Published On: Mon, Mar 25th, 2019

Millers Flat Salmon Fishing in the Clutha River, Otago

Millers Flat Salmon Fishing in the Clutha River

by Monty Wright

Monty Wright and his 12.5lb salmon from the Clutha River near Millars Flat.

Monty Wright and his 12.5lb salmon from the Clutha River near Millers Flat.

Many salmon anglers from further north, Canterbury, in particular, will likely have never even heard of Millers Flat, let alone the knowledge that it can be a very good salmon fishing spot.

What’s that noise? It’s the rattle of the alarm in my ear. It woke me from a dead sleep. I lay there thinking for a few moments. Do I really have to get up or is that rain I can hear? I had packed all the salmon gear, parkas and everything in the car the night before so there would be no holdups when I finally managed to get myself out of bed to head for the Clutha River. As I pulled all my clothes on there was mumbling from the other side of the bed which said “Good luck.” A quick peek through the curtain didn’t tell me a thing because the street light outside really gives a false impression of what the early morning is like before daybreak.

As I entered the car and headed off out the drive I noticed that the sky was black. It sure was black. It was as black as the inside of a cow. A great sign because that moon really seems to have some effect on the salmon right up to daybreak. It often means that they won’t move in the first hour and I wanted
them to move as soon as I got there, impatient as usual.

As I headed out through town and down the Southern Motorway at least it wasn’t raining. I had already been up two days previously and sure we hadn’t had any rain for a month and the first day that I’ve got to go salmon fishing it rains. Of course, I go this way often with my work and I am quite aware that once you get up that Central Otago road around about the Beaumont area you often run out of the rain.

I carried on that day thinking that it would be alright at Millers Flat where I was heading. But that was not to be. Not only hadn’t I touched a salmon on that day but I hadn’t seen one porpoise anywhere in the river for just over three hours. 

I knew they were there because two days previously when I had intentions of fishing a hole on the way home from Alexandra, I came round the corner and down through the dip and lo and behold there was a car parked right where I intended to park myself and go fishing.

When I walked in to see the angler he had just landed a 9.3kg salmon (21lb). He was wanting to stop anyway for a cup of tea and offered me his rod to have a few casts. What an excellent gesture I thought that was and my mind quickly rushed back to the number of anglers I had talked to on northern rivers. None of them would ever do something like that. I guess I must be in Central Otago. Unfortunately for the 15 minutes that I cast I never touched a fish but did at least see one porpoise before it was time to move on home to Dunedin.

An angler trying his luck for a salmon at Millers Flat.

An angler trying his luck for a salmon at Millers Flat.

All that was behind me now as I was heading up the Central road past Beaumont. It was still as black as the inside of a cow as I crossed the Beaumont Bridge. The adrenalin really started pumping. My mind started to wander. Will they be there? Will they be on the move? Will, that little bit of luck be on my side? All these things were consistently running through my mind.

A quick check of the time on the car dash meant that I had about 20 minutes to set my gear up and be on the edge of the river for the first few casts before daybreak.

There was a cool chill in the air as I pulled my gumboots on and tied on the big silver Z-spinner that I intended to use. I headed off down the side of the river as the light started to change. I was going to be spot on time. I was so worked up thinking about what was ahead of me that I walked right past the little place where I intended to go in and had to backtrack 20 metres or so after l woke up to the fact.

Unfortunately, there was another car where I parked mine and I was unsure whether there would be an angler in this possie. It was light enough now to see a wee bit of a track down to the water’s edge – and there was nobody there.

My mind quickly gave a sigh of relief.  Was this hot spot going to be the place for today? Well, we would soon find out.

Right opposite me there was another good possie and I could not see an angler on it anywhere. The rushing of the water was the only noise as there was no wind and everything was still. The plop of the Zeddy into the water sounded very heavy and after the first dozen casts, I hadn’t touched anything. Maybe I wasn’t doing it quite right or was that impatience catching up on me again?

During the next cast, I particularly watched how the lure swung and decided for the next two or three to change my line of casting. I had fished this place before but normally used a Silver Wedge which does not swing and cut as much as a Z-spinner. Good information told me that the Zeddy was probably the best lure to use.

Discussing it with my own mind I cast upstream a further two metres. Down came the lure and swung round – boy that was just perfect, but not a touch. I cast again – still not a touch, and ‘for the third time. I’m certain it’s right.

As it swung through the turbulent water at the end of an eddy the line stopped with a sudden thump. Was it a rock? Was it a piece of wood? No! Suddenly it moved off – it was a fish! But was it a salmon? Who cares. It felt large anyway. It was several minutes before I could see it. The light had improved considerably by now and with my Polaroids on I could see into the water reasonably well. It swung round in front of me and rolled over. I got a good glimpse of it but was unsure whether it was a salmon or a trout but the weight looked about 4kg – about 9lb.

With a quick pull it took off towards the middle of the stream again and everything went slack. Damn! Lost it! On retrieving the lure everything looked OK. Just bad luck I thought. Let’s hope it’s not the only chance we get this morning.

