Monday, June 30, 2014

Fly fishing in winter

Yesterday I got a couple of texts and a call from TT; he and a mate had escaped from Rotorua and were searching for some clear water on the way home. As it happened, they were parked in a reserve right beside the creek that I would have nominated as a goer.

I suggested that they walk downstream for 45 mins and stalk back up looking for the big (for around there) browns that move up to spawn at this time of year. I spoke with him today; they'd actually moved onto another stream and he'd hooked into several fish within 100m of where they'd parked.

Reading international blogs like this one from the states, makes you realise how lucky we are to not have to put up with combat fishing. Especially at this time of year, when crowds move into the Taupo and Rotorua hot spots. Having said that, some of these creeks close on 30th June to protect the spawners, but there are still others that stay open and give options outside of fishing with the masses. From my perspective I'd really struggle to find the time to fish between April and July anyhow; but if I did I know where I'd be looking.


Our local fly fishing club, the Strip-Strike club is going from strength to strength.

Like any club there are guys who drive and guys who are along for the ride. I'm definitely riding; the guys behind the club are far more dedicated swoffers than I am, or at least they have perhaps fewer interests.... I'll bring the rods out again a bit later in the year when the pheasants go into safe mode.

In the meantime you can check out club happenings here.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Sneaking in a final quickie

Sounds like a sordid rendezvous really, doesn't it? That's probably what SWMBO was thinking... by now she's at the end of her tether and praying for some season or other to end.... I didn't have the heart to break the news about the upcoming quail hunt to her. Ooops. (In deference to her, I actually opted out of getting up super early this morning to chase geese, I knew that would be a bridge too far and wouldn't be viewed as obsessive hunting; rather it would be considered a major piss-take. Although, I did actually try to get permission; that just led to a meltdown of reasonable proportions).

But Saturday afternoon was reserved for a final quick hunt in Northland on the Green Pond. I'd arranged to get there early to help Matt weigh and sort bier sticks; we'd had approx. 80kg of duck/goose/pork/turkey etc processed into bier sticks, which are far more easily utilised than salamis. I got to Matt's at 2.15 to find him mowing grass for our blinds, so we grassed up and got the blinds and decoys ready.

Soon Chewy and Tony rolled in and we got our preps more or less completed. At this point I have to say that we were hoping to shoot perhaps half a dozen ducks; since the rains had come the birds had simply spread out all over the district, overnighting on refreshed ponds and feeding out in paddocks on an ample supply of worms. So as we sat around chewing the fat and relaxing the talk turned to items other than hunting.. and probably included the usual amount of smack.

The lads were pretty amped about the goose hunt in the morning; our Kaipara efforts this year have had pretty lean results at best...

The first ducks caught us sitting out of our blinds, they just zoomed in and set into the stiff breeze; we upped at fired and the birds tumbled.

Well mine didn't, I got a shot away and the gun appeared to jam. I cleared the empty that was half ejected and thought nothing of it, even though I'd never had a hang like that before. The next pair in were spotted a ways off, Matt took the hen and I blotted out the drake. He fell belly up and I could see a bright band on one of his orange legs. I had to clear the empty again, and right then I knew I had a problem. I tried manually ejecting the live shell from the breach, and while the shell would pick up the ejector wouldn't throw it. Damn. but I suppose after 10 + years and tens of thousands of rounds of faultless service something had to give.

We weren't getting inundated with birds but the hunt was cool and a fitting end to our collective Northland seasons, especially as right on dark a heap of birds were up. They'd be safe for another 10 months.

After picking up we lit a fire, sat around and got the goose gear ready and packed. As I drove off I wished I could be there in the morning; but to me, the broken gun seemed a sign that it just wasn't meant to be.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Post Winter Solstice

I have to admit to feeling a bit hung-over as I rolled out of bed. The guys were awake and after a few ibuprofen and coffees the day began to look up for me. We'd have a good pack of hounds to work over again, with Mitch having Brutus and Ruby, Mick running Heidi, Craig and Max and the Tony/Nera combo rounding out the mix. I guess I'm lucky to be able to hunt with these guys and their dogs; without them we'd never turn over so many birds and I miss having a dog, it's been a long time without now. We ate a solid breakfast and then headed out. At the get out point the dogs were released with the usual doggy mix of running around, pissing and burning off excited energy before being whistled in. We headed up the track and then split into 2 parties, Mick, Craig and their hounds heading one way while Mitch, Tony and I moved to cover a scrubby escarpment that would take us around to a bush edge and then down into the paddock above the swamp.

