Often trout become shyer as we move towards summer in response to angling pressure. Sea-run trout, in particular, become quite shy as salmon anglers arrive at river mouths and disturb the water by day. So look at night fishing to improve your catch rate.
Large brownies tend to feed hard late at night, with the ‘witching hours’ from 11pm to 2am being a favoured time. Warmer weather and dark nights are ideal for night fishing and if there is a gentle breeze blowing across the water, so much the better.
In protein-rich waters, the bigger browns only need to feed for a few hours each day to get bulging bellies. These trout will feed hardest, and expend the least energy, when the baitfish they feed on are out in the open water and active, which is often in the ‘dead of night’. So choosing a warm summer’s night to head out late-night angling can offer a wilderness-like experience with the chance of a trophy trout.
Tie a soft-hackle nymph on a short dropper under your dry fly
While I really enjoy watching trout slurp dries off the surface, the trout will take a nymph set about 30 centimetres below the dry on a dropper just as regularly – if not more so. From December until February the dry fly season peaks as trout rise to terrestrials in our lakes. Have you ever seen trout eyeball, but refuse your dry? Well, why not try a soft-hackle nymph on a short dropper under the dry? Use a size of nymph to match the dry. For example, with a cicada dry, I would use a size 10-12 soft-hackle, while underneath a mayfly dry I would use a size 14-16 soft-hackle.
Trout are often attracted to dries, but as the season progresses they become quite shy and cautious about taking them. They will more readily take a nymph below the surface, though. Often I will watch a trout rise up to the dry; I’ll strike and hook the fish, only to find upon landing it that it took the soft-hackle nymph. It’s as if your eyes trick you, and often you’ll swear that the trout took your dry – but you’ll find it hooked on the nymph.
I like to use soft-hackle nymphs tied with Hungarian partridge feathers, as these soft, finely speckled fibres provide a very lifelike imitation of insect legs.
Cover the water and adapt your fishing technique as the day goes on
Planning where you fish, and when, is important. Getting away trout fishing early in the day to secure a good fishing spot can be vital. Reaching the river first will see you catch more fish, and when other anglers see your car parked up next to the river, they will probably choose another location.
In Canterbury, getting out on the river before the wind picks up later in the day is an advantage, too. Consequently, I like to get away by 6am in the morning over the summer when river fishing. A day bag is prepared the night before, so I can hop out of the car early and get hiking straight away.
Fishing certain locations on lakes early in the day, before the water gets too disturbed by other anglers, can also be an advantage. This is especially the case when fishing the shallow flats around stream mouths. But remember to take into account the angle of the sun and how it will affect your ability to spot fish. The hours between 9am and 3pm provide the best light for sight-fishing.
Fish the far bank
Using a boat to access the far shore can greatly increase your fishing options, especially as it’s likely to have suffered less pressure. In many cases you simply need a kayak or dinghy. During summer, I love using my dinghy to row out and fish the deeper water in the middle of the day, where the trout often retreat to feed.
But being able to row across a lake to the far shore is a bonus, and allows you to explore more shoreline in a shorter space of time. A kayak or canoe is adequate even for slow-flowing coastal rivers, where you may only need to paddle 20 metres across to find less pressured water. Regardless of the distance, always wear a life vest.
When you arrive, there will often be a side of the river that’s obviously better for fishing, perhaps with easier access than the other bank, too. Yet as water becomes pressured over the summer, accessing the far bank, even if just for short sections, will bring rewards.
Spin fishing is a great way to catch trout in larger rivers and lakes, allowing anglers to cover larger expanses of water. Large rivers are especially well suited to spin-fishing. Often there will be deep pools or swirling water, or at times just simply large expanses of water in which trout will hold, but which are challenging or impossible to fish effectively with fly-fishing tackle.
The larger braided rivers of the South Island’s east coast are ideal for spin fishing, as sea-run browns, rainbows and salmon are all highly responsive to spinners in the slightly discoloured water. If spin fishing in lakes containing mainly brown trout, use a light line and smaller, naturally-coloured spinners. Spin-fishing is also a great option when the wind picks up, so carrying a spinning rod is always a good backup – it’s a fishing method that I consider complementary to fly fishing. I simply enjoy the options that each method offers.
Consequently, I carry two spinning reels, each with a dedicated line weight: one with 4lb (1.8kg) line for small streams and small, clear-water lakes, and one with 9lb (4.1kg) breaking-strain line for larger rivers, estuaries and large lakes.