Published On: Wed, Feb 18th, 2015

Waimakariri River, Trout and Salmon Fishing

Map of New zealand showing Waimakariri River.Waimakariri River Trout and Salmon

Waimakariri River Sea-run Brown Trout

The Waimakariri River rises in the Southern Alps near Arthurs Pass and flows for 151 kms across the Canterbury Plains to the sea. As it nears the end of its journey it passes close by the city of Christchurch. For most of its length it is a wide braided river only being confined a long a short stretch as it passes through the narrow canyon of the Waimakariri Gorge.

Allan Burgess with a typical

Allan Burgess with a typical “between the bridges” searun brownie. Often the best fishing doesn’t start until after sunset.

The Waimakariri River “between the bridges,” near Kaiapoi, is a popular spot for anglers chasing searun brown trout after work. The two bridges are: the new northern motorway bridge, and just a couple of hundred metres downstream, the old main north road bridge. As such the area between them is easily accessible.

Why so many anglers should gather along this short stretch is perhaps a bit strange. I guess they appreciate the company of like-minded fellows. The sea-runs caught here are generally smaller than those taken at the mouth of the Rakaia River to the south. I’d say the average is around three pounds with the odd bigger fish getting up to 4 or 5 pounds.

The brown trout caught are bright silver in colour having only recently entered the river from the sea. Their bellies are often full to the brim with small baitfish called silveries. These little fish have a distinctive cucumber smell. I know several anglers who on occasion would lip-hook a silvery and let it drift back down the current to be picked up by a waiting brown trout. This method works very well but doesn’t seem to be practiced much any more.

Most anglers now spin with small metal or plastic lures, or fish the fly rod with large streamer flies designed to imitate the silveries. With daylight saving time now in force it doesn’t get dark until after 8.00pm. The fishing generally improves with the onset of darkness as the searuns become less shy about herding and chasing the silveries into the shallows.

Looking west from the north bank towards the

Looking west from the north bank towards the “new” motorway bridge. Over the years I have taken many searun trout from this very stretch!

It is interesting to note that some anglers are much better at this style of fishing than others. You will often find that with ten anglers in a row one or two of them are catching most of the fish! This can be frustrating for the “lesser” angler. My advice is to watch very carefully what the successful bloke next to you is doing. The speed and depth of his retrieve will play a big part in his hook-up rate. With the water slightly discoloured this is largely blind fishing and the fish will often take right at the rod tip.If you are living in Christchurch and aren’t sure where to start out with trout fishing there is always a gap in the line for another rod!

An After Work Fishery

The Waimakariri River is often described as an “after work fishery” because of it’s close proximity to the city of Christchurch. Indeed there can’t be many cities in the world where it is possible to catch searun brown trout and quinnat salmon just 30 minutes drive from the city center.

Lilik with 3rd salmon this season - Waimakariri River Mouth March 2015.

Lilik with his third salmon of the season caught on a foggy morning 5 March 2015.

The Waimakariri is a medium sized river, highly braided in it’s middle reaches, but flowing in just one main channel for the last few miles before emptying into the sea at the small holiday settlement of Pines Beach. Tidal influence effects the river as far up as the old Main North Road bridge. Salmon fishing is best during the first weeks of March though surprisingly there is less angling pressure this late in the season.

The Waimakariri River usually fishes best for salmon later in the season with March being the best month.

There is an excellent, reasonably priced, camping ground at Kairaki Beach Motor Camp, right next to the Waimakariri River mouth on the north side. The phone number is (03) 3277335. It is less than 100 metres from the river – highly recommended.

Close to Christchurch City

Being so close to Christchurch the lower Waimakariri River is very popular with salmon anglers especially when the fish are running. After a few years other anglers become familiar faces. You might think so many people fishing in a small area would be a bad thing but it is in fact an advantage. News of salmon being taken spreads quickly. With salmon fishing timing counts a great deal. Knowing when there is salmon action at the river-mouth maximizes your fishing time. Just seeing others landing fish is encouraging. At least you know you are at the right place; at the right time!

Sea-run trout fishing in the Waimakariri River centers around the area downstream from the State Highway One bridge. This is about 5km from the river-mouth where the river level is still effected by tidal influence.

Sea-run trout fishing in the Waimakariri River centers around the area downstream from the State Highway One bridge. This is about 5km from the river-mouth where the river level is still effected by tidal influence.

Salmon fishing in the lower Waimakariri River is tremendously popular. When the salmon are running nothing else matters as much as fishing!

Salmon fishing in the lower Waimakariri River is tremendously popular. When the salmon are running nothing else matters as much as fishing! Click on picture to enlarge.

