Shandelle Battersby falls hook line and sinker for the pleasures of chasing trout on Lake Taupo.

Any concerns we had that the fish might not be biting today were laid to rest less than 10 seconds after our first line hit the water.

We were trolling not far from Mine Bay in the northeastern part of Lake Taupo on board the Chris Jolly Outdoors launch M.V. Levante when the rod started twitching frantically, letting us know a curious rainbow or brown trout was on the line.

It was a fresh midwinter's morning in early July and my friend Mark and I were on the Levante for a three-hour private fishing charter — and some aerial duck feeding — with our friendly skipper Pete.

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As first-timers we weren't quite sure what to expect, so Pete patiently gave us a "Trout Fishing on Lake Taupo 101" as we motored slowly out of the marina. Winter was spawning season, he explained, when the brown and rainbow trout make for the rivers in droves. The fish feast hard in the weeks beforehand and are in peak condition pre-spawning; post-spawning, however, they are somewhat depleted, and return to the lakes to feed, building up their strength again.

So, he cautioned, the trout we'd be landing may not be in the best of shape and might have to go back in the drink.

We weren't too bothered about that, we were just excited about being on the Levante and excited to be out on beautiful Lake Taupo; any fish we caught would simply be a bonus.

But of course, catching something is always a thrill and when the rod started dancing, we did too. Pete quickly sprang into action, getting the net ready, making sure the other lines were out of the way and advising Mark on the best way to bring the fish in — "Gently does it, nice and smooth. If he tugs, let the line run ..."

It took a few minutes' strategic winding and then a flash of silver near the surface before Mark could relax and Pete netted the catch — a lovely little rainbow trout about 25cm long. Too small — current catch restrictions on Lake Taupo are a maximum of six fish per licence 35cm and over. Pete gently removed the hook and put her back into the water, holding her for a few minutes until her gills started working and off she swam.
Fish 1, us 0.

Trout are managed well in New Zealand waters. Introduced from California (rainbow) and England (brown) in the 19th century and now plentiful, it is illegal to fish for them for commercial gain. In Taupo the regulations around recreational fishing are administered by the Department of Conservation who issue fishing licences ($20) and monitor fishing activity stringently in the region.

Shandelle Battersby with one that got away. Photo / Shandelle Battersby
Shandelle Battersby with one that got away. Photo / Shandelle Battersby

Pete whizzed about the stern, this time able to set up all three of our lines before any started jumping about. We were trolling using downriggers — devices that lower a cannonball weight to the depth where the fish are feeding, which you clip the fishing lines so your lure and hook are in the right spot. You're not allowed any form of bait for trout fishing, so the lures and the moving boat have to do all the work while you sit back and enjoy the scenery. This is the kind of fishing I could really get on board with.

During the next hour our luck continued in the same vein, though we were never in any danger of threatening the catch limits. After landing another tiddler (my turn), Mark and I hooked a fish at the same time. We had to swap positions during the winding and Mark's fish escaped the hook. We all saw it jump high in the water, however, and can attest the one that got away was a decent size.

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I manage to wrangle my fish into Pete's waiting net, a big brown trout at about 2kg. He's been up the river doing the spawning thing however, so is not in great condition. After a quick photo Brownie goes back into the lake, too.
Fish 4, us 0.

Trout sashimi is off the menu but in between doing everything else, Pete's managed to whip us up a magnificent lunch of fresh salad, macaroni cheese, and chicken breasts stuffed with cream cheese, mixed fruit and almonds, wrapped in bacon. We even try an excellent Chris Jolly Outdoors pilsner brewed by his son, Simon Jolly, who now owns the business.

After a (not very) hard morning's fishing, everything tastes extra delicious.

Checklist

GETTING THERE

Taupo is a 3hr and 20min drive from Auckland.

ACCOMMODATION
Heritage Hotels' Reef Resort, 219 Lake Terrace, is great for couples; and Anchorage Resort, 346 Lake Terrace, is ideal for families.

ONLINE
chrisjolly.co.nz; greatlaketaupo.co.nz