Salmon fishing in New Zealand

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While New Zealand is well known among anglers as a trout fishing destination, it is less known for its salmon fishing.

However, many rivers - particularly on the east coast of the South Island - offer superb angling conditions and good fishing for New Zealand chinook or quinnat, a species of Pacific salmon.

New Zealand chinook do not grow as big as the North American counterpart which commonly weighs in at 20kg (45lb) in Alaska, but a four-year-old New Zealand-caught chinook is more likely to average 7kg (just under 16lb).

The difference in size is largely attributable to the fact that Alaskan salmon spend more years at sea, whereas New Zealand chinook return at three to four years of age.

New Zealand salmon season

The New Zealand salmon season runs from early October (spring) through to late April (autumn).

Each summer - beginning in late December, peaking in February, and continuing until March - chinook salmon ascend the rivers of the South Island's eastern regions. The best known salmon fishing rivers are the Rakaia, Rangitata and Waitaki rivers.

A few weeks later, the salmon runs peak in the South Island’s west coast rivers, including the Paringa, Taramakau, and Hokitika.

Salmon fishing gear

Spinning or bait casting gear using a 9kg (20lb) breaking strain line and a metal ticer lure is recommended for New Zealand salmon fishing. Some innovative anglers catch salmon using deep sinking fly line and a fly lure.

Fishing guides operate mainly on the Rakaia, Rangitata and Waitaki rivers, in the South Island, but can be found operating in other regions.

Guides provide all fishing gear and equipment, and will often use jet boats to gain access to pools where salmon may have paused.

NZ chinook or quinnat salmon

The chinook salmon - known in New Zealand as quinnat, king or spring salmon - is one of five species of Pacific salmon. It is New Zealand’s largest freshwater fish, and the largest species in the salmon family.

The breed was introduced into New Zealand rivers on the South Island’s east coast in Canterbury and Otago more than 100 years ago.

The ocean-swelling chinook salmon swim up the rivers to spawn, offering a prized catch for anglers.

While the chinnook is now scarce along the Californian Pacific coast, it has thrived in New Zealand waters. Established spawning runs are found in the Rangitata, Opihi, Ashburton, Rakaia, Waimakariri, Hurunui and Waiau rivers.

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