Reel Life April 2024 - Otago

  • Otago
  • 26/04/2024

Reel Life April 2024 - Otago

Season wrap

We hope you’ve had a good season.

As the seasons change, brown trout shift focus from feeding to breeding, and make their way towards spawning areas. Many lake fish congregate at river mouths, while others migrate upstream, seeking refuge in pools. Higher flows after rain trigger the fish to keep moving upstream.

Above: Bob Schiesser with rainbow trout caught and released in a lake tributary after heavy rain in the headwaters. Photo: Jack Gauld

During pre-spawning, these browns can be enticed to strike at large streamers or lures. To effectively target them, use weighted lures or a sinking line to reach the depth where fish are holding.

High lake levels have created some ideal habitat for feeding trout in the flooded margins. Photo: Mason Court

Lapping the lake edges

Following heavy rain in the headwaters, most of the larger lakes are filled to the brim, if not overflowing.

The fishing season ends on April 30 for water bodies within the Clutha catchment downstream of Clyde dam and any other catchment flowing to the sea not specified in Clause 3 of the Otago regulations.

However, there are exceptions, so check the South Island 2023-24 regulations guide to confirm which water bodies remain accessible. 

High-country smarts

Otago's high-country rivers, home to prized brown and rainbow trout, remain open to anglers until May 31. These often-icy tributaries drain the alps and feed the huge Clutha River/Mata-Au catchment above Clyde Dam.

Once the sun falls behind the hills in the backcountry, temperatures can be extremely cold. If you plan to venture out:

  • Tell someone your plans.
  • Fish with a buddy.
  • Layer up with warm, weatherproof clothing.
  • Carry a personal locator beacon.


This one’s dinner. Spin angler Robbie Parsons with a 1.2kg brown caught on a black-and-green Toby lure in Lake Wakatipu. Photo: Robbie Parsons

Ice-cold maidens

As winter progresses, anglers are more likely to come across maiden trout. Because they haven’t spawned, maiden trout are typically plump and full of verve.

In cold temperatures, trout are less active but can be tempted to strike at streamers or lures. They may also be taken on emerger and nymph patterns, especially during mayfly hatches.

Good winter trout runs can be found in the Clutha/Mata-au and Kawarau rivers, except for the Deans Bank section of the Clutha, which will be closed for winter. The big lakes Wānaka, Wakatipu, Hāwea, and Dunstan remain open. The lowest coastal reaches of many rivers will also be open year-round.

For where to fish, click here: Access Map Otago - Fish & Game (

Above: Fallout from heavy rain in alpine headwaters charges down the Clutha/Mata-au River at more than 800 cumecs, near Beaumont, on Monday. Photo: Jayde Couper 

Duck-hunting season  

Large numbers of duck hunters will be at their hunting stands on rivers, lakes, estuaries and ponds from Saturday, May 4, for opening weekend of the game bird season.

It’s recommended that anglers wishing not to be disturbed should consider avoiding waterfowl hunting locations on opening weekend.

While most duck-hunting takes place on opening weekend, it’s worth noting the Otago mallard season is from May 4 to July 28.

This landlocked Chinook salmon was caught and quickly released by a fly angler at Lake Wānaka on April 8. Photo: Gordon Brander

Search for salmon

As part of Otago Fish & Game's annual work plan, we are once again on the lookout for the spawning locations of the region's landlocked Chinook salmon.

These salmon often prefer small spring-fed creeks at the top of lakes for their spawning grounds. Like their sea-run counterparts, landlocked salmon perish shortly after spawning, and are typically smaller, weighing only 1-2 pounds.

Staff will be surveying likely and historical spawning areas, as well as using environmental DNA testing kits, to narrow down where they are spawning now.

Previous discoveries have been made with the help of anglers fishing late in the season. If you believe you have seen or caught salmon in one of the lake tributaries above the Clyde Dam, please let us know. Email

Two of more than 15 dead rainbow trout observed at Coalpit Dam on Wednesday. Photo: Jayde Couper

Coalpit fish kill

Fish & Game has been alerted by anglers to issues at Coalpit Dam near Naseby. After the reports, staff visited the site and found about 15 dead rainbow trout. A spot check of the water suggested that despite low temperatures, the oxygen levels in the dam are very low. This information has been passed to the Otago Regional Council for investigation. In the meantime, we ask that anglers avoid fishing the dam to protect the remaining stressed fish population.  

Reel in the downtime

While dreaming and scheming for next fishing season, here’s a few ideas to while away the idle hours:

  • Learn new tactics – whether spin fishing, soft bait, or fly fishing. Check out these videos and aim to upskill. ‘How to’ fish
  • Practise casting – even on lawn. Ignore passers-by asking, “Getting any bites?”.
  • Tie flies. What better way to spend long nights by the fire?
  • Repair your gear. Patch the waders, replace leaders and tippets, clean out the fly/lure boxes.
  • Join a club. Ask your local club about membership: Otago fishing clubs.

Winter licences

An adult winter licence is 40% less than the price of a whole season licence and is valid from April 1 to September 30. They are available at the usual licence agents or online at

Sign up for fishing news next season

This is the final edition of Otago Reel Life for the 2023-24 season. Sign up for the Otago Weekly Fishing Report, which starts back in spring. Click here to subscribe.

Want more info? Check out these links or contact our helpful Otago team.

Tight lines,

The team at Otago Fish & Game Council

More Posts