I thought that I would mention fresh water fishing for a change. Fresh water, usually trout, does not draw as large a television audience as salt water fishing but thanks to Fish and Game and the effective use of license fees the fishery is particularly well managed. October 1st was the official opening of the season in the north and we fished the Lakes Lodge competition based at Lake Okataina. Lake Okataina is my absolute favourite, providing accommodation, breathtaking scenery, solitude and great fishing.
Fish and Game release trout in to this and several other Rotorua lakes and a ready supply of natural food including fresh water crayfish (koura) ensures that rainbow trout bulk up to solid proportions.
Lakes Lodge has a large, comfortable vessel (Waiora) which is utilised for conferences and weddings and during the competition is a floating restaurant serving brunch to a bunch of hungry anglers. It is great to cruise over, tie up, scoff a hearty feed and head back to the fishing. All the while enjoy the backdrop of bush clad hillsides loaded with mature native trees and groves of rich green punga ferns.
When I first started fishing Okataina my preferred method was to tie a booby fly and glow bug to 400mm of trace which in turn was attached to 10 metres of fast sinking shooting head on a fly rod and reel.
Strip off all of the shooting head, work the line out of the rod and as soon as you have all of the shooting head out of the rod tip let it all go. The whole lot would sink to the bottom and eventually you would get a bite. I like to twitch my line back slowly and impart movement to the flies. This system still works fine as too does harling but now I have become a jig convert.
You can buy pre tied sets of jig flies attached to fluorocarbon leader. Pat Swift is the expert and his fly selections are lethal but I just love traffic lights, bully lights, ginger Micks, green orbits , setters, woolly buggers and various other smelt flies.
The technique involves attaching a two ounce sinker to the bottom of your fly trace, lowering it to the bottom and moving the rod tip up and down sufficiently to impart a wounded look to the flies.
In other words, make them flutter!
A light rod with a free spool reel loaded with braid is ideal and you want three or four sets so that you are always ready for action. Clearly there are various refinements to both techniques and fly options and these can also vary by location but jigging provides a real adrenalin boost. The angler is usually holding on to the rod when the fish strikes. Add koura fed orange fleshed rainbows to the smoker and the result is delicious. So if you are looking to try something that is easy to master, can be enjoyed by the whole family in often calm conditions then perhaps jigging for trout is worth a try.
We love it, especially on Lake Okataina.
The power of the good old snapper is something awesome to behold. Throughout the North Island and around the top of the South, snapper are the most talked about, stalked about, lied about fish in the ocean.
A Fishing News cover with a snapper on it will outsell anything else and a Gone Fishin episode targeting the trusty red will be a top rater. I meet a great many people who are quick to claim the title of snapper hunting king, but often that title is best bestowed on a day when we are not around. "Should have been here yesterday, caught a dozen beauties, smallest was 15lb". You probably know the story and also understand that the reality of fishing is that halcyon days are few and far between but form the bulk of our fishing stories.
During the Christmas holiday period my family and I camp with the O'Briens inTe Kaha, a beautiful seaside spot nestled amongst the pohutakawas, 67kms from Opotiki on the road that winds its way to East Cape. Last year snapper were plentiful and we filmed a segment with "Stumpy" and Daryl Black that saw a couple of 20lbrs land in the boat. Stumpy and I, together with a first time game fisherman Mike Fransham, also landed a 205 kilo blue marlin on 15 kilo line after a 5.5 hour scrap. During these encounters with Stumpy, I came to greatly respect his fishing philosophy. "Fishing is just like hunting" he said "you need to know the best times to hunt, what they eat, and where they are likely to graze. You even have to think like the little buggers. Stumpy is, of course, dead right and his approach helps to explain why 80% of the fish are caught by 20% of the anglers.
The Black family, including Bev, are a dynamic combination and when we turned up in Te Kaha this Christmas the first thing I heard was how many fish over 20lb the team had been reeling in. "Stumpy and Darryl keep bringing in 20lbrs to weigh" said Paul O'Brien. "Old Stumpy eh, always knows where the big ones are!"
We launched the Rayglass and went to work. The boat was full of kahawaii, beautiful big fish and as soon as the bait left the surface, whallop, another kahawaii. Every time we went out, a feed of kahawaii was the first thing we would land, then a couple of snapper and maybe a kingfish. Great fishing really but I had a hankering for a big snapper and the massive schools of kahawaii were making it difficult to satisfy the primary objective.