Almost immediately shots came from the other party. On our side a cock flushed out of reach, and then a couple of hens moved. Eventually Tony and I headed down through the bush while Mitch pushed up and over the escarpment. At this stage I'd not seen a bird, rather Tony had told me what he'd seen when our paths converged. While Mitch took a path directly around the swamp and up and over the hills directly ahead, Tony and I moved around the bush edge and up to our stop off point atop a high hill overlooking a pond area. We watched Mitch, Bru & Ruby work the area beautifully and when Bru locked up we had a grandstand view of Ruby pushing out a hen bird which presented nicely. Awesome work and awesome to watch. Now we were ready to tackle the "100 acre" - a huge area of grazing land, scrub and manuka that birds always hold in.

Being at the very back of the farm, it's less visited than other parts of the farm. We'd move through our part, then enter a cavern through a bluff and emerge in a neck leading to a large clearing where we'd meet with Mick & Craig. I love this part of the farm, as you need to enter the head of a valley then move down through prime pheasant country to reach the bottom. I've never actually shot a bird in there but they are always present. The biggest issue is that in entering the top of the valley you are in plain sight, and the pheasants can see you coming... this time was no different and a cock busted 200m ahead of us. Mitch worked the left hand margin, Tony went down the guts and I kicked around the manuka on the right. A bird erupted in the small creek at the bottom of the gully and Tony tracked then smacked him, a lovely wild bird.

 After the retrieve we moved around the corner and down into the cavern. At the other end the dogs got all birdy but pushed nothing out as we moved over swampy ground and then in the clearing ahead we could see Mick and Craig sitting in the sun with their dogs. Looked like a damn good idea to me so while Mitch worked his dogs up and around, Tony and i went over to compare notes with the guys, have a drink and a quick snack. Mitch caught us up and we snapped a few shots, talked sh1t (really? how much smack can a group of guys talk in a weekend? - lots!) and then Craig got us motivated to get on our feet.

The next valley is scrub filled, with monuments of broken rock and small escarpments, and full of sun - a real little pheasant haven. Mick, Mitch and I opted to work it through while Craig and Tony moved up to the ridge line. Soon Heidi pushed a bird and Mick's shots rang out, bur Mr. Rooster had got the jump. We continued through and again the Mick & Heidi crew pushed a bird, again the shots rang out but this time as the bird roared up and out we could see something wasn't right with him; the wings beat fast but more erratically as he tried to clear the ridge and then he just stopped in mid air at least 100m past where he was shot. Cheers rang out - we would loved to have got that on film. Heidi moved up to retrieve the bird and then we searched a bit to find the bull track through the bush to get out of the valley. Emerging on the other side we found ourselves in a small grotto in the sun and it sure as heck looked birdy... then we heard a bird erupt from the ridge 100m ahead of us - Tony & Craig's dogs must have pushed it - Mick saw the bird first and called to itch and I that it was coming. He was as fine as any driven bird as I've seen, fast and high and in the blink of an eye we'd let 5 shots go (it sounded more like 2). The bird sailed past us leaving feathers drifting down like small snowflakes. We had to back track through the bull track, emerging back into the broken rock valley where the lads set the dogs to work to find where the bird had landed. After 10 minutes Ruby was going mental up in the bush, then Bru went completely quiet, a sure sign that he was locked up on a bird. Ruby charged in and all hell broke loose with cackling and wing beats. We could see the dogs charging through the bush and then Bru emerged holding the tailless cock bird. Mitch killed him and we began to lay claims; I knew I'd hit him, so did Mitch, and with dog involvement I was happy with my quarter share of a literally massively heavy bird. For Tony and I the hunt was over as we needed to be getting away; and with 4 birds bagged for the morning's effort we were pretty pleased, especially as the still warm conditions made for difficult hunting. as if a dramatic finale was required, when we got back to the cars no less than 6 cocks and a hen launched from the outcrop above the cars, sailing away out of range and free from harm across the paddocks. Did I say free from harm? Just because Tony and I had to leave didn't mean the rest of the boys wouldn't be hunting that afternoon....

