Fly Rod Harling – Plus Rainbow Aquarium – Lake Hawea by Monty Wright

Evan Taylor and Monty Wright with Evan's nice rainbow taken while fly rod harling on Lake Hawea. Photo: Monty Wright.
Evan Taylor and Monty Wright with Evan's nice rainbow taken while fly rod harling on Lake Hawea. Photo: Monty Wright.

Fly Rod Harling on Lake Hawea – Harling is trolling on lakes for trout and landlocked salmon with flies – Plus The Rainbow Aquarium – Christmas Tree Cochybondhu 

With Monty Wright

Evan Taylor with a good rainbow trout on the line. Photo: Monty Wright.
Evan Taylor with a good rainbow trout on the line. Photo: Monty Wright.

Harling on Lake Hawea. Easter is always a time to get together with some angling friends and check out some of those holiday fishing places, and of course, at the same time have some relaxation. Three weeks previously I had been in the Hawea area with an angling class, teaching them how to fly fish. One of my friends, Evan Taylor was amongst the group, and we made some decisions to do some fishing during the Easter period using his magnificent Buccaneer 605 Executive boat.

Unfortunately, on the weekend of the fly fishing class, the weather was not suitable for us to use it on the lake. So I was looking forward to seeing how this boat went on the magnificent Lake Hawea.

On the day planned l rang early in the morning from Wanaka, as the conditions looked perfect. Unfortunately, Evan whose crib is at Lake Hawea told me that the wind was howling straight down Lake Hawea. With the number of hours that we have spent on Hawea, we knew that there would be no way there would be any fishing from the boat on that day. We decided to try again the next day, hoping that conditions would improve.

I was late rising on Sunday morning and didn’t get round to phoning till late in the morning. There was just a slight wind on Lake Wanaka and I expected that on Hawea there would still probably be a howling wind like the day before. But on contacting Evan, he informed me that things looked pretty good and the wind had dropped and it would be a suitable day for heading up the lake.

Basic Harling Rig

Harling line setup.When I arrived at Evan’s place all the gear was in the boat, and l just had to drop my gear into it and we were off down to launch it at the ramp. There must have been 40 trailers sitting around the ramp area and we had to wait to lower the boat into the water.

We were accompanied for the afternoon by Evan’s lovely wife Joan, and l was to find out later on in the afternoon what a real asset she was.

As the Buccaneer roared into life, we headed up the lake in really good conditions. Our objective was to fish the weed beds off the boat with sinking lines behind a silver island. Strangely enough, this is the method that very few South Island anglers use, and l often wonder why.

Evan's tongue helps as he plays a good rainbow on Lake Hawea.
Evan’s tongue helps as he plays a good rainbow on Lake Hawea.

After setting the anchor we rigged the lines up, putting several loop knots in the line so as to let it out as we swung round over the big weed beds with just a light breeze blowing. This allows you to fish over a large expanse of water. Unfortunately just as we started, the water went completely calm, but we persisted with this method for about an hour, having little success. Maybe that’s why a lot of South Island anglers don’t use this method. The success rate might be too low. But I had shown Evan how to do it, and how it could assist him in fishing some areas around Lakes Hawea and Wanaka in the future.

This is when Joan really came into play. She had made a magnificent afternoon tea, coffee and tea were provided, whichever you preferred, and nice fresh muffins and a few biscuits as well. As we sat there enjoying the surroundings a few boats cruised past trolling, all keeping a reasonable distance, which was very good manners. We had also been watching a few shore anglers, but none appeared to be having much success.

Then Evan asked that dreaded question, ”Well, there’s nothing happening, what would you like to do now?” We had talked about harling at the fly fishing class and Evan had had Centrefire Sports Shop in Dunedin make up a harling line for him. So now was the chance to try this out on the fly rod to see if we could better our success rate, which was nil at that point.
Over the last two seasons, I had done a considerable amount of harling as an alternative to dragging a lead line, and in discussing this method with other notable anglers such as Dick Marquand from Cromwell, we have come up with an excellent way to set up the harling gear. I still prefer to use a fly rod, although many anglers just use a normal short rod or boat rod for this method. There is some good info about harling (shallow water trolling with flies) rods, reels, and flies in this pdf from Kilwell Sports.

As I set the rods up Evan fitted a bar between the big motor and onto the small auxiliary motor on his boat, which allowed him to just use the small motor but still steer from the front of the boat. This was the first time that I had ever seen one of these bars used and was suitably impressed by the method.

I used two flies on each of the harling lines, at the bottom a fly with no particular name which was a rich brown with a red head behind a big brass bead. This lure was shown to me by Dick Marquand and he had found it very successful on Lake Dunstan and the Upper Manorburn Dam. (see Dick’s Haemorrhoid)

I had also found it successful harling on the Upper Manorburn Dam and on Lake Wakatipu, but it had also worked very well for me as a down and across fly fishing on the Taieri River and the Maniototo.

