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Zane Mirfin Outdoor Articles 2013

Rites of Passage and dancing in the Rain

 
Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Rites of Passage and dancing in the rain, 28 December 2013, Nelson Mail
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Creating memories: A family barbeque at Old Macdonalds From -From left, Aimee, Kirstie, and Scott Mirfin

Summer camping is an iconic tradition for many Kiwi families.

Most of us have fond memories of family camping trips from our childhood, swimming in local rivers, cooking outside on the barbeque, or just hanging out at the family bach.  In some ways our outdoor summer holidays are a rite of passage here in New Zealand and probably form part of our identity as New Zealanders.

living here in the Nelson province , we are fortunate to be blessed with an awesome outdoor climate and our region is well endowed with virtually unlimited camping-out potential.

Surrounded by national parks, rivers, lakes and the ocean, there is no shortage of excellent places to go.  When you add family and friends into the mix, camping out can sometimes be a match made in heaven.

By the time you're reading this colomn, ther will be literally thousands of people camping out around the top of the South with the silly season in top gear.

Canterbury people have always featured prominently in the mix and it's incredible what people actually manage to fit into northbound vehicles, boats, and trailers to get over the Takaka Hill each summer.  "Everything but the kitchen sink" is a well worn cliche but it can be so true.
 

Winter family Outdoor Activities

 
Zane Mirfin, Wildside column, Sharing the family magic, Nelson Mail, 5 October 2013

"You cannot put your life on hold and reactiviate it when you finish work.  life is for living and fish are meant to be caught now and not in the future.
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Outdoor fun: Jake, left, and Scott Mirfin on a fishing trip in the Marlborough Sounds.

Sometimes you just have to get out of town and escape the rat race.

Leaving the stress and aggro behind, it's great to feel the wind in your hair and the sun on your face. There's never any disgrace in going bush and school holidays are a great excuse to take the family along too.

Our kids love the outdoors and this week we spent time down at Current Basin in the Marlborough Sounds, like we have dozens of times before. Brother Scott and I have been fortunate to have had extended family holidays here with our parents since we were small boys and it is a special experience for the next generation to share the magic with us too - thanks to the generosity of lifelong family friends sharing their wonderful beachside retreat.

We've had a lifetime of fishing experiences here and it's fabulous to go on holiday where there is no need to lock the vehicles, where you can leave gear lying above the high tide mark, and never see another soul.

The Mirfin cousins all get along famously and it's good old-fashioned fun, with limited technology, no wi-fi, no TV, no distractions. At night we play board games, solve puzzles and construct jigsaws and attempt a complete escape, although alas there is limited cell phone coverage and the outside world is always trying to draw us back.

We enjoy simple meals on the deck outside, with lots of fish to eat, savouring the vistas across the bay toward D'Urville Island and the epic sunsets and water scenes. Our time is our own and we schedule our activities around the weather.

The kids can run anywhere, to explore, with freedom to roam and to learn for themselves. Many nights we play war games in the sand and in the manuka scrub, and some nights even light a fire and toast marshmallows on the beach. Every year it gets easier as the kids get older, more capable, more independent and more autonomous. They are making their own memories now, just like the historic family photographs adorning the dining room walls.

By day, the clean, clear, pristine marine environment makes for wonderful boating and fishing, with fish often boiling the surface of the bay, and all manner of wildlife including penguins, seals, and seabirds at work and play. Although the days are short at this time of year, the maritime climate is pleasant with fresh ocean air, few other boaties around, and near total silence at night with the bright stars of the Milky Way not having to compete with light pollution of the city.

The marine environment is a wonderful place to refresh and renew yourself. It's also a great place to test new fishing gear, test new lures, new places, new reefs, holes, and channels. You learn by doing and by making mistakes, and Scott and I read fishing magazines by night, discussing tactics and strategies, and even planning other fishing and hunting trips well into the future.

One thing my brother Scott has taught me is that it is no use leaving everything until you retire. You cannot put your life on hold and reactivate it when you finish work. Life is for living and fish are meant to be caught now and not in the future. As you age, energy, mobility and desire will ease, and if you're going to climb the high hills in search of red stags you need to do it now.








 

With that thought in mind, Scott wanted to give the three oldest boys an overnight camping and deerstalking experience this trip, so we'd taken packs, tents, and sleeping bags along in our vehicles. Blasting seaward in the boat, before climbing high in the native coastal forest, was a big job for the boys aged 9, 11 and 13. The rocks were slick, with the steep slopes, as supplejack vines, bush lawyer and stinging nettle added other obstacles on our way to the top ridge.

Darkness beat us and it was tired boys who struggled upwards in the torch light before we found a suitable camp site among the trees. I must be getting old I thought, struggling with a heavy pack and rifle but we had taken way too much gear. The boys even had two soft toys between them, gundel and moosie, plus two pairs of pyjamas. Hopefully they'll help carry the gear of their father and uncle in the years ahead.

Daylight came too soon and we were up and away. Breaking out into the open, we immediately saw deer on the move, just about to enter the safety of the bush. The wind was howling and they were a long way away with no chance of stalking closer. We had hoped to find an easier deer for Jake but this was challenging shooting, even for an experienced hunter. I personally enjoy stalking deer, getting up close and looking them in the whites of their eyes, but this was more like target shooting.

