Canterbury Winter Fishing Blues

There's a good frosting of snow on the ground in this winter scene of Lake Pearson, in the Canterbury high country. Canterbury Winter Fishing Blues
There's a good frosting of snow on the ground in this winter scene of Lake Pearson, in the Canterbury high country.

Canterbury Winter Fishing Blues

By Piscator

As an angler, don’t you just hate winter? The salmon runs are over and many trout waters are closed, days can be cold and nights are long. I know a lot of anglers pack their rods away until the warming days of October and November. Yet there is some sport to be enjoyed throughout the cold winter months. Here are some suggestions for beating those cool weather Canterbury winter fishing blues.

Many anglers, myself included, head North to fish the Tongariro for a week or two, but barring that there is now a wide choice of waters open for winter fishing, check your regulations for details. In North Canterbury, these range from the lower Selwyn and Halswell rivers, from the Hurunui River in the North to the Rakaia River in the South and also a number of lakes in the high country. All other regions in the South Island have winter fishing too, again check your regulations for details.

In North Canterbury, the lakes, especially, fished well last winter as temperatures were above normal and fish cruised the shallows in search of food much as they do in the summer.

In a cold, ice gripped winter they become more lethargic and much more difficult to tempt, but last year, on a warm August day, rising fish dimpled the surface of Lake Selfe. I came the closest I have ever been to landing one of this lake’s big browns when I hooked one on a size 12 Loves lure. After twice being taken to the backing I was pretty choked when the hook pulled out close to the net.

A good size redfin perch.Canterbury Winter Fishing Blues
A good size redfin perch.

Lake Ellesmere contains perch. Although not as hard fighting as trout, they give good sport on light tackle. The Halswell River holds fish up to 5 lbs which can be caught on small blade spinners, spoons or live bait such as worms. Small Mr Twister type rubber worms are worth a try too. I have yet to get a perch on one in New Zealand, but they have proved very successful overseas.

An afternoon on the Halswell Canal last winter produced four perch for me: the best was 3 lb 12oz. Two fell for a small Mepps Black Fury, the others both took worms. As a bonus, there is always the chance of a trout when they move up from Lake Ellesmere to spawn. A 6.5lb fresh run lake fish, which I caught in June, fought harder than any Tongariro River rainbow I had landed two weeks previously!

Some anglers may not be aware that the Waimakariri River holds a good stock of rainbows which are available to the fly angler when conditions are right. The river needs to be low and clear. Try the side braids and areas of permanent water with weighted nymphs below an indicator. Glo-bugs work too, or fish down and across with a sinking line and small Red Setter or another bright lure. I have never tried spinning gear, though it should work. These fish are mainly pre-spawners (up to 3 lb) so use appropriately light tackle.

Have you considered saltwater or estuarine fishing? Red cod fishing around Christchurch/ Banks Peninsula can be at its best in the winter months. Lyttelton harbour, Scarborough, Diamond harbour, the pier, Birdlings Flat, the choice is endless.

Make it a family outing, take a kid fishing. What could be more pleasant or relaxing on a mild, sunny winter’s afternoon? ln May, a friend and I took light tackle, a box of worms and a tin of corn to fish the estuary. We started at McCormack’s Bay and finished at Shag Rock. Float fishing and legering, we had hoped to catch yellow-eyed mullet and flounder. As it turned out we only got a few spotties for our trouble, yet as we stood on the beach at Shag rock, watching a beautiful northwest sunset, I had to admit we had passed a very pleasant few hours.

Even if you don’t go fishing, those sunny winter weekends can be used profitably for exploring new areas. Winter evenings spent poring over large-scale maps may lead to some hot spots for the coming season. Tramping into remote, or not so remote, areas will help keep fitness levels up and ready for the new season.

This brown trout weighed six and a half pounds and was taken at Greenpark on the 13th of June last winter.
This brown trout weighed six and a half pounds and was taken at Greenpark on the 13th of June last winter.

Finally, there are usually closed season chores and activities such as stripping and cleaning reels, rods, lines and other gear in preparation for the next season. Winter is a great time for doing a fly tying course, trying your hand at rod building and making other items of tackle. Spoons, ticers, lead weights, traces and various lures come to mind.

The Twizel Canals are technically in the CSI Fish & Game region, but although about four hours drive from Christchurch, it is still South Canterbury. The best time of year to fish the canals is over winter when the rainbows and browns head “upstream” to spawn. If you can afford the cost of the petrol and don’t mind the cold – expect there to be snow on the ground – you may well catch one of the local monster trout. Some of the salmon there are pretty big too! The Complete Guide to Fishing the Twizel Canals.

Personally, in recent years, I find myself almost looking forward to the winter as a time to catch up on many of these things. If all else fails and I find myself somewhat flat, l just go fishing. It’s a sure-fire way to beat those Canterbury winter fishing blues.