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.....


Monday, June 19, 2017

Slowing down

Saturday was about taking everything slow, the advice imparted in the Larimer DVD was all about starting with body position, strong anchor set and letting it flow from there. But way before the fishing started we were already taking it easy, as some of the thickest fog I'd ever seen blanketed the Waikato. We were away at 4.20 am with Layla riding shotgun and we headed south. Over the Bombays we hit the fog and it was dramatic. With fog lights on and headlights on low beam visibility was low and we simply had to drive slowly. I rang Jase when I was about an hour out and he was 10 minutes behind me. We arranged a rendezvous point and by the time Jase pulled in, Layla had been watered and toileted. The final leg was better as the road was clear and there was little fog. It was with some trepidation that I strung up the #4 Sage 11'6" with the 325 g skagit head, this time paired with 10' of T-8. Jase had swung up some crackers on a small green AI the previous week so I tied one on. Layla sniffed the air, and set about finding some pheasant scent. We were breathing steam like dragons. I had a number of layers on - the air was crackling cold and ice was on the ground. It would be a stunner of a day. By the time we reached our entry point the sun was trying to poke through the low lying mist and we couldn't have timed our start better. Layla and I headed up to a big pool with a beautiful wide tailout. Up at the head of the rapids was a bucket on our side of the river so that was where I started. I flicked the tip and half the head out and guided the fly from heavy water and into the bucket. The take was subtle, just a weight coming on rather than a smash and I lifted into a fish that ripped the head out through the rings. I got some control and fought a neat rainbow through the heavy water and beached her for a couple of quick shots.

Face full of Senyo's AI

Layla found some bird scent and followed it into the scrub. She's still a bit too impatient to sit and wait while I fish out a pool - one thing about swinging is that its a very thorough exercise to comb a pool.

Layla giving me the "I'm bored" salute
Moving down to the base of the rapid I began to consciously analyse the cast. Set feet. Lift slowly and position anchor, sweep from low to high applying energy smoothly. With no wind to bother me I was able to practice off both shoulders and got some pretty pleasing casts in. The next fish took well down the tailout and ripped line so I knew it was a goodie. It made run after run before I got it ashore for a quick photo shoot. The final fish of the tail out hit the fly as I stripped line to make a new cast and was a small energetic little guy. As we wandered downstream to meet Jase the sun was out and air chilled further with the catabatic effect pushing cooler air down. It was a simply stunning day and my heart sang. We met up and agreed that Jase would cross to fish the next pool while I tackled it from my side. The pool had enough width to accommodate us both without much bother. I tied on a heavy eyed fly and twice fouled the bottom, while the current was heavy the pool shallowed out my side. The second time I pulled hard but my 12 lb leader with a guides Bimini didn't break... but my shooting line to head knot did! Damn! I waded downstream and soon spotted the teal blue head, waded out and got hold of it. After a rigging a new loop and rearranging the head I tied on a lighter fly. Next cast was rewarded with a tug and a fish took off. I landed her and soon hooked another at the very end of the swing - this was one of those that the pressure on the line told the story of rather than any thumping or head shaking. I soon banked her.

Fishing 2 pools had occupied a whole morning. We wandered further downstream to a pool where Jase had had good success before and he set to fishing it while I fed Layla and ate my own lunch. Jase soon laid into a fish that threw the hook.

There, then gone

The next stretch is beautiful swinging water but on my side I didn't elicit a take, while Jase missed 2 fish. We got down to an area shadowed by the high hills and it was cold... the water dark in the shade. Jase did well and landed a couple before I moved down to fish a promising run studded with boulders.

I hadn't touched a fish for a couple of hours by this time. Jase leapfrogged down stream and I got about my work. Layla found a spot in the sun to lie down on. Her day of quail and pheasant scenting, river crossing, and making sure no wayward cattle bothered us had been pretty full-on. I was blowing my anchor again so had to focus. Feet, body, lift, set, cast. Slowly slowly. The fish when it hit simply thud-thudded mid swing and sat out in the current. I was picking the fight as very brown-like so was surprised to see a rainbow jack. Soon after another jogging hit, but the hook missed its mark.