Stretching the limits of my barrel, my target didn't look too big through the scope either, as I lay prone using my day bag as a rifle rest. It was now or never and I had to shoot or we would miss out on fresh venison. I had a hit with the first shot but admit to emptying the magazine before reloading and scoring a second and fatal hit. The wind was gusting so strongly that we even saw one of my shots miss the deer by a meter or so to the side.

The boys were rapt with the downed stag and Uncle Scotty showed them how to take off the backsteaks and back legs, while I showed them how to cut the eye teeth from the mature animal. Sometimes, shooting an animal is the easy part, and we looked into another gully before retracing our steps to camp.

It was a long climb down and the boys did well, but I think we were all glad to be back at the boat. After food and drinks, it was time for some fishing and we soon ripped up our limits of blue cod as well as a few other bonus species. In one spot, the boys had a blast catching kahawai, and nephew Lochy even caught two together at the same time.

Our kids are really enjoying fishing without bait these days too, as we branch into using mostly artificial lures, jigs and flies. The great thing about fishing with gear like this is the variety of species you can catch, and the variety of water types you can successfully fish. You don't need to use smelly bait, it's easier to release fish unharmed, and you tend to get more hook-ups as fish snap at lures with more vigour.

One of the real bonuses of going bait-less and fishing lures and flies is that you are fishing all of the time, with no downtime due to un-baited and lifeless hooks. We make virtually all our terminal tackle these days which is a lot of fun but also allows us to make equipment that works better than anything else commercially available. We're always refining our techniques and tackle and continue to make wonderful discoveries in the fine art of catching more fish. One bonus catch was a squid taken on a small silver trout fly.

Hooked by one tentacle, we got the landing net under the squid before it dropped free, and we had a very tasty dinner appetiser. While cleaning the squid, I found it had been eating whitebait, hence the success of the small fly in 25 metres of water.

Squid are easy to clean by removing the head and tail and scraping off the golden outside tissue. Left with a white tube, you can slice into thin rings and fry in egg and breadcrumbs to create rich tasty calamari rings. Washed down with cold bottles of Corona beer, our squid was a delicious part of our regular blue cod dinner.

 

From a Women's Angle

 
Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, From a woman's angle, Nelson Mail, 21 September 2013
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Catch of the day: Aimee Mirfin strikes it hot on a recent trout fishing outing.

Women are wonderful creatures and I'm a fortunate man. Surrounded by females of all shapes, sizes and ages, my world is enriched through their loving and caring ways.

Wife, daughters, mother, sister- in-law, grandmother, friends, and my late mother-in-law Norma, they have all added immeasurably to my life and wellbeing, and even tolerate me going fishing and shooting all the time.

We're fortunate to live in a modern world, with modern women, and opportunities for all, but it wasn't always that way. Thursday was the 120th anniversary of New Zealand women winning the right to vote and to be part of the democratic process.

Kate Sheppard is well recognised as the leader of that fight, being an excellent public speaker with strong humanitarian principles and a strong sense of justice. "All that separates, whether of race, class, creed, or sex is inhuman, and must be overcome" she famously said. Hopefully she was an angler too.

Sheppard was victorious when the Electoral Act 1893 was passed, giving women the right to vote. Her legacy continues to this day and the Kate Sheppard Memorial was unveiled on September 19, 1993, to commemorate a century of New Zealand women winning the right to vote.

Being the first country to embrace equality of voting was a big step in a different world and even today New Zealand women lead the way in many endeavours.

One thing I've always wondered, though, is why more Kiwi women aren't involved in the great outdoors? In a lifetime of fishing and hunting, it has been obvious that males outnumber female participants by a large margin.

Theoretically, women should be able to easily compete on an equal basis but that doesn't explain much, so on a school trip this week I asked some of the mums along on the walk what they thought.

High up on the hill, we looked down on Richmond township, while the Waimea Estuary shimmered in the distance and the kids hunted for fossils. The ideas poured forth freely: "Not enough time", "I like time on my own while my husband and son fish", "I'd do it for the family but I'm not really interested myself", "we're not wired that way", "I'd rather read a book", "it's not in my DNA", "I don't like dead smelly things".

Later on I asked another friend, Robyn Hogg, her opinion and she said it came down to the individual and also your family upbringing. Robyn is a keen whitebaiter and told me that there are three types of daughters: sporty girls, girly girls and tomboys.

I'm not quite sure how to classify my two daughters, but both Rosie and Charli enjoy the outdoors with their dad. Rosie has been duck hunting a few times, loves possuming, has had some target shooting practice, and is now asking me to take her goat- hunting or how old she will be when she shoots her first stag.

It's an encouraging start but every child is different, and Charli is more interested in just being out with her dad, especially enjoying whitebaiting, although she will pick up a rod to catch an occasional gurnard or blue cod.







 

I'm not too worried what they enjoy most outdoors because I consider it important to give them the opportunities and experiences, along with their older brothers. The boys definitely get the lion's share of outdoor trips because of their age but making sure the girls get their fair share over the years ahead is something I need to make a priority.

