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by Monty Wright - Fish & Game Officer, Otago Fish & Game Council

trout fishing, Lake Dunstan
Trout Fishing, Lake Dunstan.
Photo supplied by Trout Fishing Services


The rivers and dams of Central Otago provide a wide range of angling opportunities in a variety of surroundings. The contrast between the willow-lined Manuherikia in mid-summer and the rugged windswept heights of Lake Onslow, Poolburn and Upper Manorburn Dams provides a typical example of scenic diversity which the area has to offer. As if this were not enough, the fishing can also be very good. There is an abundance of safe, easy access spots suitable for family outings, and yet some of these lakes, rivers and dams provide areas more for the hardy types who are prepared to do some extra walking. Some excellent fish are found throughout the river systems of Central Otago.

The Otago fish and game region has a number of excellent dams. These are all self-sustaining (ie spawning streams are available for the trout). Many of these dams are, of course, built for irrigation or hydro.

In some seasons, unfortunately, some suffer from low levels towards the end of summer when higher water temperatures will reduce the good feeding areas for the trout. However, despite this, some of the large lakes and dams are very productive and the more popular of these are listed below.

The close proximity to Alexandra and ease of access contributes to this dam's popularity. Butchers has a self-sustaining population of small- to medium-sized brown trout. Although a small dry fly or nymph fished around the raupo margins is probably the most productive, small bully imitations fished through the rocky edges is also productive from the New Year on.

Another dam handy to Alexandra but which in dry summers becomes very low. It has a self-sustaining population of brown trout which receives little angling pressure. Methods as for Butchers Dam. A feature of Conroys is the number of large koura (fresh water crayfish) and children have a lot of fun trying to catch them.

Again it supports a self-sustainable population of brown trout and receives steady angling pressure. The Upper Manuherikia provides the spawning potential for the dam and a feature of this tributary is a small population of salvilinus fontinaulus (brook char) in the headwaters. Some of the best fishing at Falls Dam is around the upper margin where the Manuherikia enters the dam waters.

This water has a reasonable population of brown trout. This its another dam which suffers from fluctuating levels but probably not to the extent where the fishery is affected. Access is by a dry weather road off Earnsdeugh Road. In the headwaters above the Fraser Dam in the river, - there is a small population of good-sized fish but to fish up through past the mine site is only for those anglers who are very fit.

This lake has continued to fish exceptionally well with all methods in the Clutha Arm. Although the lagarosiphon is causing some bad effects around the Bendigo Wildlife Area, it is an advantage in one or two places among the banks. where small masses have started to grow. Trout will continually come to the edges of this weed to feed on many of the insects darting around off the waterweed. Beware of these and fish around them carefully with whatever method you are using. This also occurs where the Kawarau Arm meets, down to the dam wall along the State Highway. Look for these places and if you are a bait fisherman, set up as close as possible to the weed. The lake has a population of both browns, rainbows and quinnat salmon, so you can be in for an exciting time wondering what you have on the end if you hook a fish. Check any rainbow trout that you catch for the adipose fin being removed as these will be fish that have been released by the Clutha Fisheries Trust. If you do catch one, there are head depots available at the Alexandra Town and Country Club.

Formed by damming of the Teviot River, if it is situated above Millers Flat. It contains a large population of small- to medium-sized brown trout. Bait fishing is the most popular method early in the season, but all methods generally have good success. During late January/early February, the cicada hatch on this lake is one of the many phenomena that occur in our high country and should not be missed as all anglers have a succe:ssful time. Anglers should also be aware that weather conditions at this height change dramatically, so if going there with family or friends, take good clothing and be prepared.

Access to this dam is via the Ida Valley. The Poolburn Hotel is situated on the corner of the road which leads to this dam. It contains a good population of rainbow trout and is quite unusual in NZ as it is only a rainbow trout fishery. All methods are used in the dam but because rainbow are keen on red, often lures with red have the most success. The access around the dam is a little difficult but there are some good picnic spots on the left side up from the dam wall. Bait anglers have the most success fishing on the edge of the rock shelves. Again, the cicada hatch in late January is also exceptional.

This dam is situated at the east end of the Ida Valley and is one of the most unusual areas for rock tor scenery throughout this region. The trout are of medium to large size arid all methods have success. For spin anglers, black and gold generally works by far the best, but if you are trolling on these waters silver, traffic lights and cobras are often the fish catchers. Access is signposted from the same road as you travel down from the Poolburn Hotel.

