Monday, May 14, 2018

Back in the saddle

The second weekend of the season. I haven't hunted ducks on that weekend for quite a number of years, as we've kicked our pheasant season off that weekend normally. Because our pheasants are late to mature this year the decision was made to push our opening back to June - fine by me! Dad, Matt and I would be hunting together and were able to make an early call as to where to hunt. We'd be less than imaginative and hunt Puru. Its a pond that produces birds more by dint of how much effort is put in than for any other reason. I got in way later than I would have thought; traffic was diabolical and a 90 minute trip took twice that in reality. Matt and dad had arrived earlier and set the decoys. They hunted the Friday afternoon and evening for 2 birds to hand.

The weather forecast was for rain, both patchy and heavy as the day progressed and sme generally northerly wind. I doubted the wind forecast and said as much when I spoke with Tony while on my trip south. He and the lads were planning a paddock hunt over some surface water.

We arrived at the maimai nice and early and got set. The first shots, as usual, rang out well before 06.30. Our first birds arrived closer to 07.00 and we got underway. The rain began to fall. With 3 guns in the maimai we rotated the shooting, 2 guns up and one standing by. At 11am and with 10 or so birds in the bag, I'd seen enough birds landing back in the trees to warrant a walk. I told the guys that I'd be gone an hour and set off in the direction of a semi abandoned pond a half km or so away. Layla got a grin on and began to cast around, covering territory in search of a scent. With a damaged shin, I opted for the easiest path I could find through the windfall and swamp. Its just plain noisy getting around in there so there's not much of an opportunity to stalk quietly, so when we approached the old pond the birds flushed out of sight. I caught a glimpse of 6 birds disappearing into the distance. The rain was persistent and with the sweat I'd worked up I was drenched, but at least it was warm. I waited by the pond to see if any birds returned (sometimes they'll come back) and formed a new plan. Rather than simply returning to our pond I'd do a circuit through the trees, visit another pond and pass around the guys hunting near us. The track to this old pond was overgrown and it took a bit of effort to make headway. I was passing a thicket when lo and behold a very large chocolate Labrador appeared. I called out 'good morning' and three young guys almost jumped out of their skins! I was camo'd head to toes inc a face mask so they probably didn't pick me up easily. We chatted about our intentions - they were on their way to visit another pond and parted ways. Soon after Layla pushed a bird out of a flooded depression but I was nowhere near ready and missed the chance. We continued and suddenly 40m out in front, a grey duck burst from the trees. My second shot, a pretty long one, felled the bird and I saw it fall out in the open to my left. I realised that the bird had actually dropped into the river and called Layla over. Just then, the guys I'd met earlier came around the corner in their boat. They picked my bird and threw it to me, a fine looking duck. Layla and I got back on our way, visiting a pond that I'd hoped would hold a bird or two but that was not to be. We reentered the trees and Layla quickly flushed a hen mallard which I dropped. The dog brought my duck in and I added it to my belt. Soon after, she went hot again and chased down a grey duck that wasn't able to fly. I was now nearing our hut so veered back into the swamp to intersect our ponds. There I found dad and Matt out looking for a bird they'd dropped. Layla got out into the flooded willows and chased a bird out just as Matt's Zulu grabbed another! Having completed a strong retrieve, Layla delivered the bird. I was soaked to the skin and tired, so after a short stint back in the maimai I headed back to the hut to prepare some lunch and change into a dry set of clothes. Hot coffee and sandwiches made, it was back to the guys for the afternoon shoot. We had a few chances and I was pleased to knock off my limit bird late in the afternoon. Darkness descended and we headed in to the hut with 18 birds for our day's effort.

We dined on goose burgers and had a few quiet drinks. I was completely stuffed and my shin was swollen out. Layla was dead on her feet. We were in bed by 20.30. Still the rain fell. Wet gear was draped on chairs in front of the fire, or hung above.

When Matt's alarm went off, I really didn't want to get out of bed. But, a hunting morning lay ahead and there's not one that can be missed. We weren't exactly on time to the pond, but soon had birds in range. The rain had drenched our guns and despite (or because of!) meticulously cleaning them the previous evening, we all suffered jams or malfunctions! Several times I could only get one shot away and even Matt's A400 suffered.

At 9 we pulled the pin with 5 birds in the bag and made our way back to clean the bag, the hut, get everything ship shape and get underway while we had tide on our side.

As I write this entry now, my shin is pounding, telling me about the effort I'd exerted. And Layla, well she's tired too...