Wife Aimee has never been a real outdoor girl although she understands what motivates me to love the outdoors, and indulges my passions of fishing and hunting. Fortunately, Aimee allows me to head outdoors regularly, and I even got to catch trout and shoot wallabies on our honeymoon around the South Island many years ago.

Last week I talked her into a quick trout fishing outing, taking my father-in-law Dave along for the boat ride. We fished for close to two hours and Aimee hooked a few, lost a few, and landed a few. It was a nice length of fishing trip in the warm afternoon sun, without turning into a marathon.

Best of all, we didn't have to panic to buy a fishing licence as we've always purchased a family fishing licence from Fish & Game the past few seasons which allows the primary licence holder (me) to list a partner, plus up to four children. Our family is probably unlikely to trout fish without me along, so it's a cost-effective way to all be able to go trout fishing together whenever the mood takes us.

I've always wondered whether it is cold temperatures, high rainfall, mud, or sandflies which deter female participation in New Zealand fishing and hunting, but I don't think so. When I used to work in the American West as a fishing guide in the 1990s the climate was drier and nicer, but there weren't appreciably higher numbers of women fishing.

Often females would come along with fathers, boyfriends and husbands to fish but there weren't too many fishing on their own. Fitness was a big craze in the USA with a pleasant outdoor climate and female participation was high in running, hiking, and mountainbiking but I always wondered whether it was a cultural thing with everyone in pursuit of the body beautiful.

Maybe it even had economic overtones in a competitive "economic-apartheid" American world, with both males and females having to look good and be in top physical shape to attract the best mates with the best earning potential.

Women, though, have a wonderful way about them in the outdoors. They are more perceptive than men, noticing small things like a beautiful flower or the delicate white halos around the red spots on a brown trout's belly. They often cast a fly better too, not overpowering the cast with brute strength and by using better timing.

They are also a delight to guide, prepared to listen, and even take instruction. I well remember some disgruntled egotistical so and so (definitely male), who wouldn't listen to a word I said all day, bleating about his lack of success in the truck on the way home.

His wife, by contrast, had taken eight beautiful trout for the day and really rubbed salt into his wounds when she told him, "Catching trout is easy, I just did what the guide told me."

With men, testosterone so often gets in the way.

Some men can't handle women out-fishing them or even teaching them how to fish. In my first Colorado guiding summer, I was great friends with a female fishing guide called Annie. We must have been about 20 years apart in age but we were both outsiders at the flyshop where we worked.

Men were suspicious of a female guide, just as they were suspicious of a young foreign guide who spoke funny. Annie and I had to be better than the other guides, we had to work harder, and we had to put more fish on the customers' lines to be accepted.

Alpha males who are used to being the boss, will often look for any excuses other than themselves, and heaven help a woman guide or foreign guide who failed to perform. It was a great training ground for me and I learnt a lot about the subtle discrimination, gender bias, and societal mores women probably encounter on a daily basis.

Things do get better over time and nowadays woman are more involved in fishing and hunting than perhaps at any other point in history. This past week I had the pleasure of fishing Tasman Bay with Nelson's Rachel Reese and her friends Angie and Kelvin Scoble.

Both Rachel and Angie are great anglers, catching red gurnard while sharing childhood fishing memories with us. It was a great day out and the female perspective made it all the more enjoyable. Rachel made us an awesome lunch, and even brought cold beer.

 

Reduce, re-use and make Bait and Berley

 
Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Reduce, re-use and make bait, Nelson Mail, 10 August 2013

It took a few hours to reconstitute all the fish into something useable but the lesson of the bulging freezer had been learned.
   
Gourmet berley: Frozen fish bait made with minced fish, pig pellets, fish meal and fish oil. Little shop of horrors: Zane Mirfin mincing up fish to make berley.
It was a total kitchen nightmare. Our fridge-freezer unit was malfunctioning and it was all hands on deck to carry my beer fridge upstairs and transfer frozen food downstairs to the larger chest freezer. Unfortunately the big freezer was already chock-a-block, as was my separate bait freezer, so it was a late-night panic to clean out the biggest freezer to make room for yet more food.

What I found in the garage freezer was an anthropological survey and history lesson all rolled into one. There was meat and fish of all kinds, and of varying ages, much of it beyond salvage. Many animals and fish had died in the filling of that freezer and I felt obligated to do something positive with the food items we no longer required.

I knew someone who would take all the meat for their pig dogs so a quick phone call solved that issue, but I was embarrassed by the many bags of filleted fish, shellfish and bait which had seen better days. Filling several large plastic crates with frozen fish, I resolved to thaw it out overnight and to run it through my large hand-crank mincer to convert into fish berley.

Fish berley, to those in the know, is a wonderful, smelly concoction of frozen minced fish which is put in submersible containers usually made of plastic or synthetic mesh, weighted down and attached to rope, that is lowered overboard in the hope and expectation of attracting target fish around the boat and on to anglers hooks and lines.

Berley pots are usually lifted a few metres off the sea floor so that the thawing fish lays a scent trail down-current that attracts fish like metal to a magnet. I'm a great believer in using a lot of berley to attract fish fast and I regularly use two berley pots at a time at different levels in the water column to attract a large variety of fish species.