Salmon Fishing Competitions Waimakariri River mouth

Rory Atkins and son Stuart with two very good salmon taken recently on the south side of the Waimakariri Rivermouth. Congratulations! These fish were taken on the south side of the river mouth. Some days the south isde fishes much better than the north side.

Rory Atkins and son Stuart with two very good salmon taken recently on the south side of the Waimakariri Rivermouth. Congratulations! These fish were taken on the south side of the river mouth. Some days the south isde fishes much better than the north side.

There are two salmon fishing contests held each March at the mouth of the Waimakariri River. One is the Rangers Fishing Contest run by North Canterbury Fish and Game. Entry is free. You must, of course, have a fishing license to be able to enter. Generous sponsors put up some good prizes. The river flooded for the first contest date on 9 March 2015, so the Rangers Salmon Contest will now be held on Monday 23 March 2015. More details from Brian Smart phone: 027 310-5348, or North Canterbury Fish and Game. Runs from 8.00am until 2.00pm. Free BBQ from 10.00.

The second Waimakariri Salmon Fishing Competition is run by the New Zealand Salmon Anglers Association Incorporated. This year the main sponsors are the Hunting & Fishing stores at Tower Junction, Colombo Street and Rangiora. There are $6,000 worth of prizes to be won. To be held on Saturday 21 March 2015. You can enter up until 9.00am. Entry fee is $20.00. The contest starts at first light, and finishes at 3.30pm.

These are very social sort of fishing contests. Even if you don’t catch a fish there is a good chance (hopefully) to see salmon being caught close up!

Below are a number of photographs taken at previous Waimakariri salmon fishing competitions.

Salmon fishing during the 2014 Rangers Competition at the Waimakariri River Mouth

This was the heaviest salmon taken during the 2014 Rangers Salmon Fishing Contest, held at the mouth of Canterbury's Waimakariri River. It weighed 6.8kg and was caught by Ron Stewart of Christchurch.

This was the heaviest salmon taken during the 2014 Rangers Salmon Fishing Contest, held at the mouth of Canterbury’s Waimakariri River. It weighed 6.8kg and was caught by Ron Stewart of Christchurch.

Flyfishing for kahawai at the Waimakariri River mouth.

Fly fishing for kahawai in the early morning mist at the mouth of Canterbury’s Waimakariri River. With so many kahawai around there is every chance of taking them on the fly rod. Photograph March 2015.

The Rangers Salmon Fishing Contest is held every March. This is usually the best time of year for salmon angling in the Waimakariri River which fishes best a little later in the season than the other major rivers.

The Rangers Salmon Fishing Contest is held every March. This is usually the best time of year for salmon angling in the Waimakariri River which fishes best a little later in the season than the other major rivers.

The competition is held during a falling tide so anglers generally move a little down-stream as the day progresses. There were about 10 salmon taken in total by about 120 odd anglers.

The competition is held during a falling tide so anglers generally move a little down-stream as the day progresses. There were about 10 salmon taken in total by about 120 odd anglers.

Colin Griffiths of Shirley with one of the ten salmon caught during the competition talks to North Canterbury Fish & Game's Emily Moore.

Colin Griffiths of Shirley with one of the ten salmon caught during the competition talks to North Canterbury Fish & Game’s Emily Moore.

Good sized kahawai were also landed all along the line.

Good sized kahawai were also landed all along the line.

This salmon has just been landed at the mouth of the Waimakariri River.

This salmon has just been landed.

Most of the salmon caught tis season have been smaller fish, bright silver, and in excellent condition.

Most of the salmon caught this season have been smaller fish, bright silver, and in excellent condition.

This salmon was caught on a zed spinner but I note that just as many salmon are taken at the Waimakariri River mouth on ticers. A patch of green prism tape on your ticer seems to help get a strike!

This salmon was caught on a zed spinner but I note that just as many salmon are taken at the Waimakariri River mouth on ticers. A patch of green prism tape on your ticer seems to help get a strike!

These intrepid salmon anglers

These intrepid salmon anglers “rode” this odd contraption during the fishing contest. It didn’t appear to move all that quickly when peddled but made a useful trolling and casting platform!

Warren with a bright silver salmon caught during the Rangers Salmon Fishing Contest. Most of the salmon caught in the lower waimakariri River this season appear to have been caught at Macintoshes Hole rather than down at the river mouth itself.

Warren with a bright silver salmon caught during the Rangers Salmon Fishing Contest. Most of the salmon caught in the lower waimakariri River this season appear to have been caught at Macintoshes Hole rather than down at the river mouth itself.

