Saturday, 7 December 2013

Archive: Lonely Wonders of Katmai

From National Geographic, June, 1963. A small excerpt of the original article, written by Ernest Gruening (that tells of his visit to Katmai National Monument in Alaska, one of the largest national parks in the USA), that relates to fishing for salmon, with some editing to help with flow.

A floatplane circled overhead, then skimmed to a landing on the river. We walked back to the delta's point as the plane taxied to shore. John Walatka, Katmai veteran and longtime bush pilot, had come to fly us back to Brooks River Lodge.

John supervises the camps at Brooks River and Lake Grosvenor, in the national monument, and three others just outside. Before John would take us to Brooks River Lodge, he had something to show us. He pointed to the river's far shore.

"Alaska brown bear," he said.

These beasts are the largest carnivorous land animals, weighing up to 1,600 pounds. This one looked every bit that large to us.

"Relax," our calm friend told us. "That bear doesn't want any part of you, either."

True. He detected us almost immediately - bears have an acute sense of smell but poor eyesight - and padded off into a thicket.

"There are plenty of red salmon in the river now," John said. "He'll be back."

As summer wore on, the bears would become sated with salmon, scooping them from the water and taking only one or two bites out of each fish before discarding it. Then wolves, foxes, coyotes, otters, eagles, and ravens would feast.

The salmon run was growing heavier each day. The beautiful silver sockeye were reddening as they returned from the sea to spawn in their native waters. Soon they would die, completing a four- to five-year life span.

We dined that night on salmon at Brooks River Lodge.

                                                                Photograph: Winfield Parks

Some of the world's finest fishing lies but seconds from one's cabin, whether at Brooks River or Lake Grosvenor, which I visited next morning.

Rainbow, Dolly Varden, lake trout and grayling are commonplace on Cook Charles Blue's menu. Twenty feet from his cook tent the water rushes through the narrows between Lakes Grosvenor and Coville.

Young Chuck Petersen was casting in the swift water. A deft flick of his rod, and the fly arched far out into the current.

"I'm usually a three-cast man," Chuck said. "Three casts, no fish, I quit. I'm spoiled!"

On his second cast the barbed fly hooked a 3.5 pound trout.

I began to understand why so many fishermen return to Katmai's waters. Ray Petersen told me that since 1950, when the camps opened, some 7,500 guests have been accommodated, many of them repeaters.

Over the years, sturdy cedar cabins with running water and bunk beds have been replacing the original canvas-covered frame cabins. Their construction is a major task, as all equipment, building material, and furnishings must be flown from Anchorage. Cargo planes must land in winter on the frozen surface of the lake.

Back at Brooks River Lodge that afternoon, I chatted with fishermen who were so busy landing salmon that they complained of being arm-weary.

That night a dozen or so of us sat around the fire talking of the superlative fishing that so small a group of us had all to ourselves. Even if the lodge had been filled to its 50-visitor capacity, we would still have been a small island of people surrounded by the vast solitude of Katmai.

Here was the greatest national park unit of all, and I doubt if there were at that moment 100 human beings in all its length and breadth.

Bearing a biologist's red tag, a sockeye vaults a cascade
more than six feet high. Photograph: Winfield Parks

Monday, 21 October 2013

Exploring Robin Hood

Fantail chasing insects on the bay's northern hill road.
 I've been exploring Robin Hood Bay lately. Nothing to report on the fishing front other than that my one attempt caught nothing. There is a lot of seaweed around, so not the best spot overall for casting (or more importantly, retrieving). My first cast at the point lost a lure. It has been fun exploring, though.

Gull flying toward the southern point.
After my first look at walking out to the southern point of the bay, I was pretty sure it was possible, close to low tide. Seeing it the next time with quite a swell around high tide, I was at least convinced it wouldn't be easy if it wasn't near low tide.

High tide.
My map has the southern point of the bay marked as Wai Kutakuta. This is where I did manage to get to on a nice day close to low tide. The walk out there was great fun; I love exploring a coast by foot.

A shag sits quietly.
  There was one part in particular that you won't be able to get past without getting wet up to at least thigh-height, or possibly higher (as I found out on my return), but if you're wearing suitable clothing and footwear (or at least prepared to take off your boots and pants for a few metres...) you'll be fine.