Going fishing often means using a lot of bait and berley and I'm a big believer in gathering my own bait and making my own berley whenever I can. I even freeze pre-cut baits taken from filleted carcasses, make fish stock from fresh fish frames, and bury the boiled remains in my garden to retain nutrients within the soil. I'm not sure that I save much money from not buying commercially available bait and berley, but there is certainly satisfaction from fully utilising the creatures that you catch in the food chain of life.

Berley time means grinding time so I donned raincoat, dairy worker's waterproof apron and gumboots and headed outside to an old recycled stainless steel bench I have bolted to my shed. Grinding away was hard physical work and by the time all the fish was ground up I was soaked to the bone with sweat.Ad FeedbackMixing in fish meal and pig pellets to the minced fish using long rubber gloves, I added water, gently folding the ingredients together until I had a moist, consistent substance that was half liquid, half solid. Using my gloved hand, I filled industrial-strength thick plastic bags to half full, before adding a good dollop of greasy fish oil to each bag for good measure.

Securing each bag with a large rubber band to prevent spillage, I stacked them all away in the freezer ready for fishing. Best of all, forecast rain meant I could hang all my fishy gear outside on the clothesline to rinse naturally.

I'd made a huge amount of berley, enough for many fishing trips, and nothing had been wasted. I'd minced trout, eel, salmon, kahawai, trevally, rig, snapper, kingfish, paua, prawns, pilchards, squid, octopus, spotties, and other fish I just can't remember. I even turned my hand to making some "limited edition" gourmet berley using alternative ingredients in an attempt to "match the hatch" and appeal to specific target fish rather than just a generic brew.

It took a few hours to reconstitute all the fish into something useable but the lesson of the bulging freezer had been learned and in future I'll try to regularly rotate meat and fish around the freezer, label it better with species and date, and eat it all before it reaches its best-before date.

Years ago I'd have probably dumped everything into a landfill but in these modern days of reduce, re-use and recycle, it's good to minimise waste and utilise whatever you can.

Lately, I've been finding all sorts of fishing gear in my shed that I've been busy repairing, fixing, and organising. I'm even finding waste materials around home that have been handy for fishing.

With four ravenous children, plastic peanut butter jars are in abundance, and are useful for storing sinkers, hooks, swivels, lures, jigs etc. Rinsed 2-litre plastic milk bottles make great vessels to freeze fish stock in too.

When I was washing out the berley grinder, I hunted through the kitchen utensil drawer in vain for an implement to clean out the small round holes clogged with fish mince on the grinder plate. Looking down on the floor I spied a couple of plastic lollipop sticks thrown there by the kids and my problem was solved.

I guess the message here is that one man's trash is another man's treasure and we are surrounded by resources every day that we don't always recognise. Sometimes, you even get given stuff, like the time Fred McKee of Richmond dropped in a box of old fishing gear that had belonged to a deceased relative. I recycled some great gear including many salmon lures. The silver ticers only needed new treble hooks and a shine-up with an old cloth and metal polish to become prime fish catchers.

This week, I was privileged to take two awesome ladies fishing in Tasman Bay. Heather Cole of Mapua Country Trading Co (countrytrading.co.nz) and her friend Rachel Oldham of Auckland had good fishing and were sterling company out on the water. We had flat seas, cloudy skies, and caught plenty of fish species as we discussed things that blokes often don't talk about, like sustainability, fossil fuels, waste minimisation, and even how my modest boat uses less fuel.

The ladies took a few fish home to eat and released many others. They even harvested a few cockles at day's end. Heather kindly sent me a thank you email with sage words:

"I was amazed at the diversity of fish to be found midwinter in our own Nelson inshore waters. Only half an hour from home and you had us in an amazing wilderness landscape . . . with a fraction of the fossil fuel you can have an amazing experience right on your own doorstep - it makes you think that sustainable travel isn't just a worthy thing to do, it's bloody great fun too. Every skerrick of fish we caught has been put to good use in my kitchen and I'll remember the day every time we pull a packet of fish or fish stock out of the freezer."

Rachel is also the Editor of Get Growing - New Zealand's new weekly digital gardening magazine getgrowing.co.nz so we discussed sustainable gardening out at sea too. The ladies convinced me of the merits of gardening and growing safe food and I resolved to do a much better job this coming summer in growing healthy vegetables for my family.

It actually reminded me of The Lorax, a movie I'd watched recently with my kids, based on the Dr Seuss environmental tale, where the characters chant a catchy end song: "Let it grow, let it grow, you can't reap what you don't sow".

My kids teach me a lot these days about healthy food, climate change and saving the planet, so maybe I've started to become a greenie in these environmentally enlightened times.
 

Nelson Hunting Rifle

 
Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Legacy of one man's rifle, Nelson Mail, 27 July 2013

A hand-me-down hunting weapon has been customised and is now a well-used family treasure.

Jake Mirfin with Robs rifle Rob Mirfin 267
Succession?: Jake Mirfin with the hand-me-down Husqvarna and an Otago fallow trophy shot by Zane Mirfin with Rob's rifle. Original Owner: Rob Mirfin with a red stag and his Husqvarna .30-06 on the Cobb Tops in the 1960s.
My son Jake arrived home an excited boy last night.