Further up I put on a more natural coloured fly, a Hamills Killer, and we set both lines up the same. Between the two flies, I normally have around a metre and a half, and I prefer to tie the top fly on a dropper rather than onto the shank of the hook. The reason for this is that you can quickly change the top fly, leaving the bottom fly attached.

We dropped the lines out over the back of the boat as we motored off, not travelling very fast but sufficient speed just to keep the flies moving on the edge of the shelf, ranging between 20 – 30 metres. A harling set-up (see illustration) has a section of heavy dacron, or in my case l use an old fly line which is ten metres from the back of the lead line. The reason is that when you point the rod straight out the back of the boat you need to quickly strip the line in occasionally to give it a jerking movement, instead of having it travel in a straight line. It is much easier to use a very heavy dacron or the fly line for this, as it gives you something to grip on. You will also often find that this is when the trout takes the fly.

Well, everything was going well as we glided along the lake edge margin working the lines every few moments, and it wasn’t long before we had some success. Evan, who has done a lot of lead line and top line trolling had never caught a fish before using this method. He didn’t have to wait too long to find out the difference between playing a fish from a boat in a large expanse of water from a fly rod to using stiff hard boat rods.

His first rainbow was a very nice well-conditioned fish, and he not only used the rod and reel but also his tongue to catch the fish. One minute it was out of his mouth, then he was licking his lips with it. All in all, the tongue apart from speaking occasionally got a lot of use, as he finally brought the fish into the boat. Unfortunately, as I went to net it, I hit it on the side and it took off again. Thank goodness it didn’t get away, as I would not have been the flavour of the month at that point.

I finally managed to net the fish and everyone was happy, just the way it should be when you are having a bit of relaxation and sport all thrown in. We may have only caught a couple of fish and lost a couple of others, but it was a most enjoyable afternoon. The company was brilliant, the waitress was exceptional and as the weather cooled down and we headed on home, we were all satisfied with our outing.

Try harling, it’s another method and it’s a lot of fun.

Lake Hawea. Image by Makalu from Pixabay
Lake Hawea. Image by Makalu from Pixabay 

The Rainbow Aquarium

by Monty Wright

It was a gloomy morning when we gathered at Dennis Brundell’s place at Lake Hawea. The plan was to travel up the lake in the boat and fish some of the shallow margins and also areas of high rock where we could look down into the discoloured lake water. With the high lake level caused by the heavy rains through December, the boat driver had to be particularly careful navigating his way up the lake as many logs and bits and pieces of driftwood were on the surface of the water. At least the water surface wasn’t too rough with a slight southerly breeze blowing, which is excellent for Lake Hawea. Generally, when the wind is blowing from the south you don’t have that fast run home caused by the nor’ easter that buffets the coastline in front of Hawea township.

The water clarity was particularly bad‘, the lake looking like the colour of some other high country lakes such as Pukaki and Tekapo. This meant that visibility was only good very close to the shore edge. Travelling up the lakes there were small slugs of water that were clearer and when we struck the first one we decided to move into the edge to see if we could spot any browns feeding on the bullies along the margins. With the lake level being so high, grassy areas were flooded where we pulled the boat in and tied it to a very large tree that had been misplaced by the floods.

Mike Duncan and Andy Henderson went to the right and Denny and I went to the left. I had put on a small green damselfly nymph, size 14, just to use in the grassy edges of where we were heading. The light was bad in the direction we were going and it was difficult to see more than three metres out on the surface of the water, although in that three metres when you looked back you could see fish quite easily if they were going to be there. We had only walked about 10 or 15 paces when Denny and I both spotted a brown trout at the same time. I dropped the damselfly nymph successfully in its travel, and it picked it up as I gave it the first jerk. It was a nice brown – about one and a half kilograms. It was a typical Hawea brown, greeny coloured on the back with spots down the side, but not heavily spotted like some fish in other waters. I released it and whilst doing so there was a yahoo from Mike as he also hooked into a nice brown close into the edge.

The window was good for seeing them in the direction they were travelling and they had already seen two fish at that stage. As I set off after releasing the fish (Dennis was quite a few paces in front of me) I observed a rainbow rise just where the line in the water became quite blue and discoloured. Well, I presumed, it was a rainbow at that stage. Dennis cast out and left the fly on the water while I changed from my damselfly to a green beetle imitation, which I had tied to fish in rougher water. I have called it the Christmas Tree Cochybondhu. It is tied with a hackle at the back as well as the front.

The body is tied with Crystal Chenille, which has a green flash in it. I also use some white Pollywing as a small wing, just so it is easy to see it on the water surface. The fish, unfortunately, never rose again, and we moved further around into a small bay. Dennis yelled out, ”Oow, there’s some brownies here.” They were right in on the grassy edge. He dropped his Cochybondhu in front of one and it took it immediately.

