Thursday, May 16, 2019

Into Autumn

The month of May. 

For us in the southern hemisphere it marks the final month of autumn, a month that normally signals the first blasts of cold weather that turn the leaves brown and send one reaching for coats and parkas. 

Autumn is generally a wet season but this year we’ve had an abnormally dry summer and Autumn, leading to a general shortage of water. Lumbered with my dodgy hip I’d been unable to partake in the usual pre duck season traditions and maintenance. But by hook or by crook I’d be there for opening day, that unmissable tradition, that highlight of the year. With much assistance from good mate Matt, I was there in the maimai pre-dawn on opening with dad. We were ensconced in The Park, a fine pond with a view across the clearing where our ponds are located. Early on we made a call to take drakes only which is a fine notion if ducks are plentiful. 

But they weren’t. 

Fog shrouded the ponds which is a death-knell for hunting as the birds skim above it. The first pair that sailed in came from above the fog bank and dropped with feet extended. Having missed the entire early goose season laid up recuperating, I wasn’t expecting much from my shooting but I put them both down with a shot each. The hen bird lay dead but the drake took a bearing and headed out of the pond fast. Layla was released and quickly returned with the hen. I sent her back after the drake and for some reason dad decided to go for a walk. The next few minutes involved dad tipping over and I looked up to find him trying to crawl out of the pond on all fours (while Layla returned with the drake)… I grabbed the pole I’d cut as a walking aid and waded out to grab dad. Together we shuffled back to the maimai, old fart and cripple… we would have made a sight to behold I’m sure. I gave dad my down filled wading jacket and as the weather was fine he was able to stay warm. We shot ok, taking our 2 limits with an acceptable number of shots expended. It was a neat little hunt made all the better by challenging conditions and good company. Topped off by Layla retrieving like a champ. We lost no birds at all.

Knowing that I had no options to chase pheasants this year I’d accepted an invitation to go with a group of mates to fish Hinchinbrook, Queensland. The core group of Darren, Dion, Steve, Jase and I had gone on a number of adventures together. Dion’s mate Gary rounded out the angler contingent. We were booked to fish with Dave Bradley and his team from Australian Flyfishing Outfitters. Dave, Jon Snell (“Snelly”) and Amos (“Famous”) Appleston made up the guiding crew, and man, those boys knew their shit. We were hoping to find permit and golden trevally on the flats and assorted target species (notably barramundi) in the extensive mangrove creek systems behind Hinchinbrook Island. The week passed quickly. We really had only one flats day and ol mate Steve managed in his first 2 casts of the trip a permit and then a golden trev! I saw one permit but he was moving away from us fast so no shot was available. Fishing the tidal creeks is a game of local knowledge, serial casting (utterly relentless coverage of every snag, overhanging bush, pounding of mangrove root systems and harassing of gutters), and the species inhabiting the area are stunning in both number and quantity. Over the week we caught barramundi, cod, jacks, grunters, GTs, bluefin salmon, and a host of other species. The range of target species available makes kiwi stand back and admire what’s on offer. Evenings were social involving rum and gin drinking, pumping the guides for stories and intel and generally figuring out the way of things. As with these trips it was with sadness that Steve, Jase and I departed to Townsville in our rented truck while the other boys headed to Cairns for their departure. Hope we all get together again soon.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Day 47

I thought it was about time to get back on the airwaves. Today represents 47 of the 181 days that are my prescribed  rehabilitation program. Today is day 5 off crutches.

I honestly can say that I feel lucky. This is a 6 month period of low activity that means that for the rest of my life if I maintain a level of fitness, I'll be able to chase fish and birds. And that in anyone's terms, is a bargain.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Big bones, stings, & other mishaps

On this year’s trip to the islands, Andy would come along in Karl’s place – Karl having used his brownie points up on his recent trip to Brazil. Andy, the unofficial mayor of Turangi, fly fishes 300+ days per year and consequently was able to get up to speed pretty quickly. We’d booked the same accommodation as the previous year, the house on the hill with the deadly slippery driveway – quite lethal when wet which seemed to be 100% of the time last year…

We met in the airport lounge early on day one, caught up, grabbed some rums and got stuck in. I was food mule this year, using my extra baggage allowance to carry a poly box full of food. Jase used his to bring along an inflatable SUP. Our main bags were crammed with fishing boots, rods, reels, flies and leaders. We were ready.

