Sunday, January 26, 2020

Summer of searching

South Westerly. 
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.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

High seas

When I started writing this (Dec 2019), Whakaari / White Island was active. Active, but not explosively so. I sit here now in a new decade, having finally found time to sit and write.

Between times lives have been lost when Whakaari erupted with many people on the island volcano. Peace to the families and loved ones of the lost souls.

Many years ago I hung with a crew of salty fishy dudes. I’d joined the crew as a satellite member when flatting with one of the core crew, and we saved hard, really hard to get a couple of mid-winter days onboard one of the top boats going around. The fishing was for bottom fish and we really didn’t have the gear to go after thugs like kingfish back then. Over time we graduated to being offered a summer game fishing slot and we occupied that space for many years. My avid interest in fly fishing saw me lose my slot when one year I chose a marlin on fly trip over the boys’ trip. That was the end for me. I still had all the bottom fishing and game gear, and in between had acquired jigging and stick baiting equipment.

Pesty (Karl aka @fishingpest) had spoken to the boys about a weekend charter to the old stomping ground, White Island and needless to say we were all in within a second. That was months ago, and he kept us abreast of happenings. The week leading in gave us perfect weather. I’d be picking Tim up from Rotorua airport where he was landing on his way back from Wellington. We’d meet the other guys at the wharf, grab a meal, load and go.

And so, the day had finally arrived. The forecast was pretty good (actually, great) and I’d set off early to allow for shitty Auckland traffic. I was well on the way to Rotorua when Tim called… his flight had been cancelled. A change of plan – he rebooked to Hamilton. I changed direction. I arrived at Hamilton airport with enough time to grab a coffee and pie, watch a bit of the cricket test and when Tim arrived we set off. Whakatane via Rotorua is a trip I’d not done for over 20 years. We arrived a bit later than expected, the final stragglers. Rhys the skipper was anxious to get going. He’s moved his times forward a bit which put some pressure on.

Nui and Bob, the guys on the trip I hadn’t met, were real nice dudes. 4 hours of steaming and we arrived, the last of 7 boats to anchor in the lee of Whakaari. On with the sub surface neons, out with bait rods – our task was to catch as many live baits as possible while also scooping as many flying fish for dead baits as we could manage. After a few hours we’d fulfilled our mission, while in that time we witnessed Cova Rose’s fleet sister ship land a whopping 40kg plus kingfish. Under lights it looked simply humungous.

Post the evening’s bait session we headed to sleep and woke up early, steaming to the bluenose grounds. Bluenose are simply one of the tastiest fish in the ocean so we all looked forward to stocking up. The session began in the pre-dawn and soon there were 5 lines over the side, each carrying 2 circle hooks baited with squid to the 150m mark. As rods loaded up the guys all wound in some decent bluenose and for the next 90 minutes or so a steady procession of tasty eating fish came aboard.

Then, we were off for kingfish. In the hours that followed we fished live and dead baits, jigs and stick baits hard for not much reward. Rhys the skipper said to expect an afternoon bite, and how right he was. Once the first fish was hit, they came aboard steadily.

And quite some beasts were landed including a 40kg plus fish (once in a lifetime fish) to Mike, the Big Rig. We each kept a fish or two for eating, but the large ones all went back.

That night we played with fly gear, targeting kingis smashing flying fish on the surface, whilst replenishing our live bait stash. Small rain droplets feel through the volcanic spume overhead, stinging the eyes when the landed. Post the tragic events of the following week we’d learn about Sulphur Dioxide very quickly indeed…

Day II provided more of the same, a few bluenose in the morning followed by a diet of kingis, if not of the same order of magnitude as the previous day. We fished hard for a large number of fish landed before the tax man turned up and began snacking on our hooked fish. On our trip back in we cleaned and bagged our bounty, packed it ice and helped the crew clean the boat down, ready for the next trip.

We all agreed we'd regather for another round of high seas adventure.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Going a bit retro

Meinrad is a nice bloke and a qualified casting instructor. Jase met him via the local, Rod and Reel. A couple of casting refreshers were on the cards. I’d asked what to bring and the response was ‘whatever rod you want to practice with, and a good attitude’. I decided on a whim to drag the old mistress out; my Sage XP 590-4. The first high quality fly rod I’d ever purchased, she’d taken quite some wifely convincing to bring across the threshold. A “rod for life” I’d said. Other rods have come and gone since then. But I meant what I’d said. The first cast with her had brought a lovely fat brown far from where you’d expect such a fish. So light and responsive. Not uber fast. In the initial practice session I was overpowering the rod and smashing out all sorts of tailing loops and ugliness. But when it came together, well damn. I was back in love. Rolling forward a couple of weeks a back-country mission beckoned. It’d be my first post hip operation big mission and in a way was the truest test I could get. The gorge we’d drop into is mean, the walking is rough, mostly wading over slippery moss-covered rocks designed to roll ankles and test joints. I opted for the XP as weapon of choice. Before going over the edge I called SWMBO and told her of our plan, expected get out time, and what to do if she hadn’t heard from us. Boots laced. On with pack. Layla’s collar removed. GPS, food, survival blanket, lighter.