This small dam, just before Oturehua, has a small population of brown trout and the occasional brook char. It is affected, some years, early in the season by water drawn down for irrigation making it difficult to fish, but on those calm, balmy days during summer, it is often well worth a look.

This dam is situated at the west end of the Naseby Forest and access is off the Alexandra-Ranfurly highway. It has a large population of small brown trout and can be quite a fun place to fish. Again all methods are used in this dam.

This is situated at the east end of the Naseby Forest, before you reach Naseby township and is well sign-posted. It is an excellent picnic spot and popular with families. It has both brown and rainbow trout in its waters and the rainbow are exceptional fighters. Although it is not a deep dam all methods are used, with spin anglers having the best success using very small wobblers and veltics.

This dam has no vehicle access and you have to walk in 300m from the carpark. It is stocked with both brown and rainbow trout, and some of the brown trout grow toexceptional sizes. It is very deep and bait anglers should fish close to the edge. Again, all methods are used but for the fly angler, this dam is better fished in the evening using small sedge patterns.

This dam is on private land and should be respected as in all other dams at all times. It is a stock dam and has some very large brown trout and a wide range of rainbow trout in its waters. It has a tendency to weed up during the summer period and anglers should remember not to wade in this dam as often it contains the bug called duckitch. Many fish grow to double figures in this dam making it quite aft exciting place to hook a large trout.

This waterway is situated above Waipiata and again is on private land. Access is granted but at present vehicles have to be left at the gate. All methods are used, but it weeds up considerably during the summer period. There are some amazing hatches of damsel flies on this dam and fish often feed on them, violently crashing through the surface of the water. It has a mixture of both brown and rainbow trout in its waters.

The productivity of the Central Otago streams is largely dependent on the severity of the summer. In a particularly dry year natural low flows coupled with water extractions for irrigation has a significant effect on some of the fisheries and the same applies to the small tributaries which often supply the spawning facilities necessary to re-populate the main stream.

Fluctuating flows seriously impede the production of trout food in this stretch, but a brown trout population is resident throughout. Quinnat salmon enter the river about January and are caught up to the end of the season in early May. Naturally enough, the most popular spot is immediately below the Roxburgh Dam where the fish congregate. Quiet holes further downstream and at the confluence of some of the tributary streams also supply some excellent fishing.

The physical features of Lake Roxburgh detract from its value as a fishery but brown trout, rainbow and occasional landlocked quinnat salmon are usually present. From December through to early February anglers have good success fishing off the dam when schools of landlocked salmon and a few rainbow mill about trying to get downstream. Spinning is the most popular, although the fish will take a dry fly in the late evening. At the confluence of the Manuherikia with the Clutha there is some excellent bait fishing to be had and also some sedge fishing in the late evening for the fly angler. Spin angling is quite common throughout the reach from Alexandra to the Clyde Dam wall with a number of quite large fish being caught nowadays below the dam itself. Both rainbow and brown trout are present in this section with the occasional quinnat salmon being caught on its downstream migration.

Irrigation extraction totally dries the stream on some occasions. Despite this, a brown trout fishery exists in some sections between the confluence with the Clutha River and the power station. Occasionally the angler will catch a small rainbow in this section.

This is another stream which suffers from water extraction in the lower reaches. In other areas there is not sufficient deep water to hold many large fish but along under its willow-banked margins in many places there is some good fishing to be had. Both brown trout and the occasional rainbow are caught throughout the river's length to the base of the Falls Dam. The most successful method by far is by fly anglers stalking fish that they observe. Some good worm fishing does exist in some of the deeper holes and spin angling using small lures can also be successful, especially on dull overcast days.

This is a very popular section of the river and supports a population of medium to large brown trout. The numerous oxbows and backwaters always produce a few cruising fish. Waterboatmen, snails and sedge imitations are very successful. Spin anglers do well fishing the downstream and across method, while bait angling is also popular throughout the entire length.

This stream is particularly suitable for all learning anglers. It has a large population of small- to medium-sized brown trout and is a good place to take junior anglers as the fish only have to be 20cm in length to be taken from this water. Access is quite difficult in some places but bridge huts and below the Lake Onslow Dam are very popular places.

Fishing licences are available from sports shops


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