Thursday, May 10, 2018

Friends and family season


 The big day was almost on us.Duck opener. Greg and Daryl had got in from Melbourne with Daryl’s boy Jack the day before and were set up in the hut with dad and Larry already. I’d arranged with Matt to meet at the landing pretty early, so had hit to road @ 5am with her Royal Blackness Layla onboard.

As we launched and loaded the boat in the morning gloom, a family group of pheasants got up and flew across the river for their morning feed. We counted 11 in total. Greg came down to help us offload our gear and then Daryl arrived. Matt and I had managed to fill my wee tub with an inordinate amount of stuff! Once settled in we set about getting our decoys in order, jerk string lines sorted, batteries for electronica worked out and soon we were motoring around the ponds setting the decoys. With sunny blue-sky weather forecast and no wind whatsoever, there would be a real danger of fog the following day. As hunters entered the swamp masses of ducks whirled overhead and their calls could be heard for miles. 

It’s a busy area. As habitat shrinks there is more and more pressure on the remaining resource. I think back to those lucky and happy days of secondary and tertiary education, where I could disappear into the swamp for a week or two and be surprised if I saw another person. Now there are literally hundreds of hunters in the area for at least the first week of the season. It does taper off later on, and I crave those days later in the season where birds can be worked without undue pressure on sky busting idiots nearby and where hidey holes can be worked for ducks looking for quiet loafing and a drink of water.  

Tom arrived mid-morning leaving only Andy and Paul to arrive and round out the numbers. We caught up on each other’s tales, trials and tribulations. It was a good time to reflect on party members past and present. Later in the day Matt and I put out decoys on the pond that Paul would hunt, in his absence, and then took the opportunity to watch birds work the ponds. We both commented on the large number of beautifully coloured up mallard drakes. I’d be shooting greenheads only – or at least that was my plan – so it was good to see plenty of the quarry up close and personal.



Andy and Paul rolled in late in the afternoon and as at this time of year camp got quite busy, with 10 people and 6 dogs in attendance. With dad’s curry in our bellies it was time to have a few quiet drinks and tell some lies.

The Opening. That magic day of days. No duck shooter would miss it – and I say ‘shooter’ deliberately because there are plenty who only go out for the one day, leaving the serious hunters to work the balance of the season. Andy and Greg dropped me and the Black Piranha off at McLennan’s, a kidney shaped pond at the outer edge of our setup. I got set up and decided at that point to not even switch on the wing spinning decoy. I’d not need much more than good calling to bring birds in. There was a cover of high cloud so picking drakes was going to be more difficult than yesterday. The first shots boomed out well before legal hunting time as usual. Its always a disappointment that some fools can’t wait the extra 20-30 minutes until legal shooting time. As I get older and grumpier I wish more for Darth Vader like throat crushing dark force powers. From afar I’d dangle the offenders in mid air while the gasp for… ok, back to the opener. My first bird came at roughly 6.45 am. In the pre-dawn gloom he gave himself away with a drakey-croke and soon Layla came back and handed him over.

My morning was glorious. Numerous times grey ducks and mallard hens dropped in to be left alone, while I picked off my greenhead limit bird by bird. To my surprise, my shooting was quite good, and I was done in under a box of cartridges which included 3 shots finishing off a bird hit by another party. At 9am I was done and sat down to tidy up my spent shells and get my birds strung on the stringer.

I called Matt who reported slow going down his way so asked if he and Larry wanted to move locations, and soon they came chugging along in the punt. Matt got to work immediately and in short order finished up his limit. I spent some time calling in birds for Larry but he was shooting poorly indeed. After a while, Paul who had closed his limit came by and offered to do the lunch run on Larry’s behalf. Paul soon delivered large chunks of bacon & egg pie (NO PEAS!!!) to the pond crews. I took my birds back to the hut and hung them to cool and tidied down my gear. The action had quietened down substantially as birds had moved into the stratosphere. After a coffee I took Layla and we walked (in short boots) out to The Park, where Greg and Andy had set up to close out their limit birds. We spent the afternoon chatting and occasionally a bird or two arrived to interrupt. By dark the guys were finished or close to limiting out.





The day after. Day 2. It can be good hunting, it can be diabolical. I call it hunting because the birds are generally wised up already and we’re hunting a localised population, not migrators.
 Matt and I had made the call to hunt Bollocks. Our largest pond by size, its also generally neglected by most of the team. Again I decided against using any electronic decoys. They have a time and place, but on still days when every pond has at least one in operation I’m looking for differentiation. That can be strong calling, water ripples, different decoy posture and positioning… anything but what the birds are being mass force fed. Things were a bit relaxed so it was after legal time by the time the boys had finished being ferried to their spots, which involved driving through our pond. Matt and I had waded out so were all set up and ready. Our hunt that morning was classic in your face stuff as we worked birds into feet-down range. With only a couple of stuff ups we made our number by 9, and the other guys knocked a few down also. Matt had taken a wonderful hybrid.


