Friday, November 17, 2017

Top 10 things I learned this year about swinging flies for trout with the Spey rod

1. Trout, even those bright chrome fresh into the Tongariro river fish from Lake Taupo, WILL move up in the water column to smash a fly as long as its fished correctly. At the start of the Autumn/Winter season, I was heaving up to 12' of T-14 with weighted flies to 'get down' to the fish. Through a process of losing a shitwhack of flies, not being able to swing tail outs properly and watching and listening to better anglers than I, I came around to using T-10 and T-8 tips. I snagged less and caught more fish because I was ... wait for it... fishing more!. Some casts were definitely hitting the fly in less than 2 feet of water. Go figure. All those grandad aged books that said "to catch Taupo fish you have to be on the bottom..." well, they're wrong. (Not 100% wrong, but nowhere near 100% right either).

2. Small flies on the whole out fish larger flies. The key is to get a balance of size and weight in the fly. At the start of the season I was swinging 4" steelhead flies. By the end I was swinging 2" flies with tungsten beads our cones for weight and regularly pulling multiple fish from pools. For context if I was able to get a hit or 2 from a single pool at the start of this journey I was overjoyed. That's not to say I wouldn't be now, its just an observation that by constantly in on your gear and making observations (don't be afraid to ask!) you can get much stronger results. The largest fish I took in Argentina ate the smallest fly I fished all week, a #14 curved hook rubber legged nymphy thing fished actively. That possibly was a hint :)

3. Might is not right. Underhand casting requires precision in setting the anchor and timing. Watch videos and practice!

4. Fish out your swing right-to-the-end. It may take a big hit when you start stripping back metres of running line in preparation for the next cast to drive this one home - fish will follow your fly to the end of the swing and pounce - and this can be right at the edge of the river in stuff all water. If you're not fishing the whole swing including some enticing small strips as your line is completely straight below you, then you're never going to know how many fish spooked off or didn't eat your fly as it was dragged away.

5. This isn't a rule so much as an observation... sad, spawned-out kelts and slabs on the whole will not chase a swung fly as vigorously as a healthy or fresh fish. I caught very few slabs compared to comrades who dead drifted nymphs and eggs. Yes I caught spawned fish but nothing like in the spawned:fresh ratio that nymphers did. Mind you I caught a hell of a lot less fish. Leading to...

6. The tug IS the drug. A jarring reel screaming hit on a swung fly is worth 100 fluffy indicator dips. You wont believe me until you find out for yourself.

7. Do different things. Last year when I knew a lot less than the very little I know now and couldn't cast worth a damn I was hitting fish with the worst possible casts that landed slack and got several metres of free drift as I tried to get the whole thing under control - fish will plain and simple hit a dead drifted swung fly. Its not a tooth clattering hit but when it all comes up tight.. well FISH ON!!!

8. Use heavy as leader. One day on the Big T I ran out of 10 & 12lb. The fish ate flies looped on with 20lb no problem at all. Ok so these are passive aggressive spawning fish biting at the fly for god only knows what reason so this probably wont translate to fishing wee wets or small streamers in your local.If you could get mono/fluro that thick through the eye of your hook. At one point in my career I used to use 6lb in the Big T on my nymphing rigs. I got spanked a lot, quite needlessly.

9. Match your heads as well as tips to the water in hand. 40 cumecs flow in the Big T is very different from 25. I found the Airflo F.I.S.T concept excellent in heavy flow but in lighter its just less effective than a full floater. This of course should seem obvious but I for one fall into the trap now and again of 'it worked last time, so it should damn well work this time...". That my friends, doesn't hold for fishing and we all know it!!!

10. Double hand fishing is stupidly addictive.Much to the detriment of my other fly fishing, I've hardly lifted a single hander this year. This will backfire for me of course when I go out for a kingi or snap soon and can't get my shit together.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017


In the winter of 1996, the All Blacks won their first ever test series away to the "Old Foe", the Springboks. As Sean Fitzpatrick, on hands and knees clubbed the ground with joy, Brian, Miles, Al, Andre and I watched the TV and knew that we'd just witnessed history being made. I have a vague memory that we fished the shorelines of both Rotoiti and Okataina, and that Milo hung a couple of large fish while the rest of us blanked. I think that's how it went.

