Adrian Bell reveals why knowing too much can sometimes be a handicap when it comes to salmon fishing...
Jack informed us that he’d never targeted salmon before. “You have an advantage then,” said Larry, further along the line of fishing hopefuls. Interpreted, that meant: “You have a better chance than us, because we know too much.”
For the uninitiated, fishing for New Zealand Chinook salmon is a fraught process, with many hours spent in fruitless endeavour. It requires that we value the process as well as the product, chatting to fellow anglers and congratulating them on any success achieved.
Rookie Jack continued to fling his green and white UV Z-spinner out into the ebb tide of the Waimakariri estuary, until its progress shoreward was halted by a large chinook. We saw his bent rod pulsing as the salmon ran up through his fellow anglers’ casting windows, who hastily retrieved their lines to give Jack every chance of playing out his prize.
Jack followed in a paroxysm of delight and concern, trying to keep up with the fish as 50 metres of braid rapidly vacated the safety of his spool. Will, the fisherman at the far end of the line, was warned to look out – the fish was about to run around his feet into the tributary entering the river on his left.
I followed Jack with my camera, hoping to get action shots. Tension was high until … disaster! The line departed from the spindle of Jack’s reel with a report like a .22 calibre rifle fired at close quarters.
Whew! Disappointment for all concerned, except for the salmon, despite all the line it now had to tow to the spawning beds upstream.
Very soon Jack resumed his position with a larger rod and a reel spooled with enough strong line to play out any salmon – gear that he’d actually had with him but chosen not to use.
“Why did you use the small rod when you had that one?” was the obvious question. The answer was two-fold.
“It was good enough for catching kahawai, and I didn’t think I was going to catch a salmon...”
I SAW JACK a week or so later. He told me that by the time he’d reached home, the word had got around and he was already receiving desultory texts from his friends – adding insult to the injury suffered from the bitter lesson recently learned.
Compared with the successes of my previous two salmon seasons, 2016 had been a difficult one for me. Despite many hours of trying, I had only scored once – on the February 1st. So the capture of a salmon by a rookie with limited time to fish was bound to capture my attention...
A couple of weeks later, daughter Heidi and her wee boy Noah flew in from Coff’s Harbour NSW to visit us. Her husband Ben (aka ‘Bennie on the Beat’) was delayed as he was providing the musical backing for two of Australia’s top hip-hop artists staging concerts in Sydney.
Vivienne and I needed to present Ben with a birthday gift when he turned up. Knowing that he enjoyed fishing, I shelved doubts about his chances of success and bought him two Fish & Game day licences to fish for salmon.
Next afternoon, Ben and I trucked off to the parking spot adjacent to the track accessing the Kaiapoi River mouth. At the mouth are two choices: fish the Kaiapoi’s estuary section or cast into the Waimakariri itself.
After an hour or so, Ben hooked a salmon in the Kaiapoi – and just as quickly lost it. Soon he was reeling in a line devoid of fluoro leader and Z-spinner, casting suspicion on the efficacy of my blood-knot: the type that had never let me down on a salmon. So why did the knot fail now, when Ben only had two days to fish? He described how his heart had raced. Chastened, I carefully bloodknotted another six-kilo trace to the braid and tied on another green and white Z-spinner.
After a period of fruitless casting, we strode the stop-bank upstream to a pool on the Kaiapoi where I’d seen salmon caught. Fishing mate Tyler was already there, and kindly allowed us to join him. Presently a good chinook surfaced – what a sight and sound to behold in such a small tidal stream! Motivation enough for three sets of gear to be hurled in its direction!
A little later, after it had popped up another time or two without accepting our offerings, it was time for the “Okay, three more casts” injunction. But while climbing the bank I became aware of a disturbance behind me, I looked and saw Ben’s rod bent and nodding to the struggles of … a salmon! What? Unbelievable, and a bit scary!
After barking out an order to loosen the drag, I watched in delight as the salmon and Ben battled for ascendancy. Uncharacteristically, I’d left my camera at the truck, so was fortunate that Tyler was able to capture some action shots of the battle.
After he had tailed the fish, which by its bright silver appearance had been in the sea as recently as that morning, and the rata donger had done its work, I raced back to my truck to get the camera.
I returned, breathless, to discover that the salmon weighed 5.7kg/12lb 12oz. I’m not sure who was more stoked, Ben or me. It has been a goal of mine to catch a salmon from that place, a venue just five or six minutes from home and so suburban you can see the traffic crossing the Kaiapoi bridge. It took my son-in-law to show me how it was done – and on his first time out!
WHILE BEN had at least honed his fishing skills in Australia, the lady in the following story had never fished in her life...
Accustomed to seeing her husband Bruce getting out of bed morning after morning, Lesley decided it was time to accompany him. So on March 18 of this year, Bruce added her to his family licence and took her out the following day.
Unfortunately, it was a slow day, but undeterred, Lesley continued to practise her newly-acquired skill with a threadline rod lent to her by local salmon angler Dave, flinging a green and white Salamander across the Kaiapoi River.
When a salmon smashed her lure, the first thing Lesley wanted to do was surrender the rod to one of the ‘experts’, but instead they provided wise support, with the result that Dave soon had her salmon in his net.
SO WHAT GAVE these salmon fishing rookies the edge? Was ignorance of ‘the way it’s done’ actually bliss? And when they outfished more experienced anglers, was that because those anglers did know too much?
Perhaps the ‘old salts’ have caught salmon in the past by fishing a particular lure at a particular speed and depth, so apply the method again and again when conditions dictate that a different approach might be more productive? While the rookie will have been given basic guidelines, he or she will tend to exercise the more technical aspects in a somewhat random manner, so is more likely to chance upon a technique that the experienced angler, constrained by his own paradigm, has discounted. That’s worth thinking about for anglers seeking to catch New Zealand’s premium freshwater fish next season.
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