Another salmon caught and weighed during the Rangers Contest.

Another salmon caught and weighed during the Rangers Contest.

Keith Chin placed third in the competition with this salmon caught towards the end of the event

Keith Chin placed third in the competition with this salmon caught towards the end of the event.

The Best Water Colour for Salmon Fishing

By using a small D lead above the hook it is possible to fish a feathered lure on spinning gear.

By using a small D lead above the hook it is possible to fish a feathered lure on spinning gear.

The best time to fish for salmon is when the river has cleared sufficiently so that you can see your toes when standing in knee-deep water. That measurement is about 500mm of water visibility. However it is worth fishing for both searun trout and salmon as soon as water visibility is about half that around 250mm.

The best time to fish for salmon is as the river is clearing to about half a metre of visibility. At which time the river colour will be changing from grey towards green. This is usually about 7 days after the peak flow.

Lovely looking shallow warm blue water isn’t very good at all from a salmon fishing perspective. The goal of returning salmon is to get upstream to the headwaters to spawn. If the water is blue that means it will be shallow which is not good for salmon swimming upstream as they could become stranded.

Double zed spinner for extra weight in faster water. This double version of the zed spinner works very well at the Waimakariri River mouth. I have caught several salmon on this double lure. It casts much further than the single zed spinner.

Double zed spinner for extra weight in faster water. This double version of the zed spinner works very well at the Waimakariri River mouth. I have caught several salmon on this double lure. It casts much further than the single zed spinner.

Salmon will wait around either at sea or, as is the case with the Waimakariri River, in the lower tidal zone of the river waiting for a flood before continuing their journey upstream.

A survey of salmon anglers conducted for North Canterbury Fish and Game showed that the most popular flows for anglers salmon fishing in the Waimakariri River are between 60 and 69 cumecs at the SH1 bridge. Your best chance of catching a salmon is when the river is clearing; not after it has cleared! So keep an eye of the river and head down with your rod sooner rather than later.

Waimakariri River Salmon Fishing Gallery 1

Waimakariri River Salmon Fishing Gallery 2

The river flow peaked on the afternoon of the 28 th of December 2010 at 2,472 cubic metres of water per second. At that stage the river was almost bank to bank. You can see where the mighty torrent has carried bushes and other vegetation downstream, some of which has been caught by fence posts and power poles, to be left stranded as the flow receded back into the main channel. It is amazing how so much water can come down these braided rivers in such a short time!

The river flow peaked on the afternoon of the 28 th of December 2010 at 2,472 cubic metres of water per second. At that stage the river was almost bank to bank. You can see where the mighty torrent has carried bushes and other vegetation downstream, some of which has been caught by fence posts and power poles, to be left stranded as the flow receded back into the main channel. It is amazing how so much water can come down these braided rivers in such a short time!

The Waimakariri River at the SH1 motorway bridge, on the afternoon of 31 December 2010, is running discoloured at approx. 198 cubic metres per second. The flow is still dropping - see chart below. The river is still a greyish brown colour. Water visibility is just 50mm at best. Within another 48 hours it will be fishable for searun trout. The best patterns to use are Yellow Rabbits which the trout will find easier to spot.

The Waimakariri River at the SH1 motorway bridge, on the afternoon of 31 December 2010, is running discoloured at approx. 198 cubic metres per second. The flow is still dropping – see chart below. The river is still a greyish brown colour. Water visibility is just 50mm at best. Within another 48 hours it will be fishable for searun trout. The best patterns to use are Yellow Rabbits which the trout will find easier to spot.

Anglers line the banks of the lower Waimakariri River hoping to hook a salmon during the competition.

Anglers line the banks of the lower Waimakariri River hoping to hook a salmon during the competition.

Pete Hart from New Brighton Sports - wearing white hat in forground - at the Waimakariri River mouth during the competition.

Pete Hart from New Brighton Sports – wearing white hat in forground – at the Waimakariri River mouth during the competition.

Salmon taken at McIntoshes Hole.

Salmon taken at McIntoshes Hole.

The preferred tackle at the mouth is either zed spinners or ticers. When the tide is running out the river can be quite swift. Some anglers use double zed spinners to get down to the bottom in this faster water. Two zed spinners back to back weigh 56 grams. I have had good success with this double lure. It casts well, sinks down to the bottom where the salmon are, and has more action than a ticer.

This river fishes best for chinook salmon during the month of March both at McIntoshes 2 km upstream and down at the mouth. The best time to fish is at first light when the salmon won’t have seen any hardware over night. The best fishing is on the top half of the tide but I have caught salmon at the rivermouth even at dead low tide. If you are there it is always worth having a cast regardless of the tide! Note the sandy beach rather than the more usual gray wacke shingle typical of other Canterbury salmon rivers.

