Lake Okataina, the fourth-largest lake in the Rotorua region and certainly the most pristine, is nearly untouched in terms of development. It was one of the “haven’t-quite-got-around-to-it-but-must-fish-one-day” destinations on my long Bucket List. By Kevin Power
The lake is situated approximately 30 kilometres from Rotorua; turn right off State Highway 30 at Ruato Bay, Lake Rotoiti and travel down seven kilometres of winding bush-lined road to reach the lake. On the lake edge is a grassed picnic area and public toilet, although no rubbish bins (to discourage pests) so you will need to take your stuff back out with you. Accommodation is available, if you want to stay a few days, at Lake Lodge Okataina situated next to the boat ramp. The room rates seem very reasonable for such an idyllic location; this would be ideal place to base oneself for a multi-day fishing trip on the lake. For those who don’t own a boat I believe the Lake Lodge also provide a guided charter (www.lakeslodge.co.nz).
The situation which saw me end up fishing Lake Okataina this January was a little bizarre, and had everything to do with NZ’s largest Lake, Taupo. I was in Tauranga Hunting and Fishing talking with Russell Summers about fishing – as you do – and he showed me some new Pro Troll trout lures with the electronic e-chip that emits a current that replicates the voltage discharged by the nervous system of a livebait. DOC staff were using them on Lake Taupo and had apparently found them so good at catching trout that they’d banned their use there. My ears immediately pricked up with the words “DOC” and “banned” in one sentence – I just had to try some of these out! What a great excuse to take a day out and cross Lake Okataina off my list. Legend around my local fishing club bar leaner has trophy rainbow trout of ten pounds or more cruising the depths of Okataina, so I was raring to go!
As my lake fishing experience was virtually nil – a half day on Taupo trolling a lead line which, to be honest, made catching trout akin to catching sea-lettuce in Tauranga Harbour and about as exciting – I knew my best shot at catching a trout on Okataina would be to tag along with some locals with the gear and knowledge. First port of call was to Chris Tregilgas, owner of Wholesale Fishing New Zealand and importer of Pro Troll lures, as he had all the necessary gear and knowledge. Russell Summers and John Schuler of Rotorua Hunting and Fishing, also joined the party to keep me honest.
About the Lake
Okataina with its pristine virgin native forest coming down to the lake edge must surely be one of the most beautiful lakes in the North Island. The Lake was an arm of Lake Tarawera till about 7000 years ago when a lava flow emerged between the two and left Okataina with no outlet; nowadays the water drains through an underground aquifer and as a consequence the lake levels can vary hugely. The fluctuating lake levels were the primary reason for Ngati Tarawhai moving away from the area before 1900. In 1921 Ngati Tarawhai gifted the shores of Okataina to the Crown as a reserve, which the iwi is still involved in administering.
Because the formation of the reserve has prevented development, and the surrounding bush acts a barrier to nutrients entering the lake, the resulting clear water provides the perfect conditions for the rainbow trout to reach impressive proportions.
At this time of year the lake surface is warm, and as rainbow trout like it cooler they’ll generally be holding in deeper water below the thermocline.
[A thermocline is the layer of increasingly colder water that separates the warmer surface layer from the colder deep water. A thermocline will show up on any half-decent sounder; take this into consideration when setting your lure depths.]
There are three preferred methods of targeting trout at depth, which many of you will be familiar with – but for those who aren’t, they are jigging, trolling using lead lines, and employing a downrigger while trolling to get your lure to the depth you need. As Chris was keen to improve my lake trout fishing experience he opted to employ a downrigger which does away with having to deploy weighted lines to get the lure to your target depth, and is also the most accurate way to set your lures at the desired depth. As a bonus, deploying a downrigger doesn’t “dumb down the fight” as lead lines do provide the angler with great sport fishing on light tackle.
Chris’s son Jarrod was skipper for the day and entrusted with keeping us on the Lake’s 20m-30m contour. Two lines were deployed on the one downrigger, both with Pro Troll trout killer lures with the aforementioned trout-attracting e-chips. One line also had an e-chip-equipped flasher attached a couple of metres in front of the lure which gave the lure a circular motion. This lure was clipped on at 20m to cover the thermocline and the other lure without the flasher board was clipped on at 30m to skim just above the lake bottom. Skipper Jarrod navigated our way up and down the Dogger Bank, well-known on the eastern shores of the lake area, keeping us at a steady 1.8 knots – the key speed, according to Chris, to get the best action from the lures.
Russell landed the first fish, a modest rainbow trout that was released to fight another day. The fishing wasn’t “on fire” though, so we deployed a range of lures to try and find the trout’s preferred style for the day and trolled the Dogger Bank to within an inch of its life, resulting in a fish each for Chris, John and me as well. Interestingly enough all of the trout caught were on the Pro Troll e-chip-equipped lures – so while this was no scientific test, and it’s questionable whether this weapon really should be in the banned category, it is certainly another gadget to add to your tackle box to help you bag more trout.
Beginner’s luck more than good management handed me bragging rights for the day with a 5.8lb rainbow in superb condition, which is now residing in my cold smoker preparing itself for the table. I would like to thank Chris for introducing this spectacular lake to me, sharing his knowledge and helping me bag my first Okataina rainbow trout.
Original published in Bay Fisher Magazine
Issue March 2013 NZ Bay Fisher 173