A few fish were starting to porpoise, some downstream, some midstream. Two anglers appeared on the far bank. They immediately started to fish in the wrong place, which is allowable of course if you haven’t caught many salmon and are not quite sure where to fish. We all have to go through that learning curve
sometime. I was actually going through it now because I thought that I’d drawn another blank. Three-quarters of an hour had passed but on the top side.0f me twice there’d been a fish break the surface. I wonder if that’s the same fish just riding a pressure wave there. Can I get upstream and get a cast to swing into that position? Maybe there’s just enough room. All this was turning over in my mind.

John Witchell holding the 21lb salmon.

John Witchell holding the 21lb salmon. Millers Flat.

I changed position and cast upstream to try and get the swing right. As the Zeddy swung round in front of me I thought “It’ s now or never” and the salmon must have thought the same thing as the line stopped dead. It’s a great feeling when the line pulls out instead of pulling in. The salmon knew where home was and headed off downstream going flat out. The reel screamed and I must admit I felt like screaming too. It suddenly turned and swung back into the current on the inside and I thought “You Beauty – you’re mine.” Well, nothing is ever that simple and a couple of rocks poking out downstream took the attention of the salmon.

It decided the best place to get away from this angler was on the other side of him, which I thought was most unusual for a salmon as they usually head for midstream, but the water. current against these rocks meant that the salmon got pushed right to the surface so it instantly disliked that possie and headed back out midstream, as it should have done in the first place. I slowly retrieved the line, only to lose the same amount again as it went back downstream. It was a great feeling though.

I was feeling absolutely brilliant as I saw the first for the first time lift up in the eddy water in front of me. The fish looked to be round about 5 or 6kg (between 12-13lb). That was great because normally after you lose one fish the next one you get is always smaller and you feel disgruntled about it, but on this occasion, it looked like I might be in luck and get a bigger one than I originally had one.

I retrieved my small pocket gaff which I carry for these sorts of occasions out of my small bag that I was carrying and after a considerable fight I had the opportunity to slip it through the gills and lift the fish from the water. Everything runs through your head at this time. Take your time. Do it slowly. Don’t rush things. There’s plenty of time. It is now? No – as it heads out a wee bit further. It will come back in. Take your time. You’ll only get one good chance maybe.

As it swung in against the willow roots the chance was there. The current lifted it to the surface and I quickly whipped the gaff into the gills and lifted it from the water. My feet hardly touched the ground as I ran up the bank to a flat spot in about three bounces. My salmon cluck for the season was broken. I had one on the bank. I felt so proud. Who cares if we lost one earlier? Who cares about getting up early to try and catch this fish? Who cares that it rained the other day? The feeling of joy and achievement was something else. As I gazed down on this amazing specimen of a fish it was a feeling of fulfilment. Incidentally, it weighed 5.5kg (12 and a half pounds).

I sat there for a moment with the Joe Blakes of course. Although I’d never panicked right through the fight now that it was all done it was time for the nerves to set in properly. I paced up and down a couple of times before I decided to have another cast. Out midstream, I’d seen another fish porpoise. If I had a quick cast upstream I could just about swing the lure in front of that fish, I thought. The cast was perfect and bang – the line stopped dead, but immediately went slack again. It would have been amazing to have another fish so quickly.

Was the little leprechaun really on my shoulder this morning? It looks like it. I cast back again into exactly the same possie but nothing, and again but nothing, and again but nothing. Maybe I wasn’t getting the swing quite right so I moved up onto some rocks to attempt a bigger swing with the Zeddy, but no, nothing happened. By this time it was really quite light. An hour and a half had passed and two more carloads of anglers had arrived in the pool opposite me. There were now seven anglers on the other side. I wonder where the other angler was.

There’s a pool upstream, I might go and try that, as after casting in the same hole for a further 20 minutes everything appeared to have gone dead and there was no movement at all. The anglers opposite me had caught one fish between the seven of them, which wasn’t a very good average I thought at that stage, but most of them were fishing in the wrong place anyway. I picked up my fish and headed off back up to where I knew this other pool was. I’d caught fish out of this pool consistently for about four years in a row but this was about five years ago and hadn’t fished in the latter years.

Unfortunately when I arrived there the high waters during the spring had changed the pool considerably and after spending three-quarters of an hour casting in it I hadn’t touched a fish. My mind started racing again. Do you really need to carry on fishing? Are you not happy just having one fish? My answer to that
was “Yes, I am happy, I’ve had enough, I can go home satisfied,” so decided “This is the last cast” as I threw it out and swung the lure around. I didn’t touch a thing so packed up and headed back to the car. I was still feeling very proud as I took off my gumboots and lay the salmon out in the boot and headed off to do some work for the day.

Many salmon anglers will be unaware there can also be good salmon fishing in the Clutha River, particularly at Millers Flat.

About the Author

- Fishingmag.co.nz website editor.

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