I decided to talk to Stumpy and left a message for him. That night Ty, one of the locals, stopped by with a 28 pounder and the very next night Stumpy pulled up. "Got your message" he confirmed "when do you want to go out". "Tomorrow would be great" I suggested. All right, we'll be here at 4.30pm and hit the change of light. By the way, you'd better come outside and have a look at what's in the boat" "Bugger" I thought he's got a beauty.
I was wrong. Sitting on the boat were three snapper 21lb, 24lb & 28lb. Not just one beauty but three of them. "What are you using for bait?" "Pilchards" "What about burley?" "No burley, we're picking them up on the sounder and casting baits to them. There are big schools out there but you have to idle in, shut the engine off and drift through them. I'm using a small ball sinker to carry the bait down" "What about kahawaii?" The snapper schools we hit are so big you don't have to worry about kahawaii". Stumpy responded.
Next night away, we went to film a couple of good fish and stalk those snapper schools. We were literally hunting snapper. It doesn't matter whether the Blacks are chasing trout or targeting snapper, they do their homework and work out what is happening. I filmed a little of that night's action, a couple of fish over the magic 20 pound mark, the biggest 24 and we took just enough for a feed and in the end were releasing fish around 15 pound. What a night, superb, exciting snapper fishing and all on camera.
That was one of those halcyon days and over the next week there were a few of them. Sometimes it pays to ask for help if things are not going according to plan and local knowledge is the best help of all. When you see the snapper hunting show and hear the advice, file it away because Stumpy's approach and formula for success are relevant to all species. Don't just think in terms of heading out for a fish, if you really want to be successful, start targeting and hunting individual species. That approach, even a subtle change in attitude will improve your success rate markedly. Until next month...
It only takes a couple of mild days in early September to get my heart pounding and remind me that those balmy summer days are just around the corner. Just weeks ago we were pitching our way through a cold winter's night hooked up to giant bluefin tuna. Rain squalls blew through and the wind had a very keen edge to it. In that situation adrenalin boots winter firmly in the backside but it didn’t stop us talking about how much more pleasant fishing is in the summer. Now those warm months are almost here and I am starting to think about preparation.
We see a lot of anglers fresh out of hibernation who turn up at the boat ramp only to find their battery is flat, something is badly corroded or a vital piece of equipment is missing.
Because my mobility is limited and I can’t just jump on the boat and check things out I have devised checklists for gear and cleaning up the mess. These lists ensure that my boat is as safe as possible and that everything is in its place and checked before each excursion.
I do simple things like checking that adequate lifejackets are on board and making sure that those jackets fit. I have a grab bag which contains safety gear such as first aid kit, epirb, binoculars, torch, snack bars, whistle, flares, etc. When a team get on board I run through how to use the marine radio, read the boat position off the GPS, start the engine, monitor engine performance, fit lifejackets, use flares and find the grab bag (which is designed to go with you if you need to dive over the side).
All of this only takes a few minutes but it serves to remind more experienced people and newcomers alike just how important safety is.
We do find forecasts unreliable sometimes and if you have to return home in a bit of a blow it is nice to know that you and your mates are as prepared as you can possibly be. So the message is quite simple. Don’t tempt fate. Make sure your vessel is well found and kitted out appropriately. Do your maintenance checks now and continue them on an ongoing basis.
For your benefit as well as that of your passengers go through a safety briefing at the start of each trip and make sure there are sufficient lifejackets on board for everyone. The other point about lifejackets is that they must fit. Try them at the start of your journey in calm comfortable conditions. Making adjustments in an emergency could cost lives.
If you haven’t done one, a Coastguard day skippers course is a great investment especially if you are new to this game. Coastguard members are likely to be the people who come looking for you in an emergency so joining the Coastguard is advisable. On a similar note make sure you know how to use your marine radio and which channels are appropriate to each area.
If you have a plan that includes a destination or favourite fishing spot make sure you advise people where you are going and the time you will return and stick to your plan.
As well as a slick safety procedure you also want an organised approach to your fishing. No point in bleating that something was left behind and of course swimming back is never an option.
Now you may think I’m a list freak but I just want to make sure that the brain cells I have left are not over taxed. A list is something that works for me and is a great reminder of what I need especially if we have had a lengthy spell of bad weather and I am not sure what has been left on the Haines Hunter and what has been taken off.
At the beginning of the season a fishing check list is very useful. You devise your own but there are some classics that need to be there.
Start at the top with what is clearly obvious. Do you have adequate bait and burley, ice (I also freeze down old plastic soft drink containers filled with water. Be sure not to overfill them or all you do is blow the tops off when they freeze), rods/reels, tackle box with appropriate hooks, sinkers and trace. Soft baits are all the rage and I have back up rods and reels ready to go pre rigged. I know I am in a privileged position but I get frustrated when I bust off because it takes so long to rig up again. Now with back up I am straight back in to the action.