By late afternoon we’d landed, been picked up by our hostess, grabbed our transport for the week (scooters) and headed out on the nearest flat. We’d be fishing on our own for the first 3 days followed by 5 days of guided fishing. I headed out to he right to give the other guys space. It was cloudy which combined with bonefish camo was going to make spotting really really difficult. That afternoon  I spotted 2 fish but both had made me first and got their asses into gear and boosted out. As we left the flat, Andy began casting into the deep hole beside the fishing club and soon hooked and landed the first bone of our trip, a respectable 4lb fish. 

Over the next few days we each fished either with Jason, using Gareth The Crab (The SUP) to access a flat across a shipping channel, or around the various accessible flats. On day 3 I travelled across the channel with Jase on GTC and it was there that I caught my first bone for the trip, having bust one on the strike a bit earlier. And it was a really good fish that ran long and wide into the backing, ripping out at least 250m on the first run before dogging. The second run burned the backing knot through the tip again and then the fish circled wide before Jase was able to tail him, a bright 26” fish estimated @ ~8lb. 

Other adventures included catching a Brassy Trevally that I’d initially called a small GT. Turned out to be a really good specimen too.

The days seemed to blur together and so did the happenings; one day as Andy and I drove the dreaded driveway I heard a noise, turned around and saw him tipped downhill with the scooter almost atop him. Somehow his rod had caught an overhanging tree and flipped him. Luckily there were no broken bones, although he did retire from the fray with a stiff neck and shoulder. On the first Saturday evening, our pursuit of nightlife led us to the Golf Club, which was like a shack in the back blocks. We navigated by fluorescent red light across the course; Tim and I narrowly avoiding driving across the 18th green while Andy and Jase were unable to avoid driving on the hallowed grass. We got bollocked! 

Later in he week, Andy who is terribly allergic to bee stings, was attacked and bitten twice by a hornet. Soon he was swelling (which persisted all week) and vomiting, and without his epi pen was in a degree of trouble. However after hydration he was able to continue to fish, although the after effects of the stings bothered him for the rest of the trip.

Our first guided day saw Andy and I teamed up and we had a ripper day. By lunch we had gone fish for fish with 3 bones landed each. At times, schools of large bones accessed the flat we stalked with Ty and Varu poling the skiff, and their 2 sets of eyes gave us so much opportunity to position our flies. With a more or less constant breeze getting a pinpoint cast in was difficult, but we managed on most occasions to make our shots count. 

At lunch we caught up with Tim and Jase, who had both hooked and lost GTs in hand to hand combat in the coral. After their early GT excursion, they’d fished nearby but were yet to hook a bone. They related that as they were fishing deeper water, they struggled to sink their flies fast enough to get them in harm’s way. That afternoon, Andy and I caught a few more to finish the day with 10 bones landed, quite simply and epic and unusual day numbers wise.

cruising pet GT
We’d hatched a GT plan so the following day Andy and I teamed again. We walked a reef section over the lowering tide. The current was fierce, and I was nervous as we approached gutters that emptied the lagoon over the reef into pretty much the open ocean. We stalked through rough broken and live coral patches. With difficult overhead conditions, I just wasn’t seeing anything. We got back on the boat and spent the day poling for bones with some success.

Over the next couple of days we mixed the teams up and I fished with Jason and Tim respectively. Fishing with Jase and Tia our day began with a session casting not bommies in the lagoon, while waiting for rainstorms over the outer reef to clear. I managed a stroppy small blue trev. 

