Thursday, January 7, 2021

3 Harbours

We are lucky in so many respects, to have such great fisheries in our very small country. Getting to them while balancing work and family duties, well there’s a challenge, but frankly, the pandemic has changed my way of thinking.  Get free of the shackles of work pressure. Leave the everyday behind. I find that good mate Jas is the perfect foil, his mind constantly ticks over plans and schemes, species and locations and he’s like a cat on a hot tin roof waiting for the next expedition. 

North it was.  Grab the boat and hit the road. Go exploring. The harbour is mangrove lined in its western stretches, with a maze of channels providing freeways for fish both prey and predator. We liked our chances. We’d go the week before the holiday period. We had good tides and the forecast was ok too. These big harbours can be miserable when big southerly weather systems come over. With nowhere to hide it can be joyless. We arrived in summer conditions, checked in to our accommodation and got ready for a recon. It was late afternoon, beautifully warm and we quickly launched. We cruised around checking various channels and sand banks and all in all it felt fishy.  That evening we ate our burgers checked tackle and headed for an early sleep. Dawn on the water, nothing beats it. Harbour channels were negotiated in the dawn light.  We had an approximate idea of where we wanted to be. With electric motor deployed the search began. Jas, rigged with a piper fly stood in the bow with his 9 weight Sage Salt HD. I laid out line at my feet in the back of the boat. A 2/0 olive over white clouser minnow decorated the leader. If snapper showed, I’d shoot while Jas was carrying the elephant gun for kings. Slowly we wound our way through mangrove edges and channels. From time to time we spied snapper but always they’d spook out. In skinny water they’re amongst the spookiest of fish. A slight depression in the mangroves. Suddenly piper sprayed, I turned as a pack of kings charged in and with a flick of the rod dropped the fly in their path. Without hesitation a fish inhaled the clouser and I set the hook. The channel was 100+ metres away across the flat and the fish knew it and was there in seconds. Here I’ll put in a plug for Abel; their Super series (this being the 7/8 N) is my favourite, with smooth powerful drags and with backing crackling off the spool under pressure there was no room for a lumpy drag. Again the fish surged off and the drag hummed. We followed and got on top of the fish and there I was able to really pump the rod and lift him from the bottom of the channel. Played out and netted he measured 102cm, quite a respectable fish and certainly a season highlight.  

We continued our cruise, spotting snapper crimson red against the sand but always they were a step ahead of us, slinking off before we could present a fly. Need to up my game here. The day was punctuated with sightings of fish, birds and we put in hours to learn and unpick some of the puzzle of sand, mangrove, sea grass and tide. Evening came and we motored home, pulled the boat and reflected on what had been a great day of prospecting. Beer, refuel, dinner, tackle readied. Post fishing shakedown. Morning tactics. 

Up and at em. We had half a day. Tide wouldn’t peak until late morning, so we were forced to  follow its relentless progress, until the mangroves flooded and noises of feeding began to emerge. First target, a snapper swimming out from an outcrop of mangroves, a blood red blotch against the bluey grey background. The presentation seemed good but was not to his liking as he skulked away. Rinse and repeat. We snuck onwards, the calm water giving us the opportunity to motor on super silently with no hull slap. We were positioned between a growth of mangroves and the main mangrove line when the first kings came through the corridor in no more than 18” of water, a pair on the hunt. They were adjacent before I could make the cast and my movement gave the game away. Shortly a pack of 4 zoomed through, clearly hunting in a group, again no chance to present. The wind cropped up so we motored to the other side of the harbour in search of shelter and a spotting window. Tucked under the nearby tree shrouded foothills we found what we’d looked for and resumed the search. With time drawing by and with a set time to pull the pin we continued. And then from out of the mangroves 2 small kings appeared. Jas made his shot true and bedlam broke out as the fished screamed back into the mangroves which shook madly. Applying full side strain he pulled the fish from its haven before it ran again, this time succumbing to the drag before reaching its lair. Netted out, the little posed for a quick shot.