My list of gear also includes other obvious things like a net and gaff, icky spike, small net to get live baits out of the tank, adequate sharp knives, gloves and a towel for handling fish (when wet). Rapala make a great range of accessories which I use. Things like scales, clippers and braid scissors are very useful.
There are many more things that I do but that’s a good start. All I’m really trying to say is that summer is just around the corner and we need to be prepared to maximise the quality of our boating and fishing trips. A little bit of time spent organising yourselves now will greatly enhance the days ahead. Have a fantastic, safe and productive summer.
Kings on Amokura
We headed for the Three Kings recently just after the massive floods that “drowned” Northland. Amokura sailed from Opua in the Bay of Islands and the ocean looked like milky coffee. Trees still floated here and there and debris was heaped on the beaches. I wondered what effect this deluge and all of the sediment would have on the shellfish beds in “The Bay”. There must be a great deal of sludge left behind and only time will tell of any longterm effects.
The forecast for our Kings trip was good. This was our fourth attempt to get there.
Three times we had tried on Primetime and each time the weather or an injury to one of our team members had caused a delay. It was frustrating but finally we got away on Amokura.
Finally a chance to return to one of my favourite places and the scene of many a tussle with a huge variety of ocean dwelling denizens.
It took us over thirteen hours to reach our anchorage in NW Bay. Thirteen hours on an ocean that held much promise but delivered no fish. I was reclined in a position on the aft deck that afforded a great view of the lures. I was there all day and as late afternoon settled in to dusk I realised that I had made a grave mistake.
Slowly, sedately, off to the east a beautiful full moon lifted from the ocean and spread a silver path across the sea. “Bugger!” How could I have failed to take account of the moon phase? When booking a game fishing trip, in particular one that includes marlin, I avoid the full moon like the plague.
Marlin become very lethargic over the moon. They are still there of course but their interest in food and level of aggression sinks through the floor. And so it proved to be on this trip. We made up for it in other areas and even got a few half hearted marlin bites but it was hard work.
A lot of people think that any time is a good time and there’s always that very appropriate cliché, “the worst days fishing is better than the best day at work”.
One thing that I thought I had learnt over the years is that all fishing days are not created equal and to a large extent you can positively influence luck.
Travelling around the country I meet some fantastic anglers who specialise in their region and area of expertise. In some situations a big moon can be great, ask some of the whitebaiters, but in situations such as our Kings trip it is a pain in the butt.
If you intend reducing your trip frequency over the winter try replacing time on the water by studying moon, tides, feed, breeding cycles, tackle, rigs and baits. It is also a good idea to talk to “the experts” and ask for help if you are finding results hard to come by.
I always look forward to winter fishing in the top half of the North Island because it means big snapper and bigger kingfish. Land based fishing can be fantastic and while school snapper ease out in to the depths big old moochers are knocking on the door.
I have never claimed to be the world's greatest angler but I am enthusiastic and do catch my share. I also avidly scan the fishing magazines in my spare time in the hope of picking up some little morsel, a helpful little titbit. The magazines are a mine of information as too are websites like the very good fishing.net.nz.
How I could have failed to notice that we were sailing on a full moon is beyond me. However, a few flat calm days around the Three Kings is pretty hard to beat and I learnt a few things from the Amokura crew. We also, in spite of the absence of marlin, filmed some amazing footage with our new underwater camera. I put the trip down to experience and am well reminded that in all things fishing it does not pay to get complacent.
West Coast Blue Fin
There are no guarantees when it comes to fishing, after all "they" call the sport fishing not catching. For several months we have been fizzing at the idea of getting back to Greymouth and chasing giant bluefin tuna. Mid August seemed like a guarantee of success. It had been for the previous three years. I felt so confident that I persuaded an American friend to make the trek and join the Carters Gone Fishin team for what I felt would be a "mind blower".
For some years now I have been spending time on the charter vessel Jewel filming around Fiordland and Stewart Island. Ian Bain the skipper and new owner Rob decided to base the 60foot Jewel in Greymouth for the tuna season and phoned to invite us down. A plan came together and my healthy respect for the West Coast's fickle sea conditions made the idea of being on Jewel particularly appealing. The forecast was for ten knots variable, a dream forecast when it comes to tuna on the coast.
