Monday, September 11, 2017

Blown out

Jase and I had planned to swing the Whanganui River over the weekend, as spring is the season of plenty where the fish feed heavily and regain condition lost over winter. Spring is also the season where we receive the most rain - although in a year like the one we've had its hard to believe that we get anything but constant rain. We got into the hut late on Friday night, and soon after the rain set in. It was ferocious. The river below the bluff on which the hut sits roared. The temperature dropped and soon I was feeling quite uncomfortably cold as the hut is not insulated and we hadn't put the fire on. I got up several times to answer the call of nature and put another layer of clothing on. It was a pretty uncomfortable night all in all, and I woke at 7. We grabbed coffee and salmon on grilled buns, made lunches then rigged up. A 10 minute walk saw us at the river where we quickly turned around - a roaring mass of chocolate milkshake greeted us. We quickly made a few calls, threw our gear in the truck and headed for Turangi - whilst there'd been decent rain in the foothills around the Tongariro it had been nothing like what had fallen our side of the ranges. The Tongariro was running high but our mates described the river as "coloured but imminently fishable". We got to Pete's place and picked him up, dropped Layla off for a day with her mate Kaiser and headed down to look at the river. We found that a preferred run was unoccupied so headed down. While Pete and Jase got setup in a tail out of a large slow pool, I headed down to the next run. The fish were certainly moving - it seemed that every time I looked upstream one or the other was hooked up. It took a while for my first hit, which didn't hook up, but after that I was able to land a couple of beautiful fish and get smoked by a couple more.

By mid morning the rain started in earnest and sticks and debris began to come downstream and the water coloured up. I moved up above Pete and waded out; immediately the leak in my waders made itself felt. Pete left the river to answer the call of nature and immediately 2 people moved into his spot! Seriously, the utter lack of etiquette in this river is appalling. Pete gave the interlopers a curt serve and moved down. I soon hooked up and in short order landed 2 fish and lost a 3rd that jumped in front of the chief interloper.

By now the water was tinged brown and still rising so we left and went in search of coffee where we ran into local guide Dave Wood. He'd put his clients into numerous fish in the morning and was on his way home. As we spoke a black cloud loomed and hail pelted down - we scuttled back to the truck and headed upstream. It wasn't any better up there but we jumped in anyway for a quick shot at the Blue Pool (which was greeny brown) before pulling the pin and heading back to Pete's where I was happy to stand in front of the fire and dry off my soaked leg and socks. The drive back over 'the Punga' to the hut was slow but ok, and still it rained. We got the fire going and hung our coats and waders up to dry and the hut rapidly warmed up. Laya lay in her crate nice and warm and we ate venison slices followed by duck/goose/veni sausages, salad and oven fries. I was exhausted and hit the hay early. I awoke at 1 am to heavy rain and again at 3 - it was suddenly very cold... I was up at 6 to news that it had snowed in Turangi. We packed quickly, tidied and locked the hut and hit the road. I'd told Pete that we'd drive slowly in anticipation of black ice. Sleet was falling as we headed up the range and that shortly turned to snow, so we were reduced to a crawl. At the summit we found a small car parked, being blanketed with snow. The couple in the car were tossing up whether to progress or go back - we pointed out that the conditions were likely to be the same both ways so they said they'd follow us as we crawled forward.

Photo credits: Jason Cochrane

Another car joined our small convoy and we snaked our way down the far side of the range and soon the snow falls cleared and we were back into dark drizzle.

Breakfast at Pete and Sherrie's was awesome and warmed up we grabbed Pete's gear and headed off. Our nominated spot was occupied so upstream we went. The river was a beautiful hue of green and had dropped markedly. A couple of guys were already in the tail out we wanted to fish so Pete and I headed up to the Whitikau pool which looked fishy but where neither of us garnered a hit and then the Fence Pool which marks the upstream fishing limit. The fence is an ugly back swirling mess that ate 2 of my flies and so we quickly moved on. On the way back downstream I dropped into the Reef Pool while Pete carried on. I was getting a really good swing and after a while hooked a small fish that swam upstream before throwing the hook. The next fish handed me a caning of a lifetime - it hit, ran out my running line, continued into the backing and in the current with no means of following, I knew that I was doomed. I tried to put pressure on but the leader broke and I was left wondering what if... winding and winding that line back in I had to stop for a little rest.

I caught up with Pete and Jase down at the Blue where Pete reported that he'd had a hit and Jase had caught a couple. I decided to kill time by following them down and Jase soon nailed another fish. His efficient casting makes my agricultural efforts look clumsy. But as long as there's a fly in the water there's hope.. speaking of which I'd been using various flies after losing one on a snag decided to change to a favourite fly. The hit when it came sent water spraying and the fish tore off cartwheeling across the current. Jase who had finished fishing the run motioned to Pete below me and he waded ashore as the fish zoomed by. I got it under control and Pete netted it for me a shapely fish of 5lbs.

That signaled time to move on and the banter flowed as we talked about the next location. The car park was moderately full but we stopped for a look and couldn't see anyone in the water we wanted so a quick walk saw us in place. Pete had decided to fish the tail of Cattle Rustlers and Jase was in the bushes so I got in and quickly hit a nice little fish. Pete reappeared below us - another guy was fishing where he'd wanted to go so he moved into the tail of our run. Jase jumped in at the head and hooked up straight away. He'd given me some tips on setting my anchor and keeping my arm straight and I was focusing hard on keeping my casting sweet - as a result I was laying out straight cats which swung really nicely through the holding water. And the fishing was epic! Pete nailed a couple and in my traverse of the run I hooked 7 fish and banked 5. It was epic! Every few casts and I either got a tug or was tight to a fish and I had an utter ball.

Cloud over Pihanga

Small & feisty

It rained all the way home....

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