West Coast Quinnat Salmon
by Paul Corliss
The East Coast for salmon, the West Coast for trout”, or so they say. How about ”the West Coast for trout and salmon”?
West Coasters are not prone to the same level of trumpet blowing as Cantabrians, so we generally only hear a few whispers over this side of the hill about their salmon. Maybe the occasional quinnat is taken in the Hokitika River, even the odd few in the Taramakau and landlocks from the lakes.
Settled down over a quiet one in the Recreation Hotel in Greymouth, genial publican Brendt Larsen proceeded to open these Cantabrian eyes to the potential bounty. Unassuming, and not in the boasters’ league, Brendt is part of the Recreation Hotel’s informal, though select fishing club. A “small group of regulars who, among other liquid pursuits, target West Coast quinnat salmon, sea-runs that provide the sport East Coast anglers believe they monopolise.
Even the Grey River has delivered a few reasonable Quinnat this season (and not those from the farm cage up by Ahaura either). However, Brendt and his fellow anglers concentrate their efforts on the lakes south of Hokitika, Lake Paringa, south of Fox Glacier, and Lake Mapourika, inland from Okarito Lagoon.
Prior to 1984, Lake Paringa was out of bounds for Quinnat but became available from then on. Brendt and his mates started picking up quinnat in the 12lb to the 12.5lb range, and time and good tucker at sea has seen the size improve to the 18 to 24lb range, with the biggest around the 28lb mark.
Paringa salmon are generally heavier than the Mapourika ones, which cover the 7 to 15lb range. The Paringa quinnat run from the sea up the Paringa River, detour through the Hall into the depths of the lake where they gradually work their way up into the Windbag for spawning.
There is a single hook and a single salmon restriction in both Lakes Paringa and Mapourika, and the favoured method of extracting the quinnat varies. Generally spinning is preferred, but salmon ﬂies on fly rods and trolling with leadlines and spinners have their adherents.
Silver spinners are popular, but Brendt showed me a range of salmon ﬂies he was going to experiment with the next morning. Fresh-tied by the hotel cook they looked enormous. Every colour of the rainbow, they not only looked like a flock of parakeets, they were about the same size. Perched on their giant hooked bodies they needed keeping in a cage over-night to prevent escape. I didn’t get the chance to check up with him on how successful they were, but perhaps that is just the excuse you need to drop into the hotel, order a 7 ounce Miner’s Dark and start a conversation. Keep the bit about the caged parakeets to yourself though, a few conservationists may leap from their leaners.
Most of the Paringa salmon are taken off the mouth of the Windbag by shore-based anglers or trollers. Experience and local knowledge may one day teach you to find the holes and reefs favoured by the locals. There is a close camaraderie among the regulars, and binoculars ensure that no one boat hogs all the action for too long. The heat of the day (I’m assured there is such a thing on the Coast) seems to send the quinnat deeper, so mornings and evenings should be better, though as with all angling, the salmon often break the rules. Bear in mind the simple logic, to get to the lake the quinnat have to negotiate the Paringa and Hall Rivers, as they tire they assemble and rest up in quiet holes. The Canterbury up-river methods may well produce the goods.
There is a boat ramp at the south end of the lake, and if you want to enjoy the bush-clad brilliance for more than a day, try Ron Hoglund and his chalets at Lake Paringa Heritage Lodge. Ron is highly regarded and the right quantity of persuasion may extract the right information to improve your chances.
If the salmon shun your lure, the despair can be countered by the cruising browns that patrol the bush margins, sipping terrestrials. The cicadas are singing up a storm at the moment, and if presented right, can prove irresistible.
North of Franz Iosef the quinnat sniff the brackish waters of the Okarito Lagoon and River. They run up into Lake Mapourika to track the nearby water pouring into the lake from McDonald’s Creek. They run as early as December, but start building in numbers in January and seem to peak late February to early March. While the last two years have seen the numbers drop a bit, this season it is improving and the 7 to 15lb range should satisfy.
Again, trolling is the method most favoured, but ﬂicking a spinner out from the mouth of McDonald’s Creek delivers, as does casting around the edges off the beach. A good jetty and boat-ramp at the southern end of Lake Mapourika will give access to all the best water. Like Paringa, if the quinnat in Mapourika ﬁnd your lure distasteful there are trout to amuse in numbers. Koura and bullies aplenty supplement the terrestrials that shower down from the encroaching bush.
Flyﬁshing or spinning the shore, particularly around the inlet streams (Red Jacks, Potters, McDonalds etc) will lessen the pain of a salmon-less day. The outlet at the Okarito River bar is a small way from McDonald’s and cruisers can be picked up with bushy dries.
The West Coaster doesn’t need to boast, their evening paper does it for them. Before we left, the front page said it all. Three smiling kids, proud as punch stood dwarfed by their off-the-wharf catch. Hauled from the Grey and in the centre of town, a sea-run brown trout weighing 18 lb 8oz!
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