Wai Kutakuta.
 For the most part, the rock is sharp jagged stuff, which you shouldn't dream of traversing in bare feet, but luckily the one point I had to take off my boots was pleasant underfoot (in the water, at least). There is an emergency escape route up the hill in most places if one does get caught by the tide or building swell.

Robin Hood Bay Cottage.
There's a creepy old Blair-witchesque house in the bay built around 1848, which I never noticed on previous visits for some reason. It's a Category Two Historic Place, and inspection is 'invited'. Well worth a curious peek.

Robin Hood Bay Cottage interior.
The northern part of the bay seems even less inviting as far as water level goes as far as I can see, but I'm keen to take a peek around low tide soon.

Northern side of Robin Hood Bay.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Mole sees a river for the first time

He thought his happiness was complete when, as he meandered aimlessly along, suddenly he stood by the edge of a full-fed river.

Never in his life had he seen a river before - this sleek, sinuous, full-bodied animal, chasing and chuckling, gripping things with a gurgle and leaving them with a laugh, to fling itself on fresh playmates that shook themselves free, and were caught and held again. All was a-shake and a-shiver - glints and gleams and sparkles, rustle and swirl, chatter and bubble.

The Mole was bewitched, entranced, fascinated. By the side of the river he trotted as one trots, when very small, by the side of a man, who holds one spellbound by exciting stories; and when tired at last, he sat on the bank, while the river still chattered on to him, a babbling procession of the best stories in the world, sent from the heart of the earth to be told at last to the insatiable sea.

Illustration by Ernest H. Shepard.

From The Wind In The Willows, By Kenneth Grahame.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Photo Report: Wairau River, Ferry Bridge

The Wairau River is still running high and quite green. These photos were taken yesterday. Rain has fallen today, so the level won't be lower at the moment.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

The new season


Sitting on the river bank, quietly watching a trout just below me, a stoat popped up on a rock beside me. I heard him before I saw him. He was so fast I only caught a brief glimpse of his brown coat, white chest and startled expression before he scurried back up the bank.

After a few casts, I decided to continue upstream stoat-like, hopping along the edge of the river. Soon after that thought surfaced, I slipped in some mud, dirtying my corduroys.

The birds were filling the air with their noise - a quail calling from the hillside; a mix of tuis and maybe bellbirds; magpies in the distance somewhere; and birds I wasn't sure of the name of. The bumble bees were humming around the nearby flowers.

Then another noise - a subtle slurp! I noticed the rings of a trout rising nearby. My second cast in that direction with my Black Fury lure had a trout following. Nothing more, though. I sat and watch for a while, leaving a dirty damp cheek-print on the rock when I stood.

I heard a train's horn in the distance, probably passing through Springs Junction, or maybe Tuamarina, which is closer.

There was no wind - a perfectly still late afternoon. Swallows swooped and darted about the water. The Wairau River chattered on its way, higher and greener than normal, but nothing like it was about a week ago when it was brown. I was fishing just off the main river, where it changes with each flood - sometimes flowing in above the main access area, sometimes meeting the creek-fed water further downstream.

It was the first day of the new trout fishing season, and I was happy I'd at least seen a couple of trout. The new season must mean different things to each fisher. For many, it must mean their favourite water is open again for fishing, as many rivers and streams are closed outside of the official 1st October - 30 April season. For me, it mainly signifies the time when it's warming up enough for me to start taking the motorbike out of the shed after being neglected over winter, to explore the river again. I'm still slightly obsessed with the lower Wairau, which is open year-round, so the actual season doesn't mean so much to me. In saying that, I do plan on exploring more waters that aren't open year-round this season, so next season that comment may not apply.

A shag startled me as it scrambled and flew over the river from nearby as I slowly moved back downstream.

Riding the bike back towards home, a rabbit ran across the dirt road. The setting sun shone in the bike's rear view mirror as I left the river, content with my first day of the new season.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

A peek at the Wairau before the new season starts

Yesterday I had a look for trout in a few spots in the Wairau River and Wairau Diversion.

A track through the trees below the Diversion Bridge.
I only managed to spot one trout near one of the areas photographed. I felt rather good about having seen one – it's better than none.