Christmas. Time of giving. With a backlog of domestic chores lined up post Boxing Day trips would be few and far between. I wasn’t too upset, as the medium term forecast was for cold southerlies blowing up to 30kts for what looked like days on end – not your typical NZ summer forecast. And so, raised gardens were built, fences painted, rubbish disposed off, trees planted… sweat was sweated and blisters formed. At least the brownie point bank was filling. I’d had to put my New Years Eve plan on hold given that I’m not exactly a gifted handyman and all my jobs seemed to take 3 times longer than estimated so found myself behind the 8 ball. But still I had enough time for a trip to my local rocks for a cast into the mighty Waitemata. There I found a bait fisherman in residence with a burley trail going strongly. We chatted while I made a few exploratory casts, not expecting to move anything. When a king flashed through the burley trail I asked if I could cast for it and got the green light. When the line came up tight I barely had time to strip strike before line flew and the reel brrrrrrrd. I was packing the Sage Salt HD #9 with Abel Super 9 which holds a veritable ton of backing which the fish helped itself to. Thankfully in one of those fishing breaks of luck that never seem to come my way, the fish seemed hell bent on running towards Rangitoto than adjacent to the shore. I began to pump the rod. For every metre I gained, the fish seemed to take 2; I wasn’t winning this one. Then finally, his will broke and I began to recover line and his runs became more like determined short sprints of a few metres at a time. Backing recovered, line coming in, the fish was now tired. But fishing from the rocks brings its own challenges and round about now if I were on my own I’d be pretty stuffed… how to and this critter… old mate the bait fisho tailed the fish and took some shots. A few beats of his tail and the fish was gone. Old year ushered out in style.

The following morning I was adrift on a large flat. The weather was perfect, the flat glassed out, any waking fish would be visible for hundreds of metres. At the other end I could see Adam on his Nucanoe. We each moved to different areas. I moved west to east while Adam puttered across – and it was over an hour later having slowly traversed the flat that we ran into each other with a wave. The flat was dead. Nada, not a thing except for a couple of sizable eagle rays. For a flat that up until last summer held good numbers of fish to be this dead now… maybe those gill netters had finally cleaned it out. Later in the Tamaki Straight I saw terns diving while mutton ducks took up station on the surface, and in between splashy forms gave away the kahawai that were slashing anchovies from below. Amazingly, the boats that were out either could not see or ignored the workups that were becoming more extensive. Shutting down the motor to gauge the drift gave me a clue as to where to position. I quickly rigged the #8 and tied on a crease fly which was picked off literally first cast. In 20+ m of water Kahawai are the ultimate fighter, first diving then breaching the surface, peeling line at will. Serious fun and hardy enough for catch and release. After a few fish I felt ready to continue exploring so moved on, eventually moving to a popular flat where a shore-based angler (Mark) occupied a spot on the spit where water flowed. I marked time for a while before pressing on.

Day 2 of the year… I picked Jas up at 04.30 and we headed south.  Tauranga harbour is the home of the ray rider – kingfish that follow short tailed rays, picking off critters that the ray disturbs in its travels. Critically, short tails travel strictly on the bottom and are never found mid water unlike eagle rays which throw big wakes. Being jet black, they’re relatively easy to spot on the flats. Our day was punctuated with brief glimpses of a ray rider, seeing other anglers out and about and avoiding water skiers who were out and about in plague proportions. As the hours passed we worked fishy water always searching, always looking. As we set to move to a new flat the motor depowered, firing on only one cylinder. Change of plan. We took a bearing back closer to the ramp and fished our way along the harbour edge before entering a gorgeous estuary that simply sang ‘kingi! But not today… at home I discovered that the mechanic who recently serviced the motor had not pushed the ignition lead onto the sparkplug, causing the failure. At least the fix was cheap.

4 days later and I’m on the road again. An hour later than the other day, but that’s ok, and this time solo. At the ramp the boat slid in. GPS/sounder fired up. Motor kicked into life. All is quiet on the harbour as I motor through the channels. There’s no wind to speak of and the forecast is for high temperatures. I’ve got lots of water onboard. Doused with sunscreen. On with buff and hat.  Thank god modern fishing clothes are made of lightweight UV repellent fabrics, I’m going to need all the protection I can get today. Early on as the tide floods, I cross a channel and there see a small shorttail lying on the bottom. Above, a wee kingfish hovers but he’s well spooked and not amenable to the fly. I intend to cover a lot of water today. Its 6 hours to the top of the tide, so conceivably I could fish all day long if I could outlast the sun. Now I’m ready. The #8 X, Abel Super 7/8N, rio Bonefish and a home spun 8kg Momoi leader with crease fly attached. The line is laid out in the bottom of the boat. I’m ready. Rod in hand, fly at the ready. I can fire a quick cast if needed. The moon is hovering in the daytime sky, not a scenario I generally like but time’s not mine, I have to use what I have. I’m on the lookout. And that’s how it stays for ~7 hours during which time I’ve hunted several flats and traversed an estuary. I’ve need several (lifesaving) swims and reapplied sun lotion. Spotting conditions are mint. Staying focused is easy when you’re doing something you love. The moon has set. I’m almost at the mouth of the estuary when I see a short tail. He’s not large. I need to power against the current to get in front of him. I’ll only get one shot here and then I see it, the distinctive wavey light green outline, it’s a king. The creasie lands 6’ in front of the ray and the fish charges when I tweak the fly, a full engulfment that throws spray. Quick strip, solid hookset and way the fish screams. Its not a large specimen but that fish gives me hell of 15 minutes, again and again charging, turning on its side, rubbing the fly along the bottom… and then it wanted to hide under the boat, time and again avoiding the net. Finally vanquished and netted, photographed and released. 

