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The far side of the mouth

As I write, the dry westerly is blowing outside. It's now December and the local whitebaiting season has ended.

One of the main things I miss about the whitebaiting season is the opening of the road that runs down the southern side of the Wairau Diversion to the mouth - it gets opened for the season, then goes back to being a private farm road.

I try to fish there instead of the usual north side whenever it's open. It makes a nice change - normally less people, an undulating road that's more fun to ride the motorbike on, and the ability to fish spots you can't quite reach from the other side.

November had a lot of wind; too much wind. The grass in my yard that hadn't managed to catch some water from the garden sprinkler turned brown. It'd been too windy to jump on the motorbike and go for fish. I did manage to get out for a ride and fish near the end of the month, though.

***

It was late afternoon, I was out in the yard and noticed how still it was. I checked the tide forecast; incoming, just after low. I grabbed my fishing bag, jumped on the bike and rode down to the Diversion's southern side, rode through the gateway (open/close gate - always leave a gate how you found it) and down to the mouth.

At the mouth, a few people were whitebaiting. Nobody was fishing on my side, but some were casting lures on the other side. I set my rod up and wandered down, casting once I reached the water. Nobody seemed to be catching anything. I walked down toward the surf, having the odd cast, then carried on around into the surf to see if any fish happened to be coming in.


Nothing seemed to be happening fish-wise and I sat on a log, wondering whether to pack up and see if anything was happening at the Wairau Bar. I find sometimes sitting back and watching for a while is helpful - you either have a nice quiet moment and/or discover something that might help the fishing.

Shags were swimming, diving, chasing small fish. Some fish that seemed quite big for a shag to swallow were being guzzled down.

I started casting into a spot where the current pushes into the surf and the birds were active in the water. I soon hooked a fish that felt quite big. I land a kahawai that wasn't as big as I originally thought. Hooking any fish is better than no fish. I stayed and fished more.

The birds were still chasing and catching. I also caught some more - some bigger, and lost some at the water's edge, in the surf. With the last few that I caught, I started running up the beach when I reeled them into the surf - I might've looked slightly crazier, but the fish didn't get away.

There still wasn't anyone fishing on my side, and nobody that was fishing on the other side seemed to be catching anything. It's a strangely nice feeling; possibly because if anything, the shoe is normally on the other foot.


***

I've had fun fishing at the Diversion mouth with my new rod/reel setup and feel strangely hesitant about heading up the river to my usual spots looking for trout. I'm not sure where I'll be fishing next, but I think exploring will be high on the priority list... although the northern side of the Diversion mouth will now go back to being more pleasant without all the whitebaiters around, so we'll see... the kahawai may stick around, and there's always the possibility of a sea-run trout or even a salmon before long.

If only the wind would abate.

In under the trees

From Tony Orman's great little book The Challenge of Fishing Small Streams in New Zealand; part of chapter 13 (slightly edited/shortened to fit this layout better):

When you fish overgrown streams you have to assess each situation individually. 

I recall one trout which rose just above a log jam. You could not get at it from below because of willows. So at dusk, as it rose steadily a metre or so above the obstruction, I carefully eased upstream and dropped the fly in a few metres upstream and let it float down, paying out line so there was no drag. 

The fish took the floating deer sedge quietly, I paused... one two three... then tightened and without yanking dictated to the fish, moving upstream a couple of metres. I was lucky I got away with it. It was a fine fish from a difficult spot, only overcome by an unorthodox approach.

Overgrown streams are worth looking at. Most anglers shun them. Perhaps they like it easy. Perhaps they don't realise what treasures such streams can hold.

Another way of fishing in tight spots is dapping. This technique consists of dropping your fly on the water and flicking it up and down if it is a dry fly, or letting it sink if it is a nymph. There is no casting involved. A good method for fishing off a bank or under willow. Dapping is reputed to have originated in Ireland on the loughs (lakes). There it was done from boats, usually with dry flies.

One Marlborough stream I know can hold some fine trout early in the season when they run up from the parent river. There were two particularly fine trout that held under a clump of willows and briar. You could see them through the twigs as they fed deeply on nymphs. No one could cast to them.

Ted tied on a weighted nymph and poked his rod through the twigs and branches. Then he fed out line until he had enough slack literally to drop the nymph in about a couple of metres above the trout.

The fish rose up towards the surface and Ted's nymph disappeared.

Until then he hadn't considered how he was going to land it. He tightened the nymph home and the fish bucked and drove away. Ted just let the fish go somewhere downstream. After a few minutes the fish luckily sulked. 

Ted passed his rod through the twigs and put his other hand downstream, transferring the rod from right to left. Then he eased his right hand through the gap and took it from his left, poked his left hand into another gap and transferred again. Four or five of these and he was in the clear, with the fish luckily still attached. There the fight took place. 

