Sunday, August 23, 2015

Central Plateau honks

For some time now, Richard had regaled us with tales of his central plateau goose hunting days. We always noted that it would be good to get away after them and so it was that Tony and Richard managed to work out a plan. It was looking a tough schedule; with my recent away time I wasn't going to be granted a full weekend, and to make the trip a little more challenging, we'd not be able to approach the hunt zone on our vehicles due to the farmer's sheep lambing. Richard had organised access to a boat through his old mate. Soon the crew were confirmed, Richard, Tony, Travis, moi and old mate Tim from the Wairarapa.

I had a bit of a scramble ahead of me; the previous weekend I'd left Craig's after a whistle stop visit and had forgotten my gumboots - so I'd do a bit of a backwards forwards run to meet with Richard. We'd arranged to hook up in Te Kuiti and so I pulled in after he had at the greasy spoon. Coffee and then off we went, still a ways to go to our host's place near Tuamuranui. We pulled in and met hosts Nadine and Charlie; through a process of elimination we worked out that we'd been in the tackle trade together 20+ years ago and he'd only missed becoming my client by a matter of days when he shifted jobs and I shifted territories. Anyhow, Charlie had generously agreed to lend us his boat, a 7mm hulled monster propelled by a 40hp outboard with a jet unit attached... given that Richard and I were the only ones on deck we set to inflating the tyres, checking that everything was shipshape [she fired up smoothly] and getting our dekes aboard. The farmer's ewes were lambing so while he would allow us to shoot the property our approach would be via water. As we drove down the road abutting the lake, we began to spot geese - and in big numbers. The weather was crappy, a good stiff northerly and persistent rain. I don't care what any manufacturer claims - when you're working in weather like that,, no jacket is waterproof. We were wearing waders, so at least the bottom half was dry. By the time we'd crossed the lake and ferried in our decoys to our hunting zone, grassed our blinds and set off to meet Tony and Travis, I was well stuffed. And wet.

our borrowed waka

The boys pulled in and we got their gear across the lake as well; by the time we returned it was dark and I was feeling a bit cold. Snow littered the road as we drove out, so that explained the cold part. Back at the hut we caught up with Tim. Feeling shattered I just got on with cooking dinner as I was aiming for an early-ish night... it was not to be however, as a few beers went south and it was after midnite before heads hit pillows... with a 4am start I DID NOT need to be lying in the darkness listening to the other guys snoring. But yup, that's what I got. :)

The alarm went at 4 and I was on less than 4 hour's sleep with a big day ahead that for me involved getting home... so I was counting on getting some zzz's in the blind. We ate and got ready, before stopping close by to collect grass for the boys' layouts. By the time we got the boat launched, gear across, dekes setup and layouts set, it was after daylight. The weather was calm with a slight SW breeze - completely the opposite of the evening before. Not much was happening... until the geese began to move. Suddenly, we had a shoot on our hands.

Over the course of the hunt and in response to the conditions and bird behaviour, we set dekes, reset dekes and moved blinds around until we felt the birds were committing into the right zones and we all had a ball of a shoot. There were many highlights and I snapped more pictures than I ever had on a hunt.

By late afternoon we were pretty tired, and by the time we called it there were ~70 birds down. Some of the shooting was spectacular and not too many got away.

A brief bird line up and then it was time to move; we needed to move both Tim's and my gear out [he'd decided not to hunt on day II] and get 5 guys and a dog across. We reached base by 7 and that was signal to pack and get going - home commitments mean that sometimes you have to push. I said goodbye to the lads, drank 2 V's and got going.

Home safe by 10.30pm, I hit the hay and was gone....

Reflecting now on those honks, there is scope for some careful management of the population, and certainly future hunts.

The lads shot 40 more birds the next morning - all in all a great road trip to the Central Plateau.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The back end of CXI

We were now well in our groove.

