Wed. Nov 13th, 2019

Fishing and Outdoors

NZ's Independent Voice of Fishing, Hunting & Outdoors

The whitebait trout connection

3 min read
NZ trout fishing season

An early season Tukituki River rainbow trout. Photo: John McNab.

The first day of October still holds a magic for me, as for many of my earlier years, it heralded the opening of trout season after its closure since 30 April.

Years ago, there was no winter fishing in the months from May to September. Now there is winter fishing to give a 12-month season.

Somehow, I have never quite come to grips with the winter season but should I occasionally foray into the river, I have done alright. But then, any day fishing is great, whether summer or winter.

Overall, I do not do much winter fishing and look forward to the early part of the new season. Often, for the fly fisher, early October can be challenging with higher volumes of water even if it is clear.

The Tukituki, Ngaruroro, and Tutaekuri River estuaries in Hawke’s Bay were always good for trout in spring and early summer, as whitebait entering the rivers are eagerly preyed on by trout.

But a river estuary anywhere in New Zealand during whitebait runs in October has the potential to provide very good trout fishing, as trout prey on whitebait.

Here is a tip for keen trout fishers. Early in the season, whitebait move in from the sea and sea-run browns or rainbow trout feed on them.

On a spinning gear, pinch three or four split shot about 20cm above a fly lure imitating whitebait, such as a size 8 Grey Ghost-type pattern. With lighter breaking strain nylon, you can cast 10, 15, or even 20 metres.

Using a Grey Ghost-type lure (not too big) in estuaries during October and into November can give some good fish. Of course, the fly fisher can fish the Grey Ghost-type lure on a fly rod and floating line.


Read more: Gear up for trout season 2019


River estuaries are real food factories with a great variety of trout tucker and not only whitebait but also small crabs, freshwater shrimps, and others. Higher up by the tidal limits, damselflies and freshwater life add to food for trout.

I love the West Coast estuaries.  Once, during incessant West Coast rain, my friend Daryl Scott and I had a great time fishing. We used a small Black Toby lure in an unnamed little creek that drained in a meandering fashion into a bush and flax-infested flat.

The West Coast is noted for its big whitebait runs upriver. There are so many rivers, such as the Mokihinui, Taramakau, Hokitika, Paringa, Moeraki, Haast, Okuru, and Turnbull. There are many little creeks in between, too, like the one Daryl and I fished, being rewarded for our efforts with several two-kilo average brown trout.

When fishing in the early season, try something different by utilising the dusk and into the dark to wet fly and lure fish in estuaries or just upstream of the tidal limit.

To avoid line tangles, prospect the pool in daylight and note positions of rapids, drop-offs, current flow, snags and other details that will catch out the unwary fisher.

I fish such a pool across and down with a floating line, with a Grey Ghost fly lure or perhaps a Red Tip Governor little wet fly just on dusk. Then, as darkness descends, I change to a size 6 dark-coloured fly lure. Fish it slowly from a cast across and around and tighten on any gentle take. Brown trout at night can feed in a quiet manner.

Although 1 October marks the beginning of trout season, if you are fishing South Island waters, it pays to checks the opening dates and other regulations for the new season. While some open on 1 October, others in November and some in December.

Check out the official dates online before casting your line.

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