Worth it. Worth the burnt soles. Worth the relentless pressing sun. At the ready again. Line coiled and set. Rod and fly in hand. I’m thinking about another swim when a breeze stirs the surface. And there he is, a free swimmer and I haven’t time to reposition. I fire and the fly lands awkwardly with a curve in the one, the worst possible scenario when fishing a crease fly – you need direct tension against which to ‘bloop’ the fly. Nonetheless I rip the line and get a half hearted splash from the fly – but its enough, the king rises like a brown and takes the fly. I strip the hook into his gob and its on. We’re on the channel edge so he’s straight down and along. 100 m further out is a marker pole and the fish knows exactly where it is and sets off at great pace. I’m left applying side strain and stop him, but not before there’s a fair bit of backing off the reel. Pump. That X is a great rod. Gather line. Fish is on the surface, then gone again with a few tail flicks. But he’s tiring and soon begins to circle and is scooped up for a shot. Release. 2 from 2 shots, but 8 hours in. Its time for me to head back and now there are white caps on the harbour. I

’m glad for the spray as waves break over the boat when I turn beam on to cross the harbour.  

Wednesday, December 23, 2020


The boys were heading south. Well south. I was not able to commit. Work. I am lucky enough to work in an industry that while impacted by the effect of Covid is not completely kneecapped. And it has been busy, my observation is that the shift to out of office working has brought the not so charming side effect of taking away borders that an office working day imparts. I can’t remember working a 40 hour week but what I do know is that I trade my 6am start for a 5pm finish with the rest of the evening being mine under normal circumstances, but ‘normal’ doesn’t have a meaning now and the working day bleeds into the evening. 

I spoke with SWMBO. I had 5 days of ‘Special Leave’ banked. I spoke with the fellas. Karl and Jas had 2 weeks up their sleeves. Tim had a week. And so, did I. Flights booked. Dehy food organised. PLB bought. Bags packed, tackle sorted, this was getting real.

Once again, the boys met up in the Koru Lounge. We were off! Landing in Christchurch, we met up with Jas’s brother who was dropping off one car, then off to the vehicle hire place to grab the 4wd, a Ford Ranger ute. Off we set, we had decided to head West to Reefton straight away, rather than stick with our original plan to base ourselves more centrally in Hanmer Springs. We arrived in Reefton in the late afternoon and found that it was the busiest Friday in months, being the Canterbury Anniversary weekend. But Karl tracked down lodgings in a backpackers and Tim and I made our way there, dropped our gear and then headed off to look at a local stream. OMG, we were stunned at the beauty and quality of the river and it went straight on the ‘must do’ list. We arrived back in town (and ph range) to find the other lads at the Fish and Chip shop so grabbed a meal and then headed back for a planning session. We had split into pairs, Jase and I would go one way, Tim and Karl the other. And with that we got our packs sorted and hit to rad first thing in the am. Jase and I headed to a notable river and leaving packs in the car headed downstream to cover some sweet looking water. This river was renowned as a river requiring a good level of fitness (ooops) and as being not for the faint hearted (uh-oh). 

We covered several kms of water for nothing seen before heading back to the car, donning our packs and setting off upriver. It took a while for us to figure that we should have looked for the upstream access, esp when after several hours we were yet to see a fish, despite covering some seriously sexy water. Then it changed. I hooked a spirited fish in an obvious lie behind a current breaking rock and it soon dislodged the fly after screaming off downstream. Slightly upstream the performance was repeated when I hooked and broke off a spirited fish in an obvious lie. That I hooked another first cast after replacing the fly spoke volumes and I soon landed my first fish of the trip. We hadn’t gone too much further when Jas discovered a rod tube on a rock cairn and we knew that we’d been jumped; or more to the point had reached the upstream access where another angler had entered the water. Fishing went hard again. Overhead conditions were tough, but this is not renowned spotting water due to its heavy rocky nature, so we were not expecting to see much. At about 4pm and about to enter the rugged bush area above farmland, we met the owner of the rod tube. He reported this as his first visit to the river and he had caught a lovely fish. We pushed on, arriving in the late afternoon at a spot that looked good to set up camp on. 

A bit of bush clearing was required at the site, then we pitched our tents. The sandflies were ferocious – there’s an art to getting your tent setup while keeping the little buggers out. Both of our tents combine an sealed inner sanctum with an outer cover and can be pitched without needing to expose the core. Fire set. Jetboil blasting out a zillion joules – boiling water required for our Backcountry meal packs. Given we were further West than home, the days lasted longer too. I used that time to fish the attractive run opposite our camp, and soon had a feisty brown on which was released quickly. I couldn’t help but think how neat it would be to lave Layla along, she’d love it here sniffing out Weka and ducks. I didn’t sleep all that well, not so much from lack of comfort (my Thermarest mattress is very comfortable), more likely the river’s noise which blends into the background during the day is amplified at night.  I spent the time thinking tactics. 

