Friday, December 23, 2016

Just the other day

Layla was in the truck. She'd assumed "her" pozzie in the front seat, so when Coch loomed in the headlights and I pulled over to pick him up, she wasn't exactly impressed. She got her defensive posture on, barked and then (pretend) grumped her way into the back seat. With gear and angler aboard, we set off. Jase had got in from a business trip including India (I-N-D-I-A "I'm never doing it again!") Cambodia and Vietnam. He needed fresh air after lung burning smog and debilitating heat had damn near done him in. He was probably more shagged than he let on.  We talked tackle, trips (both small and "adventures") and he gave me a run down on his recent back country escapade. The trip seemed brief and smooth and included a coffee stop and doggy toilet break.

Today we'd be trout spey casting, both with #4 Sage One 11'6" rods and scandi heads. I think I speak for both of us in saying that we're engrossed in all aspects of fishing double hand rods - for me certainly it has opened whole new horizons. The ability to fish the entire river, run, bucket or lie by reaching out and swinging a fly through where a single handed cast cant reach with big flies is just so tantalising that I can't ignore it. The hits are direct and sudden and even not hooking up if a fish misses the hook puts your heart firmly in your mouth. The other thing about swinging flies is that I tend to fish the water more carefully and it can take an (engrossing!) hour to fish a single pool.

Layla was along to chase quail, track roosters, guard us against cattle and make sure that the pools were safe for us by swimming through them.... Almost at our destination we devised a new plan that would see us covering new water which appealed to us both. Fog had greeted us earlier, a sure sign that a cracking day would emerge. Our trip took us to an outlook above the water we planned to fish and it looked really good. As we geared up, the hound pushed a pair of quail out of a small patch of brush. Above us a few more tick-ticked at us while a male gave his "mcquirter"call. We followed a track down to the water and after a couple of rounds of rock/paper/scissors (I lost again) I was despatched to the far side, the true right. We walked up our sides of the river respectively and entered at spots that allowed us to. I didn't fish my first run with the confidence that comes after a bite has been achieved (is my tip heavy enough? Is the fly the right size? Am I swimming it slow/fast enough?). Anyway I guess that my lack of confidence relayed to the fish and they kept their jaws clamped shut. At this point I should point out that this was the maiden trip for the rod. I was swinging a little olive number that to me felt right. At first I'd teamed it with a wee wet but my casting made that a problematic combo so I soon removed the smaller fly.

Moving down to where Jase was fishing his side of a heavy run that went down the middle of the pool I called out to him; he'd had 2 takes but not got a hook up. I had reasonably heavy cover on my side so was trying to get a reasonable poke going ... it looked and felt a bit soggy but I could at least get the fly out. I'd thrown a lot of slack upstream and the fly was working into a heavy seam when the whack came... that fish hooked itself and took my head and full running line (combined about 55m) on its first charge down the current, where it jumped, revealing a good fish. I was happy to play and land that one. Realising that the bank was steep and being on my own I couldn't safely photograph the fish without harming it, so back it went, a sweet shapely fish in the 4-5lb range.

We moved on down, combing the water. On my side I ran out of options so moved downstream while Jase had a coupe hundred metres of fishable stuff on his side. I found a Rapala lure with nasty treble tethered to a snag by a largish sinker. The lure went into my bag. Shortly after that I carelessly spooked a nice brownie.

Every turn and bend revealed new water, some great for swinging, some less so and after a while it came to me that packing the spey rod for the downstream journey and a nymphing outfit for heading back up would provide hours of fishing.

We left the river in the late afternoon. I felt the weight of the beating down sun as we wandered along. Summer is here.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

A brilliant sabbatical

January - November. Since I turned the first sod of blogging, I've never taken such a leave of absence from writing. Fact is, I felt stale and a bit jaded, and it was showing. I can only take my hat off to guys and girls who not only find new material to write about, but who make it fresh and exciting to read. I felt sort of in a blogging rut and so, hadn't even looked at my pages for a while - months in fact.

So, I took a peep, rolled back the covers and feel refreshed enough to start to put pen to paper again. So much new and exiting stuff has happened. Layla has progressed from 18 kg pup to 26 kg grown-up-pup with a full season of birding under her collar; god I'm so happy that she's had the opportunity to unleash her natural talent on ducks and pheasants. So much to say there.

Then there's the spey rod stuff; triggered by the need to beat the windy conditions in Argentina next year I've ended up stepping over the edge of a new discipline (with more to come) - urged on almost subconsciously by the irrepressible fly fishing machine that is Jason, with his bottomless fly boxes full of steelhead grabbing loveliness... I can promise you that while I haven't even cast 'scandi' stuff yet, swing flies Skagit style has added a huge new dimension of awesomeness to my fly fishing; prior to which I had no real idea existed. By day III of swinging flies I was catching fish regularly enough and even putting in 2 good casts per 5 fired, that's what I tell myself anyway.

So in the time between posts, flies have explored seams, buckets and coral outcrops. Trips for birds and fish have come and gone. The short days are becoming long days as we stretch towards summer and the decay of autumn and winter is replaced with freshness and new growth.

