Salmon Season 2022-2023 Canterbury Salmon Fishing Report

Salmon Season 2022-2023 Canterbury Salmon Fishing Report “Chasing Silver”

By Allan Burgess

Salmon Season 2022-2023. Back in the day, the fishing year for many Canterbury anglers would begin with a spot of whitebaiting commencing in mid-August, followed by sea-run brown trout fishing beginning in October. Throw in the high country opening on the 1st Saturday in November and the fishing year was well underway. The length of the whitebait season has now been drastically reduced from 2022 onwards.  

However, these early season pursuits would serve for many, as an entree leading into the main event, salmon fishing. “Chasing silver” would begin around mid to late November and continue toward the end of March, reaching the peak period by mid to late February, depending on the peculiarities of each river. There would be some overlap but by and large, that was how it was done. 

Canterbury doesn’t have the high-quality sea fishing anglers enjoy from the Malborough Sounds northward. We have been blessed with magnificent salmon fishing here our whole lives. There has long been a strong salmon fishing culture in places like Christchurch, Ashburton, Timaru, and everywhere in between. Knowledge of the game, when, where, and how to catch them is passed down to each successive generation.

Wild sea-run salmon are not easy to catch. Success comes from a mixture of knowledge, time on the river, persistence and yes even a bit of luck!  

One of the main precepts of successful salmon fishing is that these fish wait for no man or woman. You have to get out and fish for them while they are there running the rivers when the rivers are clear and fishable. Many will be unaware that at least some fish will enter our rivers from the sea and run towards their spawning grounds in the hydra-waters even when the river is in full flood, dirty brown, and with whole trees floating downstream.     

No two salmon fishing years are the same. It is always a bit of a roller coaster. It’s very difficult to predict how each season might turn out. There have always been ups and downs. The 1999/ 2000 season was a disaster with only about a third of the number of fish returning to our rivers compared with the season before. These fish were slabby (thin for their length), indicating poor feeding conditions at sea.

You can read all about it and the alarm that it set in motion here in Salmon Fishery in Crisis. A meeting was convened in Christchurch by Paul Hodgson, and attended by representatives of Fish & Game, NIWA, the Salmon Anglers Association, Rakaia River Promotions, fishing clubs, and several leading fishing tackle retailers, discussed the present poor state of the salmon fishery, possible causes for the rapid decline, and considered a range of options for its enhancement. That was over 20 years ago.

Bruce caught this early-season salmon in the Rangitata River on the 8th of December. It weighed 15 pounds.

In January 2023 it is plain to see the salmon fishery is in poor shape. Returning salmon are underweight for their length. Again, feeding conditions at sea are almost certainly the cause. Global warming and the rise in sea temperatures are bad news for salmon and the species they prey on while at sea.

I support Fish and Game with their two-fish whole-season bag limit, the goal of which is to insure the very survival of Quinnat salmon in New Zealand’s South Island. The more fish that make it to spawning streams at the moment the better for the fishery overall.

Sadly, things are not the same as they were during the salmon season 2022-2023, with the salmon fishery in Canterbury! Hopefully in the future we will see an increase in the whole-season bag limit.  

I get a lot of messages from anglers about the Family Fishing license. People are complaining about the high cost of it and the fact that it hurts families from being able to fish for salmon. If one family member lands keeps and records two salmon on their catch card it effectively means the salmon fishing season is over for all of the other family members even though they haven’t caught a fish! 

I guess Fish and Game’s thinking would have been that if the bag limit for a family license was set higher than that of an individual license, many anglers would simply pay the extra $40.00 odd dollars for the right to catch more salmon. A good analogy can be drawn between the likelihood of that happening and Car-less days brought in by the government following the second oil shock in 1979. Many people got around it by simply purchasing a second car and nominating a different carless day for it.  

Two Salmon Whole Season Bag Limit for Salmon Season 2022-2023

The two-fish whole season bag limit has changed salmon angler’s thinking in several key ways. The salmon fishing grapevine no longer seems to function the way that it did. Many anglers are more secretive than in the past.  

Thirty years ago, one would get a phone call from a mate saying something to the effect of, “there were 71 salmon caught on the tide at the Rangitata this morning. You have to get down here”.

Nowadays with the two-fish whole-season bag limit, there doesn’t seem to be much point. Aside from the fact that the South Rangitata Huts catch board only records a total of seven salmon for the season so far up until this week. I remember when there were dozens caught there every day and they were big heavy fish too!  

