When most people think of fly-fishing in New Zealand they think of clear back country streams and big browns coming up slowly to eat small drys on the surface. That is definitely what brought me to New Zealand, but after doing some research I kept finding pictures of these ridiculously huge trout found on the Twizel canals. Most of which are caught on spin gear, while standing around battle fishing with a bunch of red necks, who will most certainly kill whatever fish they catch. Even with that unpleasant situation, the thought of landing a twenty pound trout had me very intrigued.
I knew that there was definitely a way to do this on the fly, and that with a little effort I could be holding one of those monster trout as well. Fly fishing on the twizel canals is completely different from most fisheries in the world that I’ve been too but it is very similar to still water fishing, so I knew this could be done
Day one on the canals :
While traveling south on my way to Te Ananu to fish the famous Oriete river. I had to pull over, something was telling me, you’re here, its right over there, you’ve gotta give it a try. The weather was overcast and rainy, I knew that most rivers nearby wouldn’t be worth my effort anyways. So I pulled the van in and started looking over the water, in no time at all I saw a monster rainbow come breaching out of the water looking like a small shark. After about a half hour of watching the water I saw over ten monsters breach the surface, I knew I had to get my bugs in the water. With only the basic info about the salmon hatcheries upstream and how these monster trout feast on salmon eggs year round, I put on an egg pattern and a small leech under and indicator and throw it out there to see how it went.
About an hour went by and I hadn’t gotten a thing. It was time to change something. I took off the egg and moved the leech up as my first bug and put on a small pheasant tail as a trailer. I also changed my depth from about ten feet to about fifteen feet. I hadn’t found the bottom yet, so figured gotta go deeper.
Three casts later boom, the indicator shot under and my heart started to race, thinking here we go, but after about ten seconds I could tell it was a smaller fish and my heart slowed down a bit. It was a twelve-inch rainbow not the monster that I came for but a solid start.
He had taken the leech, after about ten more minutes I had another smaller trout bouncing around on the end of my line this one was on the pheasant tail. My rig seemed to be doing something right so I continued to fish and landed four more small trout and a 3lb salmon.
Feeling a little worried that the day was only going to bring little trout with this set up and location. It was time to move up stream closer to the salmon farms. Knowing that’s where every red neck in NZ would be, but also where the larger trout might be as well. I started walking up the bank towards the farms, when I spotted a monster rainbow cruising the bank right in front of me.
In complete shock I hurried to get my rig out and going. I stalked up behind him and gave it a cast the flies hit the water maybe ten feet in front of him, he moved over to feed the indicator stopped, I lifted my hand, and fish on.
As he went darting off into the depths and my reel started to scream my heart started pounding. As the battle went on I could tell this was a very large fish, and this was gonna take some time. The massive head shakes going on under the water were making me question the 4x tippet, I had seen him take the pheasant tail, so I knew the hook was a little under sized for a fish of this caliber.
I was running an eight weight rod that was doubled over for most the fight. After three long runs I could finally see the fish coming up in the column and I knew he was getting tired. I got him closer and closer to the bank, as I realized that my fifteen foot leader was gonna be a massive challenge getting him to hand.
I picked a spot where I could drag him into a small water cove made by some massive rocks on the bank and decided to try to tail the monster. Luckily everything went as planned and I finally had him in my hand.
After a couple quick photos, I spent some proper time reviving the old beast before I sent him on his way. I watched him swim away and I couldn’t believe that had just happened. I sat back on the bank, and decided, this was worthy of the beer that I had wedged in my bag. In awe of what just happened I enjoyed my beer and a smoke, wondering if I could repeat the process again.
I spent the rest the day stalking the banks and only saw one more large brown, who wanted nothing to do with me or my bugs. I fished a couple other spots on the canal where I would see whales breaching and I landed two more small trout and another salmon.
As the winds picked up and it started to rain I headed back to the van to continue my travels. I would return to canals on my way back up from the south and I would give this one more day to see if I could land another canal monster.
Day two on the canals:
After about two weeks of back country fishing lower on the island, some heavy drinking over the new years, while cruising up the coast heading to Golden Bay in search of the famous yellow tail king fish. I blew a tire near linkis pass and was stuck in Twizel for a couple days. After getting my van back up and running I had about a half a day to fish the canals once again.
I showed up to the canals and realized that it was definitely holiday season in NZ as the amount of fisherman had tripled since the last time I was there. It was a very pleasant day and the sun was out and the winds were somewhat low.
Walking the banks with this many people was not gonna be an option, and I knew that the trout would be nowhere near the edges with all the people around. I scoped the area in search of some open water and I spotted a place just below the farms and right above the out flow that looked good to me.
It was a decent walk over and I could only see one person over there and he looked like a fellow fly fisherman, that would have to be the spot. I rigged up and headed over, as I got closer I could see he was a fly fisherman. Excited to not be stuck next to some bait dunking kiwi, and to hopeful to get some info from a credible source.