Looking upstream to the Diversion Bridge.
The mid/lower Wairau River's fishing season is year-round, so I had a few casts yesterday, and went back again today to the spot I saw the one trout. No luck, and nothing spotted today.

Standing below the Ferry Bridge, near the Spring Creek township.
I'm looking forward to getting back up the river again now that the weather's warming up.

Above Tuamarina.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Where water comes together with other water

Wairau River, Marlborough, New Zealand.
I love creeks and the music they make. And rills, in glades and meadows, before they have a chance to become creeks. I may even love them best of all for their secrecy. 

I almost forgot to say something about the source! Can anything be more wonderful than a spring? But the big streams have my heart too. And the places streams flow into rivers. The open mouths of rivers where they join the sea. The places where water comes together with other water. Those places stand out in my mind like holy places. 

But these coastal rivers! I love them the way some men love horses or glamorous women. I have a thing for this cold swift water. Just looking at it makes my blood run and my skin tingle. I could sit and watch these rivers for hours. Not one of them like any other.

Sometimes when I read poems (not that I read many), I can't help but read them in my head with an almost sing-song limerick style, like there's an Irish jig playing in the background somewhere. I suspect childhood poems are responsible for this. I can seldom bring myself to read any poem that rhymes.

The photo above is mine, but the words in italics are not. I've reproduced most of Raymond Carver's poem where water comes together with other water without its original poetic breaking-up-of-lines as a way of turning down the volume on the jig.

The full poem in its original form can be found here.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Tackle box

Last year I created some archive posts to fill in my quiet winter days. Recently, over a glass of red by the fire, I went through and cleaned out my tackle box. These items now make up my current setup.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

A lesson at Pelorus

A couple of years ago, fishing below the Totara Flats picnic area, which is downstream of the Pelorus Bridge and Rai Falls in Marlborough, I learnt not to ignore riffles when looking for trout.

Looking downstream, toward the riffles at the end of the pool.
I was casting my lure into the downstream end of the long pool that goes past the picnic area. One of my casts mistakenly went into the riffles, where I didn't think any trout would be, so I hastily started to wind it back in, not wanting to get a snag. There was a mighty strike, which I wasn't ready for - the trout got away easily.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013


My Father’s Father taught me how to whistle and what an oyster catcher is.

Grandad’s headstone looks out over the spot where I caught my first fish. I was fishing with my first fishing rod combo – a nice little two-piece rod set, designed for trout fishing; using a black and gold toby, I landed three little yellow-eyed mullets. The strength of the little guys surprised me – I thought the fish on the end of my line were much bigger until out of the water.

I think my idea of heaven would be endless coast and rivers to explore, with suitable fishing spots every now-and-then... and hanging out with my family, obviously... 

On Saturday, while taking a walk down the beach and around the end of the spit with the cemetary, I noticed a large tidal pool on the beach side of the channel that flows into the mudflats. I always like to take a look to see if anything has been trapped in a tidal pool. Approaching, I thought I saw a couple of fins in the water, but I’ve been tricked by kelp too often to get too excited. There isn’t much kelp around here, though.

The pool was shallow, and as I came nearer, a stringray swam towards me. He was quite unafraid, slowly cruising along the water’s edge, perhaps to satisfy his curiousity. The rising tide would connect him with the rest of the water before too long.

The sand dunes have been getting eroded over the years. The end of the spit looks quite different now, compared to when I was young. One spot used to have a small old run-down building on it; this got burnt down somehow years ago, but even the land and nearby trees where it stood have now been washed away.

Monday, 27 May 2013

A spot of fishing at the Diversion and the Bar

A week or so ago, a neighbour dropped off a couple of kahawai. He'd been fishing at the Wairau Diversion river-mouth and caught a few.

Yesterday I tried my luck in the same spot. There was one other chap fishing when I arrived. After fishing in the surf and moving towards the river, I passed him and asked how his luck was going. He'd caught nothing, but mentioned the last two or three weeks have been quite good. He said a seal that he'd spotted out in the surf might be keeping the fish away.

I had a fish again today, but went to the Wairau Bar this time. There was nobody there when I arrived - quite rare for such a popular spot. I find solitude is often a big part of my enjoyment when fishing - one of the reasons I haven't been to the Bar for a while.

