Very few New Zealand anglers fish for salmon with salmon flies and true fly fishing tackle. The Canterbury braided rivers, which are where the majority of salmon are caught, don’t really lend themselves to traditional fly fishing. These big rivers often run swift and dirty. Even when running clear the water where salmon will be holding is still deep. Traditional fly gear would take far too long to reach the bottom. The lure would swing around against the bank before it reached the required fishing depth.
In the fast-flowing water of the gut, where the river meets the sea, the salmon will be right down on the bottom where they get some respite from the powerful flow as they head upstream.
You can try a fast sinking fly line like the Scientific Anglers Deepwater Express shooting taper. This fly line does work in certain situations and has been used to catch salmon in Canterbury in the past. I have tried to use it in the Waimakariri River to fish for sea-run brown trout but found that it sinks too fast in slower water. While in the much faster-moving water of the Rakaia River it doesn’t sink quickly enough.
An additional important consideration is backcasting with a fly line isn’t appreciated by other anglers fishing the gut at close quarters. It is something you need to be aware of and choose your fishing position accordingly. If you walk out over the braids you can fish a fly rod over the lip and into deeper water without upsetting anyone else no problem at all.
However, salmon have been caught on proper fly fishing gear. It can be done if you are prepared to make the effort. This salmon was caught on the genuine fly fishing tackle by John Hey some years ago. It was caught near the Hurunui River mouth. In the article, John includes a list of the exact setup he used.
A long employed local Canterbury adaptation is what is known as the Canterbury Lure Rod. With this fishing method, flies can be fished in the deep fast flowing river without the problems mentioned above.
The Canterbury lure rod is matched with a large centre-pin reel with a powerful drag system known as a Mooching reel. Instead of a fly line, it is spooled with 50 or 60-pound monofilament. The heavier mono isn’t used because enormous fish are sort, it is so the line doesn’t cut into your hands and fingers.
Like real fly fishing, the reel isn’t used for casting. Instead, sufficient line is stripped from the reel for making the short casts required and is cast out with the rod over the water with the aid of a small sinker. Most anglers use a chain of small barrel sinkers joined with split-rings as this is much less prone to becoming snagged around large stones on the bottom.
The majority of anglers fish the Canterbury Lure Rod with a two hook rig. The lures being tied on to two traces one about 1.5m in length and the other say 1.7m. Some anglers will make the traces even longer. You can read more about Canterbury Lure Rod fishing here: Canterbury Lure Rod – for Salmon and Sea-run Trout. The terminal rig is covered here: Two Hook Rigs for Sea-run Trout, Salmon and Kahawai. How to fish salmon, trout and kahawai flies on spinning gear.
This article is about the salmon flies (known as lures in Canterbury) that Canterbury lure rod anglers use. Some being more popular than others. Most of those that will take salmon will also take sea-run brown trout. Lure rod fishing is a bit hit and miss. It isn’t sight fishing. One of the advantages of the lure rod is that it enables the angler to fish the river for salmon and trout several days earlier than spin anglers following a flood.
When river mouth fishing you can catch salmon, trout and kahawai on the same lure fishing gear with the same flies. Salmon and trout can still be caught even when the water is milky. Kahawai, however, prefers clear water to hunt their prey of silvery fish and whitebait.
These lures can also be fished with spinning gear by using either one or two shorter traces below a lead weight or string of weights. Such a rig is cast upstream on a 45-degree angle and is fished as it swings around in the current in much the same way as the rig fished with the Canterbury lure rod. With practice and more of a lobbing action rather than a flick, it is possible to fish this rig without too many tangles. However, a certain number of tangles from wind knots are inevitable with the two long flowing traces. The two hook rig can also be fished on thread line gear in the surf for sea-run brown trout, salmon and kahawai. Sometimes when the river is very low and the sea blue and clear salmon and sea-run trout can be caught in the surf fairly easily. It all depends on the surf and river conditions on the day.
I have not covered the tying methods used in great detail. This assumes that you have sufficient tying experience to be able to deduce the tying method from the list of materials and the photographs.
This is not an exhaustive list of flies that will take salmon by any means. Rather this is a list of some of the more popular lures used by Canterbury lure rod anglers fishing for salmon and sea-run trout. I once saw a lure rod angler land a salmon in the surf at the mouth of the Waitaki River on a Parson’s Glory, a fly popular in the Taupo and Rotorua trout fisheries.
Have a go at tying some of these lures. They are quite easy patterns to tie even for some of us older blokes with not such good eyesight. Some of the advantages of tying your own include: it saves money. Each lure will cost you cents rather than dollars. This is an important consideration if you are inclined to hook a lot of over-hanging trees and sticks half-buried in the riverbed.
Secondly, you can easily create patterns that may no longer be available in tackle stores. Perhaps you will create a new fly pattern that will be named after you!
Thirdly, tying your own is a very enjoyable hobby/pastime. You can sit in your lounge, home office, study, campervan or kitchen table and zap up a few flies for the following morning. If you prefer you can focus on fly tying over winter or on wet days when you can’t go fishing to top-up you fly boxes in anticipation of the days to come.
Finally, there is something extra special about fooling and catching a fish on a fly you tied yourself.
The first fly or lure we are going to look at is the Yellow Lady. According to Derek Quilliam in his excellent book The Complete Guide to New Zealand Trout Lures this fly was the creation of Brad Bockett of Taupo. It is a popular harling pattern on Lake Taupo. It is also one of the most popular salmon flies and also takes plenty of sea-run brown trout. Yellow stands out in discoloured water making it a good colour to try as the rivers are clearing after a flood.
