Reel Life March 2024 - Central South Island

  • Central South Island
  • 21/03/2024

Reel Life March 2024 - Central South Island

Sockeye Salmon spawning

Last week, the 11 – 17th of March, marked the peak of the spawning run for the Waitaki Lakes sockeye salmon population.

The Waitaki sockeye are the only self-sustaining landlocked population of sockeye salmon in the Southern Hemisphere.

On the 14th of March we conducted the annual spawning count with funding help from Mount Cook Alpine Salmon.

Looking at the raw data, Lakes Benmore and Pūkaki sockeye populations remain healthy but we don’t expect the combined Waitaki catchment total to break the record that was set last year of around 84,000 sockeye spawners.

Above: Nikki Dellaway counts sockeye on the Ahuriri River- Photo by Craig McMillan of Heliventures

One of the struggles the sockeye faced this season is the low flows preventing access to their favourite spawning sites.

Anybody who has stopped off at the SH8 Twizel bridge hoping to see the spectacle of thousands of spawning salmon may have been disappointed to find no sockeye in view as there usually is at this time.

The mouth of the Twizel River disconnected just after the run began providing insufficient above-ground flow for the sockeye to enter the river which displaced many spawners destined for the Twizel and tributaries, typically one of the strongholds of the Benmore sockeye spawning population.

This resulted in the Lower Ōhau River next door becoming chock-a-block with sockeye.

The Tekapo river also presented passage issues for the sockeye above the confluence with Gray’s River.

Sockeye are very crafty though and while their instinct is to return to the stream they were born in, if this isn’t possible, they will utilise braids of next door rivers and get the job done.

There is still time to get down to an access point in a sockeye spawning stream and take a look at the action.

Falstone Creek bridge or the lower Ōhau ford are good options. Please respect them and refrain from disturbing them. It is an offence to fish for sockeye in a river or stream where sockeye are present in March and April.

After spawning, sockeye salmon die, and their bodies provide nutrients for the freshwater ecosystem. So be aware that you may see some carcasses around in varying states of decay.

Trolling on Lake Ohau in the shadow of Ben Ohau- Photo by Graeme Hughes

April is the last month of the main “summer season” and with Easter and ANZAC holidays to utilise there is plenty of time left to get out on your local or high-country waters before the “summer season” wraps-up on April 30th.

Winter is just around the corner so why not get out on the water now while mild autumn conditions allow – this is especially important for those who are prone to cold fingers and toes.

Be sure to check out the regulation guide first-hand online here and if in doubt contact a Fish & Game staff member for advice phone 03 615 8400 or email

For fly anglers, April can provide excellent mayfly hatches but be sure to carry a range of flies of varying size and colour as matching the hatch can be critical.

April is also a pre-spawning time for brown trout and they can start to get aggressive and chase each other around – in this case swinging a bead head woolly bugger or similar could get their attention the bite.

April often heralds the last trip out on the boat for the season, especially for those who pack-up their camp sites at the Waitaki Lakes over Easter or ANZAC holidays.

Our advice is just stick to your favourite trolling spots and enjoy the crisp autumn air and the well-condition trout.  

We do hope you enjoy your time on the water this April and if you are looking for access info or some ideas of a new spot to try then check out our locations info  and angler access map here.

April is the first month that our Winter Licence is available – if you need a fishing licence, winter licences may fit your needs — they’re on sale from 1 April.

Ōhau River controlled period ballot.

Adam Daniel with a 'fish of a lifetime' caught in the Upper Ohau River

The ballot schedule for the upcoming 2024 controlled period will be decided in May 2024.

Mark early June on your calendars to check in on our website here to find out the decision on the ballot schedule and see all the update information for the 2024 ballot.

Waitaki sea-run salmon season – ‘upper’ section closed April 1st

The yellow highlight marks the powerlines at Stonewall & Bortons Pond - salmon fishing is closed upstream of these powerlines in April.

The implementation of the season bag limit has allowed sea-run salmon fishing to continue longer in some waters of the Central South Island Region for the month of April.

For example, the “lower half” of the Waitaki River now remains open for sea-run salmon fishing for April. The lower half being that part of the river between the sea and the powerlines that cross the river between Bortons Pond on the South and Stonewall on the North. The “upper" section, being everything above the aforementioned powerlines is closed.

In our Waitaki River access guide and angler access online maps – Stonewall is access point 10 and Bortons Pond is access point 28 on the Waitaki River.

Please remember if you have kept your season bag limit of two (2) sea-run salmon across the combined waters of Central South Island and North Canterbury Regions you cannot continue to fish for sea-run salmon in these regions for the remainder of the 2023/24 sports fishing season.

If you need clarification on any regulation please refer to the 2023/24 sports fishing regulation guide,

If further clarification is required, please contact us directly, phone 03 615 8400 or email 

Tight lines,

Nikki Dellaway, CSI Fish and Game Officer


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