I moved down to work with Larry on Watsons. First hand I saw that the pond was simply not working. While I could pull birds from afar they wouldn’t commit, rather they’d peel into one of the other ponds. Larry was keen to stay on there But with birds to clean and an injured leg from a fall earlier, I wanted to get back to the hut. I hobbled back and caught up with Paul. He’d dug an offal pit while I cleaned the hut floor and then we got on with breasting the birds. As the guys came back to the hut the plucking line got started and after a couple of hours of effort we’d broken the birds down into edible packages. Andy and Paul left on the afternoon tide, with busy jobs they couldn’t stay on.

The rest of the season beckons.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Under the full moon

Easter, the time of chaos. Emptying city, traffic chaos, road toll rising, lunacy taking its grip. We don’t travel on the Easter weekend for the reasons above, preferring life preservation and relaxing to the road madness. The full moon can make the fishing hard, but as my snapper guru friend Simon said to me once, with that knowing tone to his voice “The hour after the moon drops…. Make sure your knots are strong”.

Jase and I settled into our usual routine without any undue conversation. Boat launched, motor warmed, nav lights on, GPS set. Our destination was chosen with tidal movement and terrain in mind. It was cool out there. In the dark only one other boat was seen on the move. Autumn’s promise of anchovy fattened snapper in close around the structure, well it’s as good a promise as the salt water fly angler around here can get. Progressively the smaller fish will disappear with warmer currents and the larger kelpies will continue to put on fat for the winter.

First casts were made as the moon dipped behind the western horizon. The sun hadn’t yet fully risen. We quietly sat on point out from a large outcrop, held in place by the quietly thrumming Minn Kota. Jase’s rod bowed over and in the semi darkness I saw a hint of red in the surface disruption. The bottom was relatively hard and in less than 2m of water the fish’s only option was to run shallow and wide. We swapped places in the boat as the fish circled; my job was to get a net under the circling fish and soon it lay in the rubber mesh, a red and chrome snapper and probably Jase’s PB to date. Camera flash. The resulting imagery was really nicely composed. A quick debate – respect Tangaroa by returning the first fish? Or put it in the bin? With a splash of its tail the fish swam away strongly. Fist bumps. Success.


The hits came with good fly control. The fish would take the fly on the sink mostly; fewer hits came on the retrieve. Some fish were kept. How could we not take some fine eaters? We moved into the bay to see if we could avoid wind while fishing another outcrop.  The wind had risen (not forecast) and made casting a real challenge. The electric motor now held us nose on to the breeze, eliminating easier casting options. Three wind assisted long casts hard into a sheer rock face with a clear channel brought 3 hook ups. All 3 were well better than legal fish and 2 were put into the bin. Jase had taken another really nice specimen which he iki’d. I moved us slightly and cast further around the structure. The fly sank and the line came tight as the snapper charged the sinking morsel. This fish was taken as well after a stiff fight.


 I moved us around and Jase fired a long cast into some foul – the fish hit like the proverbial prop forward. At no time did he have that fish under control and when he whooped at its size I knew it was a really good fish. Then it was gone.


With the sun well up more traffic began to appear. Still, nothing like I would have expected. Perhaps the chilly little breeze kept people at home? In this distance terns and mutton ducks weaved and dived. The anchovies were still being hassled. We agreed to go and find some kahawai – I wanted a couple for the smoker. We set upwind of the widespread bird mass to drift down into the carnage and killed the motor. Kahawai sign skittered across the screen of the sounder. These fish are active predators and their sign is easily distinguished. The hits came early and we each leaned into our respective fish. Mine was gilled and bled. Jase let his go. We occupied ourselves in this way for quite some time.


When it was time to go we’d been on the water for 6 hours. On land the day was pleasant and under the warm sun we drank beer and cleaned our catch; job done. That hour after the moon dropped had given us the largest fish. Simon, as usual when it comes to snapper, was right.

Monday, March 26, 2018

The approaching season

Matt and I met in the pouring rain at my house; the boat was already loaded and ready. Ahead of us we had several jobs at the ponds. First and foremost, to tag and claim our ponds for the upcoming season, then to clear some storm felled trees and finally to plant out carex grasses which had been propagated by dad and his mate Rex. As we headed south the weather improved and we arrived in at dad’s place in beautiful sunshine. We’d packed for rain so were both happy that we’d struck a beautiful autumn day.

