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......