We were fishing water not overly amenable to spotting, and conditions overhead had been tough. A simple one nymph rig under a very small indicator made sense no matter which way we cut it. The nymphal life under the rocks indicated that tiny brown mayfly imitations were present in high numbers with the occasional larger green stonefly interspersed. I’d stick with my black bead head PTN. If I’d had any in #18 that’d be my choice, but my smallest were 16’s. Jas and I took a side each and worked up the river. The bed was craggy broken rock with fierce angles and edges and in places damnably smooth and slippery. We fished hard but really didn’t turn up numbers until we reached above where yesterday’s guy had apparently got to. After which the fish went from technically difficult to decidedly easier to catch. Each of us landed a specimen in the 7-8lb range plus a number of smaller fish. My fish of the day was the third I took from a neat run, above a crag lined lie where Jas worked his magic on its dweller. The first fish was rising steadily but still was amenable to the little PTN as it tumbled past. The second was a dour old thing that shook its head while not expending excess energy. The final fish took in a seam alongside a faster run and went ballistic. I was quite lucky when presented with a go left or go right option around a big sunken boulder to take the right option (which was left) as the fish seconds later sizzled upstream and across the river to the left. Played out and netted she was a superb specimen of just under 8. 

Later looking at Google Earth I was astounded at how little physical distance we’d covered in 7 hours of forging upstream. Our walk out was going to be decent (11km said Uncle Google later), so back at camp we struck the tents, made sure the fire was fully fully fully extinguished and hit the trail. The sub beat down and once out of the bush we carved a path that took us across farmland and away from the shelter of the trees. In a straight line the distance is 10km, add in twists and turns and its more than that. At the car we made the call to head straight to the pub when we hit town. Beer never tasted so good. Nor the steak and chips that followed. Karl and Tim came in later, reporting that they’d had an epic trip accounting for fewer but much larger fish, each having landed specimens close to or over the magic 10lb mark.
At the backpackers we got cleaned up and made plans for the next few days. In that time we covered waters from the iconic to the vaguely innocuous, saw fish ranging from huge to tiny, flighty to plain easy and covered some mind blowing territory. We made mistakes, took wrong turns, found deer, scared weka, made friends and hitched a lift with the local ranger and in general lived like we’d love to more or less permanently if it were not for the commitments we are enslaved by.

As the week drew to a close we’d part ways, Tim and I needing to head home while Jas and Karl extended their journey for another week. Their itinerary was enviable – as was ours. All Tim and I lacked was time, time to change plans as weather dictated. In the hired 4x4 Tim and I set off. We’d stocked up on snacks and purchased DOC hut passes earlier, and headed for waters known for large fish. A rough track lay ahead, followed by a decent walk and we had fingers crossed that no other anglers would be present. At the carpark we were delighted to find no other car, but ominously, the bar gate keeping vehicles out had been trashed so we had no idea as to whether we’d find people, vehicles or what else in the zone we were heading to. It’s a nice walk in, mostly flat, several hours along farm tracks to the bush and another 30 minutes to the hut. We arrived to find the hut vacant so set about getting our gear ready for an evening fish – broadly, the plan was to take the jetboil, our dinner and rods set up with streamers to see if we could annoy residents in a big pool into eating a fly. We ate beside a big pool, having crossed the river by way of a swing bridge. Coffee, then into it. Tim worked the lower half of the pool while I started at the top. A medium sized eel slid up into the shallows. Darkness fell and soon it became inky, with only a quarter moon behind clouds providing illumination. Turned out that the eel was the only fish encountered, and with several flies lost on structure I felt that the river was more in a taking than giving mood. We put on our headlights and setoff back to the hut. I was barely on the swingbridge when my headlight emitted the dreaded morse code flash indicating low battery life. Crossing that bridge with no light was not a prospect I savoured and then it all got worse as my landing net proceeded to hang up on every wire join. Fair to say I uttered a few choice words and switched the light to dim mode when I got to the other side. Tim crossed and I followed his footsteps closely on the walk back to the hut, which took almost 40 minutes. I slept well that night. With 3 hut mattresses between me and the sleeping platform, I was pretty darn comfy. At dawn I emerged and began to prepare coffee and the obligatory ‘cooked breakfast’, a mix of egg, hash brown, meaty bits (here’s how the packet describes it: “A hearty combo of dried smoky beef, tomato, egg and a hash brown potato mix”) that quickly becomes passe. It is nothing, if not very filling. Tim got his breakfast assembled, then it was on with boots, rods grabbed and we set off. We had a 5km trot downstream ahead of us to give us  ample water for our day ahead. It didn’t start so well – when we arrived at the the river edge I realised that a belt loop had popped open and that my Gerber Gator and wading staff holster lay back along our path. 