The ponds were in really nice condition, if perhaps a tad low and there were birds in occupation. Ducks took off from the usual ponds as we made our way around the setup in our punt, pushed along by the small outboard. At each maimai we nailed in the tag of the respective shooter who had tagged previously, and noted the amount of covering Ti tree each spot needed. We cleared the fallen timber (the cyclones had really smashed some of the trees around) and set about planting out the grasses. We were done after a few hours and then headed back to the city, arriving at the motorway in time to join a long tail of slow moving traffic.

Once home, it was time to prep for the following morning’s goose hunt. Every location is different and this one because of its proximity to a main road gives the hunter the opportunity to set up with lights on, given that the birds are used to a continual flow of traffic. Richard, Matt, Travis and I would be on the case in the morning, and we hoped that the predicted NE wind would take the noise of our shots away from the birds. I walked Layla into the paddock and released her in order to get my gear sorted. In short order we heard a kerfuffle and in the light of the headlamps she returned with a goose clamped in her jaws. I wrung the pegged bird’s neck – at least we wouldn’t blank! We set up our decoys for the predicted wind - the location is odd in that with nearby housing and the road the safe shooting arc is very defined – and got our blinds grassed. Soon we were in shipshape order and awaited the rising of the sun.
Credit: Travis Poulson

The geese rose off their roost and as geese can and will do, they completely rewrote the script by heading in a direction they’d never flown before! I guess because we’d hunted this mob several times they were just suspicious of the nocturnal activity in our paddock. The wind never arrived so our spread was a bit redundant. Still, a few birds arrived in dribs and drabs and we began to put a few in the bag. It wasn’t classic goose hunting with mobs funneling into the decoys, but with no wind getting birds to set can be a lottery. 

Credit: Travis Poulson

Layla

Matt's Zulu

Layla

Richard left us for a while to scope out some local haunts and soon phoned to advise that he’d located a large group of birds on a new grass paddock. 


Photos: Travis Poulson
They’d jumped as he approached. A splinter group approached us by flew by to other places unknown. Soon though a group came in off the sea but after beating towards us were suspicious, so when in range overhead Matt made the call. We downed 7 or 8 which was better than a kick in the teeth. The morning drifted by and Matt made the call to leave us at lunchtime. 



As 12 approached, Matt got his gear ready and then left. He was no sooner at his truck than the inevitable happened and 7 geese came in and dropped around us at the shots. Hard on their heels came 5 more which were mowed down equally fast. That signaled the start of a mini flight as small groups of birds visited. By 1.30 a quick count up prior to the pack up revealed 47 birds down.  A really nice little hunt in one of the most picturesque spots you could imagine. And with that the pre duck season hunting is most likely to be done and dusted. Happy that Layla is in good preseason form. Now its duck time!




Tuesday, March 20, 2018

A gathering of like minded people

Sometimes working for a US based global corporation has its upsides. Often times, the reverse applies. When I returned from Aitutaki where a company global policy banished me from connecting to a local WIFI, I had some catching up to do. One bit of catching up involved coming up to speed with a planned goose hunt involving quite a few blokes coming with us to one of our spots. Delayed coverage aside, I had the double whammy of explaining to my beloved wife that not only had I just been away for 10 days, but another weekend away was on the cards. No sympathy expected, or given!

I'm a bit of a planning fanatic so with only a few days to go I thought I'd just kick back and go with it; undoubtedly Richard and Tony had done the mission control work. And so they had, big time. Layla and I arrived at the main base just after 5 pm to find that the majority of the crew were in residence. New acquaintances were made, and old acquaintances reignited. Soon we were underway to do a final long distance scout and get grass for our blinds. A few moments of hilarity (for everyone bar the victim) ensued when Richard mowed over a wasps' nest with his weed whacker. He was mobbed and stung several times while everyone else put distance on the nest. After grassing it was back to base to have dinner and await the final two stragglers. Plans were laid, there was a hell of a head of geese using 2 main paddocks. We'd need luck and a bit of wind to make this work out. 2 groups were assigned. Our group would hunt a paddock that had produced the goods in the past, while the others would move several Km away to hunt the far end of the property. So far so good. We'd rise at 4am, eat and be at the paddocks by 5 to set up.

