Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A tale of 2 goose hunts

Scouting is where it’s at for goose hunting. There is no doubt that the golden rule is to be setup where the geese are or have been going. Saturday’s hunt was ostensibly for the Auckland Waikato region’s Special Paradise Duck season so we’d got permits sorted. But we’d only be setting decoys for geese, and after a lean year last year we hoped to see a few birds. Matt and Tony had scouted the area and reports began to come through of 50 birds here, 100 birds there…. I nipped out of work early on Friday to grab my decoys, layout and head up to the farm to get setup. I met Tony at the farmer’s house and we stood overlooking the vista of harbour flats. 

I simply couldn’t believe what I was seeing; there were geese as far as the eye could see. Small mobs, large groups, mobs, flocks, congregations… you name it and it was there. And between the geese, paradise ducks were in plague proportions. The only good news for the farmer was that he was feeding fresh cut maize – competing with that mass of birds would be a losing battle. Our next challenge was where to setup, but Tony had that in hand as he’d spent time in the morning watching where the birds had landed before dispersing. We headed off to set up after the farmer had jumped on his bike to push the birds off. We setup for the predicted morning breeze with small clusters of decoys to mimic family groups. Matt arrived soon after; he’d be shooting elsewhere with his regular parrie hunting mates in the morning so our party would be Chewie, Tony and I. 

Funnily enough I couldn’t sleep at all that night. The alarm didn’t need to go off – so after a few coffees and toast I was off to meet the boys. We got setup in the dark, having to spin the blinds and reset the dekes as our NE predicted breeze was coming from the south…

Sunrise was awesome, a burning orange/red orb smoking through a cloud-base and with that the sky filled with paradise ducks in swirling masses. We had guys set up in layout blinds with parrie spreads in paddocks around us and soon the sounds of shotguns popping filled the air. The occasional bird came our way but nothing really set, so we took passing shots now and again. Over on one of the wet areas, a steady stream of shots indicated that a heavy toll of birds was being taken, but for us the patience game was just beginning. 


50 shades of Tony

The first ragged group of geese that appeared came from an unexpected direction and flew well beyond us surveying the area before finally turning and heading back towards us. As the neared the old familiar excitement took over, nothing in hunting compares to canadas approaching and setting. With almost zero wind they stayed high before dropping in on an awkward angle and on the call we opened our account. As we were shooting under the duck regulations, guns were pinned to 3 shots so we’d have to be precise with our placement. 

As the morning wore on, the sky cleared of parries as they found un-hunted spots to setup and rest on, and the geese flights off the harbour became more regular. And as the morning progressed, the wind changed constantly, forcing us to frantically move our blinds around and change the spread. On the occasion that we didn’t, a mob of geese descended into the decoy spread on our left so we couldn’t maximise the opportunity…  soon one of the other guys came over to join us, watching the big birds crumple from the sky had been too much for him to resist. The tally continued to grow until midday when the other guy had to leave to be at another appointment.  Chewy and I hitched a ride with him to bring our vehicles in closer and as we did had to watch as Tony single-handedly smashed a mob of geese that descended, taking the full toll with every shot. Great stuff!
one down, one up...

2 down

By late afternoon we had nearly 70 birds down, plus a few parries that made the mistake of getting too close. Matt and his crew were heading back to HQ to clean up, so we’d head up to clean our bag. As we gort started a heavy shower put in an appearance and a smile spread over Matt’s face – “good for the farm” he said. The clean-up flew by with the usual banter and then I hit the road; tomorrow we would be heading for our second hunt in The Waikato.

Old yella guts

Day II

Tony had hooked up with one of his contacts who had been invited to a hunt on a primo Waikato farm, who had in turn extended the invitation. We knew that we were being tested when new filtered through that the farmer didn’t want any shooting until after 10am; but all you can do is go anyway and persevere. We’ve all spent plenty of time in paddocks looking at the sky, plus with a good hunt under our belts the day before weren’t concerned about taking a big bag. We met our contacts at the farm gate and soon set off to look at the paddocks we’d be hunting. There was a whole heap of goose kak and feathers lying around - but none of it was really fresh and even more interesting were the wads lying around, clearly the story we’d heard that a local who hunts the property often had had a decent bomb up recently was true. 