Guide: Tyrone
Location: Smokey Flat, Back country
This day dawned overcast again, common theme. Jase had Tyrone for the morning session. Becaue of vis I found some shin deep water and just stood there waiting. Jase and Tyrone seemed to be moving fast; I preferred my heron-like approach.
To me this morning's fishing was the most satisfying, it was very tricky and technical. First to spot fish, then to make a cast without spooking and finally to actually hook one. I landed only 2 fish but was super happy to have done so; spotting was simply that difficult. The wind gusted in throwing ripples that made spotting impossible so we set off for new surrounds. Orvis flat was beginning to flood on the rising tide and we were greeted with the waving tails of triggers. Let me talk about them for a bit. Triggers look like the dumbest of the dumb, but they are cagey and hard to hook when cruising. However when tailing they have their nose firmly in the feed bag and are busy crunching stuff so if you can drop your fly within a foot or 2 of their snout you're onto a winner. Little 2" strips get their attention, then its tail up, snout down on the fly, a firm strip to set the hook then hang on!
I hooked and lost 3 in a row in ankle high coral. Then I had several moments of panic; as I walked a coral edge 2 GT's approached. They weren't huge but my heart started pounding; I threw down my pack and clawed at the elastic holding my #12 [actually breaking it in the process]. By the time I was ready to cast they were adjacent and I'd missed the prime opportunity, they then just drifted into the depths. I kicked myself, got repacked and had just got pack on back when 2 more approached! Or maybe the same fish on a beat. I had ample time to prepare the trap and had my fly out and in front of them like you would set a nymph for a cruising trout. At the first long strip the lead fish accelerated and I waited for him to inhale, but at the last second he turned away. I'd stayed on my knees to keep low, was fishing 60lb leader, everything was right... but something obviously wasn't. 
We then headed to the back country to take advantage of the tide which would begin to flood the flats. I had an utter ball, as bones cruised in from the depths to take advantage. With Tyrone along we made too much noise and his pace was too fast most of the time in my opinion, but we still caught a heap of bones. We also encountered a small GT busting up bait but that was over in a flash. This afternoon saw us surrounded by tailing bones in ankle deep water. It provided some great action.
That evening the guides put on a performance and we feasted on a boar that the chef had whipped up. Local kids performed on pipe drum kits - it was spectacular!
Before going to bed we said goodbye to our US contingent who had to be gone at 4.30 am.
Challenging spotting
The green waters of the lagoon reflect off the clouds
Jase & Tyrone
Lessons learned: take your time. The morning session was a blank for Jase and Tyrone, the guide admitting sheer frustration with the on going cloudy weather. I enjoyed success only by letting fish come to me, I'm sure if I was moving I'd have spooked them. Don't eat too much pig. :)
Guide: Tim [offshore GT specialist]
Location: Local blue water
The previous evening we'd detected a change in the wind. The temp increased through the roof, yup it had gone to the 'normal' easterly. We had until 11am to fish, our evacuation to the airport was at 1. Clint the big Aussie unit had offered to tease GTs in on his popper gear. Given he'd caught over 40 GT's in 2 weeks doing that, we were grateful to accept his offer. The sky had cleared and we ran out of the lagoon in flat conditions, armed with #12's and popper flies. We were soon casting into rocky structures in the surf zone and it felt fishy. We took turns on the heavy popper gear and within an hour I'd taken on board 2 litres of water. We realised that this was the normal weather for CXI.
We raised 3 fish in the morning, but none close enough to get a fly in front of. We cast flies into all the reefy structures we could find. Jase and I gave Clint a rest and took turns on the popper gear as well. Even though fishless, we saw the potential for fly fishing when no wind was about. We returned to base under searing sun and blue skies. Jase had a play with the resident fish after we'd packed. We gave Moana a crap load of extra flies we'd taken, made sure our crew were taken care of with tips, and I donated my rain jacket to Tyrone.
We all said 'what ifs' about the weather that had arrived, and Andrew expat described this as the normal weather based on his numerous previous trips. The spotting on the flats would've been insane, but such is life and we weren't complaining!
We said our goodbyes and got dropped at the airport where we checked in and then went to seek cover in the shade. It was HOT. After a 2 hour wait, we boarded the plane and were soon airborne.
Flat seas and blue skies
Clint the Big Rig gets ready to cast a popper
2 feet of clear water :) actually more like 20 feet deep, stunning clarity
Mantas doing their thing
Just stunning
Jase hassling the lodge's pet Bluefin trevs
The main social/dining area of the lodge; and the 'round tree'
Departure lounge; Cassidy International Airport
A bit of local colour; plane day is a social event [note puddles]
Lagoon from the air
Lessons learned: I found out that the focus had been changed on my camera [new to me so I wasn't overly familiar with it] so got a lot of just out of focus shots, which you may have noticed. Get familiar with the camera and shoot a zillion photos. Normal weather is 10 degrees on average hotter than what we got 6 out of 8 days - hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
Use your spare time to save time on the water, make spare leaders at night, sort your flies at night.
Write a diary. There's so much I haven't said about the group's experiences [Zak hooking a manta and handing rod to his dad for example] that I have noted in my trip diary.
Make the most of meeting new people. The locals are very shy but are a fountain of knowledge. we met great people from all over the world; dog loving quail hunters from Texas [hoping for that invite!], folks from Wyoming, Cairns, California...
Final lesson. I'm going back. Of that there is no doubt whatsoever.

