Lake Wakatipu – Fly Fishing the Lochy, Von, Greenstone and Dart River Mouths
by Dick Marquand
Lake Wakatipu, a scenic gem of the Southern Lakes lies nestled amongst mountains in a narrow U shaped valley that was carved by the ice of an ancient glacier many thousands of years ago.
The snow-capped mountains that overshadow the cool deep waters rise steeply, in some cases to an altitude of more than 2000 masl. These mountains provide the source of rivers and streams that feed the lake with sparkling gin clear water.
The waters of Lake Wakatipu contain three species of salmonids, these being rainbow trout, brown trout and landlocked quinnat salmon. However, being of glacial origin, this lake is not what one would consider an overly productive fishery. The most productive area is a narrow band of the littoral area around the edge of the lake and its islands. Light penetrates this littoral zone and encourages aquatic vegetation to flourish, this, in turn, forms habitat for aquatic nymphs and molluscs. The vast majority of
the lake’s 400 square kilometres of water is unproductive and has little value as a fisheries resource.
Lake Wakatipu does, however, provide some exceptional fishing for those anglers who know the seasonal hot spots. The purpose of this article is to assist those fly anglers amongst you who fish or intend to fish in Lake Wakatipu.
During the warm summer months, some excellent dry ﬂy fishing can be experienced when an offshore breeze dislodges terrestrial insects such as bugs and beetles from the lake margin vegetation and blows them onto the water. The rainbows and brownies expect this to happen and can be seen cruising the shoreline, just below the surface and on the lookout for these hapless insects. Flies representing terrestrials such as the Coch-y-bondhu, Green Beetle, Black Gnat and Humpy patterns will almost certainly produce the required results.
Brown trout will be seen to cruise back and forth on a predetermined beat. If the anger misses an opportunity to cast at a brownie as it cruises past, he or she can be assured that the trout will come past again perhaps a couple of minutes later and offer another chance. Not so the rainbow which tends not to have a beat. Miss your chances at a rainbow and the chances are that you won’t see it again.
The clacking sounds of the cicadas can be heard on the hot days that come during late summer. Cicadas are a big protein package to a trout and they just can’t resist an opportunity to eat them. Large floating imitations will work well, especially if the fly is smacked fairly hard onto the water in front of the cruising fish. Trout are used to the clumsy splash landing of the cicada and the resulting take is usually both spectacular and exciting.
The fly angler should give special attention to any areas around the margin of the lake where Eucalyptus (Australian Gum) trees grow. During the summer months, the leaves in the canopies of these trees sometimes attract large numbers of Eucalyptus tortoise beetles. At times when a puff of wind stirs the eucalypts, a brown haze of adult beetles will be seen flying around the tops. Many of these large insects, which resemble brown giant sized ladybirds, find their way onto the water where the trout simply gorge themselves. The ﬂy angler who casts a Brown Humpy or a large Coch-y-bondhu dry into this situation will be guaranteed success.
As the summer day draws to an end, the angler should be thinking of the caddis or sedge patterns. This is particularly so on the Frankton Arm of Lake Wakatipu where the caddis imitation usually works exceptionally well. Skittering a Caddis ﬂy dry across the surface will often induce a heart-stopping strike from a hungry trout.
When approaching darkness signals the end of a summer day, it is time to think about the brown beetle. These chafer beetles are particularly abundant in the Wakatipu area, the most common species being the adult of the grass grub. During the early hours of darkness, the clumsy flight of these beetles often ends in a splash landing. Some exciting angling can be experienced on a warm still night using Coch-y-bondhu, Brown Beetle or Humpy dries.
I have experienced some exciting fishing around the edge of the lake during the early summer months using dragonfly nymph imitations. The “ambush method” of fishing a McDonald Mudeye, Creedon’s Creeper, Morton’s Annie or one of the many other dragonﬂy imitations to a cruising brownie works well in Lake Wakatipu, particularly in the Frankton Arm. The method that I use is simple and foolproof, the nymph is cast well ahead of a cruising brownie and when it is within visual distance of the trout, a couple of twitches imparts a natural movement to the nymph. Although the take is usually quite sudden, the angler should be careful not to strike before the trout has actually taken the nymph.
Lake Wakatipu – River and Stream Mouths
The river and stream mouths of Lake Wakatipu also provide exciting sport to the fly angler. During the spring months, rainbow trout tend to congregate at the mouths of the major rivers such as the Lochy, Von and the Greenstone prior to spawning. Being rainbow, they tend to accept any Taupo pattern fly, be it a Red Setter, Dorothy, Hamill’s Killer, etc, especially when it is fished on a sinking ﬂy line. Nymph fishing also works well at such a location.
One of the secrets of fishing stream and river mouths is to approach them very carefully as in most cases, the trout will be lying close to the lip or “drop off” waiting for nymphs and other morsels to be washed into the lake. This is especially so if the water is discoloured after heavy rain. Trout will also lie to one side of the rip, just out of the fast water, waiting for items of food. So, if you carelessly approach the lip, even without wading into the water, you will almost certainly spook any feeding trout and by doing so,
immediately blow your best chances of success.
Start with a short cast and increase the length of your extending fly line a little more after each retrieve. Vary the action of the fly through the water by slow and fast retrieves, and with short jerky movements and long slow drawing motions.
Strike immediately when you feel the slightest resistance on the fly line as it will be either a snag or a trout. If it is a trout, try to coax it away from the mouth, so as to minimise the disturbance to the other fish. With a lot of this type of fishing, you are targeting spawning fish, so if you decide to “catch and
release”, be conservative instead of being a fish hog. Your fishing licence is a licence to fish, not a licence to kill. So, limit your kill, don’t kill your
I can clearly remember one day at the Lochy River mouth during late winter when about six anglers were taking their toll on pre-spawning rainbows. I couldn’t help but notice the many thousands of eggs from ripe hen fish lying on the shingle beach and washing along the margin of the lake.