The  first catch

I didn't shoot Layla's first or even her second pheasant retrieve. The first, an overhead that Andrew took a microsecond before I pulled the trigger, landed in a heap 25 m away. Layla went out, pulled up abruptly and began to circle the bird barking at it. I realised that until that moment her experience of pheasants had been a dead bird stuffed in a sock and which lived in the freezer. Having figured out that the big orange yummy smelling bird on the ground was prey to be delivered to dad, that was it - all on. The first catch though - Mitch and I skirted a hillside of gorse patches while Craig worked above us. The cock bird that burst from in below Craig was angling away behind us all and it dropped at his shot. I pushed Layla in to the scrub where the bird fell and she disappeared. This was a bit tense for me as the pup was out of sight... I couldn't hear her... so when she came in a minute later with the bird in her jaws and handed it over it was cause for a moment of shared jubilation. Mitch had been there, seen it unfold and knew what it meant and I reckon he looked as pleased as I felt. For a first catch, it was a pretty good one.

Hucking for steelhead

It started in a suburban lake, surrounded by kayaks, yachties and with Jase calmly giving me feedback. 10' of T-11 off a 23' floating Skagit head dragging 50m (sorry for switching my metrics for emperials but that's what the line boxes say) of shooting line... attached to several hundred metres of GSP backing. Loaded on a 12'6" double handed fly rod. And at the pointy end a leader and fly. Jase made that outfit sing, his casts zinging out with line tugging against the reel as the cast terminated. I made floppy top hand heavy blundering overpowered/under-controlled hoofs. But I loved it. Soon we were off fishing the Tongariro, me with borrowed gear and flies, Jase firing cannon-like shots wiith his #6 Sage Method. The whole of that first day I may have got a short take, or not, but I cast, swung, hung up, lost or retrieved in a dreamlike state. As the fly swung it bumped, knocked and rumbled along the bottom, at any moment at the mercy of a fish ready to taake a swipe. Jase hooked and caught 2 fish that day and declared the fishing to be 'hard'. Day 2 and everything (not much!) I'd learned about casting Skagit style on day 1 was gone - I couldn't do it. Sure I could get line in the water but that was about it. Ironically I hit a fish that stayed on long enough for me to scream and dance, right before it spat the hook. If it was trying to say "give up, this stuff isn't for you" then it was already too late, I'm addicted to swinging.

The trigger lark

Last year I worked pretty hard to land sod all Trigger Fish on CXI. The fish I did catch impressed me with their muscular performance and bloody single-mindedness as they turned and switched on the afterburn.... err, Triggers are more akin to charging boars than graceful cheetahs but you get the point, they haul ass when disturbed. On my worst day I struggled with cross tide flow, poor overhead conditions and a strong wind. Every presentation seemed doomed by the most dreaded combination a flats angler could face. That day at least 20 fish spooked away when either the fly landed too heavily/too close/not close enough/behind/in front of/all round the target fish. Even the one in five cast that seemed to not create a ripple of panic was doomed by the strong current which inevitably lifted and swung the fly. Every angler has these days; I just sort of wished mine wasn't happening in the middle of the Pacific on the world's largest atoll. Late in the day a largish model turned, followed and ate the fly. It all came tight and then loose again real quick... the fish buggered off while I inspected the fly. The hook was crushed so that the point was bent back past the shank like a half pretzel......

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Hit out

Summer has started a bit slowly; or at least I've normally had my first kingfish trips underway in November at the latest. But, the tail end of the year got jammed up with all sorts of stuff - including of course some epic trout trips - so I've no real reason to complain.

We're 3 days back from almost a month in California, so that explains the lack of trips over the Xmas break.

Jase and I decided to hit the harbour mainly to look for snapper on the reefs, but should a kingi opportunity turn up we'd packed the big guns. A northerly played against the outgoing tide to make the water a bit lumpy but it was warm, sunny and pleasant. We chugged here and there checking out spots that had produced in the past, but bait was scarce although signs of kahawai or kings (I'm picking small kings) moving mid water showed on the sounder. We rounded the reef and mooched up into the shallows and began to cast into water ranging between 0.8 - 2m. The rip and breeze moved as at a pace that allowed us to cover the holes. I had a sink tip on and hooked a few dinks that pulled surprisingly well for their size. We fished in a most relaxed manner for a couple of hours until the tide flow stopped.

We decided to burn a bit of gas and look for kings. As we got into a channel I said to Coch "mate, I've never seen a king there but have a shot". A few casts later and he had a hit and got a good hook set. The fish charged off and so began 20 minutes of toing and froing. At first I called it for a kahawai as it ran high in the water column, but as it didn't do the trademark leap I changed my mind.

The fish began to circle to boat as we drifted into deeper water and at about the 10 minute mark came up to look at us.

We were looking at a well legal fish, no wonder the #7 was doing it tough. Again and again Jase raised the fish with as much pressure as the rod could exert, and again the fish would run down deep and circle. We began to drift into quite a busy channel so I was busy taking shots, watching for traffic and staying at the ready with the net. Finally the leader came into view and I was able to net the fish.

Boom! High fives all round! That'd been a tough bit of angling and a worthy fish lay in the net.

After that we decided to run out of the harbour to a reef that almost always holds fish. Nothing home there. Next we looked at some channel markers and both achieved hook ups but were each dealt to in short order. Really for that style of fishing I should've broken out the #11... but who cares. The run back into Auckland harbour against the setting sun never fails to relax me. I love that sight as much as any I've ever witnessed.

Summer fishing is here.