The focus

A year in the planning and accumulation of gear finally came to a head - Christmas Island 2015 was now a reality!

It had begun when TT and I had been discussing a trip to a new place for us, to chase species new to us. A few calls and emails and we had a crew:

Jase [Coch]
Seig from Cali
Zak, Seig's boy
Bruce from Cali and
Teresa, Bruce's wife.

I came to appreciate our US friends immensely, down to earth, hard working self made people and my god was Teresa the most competitive women I'd ever met! 3 weeks prior to the trip she'd never cast a fly, by the end she'd landed some massive fish in prolific numbers.

CXI is suffering a terrible run of Westerly weather, which is unusual in that it brings rain, lots and lots of it. This meant that straight off the bat the guides were telling us that it would be difficult to see fish and at first they were correct; but given that most of our party are avid trout spotters [sight fishing being the backbone of our summer trout angling] we managed far better than the Aussies we met from other lodges who had relatively low fish number days.

I kept a diary which I referred to. Because Jase and I were teamed, I was able to document our trip rather than the whole crew's.

Day 1
Guide: Pedro
Location: "Y" Flat or something like that.
We got off at CXI after 4.5 hour flight ex Nadi. Yes, its that close. Got settled in, changed, applied sunscreen, got hydrated, got going. We jumped in one of the old outrigger boats and headed across the lagoon. First impression "how about this heat?". [We'd come to miss that heat]. Weather was nice enough, but full of cloud in the sky - welcome to the tropics muinus the blue skies! Pedro got us going and soon Jase had his first bone, a small model but success! He then hit another that came in on the edge of vision and he cast to. Soon I hooked a neat trigger that ate my bonefish fly, the first of a number we'd cast to with mixed success. It bored off to the left, then bored off to the right, all completely unstoppable. Then found a neat hole that he buried himself in. Ehem. Soon after, Pedro helped me with spotting bones. We cast to a particular concentration and soon had my first bone. Then another and another, 6 fish in that little session.
Jase & Pedro
First bone [excuse the zinc, you cant apply enough]
I was soon focusing on a big bone when Jase came running, yelling for his #12 which the guide was carrying. He and Pedro took of'; Jase had spotted what the guide called a 30kg GT and got a cast in, the fish followed but turned away... we were pretty encouraged by day 1. Lessons learned: always carry your big rod, when you need it you need it fast. Take a fly patch, Ease of grabbing new flies is paramount and when wading it can be hard to access fly boxes and stuff [I had mine in a waterproof pack]. Keep applying sunscreen; my legs turned a funny shade of red... 
Day II
Guide: Tyrone
Location: Huff Dam - Back Country [Milkfish farm area]
Getting to the fishing spot required a 90 minute ride on the truck. [We later found that we could access the same spots via a 30 min boat ride, and that the access which was supposed to be allowed only once a week via Fisheries land was a bit of a tall story. Dunno why they'd say stuff like that.
Anyhow the drive was an adventure in itself! Jase had first session with the guide and did well, taking a nice blue trev and lots of bones. I wandered off on my own and had the very devil of a time trying to locate fish under the broken clouded sky. Rain squalls smashed through. I found a patch of water that was rippled by more than just the wind and began to cast into it; 4 bones in 4 casts brightened the day somewhat. I hooked and lost a good blue trev [that looked black as he cruised the ledge] and caught a bunch of species like yellow perch, goatfish, bones and some ooglies. Later on I had Tyrone for the afternoon session and we went to a long peninsula that had a sand bar across to an island. I had my #12 on my back, my #8 in my hand and Tyrone carried my #10 [for medium trevs]. As we approached the bar I saw a massive bow wave and a behemoth GT came out of the depths. I said quietly to Tyrone "GT!!! F*CK, LOOK AT THAT MASSIVE BIG F*CK OFF GT!!!! HOLY MOSES ON THE F*CKN MOUNTAIN, LOOK AT THAT...." [you get the idea]. The people are very god fearing, but Tyrone understood my indiscretion and literally threw the 10 weight at me. I had a cast in front of that fish and he turned and followed the Fatboy before simply sinking into the depths. I was always going to be outgunned if I'd hit him... but still, there was no time to unleash the #12. I did catch a small GT of about 2.5kg on the #8 that ran me around like stink. Jase caught a neat golden trev [Andrew in our party caught a honker of about 5kg also]. Little did I know that that would be my largest GT.... 
Travelling to Huff Dam
A Booby bird
Beautiful flats... changeable weather
Goat fish ["GT Candy" according to guides]