Rather than go search, I told Tim that I’d nip back at the end of the day and pick them up. Next, the overhead conditions were appalling, white/grey cloud blanketed the whole sky; glare rebounded from the water. All anglers know that these are the worst of worst spotting conditions, which in conjunction with our relative lack of familiarity with the water, put us on the back foot. I drew the worst straw as I had the ‘sun in my eyes’. I couldn’t see shit ahead of me, anything that I could get in a visibility window would be adjacent and well spooked by the time I saw it. Tim had a slightly better gig and soon was attached to a fish that had him scrambling . I was on the opposite bank with a 20 foot drop and an undercut meaning I had to run about 50m back downstream to get in a position to help and just as I got the net in hand the fish threw the hook….

I crossed over to Tim’s side of the river where at least we had some vis. Soon we came across another fish. At my cast he lifted and took.. but I broke the leader on the strike… we seriously couldn’t afford this muppetry with the conditions tacked the way they were. Tim hand the next shot to an unresponsive fish and I had the same on the next. The only time the fish showed any movement was a conditioned move towards a slowly drifted worm which he then rejected. As we moved up and the river braided we split for an hour or so until meting where the strands rejoined. I threw a streamer to a large fish that grabbed it but the hooks missed… and after several fruitless hours where the wind increased steadily increased (downstream of course) and the overhead conditions worsened we called it. I dropped my gear off at the hut and set off on a march to find my missing stuff. I’d retraced almost our whole downstream journey from the morning before I found both items by a gate. The round trip took 90 minutes and I’d barely arrived back at the hut when another bloke strode out from the trees. He related that he’d walked 43km that day, having decided that having reached his goal by midday that he’d decided to extend his sights so had marched on. Near dark we heard a rifle shot across and up the valley. A deer or pig had been harvested.

The next morning Tim and I got away early. We had another watershed in mind, involving a hairy traverse in the truck. Downstream of the swing bridge we saw fresh tyre marks where a truck had forded the river, clearly the hunting party were mobile and had vehicle access. We made good pace back to car park, on the way passing a stand of Macrocarpa where a deer carcass hung in the shade. As we packed the vehicle the hunters arrived in their truck and asked us whether the vandalised gate had been in that state when we arrived - whoever had done it had gone on to vandalise and steal from the private hut belonging to the station. There are sh1theads everywhere it seems. At the junction track we began the tortuous journey into the destination valley. God it was beautiful. And, god Ford Rangers simply lack clearance. We crunched and bumped our way through ruts, over rocks, around twists and turns, the whole time the vehicle’s sensors causing proximity alarms to sound – what a pain in the arse and how much did I wish that I had my 80 series there. We parked under blue skies but knew they were temporary as cloud was building over the ranges and sure enough we’d no sooner reached the bottom of our beat when the cloud banks blotted the sun. The wind began to gather. We gritted our teeth and got to work. The water was of a size that made the fish damn near invisible but we began to spot the occasional flicker of movement, twitch of tail or change of shadow that betrayed a target.  Despite its relative remoteness, recent footprints littered the softer banks, and boy didn’t the fish know about pressure….. even so we’d occasionally find one on the feed and lay an appropriate trap. Tim had one take his indicator from the surface. I had one chase and absolutely smash a 5” streamer but miss the hooks. We hooked and lost fish. Finally I got one to stick and we netted a fine old jack in the 8lb range. The wind began to absolutely rage. Tim fished to a large brown but simply couldn’t get the fly across the river. By late afternoon we’d covered plenty of water, seen plenty of fish and decided to not fight the elements further. We drove further up the valley and found a spot to pitch the tents. Once done we set up the cookers and boiled water for the dehy meals. The wind pounded us but the truck gave some shelter. As we ate I gazed up and saw a spiker exit the bush and begin to feed, not 100m from us. We drank beers, a luxury afforded by being able to drive in to such a cool place. 