On our reef walk I spotted and cast to a large GT but stuffed up my cast and spooked him. I stood atop a small bommie and watched the fish randomly cruise towards me while my fly was hung up in the coral. The fish passed a rod length away, a large blue knee knocking finger trembling moment indeed! We lunched onboard and spent the rest of the day searching for GTs (no luck) before heading for a flat to find bones. With my last opportunity of the day I managed a large bone, identical in length to my previous large fish @ 26”, roughly 8lb of bone.

On what turned out to be our final guided day, Tim and I headed out with Varu. Again the day started with a reef walk for GTs, with nothing seen. Tim pulled a couple f blues from a gutter and then we spent some time working trigger fish. Little did we know that on Jason and Andy’s boat, there was a huge amount of excitement that Andy had rigged appropriately, cast for and landed a large trigger, a first for E2’s operation! Tim and I were privileged to be taken hunting crabs that afternoon and the boys soon secured us our dinner. We ate crab and parrot fish with veges for dinner and it was food fit for kings.

Celebrations that night went into the wee small hours…. And as we talked and celebrated so did the weather change. Wind blew in and he roofing iron on the house began to lift and flap.
The following morning we received the call we had expected, guiding was off. We took it easy preparing breakfast. Jase and Tim would take GTC across the channel and I decided to fish one of the iconic flats, involving a wade/swim, across a channel. I duly arrived. The wind howled and the only viable cast was a back cast off the flat into the depths. I felt it was the only option in the circumstances and was surprised to land 6 bones from 7 hooked. So while not classic bone fishing, it was my best day numbers-wise in this location.
So ended the fishing part of the trip… the socialising continued a while longer...

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Scouting, learning....

As I sit at my office desk I can't help but observe the flags on the harbour bridge drooping flaccidly.  Its calm and oppressively hot. Its the day after the holiday weekend. I'd spent Sunday morning on the land's largest harbour - and oh how different the weather had been then. The tides on neither coast had been ideal for me, so I'd chosen this mission as the preferable of 2 options. It hadn't started all that well with both batteries canning out before I'd left the river (despite meticulously charging them. Seems they both reached their life expectancy simultaneously), and continued to be less than ideal. Running this harbour with extensive flats and banks without a nav system (there are no channel markers) is ok on high water but it was halfway through a waning tidal flow so when I saw a ruffle ahead I realised that I was heading into a bank at ~20 kts. I had to lift the motor to float over the lip into the channel. I'd rounded the small headland at the river mouth to encounter a fresh Westerly right on the nose. This wasn't a 3 kt zephyr predicted; it was a fresh 15 kts at least. And... clouds obscured the sun from time to time.

Still, I got to the flat and rigged. I'd changed out the SA Sonar tip line which I find pretty dumpy for the Rio Flats Pro (overall a nice enough line but I find he running line to be diabolical to manage) int tip. A few practice shots showed it as quick to pick up and shoot on the Salt HD. Cool. The breeze continued. Over the next couple hours I scanned, ate my sandwiches, applied sun screen, scanned, drank water copiously, scanned... to no avail. Occasionally a mullet would broach. A group of dipping, screaming terns worked  deeper channel. I moved the boat over but the birds dispersed. A few casts. Not with much confidence. When the line shot through my fingers I missed the set. The fish was gone. Needing respite from the constant breeze I anchored in a few inches of water and lay on the deck listening to waves slapping the hull.

The logical option now was to follow the flooding tide up the harbour. In the distance I spied a jet black object - black ray surely? Bearing down with line laid out and fly ready the black object revealed itself as a mussel or oyster buoy. Stand down. At least I was now bothering the occasional eagle ray. Why aren't the big black kingi holding rays in this harbour?

But still. It would be churlish to complain; time on the water is infinitely preferable to being stuck indoors. And I took away some affirmations:

  • Refresh the battery supply at least once every 2 years (one of those batteries had given 10 years service)
  • Any wind with West in it sucks on this harbour; vis is effectively killed
  • No forecasting service is 100% trustworthy
Not sure if I'll be back on the local flats this season. With an impending GT/bonefish trip and then debilitating surgery following that, I may be done for this season.

