Lake Moeraki is a brown trout ﬁshery, with an occasional quinnat salmon taken
by Dick Marquand
I keep returning to South Westland for the wide variety of fishing opportunities that are available to anglers. Take trout fishing for example. Brown trout are able to be caught in small mountain streams, large rivers, dark swamp fed creeks, lagoons, lakes, tidal estuaries and river mouths. Whether the desired method for catching trout is fly fishing with the smallest of dry flies, nymphs or Taupo streamers, thread-lining (spinning) with spinners, spoons or plugs, or trolling, all of these experiences are offered in South Westland.
During early spring, my wife Joanne and I decided to spend a few days in South Westland and sample the delights of brown trout ﬁshing. Our headquarters were to be at the township of Haast, in a holiday house owned by Owen Jensen and his family of Kaiapoi. With the unpredictability of weather in this part of New Zealand, the house was a much-appreciated luxury.
I was keen to catch up with Haast resident Vern Harvey, a trout fishing guide with a vast local knowledge of the locations where large brown trout may be found. Vern was invited to join Joanne and me, to fish the waters of Lake Moeraki.
Lake Moeraki (Latitude 43deg 43min S, Longitude 169deg 17min E) lies in the heart of the 2.7 million hectares South West New Zealand Heritage Area. This scenic gem, which lies 30 kilometres north of Haast on State Highway 6, is surrounded by indigenous coastal rain forest. The lake is the result of the Blue River, also known as the Moeraki River, becoming choked with glacial deposits and dune sands. The lake has an area of 6475 hectares and averages about four metres in depth. Some parts of the lake are deeper than 30 metres.
Dr Gerry McSweeny, the owner of the Lake Moeraki Wilderness Lodge, claims the Maori translation of Moeraki is “to sleep or dream by day.” Moeraki is also the name given to a kind of sweet potato brought to New Zealand during early migrations made by the Maoris from the South Pacific. Perhaps these sweet potatoes were hallucinogenic!
Lake Moeraki is a brown trout ﬁshery, although the occasional quinnat salmon is taken. Angling access to the shore is restricted by the nature of the shoreline. A small boat makes the best angling opportunities available. A wide variety of dry flies, nymphs and Taupo style “flies” are accepted by Moeraki trout. Lures, plugs and spoons also fish well, especially when cast from a drifting boat. Anglers should be careful to make sure they don’t use treble hooks as these are illegal on this lake.
Vern could only spare a day to fish with us, so despite the predicted heavy rain showers and gusting northwesterly winds, we decided to give Lake Moeraki a go. I must admit that while on the drive north from Haast, I did wonder whether we had made the right decision.
The mountains at the head of the Blue River were lost in the low cloud, in fact, only the lower portions of the bush clad slopes could be seen. A light northwester rippled the surface of the lake and threatening grey clouds indicated the distinct possibility of rain.Our access to the lake was by way of a narrow flax fringed track which demanded care and attention as I carefully backed our 4.25-metre Stabi-Craft down the slope. This boat launching area is near the head of the lake, opposite the delta formed by the Blue River.
We set up our gear, deciding to troll our way down the lake along the edge of the deep water below S.H. 6. Joanne was to use a Kilwell Westernbay trolling rod and an Alvey 355E single action reel loaded with backing and 15 metres of leadline. The lure she chose was a silver King Cobra in the No. 70 pattern. This set up would enable her to put the lure well out behind the boat, but not deep enough to snag the logs and other debris on the lake bed.
I decided to use my Penn Power Stick PS 4760 and Penn 430055 Spinfisher which was loaded with 2.7kg Maxima. Although primarily a casting outﬁt, it would make do until we reached the weedy shallows at the bottom end of the lake, where we intended casting for brownies. As a lure, I chose an upside down pattern “fly” tied with mylar, a perfect imitation of a small silvery fish.
Within a couple of minutes of commencing trolling, Joanne had a strike and after a short fight brought a steel grey and silver fresh sea run brown trout within range of my waiting net. The fish weighed around 1.5kg, and after a quick couple of photographs, it was released.
We carried on trolling, carefully avoiding the submerged logs that jutted out from the water’s edge. Despite my high hopes, Joanne’s brownie was the only trout we caught trolling. When the Humminbird indicated we were over the shallow mudflats that extend right across the lake, we wound in and headed over to the south side of the lake.