The dog and I crossed downstream with little free board on my part. We met with Jase  who'd swung a great looking pool to no effect. Time was getting on - by now it was 3 pm and we decided to call it at 4, with darkness dropping at 5.30 we really wanted to be out of the gorge with time to spare. We moved further downstream to check out a few new spots and then about turned. The march out was the most frantic thing we'd done all day.  We moved a large covey of quail and mentally bagged a few each.

A friendly local passed us by on a motorcycle with a wave and soon we were back at the cars.

Beautiful winter days are hard to beat, and drinking them slowly is the best way of enjoying them.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

I sucked

Pride comes before a fall. Prior to our Argie trip, my Skagit casting was good. Not great, but I could bang a cast out off either shoulder. Post Patagonia I didn't pick up a rod but my mates' photos of nice fresh run 'bows from the Tongariro fueled my hankering to get down and boom out some casts. My #7 was still over at Coch's place and he was away so I'd use the #4 with a 325g skagit head and appropriate tip. I'd show those fish who was boss. I'd put the fly right in their face. All I had to do was show up....

Show up we did! Layla almost immediately found a dirty old crap left by some mongrel who clearly couldn't be fkd digging a hole. She rolled in it. That wasn't going to stop me. But what did stop me was... I simply couldn't skagit cast. Off-shoulder I could bang out a line one in five times but that was it. I was screwed. I couldn't diagnose what the hell was going wrong. I messed around with tips. I messed around. I fished with zero confidence. By some marvel I managed to bank a couple of really dumb fish. I got some more tugs.. but the whole time my lack of ability was killing me. I sat down and talked to myself. The dog looked at me like I was mental. Some of the best swinging water on the river may as well have been a mud bath for all the good I was doing. I blamed the head - it was the first time I'd fished that combo and it was gonna be the last too...

But still, it was bloody awesome to be out.

Last night Coch and I were heading over to the Auckland Fresh Water Anglers Club to participate in a show and tell discussion on our Patagonian adventure and we got to talking. He'd swung up some awesome fish on Sunday - using the exact same setup I'd been using. He'd banged out good long straight fishing casts all day and was rewarded with some awesome fish. He raved about that 325g skagit. I told him about my abject failure. And that's when he told me about his steelhead adventure on the Santa Cruz - he'd found himself in the same place I'd arrived at and said he was a bit dejected to have pretty much wasted 2 of his 3 days on a legendary river. Jase had picked up a copy of Tom Larimer's Skagit Revolution DVD on his return, and had diagnosed a couple of faults that had hindered him. I've got the DVD now. Lots of practice needed....

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Seasons come and go

I'm not going to do my annual "the duck season's too short" lament, partly because its getting old :) but mostly because its been a great season. I got to hunt every weekend, harvested good numbers of birds, introduced a new prospect to hunting, hunted with mates and family, ate some of the best swamp meals ever... yup it was great.

Matt and I traveled together, arriving at the landing in pretty good time, considering it was a holiday weekend. At the hut dad, Tom and Paul were all asleep and so after waking dad to ask him where the decoys were set up we grabbed a couple of dozen and went out to set up McLennan's which I picked would be a decent bet with a forecast southerly. We got back, had a beer or two with Andy who'd arrived and after lights-out the pup curled up on my bed. Paul was up early to crack on with breakfast and then we set sail. It was cool and I was glad to have my puffer jacket on. Ducks moved in good numbers, but they were high and wide and had their sights set on safer pastures as it were. Our sole chance came when a flock of teal materialised and set up to land - it was only when they were feet down that I could pick their shoulder flashes and called them as spoonies. Matt who thought I was joking didn't fire as the birds got out of Dodge, my 2 shots dropped 2 birds and the dogs took off after them. 

Layla - out and back with a spoonie

After that we shot a single out of a group of 3 that got too close and then another. We pulled out at 10.30 in what had turned into a sunny day. Matt's job was to get lunch ready which he did while I did a bit of a tidy up in the hut. The other guys came back to the hut for the meal and then we had a wee siesta - I was ready to sleep and had an hour or 2. Matt and I had hatched a plan to get out into a hole in the trees for the evening and see if we could attract any birds. We grabbed headlamps, a few rounds each, put vests on the dogs and set off. Ducks were moving all over the place and it was pretty exciting to be in thigh deep water moving our legs to create ripples while the dogs perched on the only dry area on willow stumps. Over the next couple of hours we each shot a couple of birds as they either committed or passed too close and soon it was too dark to continue and the flight wound down. We decided to do the same again in the morning. 

