Freshwater Target Species

When it comes to favourite fish species, John Eichelsheim is on a roll. Previously, he described his favourite exotic marine species he had to travel overseas to catch. This time he turns his attention to five freshwater species he enjoys catching, both here in New Zealand and overseas.

Like my countdown of exotic marine species, this line-up is hardly comprehensive, but the following five fish found their way to the top of the list.

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So, in no particular order…

Trout

‘Trout’ is a bit of a cheat really, since the term covers two species here in New Zealand, rainbow and brown trout, plus another, brook trout, which is really a char. I have enjoyed catching all three, though brook trout, while pretty, are rare and generally small in size.

In New Zealand we enjoy excellent fishing for brown and rainbow trout. The country’s lakes and rivers are typically dominated by one species or the other. Specific environmental conditions tend to favour one species over the other, but since brown and rainbow trout lead subtly different lifestyles, they are often found together in the same water, making it possible to catch both.

Of the two trouts, I like rainbows more than browns.

Brown trout can be more difficult to catch and I love trying to fool wary brown trout in crystal-clear mountain streams into eating my flies, but for me, the more aggressive nature and dynamic fighting style of the rainbow trout still makes it the more attractive species.

I have caught trout lots of different ways: fly-fishing, bait fishing, harling, trolling, jigging, soft-plastic fishing and spin fishing. I’m about to travel south to try egg-rolling for giant McKenzie Country rainbows, a first for me.

Catching trout is fun, regardless of the technique you use, but I love flyfishing best. New Zealand has some of the largest brown and rainbow trout in the world, but trout don’t have to be trophy-sized to be fun to catch.

In most New Zealand fisheries, a 2kg trout is considered a good size, and in many, fish tend to be much smaller on average. Fished for using appropriate tackle, trout of any size are fabulous fish to catch. In the same way that fooling a trophy brown or rainbow into biting your fly and then fighting it to the bank of a turbulent river is a worthy challenge, so too is pursuing small fish in tiny streams where casting and fly presentation are sorely tested. Successfully landing even small fish in skinny, heavily overgrown water is no sure thing, but it’s highly entertaining fishing.

The writer with a nice brow trout taken on a fly.

The writer with a nice brow trout taken on a fly.

Koi carp

‘Carp’ is a dirty word in New Zealand, since koi carp (an ornamental variety of the common carp) is classed as a noxious fish. That’s a bit sad for the carp and for us as anglers, since carp is a great angling species.

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Carp tolerate a wide range of water temperatures, low levels of dissolved oxygen, high levels of pollution and severe water turbidity. Consequently, they thrive in waterways other fish don’t, including lakes, ponds, rivers and streams in urban areas.

Found in many North Island and a few South Island waters as well, feral populations of koi carp are detested because they damage the aquatic environment with their feeding behaviour. Carp numbers can quickly explode, out-competing other fish and eventually outstripping the ability of their environment to support them or anything else. Fortunately, catching koi is not only great fun, but it also removes a pest species from the water – a win-win situation.

Koi carp are relatively accessible to anyone who knows how to catch them. As a sportfish there is lots to like: koi grow large – at least 12kg in New Zealand where conditions are favourable – they are tricky to catch and pull hard on the line. Add in factors like the ability to live in ponds, lakes and slow-moving rivers and streams, a preference for overgrown, snaggy habitats, finicky feeding habits and a wary nature, and it’s easy to see why carp is a sought-after sportfish everywhere it is not considered an invasive pest.

Catching carp can be difficult. They are wary feeders so terminal tackle should be light enough not to arouse their suspicions. Carp will bite natural baits like earthworms and insect grubs, but also respond to meat products, pet biscuits and cereal baits such as sweet corn kernels, chick-peas and bread. Overseas, most carp are caught on manufactured ‘boilies’ that include cereals, additives, scents and colourings.

For me, the most fun way to catch carp is by enticing them to take floating bread crust or cat biscuit baits off the surface. It’s visual fishing and the bait often entices carp into open water away from snags, improving your chances of bringing hooked fish to the bank.

The line should be fine enough not to make the carp suspicious and hooks small enough to hide completely in the bait, so light tackle is the order of the day. Baits are simply lobbed in amongst a berley trail of bread or biscuits floating on the surface. Once a fish or two starts feeding in the trail, it’s usually just a matter of waiting for one to slurp down the hook bait, counting to two, then setting the hook. That’s when the fun begins!

Koi, the species that have given carp a bad name, may be a noxious fish but they are fun to catch.

Koi, the species that have given carp a bad name, may be a noxious fish but they are fun to catch.

Bass

I haven’t caught many bass (of the American freshwater variety), but I thoroughly enjoyed fishing for them a few years ago in Minnesota and Wisconsin. I fully understand why they are introduced and stocked all over the world as sportfish.