After a broken night's sleep (my roomie had a bad stomach) lights came on in the house and we staggered around gathering gear before walking to the main base for breakfast and a final briefing. At the paddock (and after being slightly geographically misplaced) we used the benefit of Tim's experience to set up in the right spot. We settled in. A moderate breeze was blowing and the cacophony of goose song made its way to us. Layla was restless in her blind, waiting for the first flight to arrive, and as the sun rose the noise increased. The first flight was up and coming our way; they swung around and came in and the first shots of the day were fired. The sky was overcast so the full effect of the sun was mostly blunted, but from time to time it burst through and the heat was pretty energy sapping.

At Tim's suggestion re re-orientated the blinds and move the decoy spread to accommodate the wind better and this worked a treat as our kill rate went up with birds having to thread the gauntlet rather than come in head on.

By lunchtime we were doing well but the sound coming from the other party indicated that they were right in the goose zone. While our opportunities tapered off they had continued shooting. At about 1 pm I took Layla for a swim and had a dip myself - the water was brisk and if I'd been semi asleep earlier, I was now wide awake. Between 3 pm and dark, the geese came back in numbers. The shooting, retrieving re-loading and resetting was frantic. We were on song and very few escaped. At dark the birds stopped moving and we packed out our guns and blind bags under the light of headlamps. At the truck I fed her royal blackness and she fell asleep. Geese are big and she's small and struggles to really cope with the larger models.

Over drinks and dinner we recapped the day's hunt. Andrew, Tim R, Travis, Dan, Adam and Willy had put 270 birds down. Richard, Tony, Dave, Tim A and I had killed 160, a combined tally of 430 birds. Some of the guys were speechless, these were seasoned and hardened goose hunters who had just put their best tally ever on the floor. Our group were certainly happy too, the afternoon onslaught had given us a rev up. Plans were laid for the morning - we'd shoot the same groups. I was completely worn out so hit the hay as early as I could. When Tony arrived home at 2 am I woke and thought it was hunting time again. It seemed like only 5 minutes later that it really was wakey wakey time. Dave was feeling ill so retired from the fray. We walked around to the base where the other boys had breakfast waiting, ate and then got going.

Tim and I were in the paddock before Tony and Richard arrived. We re-oriented our blinds on account of the lack of wind. Soon 3 birds appeared over a high ridge behind us and sailed down on set wings. That set the scene for a short but frantic hunt. We finished up with 31 birds in the bag. The other team got 5 on what was a very quiet morning for them.

When Richard spoke to the farmer he was rapt. 466 crop wreckers and trough water spoilers had been destroyed. He's been planning a chopper cull on the birds out of desperation and our hunt had simply blown him away. Post a photo and clean up session we parted ways; I think its fair to say that we will be invited back.



Its been said that a gathering of like minded people with the experience and gear, can achieve a relative control over geese. I think we did that.






Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Autumn

Now we're in the autumn season. Days are still warm although shorter and the evenings cooler, and historically March signals additional rainfall - its a pre-winter growing season where birds, beasts and fish feed heavily to fatten up for the leaner season ahead.

In short its close to my favourite season.. The fishing improves over summer's leaner pickings, and game bird season is almost upon us. Layla has been staying in shape with plenty of running and swimming and those evening sessions double as reconnaissance exercises for watching the anchovy schools out from the East Coast Bays, which are being carved up by birds and predatory fish. There have been persistent and often large workups a stickbait cast offshore and in the still evenings the rowdy tern song is audible. Selfishly maybe, the shortening days have the effect of cutting back the summer crowds of indignant dog haters. We give them their summer dog restricted hours, but inevitably the beach ownership will return to us. Fair weather beach goers have their short season; the cooler months have so much to reveal that is missed by the Gucci brigade.

I set off in darkness the other day, probably a tad too early to be honest, but I'm always keen to secure a parking spot at the bay which has limited parking. I'd start by prospecting for snapper then head on to fish workups and then scan a shallow area for a kingfish. I'd have the bottom 2 hours of the tide and then would make my next move from there. In darkness I'd pulled in as close as I'd dared to the rocks and set the Minn Kota to anchor mode; boat traffic is heavy around here and I was keen to stay out of the path of any errant vessel. A bright orange Clouser was bent on to my leader, a 20lb tapered bonefish leader I'd left on from the island trip. As the sun rose I was able to make out the reef structure that I wanted to fish and made my first cast. The fly was hit on the sink but I failed to connect with the fish -  a promising start! But that was it for a while, so I moved from outcrop to outcrop. As the day grew lighter the fish began to hit the fly more regularly, mostly smaller models but soon a long cast across a sunken outcrop gave me a rod jolting take. I hit the fish and line ripped through my fingers. I eventually got the net under the 48 cm fish, he'd be coming home with me for dinner.


