Lake Rotoiti near Rotorua (not to be confused with the South Island’s Lake Rotoiti in the Nelson Lakes National Park) is unquestionably one the country’s greatest trout fisheries.
It’s a large, long lake running 13km from east to west, with widths (north-south) of between 0.5 and 3.5km. The northeastern shore consists of steep sheltering cliffs and native bush, with much of the rest of the lake featuring picturesque rolling farm land.
Its fringes are largely uninhabited, except for a few small settlements scattered mostly along the southern and western shores. The lake’s area is almost 35 square kilometres and it has an average depth of 31 metres. Rotoiti’s water temperature ranges from 12°C in winter to 22°C in the summer, and this, plus the lake’s relatively deep water, affects how it fishes at specific times of year.
The lake is sheltered from moderate northerly and southerly winds but can become rough during easterly and westerly blows, although sheltered bays can be found. There are four boat ramps and public toilets at Otaramarae in the west and Hinehopu in the east.
Rotoiti’s fishing season kicks off on opening day, October 1, when the lake re-opens to boat fishing. If you’ve never experienced an opening ‘Rotorua-style’ then don’t be surprised to see something akin to the Spanish armada on the lake, but be assured: you are in for a fun day! A flotilla of boats descend on the region’s big lakes for opening weekend to get first crack at fish that have wintered in peace. After that the lakes are spacious and relaxing.
During these early season excursions and up to the beginning of summer, the fish are well spread throughout the lake and targetable by lots of different methods. As with all trout fishing in lakes, understanding what the trout and their food are doing helps to catch them. During the relatively cold water that occurs during spring, the fish are happy chasing smelt, which will be found reproducing in the shallows. Trolling in shallow water (say 5-10 metres deep) or harling along the edge of visible weed beds, especially up to mid morning, can be very productive. Methods such as spin fishing or fly fishing the margins, stream mouths and shelves or drop-offs are also highly productive at this time of year. While everyone has their favourite Rotoiti lure, smaller patterns, including smelt imitations and colours, are ideal at this time of year.
As the water warms coming into summer, Rotoiti trout begin to feel less comfortable in the heat, so forage for their food a little deeper. They will continue to feed on smelt at the lake’s surface, but only at dusk and for the first few hours after dawn when the surface water remains cool. At this time of year you would be well advised to troll, spin or fly fish shallow initially, then go deeper with lead line or downriggers, or else try jigging.
Also the trout become more attracted to areas with some structure or shape to them (topography) so better opportunities occur where the lake’s depth changes rapidly. Popular areas include the northern shoreline between 10 and 20 metres, the eastern shore off an area known as ‘The Dump’ and through the narrows to the west. Again, target fish in shallow water initially, then down to perhaps 15 or 20 metres later in the day.
For the first few hours of the day, stream mouths such as the Ohau Channel delta and the Waiiti Stream might become attractive as hungry trout search for a combination of food and cooler water. Lures might be larger and more colourful than those used earlier in the season.
As the real heat of summer kicks in late in January and into February-March, the trout and their food have little option but to find refuge in the cooler, deeper waters of the lake. When this happens you will need to troll deep with lots of lead or wire, use a downrigger or jig. The trout really need to be targeted, so keep your eye on the sounder to figure out exactly what depth they are in.
Deep water off the northern shore and around Cherry and Hauparu Bays are popular locations during summer. Fishing with shallow methods becomes limited to the first hours after dawn or perhaps targeting a cool water inflow. The Ohau Delta, for example, would be worth a fly-fish before the sun gets up. Then you’d want to bring out the jigging gear and head for 25-plus metres.
Lure selection can become even trickier than normal, with trout feeding on a range of food in a variety of sizes. One idea is to mix it up with a selection of sizes and colours until you find what they are taking. Jig anglers often use two different sizes and colours of smelt fly, plus a darker bully or koura imitation on the bottom (you are allowed three lures).
As autumn temperatures begin to slowly cool the lake, the big Rotoiti trout will become more active, packing on condition before beginning their spawning phase. Shallow methods again come into their own, and early trolling along the southern or eastern shores will bag fine trout.
With the first frosts of April or May, the adult three- and four-year-old trout are still feeding, but beginning to focus on spawning.
Fish & Game stocks Lake Rotoiti with around 25,000 yearling trout from the Ngongotaha Hatchery, many of which will return to near their liberation points in winter. As such, the southern and eastern shores, plus anywhere where the trout can spawn naturally, are worth trying. Additionally, deeper methods still work, with many trout opting to stay deep right up until they head in to reproduce.
Fly fishing at night takes off after April and is at its best in foul, wet weather in May and June in the areas designated for ‘winter shoreline fishing’. The lake closes to boat fishing on June 30th and this again proves a popular time to have one last crack at landing a trout from one of New Zealand greatest trout fisheries… Because, on October 1, the cycle begins all over again!
A number of regulations pertaining to the Rotoiti fishery exist. These are explained in the Sports Fish Regulation Guides available free with Fish & Game licences. Late afternoon often provides good opportunities for trollers.
The top of the Ohau Channel, where it leaves Lake Rotorua, is a popular fly-fishing area. Sinking lines and streamers are the normal method. There is access from the end of Takinga Street on the true right side,as well as off Hamurana Road to the true left side of the channel. These legal accesses only go to the left-turning bend downstream from the mouth. Fly fishing only.
There is a legal walking access, so it’s possible to wade out to the delta where the Ohau Channel flows in to Lake Rotoiti. However, most anglers fish the delta from a boat anchored just back from the drop-off.
This river is the outlet to Lake Rotoiti. There is good fishing on the river above and below the SH33 Bridge. Or drive down Trout Pool Road to the end and fish the area below the carpark. Do not leave valuables in your vehicle.
These sites are where trout are released annually and return to in winter in an attempt to spawn. There can be some very good shoreline fishing. Most fishing is done after dark using a floating or intermediate line (the water is quite shallow) with a luminous fly. Daytime anglers can often have good fishing as well, particularly on a dull day or with a good wind riffle on the surface. The most common method through the day is to use heave-and-leave Glo-bugs.
For more information on Lake Rotoiti and trout fishing locations in general, check out Spot X Fishing Knowledge’s Freshwater NZ guide, written by Mark Draper.
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