Anyway, we'd never reconvened as a group to go fishing, always one or the other was missing. Families, careers, travel, life - it all conspires to get in the way. And so it would be again - Andre couldn't make it. We'd warmed up by going into town the prior week to watch films at the RISE film festival, (sans Brian who couldn't make that gig). The weekend was planned in advance to allow us to get together and fish the rivers around Turangi.

You know you're in great company when the weekend just flows, and flow it did. We fell straight into banter and fished as hard as we wanted to. I had some river time with Milo who wanted to kick back (with a big guiding season ahead of him a bit of downtime wouldn't hurt) and we sat on the bank yakking in between a bit of swinging. Brian and Al enjoyed themselves and Jase fished hard both days.

For me the fishing on Saturday was interesting. The river was lower and I'd persisted with the Airflo F.I.S.T when maybe I ought to have run a straight floating head. The first 5 fish I hooked were either there and then gone, or threw the hook on the first run. They were definitely taking softly and I now theorise that the heavier tip of the F.I.S.T's head combined with reticent fish and lower flow caused less feel in the take, allowing the fish to mouth and throw the fly. The lower flow did however open up some wading options that haven't been available all season, and I was able to access the Boulder Pool from above. This is the pool where a year ago I hooked my first ever fish on a spey rod, albeit briefly and this time it treated me to some quality takes. I manged to get the final 3 fish to the bank but the first few were frustrating as each threw the hook, including one that peeled line and felt like a solid fish.

Late in the day as Milo and I returned to the car park, Pete arrived with Kaiser in tow, and he and Layla played together as we talked smack. Brian and Al soon arrived and then Jase came downriver. We had all arrived in one place at the same juncture and without planning, and to me looking back now it seems quite apt. Back at base we settled in for a glass of Scotch and snacks before heading out for dinner.

The following day's fishing was absorbing. Bri and Al had opted to not fish, and to leave for home early. Miles and Jase would go up another stream with Andy, and I'd fish alone. The sun was still below the horizon as Layla settled down on her rock to stand guard over the run. A fish first cast would set the scene hopefully, but I dropped the next 3 in a row. I spent a good couple of hours combing down the pool, landing 5 fish and missing several more. I really wasn't hitting anything chrome or super fresh, but none the less a couple of the fish fought for their lives.

Spawned out but still on the chomp

Been in the river a while
I was feeling pretty tired, the day before had been a long one with 12 hours on the river and with daylight savings having robbed us of another hour's sleep overnight I just felt jaded.

I decided on one more run before pulling the pin, so drove up to the OTHP (Over The Hill Pool) which is prime swinging water. The day before I'd taken a dip at the head of the run where it drops from knee to hip depth.... and I promptly did the same again! Given that I'd followed Jase down the pool yesterday and he'd extracted 8 fish to my 2, I thought I'd be a good bet in here. But again I had the dropsies! Fish were holding in the very soft water below me and as the fly gently swung in they were hitting it. I had 3 takes before I got my first positive hook up and the fish bored out into the heavy flow giving a decent account of itself. Not silver, not fresh, but well recovered. I spent a couple of hours here, chiding myself for my ever worsening casting creating sub par opportunities to hit fish in the far seam across the main current. Fish were hitting and missing or occasionally hooking up. By 1 pm it was time to go and on the spur of the moment I decided to drop into one final run near town. Surprisingly, the pools immediately below the bridge were devoid of anglers. Given that they are real troll holes, that was quite unexpected. The run I was in had been generous to us this year, but with decreased water the rocks were slimy and I had trouble getting a grip on the bottom. The wind blew first up and then downstream in darkening gusts. My rhythm was blown and I fished without enthusiasm.

The boys rolled in late in the afternoon, they'd had a cracker up another stream. I'd finished tidying the house and was caffeinated and ready to drive. With an extra hour of light at the tail of the day the drive didn't seem quite as taxing, none the less home was a welcome sight. It won't be another 20 years before we do this again.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Small hackled wets on the swing

I've got a real hankering to swing some wet flies on the light double hander, so I've had a couple of sessions tying wee wets. I've never really focused on this style of fly before and all my swinging efforts have been focused on streamers large and small. Don't get me wrong, the streamer method has served me well on both runners and resident fish, but I want to try something a tad different. The reading I've done indicates that fishing small wets with the double hander is not always a swinging game; upstream and across presentations to drift the flies dead appear to also be on the menu. I guess the real appeal is that its a new and exciting aspect to the trout spey game that I haven't tried yet.

