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Common New Zealand fresh water species

Common New Zealand freshwater species

Brown Trout


The Brown trout are native to Europe and were first introduced into New Zealand in the late 1860s from British stock that was first established in Tasmania. They are found all around the country except in the far north.
Many subsequent introductions have occurred, and brown trout are now the most widespread and common introduced fish in New Zealand waters.

Brown trout occur virtually everywhere in New Zealand south of Auckland. Populations in the northern North Island are limited because winter water temperatures are probably too warm for successful egg development. Although brown trout have spread to Fiordland, they have not become established on Chatham or Stewart Islands.

Brown trout are primarily a freshwater species, but can spend time in the sea. Specimens have been tagged in various river systems and then found to have travelled, sometimes hundreds of miles, to totally different river habitats.

Brown trout prefer cooler waters and their colour and markings vary depending on their home water environment.  Brown trout found in rivers are generally darker in colour and have dark spots  ( black, red or brown ). The red spots are commonly surrounded by paler halos. These red spots are particularly prominent on small river fish. Most Brown Trout that are caught in lakes generally have a more silvery appearance than river varieties. Sea-run Brown Trout are mainly silver in colour, sometimes with dark markings, and can occasionally be mistaken for sea run Salmon.

Spawning, which occurs in autumn and early winter, takes place in fresh water. Brown trout do not undertake extensive spawning migrations like some of the other salmonids, but some movement does occur, particularly for lake populations. Like all salmonids, the female digs a redd where the eggs are deposited.

Brown trout are caught by a variety of methods which include: natural baits, spinners and wobblers, artificial flies which include nymph, wet fly, feathered lure and dry fly. They are considered to be more wary than the rainbow trout and, in a fly caster’s opinion, it is the most difficult of the species to deceive with artificial fly. Despite this observation, which may refer to large and more educated specimens, brown trout are the most common of our freshwater sportsfish and there are more brown trout caught by anglers than any other species.

Large brown trout may attain a weight of 10 kg or more, although a fish over 5 kg is considered a trophy. Anglers today release unharmed many of the larger trout they catch. This makes good conservation sense, especially in high country rivers where large brown trout are highly valued.
Rainbow Trout
The Rainbow trout was introduced from North America as early as 1883. It is common in rivers and lakes but not as widespread as brown trout.Although they were not as easy to establish as brown trout, self-sustaining populations of rainbow trout are now widespread in New Zealand. There are now well established fisheries in the lakes and rivers of the central North Island and in many of the lakes along the eastern flanks of the Southern Alps in the South Island.

The adult “rainbow” is distinguished by its silver colour and dark olive green back covered with many small black spots. As the name might suggest, there is a pink flush along the sides, beginning on the gill cover and fading as it nears the tail.

The backs of river dwelling fish are often more olive-green, and the pink flush, or rainbow, along the lateral line more prominent. When rainbow trout move into rivers and streams for spawning, this band intensifies in colour, and red slashes may occur on the cheeks and in the folds beneath the lower jaw.

Rainbow trout can be distinguished from brown trout and Atlantic salmon by the presence of dark spots on the caudal (tail) fin, and from brook char and mackinaw by the absence of pale spots on their sides. Rainbow trout have a short-based anal fin compared to a long-based anal fin on sockeye salmon. Spawning chinook salmon also develop a red flush along their sides and hence can be confused with rainbow trout. However, chinook salmon have black gums whereas the mouth of rainbow trout is pale in colour.

Most rainbow trout migrate to their spawning grounds, with both lake and river dwelling fish moving upstream to suitable locations, often in small tributaries. Here they may congregate in large schools just prior to spawning. In lakes without suitable spawning tributaries, spawning can occur along the lakeshore. The main spawning season for rainbow trout is June and July, but the season can be extended to October in some lakes, especially those in the colder regions of the North Island.

Rainbow Trout are regarded as less wary than brown trout and therefore easier to catch. They are well known for their aerobatic displays when hooked and are considered to provide the angler with a more exciting “fight” on a rod and line. Fish from 500mm – 600 mm in length and 2–3 kg in weight are common in most New Zealand populations. In lakes regarded as trophy fisheries, fish of 4–5 kg are caught on a regular basis.


