It’s a feeling only a salmon angler can relate too. The feeling of anticipation as a brand new salmon season is drawing nearer. Its a time of the year you’ve been looking forward too, ever since the last one ended. September and October are itchy months where you can almost taste the early morning starts, hear the sound of the quad bike firing up and feel the prospect that every cast deserves. The ticers are shiny, hooks sharp and your salmon rods are waiting patiently for their time to strike. The anticipation however, can be relieved along the coastline of Kaikoura.
It’s an odd sort of fishery. No-one really knows definitively why salmon show up close along the Kaikoura coastline in the months prior to the start of the main salmon season. Food abundance and fish travelling through on route to their spawning rivers, are two possible theories that make sense. Either way it makes for some exciting fishing and an excuse to get out there and cast a lure!
During mid-September I moved from the big smoke of Christchurch to the adventurer’s playground of Kaikoura. By that stage some of the local river mouths were harbouring schools of kahawai, feeding up large on the abundance of whitebait running. These were great fun to get amongst and meant the smoker was working hard in the lead up to summer. The early kahawai, averaging 3-4lb, still had a lot of growing to do before they condition themselves and become the 6lb string pullers everyone is used to.
It wasn’t long before rumours of salmon being caught along the beach were surfacing and I had to check it out for myself. Every morning before work (conditions permitting), I headed down to the beach for an hour or so of prospecting. Sure enough, the rumours were true and I saw a couple of salmon landed and my determination to land my own grew.
My luck changed one October weekend when my partners father and my own decided to come up from Christchurch for a few casts. Friday night spirits were high and catching a salmon was a shared goal. The alarms were set for sunrise and rods were already packed in the truck.
Arriving down the beach the next morning the conditions were spot on and there were multiple bird work ups in the bay. Small bait fish were being driven to the surface by hungry kahawai, only to find birds bombing down on them from above. Classic case of eat or be eaten… Fishing started slow and the odd kahawai was caught and released. At times a school of kahawai would venture in close in prolific numbers and no matter how hard we tried, we couldn’t help but hook up on them.
The birds soon followed the school of kahawai down the coast which was a welcomed break from a chaotic half an hour! A few casts later I was retrieving the lure and in the last 20m of the retrieval I felt a solid tug. Fish on! This was obviously no kahawai as it was slightly heavier and the fight lacked the aerial displays and vicious head knocks. Instead it swam straight down, a strong indicator that a salmon was hooked. Hooking the fish so close to the shore, it wasn’t long before a flash of silver/pink broke through the blue of the ocean, just behind the breakers. Using a friendly timed wave I manoeuvred the fish onto the stoney shore and up the beach before the hook could be spat out!
I was stoked to have caught an early salmon for the 2016/17 season and best of all it meant a donut was off the cards! The salmon wasn’t a horse by any means, and they rarely are off the beach in Kaikoura. Following the general trend this looked to be a 2-year old fish probably feeding up hard. Salmon tend to double their weight in their last year at sea. In NZ, the majority of salmon run back up their spawning rivers as three year olds. The salmon weighed just under 6lb. While it lacked in size, the excitement of the catch was worth its weight in gold… or silver should I say!
We drove back to the bach around midday with a fresh wild salmon in the truck for dinner! I do have to confess however, a slight detour was taken to the local pub for a celebratory beer on the route home.
Filleting the fish was a pleasure and I couldn’t believe how lean and blood red the meat was. This truely is wild salmon at its best.
But the story does not end there. We headed back out the next morning having been fired up by yesterdays success. The fishing on Sunday was quiet and lacked the kahawai work ups that provided a bit of fun even if they weren’t the desired species. I remember saying to my partners father “it’s one of those days where nothing is happening, but if you get a bite… it’ll be a salmon!”
It may have been 5 minutes later and bang! A hit in close behind the breakers again. In an almost identical series of events as the day before another salmon was hooked! I took no time in making sure it was landed. A bit unfair really using gear for 15-20lb fish on 5-10lb salmon. But hey whose going to complain! More salmon for the dinner table, more smiles all round and more stories to retell in the future!
Two salmon in just as many days! With both salmon cut into steaks for the pan or the smoker, dinner was sorted and the vacuum packer dealt to the rest. The forecast for the week ahead was rubbish, strong NE’s and a rising swell. Got to make the most of the opportunities while they last!