Monday, July 31, 2017

Blue skies and freezing days

Last weekend it rained. And rained and rained. The Tongariro River got up to a peak of 370 cumecs – it averages mid 30’s in normal flow, so this would signal major runs of spawning trout. My mate Mike was making his first serious visit to the river on what would be falling but nicely coloured water. And his results were great, photo after photo arrived on my cell phone. I’d almost made up my mind to join what would be a weekend crowd and do some combat fishing but then I got a message from Craig – a working bee had been called to get some pretty major work on the hut done. We needed to insulate and Gib the interior walls, get holes for the plumbing done and a few other bits and pieces. My job was to cut the roof tiles back as the overhang was too much. The tiles are Decromastic – tin with grit embedded in the paint. I had to cut them by hand with snips… and severely underestimated what was needed to get this done. A couple hours later I was done; in the meantime the other lads had lined 60% of the interior. It’s starting to look like a habitable hut. Earlier in the day Layla had taken a major shock from an electric fence and ran back to the truck and cowered there. I brought her back and she spent the morning shivering under the hut. After a while I got her out and kept her in the sunshine, played some fetching games and she brightened up, but I’d hoped that we’d be able to get a walk in for a pheasant, and that looked to play out. 

Mud. Putting the diff locks to good use

This has been one of the hardest seasons for us as the wet cool summer had led to the birds being smaller than usual at release time and they’d quite simply disappeared into the bush rather than stay in the farm proper, so I wasn’t expecting too much other than Layla having a decent run. We said farewell to the other guys (they’d be staying on at Craig’s) and set off. Layla perked up and got back to her vibrant self. We worked along the river towards an old bridge – Craig’s dad had given me the lowdown on where he’d seen some bird hanging out so we were heading in that direction. When Layla hit the scent she stopped and her nose hit the ground. I closed up on her as she pushed into a blackberry patch immediately above the river. A bird flushed and as it appeared I saw it was a cock flushing directly away from me and across the river. The 1 oz load of #5 caught him flush and he dropped into the paddock across the river. Layla swam across, struggled up the steep bank, located and picked the bird and then breasted the strong current back across to me. She delivered the bird to hand. I was really pleased for her, it was solid work and she’s really come on nicely in her second season. The rooster himself was interesting; with pale, almost white wing shoulders he was quite a trophy and carried one of last year’s wing tags making him a special bird. 

White wings

Ahead of us the resident pukekos made a dash for the bush line at the base of the hills running along the northern edge of the farm. Pig rooting told the story of wild porkers coming out of the bush at night. Layla was working hard and covering territory searching for pheasant scent and I felt that at any second a rooster may boost. The sun was dropping towards the brow of the hills as we moved on. I’d decided to take a circuitous route that would see me coming back towards the old bridge with enough daylight to get back to the truck before night and the temperature fell. We worked through blackberry thickets but I was now hunting in the shade and it didn’t feel like a place where a rooster would tuck up so we moved down towards the river where the evening sun still provided warmth. Immediately we began to find more game, first a hare broke cover and I took him with my second barrel. We worked further when Layla hit a big scent and broke away from me – the rooster hit the air 30 m out from me with trees in the way and over the river so shooting would have been futile. I knew that would be the last chance so we picked up the pace. As the sun began to set the light was incredible with a pink tinge. We are so blessed to be able to hunt on Craig’s farm that sometimes I just pinch myself. Back at the vehicle I dried Layla down, fed her, ate some sandwiches, and drank an energy drink. We drove into the dusk.

Dusk. Layla with her prize.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Rules are there for a reason

Its been a while since the last goose hunt. The call had come in from a farmer friend that canadas were on his new grass and he wanted them gone. The week leading up was punctuated with massive southerly storm fronts bringing 160 kph winds in some places and carrying sleet, snow and rain. The birds had been arriving mid morning in good numbers. I was a bit worried that we'd be hunting mid moon rather than on the dark - one of the irrefutable goose hunting rules is that on the dark moon they wont fly at night to feed so will travel and feed by day.

We met early at the usual gathering point and got out to the farm. Because the ground was sodden we'd only be able to get gear in by quad so we travelled light, with a couple of dozen decoys. We got to the site and it was more a marsh than a paddock. My fears came true as 2 mobs of canadas left, disturbed by the quad and our head lamps. With the settled weather post storm they'd obviously resumed night feeding. Our only location option was to set up on a dryish berm, prior experience told us that setting up layouts in mush just leads to big rings of footprints around the blinds. We got setup and then the wait began.

A swamp, not a paddock

A few geese moved early, but not near us. A group of greylag geese watched us from a couple of hundred metres away, nervously shuffling around.