Monday, January 21, 2019

2 coasts, precious resources & the matter of discretion

Imagine that you're an avid shallow water angler and for most of your life you've persisted to learn the habits of your prey. You work hard, you suss it out. You treat the area and fish with respect. Then one day, a social media post lifts the lid on your spot. Overnight, its inundated with anglers local and foreign, some wanting to make a name, some with commercial interests, most just taking advantage of NZ's free access to resources... and your spot is standing room only. Freedom campers dot the landscape. The idea of solitude is just that, an idea. The fishery is hammered. That's the power of social media.

This has happened. Recently my mate Jase was in our local fly sore when some Australians walked in and bemoaned the sheer hectic and frantic nature of the Collingwood fishery. There're 2 sides to the  arguments here, one is covered above - what was a hard discovered kingfish phenomenon was made very public and overnight everything changed forever, much to the chagrin of the locals who worked had to figure the fish out. The other argument is that it has improved the economy of a sleepy South Island town, and that economic betterment of rural NZ is a good thing. I don't buy that. I'd bet that most of the anglers who get in there live in old vans and survive on a can of beans a day, and that's hardly putting anything back into the economy. I could go on about value propositions and pricing for value, licenses etc but that's not really my concern. It would be fair to say that I've seen and heard enough to know that place isn't for me.

Personally I'd rather put in the hard yards, chase down leads, pore over Google Earth, talk to locals and figure out angles. Success is so much sweeter that way. And that's why I'll crop the hell out of photos to obfuscate backdrops where I think its necessary. Despite living in a city of 1.6 M people with ~150,000 registered boats of which a huge number are dedicated to fishing pursuits, there are still spots that are simply mind blowing. They probably wont stay that way in the long term, but I'm not willing to accelerate degradation via social media.

Rant over, cropped photos to come...

A couple of weeks ago, we had the opportunity to go on a voyage of discovery. I'd hunted pheasants and deer on the heads of this harbour and studied the flats and banks that I could see from high ground.... the place oozed potential. Google Earth showed some of the largest flats that you could hope to find and I am willing to bet that very few fly fishermen had spent much time here. I'd been thinking about this place for a long time and with both settled weather and a morning building tide, the time felt right. The trip north is always nice, before the crowds rise and block the roads. At the ramp only one other boat trailer was in residence. The tide was at its lowest ebb which is a really good way to get the feel of new waters, because banks and channels are obvious on low water. We ran out to near the harbour entrance, where the tide would flood onto exposed banks bringing in prey and predators alike... it felt fishy from the get go. What became obvious early was the extreme current, best described as a torrent. The Minn Kota quietly thrummed and we traversed a large flat between 2 banks... it looked an obvious place for a patrolling kingi.

As it happened we saw 3 fish over the next couple of hours, but none in casting range; they seemed to be motoring across the flat as opposed to cruising for food. As the banks flooded we were able to cruise vast flats which we did, getting right among the mangrove fringe.

Eventually a splash and massive wake alerted us to a nearby skirmish, which after a stalk revealed a nice king smashing a mullet. The mullet was stunned and the kingi circled, allowing us a few fly shots to no avail, as the beast was set on his dinner which he swallowed and cruised off, leaving a sizable wake. Soon after, we called it a day. I'll be back - there's still too much to discover in this spot.

The weekend gone, the boys all had plans. Tim was going out on Rene Vaz's new boat , Karl was heading out on a West Coast harbour and Jase was off after big browns. I had no real plans except at some stage to get out on the boat. Jase eventually changed his mind so would join me on a flats mission.