The first hurdle on any of these trips is to get over the Grey River bar. A huge volume of water funnels through the valleys, gorges and ravines of the Grey River watershed and watching a flood is almost like a religious experience. Brown swirling, tempestuous masses of water spew out in to the sea carrying trees that have been torn out roots and all. Would be fishermen can stand out on the breakwater and watch the clash of ocean versus river and thank their lucky stars that they are not on the ocean that day. Our arrival coincided with what is described as a "bit of a fresh".
The river was up enough for the bar to command respect but not at the point where it would be dangerous to cross in a vessel as well found as Jewel. Once over the bar you set a course for the HokitikaTrench, the edge of which is 30 miles to the south west. In the trench during August and September the hoki trawlers are at work and when those nets are hauled in the tuna are there to pick up any tasty morsels that drop out. The seals are there also, hundreds of seals, and more seabirds than it seems possible to fit in the sky. The whole experience out in the trench is simply mind blowing especially when you are hooked to 250kilos of Pacific bluefin.
When we hit the trench there were a couple of large joint venture trawlers dragging their nets. Jewel was on hand as the nets were hauled in and everything was there in abundance, birds, seals but not tuna. Where were the bluefin? Daniel had travelled all the way from the USA on my recommendation and yet there were no tuna. It didn't seem possible! The ten knots variable looked as though it might eventuate but with darkness came the wind. Lots of wind and a night of buffeting. It was bitterly cold too. During the days we drifted under the spell of the snow clad Southern Alps but at night the mountain's breath cut like a knife. You felt it more keenly because of the lack of bluefin. We did catch sharks as Jewel was pushed before the bitter wind and by morning we were 50miles off Greymouth. Having been in 50knot gales on Jewel a bumpy ride during the night is nothing really but the lack of bluefin was alarming.
That day we headed back in to Greymouth trying to shake off our extreme disappointment.
This fishery was proving to be real after all. There was more to learn, a lot more. Where were the fish? Well, it turns out that they are up near Westport. There are a lot of trawlers there and a lot of bluefin. They will turn up out of Greymouth too but it could be days or weeks before they are here and I can't keep the crew hanging around waiting.
As I sit tapping this out, still in Greymouth, I can't help but feel that we need to go cap in hand to the commercial industry. They hold the key to this fishery. The commercial boats know when the tuna are around because they are looking at them. If we can persuade the commercial companies to share their information then experiences like my last 36 hours could be largely avoided. When the fish are about there is nothing more exciting than chasing giant bluefin tuna.
They are off Westport today hovering around the commercial fleet. The weather is taking a turn for the worst again and by tonight I could be standing on the Grey River Breakwater watching the forces of nature swirl and seethe and battle. I will be glad I am ashore but I will be dreaming of chasing bluefin again and working out how we can improve the odds. I think I will phone Sanfords.
Jonesy, James and I
I first met Colin Jones down on the Wairarapa Coast about the time my son James was born. We were filming and I was newly diagnosed with MS. A bunch of us congregated on a secluded piece of windswept, rugged coast. It was a calm day but with a leaden threatening sky. The sea was rough and soupy but it was diveable. Waves dumped on the offshore rocks and tumbled across the reefs.
Behind us the coastal hills reared up and scrub covered gullies held the promise of deer. It was the sort of paradise that Jonesy was very much at home in. We started by gathering a feed of crayfish and paua and then headed off to a hut in the hills for an afternoon hunt. Between torrential downpours I shot one of the last deer I claimed on foot and cemented a friendship that has endured ten great years. I hunted with Jonesy again weeks later and we stalked a few stags that were moaning their way through the end of the roar.
By then my legs were in pretty bad shape but my cobber patiently altered his pace so that I didn’t feel like too much of a burden. It was the strangest feeling. I would wander along without even breathing hard or raising a sweat but my legs would eventually just shut down. We followed that excursion with a wilderness fly fishing trip and have since shared some great experiences. One of the highlights for me was taking Jonesy to the Three Kings where he tagged two marlin and caught some great kingfish.
The “old chap” is now in his 70’s slowing up a bit, but with a mind that has lost none of its keenness as he recounts a life full of great stories. Jonesy and I are mates, real mates. The sort that does what is necessary to support each other.
Jonesy has written a book, a bloody good one called Jonesy’s deer Culling Days published by Halcyon. It’s a great read and gives you a bit of an insight into Jonesy’s character.