School holidays are there to be enjoyed and Jake had relished the chance to enjoy an up-country duck-shooting afternoon with his grandfather Stuart.

Shooting from lay-out blinds over crop land using silhouette decoys, Jake had got plenty of shots away at incoming paradise ducks and had enjoyed modest success. He'd shot with Granddad's trusty Ithaca pump-action 16 gauge shotgun before, a gun which has stood the test of time in the Mirfin family, and it got me thinking about other hunting trips with family members, and the almost heirloom equipment that we often enjoy using.

Many of us inherit hunting and fishing gear over time from an older generation as people are no longer active in the outdoors or have passed on. In my basement I have many such treasures, including old cane fly rods and whitebait net that belonged to my grandfather, Ken Hill.

Living in a modern technological age of planned obsolescence, much of the equipment we accumulate today from earlier generations can be old, damaged or out of date. Much of this equipment, I suspect, is kept for historical or sentimental reasons rather than for practical use in the field.

Some valued gear, though, lasts for generations, like my Swedish-made Husqvarna rifle that once belonged to my father's brother, Rob. This story then, is the tale of one man's rifle.

Robert Ashton Mirfin was raised on the historic family farm of Oulton, sandwiched between the Little Grey, Rough, and Big Grey (Mawheraiti, Otututu, and Mawhera) rivers near the small West Coast town of Ikamatua. Rob loved the outdoor life, hunting whenever he could with his brother Stuart on the farm, and in nearby valleys and hills.

Back in those days of the 1950s and 60s, when the land was still being broken in, the riverbeds and bush edges teemed with plentiful fallow deer, in those glorious days before the modern scourge of 1080 poison that was to forever decimate the Rough River fallow herd.

Fallow deer (Dama dama), a native of Western Eurasia, are especially graceful and beautiful animals that grow palmated antlers, and provide the best venison of any New Zealand deer species. The two brothers were insatiable fallow deer hunters and together they developed a lifetime affinity for these majestic animals.

Encouraged by their father and uncles, both men shot their first deer before they were 10 years old using .22 rifles. Before long, using money made by trapping possums, Rob purchased his beloved Husqvarna rifle as a 17-year-old and the hunting world was his oyster.

Most people nowadays probably think of sewing machines or chainsaws when they hear the name Husqvarna, but back then it was a top rifle, styled with Scandinavian excellence. Rob never used a riflescope on his rifle, preferring open sights for close-range snap-shooting in thick bush, but was always known as a crack shot. Dad still tells the story of Rob taking five deer with five shots as they ran through forest.

Rob and Stuart were inseparable on the hill, hunting together whenever they could. The local fallow deer were a favourite target and Rob was known to mark out premium hunting clearings with cairns of rocks to mark out shooting distances at 100-yard intervals to improve his accuracy. Deer were plentiful and it was a rare day Stuart and Rob were unsuccessful. When they both moved to Nelson in the early 1960s they had a great time exploring new areas, hunting the hills of the Marlborough Sounds, Kawatiri, and their favourite, the Cobb Valley.

In the family archives there are valued photographic images of Rob beside numerous dead stags cradling his Husqvarna. It was a magical time in history and when deer carcasses became saleable for export markets, Rob and Stuart made valuable supplementary income shooting deer at weekends.

Stuart had a Ford Anglia car where he could fit two dead deer on the roof-rack, two in the boot, two in the backseat and one in the front passenger seat.

Rob also shot for helicopter recovery crews with one trip seeing him dropped into the Karamea earthquake country of the upper Beautiful River to shoot deer on foot, with the piles of gutted and headless carcasses being picked up after several days by helicopter. In between the meat shooting, they hunted recreationally together whenever they could in those halcyon days.

Idyllic times were not to last, though, and the last time Stuart was to see Rob alive was when Rob held my hand as a toddler when he walked me down the road on top of the Spooner Range. Rob died suddenly and unexpectedly in 1970 from a massive brain aneurism at the age of 26 in Richmond.

Rob left behind a wife and baby daughter. My cousin Tracy, now in her 40s, has her own family but the poignant photo of her father Rob, his rifle and a stag, remain on her lounge room wall.

At the time of Rob's untimely death, much of his treasured hunting gear was given to Stuart, including the Husqvarna rifle which sat in state in our family glass-fronted gun cabinet during my childhood years.

Sometime about 1982, after I had shot my first deer, Stuart decided I should shoot with Rob's rifle. A goat hunt up Marlborough's Waihopai Valley is my earliest recollection of firing the rifle and I have a photo somewhere of several billy goats I shot with it that day.

But the rifle had too much recoil, the .30-06 calibre booting a little too hard for a light-boned 14-year-old. The barrel, too, was in bad shape we found out from a local gunsmith, worn out by the thousands of rounds Rob had fired at animals over the years and making accuracy unreliable.

Rob's rifle was once again relegated to the gun cabinet until Stuart had a cunning plan.

"If you'll shoot with Rob's rifle, I'll get it re-barrelled and buy you a scope". What a deal, I thought, as Rob's rifle was fitted with a new barrel in 7x57 calibre and a 2-7x vari-power telescopic sight.