As soon as I walked near the water I spotted a fish near the edge, and another soon after. I spotted many kahawai in the water while I was fishing, but they seemed quite hesitant to strike overall. I did manage to hook and land one nice-sized kahawai.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Recent rain and the Wairau River

After a long dry spell, Marlborough has had quite a bit of rain the last few days. The Wairau River is high and muddy.

Some photographs from yesterday follow, with comparison photos from when the river is flowing closer to its average.


Sunday, 31 March 2013

Night fishing and luck

I noticed I used the word 'luck' three times in a couple of paragraphs recently. I almost changed that before publishing, but decided to leave it as-is.

Thinking about luck and my current lack of it, I decided to change my approach to my next fish.

While there will always be an element of luck in fishing, i.e. factors you can't control, much like cards you get dealt in a hand of poker; you can also do your best to use your own knowledge and skills to help your chances.

This is all probably fairly obvious to most, but it wasn't until I really thought about it on Friday that I realised I potentially had a recipe for immediate success.

Night fishing on rivers is often recommended in articles and books, and I've had a couple of friends recommend it recently. I guess it's too easy for me to see myself sitting down with a book and red wine in hand instead of at the river-side at night to have bothered before.

So, my recipe contained the two ingredients of 1) an area I knew well, that had trout, and... 2) night.

There was a glow on the horizon as I parked near the Wairau, foretelling the imminent arrival of a full moon. The night was clear and calm - so peaceful I wondered why I hadn't been doing this before.

I walked to a spot on the bank that I have fished before but landed nothing. I cast out; all seemed quiet. Just as my lure was almost back to me, a trout seemed to come from nowhere to latch onto the lure and almost beach himself on a big rock. I was taken by surprise and he managed to get off.

My third cast had a similar result, except I was ready, and had the trout in my net before too long.

I walked about 60 metres away from the spot and had a few more casts. Nothing.

The moon was big, bright and low in the sky now. Returning to the same spot where I landed the fish, I tried again, landing another nice trout within a few casts.

I was fishing with a nice little lure that I've been using lately - a Storm Wildeye Live Vairon. You can fish them with a slow retrieve and they have a very realistic action.
Storm Wildeye Live Vairon (with hook bent by a trout).

I'm not sure whether this was night-fishing-beginners-luck, but I have a feeling I'll have more success at night than I have been during the day.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Pleasant but unfruitful

Last night I decided to try my luck with the same recipe from the night before - have a fish at the Wairau Bar, then up-river on my way home. I figured if the Bar wasn't firing, the river would hopefully offer me another trout.

I was wrong.

Lovely still evening out, though.

Monday, 25 March 2013

I decide not to target trout

It's funny the way things work out.

I have been fishing the Wairau River lately without any luck. I haven't bothered with any saltwater fishing, as I've been enjoying trying my luck in the river. I probably haven't been helping my chances by a) often fishing either side of noon instead of closer to the change of light, b) often in fairly still-water environments, with c) lures and spinners instead of something more subtle like a nymph or fly better suited to still waters.

I've had no luck. A few curious fish, but no strikes recently. But I just love it on the river. It feels like the sort of environment I'll have fond memories of in my old age (if I make it that far). Halcyon summers and all that.

Today I decided: enough! For my own morale and to perhaps help justify this fishing malarkey, I made a plan to start regularly hitting the Wairau Bar and hope for some kahawai at least. Last summer I pulled in quite a few kahawai from there, but have been slightly obsessed with the elusive trout lately.

So, as the sun was going down, I made my way to the Wairau Bar. There were a few other people fishing when I got there; some left, some more arrived.

The conditions were pleasant, but I caught nothing and didn't see anyone else catch anything either. I left after 25 minutes of fishing.

I almost didn't stop for a fish in the river on the way home, but it seemed silly not to, so I decided to have at least a few casts. Those few casts yielded a trout! It was fairly dark by this time - I could see what I was doing with the fish, but there wasn't enough light for my flashless phone camera.

I released the trout and he swam off slowly into the dark water.

Friday, 22 March 2013


Sunrise this morning from northern Cloudy Bay, Marlborough, New Zealand; looking across southern Cook Strait towards the lower part of the North Island.