Some months ago my mate phoned and suggested that James and I join him for the opening of duck shooting. Bird shooting is not really my thing but I was not about to withhold an opportunity like that from James. I am a firm believer that interacting with our outdoor environment enriches the lives of our kids. I know this because that’s what it did for me. I started fishing at three, shot rabbits when seven, dived from an early age and revelled in places like Fiordland through my twenties, thirties and forties. Outdoor New Zealand is paradise and it is only by interacting with it that you gain a true appreciation of our mountains, rivers, lakes and coastline. The important thing is to be given an opportunity, to sow the seeds, seeds that germinate and grow in to a self motivated individual who has the confidence to try new things and push boundaries. That’s what I want for my son, and what Jonesy was sowing was one more seed.
We were to shoot on Roger's place. Roger has created a fantastic duck shooting wetland on his property and each year he, Jones and Neil invite a couple of keen young hunters down for a pretty unique experience. James and I became a part of that adventure on opening weekend.
It was the week after James’s eleventh birthday and I had purchased a 410 to help him learn to shoot a shotgun. James gets a continued grilling on firearm safety. My father taught me the same way. Break the rules and the trip is over, the gun is back in the case. It’s all about instilling safe practice from day one and providing an understanding that rifles don’t kill people, peoples abuse of firearm safety does.
A friend of mine, John Fraser, advised me to take James to the Waitemata Gun Club for an afternoon where another old campaigner named Johnny took James under his wing. He thrust a 20 gauge semi auto in James’s eager hands and instructed him on the art of blowing clays out of the sky.
That was it. James was hooked. He came away chattering like a canary about the clays he had turned to powder and about what was going to happen to those poor unsuspecting ducks.
On opening morning we were in a motel in Katikati. I dragged James out of bed at 4.30am. Jones arrives at 4.50am and we were off to Roger's place.
It would be hard not to get swept up in the excitement of it. Everyone looked like a piece of jungle covered in camo gear, complete with gloves and face masks. We bristled with shotguns, were weighted down with ammunition and gazed eagerly at a faint light way to the east in the crisp morning sky.
It was still dark when we arrived. A heavy dew covered the ground and dripped off the trees, conversation was reduced to whispers as the camo clad hunters materialised out of the gloom. A series of quacks explained the whispers and showed that the pond was just down the hill.
The boys had shared many a conference about how best to get me in to a good shooting position in my wheelchair. Jonesy had turned his quad bike trailer in to a maimai. He had built a frame over it and painted it green, brown and grey. The plan was to push me up a ramp and tow me down beside the pond. There huge nets completed the camo effect and James and I shared an ideal shooting platform.
I was loaded up, and down the hill we cruised until the trailer was positioned for maximum benefit with a great view over the dark brooding pond. James was like a cat on a hot tin roof. He could hardly control his excitement. I could feel it and it infected me. What a great thing to be able to share such adventures with my son.
Everyone shuffled off to their spots and for a while there were just our whispers and the odd quack from out over the pond. James sat with the 410 cracked open and a shell ready to feed.
“Can you see any dad?”
“No mate, still too dark.”
“Can you shoot them on the water?”
“I thought we talked about that?”
“Just checking dad,” he said with a grin.
Still too dark to see but every sound somehow amplified and then the sound of wings and a hiss as the water spread away under webbed feet.
A duck landed right in front of us, a very unfortunate duck, and I was pleased we had shared a conversation about not shooting them on the water.
The duck swam about not more than five metres away. Our whole world focused on that duck. James was grinning from ear to ear as he snapped the 410 shut. He still needed to draw back the hammer but that would only take a second, just long enough for that duck to gain a bit of altitude.
“As soon as it lifts off you can shoot it.” I said, “Remember if it’s rising, swing up with it and squeeze the trigger as you see the duck's head. Don’t stop the gun. Keep swinging as you let the shot go.”
“Just like the clays dad?”
“Yep! Just like the clays.”
The light started to intensify. Other ducks materialised. Decoys appeared in groups here and there. A hillside, a stand of pines, a deer fence, Jonesy’s maimai, the pond, an absolutely idyllic setting.
Our duck was by now very nervous. It climbed slowly and dejectedly up on to a little grassy bank about ten metres away. Every now and then it would turn its head our way and quickly snap it back again.
You could read the duck's mind.
“Shit, this is not good. I’m bloody sure there are two guys over there with shotguns. If I don’t look maybe they’ll go away.” Another glance.
“Shit they’re still there.”
“James”, I said, “That’s the unluckiest duck you’ll ever see”.
When it happened it took me by surprise. Two more ducks flew in, the guys in the next maimai opened up, our duck took off and James drilled it back in to the pond.
First shot, first duck. Not a bad little confidence boost for James and workout for the 410.
He was ecstatic, “Got my first duck”, he whispered very loudly his eyes sparkling.
