March has now become, without doubt, the salmon month, with most of the big runs coming in during this period, and the widest range of salmon-fishing opportunities being offered geographically.
There is no doubt our salmon fishery has changed quite dramatically in the last 10 years. Fish have got smaller, the runs are much later in the season, and salmon are more widespread due to increased enhancement and accidental releases from salmon farms.
Gear refinement has also changed the face of salmon fishing, with more sensitive rods, fine-diameter braid and smaller lures often coming into play, especially when the water is clear. Our salmon fishery is ever-changing but that is what keeps it interesting. Let’s run through some refreshed options for 2017.
The Canterbury rivers are traditional salmon fisheries and continue to draw the most attention. The lower Waimakariri River is a good example: it’s on Christchurch’s doorstep and attracts lots of keen salmon anglers, but there is plenty of scope to find a spot by yourself, too. Having said that, it can be fun standing in the picket fence at the mouth or on Macintoshes Rocks, sharing tales and tips with other fishers.
Anchoring up and fishing from a boat is often rewarding as well, and allows the anglers to be spread over a greater area. The Kaiapoi River is also a top option, especially where it joins the Waimakariri at Burkes Point. A range of upriver pools, upstream from State Highway One, can be explored with access along the embankment.
Another river that has fished well during March in recent years is the Hurunui River mouth. This area is very scenic, with high cliffs and native forests. Deep water surrounds the mouth, and strong ocean currents mean that fishing conditions in the surf are always changing. Yet the Hurunui attracts a smaller number of keener anglers and fishing there is a rewarding experience for me.
Called ‘The Nui’ locally, a steady number of salmon come in here, and it is one of our more wilderness-like river-mouth fishing locations. The river’s smaller size also makes it seem less intimidating.
Historically, salmon fishing in the Rakaia and Rangitata Rivers slows by March, but that has changed in recent seasons, with good runs in both rivers occurring over the month.
The Rakaia, especially, is worth a look throughout the entire system in March. There is also some good upriver fishing, and it is far and away the number-one river in New Zealand to explore and fish using a jet boat.
The Rangitata is a total wild card this season. The run has been nothing short of dismal so far, but don’t write it off yet, as a March run may occur.
Nearby, the Opihi and Orari River mouths are worth fishing in the surf, as salmon congregate off these mouths around this time.
The Waitaki, like the Rangitata, has suffered with low runs in recent years, but if it’s going to happen, it should be now, so fingers crossed. The river mouth is a fun and easily accessible place to fish.
In recent years the Wairau River has seen an increase in salmon numbers, to the point now where the river is considered to have a steady March run of fish. The Diversion is the best spot, but upriver fishing in deep holes is also worth a look.
The Wairau is a very scenic, braided river on the edge of the Marlborough Sounds. Make sure you take your trout gear as well though, because the river has good numbers of sea-run browns. Numerous salmon farms in the Marlborough Sounds offer the potential for salmon fishing around the cages whenever salmon escapes occur. Salmon are also a regular Marlborough Sounds catch these days.
Closer to Christchurch, the Akaroa salmon farm at Banks Peninsula also has escapees and, at times, good catches of salmon have been made from around the farm.
A more consistent sea-fishing option for salmon at this time of year is Otago Harbour. The area’s put-and-take salmon fishery has been in place for nearly 30 years, thanks to local businesses sponsoring the event, and the Otago Branch of the Salmon Anglers Association organising the release of salmon into the harbour. Late February to mid-March is a good time to fish. Bait fishing off the wharves or trolling from boats are popular options.
There are opportunities for targeting salmon at the Leith River mouth in late March too, when the salmon congregate in shallower water. This put-and-take fishery means natural spawning is not needed.
Local enhancements, similar to Otago’s but on a smaller scale, have also been successful at Kaikoura, and the future looks good.
Another marine-salmon fishing option involves targeting escapees around the salmon farms in Patersons Inlet on Stewart Island. Even if no salmon have recently escaped the farms, the cages act as giant berley pots, attracting a range of marine species such as blue cod, trumpeter and other fish around them.
For anglers after a scenic salmon-fishing experience, the West Coast is the place to head in March. Lakes Paringa, Moeraki and Mapourika all have good sea-run salmon fisheries, and Fish & Game has also enhanced Lake Kaniere in recent years.
Many of the West Coast’s larger rivers have salmon runs, and West Coast Fish & Game continues to stock the rivers annually. The Grey, Taramakau, Hokitika and Haast Rivers all have decent salmon runs and fish best in March. The easily accessible Hokitika Mouth is a favourite of mine.
For kayak anglers, the Okarito Lagoon is a fun place to catch salmon as they transit through the lagoon’s deep channels on their way to Lake Mapourika.
A good all-year-round and all-weather salmon fishing option is the Mackenzie Canal fishery for salmon that have been released or escaped from the farms. This fishery is easily accessible, and there is a range of top quality accommodation options in Tekapo and Twizel. Soft baits and ultra-fine braid are the way to go on the canals, which are a good training ground in using soft-baits and tuning into the often very subtle salmon bites.
Finally another option for putting salmon on the table is to target lake-locked salmon. The best time for lake-locked salmon is April and May. Lake-locked salmon are found in many of the larger lakes in the South Island, with Wakatipu, Wanaka, Hawea, Tekapo and Coleridge all having good numbers. The lake-locked salmon fishery in Tekapo has recently been enhanced by releases from Fish & Game. Lake-locked salmon are often only one kilo or so, but taste great. They are the ideal size to serve whole.
Use sensitive rods, fine braid and make sure that your gear gets down deep, as salmon often sit and move through the deepest part of the river. But, most importantly, use ultra-sharp hooks as the salmon’s take is often gentle.
So look beyond the traditional salmon fishing options and take the time to explore salmon fishing in a new environment this March. It is well worth putting time aside to target salmon as I believe March is the top month.
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