We set off downstream, where possible using terraces to stay out of the stream bed. Old familiar pools were passed. Finally after almost 3 hours we reached our starting point. Misty cool rain blew through, which combined with our sweat drenched bodies caused rapid cooling. I pulled my spare dry top out of the pack and donned it. I was wet wading while Jase had chosen waders. I’d felt that the additional restriction of movement of waders would tire me faster.

We rigged up under the ominous gaze of a huge bluff, cleft by a stream gully, the lowest of the 3-river confluence. The pool is beautiful with plenty of fish-holding cover. Jase was first up and immediately hooked and landed a beautifully coloured bow. It may even have been first cast. I’d tied on a stone fly with a 3.8mm tungsten bead behind a Category 3 Roger That. The fly plopped in and on the second or third drift was hit. And that set the scene for the day, the fish were active and in great nick. The old XP gave a great account and I bent her to the handle more than once. I’d hesitate to call the number of fish we hit between us. 

By midday the weather improved so jackets and under layers were removed. Layla rummaged in the bush, pushing out grey ducks and at one stage a Canada goose. She was having a back country ball. The fish were in great condition, some of the fights were the stuff of dreams with fish screaming uncontrollably up and downstream, and on occasion we took multiple fish from holding
pools. Quite simply epic fishing.

We continued to clamber up the riverbed, negotiating large rocks and edging around bluffs, and after 12 hours in the gorge we reached our get out point. The final descent was exhausting. At the truck I called in to wifey to let her know we were safe. My hip had stood up perfectly and the recent knee clean up op hadn’t hampered me overly. Layla dropped in the backseat, she’d had a hell of a big day. At the hut Jase fired up a feed of pork chops, spuds and coleslaw before we headed out for the evening rise.

The night before had been epic, I’d taken the Sage Trout Spey HD #3 armed with a scandi head and long tapered leader with an emerger down to the evening rise pool. As the sun had dropped fish began to move and I started covering rises, swinging the fly through rise forms. The sky darkened and rise forms splashed all over the pool; bugs constantly landed on my face in the darkness. The fish I finally hit launched and threw the fly, a fat football of a fish. As the rise dropped away I switched on my lamp and was astounded by the tens of thousands of caddis dancing above the water – with so many naturals available to the fish even getting an eat felt like a long shot.

This night, I tied an elk head caddis on and with the XP in hand wandered down to the pool. Jase arrived with his little #2 Sage TS HD wearing his gumboots. I hadn’t even brought another fly, if I lost this one my eyes wouldn’t let me tie another on. The rises were sporadic, clearly tonight’s hatch wasn’t going to be quite as epic as the previous evening’s. The fly was engulfed in a glop and I lifted to for half a second a decent weight that was here and gone. I flicked the fly to recast then though I’d best check it…. The hook had broken at the bend. Sh1t hooks. I don’t tie my EHCs – maybe I should start. Day over. A huge day.

The dog snuggled into my back that night and snored like a trooper. I was quite surprised to wake early. Outside, cloud had settled. We ate eggs and bacon and planned our day. We were expecting Andy, in which case he and I would fish a branch while Jase took out his spey gear. We decided to head down to the river for a quick fish until Andy arrived, so the XP was pressed back into action. We crossed the river and Jase headed upstream while I went to a favoured pool and fished out the head. A ‘bow and a brown came to the fly before Andy called and relayed that in Turangi it was pelting down and forecast to come our way so he’d pulled the pin. 

Change of plan. Back at the hut I rigged the trout spey gear and we headed off. I’d put on the Skagit head and a dual density tip followed by a Gartside Starling. The big river offers stacks of swinging water – in fact probably the best way of covering the water off is with long swung casts.
By the time we reached our turnaround point we’d both taken some ripper fish. My best had taken a sculpin pattern we call the Skanky Squirrel, a derivative of Jerry French’s Summer Sculpin as I’d retrieved the fly through thing deep water at the end of the swing. The fish taken hard then screamed out line leaping and spraying droplets. In the weigh net she was 4lb on the nose. 