"G'day Ray! [and Ray]
Lessons learned: ALWAYS HAVE YOUR BIG GUN LOADED AND AT HAND! use down time wisely, Jase and I would tie up new leaders each night and pack them in ziplock bags. This saved a heap of time on the flats over the rest of the stay. Don't drink Fijian over proof rum. Take spare rods; Seig had his #9 broken by a well meaning guide. He had another on hand. That would be the first of several rods busted, Bruce later broke his #12 high sticking a GT...
Guide: Tyrone
Location: All over
We asked to be taken out to see if we could raise tuna, or sailfish, or even marlin. We packed a set of boonie bird teasers and deployed them. The guides [we had 2 onboard with 3 anglers] were not exactly enthused by blue water fishing and it showed. After a coupel hours of no action we asked to be taken in close to see if we could raise a GT on the popping rod the guides had brought. They really couldn't be bothered with that lark and in frustration I called it. Not before I cast an algae fly to some schools of large milkfish... and caught a snapper of some sort. The ride back was a bit quiet all round. However when we got back into the lagoon I was soon happy again - I spotted my first [of many] tailing bones! The guide was off seeing to some business in the bushes and I was surrounded by tailing bones! Holy no way!!!! I had an epic session, despite the weather turning diabolically cloudy and windy. I caught my largest bone to date, and in front of an audience stalked, hooked and landed a neat trigger on the #8.
Watching the teasers [note the rain jacket]
Ready for the tease n switch..
Tyrone with my trigger on #8... note utter lack of cover or holes for him to run to, the only reason I bettered him after many long searing runs...
Lessons learned. Spotting bones in inclement weather means finding really skinny water. Anything over shin deep is an exercise in futility. Rain jacket very handy. When you have your big gun loaded and ready, you won't see a GT... also, tie lots of flies with bead chain eyes for the skinny water. The advice given to us mainly by Aussies was to tie lots with brass eyes in the #2 - #4 range. Without exception the guides selected #6's and #8's. Tie sparse. My flies were often given haircuts by the guides. Soon I was doing the same when taking flies from the box.