“Well done mate, good shot.”
“Will there be more,” asked the bright eyed incredibly animated face of my son.
There were more, not many, just enough for a young hunter to learn about patience and missing a few and how to lead effectively, all good lessons.
By mid morning there were over a dozen dead ducks floating on the pond. The sun was up in a bright, clear, windless sky, far from ideal for duck shooting.
Roger came by on his way to the dinghy. He was to retrieve the ducks but stopped long enough to congratulate James and get his duck for him.
I didn’t even load my gun. I was content just to sit there and watch James. He scored a second hit and frightened a few more. It was a morning I will never forget.
Jonesy, Neil and the other young hunters came by. The morning of opening day was over and it was time for lunch. We had about fifteen ducks. Enough for a good feed and there was still Sunday morning to go.
“Bloody good to share that with you mate.” Said Jonesy, with his arm around my shoulder.
“And you my old friend.” I said.
There will only ever be one first opening morning in James’s life and that was it.
I know by his enthusiasm that there will be many more such experiences but that was the first and thanks to Jonesy I was there.
It was another of those special times that marks my friendship with Jonesy. It is also one of those special times which cements my relationship with James.
Already he and I have done some great things. He may not always be a hunter. I believe he will always be a fisherman, but what really matters is sharing our friendship through amazing people in incredible places. That is the gift that outdoor New Zealand bestows and that’s why we truly do live in Godzone.
Always Look On The Bright Side
I have a saying that drives my team nuts and it is, “these are the days that turn out to be the best”. Every time I make this call the “boys” just raise their eyebrows and say, “here he goes again!”
You learn after a while that filming a fishing show is sometimes about making something out of nothing. Well that’s the way it starts when all of your carefully laid plans collapse in a heap and that is when you need to take a big breath and head off in search of magic.
We were recently in the Far North. It was a trip I had anticipated for weeks and my head was full of huge kingfish and very impressive snapper. Absolutely nothing that I had planned eventuated and we had a team discussion.
What do we do to turn disaster in to opportunity?
Bruce, my regular cameraman, wound up on the rocks at Spirits Bay while Darren and I headed off for our second circuit of 90 Mile Beach.
We had swept out on to the beach in the morning. The 90 Mile is an uplifting place for me. After a frenetic couple of months the beach just swept away the clutter in my head. The new plan was to meet up with Milan at Te Paki stream an hour north and take stock from there.
A lazy white ribbon of surf crashed and hissed to our left and the light brown sand dissolved in to haze way up the beach somewhere. The wind was a faint puff and the surf under a metre. It looked good!
We were early, too early for the tourist buses, and the strip of firm sand necessary for the drive was only just wide enough although someone had left earlier than us and their tyre tread left a perfect mark.
“See I told you!” I said the boys.
“Yeah, yeah, we know! These are the days that turn out to be the best!”
We laughed and I edged the speed up a little more. You make your own tracks on the 90 Mile. There is no road just the seemingly endless sweep of the sand. It feels like you are floating rather than driving. It is a good feeling and had us grinning like a bunch of kids.
“I love this place!” I laughed, “and I’ve seen some good fish hauled in along here.”
“Someone caught a 9kilo snapper to win the 90 Mile tournament last week,” said Darren as a sheet of spray flew high in the air and announced the first stream bed.
Yes, it was good to be out on this breathtaking beach swallowing up the kilometres and heading to who knows what sort of adventure. Birds wheeled and danced, others crowded in flocks that lifted on white wings and dispersed as we sped by.
Another stream bed, another shower of spray, more birds, the relentless roar of the surf and the hum of tyres gliding along the brown sandy path of New Zealand’s longest beach. The Bluff materialised in the haze and we slowed to navigate an outcrop of black weathered rock. Up to speed again and on to our meeting place. Milan and four companions tumbled out of the little Sabaru station wagon.
“There’s an albatross just up the beach if you want to have a look.” was Milan’s greeting. “Looks like an old bird that’s come in to die.” He added.
We discussed the plan. “Scott’s Point is out. How about we try Spirits?”
“Sounds fine by me! Anywhere that gets a line in the water is looking good about now.”
Te Paki Stream is the largest of the water courses spilling out on to the 90 Mile. It is also the most northern exit from the beautiful sandy highway. Te Paki gave us access back on to State Highway one and thence to Spirits Bay but first I wanted to see whether anything could be done about the albatross.
There were large black back gulls here and there plus the odd red billed gull. A flock of turns, white and delicate looking, crowded together near where the last of the tumbling surf glided up and was finally swallowed by the sand.
