New Zealand's South Island has a lot of waterways but access can often be difficult because of terrain constraints and the lack of public roads. Greg Morton, however, has a solution. He recently used his mountain bike to access some of the more hard to reach trout fishing hotspots, and explains how you can do the same.
Many fishy places in the South Island see few anglers because ‘bush bashing’ using ‘shanks pony’ only interests the really keen. The answer for many cunning anglers is push power. The mode of transport is the mountain or touring bike and the access roads for these bikes are the cycle trails springing up around the back country.
Year by year, local cycle trails add sections or join trails to other trails to become mega sized. These cut through amazing country, often skirting lakes, canals and rivers. Throw in e-bike advancements and age need not be a deterrent for those who want to link fishing with riding. So, let’s have a look at some of my close to home South Island trails.
Of them all, the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail, the largest continuous cycle trail in the country, really is a fishing asset. It consists of nine sections, is 306km long and travels through some of the South Island’s best fishing destinations. Starting alternatively at the base of Mount Cook or at Lake Tekapo, cyclists will travel between mountains, around lakes, across plains and down valleys all the way to the sea. Should you start from Lake Tekapo, you will firstly travel down the Tekapo Canal (with its monster fish) to Lake Pukaki. The alternative tracks join up at Pukaki and all riders then visit Lake Ohau and portions of the Ohau Canals before entering the Waitakere Valley at Omarama. You will then travel past Lakes Benmore, Aviemore and Waitaki before following the Waitaki River down to Duntroon. Riders leave the Waitaki River here and travel down to the sea at Oamaru. This route is full of fishing options and I am sure angler cyclists will appreciate the fishing bonanza made available by the trail. Fish and Game CSI have made particular mention of how the trail has recently accessed some quality shallow water bays in Lake Benmore and Lake Waitaki. The fish species available along this trail are rainbow and brown trout and salmon.
Two salmon taken from the Ohau Canals.
Another big development anglers will utilise is underway in Central Otago. It is the building of the Cromwell to Clyde trail which travels through the Cromwell Gorge along the side of Lake Dunstan.
Once completed, the trail will form part of the 536kms of new trails connecting Cromwell to other Central Otago, Queenstown and Wanaka trails. This track is on the inaccessible side of the lake and includes six challenging bolt on bluff bridges with a total length of 360m and one suspension bridge. Lake Dunstan is home to rainbow and brown trout and some landlocked salmon. When the final project is complete, Upper Clutha and Lake Dunstan access will get even better for bike anglers.
Near Clyde, an underpass tunnel (complete with murals) goes under State Highway 8 and at this point cyclists will start the Otago Central Rail Trail. This trail accesses the ‘off the beaten path’ Manuherikia River and Taieri River fisheries as it travels some 152km through gorges, plains and valleys to Middlemarch. The impressive viaducts and tunnels near Poolburn deserve special mention. The fish species available are brown trout and the occasional rainbow trout and perch. This is willow grub country.
A Taieri River trout. The Taieri is accessible from the Otago Central Rail Trail.
Lake Roxburgh can also be accessed at Alexandra and a stunning trail heads into the Roxburgh Gorge towards the town of Roxburgh. Cyclists often see the resident bush falcon, and the towering cliffs here are like a Western film set. At present, this trail has a gap in the middle that requires cycle boat portage but I am sure in time that this issue will be resolved.
The Roxburgh Gorge Trail takes you through some beautiful country.
Anglers wanting to fish the Clutha River lower down between Roxburgh and Lawrence can cycle the 73km Clutha Gold Trail. The river runs fast here but occasionally there are slower backwaters and places where tributaries feed into the river. There are plans to extend this trail section even further to Lake Waihola. The mid Clutha River is primarily a brown trout fishery though some sea run salmon travel up as far as the Roxburgh Dam.
From a logistical point of view the various trails and sections are easy to join or exit at any point as there are plenty of spots where trails cross roads or run alongside them. A vehicle with a bike rack is an ideal combo. Pick your fishing spot, park your truck and then ride to the spot for some fishing. Fitness is obviously a plus, but e-bikes help out here. The trails mentioned above are very popular so accommodation is available all along the trails.
It goes without saying that you need to pick your bike wisely. You are mainly off-road so wide, well-treaded mountain bike tyres, a repair kit and a comfortable seat are important. You also want a bike that has plenty of places to hang things on. You want to travel light and smart, so make that phrase your mantra when packing clothing, food, drink and fishing gear. Multi-purpose riding/wading boots are handy, as is a bike lock.
Rods that break down into several pieces are easier to transport. I have a four piece spinning rod and a four piece fly rod. If pushed, I would take just the spinning rod and a handful of trusted lures, plus a couple of bubbles to use with a few dry flies, streamers and nymphs. I once made the mistake of carrying my rod in my hand with the reel attached. The track vibration saw the reel handle unravel and drop off somewhere. A lesson learned the hard way. Think outside the square.
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