Chewed up fly
 As the tide slowed I began to notice splashy surface hits further out in the bay. With good sized snaps hitting the fly with enough regularity to keep it interesting I resisted moving for a while, and was rewarded with a beautiful silvery snapper unlike the darker red kelpy versions I'd been catching.


That seemed an apt time to change gears, so I re-rigged the #8 with a small tan gotcha, left over from a bonefish excursion. The splashy workups were getting more consistent, so with rod in hand I moved quietly out under power of the electric motor. Soon a brown mass showed - a bait ball of anchovies. With only a few terns present, the workups hadn't as yet attracted the attention of the numerous boats anchored around the place. Kahawai ripped through the bait and under the still and clear conditions I was able to sight fish to individuals - lead the fish, drop the fly and rip it through the water... hit! I had a bent rod the whole time under the most surreal conditions. But my success was soon noticed and before long a stick baiter came over. I could see that his 10cm bait was nothing like a match for the hatch and he cast again and again for nada. Then the inevitable. Trollers began to drive through the workups, getting closer and closer to me. I moved to a quieter patch and continued with hookup after hookup, winning some and losing some. The Kahawai is a powerful fighter and quite capable of giving you the run around on appropriate tackle. One fish was gill hooked so I spiked and bled it, to be smoked later.

A move to escape the traffic. Autumn sun, autumnal greenness of grass and evergreen trees. Still clear water, no wind riffle, no clouds, awesome visibility.  No kings. Black rays gliding over the sand, but no kings to be seen. I'm now wondering about the reliability of the info I'd received - the flats 'look fishy' and there are mullet, parore and small kahawai in abundance - in other words, all of the juicy morsels that a kingi cant ignore. And its been the same on each visit. This could be a matter of timing, but I'm not sure I like the odds here. Silently the boat glides out of the bay and onto large shelves of sandstone that abruptly drop over a weed line into the depths. Amazingly I can see cruising snapper, the wariest of fish, clearly the boat in silent mode is not disturbing them. I've my kingi rod in hand but I'm not even tempted to cast, this scene is mesmerizing, and a one in a thousand chance to see what's going on below without disturbance of outboard, cloud, wind or wave.

And there he is, Mr Kingi. He turns and goes deep before re-appearing over the shelf heading for the shallower water. I lead him and drop the fly ahead. For 3 strips he follows closely, but he's not lit up (he's probably as relaxed as I feel) and turns away even though I drop the fly back for him. Putting the rod down I flip out of the boat into the warm clear water which closes over my head. I'll dry quickly.

It's autumn after all, not winter.

Friday, March 2, 2018

On an island

Many years ago, I bought a copy of Peter Morse's "Arbour to Fly" DVD, which essentially is the ultimate in 'how to' when it comes to rigging a bullet proof (or as close to as can be got) fly fishing system, with a bent towards salt fly systems.

The only real change is the incorporation in heavy leader (80lb and up) of a special leader to fly loop taught to us by Moana Kofi, the legendary Kirimati guide. I'd never sunk steel into a bigger than 4 kg GT but my tests with my #12 lifting weights and pulling things around gave me confidence in the my big rod system.

As far at the bone fish rig was concerned, I thought I had it sussed. I'll come back to 'thought' later...

As the boys and I sat in the airport lounge, I had no idea of the epic nature of what was about to unfold. We'd taken advantage of Tim's prior experiences to get the timing of our trip sorted, to book a house, to get transport from airport to where we picked up our scooters, to take care of all of the details that can cost time and cause grief if you don't know what you're doing.  So we found ourselves rigged and in early trip mode carrying way too much gear to our first afternoon's fishing. Little did I know that I was about to be schooled by large and wary bone fish.

Travelling everywhere by scooter gives you an appreciation of packing as lightly as possible and after the first couple of self-guided days we each had a system that suited the individual shaken down. Personally I'd break my #8 and #12 down, leaving fly and leader on and fly wound to the tip top then capture all 4 pieces in the reel cover and slide them into my Patagonia Stormfront. I've been toting this bag all of the NZ winter and its hard to fault, carrying the right amount of gear for a day's fishing, camera, lunch... the only thing I need is an exterior fixing point for a water bottle as carrying water inside your waterproof bag is counter-intuitive, and my bag came from new sans straps (I must take that up with Patagonia). By scooter we arrived together on the afternoon of our arrival and soon were in the water. Jase had procured us some of the excellent Vedavoo Rod Holsters which allowed the #12 to ride out of the way, while remaining super easy and fast to access. And so began my ed-education in bonefish. Wind and periodic cloud ruffled the water and spotting was extremely difficult against a broken coral backdrop, so when I saw a fish heading directly to me and was able to drop a perfect cast and get the eat I was in seventh heaven! The fish ran strongly and the Abel Super 7/8 N hummed. Tim joined me as I regained line and then the fish burst away again. On this run I felt something jolt as it the line had hit an outcrop and the fly pulled....