The other day as a cold rain fell (it had snowed earlier) and the river was high, we noticed a swarm of swallows diving and bombarding. It was apparent that a hatch was on and after we'd (successfully) fished through the run with streamers I asked Pete (one of the country's foremost bug spotters and fly tiers) if he'd seen what was coming off - he hadn't. I didn't even bother to look, given that the fish were actively smashing my streamer and it wasn't until much later that I'd sort of out 2 and 2 together that perhaps the hatch was stimulating the fish to feed, and as a juicy streamer came past they'd lash out at it because they were already on the chomp.

If I'd swung some small flies would they fish have taken them with gusto? That would've been a cool scenario. Really keen to try this in lower water conditions than I think we'll find anytime soon. With more rain forecast there's no sign of a letup or a chance for the water levels to fall. The good news I suppose is that the fish runs should continue unabated.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Blown out

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

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

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

Photo credits: Jason Cochrane

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

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

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

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

Cloud over Pihanga

Small & feisty

It rained all the way home....

Wednesday, August 30, 2017


As I get older I seem to be less likely to turn the other cheek when it comes to plain old fashioned rudeness.

We sat around the fireplace on Saturday night. Andy had brought his mate Connor, and Connor's girlfriend around to Karl's place, where Tim, Jase, Karl and I were staying. The Black Piranha was snugged up in her crate. Each of us had fished different areas of the river during the day, and with the exception of Jase each of us had been 'jumped' on the river (anglers entering the water ahead of an angler already fishing up or down) or subjected to lack of etiquette during the day, and we were regaling.

But still, it was an awesome day, with fish hooked, caught, lost or landed. At one point I'd run into Tim and Karl on the track who were accompanied by Grieg who I'd not seen for years and Brent who I'd not met before, when wandering down the track came Andy and his mate Charles who again I'd not met before. Charles is married to legendary fly angler April Vokey and is a mean angler in his own right. We all carried spey rods and it was quite a wee gathering! I'd noticed in the car park that my truck had a flat tyre developing and didn't think much of it other than I'd need to change the tyre before changing locations.

I'd been at the bottom of the run I was fishing when Jase had called me and told me that he'd had a big brown smack his fly and not hook up and I was on my way up to see him when the gathering of long rodders had occurred.

That morning we'd started off early enough to be the second car into the Blue Pool car park and shortly after a van rolled in and 2 young guys got out. I wandered down to the river where Layla deposited herself at the head of the lower pool run, which is pretty neat swinging water. The first bloke who had arrived before us was landing a fish on nymphing gear in the upper pool as I started down. Soon one of the van guys came down (I'll call him blondie) and asked what my intentions were so I said "Yup I'm fishing the run down". Shortly after, he and his mate came down from the car park and disappeared behind the bushes. They re-appeared at the bottom of the run and began to rig nymphing gear. My heart began to beat faster and my blood pressure rose... especially when blondie approached the water half way down the run I was already fishing. I called out "hey bro, I'm fishing that water!" and again when he seemed to not hear. The second time he got the message and scuttled off with his mate. I set about my work and soon had a massive hit that caused the reel to shriek and a good sized fish cart-wheeled across the water before the hook was thrown. I soon had a few more hits and hookups and landed some really nice fish.

After the call from Jase I wandered up and crossed the tail of the Sand Pool to work my way down to my mate. He showed me some photos of a massive brown that he'd come across and we made our way back across and up to the Reef Pool for a fish. Soon I landed another fish that I called for a brown as it simply shook its head, but then a recently spawned but still silver rainbow appeared and was banked.

Dog's day out

Jase took off downstream and I moved down shortly to find him talking with Andy & Charles in the Blue Pool tail. Andy and I sat on the bank as Jase and Charles swapped gear and began blasting out casts, it was great to watch! It was nearing midday as we returned to the car park where my now fully flat tyre was replaced after a bit of fiddling and some assistance from the lads.

The rest of the day was pleasant as we wandered the almost deserted middle river. Late afternoon found me in one of our favourite pools where I managed to pull 5 fish in the head before Jase joined me and soon landed a big bugger of his own. I manahed a few more hits and 2 further fish as the sun dropped, and as the air cooled and we decided that a full unbroken day on the river was done.