Many more rainbow trout could be seen congregating just off the lip where they were being massacred day after day by fish hogs. I passed a comment of disapproval to one angler whom I knew well, stating my concern for the future of the ﬁshery. “That’s not my problem Dick, that’s your problem,” was his reply.
Such short-sighted selfishness left me wondering that perhaps the only way to protect the spawning stocks would be to give the areas around the river mouth the same closed season as the Lochy River. Maybe fisheries managers need to consider such an option.
The major river mouths of Lake Wakatipu can also provide fly anglers with the chance of a really big brownie, particularly during the late evening and hours of darkness. Early in the evening, I tend to use a smelt pattern on a sinking ﬂy line, then as darkness approaches, I turn to a big Hairy Dog, Fuzzy Wuzzy, or killer patterns such as a Mrs Simpson or Kilwell No. 1.
If you have the patience to persist with this method during the hours of darkness, eventually you will make a connection with a really big brownie.
The Dart River mouth is well known amongst local anglers for its excellent landlocked quinnat salmon fishing. Although most anglers tend to fish this mouth with spinning gear, some excellent sport awaits the fly angler who uses a Red Setter or Louie’s Lure on a sinking ﬂy line.
The secret of fishing this mouth is to stand at the edge of the lake and cast out across the main flow of the river. Let the current take the line and fly well out into the lake, and when the line swings around to the edge of the rip, a fast retrieve will often induce a strike from a quinnat salmon. It is not unusual to have an action-packed day at this location, particularly during the autumn months when salmon congregate at the mouth prior to their spawning run. Again, you are dealing with pre-spawners, so be a sport and limit your kill.
Have you ever dry fly fished during the middle of winter? There is some excellent dry fly fishing available on Lake Wakatipu during the coldest days, so cold in fact that ice builds up on the guides of the ﬂy rod.
In the lower section of the Lochy River the cool clear days of mid-winter, a small species of mayfly hatches from the icy waters. As the duns float out through the rip and into Halfway Bay, the trout go wild, sipping the miniature sailboats from the surface. The area around the mouth becomes covered with mayfly sub-imago and riseforms of feeding trout. As the naturals are very small, I use a size 16 or 18 Kakahi Queen, Adams or Dad’s Favourite dry fly. This fishing is really challenging as the fly angler must compete with the thousands of natural duns. This is some of the best dry ﬂy fishing that I have experienced on Lake Wakatipu.
For ﬂy fishing on Lake Wakatipu, I use a 2.74 metre Loomis IMX AFTMA 6 weight fly rod and a Hardy Prince 7/8 fly reel loaded with a Cortland 444SL weight forward No. 6 floating (WF6F) fly line. My Cortland 333 weight forward No.6 sinking (WF6S) fly line is loaded onto a Mitchell 745 fly reel. The IMX fly rod and the weight forward line gives me the ability to punch a line into a headwind when the necessity arises. I use a tapered leader going down to a 1.8kg tippet which gives a total length of around 4 to 4.5 metres on my ﬂoating line, and a tapered leader going down to a 2.7kg tippet on my sinking line. Polaroids are absolutely essential to spot cruising trout.
The information in this article has been gained from 15 years of fishing experience on Lake Wakatipu, an area in which I had fisheries management responsibilities. I hope that it assists you with your angling efforts and achievements.
The Otago Fish & Game Council have produced an excellent range of Fishing Location and Access pamphlets which are available free of charge online from the following page.
Angling Guides & Access Brochures:
Otago region has an excellent guidebook on angling in the region, the Guide to Trout Fishing in Otago. This 128-page book covers 140 waters throughout Otago (including Waitaki Valley and Eastern Southland). It gives good information on access, the best angling methods to use, and the best time of the year to use them. The guide retails for $25 plus $2 for postage and packing within NZ. – I highly recommended you get a copy if you are lucky enough to be planning a fishing trip to this area. Allan Burgess.
Free Access Pamphlets (on the same page – Scroll down).
Access pamphlets including maps are available for the following waters, Poolburn and Upper Manorburn Dams, Lakes Dunstan, Onslow and Wakatipu, Waters of the Maniototo, Lake Wanaka, Lake Hawea and Lower Clutha Catchment and Dunedin’s Trout Fishing Spots. See also the following list of downloadable access brochures for the region (click to download a printable Pdf document).
All South Island Fishing Regulations New for 2017-18. When fishing an area far from home, especially one you haven’t fished before, it is essential to study your regulations booklet carefully. In Lake Whakatipu, for instance, the daily bag limit is 6 fish. The Open Season in Lake Whakatipu runs from 1 October to 30 September (all year). Permitted fishing methods for Lake Wakatipu include fly fishing, spin and bait fishing. Whereas, in the likes of the Von River and tributaries, which feed into Lake Wakatipu, the regulations are quite different, with the Open Season being shorter from 1 November to 31 May, and a bag limit of just one fish that may be caught by fly fishing only. To avoid trouble with the Fish & Game ranger always double check your regulations booklet. Don’t assume that the regulations for any particular river or lake will be the same as the one down the road!
All North Island Fishing Regulations New for 2017-18
Lake Taupo District Fishing Licence Anglers visiting New Zealand from overseas please note that the Lake Taupo District trout fishery is administered by the Department of Conservation and requires all anglers fishing there to purchase a separate fishing licence. This applies to New Zealanders and overseas visitors. Fishingmag.co.nz about Lake Taupo trout fishing.