Day IV

Guide: Tyrone

Location: Orvis Flat

My diary starts as follows "Today was a b*stard..." We woke to rain and it stayed rainy. The streets were flooded, the wind blew its arse off and an intense storm arrived.  We fished the same flats as day 1, but by now I was switched on to seeing what I was looking at. I fished ankle deep water and took 32 bones, plus had many refusals and stuffed up a number of shots. The number of bones was staggering. I also caught a nice blue trev but stuffed up the focus on my camera, so only blurry shots. Again we fished in rain jackets and today we pulled the pin as a wall of blackness approached the township of London in the distance. We made haste to get going but got caught in an intense monsoon like rain storm. There was no visibility. The guides huddled in the bow like drowned rats. Attan, our boatman had a light jacket and couldn't take off his sunnies as they were his windscreen. We knew we were lost out there as we trundled around for 40 minutes with the guys chattering away, then out of the gloom a landmark was spotted and we did an about turn.  We arrived back to a camp full of similar stories except most of the team had been home or almost home before it arrived. Mid 20 degree weather is cool for a person from Kiribati. The guides were not quite hypothermic from the rain, but certainly didn't like the temp at all. We became accustomed to what are normal NZ summer temps.
Lessons learned: Take a weather proof camera. I didn't pull the SLR out often on this day due to the rain. 
Day V
Guide: Tyrone
Location: all over
The team were offered the chance to go to the Korean Wreck, a legendary coastal location only truly fishable on the neap tides that we had timed our trip for. Jase and I decided to not go, and to continue our GT quest in the lagoon. We got unloaded from the boat and I gave Tyrone my bonefish rod and walked the edge of a deep drop off with the #12, pumping out cast after cast with a foam popper to see if I could raise a GT. I must have made a couple hundred casts over the next few hours, and didn't raise anything except a sweat. Then we changed focus and I spent a neat day walking the flats. I took 25 bones that day and lost 2 very big fish, one to coral and another that broke my tippet on the strike. We arrived back at base to mixed reports from the team; the swell had been pounding in and made life difficult for them. Seig had managed 2 GTs in the 5kg range but the rest had mainly tails of woe, of difficult line management as waves pounded in. Seig began to feel ill, and would spend the next 48 hours losing his lunch at both ends. We were pretty sure it was due to lack of hydration. The guys were all stuffed, that pounding surf had knocked them around a bit. In every respect Í felt I'd had a brilliant catching day.
rain, anyone?
Tough vis
Neat little bone
Lessons learned: You cannot drink enough water while on the equator. I took electrolytes and a sports drink bottle and drank that plus another litre to 2 litres per day. Check your leader, often. I lost a big bone to a frayed leader - only checked after the fact. Learn to manage your line. You need to carry it coiled and ready to shoot, and away from the coral. Every surface is ugly on line coating.
Day VI
Guide: David
Location: Orvis and Smokey Flats
Tyrone had a day off to attend a village council meeting. David had a different style. The spotting was again, difficult but he put me in front of 3 big triggers, and several GT's. I got hooks in 2 of the triggers [and got absolutely murdered] and none of the GT's. The morning was still and I had an excited feeling in my gut that today was the day. GT's busted up in several spots and then suddenly a big bow wave was coming our way - I had a cast out in front of it and retrieved a big brush fly... no dice. I saw bones before David did and began to catch them; possibly his time off [he hadn't guided for a week] had curtailed his fish vision. I don't know. The afternoon session on Smokey flat was difficult. I was pleased under the circumstances to take a number of fish, whilst Jase and David had a real tough one. Jase later admitted that this was his toughest session of the trip. I simply had a vis window that allowed me to see multiple bones slide off a coral patch onto a sandy patch within range. The other guys were more on the dark coral itself.
Huge storms passed by in the distance. We were lucky to not get a soaking.
That evening, we had a special gift giving session for the guide's kids and other village children. It was hugely appreciated, and I believe, set us apart from the usual 'sports'. In fact in a number of ways our self sufficiency was appreciated by the guides as they got both downtime, and the occasional sneaky cast in. David when given the chance took less than 30 seconds to snare a bone from the time I handed him my rod and said you have a go'.... brilliant.
Awesome stillness
Little bubba GT
Conditions to be savoured and treasured - what its 'supposed to be like'
Spot the bone
Best weather day of our trip
But lurking on the horizon...
It appears that when the guides aren't fishing, they are doing something else that starts with F... :)
Our American buddies, Zak and Teresa giving gifts
The kids singing their 'Happy Song' to say thanks
Lessons learned: Talk to your guides. Ask lots of questions. We fished where we did today because David knew that a rising morning tide on this flat was a signal for GTs to come and play. Koha is a language not understood by many. The yanks not in our group were stunned that we'd think to do bring gifts for total strangers. The yanks in our group who we'd asked to contribute went wayyy over the top and it really made their trip. A visit to the $2 Shop can make a poor kids year - Teresa brought a whole suitcase stuffed with little treasures - she earned that big GT from positive karma. If I could have taken less crap that I never used and stuffed more gifts in to my luggage, I'd have been richer for it.

So ended week 1.