Lakes offer good trout fishing refuge

Peter Castle from Tasmania enjoys success on a West Coast lake.

Peter Castle from Tasmania enjoys success on a West Coast lake.

OPINION: Lakes are everywhere in New Zealand. In fact, there are thousands of them – 3,820 lakes to be precise with a surface area more than one hectare. Lakes or in fly fishing terms 'stillwaters', are of many varying types and origins, ranging from the volcanic crater lakes of the north Island, to South island glacial lakes, hydroelectric reservoirs, and don't forget the flooded tree-lined swampy depressions of the West Coast.

Our largest lake is Lake Taupo at over 600 square kilometres and our deepest is Southland's Lake Hauroko at 462 meters deep. Overall we are fortunate to have 41 lakes with a surface area larger than 10 km2, which adds up to an impressive array of prime trout territory scattered nicely throughout the country.

Years ago, I rarely bothered fishing lakes but nowadays they are some of my favourite places. Whatever their origin or type it's a sure bet that they hold trout, often large, and more often than not unmolested by anglers still intent on stalking gurgling rivers. In many ways my conversion to lake fishing has been bought about by the insidious decline of riverine trout fishing over recent decades.

Much has been written about the decline and we see many articles in local papers and on TV news, about poor water quality ad nauseum. Sadly it's true, and even this week in the Nelson Mail there was coverage of students marching on the Beehive to challenge Central Government politicians over water quality.

In the article "Emotions run high over freshwater" Environment Minister Nick Smith was quoted as saying "I do get quite annoyed with people that want to run down New Zealand's brand in a domestic argument about improving water quality".

Well Mr Minister, taxpayers do get quite annoyed too when their recreational assets get trashed. Especially when many of our elected government representatives fudge the seriousness of environmental issues like water quality and riverine habitat, often appearing to be deaf, blind, and equipped with cast iron taste buds.

Sadly, it appears that economic growth at the expense of the environment is a politically entrenched concept that is here to stay. It's worse too when we have to endure the half-baked outputs of the Government's Land and Water Forum, with Fish & Game's Bryce Johnston describing the latest offering as "an attack on the environment and the value of natural freshwater".

Sometimes though, you have to clear your mind of the doom and gloom and just go fishing. I have a simple philosophy about how to catch fish, and that is to go where the fish are. In a freshwater fishery that is now defined more by the rivers that you avoid, rather than the rivers you visit. Lakes are becoming an increasingly important option if you want to continue to catch good numbers of trout. Some lakes even have cleaner water than they used to as regional councils become increasingly proactive.

It's easy (and unfair) to solely blame human land use impacts on a declining fishery but other factors are also highly relevant. With increasing drought, high intensity flooding, and rising water temperatures, lakes can be good refuges for trout where they can escape the summer doldrums or be protected from Armageddon flood events. Lakes go up and down and are less affected by the extremes of climate change and that is why many lake fisheries are holding up so well.

Some of my favourite lakes are on the West Coast and this fishing season it has been my good fortune to have explored many more of them. My Maritime NZ certified boat is fully set up for fly fishing lakes with an electric positioning motor that allows us to stalk the cruising brown trout in silence, and usually alone.

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Using a boat can get you to locations wading anglers can't access and is especially good for older anglers who have trouble getting around and can be taken right to where the trout are. Mostly we fish subsurface nymphs in the tannin swampy waters surrounded by kahikatea forest and conservation land. Well fed on damselflies, dragonflies, chironomids, and galaxid minnows, the fish are hungry and beautiful, with golden sides and spotted backs.

Sometimes they fight hard, diving into sunken logs or burrowing into flax jungles, but it is always exciting. Peter Castle, an ex-Tasmanian fishing guide was highly impressed and waxed lyrical this month about the lake fishing resource. "I can't understand why Australian anglers aren't crawling all over this place" he told me out on the water. "This is what Tasmania used to be like, only it's better". Maybe it's a good thing visiting anglers can't fit a boat into their suitcase I thought at the time.

 - Stuff


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