Maybe it's a bit like the story of the old axe with three new heads and five new handles but the rifle still utilises the original wooden stock, receiver, bolt and action. The new barrel, rifle scope and change of calibre has customised the rifle to me and my hunting but Rob's rifle is still close to the original.

Over the years I've shot red, fallow and whitetail deer with Rob's rifle, as well as pigs, goats, wild sheep, wallabies, thar and chamois. I've carried Rob's rifle into the valleys and mountains of Fiordland, Stewart Island, South Westland, Otago, North and South Canterbury, Marlborough and Nelson, with more exciting locations yet to come.

The rifle is heavy but accurate, and whenever I miss a shot, it is always operator error, never the rifle. Over the years I've changed the look of the rifle with fancy rubber slings, scope covers, folding bi-pod and even a sound moderator, but the rifle is pretty much the same as it always has been.

I know my father Stuart has derived much pleasure from my use of Rob's rifle over the years, evoking old memories and creating many more new ones. Photos of recent hunting trips with the rifle propped in snow or beside a fallen animal have the same familiar look they did when Rob took such photos back in the 1960s.

At times I have been tempted to search for a new rifle, something lighter, more modern, perhaps in weatherproof stainless steel, but always I have stopped short. Rob's rifle has become a family heirloom, a trusted hunting companion, and a symbol of hunting in the past and present for myself, my father, and maybe even my kids.

Sometimes after a successful hunt, I can almost imagine Rob looking on approvingly, pleased that his rifle is still bringing home the bacon 43 years on.
 

Outdoor Fires, Cooking & Smoking Fish

 
Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Of smoked fish and campfires, Nelson Mail, 13 July 2013
Campfire 400 Fish for smoking 400
Burning Bright: Outdoor fires for warmth, cooking and camaraderie have fascinated humanity since the dawn of time. Flavour of the month: Essential ingredients for brining brown trout prior to smoking.
 

There's nothing better on these cold bleak winter days than cranking up the firebox so the house is toasty warm. I've always loved fires, orange flames and burning embers, which provide warmth and energy for heating, cooking and homeliness.

The late Charlton Heston, actor and former president of the American National Rifle Association (NRA), once concluded a famous speech with the immortal words "you can take my gun from my cold dead hands" and many of us probably feel the same way about our home fire burners.

Humankind has enjoyed staring into the embers since time began and we've developed many innovative ways of keeping ourselves warm and cooking food. I still love cooking over an open campfire, whether it be from blackened billies hanging over an alpine fire, or swinging inside the fireplace of a backcountry hut.

Modern electrical ovens may be highly functional, but there's nothing like the aroma from a boned-out leg of wild game and roast veges, cooking outside under the stars in a cast-iron camp oven among the glowing coals.

Cooking on a remote beach is another outdoor freedom that is a rite of passage for many New Zealanders. Whether it is singeing a pre-cooked sausage on a stick or steaming freshly harvested mussels in the red-hot embers, it all tastes good.

Some of my favourite outdoor meals have been as simple as pan-fried fish sandwiched between fresh bread, and washed down with cold beer. Other more mundane but nutritious meals have been the dehydrated silver-foil type where you just add boiling water to the pouch and wait for 10 minutes. Propane, butane, and white spirit stoves will always have their place in the outdoors but fireside camaraderie is where the memories are made.

Over the years, I've lit untold campfires, and it can be a bit of an art-form in the New Zealand bush. Native beech tree wood can be quite challenging to get alight and burning well, so use plentiful kindling or small sticks to get heat and combustion going before trying to ignite the larger pieces.

Dry wood can be a real challenge to find in the damp rainforest, especially in bad weather, and often the best wood to scrounge for is driftwood, washed-up along the edges of rivers. Many times on wilderness campouts, my anglers have insisted that they light the fire but are often defeated by the humble beech tree wood.

Sometimes I'll send them on another task like collecting water, while I pop a kerosene-based fire starter or strip of tyre rubber into their smoking pile of wood and look like a hero when they return. "How'd you do that?" they ask incredulously of a blazing fire. "Magic," I tell them.  Barbecues are another great Kiwi love affair and you can't beat those balmy summer neanderthal nights with blokes and their beers congregated around the "barbie", man-sized slabs of meat sizzling and spitting on a naked flame made by gas or charcoal. Game meats such as marinated venison, pork, duck breasts and goose kebabs are always tasty, but fish is awesome on the BBQ too.

For an easy cleanup, I usually cook whole fish, wrapped in tinfoil, and covered with lashings of butter, herbs and other seasonings. It's a great way to cook smaller fish such as snapper and tarakihi that can be a hassle to fillet and ensures that the whole fish is eaten and that nothing is wasted.

I always gut and gill my fish as soon as possible after capture and chill with ice bottles so I have a range of options with the fish caught. If you cook them whole, you don't need to skin or scale them either. When the fish is cooked and steamed in its own juices you can simply peel the tinfoil and skin back and enjoy with a squeeze of lemon juice.

Smoked fish is one of my favourites and is a method that has been used for thousands of years to preserve food across many cultures. Smoking is where you cook, cure, and flavour the fish with a brine before exposing to copious amounts of smoke made from heat, sawdust, and woodchips.