I picked him up at 05.30 from the ramp where Tim and Rene were launching and we headed off on our different courses. First stop for us would be a marker to get some 'blood letting' out of our systems... just a term for getting runs on the board before the more intense flats fishing that would follow. Its no secret around here that small kings hang around channel markers and consequently they receive their fair share of attention from stick baiters, jiggers, fly fishos and even divers. Even as we pulled in under electric motor power, another boat approached the marker. We quickly dealt to 3 fish before moving on, the other boat taking our place. I doubted they'd get much attention on their stick baits, rumbling around with outboard on puts kingis down pretty quickly. I headed to another marker where I'd seen a large fish last time around, but nothing was doing. The pole was decorated with a double gang hook and a desiccated piper ... a sure sign of a kingi haunt.

Leaving that spot we arrived at the outer rim of the flat we wanted to hunt, and set up. It was a good while before he first wake was spotted, and set a course to intercept the cruising fish. My first shot was met with a chase and eat, but I... trout struck. Bluddy hell, after all this time I still do it now and again.

Kingi wake

Jase made no mistake with his first cast to a cruiser which inhaled his piper fly. The fight was torrid in the shallows, culminating with the fish sitting tight under the boat. After a few minutes of to and fro I got the net under a fine specimen.

Over the next quarter tide we chased wakes made casts, had multiple refusals and all in all had a ball.

As the tide receded, the fish began to leave, and soon there was no sign of activity.

I retrieved the boat at the lowest of the tide's ebb, creating the need to wade through mud for the final few metres. The sun blazed overhead. I wandered along to the car park, town was drowsily busy, in a relaxed sort of way, and I wondered if back when the Florida quays were being discovered as fisheries if the ports had the same sleepy feel? Coming down after the intensity of flats concentration is a nice feeling, and fully relaxed I pulled the boat and headed home.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Back on the flats

Adam chugged by early; for me a sign that I'd made at least partially a good call to explore the flats for a cruising kingi. He's a kingi bloodhound and I liked the idea that he'd chosen the same area as I had. We had plenty of space without messing each other's chances up.

I'd had some good days and sessions on trout of late, but the weather had been against my plans to get out after the yellow-tailed beasts. The king tide had come and gone, the incessant winds not allowing any chance to take advantage of the higher tides.

Today I'd launched at dawn and set off on flat seas, thinking about the trips undertaken of late...

The previous trip had been a meat hunt, the family wanting smoked kahawai for Xmas and whilst I had taken the early option of hitting some convenient rocks looking for snapper and blooding the new Sage Salt HD #9 paired with an Abel Super 9, by mid morning I still had an order to fill. I don't really like the idea of fishing to order as it puts undue pressure on what to me is a calming pass time. I'd spent a short time looking for Mr Kingi and in the process had been lucky enough to see (twice!) juvenile snapper hitting small flounder swimming in the surface film. I had to double take.. I could clearly see the snapper but needed to get close to see the tiny flounder no larger than 4cm swimming just under the surface. Amazing. Leaving the estuary (no kings seen) my kahawai prayers were answered when a massive work up appeared, terns and mutton ducks dipping and swimming amongst the splashes created by kahawai slashing through white bait on the surface. A left over Crazy Charlie stripped fast just under the surface came up trumps and the #8 bent over as the line zinged out to he backing knot. Amazing fish - translated from Maori Kaha ("strong") wai ("water") the fish's more than apt name being "strong in the water" - the perfect fly rod fish. They hunt, they hit hard, they take line relentlessly, fight doggedly- perfect. And they are beautiful eating fish when bled, brined and smoked.


I was rigged, line stripped with rod in hand and exploring a point when Adam passed by, heading for he far side of the flat. His Wave Walk kayak is set up with a small outboard and makes pretty good headway. I chose a path around the near edge of the flat. The SW squalls and cloud weren't ideal. Far less than. My vis window was narrow, but I began to disturb rays which to me is a positive. It took over an hour to traverse the flat, by which time 6 people had began to wade out - given that 3 were dressed in day glow orange they sure weren't anglers. It took some time to figure that they were retrieving not just one but 2 large set nets, both unmarked and therefore illegal.  I was drawing closer to Adam who upped sticks and moved and soon after I spotted a pressure wave. With Minn Kota in hare mode I headed towards where I'd seen it then hit the spot lock, scanning, scanning, scanning. Finally I managed to get my crease fly on an intercept course and the fish engulfed it, running strongly. It was not a large kingi but none the less was he first for the year from the flats.

