Kaiapoi Fishing – Fifty Years of Memories Around Kaiapoi and Christchurch

Sea-run trout from the Waimakariri River at the old railway bridge approximately 3km upstream from the Kaiapoi River confluence.
Sea-run trout from the Waimakariri River at the old railway bridge approximately 3km upstream from the Kaiapoi River confluence.

Looking Back – Kaiapoi Fishing by Allan Speak

My introduction to fishing came from my father many years ago. We had a fruit shop in New Brighton and two of our regular customers were great fishermen and talked Dad into getting a license. This would have been around 1939, around this time we sold the shop and moved. In this story, you will see that Kaiapoi fishing can actually be quite good.

The first weekend in the new place I was woken at 5 am to help land a fish in the Avon where the powerboat club now stands. Across the river, the bank was boarded up with heavy timber and the fish were rising. Dad dug some worms out of the soft earth and baited up our hooks. The first cast towards the rises produced a strike and we landed it with the help of my net skills. By 8 am Dad had caught four more and we went home for breakfast.

This inspired me to buy my own license. Returning to the same spot, I had a few good catches under my belt in no time. Dad took me to the Selwyn Huts on a few trips but all we caught were eels – really big ones.

Unfortunately, my fishing time was cut sharply by my good job at Skellerup. Not much time for anything but working and sleeping. I met my wife at the New Brighton R.S.A. dance and shortly after I was called up to the tank corp. I went into training for 18 months then went away to Egypt for a further 18 months. On my return, I brought a place in Avoca Valley and kept a market garden while still working at Skellerup on shift work. Then when I was thirty I had a breakdown and Dad persuaded me to start fishing again to help my recovery.

I went out and bought myself a rod and reel in Regent Street and set about fishing again with Dad and the worms.

In the Styx, by the Marshlands Road bridge, I caught an undersized trout and put it back. After that, I had a fish drought for about two years.

I then tried my luck at the Waimakariri beside the road bridge and had some considerable luck – although my reel let me down and I was losing fish. So the next week I went and bought a decent reel.

After mixed success, I then teamed up with a mate from work and our first time out was frustrating, to say the least. We were fishing a big pool just under the railway bridge on the Waimakariri River (still there to this day).

There was a good fish rising in the shallows just below me. I cast a little way out and down, the line moved, and then there was a sudden good pull. After a good play I managed to get the fish within reach, my mate got the net and reached for the fish. The trout lurched and my mate missed the fish but managed to knock the hook out of its mouth. My mate was bent over in front of me and it took all my willpower to prevent me kicking him into the river! Even now that 25 years of water have gone under that bridge I still remind him how lucky he was whenever I see him.

The Waimakariri River centre with the Kaiapoi to the left and the Styx River to the bottom right. Map courtesy of Google Maps.
The Waimakariri River centre with the Kaiapoi to the left and the Styx River to the bottom right where it runs into the Brooklands Lagoon. To give you a sense of scale the confluence of the Kaiapoi and Waimakariri Rivers is 2km from the sea at the right on this map. Salmon, brown trout, mullet and kahawai are all caught in this tidal section of the Waimakariri River. Map courtesy of Google Maps.

It was about this time Dad and my mate discovered the value in shrimp as bait. Dad used his landing net lined with cheesecloth, and I made a square throw net with one end much heavier than the rest of the net. These worked well to gather the shrimp. In those days the shrimp were plentiful in the Styx and later we gathered them in the Cam River where they have still been until about three years ago.

The shrimp bait improved our catch rate; you don’t see them these days. I used to have a good posse about 200-300 yards down from the Waimakariri rail bridge which proved to be a lot of fun along with some good lessons in landing more powerful and larger fish. In those days on the North bank of the Waimakariri River, there were big willow trees from the access road right down to McIntosh’s Hole, and in between, there were whitebaiters platforms to sit on.

Anglers fishing in the Kaiapoi River.
Anglers fishing in the Kaiapoi River.

One day my mate and I were sitting quietly enjoying the day with the odd bite when suddenly I got an almighty pull on the line. I had to ease the reel drag knob before it broke the rod or line. No way was I able to control this fish, it pulled down about 50-60 yards of the line till it stopped behind a tree in the middle of the river. I let him have his run while I had my smoke then tested the line again, no fish but at least I got all my gear back.