The sky darkened as we made our way back to the hut. We packed, cleaned, baited the rat trap and shut the hut down then headed out. The skies opened. For once, we were glad to be off the river.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Sailing in the wind

A paddle-boarder I'm not. Not even close. Jase's inflatable SUP, the gold and green ship known as 'Gareth the Crab' was as we'd left it with Itu, in perfect working order. As a family we'd just arrived on Aitutaki and first order of business was to hire a car and get my fishing license. I pretended it wasn't the first order of business, claiming a 'sight-seeing tour'. After getting both license and car at the Boat Shed we set off. First stop Itu's where we caught up with the man himself, and James who runs Wahoo charters. Itu went off to find the paddle board and returned. We talked about next year's trip to Manuae and he'd put some thought in about back up boats and what not. After a chat we'd headed off to the lookout, via the huge Banyan Tree which the road dissects. It was good to be back.

That night, the wind arrived. We were woken by gusts blowing through the palms outside our bungalow. By sunrise it hadn't eased an iota. I arrived at the port at gentleman's hours, post breakfast. 130 pumps saw Gareth fully inflated. I'd scoped out a brick as an anchor. I'd assembled the paddle. I'd got it all together.... so I'd thought... wind assisted Gareth and I set off on a waddling course - only halfway across and fully committed did I remember that I'd not attached the detachable stabilising fin to Gareth, so his bum was unstable to say the least. Making the flat I threw the brick over and anchored. I'd never seen as many bones on the flat as I did that morning. And, they were shallow. This isn't what I'd come to expect at all. My flies were weighted to thwart current and hit the bottom fast. Even the smallest tungsten eyed flies were too heavy. I spooked fish to the left, the right and the centre. Finally I got a good cast in ahead of a nice fish, got the eat and landed a good specimen.

A little later I thought I'd hung up on some sea grass but pulled a flounder up, my first. Paddling back against the wind was futile, so I headed across the channel arriving at a breakwater where I jumped off and towed the craft back to where the car was parked. Lesson learned - DON'T FORGET THE FIN.

As and where I could, I spent time fishing. A session on the flat nearest the game club was fruitless. Spotting is difficult here. We had a day snorkeling the lagoon before heading to One Foot Is. The wind grew.

The day before my guided day, Kaleena called to say that the wind would increase further, so asked if we could postpone by 24 hours. Family said yes. As they'd organised massages and beauty treatments I had a day up my sleeve.  With the fin on, Gareth was much more manageable. The wind have moved further to the south. I arrived on the flat. Across the channel an angler and guide worked as a team. The wind howled. And on the whole, the fish seemed absent.  Given that It had taken a bit of effort to get there I decided to blind cast over the lip into deeper water. Its notr a tactic for a fine day, but on my last trip had paid dividends on another flat, where 7 bones and a trev had accepted the fly, 6 of the bones and a small brassy coming to hand on that day. 4 hours in and I hadn't even looked like hooking a bone. I just wasn't seeing the fish. I'd traversed the flat twice and was faced with casting into the wind. Directly into the wind. On one corner of the flat I could make an angled back hand cast into the blue and here finally I felt a good take, hit the fish with a quick strip and the fireworks started. Once quelled I managed a few shots of the fish. That signaled home time, and despite the wind having increased and changed quarter to an even more inconvenient angle the trip was more manageable with the fin holding the board's bum on track.

Tuesday rolled around. The phone call when it came was expected. The wind was constant and I thought it would be Kalewena calling the day off. But no, it was simply a change of pick up point. When I got down to the lagoon, Tia had a large mantis shrimp under control. Rua was waiting and after a big bear hug we set off. He took us to a flat sheltered by a motu and showed me fish after fish. My casting was less than great but the issue seemed to me more that the fish were picky.  The wind was increasing, but I was getting plenty of shots in. Time ad again Rua called the strike but the fish hadn't committed. If I struck once that morning, I struck 50 times. We worked on getting the presentation better and slowing the retrieve own to less than a crawl to keep the fly anchored on the bottom and minimise the effect of the waves. Improving the technique paid off - We hooked 2, dropped one and landed a nice fish..

A change of location to a much deeper flat and things got really challenging. We had limited shelter, waist deep water and fish moving unpredictably. It was tricky, challenging and ultimately rewarding as I set the hook into what after a hell of a fight turned into a bone in the region of 8lbs.