Freshly smoked snapper wings and throats shared warm with friends and cold beer are always the best, but you can smoke all species of fish. Some of the best fish to smoke are the species not renowned as top table fare.

Fish such as kahawai, trevally, tuna, and mackerel taste great smoked, either eaten as is, in bouillabaisse (fish stew/broth), chowders, or in fish pie. One of my Spanish friends can't believe Kiwis' eating habits when it comes to fish, and Miguel much prefers oily fish species rather than Kiwi staples such as blue cod and snapper. The Spanish even have a special style of cooking fish where they coat the fish in layers of salt to cook it before pulling away the thick salt crust and skin to eat.

Smoking fish can be done in two ways, either cold smoking or hot smoking. Cold smoking involves using cool smoke at lower temperatures for many hours to cure the fish. This method takes much longer but the fish will last several weeks in the fridge and develop much more intense flavours.

You can make smoked fish last longer by freezing portions for another time. My mother Sherry often freezes smoked fish so she can use it at short notice for fancy nibbles on crackers or toasted bread.

Hot smoking is the most common method and delivers a more immediate result. Most people use the small galvanised tin smokers with double internal racks, heated underneath by a methylated spirit flame in an old metal can. Inside the smoker, beneath the fish, is a metal dish or tray which holds sawdust that when heated and burning, smokes and cooks the fish.

Some of the more impressive commercial smokers use electricity and an element to "burn" the sawdust. You can even make your own smoker using an old metal drying cabinet that has been thoroughly burnt-out to remove all paint and toxins to make a fine home smoker.

There is much debate over the best sawdust to use but manuka is the favoured medium in New Zealand and the most commonly used. Most native woods are suitable to smoke fish but the wood must never be cut with a chainsaw as the bar-oil will contaminate the sawdust with potentially poisonous toxins. Years ago, a proud B&B host served fish smoked with toxic sawdust. It only took one bite for us all to realise that we wouldn't be eating fish for dinner that night.

The Americans are particularly innovative in smoking fish and meat, commonly using all sorts of sawdust, wood chips and larger wood pieces, often soaked in water or other flavourings. You can buy these woodchips such as hickory, walnut, and mesquite or source your own using most nut or fruit trees, such as apple, hazelnut, chestnut or whatever you find available.

Fish smoking is enhanced by using all sorts of different flavourings and brines. The most common is a simple brine made of brown sugar, salt, and worcester, soy, fish, or oyster sauce.

You can add all sorts of herbs and seasonings to taste, with my latest favourite being cayenne pepper but always use plain or sea salt without iodine. Soak your fish slabs, with skin still attached, for hours, or even a day or so, then drain, and smoke skin-side down. It's delicious, and my favourite species is trout, especially heavily cured with sweet brown sugar.

Freshwater species such as trout, salmon, and eel have much more oily flesh than saltwater fish and are especially favourable for smoking. Orange-coloured smoked trout on canapes for my father Stuart's 70th birthday at St Arnaud, Lake Rotoiti, went down a treat with party guests.

The past few months I've been playing with a newer cabinet-style smoker, that can either smoke or steam foods, or even a combination of both. Ancient Maori were masters of pit-style "hangi" cooking where food is wrapped in leaves and baskets, and placed underground to steam cook. It's a very healthy way to cook food without fat and a Kiwi outdoor cooking method that has stood the test of time.

 

Winter Floundering and Duck Shooting, Waimea Estuary

 
Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Shallow Pleasures, Nelson Mail, 18 May 2013
 

Whether you're hunting ducks or going floundering, the Waimea Estuary is a basin of muddy fun.

Floundering Waimea Estuary May 2013 400
Beasts of the deep: 
It's amazing what lurks in the channels of the Waimea Estuary.  Here, two big rays are about to be released unharmed.  From left, Jake Mirfin, Tim Jary, Ike Mirfin, Steve Wilson, Rosie Mirfin, Ruby Jary and Patrick Wilson

The Waimea Estuary has always been a magic place for me. I've spent a lifetime wandering the shores, channels and beaches, by foot and by boat, still continuing to be amazed at what I find there.

Monaco is the nearest boat launching spot from home and always a great place to go at short notice, where you don't have to ask access permission and can undertake a range of fishing and hunting activities for a variety of species throughout the year.

With all the kids playing winter weekend sport these days, it can be hard to get away, and our local estuary is a valued playground close at hand. This past weekend we had glorious weather, too good to waste.

Driving past the estuary on the way to Nelson sports fields with the kids, I hatched a cunning plan when I realised low tide was late afternoon. A few quick phone calls after lunch and we had a team of keen flounderers all set to go.

Meeting at Monaco Peninsula, the Mirfins were joined by Tim Jary and daughter Ruby, and Steve Wilson with son Patrick.

On the water, ferrying the first group, I realised I'd miscalculated the water conditions. The estuary was still muddy brown and heavily laden with silt and sediment from the big rains a few weeks before.

We tried out further in the estuary, somewhere I hadn't fished before, where the water was slightly clearer and I drew a picture on the sand of how we would operate the beach seine together as a team.