The old bird was on his own. His pride was shattered somehow. That once majestic creature sat with his head down and slightly folded wings scraping the sand. About the human intruders he cared very little. He was beige and white and mottled with feathers that appeared ruffled and untidy. It was clear that he would not last the day and I hoped as we turned back in to the stream that the bird that once swept the sky and grazed the ocean with his wingtips would find peace on that final flight that awaits us all.
Charging up the stream the melancholy was soon behind us. The sand was more golden, the stream water brown, swift and shallow. Huge sand hills reared up as we jinked through the watercourse and up on to the metal road.
At Spirits Bay we interviewed Milan about some of his incredible fishing adventures. He had recently returned from the Amazon which sounded phenomenal. We talked about all manner of escapades before he and Bruce headed for the rocks and Darren and I went back to Houhora and thence on to the 90 Mile for our second circuit of the day.
It was a good decision but the beach was no longer owned by us and one other set of tyre tracks. We could see several cars and other larger vehicles. The 90 Mile had come alive with human sightseers, shellfish gatherers, anglers, one unfriendly chap on a bike and two trampers. The tide had swept back and the road was suddenly and temporarily vast. The already compacted sand had a beaten look where dozens of vehicles had zoomed by.
A kilometre up the beach two guys were surfcasting. One of them was up to his armpits in surf. He heaved and flicked his sinker out to the waiting denizens. Using the surf to help he came back up the beach and joined his mate.
“Any luck boys?” I enquired.
“Graeme, what are you doing here?”
“We came to film those big snapper you are catching!”
“Nah! Just one pannie, a trevally and a parorae.”
“But we’ve only been here 20 minutes,” added the second angler.
We talked for a while and then spotted a kite fisherman preparing to set his line.
“C’mon mate,” I said to Darren, “let’s go and wave the camera at these guys.”
We had agreed to meet Bruce and Milan’s buddies back at Spirits Bay around 5.00pm. It was 3.30pm and neither Darren nor I were in much of a hurry to leave the beach. Big buses sped by heading south. The tourists were starting to drift back to Kaitaia and the Bay of Islands.
Carl, the kite fisherman and his German partner Anna were after enough snapper for a feed topped up with a few tua tua. The red kite contrasted brilliantly with a blue sky and fluffy white clouds. We pulled in alongside the aging red Hilux.
“Gidday Gone Fishin’, said Carl, “hope your not going to point that bloody thing at me,” he said nodding at the camera.
Try as we might we couldn’t get Carl to say much in front of the camera but he invited us to hang around until the line was retrieved.
His great lolloping, slobbering German short haired pointer chased sticks and a ball for Anna and try as she might there was no way she could lower the level in his energy tank.
In their wonderful, instinctive, bird hunting way the dog remained on full alert.
“Throw the stick, throw the stick, the ever alert face demanded.
The line went out, Carl waited 20 minutes and in it came again. Four good snapper satisfied the menu. Carl and Anna went home while Darren and I headed for Te Paki Stream.
“Bruce might be waiting for a little while,” I said.
“Yeah mate especially if someone else pops up.”
The beach was almost back to its lonely, wild, empty self when we drew near The Bluff for the second time that day.
Another surfcaster stood waste deep in water that boiled and broke around the rugged geography of The Bluff. The surf had lifted up or just picked on this desolate spot to heave and smash about. The blue ocean water had tumbled and was stirred up in to a foaming brown strip along the shore. Ideal for a decent snapper I thought. Two young chaps leaned against a four wheel drive, one of them had his arm in a sling. Aija, the chap in the water suddenly leant back and it was clear that he was attached to something solid.
Darren and I slid to a stop and my companion leapt out the door, camera in hand.
In short order Aija had his snapper flapping in the shallows. It was a good fish of about two kilos. He walked up to the car all smiles.
“Graeme, what are you doing here?” came the familiar enquiry.
“Watching you catch some good snapper,” I said, “now get that bait back in the water.”
“You’d better have a look at the fish in the back of the wagon.” Said Aija frantically hooking up another bait and heading for the surf.
One of Aija’s mates went around the back of the vehicle and held up a very sizeable fish.
“Been four fish in four casts so far,” he said.
The wet suit clad angler waded deep in to the maelstrom and heaved with all his might. I couldn’t follow the sinkers flight but knew it had sailed far. Heavy surf broke over the black jagged rocks to our right and to the left a vast expanse of beach stretched away to disappear in the washed out looking brown and grey gloom where earth and sky fused.
It was 5.00pm and Bruce was about to twiddle his thumbs for a while.