Thanks lads, ripper weekend.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The shortest day

Tony was telling me about a Water Oak or some other deciduous tree near his house that has finally decided the time is right to drop it's leaves; my Liquid Ambers have only just done the same and now guys are talking of seeing clutches of ducklings around. At home I've burned barely half a metre of firewood when normally at this time of the year I'd be eyeing up the 2nd metre. We've had a couple of chilly snaps, but even Ruapehu hasn't had enough snow to get the ski bunnies that excited. The drive back through the Waikato yesterday afternoon revealed pretty good grass growth. She's warm. Too warm to have gone past the shortest day already - but we have. Tony and I had headed south on Friday evening, with Nera aboard in the back providing the excited dog sounds. The trip was pretty good and we made reasonable time with not too much traffic holding us up, and despite the agonisingly little amount of sleep I'd got the night before I was reasonably amped up and with a V onboard I felt pretty on to it, even enough to take out a few errant possums on the Te Anga road (which resembles a series of switchback corners. Arriving at the Shanks Ranch we found Andy in residence with fire blazing, beer in hand and French WOOFers hiding in their bedroom. We got settled in quickly, talked crap until midnight and then hit the hay. I was surprised to wake up at 7, more surprised that we managed to cook a breakfast, inhale it with coffee and tea and be in the field by 9. As we ate we watched a large cock pheasant sun himself on an east facing face. He fed here and there before disappearing across the boundary fence.. It had rained on and off overnight, with an especially heavy shower just prior to dawn. Even so on the drive in we were stunned to see no fewer than 3 melanistic cock pheasants along the way. They seem to be able to just disappear post release so our return has always been low. As we arrived at the get out spot, a cock bird was seen in the paddock below us on the edge of a puddle - a melanistic cock bird! We quietly got out of the car, grabbed guns and moved to trap him.... he simply ran into a pile of scrub so Tony ran back to the car to let Nera (his lab)and Keira (Andy's spaniel) out. I ran down to cut the bird off from flying back into the bush and then the dogs arrived, Keira hit the scent and smashed into the cover and the bird went up. Up went the Merkel for my first shot with her, boom, and we were on the board! My jubilation was a bit short lived as my shot had gone closer than was safe or comfortable to Andy... pause for thought there as that was an avoidable situation and I've no desire to be involved in a Dick Cheney type incident.

Melanistic bird, first blood for the Merkel

We regrouped and moved down a gully, straight away Nera hit a scent and pushed out a bird which Tony simply smashed. A brilliant start - 10 minutes in and 2 birds to hand. Further down we hunted a large rocky bush covered outcrop which holds birds, and out from under a snug dry log 5 hens in a row popped. The cock would be around somewhere... we decided to move further round while Andy put Keira up and over the outcrop. No sooner had he moved that Nera charged in and pushed a rooster out of a crack in the rocks. Andy was under a tree and tried desperately with his gun not at his shoulder to hit the bird firing twice, I swung out in front instinctively and dropped him just before he reached the safety of the trees. 2 shots, 2 birds with the new gun... I began to rethink the 'need' to put a pad on the little Merkel. We carried on with the the surround strategy and while Tony moved forward, Andy and I moved around behind the outcrop, Andy pushing Keira in while I took a path up a ridge trough the trees to the right of the outcrop. I'd moved well forward when a hell of a kerfuffle of cackling went up from atop the rocks and stones. I was completely unsighted but knew the bird was heading high past me and when he sailed into view I managed to snap a long shot away which blew feathers out and a follow up which took his wingtip. the little 1 oz #5 Clever loads are doing great things on pheasants for me this year, both driven and walked up. The bird sailed down into the middle of a paddock, hit the ground, rolled into a ball then burst out and began to run. I called out to Andy to bring Keira and then we set off in pursuit. The bird had a 60m lead on us as Keira hit the scent... I tried to slow the bird with a long range swatter which served to make the bird duck his head... as Keira raced in he reared up cackling and she took him down perfectly, before delivering the bird to Andy.