Still, we got set up in good time, showing Travis and Manny the general patterns and reasoning behind our decoy spreads. We were on the edge of the largest Waikato Lake, Waikare and had plenty of time to take a look at her. Years of sewage dumping, koi carp infestation and nutrient runoff had turned the lake water “oranger than Fanta” to use Tony’s phrase. What a $hithole of a lake, simply unbelievable that in this day and age town authorities can dump sewage into a waterway of significance. Soon a lone honker appeared and answered Tony’s call, circled and came in. Then came the long long wait.

Early in the afternoon some lake hunters disturbed a huge flock of geese which turned the air blue with their calling.. they all simply crossed the lake ad landed on a shallow bar. By 4pm birds began to get active, but they simply weren’t using the paddock we were in and flew past us on their way to greener pastures. At that point many said he’d not seen birds on this paddock since Thursday, and the truth dawned in us that we’d not briefed him well enough on the scouting aspect that is the key to goose hunting success.  At 5pm the wind kicked up and soon birds took to the air and our most promising moment came when 15 or so birds came off the lake directly at our spread with wind in their faces…. Some began to put their feet down when the all suddenly lifted in alarm. Chance gone, who knows what put them off? After that a torrential downpour arrived and for the second time in 2 days we witnessed a farmer’s happiness at seeing rain drench the ground. That seemed an appropriate signal to call it. It rained hard almost the whole way home… maybe the dry has broken.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Flats fishing for trout

My mate Nik and I managed something a bit rare yesterday; having a day off to go fishing! You'd think that as a producer of NZ's top rated fishing show, Big Angry Fish, that he'd have lots of fishing time. Not so - in order to put on a programme there approx. 300 hours of editing and stuff that goes on outside of actually getting the footage.

We grabbed the show's 5m ctr console - Apple Core and headed away from our previous days' commitments (getting footage for an upcoming episode), arriving in bright sunshine at the lake we were to fish. Apple Core is fitted with a Minn Kota electric motor, perfect for getting around quietly.
Apple Core

As we got ready to launch cloud suddenly blew in - even though it stayed warm the spotting would be difficult and without sun on the water, less damselfly nymphs would move.

We put the boat in and got underway, soon arriving at the spot. Nik lowered the Minn Kota and I rigged up. We silently cruised over weed beds and as we did I put a few cats out and soon hit the first fish of the day, a neat little brownie in the 3lb class which took me straight into the weeds before I could extract him.

The next couple of hours passed with constant fish action; this style of fishing is very visual and having the silent motor made all the difference as we could approach fishy spots carefully and mostly undetected - although we still spooked a few.

Early afternoon soon came and it was time to get away home. As always it was great catching up with Nik.

A few holes in the fly box, always a sign of a good session
We're hatching a plan to get away again as soon as we can....

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Glorious Waitemata

This summer, Auckland Harbour has thrown us the best salt water fly fishing in living memory. Waitemata is the harbour’s name, translating from 'water like obsidian glass' in the Maori tongue [Wai te Mataa]. As the summer unfolds, zillions of anchovies arrive in tight balls to do their anchovy thing, which in turn attracts predators. Chief target for us fly-flingers amongst the predators is the yellow tailed hood himself, the kingfish.

Despite it being the afternoon of the Justin Bieber Fan Club’s first day back at school for the year, Coch and I hatched a plan to get out and start testing our bonefish gear on some hard running fish. He had his new kit along and I chucked in a few bits n pieces but ultimately settled on the #8 as the breeze was stronger than forecast – and it was the breeze that set the scene for us. As I lay at rest on anchor at Okahu bay waiting for Coch to arrive, the wind chop in the marina was enough to make me consider options, and given the massive work-up I’d seen while crossing the harbour bridge a couple of days ago I thought that staying in the lee of the north edge of the harbour would tick the box. With Coch aboard we chugged across the channel – the chop from ferry wakes combined with the NW breeze threw the occasional gnarly steep wave – then we saw terns darting and diving. Coch got set up with an intermediate sinking head and a gurgler while I positioned us upwind. His first cast drew the attention of a pack of predators before the fly disappeared in a swirl – fish on!