Later that evening we'd eaten goose burgers and fries before being joined by Andy & Connor to watch the rugby. Our comparison of rude bastard notes left me feeling not so bad - Tim for example had a guy walk in on him and stand pretty much halfway between him and where he was casting to! Karl had had something similar happen and Andy just shook his head as he recounted his experience. With 2 visiting angling clubs plus a town full of guys with rods there was bound to be some pressure on the pools.

Early the following morning I was pretty careful on the drive back to town as my spare tyre isn't exactly laden with tread and it was raining. At the tyre repair shop the guy asked if I had any enemies? "Why?" I asked..."because there were 2 screws and a nail in that tyre". Yup, those bastards in the property maintenance van who'd tried to jump me had left some presents in the tyre for me.....

Monday, August 21, 2017

Due care and attention

When I was fishing the other day the reel, a click pawl Speyco, jammed solid at one point. I noticed a small sliver of metal between the spool and frame and had an “uh-oh this isn’t good” moment. Not wanting to break the reel down bankside, I got my pliers and extracted what was obviously a piece of broken spring. Back home I went online just to check instructions for changing out a check spring in this reel, and came across another bloke’s images – he’d had ALL of his springs broken on a single run of a steelhead.

Other bloke's reel
Hmmm. Anyhow, I broke down the reel and it was a complete mess inside.

Inside my reel

So, out with a bottle of white spirits and a tube of silicone grease. I broke down the click pawl system (2 of the 4 springs were gone) and cleaned the reel out completely. A wipe out with light oil and then grease applied to the springs and bearing, the 2 spare springs employed and she was back to good working order.

From Speyco's site. Nice and clean

I really should have done this when I got the reel, and it will need a wipe down inside after each trip. Goes to show how effective the sealed drag reels are these days. I'd be unlucky to have to clean some of my other reels more than once per year.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

10 percent

On the weekend I had the distinct pleasure of fishing with one of the "10 percenters", one of those guys who are so uncannily wired in on the fish that they can wreak havoc on their finny adversaries. Karl's a mate of a mate's mate who invited Jase and I to stay in his Turangi house over the weekend. Ostensibly we'd gone down for the annual Fly Fest, but in reality this would be Jase's first foray post foot surgery and he was amping to swing some flies!

We met Karl at his house late Friday night. We got settled, had a chinwag and hit the hay around midnite. The can of V I'd drunk on the way down to ensure alert driving made its presence felt when around 1 I was still tossing and turning. But sleep I did in a fashion and it was around 5.45 when I heard Karl moving around. He was going to head to one of his spots to nymph with a mate of his who was coming down. Jase and I went to a run that was working well for swung flies of late and got into our work. The river was high and rain fell constantly... not high as in brown and flooded, but in the 45-55 cumec range against a normal 25-30 flow. The water had a beautiful tinge.

Jase started at the top of the run while I moved in just above the bucket. It was just such a different run with the extra flow that it took a bit of getting used to. I was fishing when Jase's series of nightmares began. He called out that he'd brought his wrong tips. I dug into my pouch and gave him a spare T-11 tip that I had. Soon I got a hit and hooked up to a beautiful little fish who simply didn't give an account of herself - the upturned hook in my sculpin fly had nabbed her in the upper jaw/nostril area so I'm picking that the upward pressure kept her mouth open and subdued her.

Then disaster befell my buddy - his running line broke on a strike leaving the fly, leader, tip and head attached to the fish. I dug out a spare head and tip and gave them to Jase. I finished winging the tail out then swung the entire pool again for nil other than snags, and left couple of flies stuck in the rocks. I wandered downstream and pulled a fish out of the next run, in close company of a fish executioner on the far bank who'd rip fish out of the water on his glo bug, boot them up the bank then dump them in the tray of his ute. Special guy, he obviously disliked fish intensely.