The bass I caught were not large, though they were of the largemouth variety which can exceed 6kg in exceptional cases. In the small, shallow northern lakes I fished, any largemouth over 1kg was considered a beauty.

Those bass might not have been big, but they were feisty and certainly knew how to attack a lure. I fished mostly moving baits – plugs and topwater baits, rather than plastic worms and ‘jigs’ which are fished more slowly – and all my fish crashed the lure in a spectacular fashion, especially those that bit my artificial frog.

For a relatively small fish, I thought largemouth performed pretty well, darting, jumping and fighting dirty. I was using light spinning tackle, which made them a challenge to boat if they buried themselves in a weed mat, but in open water I was never in danger of losing line to a running fish. That said, larger bass are obviously a tougher proposition and – though I tried during a windy morning on Lake Superior – I never caught any smallmouth bass, which purportedly pull much harder.

I’d happily fish for bass at any opportunity. They are susceptible to a huge range of baits and lures, respond to many fishing techniques and the fishing tackle industry devoted to serving bass fishing is huge. In the eastern US and parts of Canada, bass can be found in almost every lake and pond, no matter how large or small, and many rivers too. What’s not to like?

Bass fight well above their weight.

Bass fight well above their weight.

Mangrove jacks

Common in the warm waters of the southwest Pacific, mangrove jacks are not strictly a freshwater species (but then, nor are trout…). However, mangrove jacks can be found miles upriver where the water is undoubtedly fresh, as well as downriver in brackish water and even pure seawater. I’ve caught most of my fish in fresh or slightly brackish water after working my way many miles up-river from the sea.

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Mangrove jacks are not especially large, but boy are they mean! As ambush predators, in riverine habitats they like to lurk under overhanging trees, against steep, overhanging banks or amongst the branches of fallen trees. They also favour rocky outcrops and any structure interrupting the river’s flow. Where I’ve fished for them, a 2kg fish is large.

Although mangrove jacks are aggressive predators, to catch them you must cast lures or baits right up under the bank or into cover. Jacks won’t normally follow a lure too far from their chosen ambush point.

The environment mangrove jacks live in can be pretty spectacular, especially rainforest rivers like those I fished in the Solomon Islands, though they are also regular catches amongst the jetties, marinas and pontoons of south-east Queensland’s many canal developments.

When mangrove jacks bite, the strike is brutal, belying the fish’s modest size. To be successful, an angler must react immediately, applying pressure to prevent the fish retreating into heavy cover. It’s white-knuckle fishing that requires heavy tackle relative to the size of the fish.

However, you can’t go too heavy with the gear or it becomes impossible to cast the lightweight soft-plastic and hard-bodied lures that are attractive to mangrove jacks. It is much easier to cast accurately with lighter gear and you’ll get more bites on lighter leaders, but you can expect to lose a few fish too.

Mangrove jack are ambush predators.

Mangrove jack are ambush predators.

Surubi catfish

Last on my list is the surubi catfish, and specifically a sub-species found in the middle and lower reaches of the Parana River in Argentina. The fish is part of a group of related large predatory catfish found in the larger rivers and lakes of tropical and sub-tropical South America. The surubi I caught were taken in the delta of a tributary of the Parana River three hours’ drive plus a long boat ride northwest of Buenos Aires.

The glamour species on our trip wasn’t actually surubi but dorado, of which I caught one small example and jumped off two others, both much bigger. Any surubi was a welcome bycatch, especially the large ones.

Surubi did not bite any of our swimbaits or topwater lures but loved livebaits of several small catfish species, including a rather unappetising looking, bony-headed variety with razor-sharp pectoral and dorsal spines.

The livebaits were fished on the bottom using a ball sinker with a very basic running rig incorporating a short wire trace. We fished at anchor and from a drifting boat, with both methods taking fish. The gear was a mixture of medium weight overhead and spinning tackle spooled with braided GSP line.

I never really associated the words ‘sportfish’ and ‘catfish’ together, but surubi catfish are powerful fighters with awesome stamina. They know how to use the river’s current to their advantage, and they grow big, especially the more tropical sub-species.

During a day’s fishing on the Parana, I caught a succession of surubi to well over 10kg, as well as a variety of other species. The surubi were the hardest pulling, though the few dorado we hooked were the more spectacular fighters.

I still liked the surubi better than the dorado, not least due to their somewhat surreal looks. But then, I have yet to catch a big dorado, so surubi might one day slip down my list.

The writer looks particularly pleased with his surubi, caught during a trip to Argentina.

The writer looks particularly pleased with his surubi, caught during a trip to Argentina.


July 2021 - John Eichelsheim
New Zealand Fishing News Magazine.
Copyright: NZ Fishing Media Ltd.
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited

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