Sunlight glances off Lake Rotorua. Beneath its glassy surface some three metres below, brown and rainbow trout undulate sensuously. We’re 200 metres or more from the mouth of the Ngongotaha Stream and the flies on our lines gently pulse as we troll back and forth. Suddenly my line goes taut and the reel spins wildly – a strike! Under the expert guidance of Lindsay Lyons, a local fishing guide with more than 28 years experience, I manage to land a brown trout.
“It’s a wild hen,” says Lindsay, pointing out the snubby nose and intact pelvic and adipose fins. “She’s a beauty.”
It’s a good fish alright: four pounds at least and thick through the belly, with a glossy mottled-brown coat flecked with iridescent markings. Perhaps not the largest ever caught in these parts, but enough for a decent meal. In any case I’m delighted, and after the obligatory photo op, Lindsay carefully extracts the hook, gives the feisty fish what he calls “a quick mental adjustment”, and pops it into the cool box.
As an Eastern Rotorua Fish and Game Councillor and president of the Rotorua Fishing Guide Association, Lindsay encourages punters to keep their catch from the lake if they wish.
“Recreational fishing culls the trout and keeps the lake healthy,” he says, informing me that Lake Rotorua is a breeding lake and the only wild fishery in these parts.
“Sometimes the fish can be a bit slabby [skinny] at this time of year after spawning,” he says. “Little wonder,” he adds: “they spend the winter upriver chasing their women and not eating; they’re bound to emerge a bit worn out!”
We recast our lines and begin trolling in about 14 feet of water, which is apparently the optimum depth. Lindsay explains that even though Lake Rotorua is a wild fishery, some 250 hatchlings are released into the lake every year for research purposes. Data gathered about their growth rates provides a key indicator of the fishery’s health.
“The real beauty of Lake Rotorua is that it is open for fishing year round, even when the other lakes are closed between the end of June and the beginning of October,” says Lindsay. “And the fishing is so good I’ve got a policy that if you don’t hook one on a three-hour trip, you don’t pay.”
In season, there’s a myriad of other lakes in the region from which to choose. A keen fisherperson could easily spend two weeks here, and try their luck on a different lake every day.
Lindsay enjoys fishing on all the local lakes, and his six-metre vessel, Red Setter II, has the versatility to launch anywhere.
“Each lake has its own character,” says Lindsay. “Lake Rotoiti has lots of amazing inlets – it’s a sunken valley – and it offers the thrill of catching large trout followed up by a soak in hot springs which can only be reached by boat. Lake Tarawera has challenging trout fishing; the trout are much harder to catch. Lake Okataina provides total solitude; there’s not a building in sight.”
After hooking a few more trout, including a couple that are undersized – once unhooked, these flick their tails and beat a hasty retreat into the depths of the lake – we motor back to Lindsay’s property on the lake shore.
En route, Lindsay offers to cold-smoke my catch using manuka wood chips, his favourite way to eat them. It’s all part of the friendly service he provides his clients. I stay to watch as the fish are butterflied, placed to soak in a brew of salt, soft brown sugar, and port wine, then left to marinate in the fridge “for 14 hours or overnight”.
“Tomorrow I’ll dry them off, and smoke them for seven to eight hours,” Lindsay says.
Before leaving we make pick-up arrangements. My fish will be good to go in two days time, wrapped and ready for the homeward trip.