Ted Millichamp Salmon Angler – The Gentle Hunter

Ted Millichamp Salmon Angler – The Gentle Hunter

By David Young

From Freshwater Catch No. 25 Summer, 1984, published quarterly at that time by the then Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries

Be not deceived by the gentle, third-generation nurseryman, Ted Millichamp, a widower who at nearly 80 keeps house for himself. Behind that peaceful countenance lies a dedicated hunter and salmon slayer – in the 60 years he has fished the Rakaia, Ted Millichamp estimates he has averaged 50 salmon a season, a total of 3000 fish. But a glance at his fishing diary suggests that the figure is probably twice that: between 1925 and 1932 his lowest take recorded was 66 and in two years he took 133 and 144 respectively.

Since the average weight of these fish is around 6 kilos – his biggest fish weighed 16 kilos – he has pulled a prodigious quantity of protein from the river, to say nothing of the trout, deer, chamois, thar, rabbits and ducks brought home from the Rakaia hills. A lot of the fish are given away, some in bottled form.

His father bought a fishing licence before he left school. “I went to the Rangitata mouth late in the season and couldn’t catch any in the Rangitata lagoon.

“The next year I went fishing there and different ones showed me how to fish. They only needed to show me once and I was better than them the next time.

“I understood straight away the habits of fish and I took notice of anything that happened in the way of wildlife, fish, whitebait and silveries coming in the river. Even the birds flying around: l have a love for everything belonging to nature.

“The first year the salmon started to run I caught a 25-pounder, and brought it home. And Dad said, I’d like to catch one of those, so after that, I took Dad out fishing. We had an old Model T Ford in those days. I thought I’d always had a fancy for the Rakaia so I built a one-roomed hut there. Then they started taking out irrigation water.

“At different times I saw the whole river full of trout before the salmon starts. You can fish for trout in October and November.

In those days we didn’t fish for salmon until after Christmas

In those days we didn’t think to go salmon fishing until after Christmas. But the salmon must have been going up in November then like they are now. If you were only out there for trout fishing in the evening and morning you wouldn’t see what happened in the daytime.

“I go up to the gorge sometimes when the river’s not quite right down there, it clears up there first. I used to be about the only one who fished there in the ’20s and ’3Os. Some of those streams used to get washed out when we were up there sometimes when you had heavy rain on top of the snow. That’s when we were hunting. I left the car up there for a month till the road was fixed. In those days you used to catch salmon in the river up there, shoot geese flying over and just walk up the hill and get a couple of deer. I think I’ve done all of that in one day.

We went down to the Waitaki River

“Dad and I went to the Waitaki 50 years ago. Dad and the men had planted trees in the backcountry (as part of their lease requirements) – that was before there were any dams in the Waitaki and the men were working on these stations like Glen Lion at the head of Lake Ohau, they used to chase these salmon on horseback. They’d gallop after them with pitchforks. Some of the fish were 50 pounders, they reckoned.

“We went there the first year of the first dam, fifty years ago. The dam was just closed. They’d put a ladder in and we went and had a look at it. It ran in where it was all turbulence. I could see that there was something wrong with it because none of the fish went up. We could see salmon milling around, fish that had come down before the dam was there. They couldn’t do anything. All those salmon must have drifted back and spawned in the river.

“There could have been 20 huts on the Rakaia in those days. In the latter part of February and early March there used to be big runs going up. We used to float down in a boat from the bridge and you’d see them going over every ripple, sometimes three and four at once. You’d stop at a hole where the ripples were running in and you’d see them shooting out as you were fishing. You don’t see that the same now, but I think there are just as many who get to the top as there used to be.

“We used to catch them all day. Hunt for the resting holes. If you found a good resting hole and the river was in good order you’d catch them. I caught 16 by 10 o’clock once.

In those days you could get a licence to sell wild salmon

Ted Millichamp said that in those days you could get a selling licence. It cost a pound. I don’t think there would be more than a dozen of us having a selling licence. If I got £10 for a day’s fishing, that was pretty good. I thought it was great fun catching these salmon and making extra money. We sold them to the fishmonger in Ashburton. I’d get £100 in a season in the 1930s. I saved a lot for this house?”

Today with the numbers of salmon swollen by the operations at Glenariffe, Coleridge and near the mouth, Tentburn, in March you can see the water black with salmon moving back for spawning. From the sea, their journey takes “a good month”.

“I love the Rakaia and I don’t want it spoilt. It’s a bit dangerous and a bit remote and quite a nice-sized river. And all the bird life it supports; the seagulls that nest on the river and the tern that nest there and the wrybill plovers. The dotterel is a similar bird.

Crossing the Rakaia River. Photo, Ted Millichamp.

“Up the gorge, you can look up on a nice day and see the permanent snow at the head of the Mathias, and all that at the head of the Rakaia. Doesn’t it look beautiful? That’s where the salmon spawn; where the spring creek merges with the Rakaia because it doesn’t flood and wash their eggs away. I enjoy seeing the salmon rise and seeing them going over the shallows and seeing the Canada geese flying around over my head too. And all the bird life that I see there. There’s nothing nicer than seeing the sun rise over the ocean.

“Ted Millichamp could see God’s handiwork in nearly everything. Like the way these salmon know to go back to the same place. It’s only taste. They remember the taste of that stream up at Glenariffe from the time they are little fellows. They go out into the Rakaia River and into the sea and they can still taste that little bit of Glenariffe stream in the Rakaia River when they go back into it.”

This post was last modified on 17/07/2023 4:25 pm

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