Soon though, Karl was into a fish and shortly landed his and our first bone of the trip.



We worked the flat hard through the afternoon for no further result, noting 2 other anglers on the flats.It was several days later that I realised that the accessible flats are worked quite heavily and this possibly explained in part the wariness of the bones.

Day 2 and we decided on a road trip. At the flat we split into pairs and then split again. The edge I worked was devoid of any fish I could cast at and the only bone I saw scampered across the flat 50m away. None of the other boys hooked up either and so we found ourselves drawn to the next flat where Karl caught himself a puffer fish... not exactly target species but still. I saw bones late in the morning but had no chances. Jase got on the board with a nice bone that ran and ran. I felt I was on my game but from memory didn't present a fly to a bone at all that day, however the day flew by and we soon were back at base comparing notes and eating goose mince spag bol. Our base had a perfect elevated view of the sunset and each day we'd retire to the deck, compare notes, prep gear and drink rum in the smoke of mosquito coils - every paradise needs a pest and the mozzies sure filled this spot in the food chain.


Commitment



Day 3 was to be our final non guided day and Jase and I headed off in one direction while the other boys decided to fish a flat involving a swim. The weather was fickle and on this day we suffered several deluges that simply were monsoon like. As we weren't carrying jackets we simply stood in the rain soaked to the bone. On the morning of this day we encountered our first large GT, a big black behemoth that swam between Jase and I as we crossed a chest deep channel. We each drew our twelve weights but he simply cruised on through. It was after a severe drenching and against a dark black cloud outlook that we retired to lick our wounds, only to find that neither of our scooters would start. I finally got mine going but Jase's was terminal, the monsoon had affected it. Luckily we were very close to where we'd hired our bikes so he was able to get a replacement easily. Post switch over and with the weather improving we drove around to find the other lads. They'd managed to access their flat ok and as we fished they continued to traverse the flat. After a while I noticed Karl with his arm up and realised he had a fish on. After a while longer, I noticed Tim with arms above his head walking down Karl's line. After much longer I noticed both oh them in chest deep water. And after 45 minutes there was much high fiving - Karl had obviously landed his fish. It proved to be an 11lb bone fish, the largest of our trip. And what an awesome fish it was, a once in a lifetime specimen.

Karl; @fishingpest. Credit: Tim Angeli

The boys got a lift over to our side of the flat and I found myself fishing with Tim while Karl and Jase headed over to fish elsewhere. Finally I broke my bonefish hoodoo with a smallish fish around 3lb. But on the board is on the board and I took it! Later I hooked and lost another freight train that reefed me.

The only bummer about the day was that Karl's new roll top Simms bag had leaked and drowned his camera. Little had I realised just how tested our gear would get. It would be further stretched...

The next 5 days we'd booked guides and boats. As we traveled through to the boat ramp to meet our hosts, we must have looked a sight with rods over shoulders or sticking out on strange angles as we convoyed past on our scooters.

Jase and I would fish with Tai and soon I was being schooled again by the bones. In the fickle light a fast accurate cast was needed and even then they'd often spook when the fly landed. Jase soon landed a bone from the edge of the flat. I hooked up and the fish ran me into coral quick as you like. By now I'd cut my leaders back to the 20lb section and was thinking 25lb was probably more apt after another freight train picked the fly up and broke me in an instant.  That afternoon we moved around to fish flat and I left Tai and Jase to it while I circumnavigated the flat. I found bones but they found me as well and I struggled for a hook up. While wandering back to the boat I noticed a dorsal and caudal fin poking from the water at the drop off. I moved closer and there was a bust up as a GT smashed bait... at that I threw my bonefish rod in the water, extracted the 12 and ran towards the fish.. he was swimming in a gutter on the flat and looked a sight... my first ever real GT shot and my knees were shaking... that I managed a good cast still stuns me, that the fish turned and charged the brush fly before damn near beaching himself with forehead out of water haunts me... that he turned away from the fly taunts me. If only I'd known then that they key to hooking GTs is to leave the fly dead in the water as they make their acceleration towards it rather than continuing to strip... the guides schooled me (repeatedly) on that later in the week. Well, I'll never forget that sight as long as I live. I retreated and retrieved my bone rod from where it had sunk in knee deep water and as Jase and Tai approached I tried to give a stammering account of what had just happened. I genuinely cant recall the rest of that day... in my mind's eye all that I could see was that huge fish charging towards me. Over rums that night the GT grew in stature from fridge door to VW beetle size...