Note the head must be red for it to be a Yellow Lady. This version is a commercially sold fly originally distributed by Tight Lines. For salmon or harling size 2 hook unless fishing low and clear conditions when you might go down to a 6 or even an 8.
The Yellow Terror is a genuine Canterbury lure created by Robert Bragg. Bragg worked in the tackle trade in Christchurch for 36 years. It was Tisdall’s of Christchurch who brought Bob Bragg to New Zealand from England. The notable point of difference with the Yellow Terror is the silver tinsel body over-wound with a palmered yellow hackle.
Though I have used a single pair of yellow hackles for the wing it would look better and be more robust with two pairs. On a size 2 hook if you use four cock hackle feathers for the wing, along with another wound palmer style along the body, and finally a sixth for the hackle collar you are getting through a lot of feathers. At that rate, it would take 24 yellow hackles to tie just four lures. I guess that is where it becomes more economic to tie yellow rabbit patterns! Nevertheless, the Yellow Terror is a fine salmon and sea-run trout pattern, and would also make a good harling lure.
This version of the Yellow Rabbit was one of a series called Crusaders sold in tackle stores in Canterbury some years back. I think this one may have been a Yellow Crusader.
Here is a short video of the author tying a Yellow Rabbit Lure. These rabbit patterns are among the easiest for the novice to tie. Once you can create one of these it is a simple matter of switching the colours of your tying materials, hook sizes, and the addition of a few extra materials to create a wide variety of lure/streamer patterns.
These salmon flies appear to be getting even gaudier as we scroll down the page. In case you are worried that these gaudy colours may frighten off the salmon, I have included the picture below of a salmon caught on a yellow and pink zed spinner at McIntosh’s close to the confluence of the Waimakariri and Kaiapoi Rivers. Loud colours do catch fish. I think the louder colours stand out better when the water is discoloured.
Another of the gaudy Crusader patterns. This time with a wing of rabbit pelt dyed green. I have always found the rabbit lures easier to tie. There is no need to find two or four matching hackle feathers and the pelt is easier to tie down with the oval tinsel used for the purpose. I have several mates who are hunters so have been able to get natural rabbit pelts. So far I haven’t tried my hand at dying any of them yet but I may do in future.
I have listed these lures with the names they were sold under. It looks to me like the Lady Rabbits all had Chenille bodies, while the Crusaders could have either Chenille or Estaz.
Crystal Chenille is similar to Estaz with the difference being that Estaz is larger with more sparkle and animation. I’m sure these patterns would all be good for trout harling as well.
This is a particularly good fly for sea-run brown trout. The eyes I think do add to the appearance of the fly but in the often discoloured water of our big rivers, eyes may not be necessary. It comes down to each angler’s personal choice. Some tyers don’t bother with eyes, while others insist on them. It may also be that eyes on lures in a store’s fly trays may make them more appealing to would-be purchasers!
One thing I have noticed over the years when fishing for sea-run trout on feathered and rabbit lures is that after you have landed a couple of trout on them they often get chewed up and lose most of their colour and can look quite bare yet still seem to work at least as well as when they were brand new!
Painting eyes on your flies
The eyes are painted on using either coloured head cement or very small cans of paint available from model shops – the latter works better. The way to do it is to fashion the end of two small sticks about the size of a matchstick so the ends are round like a small dowel. A slightly larger one for the iris and a smaller one for the pupil.
To save time paint your eyes on in batches of a dozen or so flies at a time. Push the hook-points in rows into a rectangular length of white polystyrene to hold them after each fly is painted. Dip the tip of the larger stick in your iris paint and place a dot on both sides of the fly’s head. Set aside for the paint to dry. Later repeat the process to paint on the black pupils.
After the mighty Rakaia River in Mid-Canterbury. Many red Rakaia Ripper flies would be sold in the lead up to the big Rakaia Salmon Fishing Contest held each year in late February and early March. Anglers fishing the competition would never know what the river conditions would be like until just a few days before the contest would commence. Hence the need to prepare for any eventuality. Should the river be running low and clear smaller feathered lures in sizes 6 and 8 would be more likely to attract a bite. Likewise, in low clear conditions, spin anglers will look to fish zed spinners in smaller sizes.
The Waimak Wizard is a night fly. It will, however, take salmon and trout during the day when the rivers are discoloured. Named after the Waimakariri River near Christchurch.
The Waitaki River flows into the Pacific Ocean between Timaru and Oamaru and straddles the border between South Canterbury and North Otago. The Waitaki River has been in the past a premier salmon river. As with all these flies don’t be fooled by their names. They will all catch fish just as well in any other river. These big gaudy lures are primarily designed for fishing in Canterbury’s big East Coast braided rivers which often run milky from snow-melt or heavy rain in the Southern Alps in the spring and summer
The name Won Eye refers, somewhat facetiously to the supporters of their champion Canterbury ruby team who wear red and black jerseys.
Twenty-five years ago the Rangitata River rivalled the mighty Rakaia River to the north for the quality of its salmon and sea-run brown trout fishing. Hopefully, those days will come again soon.
The Rangitata Ghost which looks for all money like the famed Grey Ghost is an excellent lure for sea-run trout. It is also an excellent choice for rainbows and salmon in the Twizel Canals where it can be successfully fished on normal spin fishing gear with the aid of a small lead weight.
The Opihi Orange is named after the Opihi River in South Canterbury. Although one of the smaller rivers it does at times produce some good salmon and sea-run brown trout fishing. This bright orange number is sure to appeal to salmon even when the river is quite discoloured.
This post was last modified on 04/02/2021 7:56 pm
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