The New Brighton Sports Waimakariri River Salmon Fishing Contest was a great success despite relatively few salmon being weighed in during the event.

A salmon caught at the mouth of the Waimakariri River.

This chart from the Environment Canterbury website shows the sudden flood peak of 2,472 cumecs (cubic metres per second) recorded on Tuesday 28 December 2010. It also shows just how quickly the river flow returns to normal once rain in its upriver catchment stops falling. The small bumps on the graph are caused by tidal influence. The sea is approximately 5km downstream from the SH1 Bridge.

This chart from the Environment Canterbury website shows the sudden flood peak of 2,472 cumecs (cubic metres per second) recorded on Tuesday 28 December 2010. It also shows just how quickly the river flow returns to normal once rain in its upriver catchment stops falling. The small bumps on the graph are caused by tidal influence. The sea is approximately 5km downstream from the SH1 Bridge.

For Environment Canterbury River Flow Reports (updated twice daily), and the River Report 24-hour Infoline (you can even get river flow reports by text message) see the Environment Canterbury website.

Waimakariri River fishing map

1. Trout Between the Bridges. Top spot early season for searun brown trout (October – January)
2. Top spot for searun trout fishing.
3. Known as Colombo Street this is also a top spot for searun trout fishing between October and January.
4. The Banana Hole is a popular salmon fishing spot. Large rocks along the north bank make it similar to Mcntoshes Rocks. Best time for salmon November to March. Best month March.
5. Kaiapoi River Mouth. A top spot for salmon anglers both shore fishing and from boats.
6. McIntoshes Rocks. At least 500m long. There is a good casting spot here for everyone. Salmon are caught all along here. No one spot seems better than any other. Big salmon are caught from the rocks from one end to the other. Drive down Ferry Road and park in the car park before walking over the stop bank. Temporary toilet at carpark during salmon season. A salmon net is essential to lift heavy fish up on to the rocks. This area is extremely popular when good numbers of salmon are running the river. I once counted 27 boats of salmon anglers anchored along this stretch. Boaties are advised to stay well over to the south side away from fly salmon spinners. Boat fishing for salmon at McIntoshes Hole.
7. Waimakariri River Mouth north side. With dozens of anglers fishing both sides of the mouth some days one side seems to fish much better than the other. It was pointed out to me recently by John Hodgeson that the reason for this may be that in hot summer weather the relatively shallow lagoon heats up to be a few degrees warmer than the river. Then as the tide runs out this warmer water flows close to the south bank as it flows out of the lagoon! Salmonoids are very fussy when it comes to water temperature so this makes a lot of sense.
Unlike the other major Canterbury salmon and searun trout rivers the Waimakariri River mouth crosses a shallow sandy beach instead of loose shingle. Searun brown trout fishing takes place several kilometres upstream rather than at the river mouth – as occurs at the Rakaia or Rangitata, and Waitaki Rivers. Hence searun trout fishing in the lower Waimakariri River differs considerably with the river being wide, slower and estuarine in nature.
8. Waimakariri River mouth south side – This side is difficult to get to. Four-wheel-drive access from Spencer Park or boat from the north side, or you could walk and get fit. There is a locked gate at Spencer Park to which keys are available (lock changed each year – refer Spencer Park Camp Ground phone (03) 329-8721.
Each blue square on the map is 1km across. Sourced from NZTopo50-BW24. Crown Copyright Reserved.

Lower Waimakariri River showing McIntoshes Rocks about 2kms from the mouth. If you want to fish for kahawai at the mouth go as far down the beach as possible to the white water before casting into the river.

Lower Waimakariri River showing McIntoshes Rocks about 2kms from the mouth. If you want to fish for kahawai at the mouth go as far down the beach as possible to the white water before casting into the river. Map courtesy of Google Earth, TerraMetrics and DigitalGlobe. Click on map to enlarge. Then click your browser return button.

Sea-run Brown Trout Fishing

Some of the sea-run brown trout shown in this short video clip (including the one at the start) where caught along this stretch of river right next to the railway bridge. There is excellent sea-run brown trout fishing in the Waimakariri River. However, unlike Canterbury’s other braided rivers, the sea-run trout fishing is centered further upstream towards the motorway bridge on State Highway One. The best months to catch sea-run browns in the Waimakariri River are October, November and December.

More details about The Complete Guide to Sea-run Trout Fishing ebook and download link.

About the Author

Profile photo of Allan Burgess

- Fishingmag.co.nz website editor.

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