Low salmon numbers in Canterbury rivers
The salmon-fishing season this year has been a somewhat mixed bag. A select few anglers have had reasonably consistent results, but the majority has struggled, with many seasoned anglers putting huge hours in without a single fish for the season.
The general consensus has been that the fishing was poor, and Fish & Game aerial salmon counts have confirmed what most South Island Salmon anglers suspected after such a slow season. Preliminary counts in the Rakaia and Waimakariri Rivers showed numbers around a third of what was expected, with the Rakaia preliminary counts revealing only around 550 spawning fish. There were, however, a number of carcasses spotted, which suggests there may have been an earlier spawning run that entered the river pre-christmas, when there was less angling pressure on the river. A further count was still to be undertaken to ensure the peak run was encountered.
Counts of the northern rivers were also completed. The Hurunui count stood at just 80 fish, a reflection of the very hard fishing for most Hurunui anglers. The Waiau had much better numbers, with 390 fish counted. The Waiau would have to be the most underrated and underutilised river in the Canterbury region, so this relatively high fish count would come as little surprise to the few who fish it regularly. Fish & Game is confident that the peak runs were encountered on both rivers.
The Wamakariri surveys were still to be undertaken at the time of writing, as this river’s spawning run is traditionally a couple of weeks later than other rivers in the region. The results should be interesting after a very mixed season on the region’s most heavily-fished river. There were definitely some very quiet periods, with few fish being caught, despite the consistently large number of anglers present each day. There were, however, some very good runs of fish, with consistent numbers being caught through February and March.
Further south, the majority of counts were still to be completed at the time of writing. With three of the five counts in the Rangitata catchment completed, early indications point towards similar results, with below-average numbers recorded.
While the above all sounds a bit dire for the salmon fishery, there are some definite positives to take from this season. The most obvious would be the size of the fish, with the fish landed in the North Canterbury rivers typically being in the high teens and low 20lb range – significantly higher than in the last two seasons. The other potential positive is that historically some of our best salmon seasons have resulted from some of our lowest spawning returns. The theory is that there is less food competition for the hatched salmon smolt, so they leave the rivers in better condition to tackle the open ocean. Salmon anglers throughout the region will have their fingers crossed that this is the case, and most will be hoping for a much improved season next year!