Jase joined me and we decided to move on for while. Karl had let us know he'd be in one of his favourite pools, one which Jase didn't like very much so I dropped him off and moved up to find Karl up to his waist fishing down the Hydro. I moved in behind him and watched him expertly comb the water. By the time Jase arrived with his mate Cutsie in tow, Karl had whipped 4 rainbows out for my single fish. It was like following an industrial vacuum cleaner! Jase beckoned so I waded over to find that he's lost another head (not mine!) to a fish and needed to go shopping. I gave him the keys to my truck and got back in the pool. What followed was a bit on an angling masterclass. Karl hooked up and called over his shoulder "brown!". The fish dragged him down and across and swam into the trees on the far side. Karl waded down, applying as much pressure as he could and then began a dance that started with net unleashed, rod bent crazily and  ended with shaking foliage and a sizable fish in the net. By the time he'd photographed the fish and returned across the pool I'd covered a fair bit of water for no takes so we decided to head upstream. Cutsie would catch up with Jase for the afternoon.

We got to the next run after a brisk walk and I was first through. A fish took short on the second swing and then came at the fly again a couple of casts later to be firmly hooked. We worked our way down and Karl hooked and landed a really nice fish. We decided to head back to town and see if we could get into one of the 'name' pools, guess we were kidding ourselves thinking like that as town was flooded with anglers. We headed back to base for a shower and beer. Jase and Cutsie rocked in later, Jase having redeemed himself with 5 fish for the afternoon. That night we joined the Fly Fest crowd at the tavern and caught up with faces both new and old - it was great!

Blue Pool

Sunday dawned fine. Karl was taking a newbie out for his first trout so Jase and I decided to hit the upper river pools. It would be fair to say that it was a struggle to deal with the extra water... the Whitikau gave Jase a couple of short-takers, then I lost a couple of flies in the rocks at the tail of the sand, while Jase walked down to the Reef pool. I hopped down further to fish the tail of the Blue; the upper pool was occupied by some old guys with deck chairs. I got stuck in, the wading was trickier than usual but I stuck with it. I was occasionally hitting the bottom so my fly was definitely in the right area, and I managed in that first foray 5 hits for 3 fish banked. And they were uniformly small and dark nothing at all like the chromers we'd managed of late. Jase followed me down and managed a hit or 2 only, so we decided to up sticks, have lunch and decide on a new venue. We drank hot coffee and ate rolls sitting on the banks of the river and it was a fine place to be! Next stop for us was the Mill Race. Last trip I'd had a ball in here so was expecting great things. Jase went through first and then I followed him, really focusing on getting a shallow angled swing through the seam.  The fish when it hit, launched upstream and to the side twice and threw the hook. I concentrated harder. I swung that seam with great focus, putting the fly through slowly, fast, dead drift... but nothing else bit. Jase got a hit or two but nothing stuck, for whatever reason (probably angling pressure) the fish were reticent. We decided to make our final stand in the town pools and drove down to the car park which was standing room only. Again our little run was unoccupied (it looks like swift rapid water - unappealing to the millions of nymphers who walk past it). I went in halfway down and Jase fished the head. His first fish bit in the soft seam in no more than a couple of feet of water, and came downstream with firm determination. I had to run ashore so it wouldn't put me between the soft water behind me and the surging flow in front of me, and Jase banked her shortly afterwards. He hooked up again shortly thereafter while all I managed was snag after snag. I began to put 2 and 2 together regarding tips. 1. 12' of T-14 is a bit too much on the #6 2. That tip in combination with weighted flies sure combs the bottom, but in high water we are fishing the edges much more = snags

We met a couple of old mates back at the car park, and after a decent chinwag we got out of town. I remarked to Jase that I'd lost a heap of flies over the weekend. He'd lost none....

Friday, August 4, 2017

Blooding the X rod

X = 10, and Sage's X rod represents the 10th generation of blank technology. I've been using a Sage One 7126 (#7, 12'6") for my Tongariro double handed work up to now and its a fine casting rod, but probably that bit too much for fish in the 2 - 5lb category. With that in mind and based on good mate Jason's feedback (he's been toting an X 6120 for a while) I ordered same the rod... but its been some time in my possession without being fired - IT WAS TIME!

I was awake just before 3am so decided to just get on with it. Layla was fed and watered, I ate breakfast, grabbed a coffee and got on the road. The trip was pretty good, despite a damp road and a bit of fog I made it in good time and was beside the pool of choice by 7.30. I teamed the rod with a Rio Skagit Max Short 425, 12' of T-14 and tied on an olive bunny leach with an orange cone with enough weight to defeat the strong flow. I could see anglers in the pool below hauling fish so I knew it was just a matter of time before I was in... then I began to snag the bottom. I changed flies. I hung up in the shrubs on the far side. I couldn't feel my fly bumping the bottom. I changed the head to a 450gr Airflo F.I.S.T. I wasn't getting feedback through the line. In short I lacked that vital element of successful fishing - confidence. I sat down in the drizzle and reflected for a few minutes. The river was in perfect nick with a green tinge and running higher than normal. There were plenty of fish in the river. I just needed to go back to basics and trust myself. Layla nodded at me as I revealed all of this to her. Maybe the fish just weren't holding here... and I'd lost a couple of flies so I decided to move.