The next day was pivotal in the context of the week. Jase and I started fishing with guide Tia on the flat we'd fished the previous morning. I got shots from the get go and dropped 2 fish, one self guided after I'd had a shot with Tia. The fish were about but spotting conditions were horrible.On returning to the boat we received word that bait had been spotted so headed over to the zone to check it out. This marked the turning point of the trip - the focus was switched from bones to GTs.

Both Jase and I were able to hook GTs that afternoon and we were both simply smoked... despite locking down the drag on the big Tibor Gulfstream my fish simply tore into the coral reef system and the 130lb fluoro leader snapped like cotton. Jase hooked up soon after and his fish threaded bommies like an expert, smashing him off.

No chance...
We continued to search but failed to locate any further GTs, but it was with excitement that we relayed the news to the other boys that night...over rums we laid out plans, built new leaders and generally built anticipation levels.

Today it rained. And rained. Jase and I jumped aboard with Rua and got going. He took us straight out to the reefs where Tim, Karl and Tia joined us with the other boat. I was up first and to my everlasting delight and relief when the pack of GTs that charged my fly, a leading fish grabbed the fly and after the hook set charged the right way! Rua was after it in a flash and after a torrid white knuckled set em up smash em down fight I got the fish on its side and Rua landed it. I whooped in delight! Tim who'd previously crossed swords with 15 odd GTs and had not landed one gave me a far off high 5 and Jase gave me the obligatory fist bump. Cloud 9!




Soon after, Jase hooked up and after a torrid fight landed a freakin horse blue-fin trevally, the likes of which I'd never seen before in terms of scale.



We fished on, both getting smoked by other GTs. On the other boat, Karl hooked up and landed his first GT under clearing skies.

Credit: Tim Angeli


Back at the ramp we compared notes on broken gear. Factory welded loops on flylines seemed to be the biggest issue (I'd blown one out as had both Karl & Tim) and makeshift repairs were the order of the day.
The commitment loop... 


Useless spaghetti....
Next day called for a change up, so Karl and I teamed up. Today Tim's dreams would come true. We found fish straight away and I was summarily dealt to. As I rerigged we watched Tim hook up and then Rua drive his boat at crazy speed into the distance. After a while Tim's hooting could be heard from 500m downwind of us - he'd landed the fish of a lifetime. After 5 trips and numerous beatings, he'd certainly paid his dues!

Credit: Angeli Media
Karl then proceeded to deal out a lesson in straight and true casting as he took down a fat GT.





After a while we anchored awaiting fish to pass us by, and Karl and I had a play around with crease flies for the bluefins that passed by regularly.




We hit no further GTs that day. Back at base Jase relaid that his brand new Tibor Signature had pretty much shat itself, locking up on 2 large fish and breaking his fly line. I lent him my Riptide but was unsure as to whether it could exert enough drag - whilst my main kingfish reel I'd certainly never sunset the drag before...

Our last day on the boats arrived and again Karl and I teamed. We found GT's on the flats and soon Karl was into it, casting to and landing a real beaut.



I hit a great fish but the ever present wind had blown my running line under my heel - my flyline snapped like cotton...

Then Karl hooked up gain and an epic fight ensued. The fish ran again and again, throwing rooster tails of spray from the line. 3 times my mate had the fish boat side, and 3 times it pulled away, finally winning its freedom...


Karl...
Rua took us over to the reef, navigating us into the seas of coral bommies. GTs cruised by at random and finally a fish came our way. My cast was accurate and the fly was hit hard. The fish boomed into the thicket of rubble - Rua (with gumboots on his feet) leaped straight out and ran down my line before pinning the fish and tucking it under his arm!



And that seemed to me, to be a very apt end to the trip.

Lessons:

  • "Wind the drag all the way up, and hang the Fk on!!!"
  • Factory welded line loops are not up to GTs...
  • Old and reliable can be best. My 20 year old Tibor Gulfstream performed flawlessly. The same cannot be said for at least one Hatch 11 Plus and one Tibor Signature
  • The Sage Salt is unlike any other lifting rod I've used. I knew this from the big mako sharks caught last year.. but stopping a GT in its tracks and lifting its hefty bulk is the real test, and one the rod passed flawlessly
  • I thought I'd tied enough brush flies. I had, but only just enough...
  • More casting practice needed, esp in the wind with a huge fly and 12 weight...

Roll on 2019. Same bat time, same bat place...