The highlights:

1. I got a good amount of sleep during the day
2. There were truckloads of mallards trading - we may have a good duck hunting option next season
3. No geese ate the farmers grass that day
4. Layla chased down the greylags and scored the only goose for the day

Leggo! The goose was returned unharmed
Next time I hunt geese, there will be no moon.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Dirty old mid-weeker

Down at the river, Pete showed me a neat little run below the Lower Bridge Pool on the Big T. Surprisingly given the number of cars in the car park no one was in the run, so I went at the head and Pete went in halfway down. I'd put off meetings and headed down on the back of reports of terrific fishing post a fresh that had blown through the river. I'd left home at 4, arrived in Turangi @ 8 and had gone straight over to Pete's & Sherrie's place. He had the day off and no commitments in the morning, so we'd be able to fish together until after 11, then I'd be on my own for the afternoon. At their place I offloaded her royal blackness the pot licker (Layla), who'd stay with Sherrie and play with her boyfriend Kaiser for the morning.

The 12'6" #7 is certainly a different proposition to the 11'6" #4. I hadn't fished the big rod since Argie in April. I'd rigged it with a 475 gn skagit head, 10' of T-14, 3 or 4' of 15lb leader and a small olive dumbbell eyed AI. The Lower Bridge held its share of anglers and given its reputation as a fish producer, that was no wonder. From time to time when I looked upstream one angler or another would be hooked up. Pete got into his work straight off. We were on river right and with a downstream breeze we both adopted the double spey. He was using Jase's Sage Method #6 and seemed to be able to pump casts out with ease. I had troubles. I always have troubles. I needed to slow down and find that winning rhythm which when it comes makes life so easy. We'd worked our way down for about 40 minutes when I got a cast to hit the far bank, then decided to add a slip loop to the line that I gripped in my right hand on the rod handle. I was farting around when I realised that the line had come up tight and a fish thrashed the surface in the heavy current. The hook didn't grip. Pete looked around as I was clubbing myself on the head - I never learn.. the experts say that you'll catch fish on the worst cast, as long as you work the fly properly. Dicking around mid swing is not working the fly properly. We fished on. I was in the bottom third of the run as Pete fished the tailout when the line bump-bumped and I lifted. The fish took off downstream as they do when they hit a swung fly. The fight was quite protracted as the fish didn't want to come out of the current but eventually the side strain told. Pete netted a short, fat and silver specimen and my day was made.

Pete finished up and moved downstream while I swung the tailout. I received no further bumps and so reeled in to move down and join him. We'd used our morning's time allotment so it was back to his place for a bowl of soup. Sherrie had excelled and the bacon bone soup was superb. I said goodbye to the folks and headed upstream with a tired black lab in tow. We got out at Admiral's Pool and as I set about getting geared up I heard a kerfuffle in the bushes. I called Layla in and she returned with a dirty old bush chicken which she delivered to hand perfectly. I let the scraggy old bird go and finished my preps. A look into Admiral's from the cliff above revealed 2 rafts chugging around, under which the normally serene and untouchable fish were darting. I noted extra colour in the water and the flow was definitely up - perfect for fishing. Below the Admiral's Pool is a sweet little run of perfect swinging water and I anticipated hitting at least a couple of fish. I fished through twice to be sure, changing the tip for the second run through. I could feel the thrum of the tip and bumping journey of the fly which snagged up now and again so I felt pretty confident... but no, nothing was home. I decided for the final stint that a couple of hours in the Mill Race would be in order. It looks like perfect swinging water but between the boys we've really struggled to unlock its secrets, and maybe that's why we keep returning. My sum total of fish taken from it before today had been one; Pete told me he'd never caught one there and Jase has had very few.

On arrival at the head of the pool I saw an old timer with nymph gear 3/4 of he way up, and he was hooked up. I moved down to greet him and he told me that the pool was "full of fish" as this was his 4th. I helped him land a beautiful little fish and then asked if he'd mind if I started below. He just needed space to water load his back hand cast (the bush is close and tall bank left of this pool) which I gave him. Looking at the pool I realised that its quite a different beast in higher than normal flow, with much more pronounced holding water river left. The water was up a good few inches and I needed to comb it thoroughly. As I swapped my head out for the Airflo F.I.S.T (Floating/Intermediate/Sink Tip) which hangs lower in the water column and slows the swing down, I looked up and the old timer was into another fish. He was fishing the seam perfectly. I needed to cast across the main flow and bump the fly through holding water on the far side then comb mid stream and down below me. My casting had got better as the day wore on and I was able to reach across off both shoulders, allowing me to throw a cast perpendicular to the current and then one at 45 degrees with each step down the pool. The F.I.S.T has one effect that's a bit strange - it 'muffles' the feel of the tip and fly bumping. The hit when it came took me by surprise as it was downstream as the fly came through the slow riffle water. I played out a small perfect rainbow hen and when I glanced up the old boy was leaning into another fish, he seemed to be having a pretty good day. My next strike was 20 minutes later (the old guy had landed by my count by now, his 7th fish) and first cast with a new fly - how often this happens! Because the hit was in the first 10 seconds of the swing the contact was direct and thumping and the fish threw itself skyward time and again (the old boy was leaning hard into another fish and Layla was offering him support) and line ripped from the reel. This was a protracted battle and it took me a good while to get the fish under control (meanwhile the old guy was panting hard) before bringing ashore a solid jack in perfect condition.