It took a few minutes of driving and 10 minutes of walking to the next stretch. Most anglers avoid it because the swift flow doesn't look like holding water, but that same swift flow disguises a really nice bucket. As I arrived a nympher worked the fast water at the head of the pool on the far bank... really I couldn't see what he hoped to catch up there but each to their own I suppose. I began to comb the water, with each cast moving down a step. The first fish that hit ripped line and tore off downstream and in a blink of an eye completely did me, taking my running line and plenty of backing as it exited the pool ... before throwing the fly. The next 90 minutes was magic, simply magic. The next fish (and first landed on the rod) hit the fly and then cartwheeled downstream, causing the reel (click pawl Speyco) to shriek. I leaned on the rod to pull the fish clear of the current but time and again it charged into the heavy water before I finally was able to beach her. She was simply majestic, fat, silver and utterly beautiful.

After a few photos she shot away into the current. The depth of the next fish as he leaped when the hook bit told me he was sizable so the fight was perhaps more epic than the previous and hes bored away again and again, causing the reel to have conniptions. When finally landed I was gazing at the largest Tongariro rainbow I've caught in many a year, a large broadsided fat silver jack in full silver regalia.

And as if nothing could top that I managed another 3 fish to the bank before the inevitable happened and jealousy kicked in for 2 other anglers (who had inched closer and closer each time my rod bent) who decided to try and fish the pool from the far bank. This is so typical of human nature but I suppose the sound of a screaming reel has that effect. As their casting began to encroach I started dropping my fly 3 feet in front of them, to show I was still working the water. I had the distinct pleasure of hooking several more fish, one of which I landed and another which took to the air in front of them, spitting the fly. By now Layla was a bit soaked through and was curled in a damp ball on the bank and I was getting hungry so it was time for a move.

In town I caught up with Pete and the shop and we talked tactics, dribble, pheasant shooting, dribble, and even some smack. He gave me the lowdown on some tactics employed by a notable spey angler and from that I knew both where I'd be going and what I'd be doing after lunch. 2 pies and a bottle of V for me, and a pile of dog biscuits for Layla. We arrived at an empty car park (this NEVER happens) and with a spring in my step I strode towards the pool while Layla (who'd perked up) began to follow up scents. The rain had stopped. Upon entering the pool I saw how the extra flow had changed its characteristics... usually the flow of water in the head was swifter creating a massive challenge to sink a fly. With the increased flow a distinct seam of joggly water was created and the likely holding water increased 3 fold. Against this backdrop I have to say that the most fish I'd ever taken here before was 2 in a session. The session that unfolded was nothing short of epic as fish after fish took the fly and screamed line off the reel. It was quite simply a red letter session.

By the time I'd fished 2/3 of the run and another angler appeared with his dog, I'd stopped counting hits and misses, fish caught, fish tussled with and dropped... by the time I'd worked 2/3 of the pool a guy appeared with nymph rod in hand and old dog in tow and asked me my plans. I told him I'd keep fishing down so he was welcome to fish up from me. He duly went in and straight away hooked up. Layla went up the pool to help him land the fish... I called her back.

My last fish landed from the pool was the only spent fish for the day and heralded time for a move. I had just enough time to swing one final run. The fish that took near the bottom of the run was small and silver and I tried to horse her ashore. The hook pulled. And with that, I pulled the pin also. With 4 hours of driving ahead of me it was time to go.

X rod blooded - what a red letter day.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Blue skies and freezing days

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

Mud. Putting the diff locks to good use

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

White wings

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

Dusk. Layla with her prize.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Rules are there for a reason

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

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

A swamp, not a paddock

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

The highlights:

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

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

Monday, July 10, 2017

Dirty old mid-weeker

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mid weekers should be more commonplace.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Hills and sneaky birds

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

Dog Squad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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