Project Description

Black Magic Tackle pro team member, Jacob Willets, has dedicated the last 3 years to studying and fishing the beautiful Mackenzie Country canals. In this article he shares his experience and knowledge to help you land that big catch.

World class fishing

Located in the heart of the Mackenzie Country, in the centre of New Zealand’s beautiful South Island, you will find the pristine Twizel and Tekapo Hydro Canal System.

The constant flow of crystal clear water and consistent conveyer of food in these canals make it the perfect environment for Brown and Rainbow Trout to grow to world-record sizes, attracting anglers keen to test their skills.

Feeding on the abundant food source of nymphs and flies, snail, bullie, trout eggs and pellets that have fallen through the salmon farms, these Trout regularly grow upwards of 20lb and can often reach 30lb or heavier.

Because of these fantastic fish, anglers from all over the world travel to New Zealand specifically to target these world class Trout. However, the techniques to successfully fish these hydro canals are very unique and many anglers travel great distances to fish in these canals only to leave empty handed.

Photo credit: Chris Firkin @captures_by_chris

Common misconceptions

One of the most common misconceptions when fishing the canals system is “the fish are 20-30lb, so I need to use a rod and line to match the weight of the fish”

These fish are smart and have seen every lure and bait under the sun so it’s important to present your bait to the fish as naturally as possible, using a light rod and line.

I use is a 3-10g 7’9” Okuma Kotare rod, which was specifically designed for fishing the hydro canal system.

It has a soft tip section to help with bite detection but still heaps of power down low to be able to muscle and turn these fish into the bank when needed.

I’ve been testing Black Magic’s new Hyperglide 13x Braid – it’s a high performance casting braid with a silky smooth structure which allows it to be cast further than mono. It has no stretch and better bite detection. I pair it with Black Magic 6lb Fluorocarbon tippet for my leader.

I use the Black Magic range as I have found it’s the strongest, smoothest and most resilient line for fishing the canals. Your leader and braid will fray from rubbing on the rocks and cages within the canals, and most will break, whereas Black Magic’s gear stays super strong and has been a big difference in the number of fish I have been able to land.

“The super thin diameter prevents unwanted drag in the water and the breaking strain is well over what the packaging states, meaning you can put some real hurt on the fish when needed without worrying about the line breaking. But my favourite thing about Hyperglide is how super smooth it is for casting – it’s by far the smoothest I’ve ever used, you can barely feel the line coming off your reel which means you can cast a lot further with less weight”

Techniques

There are many techniques to fishing the hydro canals these include bait, lures, soft baits and the very unique “egg drifting” which is definitely my go to technique to targeting the monster trout that the canals are known for.

Egg drifting is essentially a modified form of Czech Nymphing. Your mainline is tied to a 3-way swivel, and off one eye tie a small 200mm dropper, down to a drop shot sinker. You should match the weight or your sinker to the speed of the current. Ideally you want to be heavy enough to get down quickly but not to heavy that your rig in snagging causing your rig to look unnatural. Off the other eye a long 1.2m dropper to either a glo bug, artificial egg or fly. You then drift this rig deep, walking parallel to your rig with it tapping the bottom of the canal in the current.

The fish in the canals are lazy and don’t need to work or fight for food, they will just hold in the current facing up stream wait for some food to come to them.

They can at times be very selective on what they eat so it’s important to have a good selection of different size and pattern flys with you to work through and find what they’re feeding on.

The trick to being successful at egg drifting is to scour the water, start with one section of water and put 10-15 drifts through from short casts fishing the bank closest to you, to fishing against the far bank. The fish also congregate around change in structure so do some research on the canals you’re going to fish before heading out.

Another technique for fishing the canals is soft baiting, which is good for both Salmon and Trout. Soft baiting is a soft plastic lure on a weighted jig head.

There are a couple of different ways I like to fish soft baits.

The first is very similar to the way I fish my egg drifting setup. I use a very light jig head and drift it along the bottom of the canal tapping the bottom while walking parallel, using my rod to give it subtle twitches. The Trout, especially during winter, can get very aggressive towards smaller fish so they can hit your soft plastics super hard.

Another way is with a heavier jig head and I’ll fish this in a similar way to how I’d fish any lure – cast out and keep my finger on the line feeling for it to hit the bottom. I then work the soft bait just above the bottom again with subtle twitches of the rod to give it a nice natural action. Ideally you want your lure in the bottom metre of the water column as the fish tend to sit deep.

‘Bunker’ – Dartspin Pro 3.5″

Catch and release

Sustaining this incredible fishery is important, so take care of the fish you’re catching, to ensure they can be safely released back into the canal system. These Trout fight hard and sometimes take up to 20-30 minutes to land, so when they finally come to the bank they need time to rest and recover. When netting your fish, keep the net in the water – don’t drag the fish up the bank or lay it on the rocks. Leave the fish in the water facing up current with its head and gills fully submerged while your mate gets the camera ready. When holding a canal Trout use one hand to get a nice strong tail grip and scoop your other hand underneath the chin of the fish, being very careful not to get your fingers in or anywhere near the gills.

While taking a photo to capture the moment, only keep the fish out of the water for 5-10 seconds at a time and always having the head facing the water for two reasons:

  1. The photos always look better with the fish facing the water
  2. If the fish does kick out of your hands it will fall towards the water and not the rocks

Once you’ve photographed the fish, it’s important not to just push the Trout out into the current. You need to sit there with it in the water until the fish is strong and can physically kick out of your hand. Depending on how tired the fish is, this process can sometimes take up to 15 minutes, so be patient and embrace the moment until the fish is ready to go.

Getting started

For any new angler fishing these canals, give yourself at least 2-3 days to practice and learn the techniques. There are guides you can book trips with, even just for your first day, who will point you in the right direction and help fix any mistakes you’re making.

But by far my best advice for a new angler is to put in the hours, and don’t be scared to fish at night. If you put in the hours with the right technique, the fish will come.

Winter time, between July and October, is the best time of year for a beginner to catch Trout in the canals. The Trout are getting into spawning mode, so they’re starting to feed a lot more, making your egg or soft bait lure look far more appealing.

And aside from the fishing the scenery is world class, with snow capped mountains, and stunning sunrises and sunsets. It’s really hard to beat this fishery even if you’re not catching.