Just the sound of it sends shivers down my spine, if not up my leg as it were, when said leg is immersed in the sea. A month of it over the summer holiday period. A time when the city empties and the local flats should fire. When the Nth Shore beaches should be packed with swimming humans. When yellow tailed predators should be on the flats chasing the bait. The bait is there. The beaches are packed with sun seekers. The city is empty. But alas, the water temperature has cooled as summer has rolled out, the foul south westerly chilling the water and pushing warmer currents offshore. This is the time for launching pre-dawn in a light sweater, ditched as soon as the sun gets above the horizon. Rather, parkas have been donned and have stayed on. It’ll all click into place sooner or later, but time is against me. I’ve covered kms of road and ocean searching and searching, and its been harder to roll a kingfish than I can ever remember. I’m not talking those pee-whackers that sit against markers in channels, more so the legal sized plus fish on the flats.
Having said that, it’s been pleasant to revert to chasing trout. A week before going back to work, Jase and I accompanied by her royal darkness the Black Piranha, headed back country. We’d day tripped in here a while ago, but with 3 streams on offer the idea of venturing further afield from a base camp quite appealed. In one of the stream’s upper reaches, brownies are known to hold. Of the three, it held the greatest mystique so our plan was to walk in on day 1 and fish down from the 3 stream confluence back to camp. Day 2 we’d push up Mystique Creek and day II would see us fish our way back to the car. I’d packed as light as I could but still the pack felt whopping on my hips and shoulders. A dry run on the back lawn saw the tent go well but my old air mattress was stuffed so a call into a couple of local shops for a Thermarest and a new Jetboil stove was needed. I hadn’t lugged a pack in over a year, what with my hip operation that saw me relatively immobile for 6 months that preceded my latest knee op… well, I wasn’t expecting to set any speed records anyhow. It took a solid tramp to arrive at the camp site. It hadn’t been inhabited for quite some time. With camp erected and a cup of coffee under our belts we set off to fish…. And on the first crossing the dog came in from upstream and bowled me over mid-stream. Choice. I reminded her that Id carried all her food in and that she should be more grateful. The pools down here are gorgy, lined by towering bluffs that seem to close in. The high water mark reached well up the walls, indicating that in flood conditions this it would be quite an inhospitable place to be. You’d be well screwed in other words, and probably would be ground into little bits of human.
The fishing was good, we plucked fish from each pool and made it to camp. Jase felt knackered and had a headache – it was hot. I gave him some electrolytes and he headed to his tent for a nap while I pushed up the small second stream. Here I found some delightful small pools but a huge scramble between holding water. I should explain that the terrain is comprised of boulders, smooth rounded rocks interspersed with jagged hard-edged shin traps. Boulders of all sizes. My legs were beaten up and I don’t want to gloss over the fact that I found it hard going in here. River crossings are tricky, the terrain steep and underfoot the going hard. Despite the fact that the water level was down a good foot and a half from our previous trip, it was a physical challenge. The fish I found in those small pools rose beautifully to a PMX. After a while the sun had dropped to such an extent that the gorge was fully shaded and it was time to head back down to the camp. We started a fire and Layla curled up after having devoured her dinner. We ate our dehydrated meals by the fire, boiled the pot for coffee, talked smack and then I sat and watched the fire burn down to safe embers. Layla in the meantime had made herself right at home on top of my sleeping bag and Therma rest and was quite put out when I pushed her off.
The morning came and we struggled out of our tents, ate and got ready to push up Mystique Creek. Generally the water in this stream is slightly cloudy. And what a pain in the a$$ b1tch of a mission it became. First, fish were scarce. Second, the fish we caught were skinny and third, a thriving population of large eels became apparent with every hooked fish eliciting a chase from a manky dark snake. At one stage a fish I’d played for several minutes made a run down past a huge boulder against which fallen branches had piled and I jumped in without thinking to clear my line from the snag. The first hint of the eel was a large tail waving cms from my face as I reached down to my shoulder to free the line. I leapt from the stream and the eel stalked me to the bank where I nudged him (probably ‘her’ to be honest) with my wading staff. That was quite off putting. Further up, Jase hooked an played a tiny rainbow which he released. The slithering black critter that came splashing upstream in the shallows was breath-taking for its size and stature. It was simple massive and was fixated on digging the small rainbow from under the rock where it had taken shelter upon release. And, it simply gave not one shit that my wading staff was prodding it. The wee rainbow shot away and the slithering devil’s agent began to get quite aggro snapping at my staff.