When the depth sounder registered four feet (the United States obviously is not a metric nation), I killed the 30 h.p. Johnson outboard and we prepared for casting lures.
About thirty black swans pattered the water’s surface with their wings as they took to the air. The shallow muddy lakebed with its submerged aquatic vegetation provided ideal habitat for these large waterfowl. A pair of grey duck exploded from the edge of the ﬂax forest that ﬂourished along the edge of the lake.
Vern produced a four-piece Kilwell spinning rod and a Dam fixed spool reel, while Joanne and I decided to share my light Penn outﬁt. I chose a silver 12-gram Kilwell Toby while Vern picked a small brass slice.
Joanne hooked up after a couple of casts later on a lovely brownie, with beautifully marked sides and ﬂanks of golden yellow. After carefully removing the hook from its mouth, it sped away to freedom, showing its appreciation by splashing my face in the process. It was to be the first of many colourful and scrappy brownies.
Vern changed his lure for a silver 7-gram Kilwell Toby. We were fishing over dense weed beds in water that averaged about a metre in depth. The weed beds in this shallow area of the lake would be rich with trout food, especially molluscs.
The lake is also reputed to hold good numbers of koura (freshwater crayfish); no doubt these beasties can be found burrowing under the fringing flax bushes. Galaxids (whitebait) would be another important food source for trout, supplemented with both aquatic and terrestrial insects.
Despite the obvious abundance of food in this lake, the trout were in poorer condition than I had expected. After a little thought and discussion, we agreed that the trout were probably getting over the stress of the recent spawning season.
It was very exciting fishing and the odd shower of rain did little to dampen our enthusiasm. The sight of brown “rockets” chasing and nailing the silver tobies, then exploding from the surface in a sheet of spray was great.
Incidentally, we used an almost foolproof method of nailing trout after a missed strike. As soon as I felt the brownie strike the Toby yet fail to hook up, I stopped winding and jiggled the lure. This induced the fish to have another go. The reason this worked with such deadly efficiency, I put down to fooling the trout into believing that it had “wounded” the lure in the initial strike. Try this method, it not only works on brownies that have struck and failed to hook up but sometimes on those cagey blighters that seem quite content to only “track” the lure.
The northwesterly wind slowly pushed us back towards the head of the lake, past the flax forest and along the edge of the overhanging coastal rain forest. I had the outboard down and was able to steer the boat without the motor running, keeping the margin of the lake within easy casting range.
We all botched a couple of casts while trying to put the lures close to the snags, however, no lures were lost. Joanne landed the last trout, another beautifully marked golden flanked brownie which nailed the Toby when she induced it with a jiggle.
We had a magic afternoon, landing fourteen trout between us in 2.5 hours of exciting action. The largest would have weighed around 1.8kg. All of the trout were released except for one which was kept for a check on stomach contents. As expected, the trout had been feeding on water snails. The flesh was a rich orange and yes, it tasted great.
Lake Moeraki is open to fishing all year round for trout fishing (1 October to 30 September each year). Whereas the salmon fishing season is from 1 October to Size restrictions 250mm minimum on trout and salmon. The daily bag limit is 2 brown trout and 2 salmon. The use of treble hooks in Lake Moeraki is prohibited. This restriction is to enable the easy release of undersized salmon (those less than 30 centimetres in length).
The area within 100 metres of the Blue River mouth is closed from 1 April to 31 August each year. The statutory authority responsible for managing the Lake Moeraki fishery is the West Coast Fish and Game Council. This organisation is keen to collect angling data from anglers who fish Lake Moeraki. The data they require should include the following: Your name and address, date, the method of fishing, time spent fishing, fish kept – species, sex, length and weight, and fish released species. By doing this, you will be assisting the West Coast Fish and Game Council to manage your sport.
I would like to remind anglers, although the daily bag limit is six trout per angler, this does not mean that you should necessarily kill your limit if you are fortunate enough to have a good day. Kill only what you can immediately use.
Accommodation is available at nearby Lake Moeraki Wilderness Lodge Canoes and fishing gear can be hired from the lodge. Also offered are guided walks which enable the public to experience the lowland rainforest and the rugged coastline, as well as observe both southern fur seals and Fiordland crested penguins in their natural habitat.
Heritage Park Lodge. Located at Haast township off S.H. 6. Reservations Phone 0800 52 62 52