full flow it pushes the discoloured water down through it ruining some of this magnificent fishing area.

We all split up at this stage going in different directions. I fished a fast little run that came in from the river rising two small fish and catching and releasing them both, then one larger fish about two pounds, a brownie that had obviously lived in the Makarora as it had a very silver appearance. Both these were taken on small Adams as I had seen the flies hatching on the water.

Coming back down through the run I met up with Craig who hadn’t seen any fish at this stage and was busy untangling some knots in his cast after the wind had guided his fly into some of the long grasses. Well, that was his excuse anyway.

We hadn’t seen our other companions at this stage for over an hour and thought they must be into the fish or they would have returned by now. Walking on down the edge of the margin and onto the lakefront Craig spotted a nice fish cruising but it only looked at his fly which was quite disappointing. I was hoping that we could catch him his first New Zealand trout on the first day out. We fished on with the occasional cast onto the water until we got round onto the front of the lake edge.

Our companions could not be seen anywhere. Craig and I moved out onto the open shallow water and stood there for some time observing all the bottom in the weed bed margins-hoping and praying that at least one fish would show itself so we could have a target to aim at. But after three-quarters of an hour, it was all in vain, not a fish had been seen. We’d cast at everything that remotely looked like a fish but none of the things moved.

The breeze had died and it was just a light ripple on the water, so everything was perfect but where were the fish. God knows. I had never seen this area so barren of fish in all my years of fishing the head of the lake and it just goes to show how things change over time.

Craig repairing the cast. Makarora River.
Craig repairing the cast.

Ten years previous I stood in the same place and caught 20 fish without moving my feet and hung my net on a little log that still stuck out of the water today, but not a fish to be seen.

The afternoon was gone by now and we headed back to the car. We met up with the others who had had very little success also, each of them scoring one fish each which gave us a total of three takeable fish for the day. Most unusual for us at the head of the lake but I guess we also knew then how other anglers had felt who had put in such a hard day and failed as we had.

As we motored to Hawea we cursed the weather forecast people because as usual they had got it totally wrong. The strong winds and dull day that was meant to eventuate never came about. It beats me why we continue to believe them. I guess that’s human nature. One thing in our favour, we were there to fish tomorrow, the day was to be spent on Lake Hawea.

If the weather held we’d make our own decisions then we can’t blame anybody. Well, it was a hard day but at least it was spent with some enjoyable company. The scenery was good, but the fishing was terrible, but we will make up for it tomorrow!