Despite the wind, the sandflies were heinous! A good number had got into my tent so I had to spend a bit of time clearing them out. Our last day on the water had certainly been a challenge. I stayed awake late into the night to try and capture some shots of the desolate beauty of the landscape bathed in evening light…. I rose early. Our final day. The Cooked Breakfast tasted bland. The coffee was a welcomed treat. I managed to capture some shots of the eerie wind blasted landscape. And the wind itself simply howled – no way could a fly be cast. It reminded me somewhat of the Patagonian landscape, especially that wind. I felt a bit gutted that we had to leave early, but soon our camp was struck and the truck loaded. The wind was savage, blowing dust but providing ample opportunities to spy deer out sheltering and feeding in the lee side of the valley. Returning to civilisation on our minds, we exited the valley and arrived at a small loch. Wind swept curtains of spray from the white caps under grey skies. In we went, washing the accumulated grime of several days away between screams of “sheeeeeeet!!”, “farkkmydays!!” – almost immediately I lost feeling in my extremities. God it was like plunging into an ice bath, and the feeling of cleansing went deeper than the accumulated bodily grime. Soul refreshed.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

The changeover

Springtime. Warm days, cool days, cold days, rain, shine and snow. Settled weather, unsettled weather.  A discernible change, more daylight hours. Budding trees, flowers, grass growth. If asked to describe springtime in a word and I'd say "Green". Shades of green abound. The changeover from constant cold winter (to be fair, we'd had a pretty mild version this year) to fairer days and nights.

Its a great time to go trouting. Things are happening in the river. Eggs are hatching, early hatched alevins are growing and transforming to fry. Bugs are moving with more regularity and this in itself shapes the feeding habits of the fish. Winter runners if fresh from the lake will snap up swung streamers, hitting the fly with energy that translates to running line being ripped, and if you happen to use a click 'n pawl reel, a decent shriek that will wake you from your swinging slumber. 

The wind induced cold sores on my lips are a reminder of my penchant to stick my tongue out when focusing. Add in sun and constant, steady, unrelenting wind and for me its a recipe for inducing the sleepy virus into making itself known. I never learn. I should just chew gum. I'd arrived in town on Friday evening. Jase was already ensconced at AB's, along with southern guests Kieran and Mark. I met the lads at the tapas bar and Jase told me we had a plan for the following day. We'd hitch a lift with Greig in his tub and avoid the crowded pools by fishing downstream. I was seriously amped as it had been many years since I'd boated those parts. Later Miles rolled in, followed by Brian and Aaron. Great to catch up, really great. The southern contingent were in fine form, and at some stage I'd talked to Keiran about the Canterbury NW wind, the curse of the fly angler. He'd described the agony not of casting, but straps tangling and the never ending noise, chewing into your psyche, driving insanity closer and closer to reality. And that discussion would come back to me...

Jas was up and about early. I'd struggled (the struggle is real, I assure you..) to get to sleep. I was billeted in a room with Keiran and dossed down in an unfamiliar bed. I grabbed my gear and exited without waking up my roomie.  We grabbed a cuppa, and headed off in different directions. I drove downstream, parked, and walked. Jase headed over to Greig's place to help him load the boat and get launched. We'd meet on the river. I'd have the benefit of covering some water before we linked up and so I had a good spring in my step. First stop, 'the Kill Hole'. Its actually a shitty pool aesthetically, with a deep back eddy that varies in terms of its ability to take away direct contact with a swung fly and so, its a fairly technical piece of water. A downstream quartering cast (avoiding the darn snag that ate my head and tip...) with a mend and then lift the running line over the eddy.... and there in the window between downstream flow and upstream eddy lies the magic spot. Your fly feels weightless but its working. The swing across the bottom of the eddy. The sudden tightening if things go well. And then, the cast and step downstream, using the bank created by the eddy to access the tail out. And fish lie across the tail out where the river widens across a sandy bar. (Always fish the tail outs to their greatest extent, they are areas of high potential). The river was low and clear. And the KH only coughed one fish.. uh-oh, this could be a tough day. A breeze sprang up as I traversed to the next stretch, where later I'd meet the lads. 

Its beautiful swinging water. Lovely laminar flow, deeper water river left into a right hand bend, over a shelf into a deepening gut. The shelf, a gravel bar has created a sand bar further down where the pool broadens and deepens. There are several distinct holding spots throughout the run, but fish can more or less sit anywhere until disturbed so its of great benefit to be first through. I changed out the fly, digging through my box for the smallest sculpin I could dig up. I think it was the first cast when the fly was seized. Spray flew as the fish raced downstream, clearly a freshie. 

The little Trout Spey HD is such a fun rod to fight (appropriately sized) fish on and the fish simply wasn't about to be subdued. run after run. Toing and froing. Finally I lid her ashore, a perfect maiden hen fresh from the lake. Back into the run. I'd reached the wee bucket beside the gravel bar so wasn't surprised when a solid take thudded through the line. Again a protracted fight, and again a fat maiden hen was slid into the shallows to be released.

The breeze was growing now, into a stiff wind. For now, it was off my left shoulder. I hadn't reached the final holding water before a boat rounded the corner several hundred metres downstream; the lads had arrived earlier than expected. Greig beached the craft upstream and I waded up to greet the boys. The air was now chilled, the wind coming from colder climes. We drank tea and had a snack from Greig's thermos; he's good like that. Jase then headed up to cover the untouched water while I dropped in between him and where Greig took up position fishing int the deeper stuff. Last time we'd fished together here he'd taken a beautiful big fresh hen. Greig's Meiser fired his head and tip out rifle straight and soon he was hooked into a fish that he netted and released. And that was it. I'd expected more.