Photographed and quickly returned, the fish powered away. I still had time up me sleeve so decided on a new course of action to explore some new spots. The first, a lone marker pole looked a good target to throw to. I did and a large kingfish followed the fly without eating. Next cast hooked the pole and in the process of getting my fly back I spooked the whole area.

Next stop was an old haunt and it faithfully threw me a small fish on the piper fly.

Then it was time to chart a course home. Roll on better weather.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Damsels & mountains

Day one and the fish were behaving like little bastards. Big bastards actually. Tim had jumped off the boat and headed towards Greig. I'd asked Pesty if he minded me tagging along to learn from him. Heck, I even hassled him for flies and he'd handed me 3 of his beautifully crafted damsel nymphs. Our shore had a wee current flowing, the lake is part f the central north Island hydro scheme so more or less constantly, water is shipping.  In front of us, brownies worked. And so did we, focusing hard for the next few hours. I'd mimicked Karl's (Pesty) rig and tied on  double of his lovely damsels. I'd cast out into a wide bowl that had a couple cm's more depth and left he flies on the bottom. A cruising brown sucked in one of the flies and I broke him on the strike losing both flies... and that was he sum total of fish for morning. Karl landed a nice 'bow, but we agreed that it had been hard going. With Tim and Greig teamed up we were free to explore.

A riffle on the lake spoke to nymphing the weed beds under an indicator - "plonking" as its known around here. Karl had a pre-rigged rod at the ready. I rigged up a "plonking" outfit and tied on the garish snail imitation that Karl gave me - he assured me that with the thin veil of cloud overhead, the fish would pick up the snail fast. My first fish took 5 minutes to hook. The indicator slid under. Fish on. Our drift as relatively productive, culminating in an absurdly ft 6lb fish for me, and a stunning 9lb hen for Karl. The boy can play.

We pulled  few more 'bows over the next hour or so.

We stalked he edges in the afternoon but neither of us could get an eat. A catch up with Tim and Greig (the lake-master) on the lake edge. They'd struggled. Greig had taken a brown early, but that was it. Rob cruised over and joined us. He's another fish magnet. He'd nailed a good number of fish.

We decided to draw a line under the day and head back to base.

That evening's proposed trip to the Tongariro delta saw us all (me, Rob, Karl, Tim & Greig) in Karl's boat Full Mongrel, heading out. The SW wind blew an ugly chop and we all agreed to abandon the mission in favour of safety, returning to land dripping wet. Rather we fished the evening rise on the Tongariro.

Sunday dawned fine and still. We'd convoyed again, Rob towing his boat, and Karl dragging Full Mongrel. Greig was already on he water. We dropped Tim off with Greig. Pest and I decided to strip damsels over the weed beds, having sen a number of large fish in a spot as we arrived. On shore, Greig hooked and battled a large brownie; from the bow of the boat I had a stadium view of the fish which took him well into the backing. Finally he had it under control, only for the hook to pull when finally he had it in netting range.

The lake was eerily calm. Karl motored us to a quiet shoreline, and here we struck gold. First Karl took  fat brown that ate with flyline well inside the rod tip. With his fish netted, a golden bown approached and I managed an eat. This fish was as fat as a labrador with donuts. A little later and further along the shoreline,  I presented the fly multiple times to  fish hat refused to take. When he finally did, the slabby old jack rolled around on the surface before coming to the net. With a an abscessed eye, the reason for not taking was revealed... he simply couldn't see the fly.

The afternoon rolled and we called it at about mid afternoon. With 2 wonderful days of damsels and mountains behind us and the first of the summer weather, life felt pretty good.