While he was playing it, he could see three more fish and where the edge tipped off into the blue water there was a further rise. I covered one of these with my funny imitation and after a few minutes, it disappeared under the surface. A quick lift of the rod and I was into a nice rainbow. Off it went for the middle of the lake.

By this time Dennis had landed his fish and was again covering another fish on the edge of the blue line. Up he came and we had a double hook up. Two fish on at once – both rainbows. Leaping from the water they looked quite spectacular. As I drew the fish into the shallower water I took out of my jacket a new ”Ketchum release” tool, which is an interesting piece of equipment. You fit it over the line and push it down and into the fish’s mouth, releasing the fly. It worked excellently and I released the fish without removing it from the water.

As it swam off I noticed to my right a brown trout coming out of the blue water and onto the dying green grass surface. With a few quick flicks in the air with my line to try and drive the fly out, I dropped it in front of it and it took it immediately. This was unbelievable fishing, as it headed out and over into the blue rim. It was a large fish, and as we were close to the boat and wanted a couple of fish for the smoker, if I landed it I would probably take it. Dennis had caught and released his rainbow and while playing this fish, had already hooked another brown. I finally landed the fish which weighed about two kilograms (or four and a half pound). I took out my morrow spoon to quickly check what the fish had been eating. Giving it a turn in its stomach and taking out the food, it had been feeding on worms, which were no doubt coming out of the flooded grassy area. Dennis at this stage was also landing his fish and we placed them up under the logs, covering them with driftwood in case the seagulls came along.

As we both returned to the water, it was like an aquarium. Something that I have never seen before. In fact, it looked very much like the Wanaka Fish Hatchery, except the water wasn’t clear. On the surface, there must have been ten rainbows all at once. It was so hard to believe. Denny immediately called out to Andy and Mike to come on round as there were fish everywhere. He cast out and caught fish immediately with the Cochybondhu. I did exactly the same, but unfortunately in playing my fish, it got wound around some obstruction in the water and I lost it, and unfortunately, it took one of my Christmas Tree Cochybondhu with it.

Dennis’ next fish was also an excellent fish, so he kept it as well. Again there were fish everywhere as they came in a swarm. I was panicking trying to tie on another fly with fish all around me. Dennis at this stage was already into another fish. This was truly unbelievable. As I pulled the knot up I didn’t even both stopping to put any floatant on the new fly. I just got it into the air quickly and cast it in front of the first fish I saw. Whack, under it, went and we were in business again. Not such a big fish this time. It would have been under a kilogram and l got it in and whipped out the new Ketchum tool to release it. It worked superbly again and the fish swam away. I was busy drying the fly off to put some fly floatant on it when the next raft of trout arrived, and with it also arrived Andy for the entertainment.

“Where’s this raft of fish you are talking about?”
“just there,” I said.

”Oh my God”, and he panicked as he threw the fly into the air swishing, casting too fast, and I thought, here is a tangle before he starts, but he slowly simmered down and landed the fly in a good position. Unfortunately for him, the first fish refused it, which is something they hadn’t done up until now. I redressed my fly and cast over another fish. It also refused it. Knowing that they were taking worms I was tempted to try a red Chironomidae midge hung beneath the dry fly, so I stopped and retied the nylon to do this.

Andy had covered several fish at this stage without success, but finally, one was tempted and he took it and Andy was into his first fish for the day. There was a roar at this point from Mike, who was still on the other side of the boat as he hooked into a big brownie, but unfortunately, it also snagged itself amongst some debris out on the lake. I tied the red midge on the point and the dry fly on the dropper and cast it onto the water. It only sat there for a few seconds and underwent the dry fly. I lifted the rod and was hooked up again. Unfortunately, the fish dived over the edge of the lip and into the deep water, where again I lost everything.

Andy had landed his fish at this stage and was really pleased to have broken his duck for the day. Dennis yelled out, ”Number Five for Mr Brundell” from behind us, and Mike had joined the group at the aquarium. Talk about being ”Johnny on the Spot”. This is exactly what happened at this stage. The breeze got up on the edge and we couldn’t see the fish. I didn’t mind at this stage as I was having to tie on a new tippet with a point fly, deciding not to bother with the midge again. Mike pulled alongside me and
immediately hooked into a nice rainbow. I moved to one side of him just to cast the fly out onto a nice blue area, as I couldn’t see a fish to cast to with the wind.