The wind now howled. It was cold. Cold and sunny. A howling SWW, straight off the snowy peaks. The orientation of the next stretch, so long, so inviting, maybe a km of beautiful swinging water, was East-West. And so, our casts which ideally would be angled down and across, were being blown back upstream. Direct contact on the fly was almost impossible. I hung up on trees on the far bank more than once, more than twice (I lost count). I was glad of my woolly hat and puffer jacket. The noise was relentless. Cast-step-cast-step. Throw a mend when possible. As we fished each stretch out we'd take turns taking the lead for the next, and importantly, despite the frigid conditions we were catching. When I looked upstream from time to time, either Greig or Jase would be bent into a fish, and occasionally a 'bow would thud my fly.

I'd fished a drop off to the extent of my ability to wade (the current as almost lifting me off my feet) and turned upstream to struggle back to the top if the run where the boat was anchored. Greig moved down while I kicked back, hiding from the wind. Inevitably he hooked up. He's a bit of a legend like that. Total legend actually. Between the lads they orchestrated the landing of the fish, a great brownie. 

A great bonus of traversing the river by boat was that as we found pods of fish on the downstream run we'd motor back up and fish down. Did I mention the wind? My face had begun to sting, frizzled by the wind and sun. I had my parka hood up. It felt like snow was in the air. Time crept by. Cast-swing-step. Downstream we marched, lost in thoughts. Too noisy to communicate. Inexorably we closed in on a dogleg in the river. Tall trees grew on the far bank - the near bank was high. It was like entering a quiet haven as the wind raged on and the trees bent. In the calm I realised I'd been spearing my casts with too much top hand, undoubtedly a defence mechanism against the wind. And now I was able to cover the water, landing the fly on a tight line. And 3 fish responded in the next 10 minutes. Having had the flurry and then lost the fly deep in the bowels of the pool on an unseen snag, I retreated and the other guys fished down and through, picking up a fish each. 

Magically, the wind began to ease. And it had to or we were in for a slow trip back upstream to drop me off; crossing the lake 3 up in the small craft would have been suicide in that wind, and I'd told the fellas I'd be happy to jump out and walk back up to the truck. We arrived at a final bend and took up possies. I went down around the bend and found a run completely studded with snags; a fallen tree centre river had created a nice downstream lie if I could get the fly through the mess. As it turned out the seam on my side of the tree was pretty clear and I could get a nice swing and shortly a nicely coloured jack ate, and was landed.

I was now officially stuffed. I wandered back upstream, passing Jas who reported the loss of one fish and when I reached Greig we took our rods down and launched the boat. The lake crossing past the delta was stress free, if a little damp from waves on the beam. By the time we unloaded and cleaned the boat and got going, Jas was looking jaded, he'd really felt the cold through his waders from our constant immersion, the high banks not allowing an easy exit from the water. Back at base we got warmed up, grabbed an evening meal and hit the hay early. 


Jase looked fully recovered. It was 6am in AB's kitchen and I felt rocked. My roomie had come in later, hit the hay and started snoring with great resonance. It was a while before I remembered that my Bose noise cancelling phones were in my work bag - so I grabbed them, and after a while drifted back off. None the less I was feeling a tad shabby. We drank tea, formed a plan. I wanted to fish the Boulder Pool, having not visited all year. Scene of my first hookup on a Spey rod, it will always hold a special place in my heart. Plus, Rob had reported over dinner that he and Johnny had fished it with great success while making a clip about their upcoming clinics. 

I dropped Jase at the Blue Pool car park and drove down to the wee bypass above the Boulder. Above me in the lower Blue, an angler wielded a spey rod. I waded the rock garden above the Boulder and arrived with great expectations. An hour later I'd fished what I consider the most beautiful pool on the river for one jaded and skinny slab. Yet fish were moving; splashing at emergers. Mayflies lifted from the surface.  And me.... well did I have a single wee wet on hand? Nup. I was like the proverbial fish out of water. As I made my final few casts, the angler who'd fished the Blue arrived at the head. I reeled in and moved up to meet Atu, a guy I'd seen on social media. He mentioned that we was struggling, hooking the bottom with his T-14 tip and weighted fly. That took me back a few years. It had taken me a few seasons and plenty of conversations with experienced guys to get through my head that 10' of T-8 is plenty enough tip in the Tongariro. Exceptions I guess are when the flows reach 40 or more cumecs, when I'll step up to T-11 and perhaps an intermediate head to slow the swing through holding water. Which reminds me... I was listening to Trevor Covich on the Wet Fly Swing (you should really take time to listen, do yourself a favour) podcast and he mentioned something that resonated later... when the steelhead water is high, he's focusing on swinging out the quieter edges in shallower water because that's where the fish will be. As the level drops, he's forced into fishing heavier because the fish will retreat into deeper water. Think about that. The inclination to try and hit the buckets at the expense of taking on the riffles is real. The struggle is real. My catch rate has improved (but that's also experience, better fly presentation etc) and importantly I'm not losing half a box of flies on the bottom of the river every day.