I put down the rod and waded up to the other dude who was in the final stages of catching an eye-popping rainbow hen - I estimated her to be in the 5-6 lb range and a real cracker! I netted her and the old boy released her. I reckon that was his 8th fish from the run, a real purple patch!

I swung the rest of the pool for no more takes and then as the other guy had moved I walked up to swing the water that he hadn't touched (his coverage had been limited by the shrubbery, not that it seemed to matter). Nothing came to the fly. With the sun low in the sky it was time to head off. I was pretty pleased overall, every day on the water offers new lessons and that's what matters the most.

Mid weekers should be more commonplace.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Hills and sneaky birds

We'd have a decent crew and a large pack of dogs for our annual pheasant chasing sojourn to the beach. 6 hunters, 7 dogs and 4 quad bikes meant that we would be able to cover plenty of territory and because we're now pretty familiar with the lay of the land we'd be able to do a thorough job of hunting it.

Dog Squad

Matt and I arrived the morning after the rest of the guys and were soon met by Richard and Tony on quads. We got our gear loaded on a trailer and covered it with a tarp, a fresh southerly brought with it cold rains - as the Met Service guy said "the door to the Antarctic fridge is open". Cold winter days can be the most beautiful when sunny and glorious, but the grey skies and showers heralded anything but glory. The ride down to the hut was a little hairy as the track was mire. Quads were the only means of getting in there and without them we'd be stuck in no time flat. Soon we were unpacked and got ready to hunt the first field. Layla and I took the high side of a bank, and moved in line with Tony & Matt towards Chewy, Richard and Travis. We soon bumped a hen which shot skywards on the updraft created by the bank, then doubled back over Matt & Tony. It would have been a truly sporting bird if she had been a he.... the first shot came soon after as a cock bird boosted out of a rushy area, and Matt was on the board.

The area we hunt is simply stunning, tall green grassed hills, bushy valleys and an outlook over a broad harbour. The air is clean, the views magical and we are so very privileged to be able to access the farm. The fact that its a pheasant haven is simply a wonderful bonus, albeit the central reason that we go there. We hunted hard into the afternoon and as sometimes happens, the birds flew towards one hunter. Matt soon had his limit and then acted as dog controller for the rest of us.

We pushed an area of swamp, high rushes, general shit and spikey stuff where Layla got hot and pushed a large peacock, my shot took him down and Layla got in and scragged him back to me. Pheasants and peafowl are not the best flatmates but as Chewy and I did the hard yards in the thick stuff we still managed to bump hen after hen pheasant. The only cock bird I saw from my constricted zone flew low back and escaped. At least the weather had cleared, which would be more conducive for the dogs to scent pheasants.

Late in the afternoon the boys called it, but Chewy and I wanted to work an area that had given us chances in the past so we hopped on a quad and moved on. I soon had a call on the radio that he'd bumped birds from an open face, and they'd flown wild across an open marsh into a pine tee belt 300m away. I moved across a causeway and got into the trees. Layla quickly sparked up and bumped a hen and then my chance of the day came when a cock jumped and flew directly at me before veering uphill between tall pine trunks. I shoulda had him. 9 times out of 10 I woulda had him. This was that 10th time and I blew it, snap shooting instead of waiting for him to clear the trees into an easy shooting area. Layla gave me that look. We all know it - "boss, you blew it..."

4 birds hung from the hut's veranda when we got back and darkness soon fell, and stars filled the sky, truly a sight to behold. We ate our meal in front of the "TV", an iPhone which Matt had hooked to his Sky TV account so we could watch the All Blacks play the Lions. The match was a fantastic display of power and precision, and the northern hemisphere team were comprehensively outclassed.

Sunday and we were up at sparrow's to watch the America's Cup matches and then after a solid breakfast we were up and out. A beautiful clear day beckoned and we made the most of it, hunting out some gullys that we'd left alone the prior day. Tony managed a bird early and then I picked one up a bit later, but again the pheasants seemed to be a step ahead of us. Every bird I got close to that day put shrubbery between me and him.

Richard and I decided to do the final walk of the day, involving a steep uphill climb then following the farm boundary. We passed a small copse of trees that looked too good to ignore, so I made my way over. Layla got birdy but I couldn't put her in as the copse was deer fenced off, so I gave one of the posts a kick - a rooster launched and I missed him twice..... doh.

My legs told me about those hills for the next few days.....