Just then a fish appeared on my left. I quickly lifted the fly from the water and dropped it in front of it. It was a good cast. Right in the trout’s pass. It rose and took it and I was into a really top rainbow, at least over two kilograms as it took off for the middle of the lake. Let’s hope it decides to stop before then as I had only a hundred metres of backing on the reel. As the line disappeared and I was into that backing and it was disappearing fast, I was beginning to wonder. The adrenalin was pumping quite well, as many metres from the shore the fish jumped into the air. Mike commented, “You have got a good one there.” I said, “Yes, but it might be difficult to land it if it doesn’t turn around and come back in our direction.”

Mike landed a nice rainbow himself and Denny roared from around the corner as he hooked into another one. This was really magic fishing. The wind was getting heavier and it was very difficult now to see into the water at all as I finally played the large rainbow out and brought it to the shore. I decided by the size of it that I would take it, as this would give me two excellent fish for the smoker. Mike, at this point, had hooked into another one which he hadn’t seen moving along the edge. It just rose to the fly which he had sitting out there. There was a yell from Andy to the side of me as he hooked and lost another fish, unfortunately, the fly pulling out of its mouth.

At that point, I noticed that my new “Ketchum Release” tool was missing. After landing the fish and keeping it, I went back to where I had last used it. I walked up and down, up and down this dirty, damp, grassy area but I couldn’t see it anywhere. The tool had worked particularly well and I was quite distressed as they are not cheap to buy – over the $30 mark. It had this special catch which you pushed with your finger so you wouldn’t lose it, but somewhere either I hadn’t pushed it in properly, or I had dropped it when I was releasing the other fish and drying off the fly.

After walking up and down for about ten minutes and the wind getting up, the team came together and we decided to move to the other side of the valley to a spot we knew would be out of the wind at that time. I was really sad to leave this possie and leave my new tool somewhere in the mud and water. The only thing that did console me was that I was going to be back in a month’s time and it might be high and dry then and easier to see. Unfortunately, it is made out of black graphite which really doesn’t assist you when you are hunting for something, but the silver tab that I had on the end to connect it to my jacket should assist. We climbed aboard the boat and

headed for the other side. The water in the middle of the Hunter Arm at that stage was quite rough, but the closer we got to the western shore the smoother it became, and we pulled in to where a creek ran into the lake. This traditionally had been a great place in the past, but unfortunately, as Dennis brought the boat in and tilted the motor, it was obvious that the river had changed direction and was coming into the corner where we normally caught fish. The bottom was freshly silted. We all climbed out of the boat and Denny and Mike headed off around the creek fan.

Andy and I fished where the creek ran in but were unsuccessful as we couldn’t see any fish in the cool, clear water. Cool, it was! It was too damn cold for my liking, so I got out of it after being there ten minutes. Andy and I decided to take the boat and move around a bit further to some of the rock edges and see if there were any fish feeding there. As he started to walk out of the water, he, unfortunately,
got into some of the quicksand and started sinking quite fast. He made a hasty retreat as I was heading towards him, just in case. I really didn’t want to lose my fishing buddy in one of these soft, silty places.

We trimmed the motor of the boat and headed off around past Denny and Mike, who were landing a fish at that stage. As we pulled in against the manuka, we struck those little black fellows who were keen to feast on our bodies. Fortunately enough, Andy had some Dimp which we applied to stop this. We had only travelled a few paces along the edge from the boat when Andy spotted his first trout, a brown right close to the edge.

He had changed to a casual dress nymph which he cast in front of it, gave it one jerk and the fish obliged by picking it up immediately. I walked on a few more paces and saw a rainbow close to the edge, that close it was within a metre. lt was most unusual to see rainbow this close to the edge, but they were obviously feeding on the bullies. I dropped the Christmas Tree Cochybondhu in front of it and it took it immediately. Another fish appeared from the blue alongside it and then must have agreed with the distress of the other fish and took off for the blue water.

Andy searched along the bank margin for some more as I landed and released the fish. The sandflies were becoming very annoying at this stage. Although they weren’t landing on us and biting us there was a large black mass right around my face, arms and legs. I spotted another fish close to the edge and had exactly the same reaction as previously. Dropped in front of it, a bit of a splash this time and it raced forward to get it before the fly could get away, not realising of course, that it was only an imitation. After landing this fish in a black mass of sandflies, Andy and I decided it was time to move. We walked quickly back to the boat to pick up Denny who had already arrived there, but Mike was busy playing a fish in amongst the manuka and rocks at that stage.

He landed it and we brought the boat in to pick him up. The wind at this stage swung into the bay and it was obvious that it was the end of a day’s fishing. We backed off the bush a wee way and Mike spotted another fish, casting to it from the boat. An excellent fish and around two kilograms. I netted it for him and that was it. The end for the day. We stopped in the bay just drifting for a wee while.

We took the rods down and put them in their cases and drank a couple of tinnies before we headed back to Lake Hawea after having one of those remarkable days where we fished in an aquarium on the edge of Lake Hawea.


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