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Swirly World Sails South, By Andrew Fagan

You may know Andrew Fagan from his days fronting 80s band The Mockers, or perhaps more recently his radio show on Radio Live with wife Karyn Hay. What you may not know, is that he is a sailer.

He is a mad sailer; mad as the proverbial hatter. Well, there's a fine line been madness and bravery - I guess he may deserve 'brave', as he lived to tell this tale.

In a sailing boat less than 18 foot in length (with a dodgy engine), he single-handedly sailed from Auckland, New Zealand, down the east coast, then left the relative safety near the mainland to sail to the Auckland Islands before finishing his circumnavigation of New Zealand and returning to Auckland.

The Auckland Islands are far enough south to be called "subantarctic", and even summer feels wintery, apparently. The weather and seas can get very nasty. The location associated with this post shows their location on Google maps.

Reading some passages in Swirly World Sails South made me feel uneasy from the safety of my swing-chair on the deck - I hate to think what it was like living them. For example:

--- --- ---

It was a seascape I had never seen before. The darkness had sheltered us from a grim and turbulent picture that I didn't realize would look so bad. The waves - seas, swells, call them whatever - were as high as  the kauri trees behind where I live my landlubber life in Titirangi. And they were a long way apart compared with other seas I'd seen and had unsettlingly steep sides. Up on the tops of them, where we kept finding ourselves for a brief but exhilarating elevated moment, many were breaking into a cascading tumble of rushing white water.

It was obvious even to me that Swirly World had already entered the forbidden zone. As far as I was concerned, there was no need for the tops of these small hills to be collapsing and rushing down faster than the wave itself, and sending a one- to two-metre wall of breaking surf-beach-type water at Swirly World. It looked peculiar, and out of proportion, and it was obvious that we were in what the chart called an area of 'Heavy Overfalls'.
Total destruction was a very real possibility as I sat there hand-steering in zero visibility, rushing downwind, aiming for a lee shore 6 miles away that I couldn't see; and listening in awe and fear to the breaking white-water wave-tops manifesting around us in random, vicious, unpredictable shapes everywhere. This was dangerous sailing, with the prospect of it getting worse the closer we got. The scale of waves and white water was enough for me to understand that a somersault could be on the cards if the seas got steeper and those malevolent, rushing bits that better belonged to a surf beach got any bigger.
With my survival suit on and thinking thoughts of survival, I turned Swirly World to port and the southeast, reluctantly away from where I really wanted to get to. It had to be done. To get out of here as quickly as Swirly World could sail. It was a beam reach (wind side on) that was required.

The storm jib had been driving us more or less before the wind, its tiny square footage just enough to put some fast miles in without any effort on my part. But now, on a beam reach, it didn't feel that efficient. That tiny piece of sail area hoisted on the forestay on the bow was dragging us more sideways than forwards.

It wasn't a welcome realization, but the longer I sat there steering, the more I could feel the lack of forward, efficient sailing and, more importantly, could imagine in a macabre way Swirly World ending up on North East Cape, still pretending to sail on a reach but going downwind at a terrible rate of knots. Setting the storm trysail was the answer; get a bit of sail-plan balance.

Just before I convinced myself I had to do it, a decent breaker came rushing down the face of one of the tall waves to windward of us and slammed into the side of Swirly World in a frenzy of fast-rushing surf-beach white water. The broken water was running down from the top of the wave, and higher than Swirly World's deck.

Up we went, elevating fast, picked up above the sea we had just been floating in; then matter of factly slammed down and shunted sideways, with water half a metre deep over the dinghy strapped down on the fore-deck. The cockpit was full, with me up to my elbows in sea water, holding on grimly. The breaker spun Swirly World round and left us facing downwind, pointing back in the direction of Enderby Island. It was almost like the sea and wind were insisting we go there.

The wave-top rushed on through to leeward, then disappeared amongst the others downwind as we quickly lifted up high again on our aquatic elevator, to be smacked by another big breaking one. Swirly World felt a bit helpless in the lee of the hills, and when the white stuff came tumbling down fast with no intent to stop, you knew what was next. It was scary sailing now. These had to be the mythical overfalls extending out from the coast further than I expected.

--- --- ---

Mr Fagan writes with a relaxed enjoyable style. Hats off to him for his mad/brave adventure and being able to put it down so well on paper.

View the book on or the kindle edition on