Salmon fishing in the lower Waimakariri River is very popular. The close proximity of the city of Christchurch makes the Waimakariri River the most heavily fished river in New Zealand. The best month for salmon fishing is March. Salmon are taken from Christmas onwards and well into April. Despite the many anglers casting a line in the lower Waimakariri River, I have found that a relatively small number of skilled anglers catch most of the salmon. Persistence and time on the water make a big difference to catch rates.
Video: Salmon being landed at McIntosh’s Rocks, 2km upstream from the mouth of Canterbury’s Waimakariri River, near Christchurch, New Zealand. The salmon was caught on a Zed spinner.
Salmon Fishing in the Lower Waimakariri River often means fishing in a crowd. One day I counted 27 boats of salmon anglers fishing this section of the river at McIntosh’s Rocks, 2km from the mouth.
The only consistent thing about salmon fishing is that returning fish numbers are always inconsistent from one year to the next. The same goes for fish size. Some years the salmon are smaller; other years a bit bigger. It’s always a roller-coaster ride of peaks and troughs. These fluctuations are all part of the allure of salmon angling. Salmon fishing is in the blood of many Canterbury anglers in good years; and not so good years!
Throughout the 110 years since Chinook salmon were successfully introduced into New Zealand’s South Island, and first returned to the Waitaki River, there have been good times and lean periods. Theories abound as to why this is so. Most agree that water temperature plays its part. As does the availability of sprats, swarming red krill, and juvenile hoki that make up the majority of prey eaten by salmon that have been taken by trawlers off the Canterbury coast, according to Gavin James of NIWA.
Conditions at sea when salmon first leave our east coast rivers are important to survival rates. There are of coarse other factors too! The quality and volume of water in our rivers, the numbers of fish returning to spawn, habitat in the high country, and so on all play a part. Another perhaps more fanciful theory is that salmon farming has played a part in the gene pool leading to smaller fish.
I think Fish & Game would say that hatchery-reared fish are a little heavier than wild salmon as a result of their being held over and fed for longer making them larger and better equipped to survive both in the river and at sea. Certainly, some of the heaviest fish caught by anglers in recent years have been fin-clipped hatchery fish. The average size fish taken this 2015/2016 season seems to have improved from last season. However, returns look to be much lower.
As far as fish size goes this season, North Canterbury Fish & Game’s Dirk Barr thinks it is too soon to tell just yet. He says, “The best way to sum it all up is by waiting until salmon are in the traps for spawning. That way we get a fair representation of average weights. The salmon should be entering Montrose in about 3 weeks and the Waimakariri run will be similar timing to Silver Stream as it is a short run.”
One thing I’m interested to know is why are the salmon we catch today so much smaller than in the past. We just don’t see the big four-year-old fish we once did. Without a doubt, the Chinook salmon we catch today in the Hurunui, Waimakariri, Rakaia, and other rivers, are much smaller than those that were caught by anglers in the 1990s. In 1996, the best year in the past twenty, many of the salmon landed by anglers weighed in the mid 20 pound region. There were also many, fish landed in excess of 30 pounds. Whereas today few anglers aged in their twenties would have even seen a big salmon, in excess of 30 pounds, other than in photographs, or perhaps down at the Twizel canals.
Salmon fishing isn’t just inconsistent from year to year. There is also plenty of variation in fish, present from day-to-day. More fish can move into the river with the tide and also overnight. You can be fishing for salmon one day without any fish being caught. Yet the next day quite a few could be landed.
At a recent salmon fishing contest held in the lower Waimakariri River, on 12 March, there were just four salmon caught by a total of 204 competing anglers. The competition was run by the New Zealand Salmon Anglers Association. Some anglers arrived at McIntosh’s from 3.00 am to secure their favoured spot for the start of fishing at daybreak. There were more fish taken by a much smaller number of anglers fishing the lower Waimakariri River the previous day, and during the two days prior. A very good salmon angler Greg Terras, who caught a 10.6lb fish during the competition, then went on to catch a 17lb salmon from exactly the same spot the following day.
Keep in mind also that there were anglers fishing from 32 boats off the Kaiapoi River mouth and yet on Saturday just four fish were entered in the competition. River conditions were constant throughout this period with the lower river clear by Wednesday. Salmon are coming and going all the time. Weights of the four salmon entered in the competition: 11.9 lb (and the guys 1st ever salmon) 2nd 10.6, 3rd 10 , 4th 9lb.
My advice is, don’t just go salmon fishing on “the odd day” each season and expect to be successful. Sure you will always get the guy who picks up a salmon after just a couple of casts, on his first trip to the river, but that is pure luck!
Salmon fishing in the Lower Waimakariri River means fishing alongside others anglers. You soon get to know the guys fishing next to you. When the annual salmon fishing contest is on many keen anglers get there in the dark to secure the best fishing spots. Though I’m not sure one spot is that much better than any other. The sometimes crowded scene can also be an advantage because you quickly find out how many salmon have been caught each day as word travels very quickly!
This season has seen far fewer salmon caught in all the Canterbury salmon rivers. Several anglers whom I have known for many years are still on zero even though they have fished quite hard this season. Anglers who caught six fish or more, last season report still being on a blank this season. Yet there are others who are into double figures. How can this be you might ask.
Well, luck does come into the equation to some extent especially when fishing the lower river where the salmon are not stopping for very long. Time on the river counts. Perhaps even more important is the number of times you arrive at the lower river to places like McIntosh’s Rocks. Each time you arrive there is a chance that new fish will have entered the water you are fishing. Three hours per day, over a week, at the right stage of the tide are more likely to be successful at McIntosh’s, or the Waimakariri River mouth, than two long sessions over just two consecutive days.
Salmon fishing in the blood. It’s a challenge impossible to resist for many Canterbury anglers. Salmon fishermen who are consistently successful are always positive. They keep trying even when they haven’t caught a fish for a while. They never give up!
This has been a very warm summer during which a few unusual things have been happening such as yellow-tail kingfish being taken from the beach at the Rangitata River. There have also been more kingfish taken from boats off the Canterbury coast. The kahawai have been big and in top condition around the South Island too. Last year conditions were similar. Last year there was a late run of salmon in the Waimakariri River. It started on 25 March and continued through to 10 April. There were at least 73 salmon caught during this two week period. There have been several 17lb salmon taken in the lower Waimakariri River over the last couple of days 15th and 16th of March 2016. If you haven’t taken a salmon yet there is still hope. If you are thinking of chucking it in for this season it might be worth fishing hard for another month yet.
Video: by Kevin Belcher. Published on 4 Mar 2017. The video was taken on the Karaki side of the Waimakariri River mouth during the annual New Zealand Salmon Anglers Association Fishing Competition on 04 March 2017. The salmon landed in the video was Paul’s first-ever. “Well done Paul.” (Excellent video but no sound).
This post was last modified on 25/08/2020 8:11 pm
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