Winter Fishing in the Alps

The Southern Alps are a defining part of our island nation. Spanning the entire length of the South Island, the alps, valleys and basins have a myriad of lakes that provide stunning all year-round trout and lake locked salmon fishing opportunities writes Peter Langlands…

While the weather will often be cloudy on the South Island’s coast, an escape into the high country will typically see you under blue skies. Over the winter months, large high-pressure zones will sit, allowing for a relaxing outdoor experience. The settled weather and stunning mountain vistas are best taken advantage of in a boat or kayak, although there are plenty of good shore-based options.

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Starting north and heading south, the Rotoroa lakes in the Nelson Region (Rotoroa and Rotoiti) both have easy access and there is a campground at St Anaurd (which is at the base of Rotoiti). These twin lakes are both large and suited for exploring on a boat or kayak. There is also some limited shore-based angling around both lakes’ outflows that can be productive, especially when fishing with a large black woolly bugger at dusk.

An ideal eating sized brown trout caught at Lake Rotoroa.

An ideal eating sized brown trout caught at Lake Rotoroa.

The lakes are surrounded by native beech forest with snow-capped alps in the distance. Brown trout is the main species and fishing near the shore and off the mouths of the inflowing rivers is well worth while. Soft-baiting with natural-coloured lures (greens, browns) can be especially effective. Overall, most of the trout are not large but still a good eating size, especially when smoked with some locally foraged manuka branches. The lakes are about 1 hour 20 minutes from Nelson or Blenheim and a good winter option, especially as the cool weather slows down the sand-fly activity.

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Heading south, Lake Coleridge in the North Canterbury high country is an exciting lake to fish in the winter as the rainbow trout are very active and often in good condition, reaching up to four kilograms in size. Lake locked salmon are also taken, along with a few browns. Ryton Bay is the main boat launching spot and is just under two hours’ drive from Christchurch. Fishing the lake’s edge from 3-8 metre depths is often productive.

Trolling for salmon at Lake Coleridge. When the southerly hits the coast, you will often get better weather inland.

Trolling for salmon at Lake Coleridge. When the southerly hits the coast, you will often get better weather inland.

Soft-baiting off the river mouths with an imitation rainbow trout pattern is especially effective in the day. For fly fishers, the river mouths really come into play after dark with large marabou flies and lumos working a treat. Jagged razor back mountains frame the lake but do take extreme care as the nor-wester howls like a ‘bat out of hell’ down its length (and there have been fatalities over the years).

The Lakes of the Mackenzie District offer many options over the winter. Overall, Benmore is the most sheltered and productive with the Ahuriri Arm being a top option when the wind is blowing. The lake has a real mix of rainbows and browns, along with both chinook and sockeye salmon. The rainbows are the best fun over winter. Working a paddletail soft-bait is especially effective around the shallow margins and off river-mouths. Fishing out wide of where the Ohau Channel flows in is a top option as large numbers of rainbow trout stack up. When a light southerly blows, Lake Ohau offers a good boating option and is one of the more remote of the larger lakes in the Mackenzie. In recent years, the boat fishery in Lake Ruataniwha has also improved markedly as the lake is enriched by water following out from the salmon farms. Some large rainbows well over ten kilograms have been taken in this lake as canal fish find passage through. Drifting and casting soft-baits around its edges is also very effective.

Rivermouth fishing at night for rainbows is fun and productive in many southern lakes.

Rivermouth fishing at night for rainbows is fun and productive in many southern lakes.

Into Central Otago, both Lakes Wanaka and Hawea offer great fishing over the winter. Wait for a large high-pressure zone to settle over the country to fish these lakes, or a light southerly, as they are both exposed when wind blows from the north. Hawea’s size allows larger boats to explore remote waters. Hawea is my favourite as the lake is a little overlooked. Both rainbow trout and lake locked salmon are prime targets over the winter but on sheltered days, brown trout can be stalked along the edges. For kayak fishing, the river inflow of the Makarora River at the top of Lake Wanaka is a good option in the winter. Both lakes have lots of accommodation options nearby.

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These beautiful Blue Pools of deep, clear water flowing into the Makarora River offer a moment of tranquility.

These beautiful Blue Pools of deep, clear water flowing into the Makarora River offer a moment of tranquility.

On to Queenstown, my favourite fishing locations, weather allowing, are off the river mouths at Glenorchy and Kinloch. When the rivers are freshening with some snow melt, there will often be good boat fishing. I especially enjoy kayak fishing out from Kinloch and working my way down the lake to where the Greenstone flows in. You will get some of the most stunning mountain views in the world when out on the lake down there. The outflow of Lake Wakatipu, on the Frankton Arm, is also worth a fish as there are good numbers of modest sized rainbows and browns. If the wind blows then soft-baiting around the shore at Moke Lake is a good all year-round option for feisty brown trout.

Lake Wakatipu is a great place for the kayak.

Lake Wakatipu is a great place for the kayak.

Finally, heading into the bounty that is Fiordland, Lake Manapouri offers some opportunities for trophy brown trout and is a great option for larger boats. Fishing the lake’s outflow at the Manapouri township is a good option in the evening for shore based anglers as both brown and rainbow trout stack up.

Take some time to explore some high-country lake fishing opportunities over the winter – I have only touched on a fraction of the options. For those especially keen on kayaking and boat fishing, winter is a great time to head out as many sea fishing options slow down. When you’re catching and cooking up some fresh trout and salmon with mountain views, you will no doubt be asking yourself, “Can life get any better?”


June 2021 - Peter Langlands
New Zealand Fishing News Magazine.
Copyright: NZ Fishing Media Ltd.
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited

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