It was a fine 3.6kg (8lb) brownie which Ted quickly weighed in his landing net and then slipped back.



A Good Sign

I felt I needed a stronger rod for the current and surf at river mouths (mainly Wairau and Wairau Diversion), so ordered myself a Shakespeare 7 foot, 4 piece 'Slingshot' and a new reel to go with it - a Penn Pursuit 4000.

Today was my first day of testing the setup out, and also of trying my new plan to ride down to the Diversion mouth as often as possible to see what (if anything) was going on, fish-wise. It's just a 5-minute ride, so silly not to.

I went mid-morning around high tide, and the spot was busy with whitebaiters and some people casting lures, but I didn't see any fish getting caught. I got to cast my new setup for the first time.

Riding back down to the mouth late afternoon, I sat on the bike looking to see whether anything was happening before bothering to set up my rod. Nothing much seemed to be going on, but then I noticed a couple of guys walking back from the mouth with some kahawai.

I set up.

Casting into the current, I hit the end of the kahawai run and managed to land one. Most of the other fishers had a few. I stayed fishing while everyone else left.

I was happy with my one kahawai and the positive start to fishing with the new setup.


Release the worms

A couple of weeks ago, on a still sunny day; a nice-sized brown in the water below.

The bank was steep and there was no decent place to jump down to land a fish so I didn't bother casting. I ended up scaring the trout off by slowly getting more out in the open trying to photograph it. In the end the reflection on the water that was getting cut out by my glasses was still showing up in the photos, so didn't end up with much more than some pictures of water.


The dog and I continued down this side-pool of the Wairau, closer to where it connects with the main river. Two more nice browns were calmly pointing into the slight current just behind a small tree that had tipped into the river due to erosion.

A white dog really doesn't help when fishing in such a prominent spot - I had a trout follow a fly with curiosity at one point, but they disappeared when the dog got overly curious, peering over the bank.

***

I've been digging in the garden, getting prepared for spring. Many worms have been uncovered, and I decided to go back and try my luck fishing with a worm and no dog.

I normally stick to artificial lures rather than 'bait' (i.e. an animal in some form), due to it not being as messy and not wanting to kill an animal if I don't have to. There is possibly the factor of  'fooling' a fish with something man-made as well, which I assume will grow when I get around to putting all of the fly-tying books I have accumulated to use.

At the moment, though, I have enjoyed getting back into using bait, but I've never fished with a worm. Geoff Wilson's Complete Book of Fishing Knots & Rigs has a diagram for using worms as bait.

Riding back to the same spot twice on the motorbike armed with worms hasn't been successful - I haven't seen any trout at all. The last time I also went down to the Wairau Diversion mouth after looking for the trout, and ended up losing a couple of lures.

The great thing about fishing on the motorbike is that you always tend to end up in a good mood from having a ride, even if the fishing isn't successful.

No worms were harmed in the making of this... unfortunately. They were all released back into the garden. I can't vouch for the two hens that are normally scratching around in the garden at the moment.

Jigging lure with bait


I've recently found that if you're bait fishing in water no deeper than 12 metres (about 40 feet), using a jigging lure with the bait can be more productive than a sinker/hook setup. The weight of your lure and the speed that it sinks down in the water will decide how much deeper you can fish.

Due to the fact that you don't have the weight of a sinker to disguise a nibble, I found the extra sensitivity of the setup let me pull in a blue cod that kept getting away when I was using a hook and sinker.

Bait Fish

A lovely still winter's day; at home alone wondering whether to savour the time alone with a book and glass of wine or get out and make the most of the weather and go for a fish.

Looking out the front window of the house, I noticed a neighbour drive past. He parked in the nearby carpark, and got out of the car with a bucket and a few other things. I know him well enough to know he's bound to be going for a fish, and he pretty much always has good home-made burley - a good guy to fish next to.

I grabbed my fishing gear and walked across the road with the dog. I've enjoyed getting back into fishing with bait recently and have wanted to catch some bait fish so I have some fresh bait on-hand (and an alternative to the store-bought squid I always seem to use); this opportunity was ideal.

Filling my bucket with some sea water, I climbed around the rocks and started fishing next to my neighbour. He'd already caught a few yellow-eyed mullet by then - bigger fish than I was expecting.

After putting some small pieces of squid onto my Saltura Sabiki rig, I also start winding in fish before too long. Great fun. Fresh non-squid bait is now officially at hand.


Don't go swimming off Kumutoto Point

I love driving around the last corner that brings you to the water's edge in Waikawa Bay. You never quite know how the conditions will look.

Monday had a good forecast, and the boats were sitting quietly on the calm water as I rounded the corner.