Soon after I took a small Napolean Wrasse, another first for me. We lunched on One Foot after which we did a short stint looking for more fish. The wind now howled so I suggested we cut and run, which Rua was happy to do. Great guide, great day, great reward. Up at the house I said goodbye to the boys. Goodbye for the next while until we see each other again. It'll be about a year, all going to plan.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Low and clear

With no rain for at least a couple of weeks and only last weekend’s Recreational Release to refresh the river, there were probably better options (Jase mentioned at least one) to swing up some resident feeding fish, but I’d promised Greig a shot with the 3 weight. That meant a final spring trip to the Tongariro. We went straight up to the Blue Pool, rigged and while Jase hit the Pig Pen I wandered up to Whitikau where I met Chris who was on his final day of a 2 week stay. After a chat I headed to the top of the run where Greig was working his RB Meiser #5. A handshake, and a rod exchange. At the head of the run I began to extend line, the Hardy Taupo mounted on the rod purring with each pull of line. The rod itself was very slow actioned and I was able to lay out casts with ease. Downstream, Greig turned and gave me a thumbs up – clearly he was enjoying the rod. 

Layla guarding the run. Credit: Chris Dore
Chris having swung out the tail of the pool came upstream to shoot the breeze and say goodbye before heading back south. 

Chris & Layla

I watched Greig cover the holding lie which is opposite the main flow of the river and requires that the fly hits the water within 6” of the far bank, and a drift through the lie before the current drags a belly and whips the fly downstream. If anyone’s going to take a fish there it’s the master himself but nothing came to his fly. Or mine for that matter but having followed 2 of NZ’s best anglers through the reach I wasn’t surprised about that. Greig exited the water and came up. I reeled in and handed over his beautiful combo – oh how I’d have loved to hear that Hardy sing. He was rapt with the Trout Spey HD, and we both agreed that Sage has nailed it with this model. Other people who had tried the #4 were saying equally nice things.  I continued through the pool and then headed downstream, dropping into the Reef Pool where wet prints up the bank indicated someone had recently exited. I could see Jase downstream swinging out the tail of the Pen. The Reef is nothing like the pool where 3 years ago I’d hit a fish that simply charged out my head, running line and most of my backing while the Speyco screamed and screamed. Back then the deep seam extended down past the rock seam that gives the pool its name and hugged the true left. Now the tail has filled in such that I could see that the river is wadable there in low flow, so a new crossing is formed. This will change the way I fish this part of the river. On the upside, a beautiful tail out has formed and so I waded down in water that was once neck deep swinging the fly from main seam through the riffle across to the left bank below me. And I got a hit, a good hit. The fish hit the surface, sprayed and heaved into the main current. A jerk through the whole rod told me that something horrible had happened on the reel. The fly was gone. The running one had wrapped under itself somehow, maybe I had wound it on loose last time? Whatever, on a low river sunny day I knew there’d be few hits so losing a fish to gear failure is not a good look. At the car park Jase and Greig were finishing up a cup of coffee, so I grabbed one also and we nattered away, planning our next move. Town pools. I was in my t shirt under waders by this time and even though occasionally a light cool zephyr blew, it was nice to not be clad in the winter clothes while fishing. Greig hit the Lodge Run while I wandered down to Stump and Jase moved into the Cnut. I studied the water. The low flow had moved the main current several feet. The pool had probably already fished hard. I figured that the fish would be holding in the current or maybe against the far bank so after short-lining the slack immediately below the sticks I began to hit the far bank, throw a mend and drift into the main run. Almost immediately a fish bumped at the fly without hooking up. I gave the fly some erratic movement to see if the half-hearted tap would convert to a full smash, but that wasn’t to be. I carefully fished the same cast but no joy, so began my movement down the pool. Finally and below what is normally the prime holding water, a fish latched on, ran into the bank, thrashed around and then came upstream. The hook pulled. Gah. I added a wee soft hackle on a dropper. Mayflies were coming off, maybe just maybe I could get a fish interested in an emerger. No joy. I decided to go through the pool again but to really focus on the area by the large fly eating snag ¾ of the way down. Here, long casts across are doomed to catch up on the mother of all what must be fallen trees or a standing stump covered in trash, so a cast 60 degrees down and across is called for. I’d almost reached the snag when in the turbulent water above it a fish slashed at the fly, missing the hook. At the end of the swing I jigged the fly in case the fish had followed and with a wrench the fly was hit broadside on. And the fish was in no mood to be brought ashore either. I saw bronze flashes in the water as the fish doggedly regained the line I’d taken. At one point I called it for a brown before a darkening rainbow jack rolled on the surface.  Nice, day made. He posed for a shot before shooting from my grasp and burning out into the current.

I wandered upstream to where Greig was effortlessly covering the water. So nice to watch a maestro at work.

