Finding and catching rainbow trout

Finding and catching rainbow trout

April is one of my favourite months to head out fishing. The fish are on the move, and they are also hungry and aggressive.

The first thing I’ve noticed is that rainbows are where you find them, and over the years I’ve had very good days and many other days where I came home skunked.

While brown trout seem to have a fairly clear-cut autumn spawning period, rainbow trout spawn over a longer period – any time from April through to December. This makes it hard to be on the right water on the right day.

As a kid, my father used to take me and friends to Lake Hawea to target the spawning rainbows at Timaru Creek mouth during the cold months of late August/early September, with memorable days interspersed with memorable flops. Lasting memories include: a beautiful 2.5kg rainbow hen I caught one morning on 1.8kg (4lb) line and a red Mepps spinner; the sight of a shoal of rainbows sitting in the pool below the Timaru Creek bridge while on the drive in; and the voracious sandflies that live in this area. Red spinners, such as those in Mepps and Jensen ranges, were particularly effective. However, the results became patchy over the years, so sadly we returned to this spot less and less.

A few years back I did a raft-fishing trip down the Clutha River from Albert Town to Luggate. The operator was Greg Dougherty, who owns Alpine Fishing Guides (, and he can sure make his raft ‘talk’, accessing pool after pool with great skill. This river has a good population of rainbows, but there seems to be no one place where they all congregate to spawn, resulting in them being well spread out. On that day in October, I landed and released twelve trout, the majority being rainbows. A couple were small maiden fish, while the other bigger rainbows were post-spawning fish starting to put condition on again.

I have tried a couple of times to find fat, spawning rainbows in the Clutha River above Lake Dunstan, but all the rainbows caught were either very small maiden fish or post spawning slabby fish. It appears to me that once rainbow trout access the Clutha River from the lake, they don’t hang around, going quickly to wherever it is they spawn.

In the South Island areas I fish, I have come to the conclusion that the best spots to target spawning rainbows are at the tops of lakes, at the delta area/mouths of spawning rivers before they get the final urge to go for it. This is probably going to happen from April through to June. A good example is the winter season on Lake Coleridge, where hardy anglers target rainbows preparing to spawn at the mouths of the Harper and Ryton. (You have to be tough, as Coleridge is located in alpine country, and fishing after dark in a chilly environment takes fortitude.) The canal rainbows also spawn, and in recent years they have been targeted by specialist anglers through winter.

Recently I had a spawning rainbow trout experience that was unexpected. I had been down in South Canterbury chasing fallow bucks, and on the last morning of the trip decided to get up early and stop at Lake Opuha for a dawn fish on the way back to Christchurch. Although primarily a wild brown trout fishery, both landlocked salmon and rainbow trout have been released over the years to enhance this man-made lake’s fishing opportunities.

The Opuha Water Company has this to say about the lake on their website: Lake Opuha is a 700-hectare man-made lake, built with the purpose of acting as an irrigation reservoir, which offers good fishing. The lake lies hidden away and sheltered within the Fairlie Basin, 12km from the township of Fairlie. As well as fishing, the lake is used in summer for boating, kayaking and water skiing.

I fish this location a lot, but previous to this trip had only caught one rainbow amongst the many fish landed.

The day brightened into a beautiful one – quite a surprise after the previous week of rain. I was hoping that the flooded inlet streams running into the lake might have attracted a few lake fish in close. However, the stream I accessed was running clear, so down to the mouth I wandered.

The previous floodwater had risen the lake a bit and this meant it had flooded back over vegetation and sticks. Luckily, I had my lightweight waders on, as this meant I could wade out until I reached the deeper water, free of snags. Other than one small boat trolling further out, I was the only angler there.

I fished with my favourite Panther Martin spinner, and on the fifth cast was whacked by a spirited fish. It acted differently to the browns I normally catch here by going on several reel-screeching runs. It was when it took to the air that I knew it was a rainbow.

Thankfully, the hooks held, and I despatched a fat rainbow of about 1.5kg. Fish from Opuha always taste great, and this size was perfect for fillets.

The putt-putt boat out in front of me was doing well, too, and over the next hour I saw him land two jumping rainbows.

By this time the sun was starting to peep over the horizon, and this usually precedes a drop off in fishing success as the fish retreat into the lake. I was therefore mentally planning to stop fishing when a second, slightly bigger rainbow hooked up. The fight was even better than the first, but again the hooks held and I successfully landed and despatched it.

What a great morning.

   This article is reproduced with permission of   
New Zealand Fishing News

June 2017 - Greg Morton
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited

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