Waikawa Bay.
The plan was to go out and try to catch a barracouta by trolling a lure, then use it as bait before landing and freezing whatever was left for crayfish pot bait.

Allports Island.
I motored over to Allports Island and anchored up in a little bay on the West side of the main island. I caught quite a few young barracouta here using a jigging lure a while ago. There was no interest in the lure after a few casts, so I attached my bigger lure to the other rod, ready for some trolling.

Allports Island.
I towed the lure up the north side of the island, then headed north for Kumutoto Point. I've caught nice-sized barracouta both times I've trolled around the point in the past.

Seals and birds on the rocks at Kumutoto Point.
I was busy watching some seals as I passed the point, when the reel started clicking with line running out as the lure reached the point. The fish on the end of the line made a run while I took the engine out of gear and got myself organised to reel it in.

Barracouta.
After a few lively runs, I landed the barracouta that was about a metre long.

The rods out in Whatamonga Bay.
I headed south to Whatamonga Bay for some fishing with my freshly-caught bait. There were quite a few bites, but I was unable to land anything except a small spotty when I got close to Karaka Point.

Karaka Point.

From The Collected Works of Billy The Kid, by Michael Ondaatje

A river you could get lost in
and the sun a flashy hawk
on the edge of it

a mile away you see the white path
of an animal moving through water

you can turn a hundred yard circle
and the horse bends dribbles his face
you step off and lie in it propping your head

till dusk and cold and the horse shift you
and you look up and moon a frozen bird's eye

March in Photos

Looking down on to Robin Hood Bay on the left, out into Cook Straight.

Train passing by in Blenheim.

Near the Wairau River mouth, looking out into Cloudy Bay.

Waikawa Bay.

A stream that feeds into the Wairau River.

A perfect morning

The weather was still pleasant and calm the morning after my night fish.

I decided to ignore my usual spot and ride up the Wairau looking for new fishing spots and not set up my rod until I saw a fish.

It was windier than I expected in the first spot where I looked for fish. I didn't see any, but the wind ripples weren't helping.



Riding further upstream, I came to a place that looked good. I pulled the bike over and got off for a look between the trees. I saw a trout feeding in the current and made my way down the short bank to the water's edge.



I don't normally use a bubble with my spin setup, but this seemed an ideal situation. There was a nice current coming in close to me with a few natural bubbles on the surface, and my bubble and fly should get taken straight to the feeding fish.



After trying a fly that I'm not sure of the name of, I put on a green beetle. On the third cast, as it was drifting down the current, it disappeared under the water. It took me a second to realise I should do something, but the bubble popped back up again by the time I'd tightened my line. The trout had realised his mistake and spat it out. I'd realised my mistake, too.


I'm used to spin fishing, so forgot to be alert for the bubble indicating a take. When retrieving a lure normally with a spin setup, you probably set the hook half the time without even realising a trout had taken it - the retrieve is already pulling away from the trout.



I turned upstream ready to cast again, and saw a trout just up from me. I aimed my cast above him and get a curious look for my efforts. I change from the bubble/fly setup to a lure I often use, and ended up with that trout and a bigger one following it.



No luck in the end.

Another mission ends up without a trout, but it was a perfect morning - I got to be alone on the river, ride my motorbike, find a new fishing spot, see some trout; and got taught a lesson the hard way. Next time I use a bubble, I'll be watching for that bubble to disappear...

Another Fish at Night


I first heard cicadas from my house just before the official start of summer - 23rd November, then again the next day up the river. They've been a bit scarce ever since, though, until the last couple of weeks. Now they're loud whenever you're near trees in Marlborough. Cicadas are great, but there's something about the call of a cricket...

Last night I went out for a night fish just before sunset - I've been meaning to since making my 2014 plans at the start of the year, but I didn't even get out for a fish at all in January, which is shameful (definitely not helping with the 'Fish More' plan).


The cicadas were just starting to quieten down and the crickets were taking over as I arrived at the water's edge. The sun was slipping behind the hill. My first stop was a part where the road runs right beside the river - it's hard not to stop here for a look. I had a few casts, but as I was setting up, a couple of guys arrived downstream on the other side of the river and threw stones into the river and tried to coax their dogs in. Possibly not interfering with the fishing, but they were interfering with the solitude.

Packing up and continuing to my usual spot further upstream, I decided to have a cup of tea from my thermos while waiting for it to get darker. The moon was about to rise, and I felt that might help.

It was quiet. The water chattering past; birds sending out their last calls. The birds must have still been active in the vineyards to the south, as I heard a few booms from the bird-scarers.