The afternoon unravelled with us catching up with more river mates, Connor & Shelen, Andy, Theresa and Claudio, who were fishing downriver. I changed over to the new Scandi head to get some touch and go casting practice in. I’m a bit out of practice and when after a few shots I got my boogy on, I hit the snags on the far bank and lost my flies! Greig, Jase and I swapped positions in the runs. I wasn’t seriously fishing so much as trying to figure stuff out for summer riffle fishing. After the past month of skagit casting post my absolute fishing hiatus whilst recovering, it took some adjusting to get the single Spey going.

We rolled out late in the afternoon, relaxed after a beautiful day on the water. Time to put the Skagit heads away. It feels like summer is almost here.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Leech day

Jase is a long time advocate of the simple bead head leech pattern for migrating rainbows. Whereas I've used small silver bodied orange bead headed woolly buggers for quite some time, the simplicity of tying leeches began to appeal. Tungsten bead flies hang up in rocks and sink quickly to meet snags. Tying replacement flies that take a couple of minutes each to fashion appeals more and more!

But there's that thing about using 'new' patterns. Your mate has caught hundreds of fish on them, but still that little nagging doubt nibbles at your brain. Can I catch with them? (I mean, of course I can but I don't know that yet).

Another early start. SWMBO is getting used to me waking before the alarm goes, before 4am. Dog is fed. Porridge. Coffee. Into the truck. Dog gets extra sleep on the back seat. We arrive in T town and head straight to the river. Encouraging sign #1, no one else is at the car park. Gear assembled. Brisk walk to the crossing. A chilly wind whips clouds across the sky. Even though its spring now, a system they are calling "the mole from the pole" drags cold air up and across NZ. Layla hunts the scrub and chases down duck scent at the river crossing, where I drag her across to avoid her spilling downstream through the next holding lie. At the entry point she rolls in the sand. On with the leech. I start with an olive body orange bead on an Ahrex #4 barbless. Short line first, swing through the gut. Lengthen to swing the first of the holding lie, nothing, try different drifts (fly side on, or tail on) by mending. I'm almost into the prime water and am swinging into slack current in front of a snag, giving the fly action with rod movement when the fish hits. Airborne, spray flying I glimpse silver as the fish cartwheels towards the bank then runs at me. I'm reeling fast but there's slack in the system and inevitably the hook pulls. Hmm. A few swings later but into the broad choppy part of the run and the line shudders. This time I clearly see a large jack fish, coloured from a few days in the river, take to the air. He jumps and jumps and throws the hook. Too much rod pressure? Apart from another bump, the rest of the run gave nothing up. Telling the dog to stay I jumped in the river to cross the deep channel to a gravel bed below a snag, from where a long cast dropped into deep (snaggy) water under the bank covers the tail out.

Fish hang in the gentler tail out. The water was pretty clear, after the recent rain I'd expected more colour. When the cloud receded, the sun beamed down, not really ideal conditions. The water deepened as the shingle bed fanned out, but from this point coverage of the holding water peaks. The rod shuddered and a fish ran upstream - fast. I stripped running line to maintain control as the fish streaked past me, aiming at the snag upstream. With line on the reel I gave it a bit of jandel and forced her downstream. On the #3 every fight is epic and this one is no different.

Beached she shone in the sun, fresh and clean straight up from the lake. Back on her way. I waded back out to the gravel bar. The next hit came soon after, this time a darker fish which fought dourly. The run gave me one more hit that didn't connect.

Calling Layla to join me on a bar midstream, I swung what could be great holding water if not for the presence of a mess of snags. We worked our way downstream but there were no further rewards. The wind blustered and made casting difficult. At the truck we ate lunch. Layla scoffed some biscuits while I tackled a couple of kransky sausages. 

Overlooking the river from the road bridge I watched half a dozen guys hammer arguably the most productive pool on the river. Its a pool not to be missed if you enjoy company!

I decided to spend a couple of hours in the 'town pools;. Arriving at the car park we found a disgusting sight. Well to me, not so much to Layla who was immediately interested - the remains of a skinned and cleaned sheep.

I'll never understand the mentality of some cretins. The Lodge Run was unoccupied so I swung the bucket at the top and then the tail out. No hits.

The Cnut was occupied but to my surprise the Stumpy was devoid of angers. But not of fish! Its such great holding water and the fish will lie both sides of the pool, which spills right to left past a mass of  drowned timber. It duly gave up a number of hits through its full length, the leech getting plenty of attention.

Representative example. Leech in mouth.
Having combed the water once and with no on else around, I moved to the top and came through again. This pass I focused more on the fast water, holding the fly in the heavier current, and was rewarded with several nice fish.

I called it at 3pm, feeling quite chilled in the legs. Leech fly - tested and approved.