The remoteness of the Mainland’s West Coast has ensured its rivers and lakes have remained both productive and pristine, offering plenty of freshwater angling opportunities to explore, as Greg Morton found out.
The West Coast of the South Island is a long, narrow two million hectares region hemmed in by the Tasman Sea to the West and the Southern Alps to the East. It extends from Haast to Karamea. Locals either live within the Buller, Grey or Westland district and the largest towns are Greymouth, Westport and Hokitika.
The West Coast is a place of extreme climate and terrain, but it is a stunning environment comprising mountains, glaciers, rivers and lakes, vast rainforests, moody shorelines and unique flora and fauna. The sand-flies are just there to stop people staying too long.
This region, like so many areas reliant on tourism, is struggling at present because of the impact of Covid-19 but Kiwi tourists are helping out by visiting these beautiful national locations instead of their intended international destinations.
With a fine weather window beckoning, my wife Lorraine and I headed west. Hokitika was as far north as we would go this trip as we wanted to saviour attractions rather than spend days just driving. We would stay a couple of nights in Hoki’, with one night stopovers in the Fox Glacier and Franz Joseph townships on the way up and back. Every day was fine, so we had a ball.
I have fished the coast many times in the past but always in the same general location. Lake Brunner was my ‘spot’ when I lived across Arthurs Pass in Christchurch. I largely focused on the lake, its tributaries (such as the Arnold and Crooked Rivers), and nearby smaller lakes such as Poerua.
Lake Brunner has the moniker, ‘the place where fish die of old age,’ because there are a lot of brown trout in that waterway. With a surface area of 39 square kilometres, and 10 kilometres across at its widest point, it’s big. Over many years I caught a lot of brown trout there using bait, spinners, float and fly, and trolling lures. They were never particularly hard fighting fish, were quite dark in colouration and averaged out at about 1.25kg in weight. The lake is surrounded by native bush and has lots of weed, which is why the fish are opportunistic cruisers. In the lake middle, it is at least 100 metres deep and then stays deep right into shore. A boat is virtually a necessity to access the best places.
A Lake Brunner trout that didn't die of old age!
I found dark and natural coloured lures did well, and ‘fishing your feet first’ was a tip worth noting. One afternoon, I remember standing in calf deep water casting a worm rig out into the deep water when a trout casually swam past my legs. I wound the rig back in, dropped it at my feet where I had seen the trout and slowly waded back to shore. Five minutes later, I had him landed. His beat was only a metre or so out from shore. That lesson has landed me a lot of cruising browns in the years since.
My favourite fishing spots were Iveagh Bay, the inlet mouths of the Crooked, Hohonu and Orangipuku river mouths and the Arnold River outlet.
On my recent trip, we accessed the southern end of the West Coast by sidling around the upper end of Lake Wanaka, then driving up the Makaroa valley, over the Key Divide and down through the Gates of Haast. Along the way, we stopped at the Blue Pools, which are about 3km from the West Coast road. A track leads you to a swing bridge over the Makaroa River, then to a second bridge which looks down into the blue pools of a glacier fed tributary. This spot would have to be one of the best short walk attractions in New Zealand. The sight of seriously big spawning brown and rainbow trout up from Lake Wanaka just added to the place’s magic.
A glacier is reflected in the still waters of a West Coast lake.
The West Coast is so different to the arid Central Otago where I live. It is mountains, bush and wild country. A wet climate plus steep terrain adds up to ‘nature’s fury’ when a storm hits. Over the next few days we saw evidence of past flooding events that just take your breath away. Obviously, when it pours here it cascades down hard and fast and every gully, creek-bed and river empties violently into the sea. As I write this article, it is currently bucketing down on the coast. The main West Coast road was closed to all traffic last night due to a huge slip near Haast, and 200 kilometres of road north of Haast to Hokitika suffered from surface flooding.
On the West Coast there is clearly no shortage of water for trout but for river trout, it can be a precarious existence, particularly in South Westland. Lakes are more stable habitats and on our trip we passed or visited several fishy looking examples. They were Lake Moeraki, Lake Paringa, Lake Ianthe, Lake Mapourika, Lake Matheson, Lake Mahinapua and Lake Kaniere. In addition to brown trout (and some also have perch), Ianthe, Mapourika, Paringa, and Moeraki offer salmon. Most are surrounded by bush so a boat, dinghy or kayak would be an asset.
Without a boat I was a bit limited on my winter trip, so only had short sessions on Lake Mahinapua and Lake Kaniere. No landed fish but a couple of good strikes. The tourist nature highlights that have stuck in my memory bank were Ship Creek Hector’s dolphins, the Lake Matheson reflections, Peters Pool walk, the Treetop Walkway, Hokitika glow-worm grotto, kea and weka clowns, kahikatea and rimu forests, sunsets into the sea and the Hokitika River Gorge walk. Just magic.
There are some great opportunities to enjoy the natural surrounds via the likes of this tree top walkway.
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