Our enthusiastic angler hooked up again. It was a legal fish, but only just, and he released it. The boys had their feed and started packing up.
“Thanks guys!” we said and headed off for our rendezvous.
As I turned in to Te Paki Stream I thought of the old albatross alone along the beach. He knew loneliness well as he glided a majestic path through the Southern Ocean. He symbolised a kind of freedom that we humans would never know and now his life was at an end.
“Poor old bugger!” I said to Darren, “what amazing stories he could tell.”
The boys were all crammed in to the Subaru heading out of Spirits Bay as we started in. They understood, as fellow fishermen do, that being late was part of the game.
“How did you go on the rocks?”
“”Nothing doing,” came the reply.
“Nothing at all?”
“Just a little “rat” kingfish, “we saw a couple of good ones but they wouldn’t eat.”
“How’d you guys go?” asked Bruce.
“Well Brucey,” I said , “these are the days that turn out to be the best!”
It had been a great day. I hadn’t even got to hold a rod but had enjoyed sharing others success in this amazing place. The 90 Mile always lifts my spirits. From the time you sweep out on to the sandy expanse, hear the roar of the surf and begin your journey you know you are a very privileged human being.
Stewart Island is one of those places you can never get enough of. It is wild, rugged, raw, invigorating. It is the place I chose to take my son on our first great adventure together.
We joined Ian Bain and his crew in Riverton and on a crisp clear December morning set off to circumnavigate Stewart Island. Ian's vessel, Jewel, previously belonged to my good friend Blake Scott. Blake had taken us on a journey through southern Fiordland which included an amazing couple of hours hauling huge cod off Solander Island.
Jewel is a ship more then a boat. She is around 20metres long and blessed with a massive beam. For a guy in a wheel chair this means space and space means freedom.
The team was as much into diving as they were fishing and it was hard to watch the boys slip into the rich blue clarity and not join them. Time to get back in the water perhaps?
Darren was shooting underwater camera and some of that footage is simply beautiful. Filming underwater was always one of my passions. It gave me a chance to share a truly unique environment with you and now Darren is supplying that opportunity once again. On a trip around Stewart Island expect the unexpected. I had never been to the south, to Easy Harbour, the Mutton Bird Islands or Pegasus.
All of these places had me shaking my head in wonder. They are indeed wild and unspoiled but they are also part of a great adventure playground. We had no trouble filling our menu with crays, paua, scallops and blue cod. It didn’t take long to get a feed. It gave us time to put a couple of hunters ashore, to look around, to film things like Hooker Sea Lions and penguins. It gave us time to fully appreciate this place.
Stewart Island is a place you can’t help but respect and even cruising from place to place the geography changes from spectacular to more spectacular. Always someone pointing to something or coming up from a dive filled with stories of what they had seen.
Joining a couple of commercial fishermen, who also charter, opens up a whole new world. These guys know about the marine history. They also know about the animals that live in the ocean and how to manage them to good effect. We ate well as we cruised around and came home with enough for another good feed but no one took too much.
Some of the best charters I have experienced over the years have been with current or ex-commercial fishermen. You always seem to invest in an experience which includes a tremendous amount of knowledge and our excursion on Jewel was no exception.
James took great delight in sitting next to the skipper as we travelled from place to place and Ian answered all of the hundreds of questions with no sign of irritation.
I just cruised the deck and looked. Every now and then I would ask someone to explain something and James would leave his perch by the skipper occasionally to come and have a chat.
As far as filming excursions go it was unforgettable. You are going to love Stewart Island. We set a few cray pots on the way down the coast and retrieved them as we headed back towards Riverton four days later.
James and Darren's son Jackson had formed a pretty good bond even though Jackson was a good deal older. I guess you learn tolerance when you are an older brother. James thought Jackson was pretty cool because he is a very good spear fisherman. Both learned more in those few days than a classroom would teach them in a month.
I could never find the words to adequately describe this little charter in paradise but the footage and related shows will certainly help.
I said always expect the unexpected and just when we thought the surprises were over in came the cray pots and there slithered a couple of huge conger eels. A couple of pots had plenty of crays aboard so we did not go hungry but those congers made the boys day. If you want the adventure of a lifetime try Paradise Charters and travel around Stewart Island or Fiordland. Just look for the add in the New Zealand Fishing News directory.
The new series begins on March 11 and what a lineup. Stewart Island, the Hauraki Gulf, Northland, the Three Kings, South Westland, Southern Fiordland, the Northern Territory of Australia and much, much more.
Thanks for your ongoing support and I hope you enjoy a series of great adventures.