In a land of spectacular trout fishing, where shining Taupo steelheads
bound up snow chilled rivers, and monster Aniwhenua rainbows bust up anglers
fishing nine weight gear, the remote, and sometimes overlooked, Kai Iwi lakes
generate more fishing excitement than many a southern angler thinks they should.
But once you’ve been to Kai Iwi and fished a glassy iridescent beach corner with
bull rushes framing pine tree reflections and trout swirling in early morning
light, you’ll understand why so much has been written about these lakes — and
why they continue to attract trout anglers from Auckland to the Far North year
The thing that sets the Kai Iwi lakes apart is that they are some of the
oldest and largest dune lakes to be found in New Zealand with surprisingly deep
water (thirty-five metres!) and exceptional water quality. There are no
in-flowing streams of any size, only a surrounding porous countryside that soaks
up rainwater and then filters it into the lake. As a result, the clarity in
Taharoa, the largest lake, has to be seen to be believed. It makes for
problematic fishing during daylight hours when the visual appearance of your
terminal rig can be the deciding factor in whether you receive strikes or not.
At other times it can be an advantage — stalking rainbows in gin-clear shallows
becomes an exciting reality.
Indeed, much has been made of the need to wade at the lakes and fish far and
deep. And this is certainly so on those rare busy days when boaties and trampers
are spooking fish. But on quiet days, on those midweek days when you can have a
whole lake to yourself, the fish can be found right amongst the reed beds, and
it is the cover provided by the weed beds that stops you scaring the fish
completely. A fly placed alongside the reeds can result in a feisty strike and a
stirring battle with the fish leaping about and running strongly in tight,
dangerous corners. The next well-hooked Kai Iwi lakes rainbow that secures its
freedom by making a full blooded leap into the reeds won’t be the last. It’s
frustrating, exciting, and altogether compelling fishing. Not surprisingly Kai
Iwi is known as a float tubers’ paradise. In a float tube many more
possibilities are opened up, especially on the smaller reed-rimmed Lake Kai Iwi
where no power boats are allowed.
The other factor that sets the Kai Iwi lakes apart is that they are in
Northland and, as such, are the jewels in the crown of Northland’s patchy trout
fishing. There are a couple of reservoirs in Northland that are stocked with
trout, and plenty of totara-shaded streams with lots of willing fish. But
nothing else like Kai Iwi. Only ‘the lakes’ have produced fish up to four kilos
on a consistent basis and only ‘the lakes’ has the type of environment that is
so very fishable. Yours truly learnt to flyfish on these lakes and continues to
be drawn back there, despite the fact that there are easier waters where the
fish are not quite so blessed with the visual acuity provided by crystal clear
A good reason for returning recently was the annual Kai Iwi lakes trout
fishing contest. Also, my brother had built nearby an appealing rental unit for
the many holiday makers that visit the lakes in summer. Consequently, I wouldn’t
have to be sleeping in the streets. Neither would the kids: the tribe had
managed to adhere themselves to their car seats before I left; Mum remained at
home. Fishing would be a haphazard child minding affair.
Not to worry; the lakes were still as I remembered them. My last trip had
been a long six years ago, when I had suffered the indignities provided by the
tortuous Tutamahoe Mountain Road. That was an experience. Now, with a relatively
new and well formed sealed road extending all the way through the Waipoua
Forest, I could travel to Kai Iwi in relative comfort and enjoy some of New
Zealand’s most spectacular scenery along the way. If you have never travelled
from the Bay of Islands, through Waimate North, through Kaikohe, past the
amazing sand dunes and harbour entrance of the mighty Hokianga, through the
forest of giants, and onto sparkling Kai Iwi, then I strongly recommend you do.
It’s a trip equal to any I know of in New Zealand.
When you get to the lakes, fishing begins. Trout constantly patrol all parts
of the shoreline so anywhere and everywhere can produce fish. Some spots do
produce more fish than others do — but this can have more to do with the
vagaries of the bottom contours bringing fish up and within reach of your fly
than any special food-rich attribute of the location itself. Koura are a hot
meal item for fish in these lakes, especially with fish from Taharoa, and the
trout are very nice to eat as a result. A large bushy fly fished deep is
therefore very prone to being consumed by a big aggressive fish seeking koura
for its dinner. I like to move from spot to spot but the most successful
flyfishers wade deep, fish deep, and stay put. Especially so during the contest.
This popular contest can have more than one hundred anglers vying for space
along the shore. Sitting tight on a good location is therefore imperative.
The fishing contest this year was slightly down on attendance (a wild storm
on the day before may not have helped) but the fishing results were very good.
In all over 80 anglers landed 150 fish. Many fish were lost. In between child
minding duties yours truly managed around three hours fly fishing and lost three
fish. The last one was a big two kilo Lake Waikare fish that I held hard (too
much swoffing!), busting my light leader. Serves me right: I had run out of
Seaguar invisible fluorocarbon trace material and had instead ‘invested’ in some
cheap nylon alternative from a cut price store. But other anglers dropped fish
too. One guy I talked to landed three on day one but dropped eight. Suddenly, I
didn’t feel so bad.
A lot of anglers experienced trouble with the fish in Lake Waikare. These
were big fish. An experimental non-stocking of the lake for four years had
resulted in an explosion in the population of the introduced (and decidedly
noxious) Gambusia (Mosquito fish) but no increase in the number of dwarf inanga
that the non-stocking was supposed to aid. One year old rainbow fingerlings were
therefore re-released into a lake overflowing with food. Within one year they
were attaining weights in excess of two kilos! That is a remarkable growth rate
and is strong evidence of the weight gain that trout can achieve in food-rich
lakes. Naturally enough, Lake Waikere became a popular destination. The lake is
small, however, and the increase in boating and shore fishing activity seemed to
put the fish down as the contest progressed.
Despite the size of these Waikare fish, the word was that the winning fish
would come from Taharoa. And so it proved — a hen of 2.3 kilos took line honours
but was one of few fish from either Lake Taharoa or Lake Kai Iwi to match or
better the Lake Waikare fish. Also, I was told that the fly fishers would take
the larger fish, and this also proved true, but again, it was a close-run thing
on Lake Waikare. The exciting prospect for next season is that these Lake
Waikare rainbows are, like all the fish in the Kai Iwi system, ‘R-strain’ trout
and therefore still have one or two year’s fast growth potential remaining
before they mature. This raises the prospect of there being some seriously large
trout in Waikare in years to come (who says trout don’t like mosquito fish!).
Next year’s contest should therefore be a ripper. See you