We’d fished up for over half a day with no sign of either brownie, nor picturesque water so decided to turn around and head back downstream. After a few hours, a number of stumbles, one of which caused a broken wading staff, a knee twist and saw me outstretched in a wee feeder stream, and some bush lawyer attacks, we were near the confluence when we heard voices. I whistled out on the dog whistle just to let any hunters know that we were human and not deer and we made our way down to meet 3 guys who had had plans of camping where we were set up. They were looking for deer although one had a stout looking 2 piece spinning rod. We talked a while, cross referenced each other’s plans so as not to put anyone in danger and then parted. Coffee at camp tasted awesome. We spent the afternoon following my path from yesterday up the smallest tributary and found the same fish that I’d seen the previous day although now they were on high alert. We carried on upstream but holding water was hard to find so after a couple of hours we gave up and returned to camp. I built a fire while Jase fished the evening rise and again Layla invaded my tent first to nab the comfy spot. The breeze had died down so mosquitos were out in force so upon entering the tent I spent a few minutes on search and destroy before satisfying myself that the tent was mozzie free and inhabitable.
The final morning dawned fine so we ate, broke down the camp, doused the fire, donned packs and began to fish our way up to the get out point. Fish were quite hard to find, although Jase did hook a nice little brownie, our first from the stream. With about a km to go, Layla lit up and gave her “intruder!” bark as 2 guys came downstream. We stopped and chatted, and quickly recognised them as mates of Pesty – Redman and Nugget. They’d planned to camp where had had and fish the 3 streams, so we’d inadvertently torpedoed their plans. After what looked like months of no use, the camp site suddenly was quite a popular place to be! They decided to head back upstream and fish above the get out point while we picked our way back. Since their portage was quite close to the water, any fish in residence would be spooked so we didn’t focus too much on fishing. We caught them up later and they’d hooked a couple of fish. At the truck we changed, and hit the road stopping for cold drinks in town.
2 days later with a great forecast I was on the road again with boat in tow, headed for Tauranga Harbour. I’d reasoned that although in holiday period the dawn high tide gave me a reasonable shot at flats cruisers before the water skiers arrived. I was in position and stalking early. The conditions seemed ok. It was cool and a slight (SW!) breeze came up now and again but I felt pretty confident. I covered a lot of water. A LOT of water. Rays, mostly eagle and some smaller models of longtails swept ahead of the boat or shot out of the sand when the boat appeared over them. But not a single large short tail ray, the type that kingis ride, did I see. I followed the tide as it receded only briefly spotting a solitary king near a channel marker and even that fish was disinterested in the fly. I ran the harbour and pulled out at lowish tide. Skiers and jet skiers had arrived and any sane fish would be elsewhere.
Back home I decided to run a recon mission. With fly rod of course. Dawn high tides around here suit the kings and their predatory nature. I ran out from Torpedo Bay (getting busier these days) and headed straight to a marker that doesn’t get the attention of stick baiters and jiggers. I hooked up briefly but the king ran around the pole and neatly rubbed the hook out leaving me firmly attached. The flat was again ruffled. Again the SW made its presence felt. I was happy to be wrapped in my parka. Even so I wasn’t exactly warm. I scanned the flat for an hour but could detect no movement. Moving on the wind began to rise. I decided to call it, I’d been pretty single minded when thinking about this mission. On the way in I detoured to visit another flat and saw another angler on the spit that forms the flat. He was casting industriously both into and with the wind and I determined that he was spinning. I held in the rip at the end of the spit and then moved in to the beach area where the angler introduced himself as Alan Bulmer, the man behind Active Angling NZ. We spent a good 30 minutes yarning and observing the flat as bait sprayed actively rippled the surface. It was time well spent as we compared notes on flies, leaders and fish behaviour. But I had to go so motored away slowly having given Alan a flounder fly and promising to link up on Facebook.
The next day was forecast as PERFECT. The first perfect day in over a month. A couple of days earlier, Chris had reached out. He’d kindly offered a day out on his boat, a beautiful Jones Brothers Cape Fisherman 18. We agreed to meet at Westhaven and launched in perfect conditions. The plan was to visit local flats then move further afield to scope other areas that looked great on charts. Conditions were (finally!) perfect, glassed out and any ripple visible. We scoped a regular flat, sitting becalmed and enjoying the scene. A kayaker came over and visited. Always worth talking with locals. He said that he hadn’t seen much going on but soon we saw a decent but wide wake, definitely not a kingis. We found a decent ray cruising just under the surface. Moving out we found that (being Saturday) our next destination was occupied so put the hammer down and headed to scope the new water we had in mind. We found extraordinary flats, here and there fringed by mangroves. Mullet leapt here and there. We cruised the coastline and Chris spotted a king early on but it had scrambled before I saw it. Again the water seemed extraordinarily cool for the time of year. We agreed that further exploration at a later date was required and set off for Waiheke. Chris showed be around some beautiful bays and we cast here and there. Briefly a snapper hit my Clouser but the hook failed to set on the strip. We’d been out half a day so decided to call it after visiting one other well know channel marker. I’d tied on a concept fly involving a double barrel popper head with a dragon tail which to my mind offered a blend of moving water and tail motion. First cast and 2 rats charged out but didn’t eat. Surface flies can have that effect – raising fish that don’t take, so I tied on a rattle piper and quickly hooked up. The fish burned me around the marker’s chain.
As I sit here in the office, the weather forecast calls for light northerlies. Hopefully the summer of searching will become a summer of catching.