About a week later I went back for another crack at the fish and it started off nicely with a good-sized fish on the bank, then about five minutes later I had a reel hard pull. I thought to myself here we go again and the fight was on. I learned from the week before to tighten up a little more to give me more rod movement and a more even wind in at a slower pace.

When I finally had the fish at my feet the fun had just begun. The whitebait stand I was fishing from was too high to net the fish so I had to slide down the steep bank to have any chance of landing it. After a couple of swings with the net, I managed to land a 5.8 lb brown. What a thrill to catch this. It spurred me on with greater confidence knowing I could hook and land a decent-sized fish. I caught another smaller one that day and went home for lunch more than pleased with myself and my day’s fishing.

An area that has been kind to me over the years is the three streams, higher up the Kaiapoi River. I’ve fished down the river towards the rail bridge and all branches separately. I had a hard time once fishing the Silverstream up towards the road to Rangiora. The stream runs alongside the road for a short distance then turns into a paddock.

On this corner, I sat down under a willow tree to drop my bait a bit deeper in fast water. I got around 15 bites out of that fish but never sighted it. I changed hooks but still the same story. Similar experiences have been the way with the South branch runs, with the exception of once when I was under the new motorway bridge fishing with two mates, they went upstream, there was a big hole dug out of the shingle alongside the river that I followed. Ten minutes later and caught a 6lb sea-run trout. They weren’t impressed but it sure cheered me up after all those bites with no fish.

One evening I was fishing off the end of the South Branch where a bulldozer had left a bank of shingle. I was facing upstream and my line was going downstream. A cold easterly was blowing but there was a little shelter behind the shingle. One by one other fisherman turned up, so I was first in line fishing with shrimp while the lines falling above mine carried lures. I went home at nightfall pretty cold but with four fish while the others lucked out.

The confluence of the Kaiapoi and Cam Rivers has always been a popular fishing spot right in the middle of the Kaiapoi township. Brown trout, salmon, yellow-eyed mullet and whitebait are all caught in this area. Map courtesy of Google maps.
The confluence of the Kaiapoi and Cam Rivers has always been a popular fishing spot right in the middle of the Kaiapoi township. Brown trout, salmon, yellow-eyed mullet and whitebait are all caught in this area. Map courtesy of Google Maps.

One day a mate suggested we try the Cam River. Until then I didn’t know where it was. We started at the bridge which is on a road, first turn right off Line Road. We fished a few yards either side of the bridge where the fish were plentiful in this spot, catching two each in a short space of time.

After that, I started exploring upstream and found some great holes on the bends of the river. I made my way up until I came to two small streams, which formed the Cam. Where they met was a decent hole that always seemed to have fish in it. Later I found a road on the other side of Tuahiwi, which took me to a narrow stream and many other feeding streams that produced good fishing over the year.

The second-year I fished the Cam I had 130 fish, fishing about once a week. I had to eventually give up the Cam fishing due to access problems with new fences and properties around the area. In later years the river filled up with slime and the shrimp disappeared. I can’t walk far these days so now it’s the Waimakariri River. Three streams and the Ohoka Stream where the gaps in the weed can be quite fruitful.

When I was working a number of my workmates fished but for some reason, they felt it necessary to travel miles down to the rivers and lakes around Southland and Roxburgh. Every Monday morning it was the usual conversation how many did you catch? I’d answer 2, 3 or 5 and the others that had spent half the weekend travelling had caught nothing. I could never understand why anyone would want to travel hundreds of miles when the fishing is easier at their own back door.

Kaiapoi fishing offers a wide variety. Close by there are salmon (January-March), brown trout including sea-runs in the spring and early summer, yellow-eyed mullet (all year) and kahawai (most of the year), and whitebait in the spring.

I’m too old to go searching for shrimp so I’m using some of my plastic fantastics. Over 50 years of fishing the Kaiapoi area have served me well and I appreciate it although I must admit there’s not the fish around that there used to be.

In the video below you can see fishing for mullet opposite the MV Tuhoe right in the heart of Kaiapoi. Sadly on 27 September 2015, this old kauri schooner was lost at the Waimakariri River bar. You can read about the loss and see the photographs here on Stuff.co.nz 

Video of yellow-eyed mullet caught in the Kaiapoi River and at McIntosh’s Rocks on the Lower Waimakariri River. The mullet move up and down the river with the tide.

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