Salmon Angling and 4WD Vehicles
A big mistake made by many “first time” four-wheel-drive vehicle owners is to assume that their new vehicle will go anywhere. It won’t! In Christchurch recently someone attempted to drive a Toyota RAV4 across the estuary. Needless to say, this wasn’t a smart piece of driving and the vehicle lost the ensuing battle with the rising tide. The water eventually reached the roof and the vehicle appeared for all the world like a new rock formation about 100 metres from dry land! This story might be amusing for all except the owner; however, most drivers of four-wheel-drive vehicles have at least one story to tell of a close-shave with a costly repair bill.
The best way to learn is to take it easy at the start and work your way up to more challenging terrain. Water crossings are a good example of the need to take the easy-does-it approach. Here in Canterbury salmon and trout anglers regularly drive out onto braided riverbeds in search of fish. Our big rivers like the Rakaia, Rangitata, and Waimakariri are prone to sudden flash floods when nor’west conditions in the mountains bring about sudden heavy rain. These rivers can rise very rapidly despite a blue sky overhead. An almost dry riverbed can become a raging torrent of muddy brown rushing water from bank to bank in less than an hour.
When fishing out on these riverbeds always look out for signs of the water becoming dirty as this will indicate a flood is on the way. Another trick shown to me by an old time river fisherman was to place a marker on the stones just above the water level and keep an eye on it. You can tell if these rivers are dropping because the stones along the edge will be wet. On the other hand, if they are dry the river could be rising quickly. If you have to wade on foot across a deep or fast-flowing stretch bear in mind that even a slight rise in the level of the river will make the return journey much more hazardous.
I’m always dubious of having to cross deep channels on the way out to the riverbed proper. A rising river could well see you stranded out on the stones. This happened several years ago during the Rakaia River Salmon Fishing Contest. From memory, I think the river came up quickly the night before the competition was due to start trapping and damaging several 4WD vehicles in the process. The drivers escaped unhurt.
Another hazard when crossing braided riverbeds is fine loose gravel and sand that is saturated with water to create a type of quicksand. By the time you realise what has happened it’s too late and you are stuck fast! There is usually only one solution and that is to get a tow from another vehicle, or if badly stuck it could take the combined pull of several vehicles. Always carry a shovel, quality snatch strap (tow rope) and a decent high lift jack.
Don’t make the mistake of trying to drive your four-wheel-drive vehicle down the narrow shingle spits at the mouths of the Hurunui, Rakaia, Rangitata and Waitaki Rivers. These are made up of loose rounded grey wackestones that have been worn smooth by the action of river and surf. Driving on them is something akin to driving over a pit full of ball bearings! Your heavy vehicle will tend to just sink and become hopelessly stuck fast to the axles. Only a great deal of digging, and probably a tow, will release your truck from their vice-like grip. The preferred mode of transport for salmon anglers wanting to cross these loose stones close to the river mouth is a four-wheeler motorbike with balloon tyres. These fat tyres spread the weight of the bike over a large “footprint” and so prevent it from sinking. However, such a bike requires a trailer or flat-deck vehicle to get it to the river!
Sometimes it is possible to get quite a distance down the spit by maintaining a constant speed on the flat. It is only later when you try to turn around and go back, particularly on the upward slope, that the full realization of your earlier error hits home! I have been fishing at the end of these river mouth shingle spits on numerous occasions when some comedian has rolled up to provide the assembled throng of anglers with an afternoon of entertainment as he struggles frantically to release his pride and joy from the unforgiving grasp of the loose gravel. So be warned.
It also pays to be extra cautious if you are alone on the riverbed and there are no other vehicles in sight. Be particularly careful about crossing a side stream if the water is murky and you can’t see the bottom. In which case it is better to stop and check the water’s depth and the bottom’s firmness by wading across first.
Change down to low-range second gear, or low-range auto, and proceed across at a constant steady pace. Once into the water avoid stopping or changing gear. Maintaining a slow steady speed will create a bow wave in front of your vehicle which will help to keep water out of the engine compartment.
Finally, I wouldn’t consider crossing water over two feet deep unless travelling in a convoy with at least one other vehicle.
If in doubt don’t cross that piece of water! You may be able to find a shallower crossing further downstream. You might even consider parking on high ground and walk the rest of the way to your fishing spot!
About halfway through this short video clip, you can see a Toyota Hilux that has been modified to make it way more capable off-road; particularly over loose shingle. Don’t try this in your family 4wd! Letting your tires down to about 15 pounds makes a big difference on loose shingle. It makes the tires wider and they don’t dig in anywhere near as deeply.