Quinnat or Chinook Salmon
Quinnat Salmon, also known as Chinook Salmon, were successfully introduced to the South Island in 1901.
Quinnat-Male small
Male Quinnat or Chinook Salmon
Female Quinnat or Chinook Salmon
They are the largest freshwater sports fish available to New Zealand anglers, confined to several of the larger South Island rivers. The male and female of the species have different colouring. 

The Quinnat or Chinook salmon is the largest of the Pacific salmon species. A large salmon may attain a weight of 15 kg or more however salmon of half this weight are more common. A salmon caught in the surf or in the tidal area of a river is predominantly silver with the back being dark grey green. There are numerous small black spots on the back and on the tail.Lake stocks of salmon, commonly called “land locked salmon” exist in several South Island lakes. Lake salmon which spend their entire life in freshwater, do not grow as big as anadromous (sea run) salmon.
Spawning Salmon

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A spawning Salmon in shallow water making its way up river to its spawning site.
The spawning migration of Quinnat or Chinook salmon usually begins in December or January and will continue through the fishing season with the peak of activity occurring about mid-March.

The salmon run is a major attraction to anglers who congregate in large numbers at the river mouths. They commonly use longer and heavier spinning rods to cast the large silver spoons, hex ticers or zed spinners which salmon strike at as they enter the river or as they journey to head-water spawning sites.

When salmon arrive at the river mouth it is an exciting and busy time. Several anglers may have salmon on their lines at one time, some are landed, some are lost but fishing for salmon during a run is certainly an unforgettable experience.

The Salmon leave the safety of the sea to take the long and perilous journey up river to compete for prime egg laying sites.
When spawning is completed and the eggs are buried safely in the redd (the area of excavated riverbed gravels where the eggs are laid) the spent adults are a pitiful sight.

Fins and flesh are worn to bone and they bear numerous injuries received during territorial skirmishes with other salmon during the spawning process. The adults die soon after spawning.

Spawning Salmon being evaluated by NIWA personal
Brook Char or Brook Trout
Brook trout  400
The correct name for the Brook Trout is the Brook Char. The brook char is an introduced North American species and the most handsome of our cold-water sports fish. The back and dorsal fin is marbled dark olive, the sides are covered in yellow spots contrasting with distinctive red spots surrounded by blue halos.
Brook char do not coexist well with trout. Where there are good numbers of char there are seldom any trout. The Brook Char is generally easily caught and it is claimed it cannot resist any lures or flies showing red colour.

Brook char are found in several inland lakes and streams. Stream fish are usually small but lake populations can provide good fisheries.
The Perch is a deep bodied fish with two large and erect dorsal fins, the first fin having an array of strong and sharp spines. There are two other less obvious spines, one on each gill cover, which quickly become known to the unwary angler who handles his catch carelessly! The pelvic and anal fins, and the lower half of the tail are orange red in colour. The olive green back is tiger striped by six or seven dark bands which extend down to a silver/white belly.

Perch like still water and often frequent the shallows, especially where there are underwater structures or snags such as tree roots or jetty piers. Smaller perch swim in small schools, larger fish are usually solitary. Perch are easy to catch, though they are not caught during the hours of darkness, and will take natural baits and spin baits with great vigour. They are particularly attracted to the colour red.

Perch are usually very numerous wherever they are found and consequently the size of the fish are small. Large perch are sometimes caught weighing up to 2.2 kg.

Tench small

Tench are classed as a coarse fish and are usually caught on baits, either worms or prepared baits of bread dough, or even kernels of corn. Tench are found in slow, often deep waters and are well known for their ability to survive in poorly oxygenated water where other fish would die. They are a deep bodied muscular fish and are very strong swimmers when they are caught on rod and line.

Usually tench are a dark olive or smaller fish are brown to a brassy tan colouration. They have a distinct brick red eye.

The tench originates from the UK and is known as the “doctor fish”. There is a superstitious belief that the slime or mucus of the tench has healing qualities and that sick or injured fish have been observed rubbing against them.

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