I wandered upstream, arriving in time to get a bird's eye view of Jase hooking a great fish in the Pig Pen, from the tall bank I stood on the view was epic and the fish flashed downstream in he blink of an eye, before simply blowing him away. Pesty called and we rolled out to meet him at the Trout Centre. I pretty much figured that with a time in mind to get away, that I'd focus on one run and fish it thoroughly. we call it the OTHP (Over The Hill Pool) which actually isn't a pool, its a nice run that fish hold in. Its changed a lot since I fished swung a fly through 5 years ago, the true left of the run having filled in so that the run is able to be crossed easily if you wanted to. Fish can hold anywhere in the run, and they do. And, by the time I'd finished, seven fish had hit and 5 had seen the bottom of my net. Another had thrown the hook on a magnificent jump. The other had harassed the fly but avoided the hook. One of the fish landed was a really large jack, probably in the >6lb range, wearing colours that suggested he'd been waiting for just the right hen to arrive.

He splashed me as he swam away. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

WAB! (Welcome Aboard Bat); recreating the past

There are those who argue that the Taupo fishery contains too many trout, that they have eaten the ecosystem out of house and home , and that as a result the remaining fish are small and skinny. I just don't know enough to comment, but the fish size seems to change year to year. (In 2017, we broke out the 5 & 6 weight Spey rods and still got dealt to by enough fish to keep it interesting). What I do know is that since 2015 until the weekend just passed, I have killed a sum total of 5 trout (all fat silver spawners) and have smoked every one of them. All that was about to change... for quite some time the lads had discussed recreating one of those old time black and white 'kill shots', the type where stern faced, hat wearing mustached types stand behind or holding their fishy kill. Kind of anti catch 'n release, kind of grotesque and way the hell out of step with the modern mentality. When killing fish, we refer to it as 'WABing', where WAB stands for the Welcome Aboard Bat (or priest) - the mini club used to kill the fish with a blow to the head.

So we were on a mission. A kill mission. Hell, I'd packed a fluffy indicator rod. And egg patterns. And split shot. My first fish of the weekend was 'scratched up' as we call it. But I'd quickly grown bored of using an outfit mismatched for the task at hand and after a while traded it in for my #s Trout Spey HD, and began to swing the run below the hole we'd been 'nymphing' (egging with split shot) while Jase went on to beach and kill 5. We were on  mission. Later, Jas, Tim, Layla and I headed to the TT, a smaller river. We expected that with a bit of rain and some colour in the water that we'd do alright. We left our jackets in the truck and set off in bright sunlight. As we'd begun to fish, rain bearing clouds closed in and soon a torrential downpour was upon us. I was glad of my merino layers. We swung flies on the light Spey rods and all caught fish. Tim landed a beauty which went in the kill stats. It was a nice change of scenery. The weekend conditions were akin to combat fishing. Anglers occupied every pool. I'd walked a long way to get to my chosen water and fished it as carefully as I could for 3 plucks and one (great) fish landed. I'd planned to walk up to the next pool which had treated me well of later, fish that, then come back down. But once up there I found a guy waist deep and left him to it. At the truck it was decision time.. where to go to find more fish? Upstream the gates were locked and no one was parked so with lab in tow I set off on the brisk 200 min walk to my chosen water. Not an angler in sight. Nothing like a walk to separate men from boys. My waders were leaking (again) but the sun was out, and despite the gusts I was able to pin good casts out. The pluck on the fly turned into a good set and the fish on the end burned line out. A good fight came to an end with fish in net and he became a stat soon after. Downriver, the town pools we frequent were surprisingly free of anglers (its challenging water) and on 2 trips down the pool I took 2 more fish, a sweet fat hen and a dark silver jack. I fished on, only finding one other fish worth adding to the pile. At base I cleaned mine and the other guys' fish and added them to the chiller. Then I set the fire and dried out my waders and wet trousers, dried the dog, showered and grabbed a beer. We'd agreed to be ready at 3.30, dressed to kill in op shop clothing. The boys rolled in and we set off. We arrived at the same time as a DOC ranger - photographer found! At first he was taken slightly aback before joining in the spirit of the occasion. He first wanted some shots for his Dept's website and then took shots of us in full garb, and made a great job of it.

The results are quite outstanding really. A job well done.