Walking out of the trees from hunting that spot is something I've done dozens of times - walking in there in pitch darkness with no navigation points of reference - well that's a different story! We managed at the first attempt to complete a semi circle and end up about 50 m from where we started, but luckily Matt had his phone  with Google Maps and soon we were back in the right place and in position. Despite the cold, the journey through broken fallen trees, puddles, mud and holes had given me a good sweat on! Soon the sky began to lighten and we again created ripples. Ducks again moved over the trees, seeking safe spots to land and loaf. We took a brace of spoonie drakes that set up high, swung around and then barreled in. Later we took a mallard drake and that bird signaled the end end of the season for us. We got back to the hut and completely shook the place down. Mattresses upturned, dishes done, the stove cleaned out, diary updated.. the season's tally was 318 birds, the best for quite some time and reflective of the duck attracting quality of high waters.

Its now pheasant time.

Monday, May 29, 2017


I don't remember my first duck hunt. I have some vivid memories of walking for pheasants on our old run-off, of dad coming home with quail and ducks, an evening hunt after which I ended up getting sick enough for a stint in hospital, spending time with granddad at the ponds during school holidays... and the first duck I ever shot, a big mallard drake, will stay with me forever. The memories fit together vaguely in a semblance of chronological cadence... but I just can't put my finger on that first hunt.

As happens in our family it is the birthright of our children to become members of our hunting party at the age of ten. Rilee had been to the hut a couple of times and had over-nighted once with Tony's little girl. She'd expressed an interest in coming along but not to "kill anything". So, pre-season we'd gone to our local Hunting & Fishing NZ store to purchase one of their excellent kid's packs containing a bush shirt, jacket, beanie hat, pants, a back pack and finally a pair of binoculars for a ridiculously low price of $100. SWMBO and I agreed that it needed to be a low key introduction to hunting, rather than the full-on experience that goes with the opening and so we decided that the 4th weekend of the season would be perfect. We'd go for one night, hunt a morning and then come home.

Rilee and I did our food shopping and began our preps on Thursday evening, she selected her clothes, got her sleeping bag ready and I made sure that she had warm clothes - the forecast was for rain and quite a bit of it. After a final shake-down it was bye bye to mum and we got going. At the ramp we ran into the Hayward lads, Morgan and Ash and they helped us launch and made sure we got away ok. The tides were again large so the water was well up towards the hut again - and rain was coming. Dad had the hut nice and warm and we were soon settled in. As we prepared for bed the rain started, light at first but gaining in intensity. As usual after a drive I was pretty alert so didn't get to sleep until quite late and my lab seemed equally restless as she wriggled around at my feet. The morning came and the rug rat lay in bed until I'd almost finished cooking breakfast, then she got herself ready for the day ahead. I was feeling pretty excited - hopefully we'd see some birds and that it wouldn't be a morning of staring at the sky.

Hut breakfasts - the best there are!

War paint
Game face - on!

Grand dad and grand daughter in the hut

Boredom is the killer of children's minds, patience is not inbuilt to youngsters. At the maimai we explained firearms safety, got Rilee ready with earmuffs then loaded and were hunting. This late in the season its not light until close to 7am so the first half hour was spent listening to the occasional bird whistle past. Drizzle fell in patches and the occasional breath of wind moved the leaves in the trees. It wasn't until 7 or so that a hen mallard arrived, answered the call and the wake of the jerk string decoys and circled. I took her as she swung behind us and soon Layla delivered the bird, which carried a band on her right leg. The next duck came sometime later, a grey that sprung a sneak approach on us and that required a reflex shot to take. As the morning passed we shot the occasional pair that came by and our bag grew to 6 birds. Rilee served her apprenticeship in the role of "Chief String Puller", operating the jerk string which kept her in the game. By 11 o'clock we were ready to pack up and headed back to the hut for lunch.

Chief String Puller

We'd had a ball, 3 generations of us in the maimai. Good times ahead I think.