Top Canterbury salmon angler Simon McMillan from Hunting and Fishing in Christchurch caught this beauty in the Rakaia in December 2022.

Peculiar Aspects of Our New Normal

The Rakaia Salmon Fishing Contest will take place from the 24th to the 26th of February this year, 2023. With the whole-season bag limit now set at just two fish, anglers wishing to enter the competition face a rather unusual quandary. In order to catch salmon during the competition held near the end of February, anglers in the meantime will have to keep their “powder dry” so to speak by not catching and keeping any salmon in the interim which would “max out” their salmon Catch Cards.  

Another oddball effect of the current Fish & Game fishing licensing regime is that if three members of the same family purchase a Family Fishing License at a cost of NZD $188.00 and enter the competition only two of them will be permitted to keep and enter a fish.  

Aside from the possibility of arguments within the family, this is going to surely lead to contestants practising catch and release in the hope of catching and entering a heavier salmon. The danger of that strategy is that the fish they released could easily end up being the only one they catch over the three days. Not to mention that should they be “lucky” enough to fill their catch card during the first hour of the first day, they won’t be able to do any more fishing for the remaining three days.  

If one member of the family has already caught, kept and recorded a salmon on their card, our same hypothetical family will only be permitted to catch a single salmon between them during the contest.  

Unless, of course, money is no object to them and they all purchase individual licenses. For keen Kiwi anglers travelling to Rakaia from outside the North Canterbury Fish and Game region, the cost of that for a husband and wife with two teenagers would be a staggering $348.00 plus four catch cards at $5.00 each.

The adults could purchase a Short Break License for $52 plus the two $5.00 catch cards but that would only entitle them to fish for three consecutive days over the whole year.  

Geraldine angler Paul Autridge caught this bright silver sea-run salmon fishing the surf at the mouth of the Rangitata River yesterday, 13 January 2023. It tipped the scales at 15 pounds. Well done Paul.

Salmon Fishing Prospects for the Remainder of the Salmon Season 2022-2023

If last year was anything to go by the number of salmon returning to Canterbury rivers could just as easily fizzle out as build up. January, February and March are some of the driest months of the year on the Canterbury plains. Without rain, the main east coast rivers are expected to become very low and the water temperature will heat up to dangerously high levels for salmon trying to reach their spawning grounds in the headwaters.  

Daytime temperatures in the Rakaia and Waimakariri Rivers can reach 26 C degrees or more during daylight hours, and still be 21 C degrees at midnight. At these very high temperatures, salmon will die.  

My advice is when the Canterbury rivers are fishable your best bet is to get out there and try and catch a salmon when you can rather than wait until later in the season. Any day you can catch a wild sea-run salmon is a red-letter day for sure!

I would be very interested to hear your comments about the points raised in this article either below or on on Facebook. 

This is a very good well run salmon fishing competition.

This post was last modified on 14/01/2023 6:15 pm

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  • I find it interesting that the salmon 'derby' is still being run with the fish stocks so low. Usually these events would be cancelled because they encourage excessive 'take' and/or catch and release, which still results in mortality (although the rate at which released salmon die is hotly debated and depends heavily on gear type and post-catch handling).
    Do New Zealand anglers fish for salmon in the sea or is it only in the rivers? In Canada where I live angling for Chinook salmon is almost exclusively done in the ocean. Very fun runs are targeted as they make their way upriver to spawn, although there are exceptions. I'm curious if an ocean angling following exists down there.

    • Hi Justin, that's a good question. I get what you are saying about salmon fishing competitions going ahead in the present "climate" - pun intended. Big events like the Rakaia Salmon Fishing Contests (the biggest freshwater competition held in New Zealand) are in the main social occasions. The majority of the contestants would be out fishing for salmon on that weekend anyway. I'd say the two salmon per whole season is going to slow down the number of fish being kept. But I do take your point regarding what percentage of salmon will survive being caught and released.
      Casting ticers and zed spinners in the sea from jet boats off river mouths has been a thing here since jet boats were invented. They have to be careful to stay at least 200m off the beach in order to avoid being hit on the head by skilled anglers casting ticers out to sea from the beach. There is a video at the bottom of this post of Graeme Sinclair and Kevin Frazier fishing from a jet boat of the Rangitata River mouth.
      Other than that boat fishing for salmon at sea is rarely practiced here. Some guys have caught salmon both inside and outside Otago Harbour using paravanes and downriggers. I'd say way less than 1 percent of salmon would be caught here in this manner.

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