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

Fly Rod Harling on Lake Hawea – Harling is trolling on lakes for trout and landlocked salmon with flies

With 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

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.

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 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.

This post was last modified on 27/08/2020 9:24 pm

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