After wandering downstream beside the Wairau to explore an area I haven't bothered with for a while (high overgrown bank), I walked upstream next to my usual stillwater creekfed patch that gets some fish and food traffic from the Wairau.

The water was quieter, but you could hear the low rumble from the Wairau's riffles a few stone's-throws away.


Standing on the edge, I heard the unmistakable plop of a feeding fish below me. I walked a few metres downstream and heard a loud splash from a trout. Time to fish.

It was dark, but still light enough to get around without my light due to the full moon (98% full and waning, apparently). After a few casts I heard another big splash - on the other side of the stream this time.

Nothing took my lure, though.


I wandered back down to where I've previously caught trout at night. I killed some more time by taking some long exposure photos, then tried casting there. I had been hesitant to start fishing in that spot until dark, as it felt like playing my trump card too early. No luck, anyway.

I had a few more casts in the area, then called it a night.

... and Fly Fishing

The Trout Bohemia, by Derek Grzelewski

After finishing Derek Grzelewski's excellent The Trout Bohemia recently, "learning how to fly fish" almost made my 2014 list of plans. I often ponder digging out my fly rod and learning how to use it properly, but I think these days my Pflueger reel on my spin rod gives me a good excuse to stick with my current setup. I love that reel.



Pflueger GX-7 Reel


Another couple of things have added to the urge, though - my mate Jim has now got back into his fly fishing after a break from I'm-not-sure-how-many years. He bought a license a couple of years ago after I talked about looking for trout, but I think he went out less times than you can count on one hand.

His recent trip to his old haunts on the Ruakituri River seems to have fortunately rekindled the fire. When I ran into him on our walks before his trip up north, while we were both walking our dogs on the beach, he was talking of the flies he was tying for his trip; then he recently popped around for a visit and mentioned he'd be keen to get up the Wairau for a look.

I've possessed a fly tying kit for a number of years now - given to me as going-away gift from a previous job - so the potential learning to use that and my fly rod might be a good trade-off to showing Jim 'my' spot on the river that pretty-much always has trout. It's consistently a still-water stretch, so the fly fishing might be the edge I need to catch the wily browns.

Also, as Jim said when I mentioned my Pflueger reel being a reason for me not getting into fly fishing yet, "the reel is just to hold your line when you're not using it," on a fly setup, so it's obviously a completely different mindset - as much as I love the beautiful little spinning reel, the fly fishing is more about learning and fine-tuning a technique than appreciating the technology, as it is with my Pflueger reel - it almost feels wrong how easily it pulls in a feisty 4 pound brown once it's hooked...

The third factor in this was seeing a cheap copy of Fly Fishing For Dummies pop up on Trade Me, which I bought. How could I not become proficient with all of the above?!

Fly Fising For Dummies

A plan of 'more' for 2014

Fish more

No explanation needed.

 

Catch more trout

I caught a nice brown recently at night using the same type of lure at the same location in similar conditions to the time I wrote about back in March last year.

I tried at daytime with the same lure in the same spot after catching that last trout, with no luck despite seeing three nice trout cruising below me. I had also tried on a moonless night a couple of weeks or so before, with no sign of trout, so the moon might be a factor - something close to a half-moon was high in the sky with this latest trout, and that March fish saw a full moon rising as I started fishing.

So, night fishing seems the logical choice for me to increase my number of trout caught.


Experiment more

A couple if ideas I've been meaning to play around with:

Nymph on spin setup with a heavy swivel

I have never really felt comfortable using 'bubbles' or split-shot for casting flies on a spin setup. They've always felt a bit clumsy for me - I'm sure it's my ability that's the problem rather then the method, but still, they've never felt good. I caught a trout using quite a heavy swivel (in freshwater terms) and a cicada a while ago, and was surprised at how easily I cast the cicada out, so more experimenting with swivels makes sense.

In Fish Food: A Fly Fisher's Guide to Bugs and Bait, Ralph Cutter mentions using a nymph with fly floatant so it tries to float, but with split-shot a foot or so above it (on a fly fishing setup), so when you tweak the line it pulls the nymph down, imitating a nymph/larvae/bug trying to get back to the river bottom. The swivel setup on spin gear should be ideal for trying this.


Trailing fly behind lure

For a while now I've been planning on trailing a fly behind my lures. I haven't played around with the idea yet, but I have a feeling it should yield results. The lure would need to be non-spinning to work best, I assume (to avoid tangled line on the trailing fly).

A trailing smelt fly when the whitebait are running seems like it should be a winner...


Explore more

I now have similar 6 and a half foot 4-piece rod setups for fresh and salt water fishing, ideal for the motorbike. My rod case is set up on the handlebars of my bike, so I'm ready to explore the rivers and the coast.

This year I also plan on searching out fishing accommodation in good spots. Watch this space...