Waimakariri River, Trout and Salmon Fishing
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.
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.
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.
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!
Salmon Fishing Competitions Waimakariri River mouth
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
The Best Water Colour for Salmon Fishing
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.
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 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.
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.
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.