She's a cracker wee dog and a reflection of of the time and effort that Andy's put in. By now I was on cloud 9. Barring the swatter shot I'd fired 4 shots with the new gun for 3 birds, a limit. With the breeze rising and skies darkening we continued on and soon Nera had her chance to prove her quality... Andy had fired on a bird high up a ridge opposite Tony and I, while we worked Nera along the river under heavy canopy cover to see if she could push a bird for Tony. We could hear his wing beats long before he arrived (seconds at least). As the bird came over he came crashing down across the river Nera marked him perfectly before launching herself into the swollen waters of the creek. The banks here are steep and muddy. Nera launched herself up the opposite bank, found the bird and launched herself back in. As she came parallel to us she swam past the get out point heading upstream, before swinging back downstream and coming back to us.

Nera with bird 1....
... and bird II

Tony got the bird and Nera leaped up the bank - while we relived the retrieve the lab pushed out another cock bird that was holding tight 15 yards downstream. Tony dropped him within 10 yards of where the previous bird had fallen, and once again Nera launched herself for an almost identical retrieve. Cracker all round! We rejoined Andy and worked a series of gullies and warm looking spots out of the wind that had held birds in the past; the only return being a pukeko for Andy. So then up the rear boundary and down and around to the car and by the time we were ready to head back for lunch we'd put 7 in the bag. There's simply no denying the spectacular beauty of that part of the world, equal parts spooky hollows carved out by water, magnificent native forest, craggy hills and scrub faces.

Just a part of the world to go and lose yourself; I know that all the boys appreciate being able to roam and hunt the property and feel privileged to do so. The weather had played well for us, with approaching rain suddenly pushing away with a change of wind; and the wind was of enough strength to help cover our noise. A simply great morning in the field.

Tony, Andy, Nera, Keira and Jay

Brag board

Mick had said he'd arrive at 2 so we waited until before putting lunch together - as it happened he wasn't hungry and none of us were in a real hurry so it was about 3 before we were back out of the vehicles and on the next hunt. We'd decided to hunt 'the swamp' which is the area close by our second release pen (no longer used) and which holds birds beautifully. It's not super easy to hunt as approaching it from any direction puts you in plain sight of the birds and the escape routes are numerous. With Mick and Heidi we had extra dog talent so we decided to split up and work the area approaching the ridge above the swamp and soon a shot boomed out; the Nera/Tony combo had produced again and he was rapt to have taken his limit bird.

Nera had a bit of a job to find and retrieve this one, but soon appeared up the track with bird in mouth, the original happy lab. We followed the track down to the swamp and Tony and I waited while Any and Mick moved around to the right to work the swamp over. Soon birds began to flush but only hens and it wasn't until Nera pushed in from our side that a cock went up; out of range of all the guns unfortunately. We worked the bush edges away from the swamp and finally Keira pushed a very high bird out that Andy wasn't able to take; soon though Mick and Heidi put a bird down. We walked back to the cars with darkness falling, and said goodbye to Andy who was heading home. My legs felt like dropping off so getting back to find Mitch and Craig in residence and the fire going was like arriving home. The French WOOFers emerged and soon with the fire roaring, beer and wine flowing and a meal had sat around a big table the usual banter began to flow. I increased my foreign dialect by learning new and vile French cuss words; the group talked crap and other stuff until delayed coverage of the rugby test began. By the time that was over and we'd won the day I was shattered and Tony looked the same. Bed never looked or felt so good... lights out.

The shortest day had been dragged out into a bloody big and brilliant day.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Season's shots

It's my first full weekend home for a while, so have been sorting out a few bits and pieces. Organising photos and what now; here's a selection from duck season 2014, and the build-up.