Dinghy Fishing – The Highs and Lows Chasing Salmon, Snapper & Kingfish

Crayfish by Dinghy. Darryl and Brett Le Bherz, with Brett's first cray.
Crayfish by Dinghy. Darryl and Brett Le Bherz, with Brett's first cray.

Dinghy Fishing – The Highs and Lows

By Darryl French

During my limited years of fishing, I have owned six boats in various forms and sizes, but some of my most memorable outings have been whilst dinghy fishing. When I first started salmon fishing many years ago I always envied the guys at Macintoshes Hole on the Waimak, river fishing from small boats and the amount of fish they seemed to catch.

A friend of mine, Wayne Wells, also saw the advantages of fishing from a boat, and mid-season a couple of years later purchased a 12ft clinker with an outboard on it. Well, for the remainder of the season that boat was on the river at every opportunity and we caught some good fish from it. That season I got my first bag limit of salmon and on the same day my brother-in-law caught his first salmon. A truly memorable day! That season I ended up with the best tally of fish ever. Now I’m not saying that it was entirely because of the boat but it certainly helped.

The following off-season saw my wife Simone and I move to Kairaki beach at the mouth of the Waimakariri River and during that time I scrimped and saved $1,000 to purchase my very first dinghy. A 10ft Parkercraft with a 9.9 Johnson. As with Wayne’s clinker, this boat was on the water at every opportunity. Every weekend and after work saw me on the water fishing. Having the boat allowed me to get away from the crowds and saw me gain access to parts of the river that I wouldn’t have access to otherwise, and in turn, produced more fish. This of course did not necessarily go down all that well with Simone, me being away from home all the time. There was only one thing for it, she would have to come as well.

We did have some hair raising experiences in our time on the river. Two that come to mind are when Simone, Wayne and I were fishing in his clinker at the mouth and the anchor started to drag. Wayne tried in vain to get the motor started but it would not. With a big easterly roll breaking on the bar and the river current taking us even closer some drastic action had to be taken.

So while Wayne and I got on the oars and started to row frantically, Simone started doing the distress wave to people on the other side of the river. Well, there was certainly action stations onshore, as by the time we got to the other side of the river the police and rescue services were there on hand to meet us. It’s easy to see how people can get into trouble. Thank God for those oars!

The other instance was when I was out by myself and heading up to Macintoshes Hole, in a hurry as usual and my hand let go of the throttle and tiller arm. Well, doing about 20 knots the motor locked hard over to one side throwing the boat into a very sharp turn and pinning me to the bottom of the boat. All I
remember was seeing the sky above the bow of the boat, and water pouring in over the side and back.

I managed to reach out and hit the kill switch and when the boat stopped, a very shaken Darryl pulled himself from the bottom of a now half-submerged dinghy, only to see people on the bank laughing hysterically. I didn’t find it very funny and after half an hour of bailing, continued up the river to the hole, where I didn’t catch a thing. This only confirms my beliefs on having the right attitude when going fishing. Mine wasn’t the greatest that night, to say the least.

It wasn’t just the Waimakariri River either where we used the dinghy to go salmon fishing. When the Hurunui was running south access was only from Nape Nape or by taking a boat across from the north side. So I would take the dinghy in the father in-law’s ute to the river and row across, where we always did rather well.

When we moved to D’Urville Island the dinghy came too, and after living and fishing here for two years I can say that it is one of my most valuable assets. I actually prefer to fish from the dinghy than from the launch. One major reason is that the launch only goes seven knots and seems to take forever to get anywhere.

The author Darryl French with a hard-fighting D'Urville Island yellowtail kingfish.
The author Darryl French with a hard-fighting 20 lb D’Urville Island yellowtail kingfish taken dinghy fishing.

With the dinghy, I find the only restrictive thing about using it is the weather. Many times I have been caught out four or five miles from home, with the wind and sea coming up. This usually results in a very sore bum and very wet clothes and my speed is probably even slower than the launch. But I do find these times challenging and fun, pitting yourself against the elements and surfing amongst the waves. Really gets the adrenalin going!

I have had some exciting days fishing and diving from my tin boat. One such day comes to mind when I was fishing in French Pass for snapper and had a huge school of kingies explode around the boat for about three hours. I tell you there is nothing like being towed around the Pass by a fifty-pound yellowtail kingfish. I landed four that afternoon, kept one and released the rest. Didn’t catch any snapper though! I have had some good days snapper fishing also. Being in a small boat at dawn on a crisp clear morning with the fish going crazy all around you really makes you appreciate being alive. The good thing is you are usually home by seven o’clock with your limit.

When we targeted kahawai on the fly this year we found that the dinghy was the only way we could get close enough to cast without putting the fish down. One particular time I remember taking the launch and towing the little 8ft glass dinghy when we were looking for kahawai. It was hilarious seeing my
friend Leigh rowing this dinghy like mad all over the ocean, trying to keep up with the school so he could get a cast in. The fish must have felt sorry for him, as they slowed and allowed him to catch up and catch one of them.

Diving is another sport that I am keen on, and here again, the dinghy is invaluable. That is as long as you can get in and out without tipping over the boat and all its contents with it. The good thing is you can get in amongst the rocks and stuff to drop you off, or you can pull it up the beach for a shore dive. To me, a small boat is one of the most important tools of the trade for the fisherman. It has many applications and I am sure that without it I would not have caught a lot of the fish that I have.

Just a quick point on safety. Even though it is just a dinghy, I am very safety conscious and believe that you cannot have too much safety equipment. When I go out in it the boat has an anchor, bailer, flares, oars and lifejackets for everyone on board, and as an added precaution I take my EPIRB off the launch. I also have more fuel than I think I will need, as you never know when the weather will turn bad.

I hope this article has enlightened some of you to the joys I have had dinghy fishing. Good luck and safe boating!


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