Graeme Marshall Fishing Report for Reel Life 2018

  • 27/03/2018

South Canterbury Report

Too Much of a Good Thing?Opihi River Marshall

Floods are good for braided river systems. Right? Well, yes, probably. Whilst braided rivers are not exactly rare in this country they are actually not all that common in a global context. The experts inform us that the constant movement of material and shifting of channels, pools and runs is beneficial for the health of the river and the fish that live in it. Sometimes though, I just wonder if we can have enough of a good thing.

When I first moved to South Canterbury in 2006 I was immediately impressed by the stable nature of the Opihi, one of the prime brown trout and salmon rivers of the region. While confined securely within high floodbanks, the river has enough room to meander and rarely flows in just a single channel for any great distance. It is in effect a mini braided river. In 2006 the myriad of channels were clearly quite permanent fixtures evidenced by the  luxuriant growth of aquatic and semi aquatic vegetation such as watercress, evening primrose and another yellow-flowered succulent which I don’t know the name of. The dry gravel, sand and cobble river bed was the home of lupins, Californian poppies, vipers bugloss and a whole host of other wild flowers and various weed species. The overall impression though was a harmonious and eye-pleasing semi- wilderness.

The trout liked it too. I was actually quite astonished by the fishery I discovered with brown trout of excellent size and condition and in numbers I rarely encountered in my native Nelson rivers. I was in an angling paradise and one I didn’t have to share with too many other anglers, especially when I could find time to fish mid-week. To cap it off, the river had a good run of salmon, a resource I was soon quick to exploit.

But times have changes somewhat. While still a very good fishery, the river bed currently looks as though a bomb has hit it. In just the last two or three years some major flood events have impacted heavily on the river and its tributaries. Two really big ones in less than twelve months have moved enormous quantities of material including some very impressive boulders. Many trees have been ripped out of the banks and now litter the beach to the south of the river mouth.

Perhaps the most damaging flood occurred in July 2017 when the river peaked at something approaching 1000 cumecs very suddenly. Sadly, this event coincided with the very height of brown trout spawning and even the optimists among us know that a very large part of a whole generation will have perished. The latest event occurred just weeks ago and just added to the already much-modified stream bed.

However, I do prefer to rank myself in the optimist category. There was some excellent fishing to be had before the February flood and while fish numbers were not even close to the heady days of 2006, there were still enough to keep even the grumpiest angler happy. As I write just after the middle of March the river flow is still well above the March average. Give me high water rather than a drought any day. I’m sure that when levels recede to something like a normal eight or ten cumecs I will find fish out there still. One thing I have learned from close to 50 years of trout fishing is that trout are tough creatures and despite their domain being modified from time to time they are survivors. With that in mind I look forward to the final month of the regular season with a spring in my step, even though the playing field is not the same as the one I ventured onto in October.

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