The fish turned into a kahawai rather than a kingi, but by now packs of kingfish were showing on the surface – time for me to set up. We drifted close in to the navy docks with the wind against incoming tide holding us nicely in the slowest of drifts, and first cast I was in.

On the #8 the fish fought doggedly, repeatedly heading for the bottom, not a drama in the clean harbour although the wharf piles nearby looked threatening. Coch was soon hooked up and we danced around each other as our fish charged all over the place. Soon we were casting, hooking, losing or landing, photographing and laughing - what an awesome session. As we drifted, ferries zoomed past throwing wakes which with the falling sun behind them silhouetted masses of kingfish in the waves. Kingis crusied around us in waves or single fish, and at times anchovies sprayed across the surface.

After a couple of hours the action died as the tide neared its peak and the lack of current gave the prey fish a chance to hide, so we made a call to visit Shoal Bay on the evening high and fish the mangroves for snapper. Cruising in to sub 1 m water we switched off and began to cast ahead into the mangrove edges with small clousers. Mullet occasionally leapt – so it felt pretty fishy. It was a neat situation to be in, casting flies within 50m of NZ’s busiest highway. Be it the full moon or some other influence, we didn’t manage a single strike on the target species so as the sun dropped away we cruised back to Okahu to drop off Coch, then I made the final run to Torpedo Bay – and in the setting sun the full glory of the Waitemata was exposed. 

I can put up with this hard life, that's for sure!


Sunday, February 1, 2015

Answering the call - save the lambs, shoot the geese!

Tony called me during the week, geese were raiding a chicory crop and the farmer wanted them gone so he could get his lambs in for fattening. Game on. We'd aim for 2 hunts, an afternoon shoot and then be back the following morning - I could do only the afternoon hunt owing to family commitments. At least we had some weather, finally the drought had broken and burning blue skies were replaced with drizzle and a neat little breeze -straight off the harbour. Good news as we'd be able to shoot away from the roost.

I met Tony & Chewie and we caught up while waiting for Richard to arrive. He soon pulled in and we got saddled up. Arriving at the farm we met the farmer who had just moved a few geese off one of his paddocks. Paradise ducks flew all over the place as we moved through a chicory crop and down to our chosen spot. The place was literally smothered in goose kak; the farmer hadn't been kidding that he had an issue.

We met Richard's dad and another of Richard's mates at the site and then set about getting ready - in the mid afternoon heat we were all soon sweating.


We got all set and then the perpetual goose hunting waiting began. Waiting, waiting.... then 3 geese appeared, flying towards us getting closer and closer... but setting down about 300m away. Damn. Surely not one of those days where they set out of range?

Then a ragged mob of 5 came into view, and with further ado set and came in right in front of Chewie and I... Chewie called it and we laid into them. First blood for 2015.

At that point Matt's ute appeared and he raced down, ditched his gear and turned around to go park. We got his blind sorted and tidied his stuff away - including his drone which he'd brought along.

Then came one of those head-shaking "I can't effing believe I did that" moments... with the drone zooming at us I launched a goose up overhead and they collided smashing the done to earth with a sickening thud. Matt was pretty calm as I stammered about how I'd buy him a new one, how it didn't look as bad as it could have, how.... anyway with a check over and a power up, the drone took back to the air. I was pretty damn relieved!!! But now we all know that when a goose takes down a drone its not necessarily terminal for the machine!!!

The next flight came from the harbour, where a mob of geese were sitting on the mud and that set the scene for the afternoon. The guys shot quite well, by my count only 5 birds escaped.


Over, Rover

It was a good shake down for 2015, may the geese continue to fly well.

Did I say there was kak everywhere?

Tony and Chewy with combined day 1 & 2 bag. Photo courtesy Matt McCondach