Socrates is alleged to have said that if a man chooses a good wife he will have a good life. If he chooses a bad wife he will become a philosopher. In Canterbury most of those philosophers go salmon fishing.
If you spend time at any of Canterbury’s salmon river mouths you get to chat with all the philosophers and soothsayers of the fishing world. They are the regular salmon fishers.
On 99% of the occasions when fish are caught it seems, to most of us on the bank, to be a random event. I was at the Waimakariri mouth in mid-February last year and caught a 9.6 kg Chinook, or King, or Quinnat salmon. Yes, it has three common names.
It is also known as Oncorhynchus tshawytscha. This “scientific” name is a unique mixture of Latin and “Latinised” Native American languages. Latin is chosen by scientists as it is a dead language. Being “dead” it doesn’t change in the way that English is constantly changing. It also solves squabbles between “peacock” nations who think that their language should dominate the world of science. Even the name for a fish scientist, an Ichthyologist, comes from Latin.
We usually just call them salmon, from the Latin word “salmo”. It is believed to have come from the word salire, which means “to leap”.
Our Canterbury stocks were introduced in the first decade of the 20th Century. A major effort was based on a hatchery alongside the lower Hakataramea River in South Canterbury. It is believed that our salmon came from the McCloud River in California. You may recall the hosting of Native Americans from near there, by Fish and Game, Ngai Tahu, etc, a few years ago. They are keen to reintroduce the species to its homeland where dams etc have led to its demise.
Catching this “sports fish” is, according to one lady member of local fishing club I frequent, the most fun that you can have with your waders on. Heart attacks whilst landing one are not unknown. Whilst fish of over 40 lbs have been caught in N.Z., 30 lb is rare and most are between 10 and 24 lbs. For the youngsters amongst you a kilogram is approximately 2.25 pounds (lbs).
The world record is 97.25 lbs set in Alaska’s Kenei River in 1985. Dead fish over 100 lbs have been found and the largest caught at sea, off British Columbia, was 126 lbs, in the 1970s.
On one occasion in the 1990s I was fishing at the Waimak mouth and noticed the late Ron Corney standing and watching the action. I asked “why?” He had left his reel behind. I lent him my spare. He then proceeded to catch a 23 lb and a 33 lb salmon while I went “fishless”. In February my experience had a similar component. My overhead reel was playing up so I had fitted an old “eggbeater” that I kept as a spare. It may even be the one that I lent old Ron.
I hooked a salmon well out in 2012 and had a great tussle getting it in; probably the longest I have ever had. The clutch was a ‘bit tired’ but after a long battle I had my first salmon since the Canterbury quakes. The tussle even drew applause. That’s not usual!
This is where the theories come in. There were over 100 fishing there that day. Only three salmon were landed. The water temperature was 17 degrees. Many believe that is about the maximum for salmon to enter the river. It was caught just after the big rush of water had gone out from the Brooklands Lagoon. Others believe that this is when the fish can smell the truly fresh water from the Waimakariri. Another late fishing colleague, Bernie, put great stock on linking the catches with the phase of the moon. He had an article on the topic ready to publish when the “big C” cut him down. Research, in Canterbury, shows that eels definitely respond to the moon when migrating.
I hooked that fish at the bottom of the main channel, yet many believe that most salmon travel up the side of this channel where the current is easier, and so the theories go on.
Two of the three salmon caught that day were hooked on the left hand side of the jaw (including mine). Think about it! If the fishermen were on the north side of the river and the fish were heading upstream “where would the hook be most likely to be set?”
The most likely theory is that these fish were heading downstream. One theory is that there wasn’t enough water above Macintosh’s hole where the river is joined by the Kaiapoi River (about a km further up), so they decided to go back. Another is that they were spending time in the lower reaches “acclimatising” to the fresh water. Yet another suggests that they circled around to “kill” the lure. Take your pick. Everybody there had a different theory.
Theories abound on which lure is best; colorados, ticers, z spinners and a dozen other variations that I often do not know the name of. There are about a dozen different colours in use and a range of weights as well as bits of “bling”. Some people rush up and see what the last salmon was caught on and change to that variety.
The best position on the bank is also very debateable. Personally I prefer the narrowest part of the river (less distance to cast), but may want to get as close to the sea as possible. On person told me that there are “lucky” people and that he has proved that if you stand next to them you are more likely to catch something.
The apparent random nature of salmon fishing success in the discoloured waters of our major, glacier-fed, rivers is fertile ground for theories, science, pseudo-science, conspiratory theorists, astrology, and people who just like to come up with a different idea. We have all heard those who blame their lack of success on “foreign” fishermen catching “their” salmon off-shore.
I am sure that Aristotle, Socrates and Plato must also have been fishermen. So must have been the grandfathers of Algebra. Algebra is the system of using a few known factors to determine related unknowns. This is surely the basis of salmon fishing philosophies.
Several years ago I was the only one to get a salmon two Saturdays in a row. Imagine the theories that this sparked. Personally I believe it was because I stopped at mid tide, both days, and ate a banana, much to the disgust of another friend, “old Ted”. If this means nothing to you, then Google: “Fishermen, bananas and superstition”.
For facts I rely on Ross Millichamp’s update of his 1997 salmon fisherman's “bible”, ‘Salmon Fever’. There is precious little good literature available to us salmon addicts, still I think many love coming up with their theories.
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