We greeted each other and enjoyed a smoke together, as he told me about his day. He had landed several small trout on an egg pattern that I had never seen before. He proceeded to give me one, I tied it on under my leech and we both started fishing.
About a half hour went by and neither of us had a hit, so I figured a rig change was in order. There were several large trout feeding within casting distance and it was getting a little frustrating that they hadn’t fed on my offerings. I extend the tippet to twenty feet and put on two pheasant tails. One large bead headed CDC, and a smaller one unweighted.
After about ten casts, as the flies swung in under me boom, the fish took so hard it about ripped the rod out of my hand. Before I knew what was going on I was out into my backing, and all I could see was the biggest trout I’ve ever had on my line flying through the air hundreds of feet away from me. He quickly stopped and came straight back at me, I shove my tip in the water trying to keep tension and I reeled as fast as I could, as it got closer I could tell I had lost him.
My new fishing buddy looked at me and says “that happens all the time with these fish, they are smart as hell” he laughs and continues fishing. I finish reeling in the rest of my line and check my bugs to find that they’re both still there and that he had just out smarted me and not snapped me off.
I cast back in and literally on the next cast about half-way into the drift boom, the indicator goes down again. The fish goes way out into my backing and I’m worried this whole thing is going to happen one more time. Luckily this time I keep up with the fish as he makes his runs and keep solid tension on him.
As I’m getting him close my kiwi friend comes walking over stands next to me and say with a huge grin and small laugh, “you want some help?” I started laughing with him as I bring the fish towards the bank. He slips it in his net, and looks at me and says “things a dink”. We both chuckle, as I proceed to tell him “I haven’t seen you land anything”.
He helps with a coupe photos and weighs the fish for me in his fancy net,”16 and half pounds” he says “fish of a lifetime for you wankers from America”. I get a solid laugh out, and thank him for everything. He looks at my flies and asks me “what happened to the egg I gave you?” I look him in the eyes and tell him, “that thing only works on small trout”. We both chuckle as I hand him a bead headed CDC pheasant tail, I tell him “here this is what you need”. We both laugh he changes his rig and we go back to fishing
Ten minutes later I see him set the hook, I watch as a monster rainbow goes flying up in the air and spits the hook. He looks at me and goes “do you pinch the barbs on those things?” I smile and laugh” of course.” All I hear him say form under his breath is,”what’s wrong with kids these days, always trying to make things harder than they have too” I get a solid laugh out and we go back to fishing.
I ended up landing one more decent rainbow around 10 lbs, and he landed several small trout and missed one more giant all in about 3 hours. With all the commotion going on over on our side of the the redneck bait dunkers start to move in. Our little zone was over run shortly and we both decided to pack it in and walked back to the cars.
I never actually got his name, he was sure a great guy to fish with tho, lots of laughs were had that afternoon and I truly won’t ever forget that day fly-fishing on the canals.
I’m not sure if I really figured anything out while on the canals, or if I just got lucky. I didn’t see any other person land a big trout and I’m not sure why I kept finding them, but I can tell you what gear I was using and what worked for me. I’m by no means an expert on canal fishing and I’m sure there are guys that live down in NZ that probably have it dialed in like my kiwi friend.
I decided on running an eight weight green series rod from Rise fishing company, with an 8 weight trout boss floating line from Cortland lines, spooled up on my Cheeky reel. I choose the eight weight because I knew I might find some large trout and it would be nice to be able to slow them down if I need. You could probably get away with a six weight, but the longer leaders and heavy winds make me think the eight weight is the stick of choice for the canals.
My leader was hand built and I used about ten feet of straight 2x fluorocarbon, and added 4x fluorocarbon blood knotted for another 5 to ten feet to my first fly. I did run an indicator tied all the way up by the fly line as-well. Running a hand built leader helps to get the flies down faster in my opinion and also is more stealthy in the water.
For flies, I had the best luck with pheasant tail of all sorts. The salmon seemed to like the leech and so did the smaller trout. As, for eggs or “glow bugs” as the kiwis call them, I didn’t have much luck but that is definitely the recommend fly down on the canal and i know some guys have great luck with them, so it is always an option. Like I said I’m no expert on these canals, just explaining what worked for me.
Looking back on the canal:
As, I pulled out and head up north for my next adventure, I couldn’t help but smile. I landed some amazing fish on this fisheries in two short days and can honestly say it was worth the stop.
I’m sure on my next visit in New Zealand I will be on the canals once again, and hopefully can break the twenty pound mark. For me tho all three monster rainbows I landed were truly fish of a lifetime. I was very happy about the time I had spent there and honestly didn’t mind fishing with that many people. Everyone I met was very nice and they all seemed to be good people. That being said the eight or so hour I spent was plenty for me, I would rather be in the back country any day. I had to give it a chance tho and would definitely return to give it a shot again.
If anyone has any questions about fly-fishing the twizel canals feel free to leave a comment or email me directly and ill be sure to get back to you with as much information as I can provide.