Josh with Rainbow Trout from Lake O

New Season Underway

Opening morning of a new season and Josh and I made the short drive up into the mountains from the town of Turangi to Lake Otamangakau. The weather forecast for the morning was ok, with a risk of some wetter stuff arriving in the afternoon.

At first light ‘Lake O’ was almost glass-like, with a slight breeze gently moving the surface. In the subdued light Josh and I quickly assembled our rods and set about inflating a couple of ‘Water Striders’… it may be early season but the occasional splash suggested fish were on the move and these stealthy water craft would allow us to get amongst them. As we set up, a steady stream of eager anglers arrived at the lake and in no time boat trailers filled the car park surrounding the main boat ramp. We had plenty of company but that was fine… lots of quiet corners on this lake. So far so good.

Within half an hour a bitter cold southerly blew in bringing dark grey skies and squally rain. The wet stuff arrived early! As far as the trout were concerned, mother nature had just flicked a giant switch. Any early promise had now turned to a more gritty prospect, where every fish would be hard earned.

A moody 'Lake O' on the first day of the season.
A moody ‘Lake O’ on the first day of the season.

As the morning passed, bright bars of sunlight occasionally burst through gaps in the slate clouds and plunged towards the lake. The bleak mountain landscape began to  tease anglers and fish alike, with brighter periods quickly blotted out by angry looking clouds carried on the cold southerly. This harsh environment has a raw beauty that can challenge those who visit. These conditions are not for everyone. While I love presenting a dry fly to a sighted fish on a warm summer evening I also enjoy the more brutal challenge of days like this. These conditions offer a stark contrast to the convenient, controlled comfort of daily life. A chance to face up to the elements as they assault the senses. An opportunity to remind ourselves of where we fit within a bigger picture.

In the early afternoon during a break in the weather I came across a large Brown Trout feeding in the shallows. I watched him for several minutes. His broad back and dorsal fin regularly broke the surface, along with his shovel-like tail. As he turned I clearly saw his spotted bronze flank and golden yellow belly… a great looking fish of around 10lbs. This is what we came here for.

I already had a 16 ft leader attached to my 6 weight set up, but needed to change fly. On went a size 14 dark p/t nymph tied ‘Cove’ style, which was easier said than done as the adrenalin caused my hands to tremble while threading the eye. The huge fish didn’t appear to be patrolling, rather, slowly working his way along the bank picking at snails and small nymphs. I carefully moved to stay ahead of him.

Ok, the rain had stopped and even the cold wind had briefly subsided. I was ready. The cast was fired almost parallel to the bank, with the fly landing perfectly – exactly where the large trout was now heading. At that very moment I spotted another smaller Brown Trout out of the corner of my eye. It was swimming towards my fly on a determined intercept path. This interloper triggered an immediate aggressive response from the larger fish, who lunged, sending the smaller fish dashing back towards deeper water.

I watched in disbelief as the large trout swirled back towards me, but in the commotion he had bypassed my carefully presented fly and was now directly under the thick fly line. The big trout’s demeanor immediately changed as his attention shifted to the line overhead. He came to an instant stop with fins bristling. Both trout and angler frozen like statues. Then he was gone. Leaving me staring at a cloud of sand and silt!

While disappointing at the time, on reflection I was pleased to have had such a dramatic encounter with a fantastic fish. On this occasion the trout won but there will be others, and the tables will turn… such as the Waikarimoana Brown my wife Caren captured on film>

Time to move to another spot.
Time to move to another spot.

Josh and I ended up fishing a few rivers and lakes around the central plateau over three days with 10 or so fish between us. Josh was delighted to take the biggest – a 5lb ‘Lake O’ Rainbow that he hooked while using the Water Strider during the heaviest downpour of the weekend. A very hard earned fish indeed!

James Barnett


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