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.