The kids were really into it, helping to pull the weighted ropes after we had deployed the net by boat and oar.

There was mud and sand everywhere, and everyone got wet, but what fun we had in the afternoon sun. It wasn't great fishing although we caught flounder each drag of the net, but the highlight was probably a couple of big rays we caught and released unharmed, among logs and old tyres we had hauled from the depths.

The amount of sediment and debris that entered the estuary, and ultimately Tasman Bay, from the last flood event is massive and wading through the slush convinced me that there are probably better places to go in the months ahead while the estuary flushes itself clean again.

Hauling the boat onto the trailer in the gloaming as the sun disappeared behind the western mountains and the kids sat in the vehicle for warmth, Jake and I decided to try duck hunting the next morning on Mother's Day while the boat was still covered in mud. Two trips on the estuary and washing the gear and boat once sounded like a good plan to me

Unfortunately, we missed out on the opening weekend of duck shooting this season, heading to Blenheim to visit an ill family member instead. Everyone I've spoken to subsequently managed to get a few ducks on opening day. My father, Stuart, headed to North Canterbury with master hunter Geoff Irvine's team where they shot over 140 birds.

Years ago I was fixated with duck hunting and used to do a huge amount of shooting down the West Coast each winter. Marriage, mortgage and children eventually got in the way and I've never done as much bird hunting since, but I've still got all the gear accumulated as a single man.

I still love to hunt ducks, though, with the main attraction these days being the wild places and the company of valued friends and family. I also want my kids to experience the opportunity to hunt wild ducks in wild places, to watch ducks silhouetted against the dawn sky, and to hear the wind whistle through their wings as they swoop low over the decoys.

Although they're still a little young to be full participants, my eldest boy, Jake, 12, is always mad keen to go duck hunting with dad and granddad.

Last week I decided to get serious about devising a camouflage shooting system for my aluminium boat, something I'd wanted to do for a long time.

We've done a lot of shooting off my raft over the years, but it's not the ideal vessel for shooting bigger tidal waters where you need a more seaworthy craft and the ability to carry more decoys on board. For weeks I'd been wracking my brain on how it could be done without breaking the bank.

Fortunately, I already had a couple of large synthetic tank covers I'd bought years ago to wrap over the top, but I wanted to create a simple system that was fast to deploy and easy on the wallet in these fiscally restrained times. Luckily, friend Christine Clark of Transport and Marine Covers was able to come up with some grey caravan cover offcuts, and wife Aimee is a dab hand at sewing.

Buying some 40mm plastic plumbing wastepipe, some 90-degree elbows and T-joints, I soon had a frame operational that fitted into rod holders that were already located at ever corner of the boat. Aimee sewed up a skirt that went around the boat and hung down to water level, some bags to cover the two motors, and even some sleeves in fabric that hangs down horizontally from the plastic pipes.

Fortunately, I had some leftover paint lying around the shed in the colours of oilskin and charcoal, and with a bit of work soon had a convincing camo pattern smeared on the fabric and pipes. I even painted my two sets of oars in camo for stalking lake edges for trout as well as ducks.

Jake helped me dig out sacks of decoys and we made sure that they all had saltwater setline clips attached so we could set and retrieve them from a floating boat.

With a few sash weights and an electric fence reel from a farm supply store to hold the main decoy line, we were set to go.

Jake and I had the boat in the water as dawn broke and we motored out into the estuary on the rising tide under the glowing lights of a spectacular sunrise.

Jake has always been an enthusiastic student of birds and it is a special tonic being out in open estuarine waters with him explaining the various birds and their habits to me.

We saw pied stilts, oystercatchers - both pied and variable - gulls, herons, shags, even godwits overwintering on the estuary. Gamebirds were a little thin on the water, but we did see black swans, paradise and mallard ducks.

The only ducks which flew within cooee were two pairs of mallards which flew right over us as we set out the decoy spread. By the time we'd set out some black swan decoys and a few dozen plastic duck decoys, camouflaged the boat, put on camo face masks, and pulled the guns from their protective bags, it was too late and the morning flight was over.

We sat, watched, waited, and talked for a couple of hours while the tide rose. We had no joy on the duck front, literally scoring a "duck" in cricket terms, not even firing a shot. But it wasn't a waste of time, and wasn't a fair test of our new shooting platform either.

Our camouflage system can't have been too bad, as sea birds flew right over the top of us, and Jake was highly amused when a shag tried to land on my head.

Soon it was time to go. Mother's Day lunch wasn't to be missed and Jake was looking forward to seeing his two grandmothers.

As we packed up our camo system, I dropped a $20 piece of plumbing pipe over the side where it promptly sank from sight.

I was just about to leap overboard in my neoprene chest waders to retrieve the pipe when Jake told me, "Don't do it, Dad, it'll be over your head". Pausing for a second, I stopped to measure the depth with an oar and Jake was right. Luckily, I had some leftover pipe at home to cut another piece that would do the job next time we used the boat as a hunting platform.

Our big water duck hunting system wasn't perfect, but it was fun to have a test run on our local estuary, and to see what other modifications we can make, before we get to hunt better duck shooting locations together in Marlborough and the West Coast.