Flooding in February wiped out many whitebait huts and stands in the South at the start of the year, so when whitebaiting begins today, many in the South will be playing catch-up, Southland Recreational Whitebaiters Association president Roger McNaughton says.

McNaughton said many people had been hesitant to invest time in repairing flood damage due to contentious Department of Conservation whitebait management consultation that closed on March 16.

And then, of course, he said, weeks later Covid-19 brought the country to a standstill.

"I think in the last couple of weeks there's been a bit of a panic for people to get their stands and everything in order to start the season," he said.

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The 69-year-old, who lives east of Invercargill and whitebaits on Titiroa Creek said he keeps some of his haul for himself, but "we have a lot of friends".

"It's just a way of life and it's a pretty relaxing way to spend some time," he said.

The Department of Conservation was not immediately available for comment yesterday, but the whitebait consultation it held earlier this year proved controversial.

The regulations for whitebait fishing would not change for the 2020 season, the department said on its website.

The season is open between today and November 30 (inclusive) across New Zealand except the West Coast of the South Island and the Chatham Islands.

Fish and Game Otago Dunedin councillor Colin Weatherall said he hoped — now that the weather had settled a little bit — there would be some bait running, though there was "not traditionally a lot on the east coast in the early part of the season".

"But as the season goes on, hopefully there's a little bit to be shared around."

While the Waikouaiti River and parts of Southland could get busy at the start of the season, the East Coast, and the Taieri, where he fished, was not usually busy to start.

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Weatherall said he would not make it out today, but "maybe Sunday".