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Zane Mirfin FISHING Articles 2008 -2012

Trout Fishing  at Lake Brunner

Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Fishing and family fun at Lake Brunner, Nelson Mail, 29 December 2012
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All ashore: Fishing the Orangipuku Spring Creek, a Lake Brunner tributary, on Christmas Eve. Mt Te Kinga is in the background.  From left, Rosie, Ike, Scott, Lochy, Ryan and Jake Mirfin
 Lake Brunner is a magical place. With dark brooding waters and forested shores, and dominated by mountains such as Te kinga and mt Alexander, it is the quintessential lake fishing experience.  Situated onthe wild West Coast about 300 kilometres southwest of Nelson, it is a wonderful outdoor playground for people from all over the northern South Island.

Named after explorer Thomas Brunner, it's a big lake, too, spanning 40 square kilometres, so there's plenty of room for everyone.

Especially popular with the people of Canterbury, the main town of Moana has grown a lot in the decades Ive been gosing there, and I'm always impressed by the conspicuous displays of wealth by Canterbury business owners with flash vehicles, fast boats, and opulent holiday homes.

Once you get away from Moana and the small settlements of te kinga, Lake Brunner becomes an exciting place to explore.  the water quality is still good, with steps in place by the local regional council to maintain and improve it further.

Dairy cows are everywhere on the lush green pastures, but th West Coast has always relied resource based industries for employment and growth whether it be gold, coal, timber, crayfish, venison or sphagnum moss, and milk is just the latest "gold" to be extracted from the environment.

The Lake has numerous tributaries, with the largest being the Crooked river, followed by the Hohonu Stream and the Orangipuku Spring Creek.

Drained by large, dark and willow lined Arnold River, the lake is 109 metres at it's deepest point.  It's an impressive area, with fishing and hunting opportunities at virtually every point of the compass.

Tributaries of the Grey River, including the Arnold, Ahaura, Rough and Blue grey, offer some of the best fishing for wild brown trout in the world.  Nearby lakes such as Poerua, Haupiri and Kapitea Reservoir offer significant angling opportunities, while further south, the waters of the Taramakau and Hokitika rivers offer se-run salmon over summer, and even a few rainbow trout, whlie the lakes of Kaniere and mahinapua turn on excellent redfin perch fishing.

Red deer roam all through this country, with the Ahaura River catchment offering the greatest potential for trophy antlers.  Over the years, I've also enjoyed epic winter duck shooting trips with my mate Dave Heine from Dobson, where we've regularly shot limit bags of species such as mallard, black swan and canada goose.

The Brunner area may not be everyone's cup of tea, but it certainly is a sportsman's paradise.  The local business association even uses the marketing description "where the trout die of old age".

Beeing of West Coast stock, I'd love to move there, but the one time I suggested doing so, Aimee told me I'd enjoy living on my own.

The Nelson region is a great palce for many reasons, but it is ironic that as our local freshwater fishery resources continue to implode, Nelson anglers are driving further south to compete with Canterbury anglers in the Lewis Pass, Reefton and Lake Brunner areas.

LAke fishing is a lot of fun - and regrettably, I don't get to do enough of it.  In New Zealand, our numerous lakes (3820 of them over a hectare in size) offer untapped angling potential.

You can fish from shore, but with heavily vegetated and swampy West Coast lakes, the best strategy can be to fish from a boat. 

You can troll lures, throw spinners, or use fish baits such as worms or cock-a-bullies, but my preferred method has always been to fly fish to sighted trout cruising in the shallows, dropoffs, weedbeds, springs and tributary deltas.

in the early 1990's, I was fortunate to fish Christmas Island in the equatorial Pacific Ocean for a week.  Part of the Kirabati group, it was discovered by Captain Cook on Christmas Day 1773, and is a low-lying atoll with beautiful lagoons and oceanside reefs teeming with marine life.

The most prized fish there is the bonefish, a fish designed by nature to scour the shallow limestone sand flats in search of shrimps and small crabs.  It was fly fishing par excellence, with the timid fish highly visible as they cruised across the white sand flats.

A good cast ahead of a feeding bonefish was rewarded with a subtle take and a screaming reel. Lake Brunner reminds me so much of this fishing style, and i even like to call Brunner trout "freshwater bonefish".

I've set my boat up pretty well for lake fishing, the two primary weapons being an electric positioning motor, used fro a silent and stealthy approach on unsuspecting trout, and also long extendable rowlocks, so I can propel the boat with oars while standing and spotting trout for anglers situated in the bow.

You can throw lures at the cruising and tailing trout, but floating flylines, long leaders, and small subsurface artificial flies are just the medicine for large hungry trout in shallow water.

Stillwaters have entirely different food forms than those commonly found in rivers, and common bugs to imitate include damselflies, dragonflies, chironomids (midge pupa), snails, water boatmen, and even terrestrial insects like cicadas over summer.

There's a lot ot learn about fishing lakes successfully, but it's fun.  Best of all, Lake Brunner is full of trout and you can fish it in all weathers and water levels, both high and low.

Just this past week, my brother Scott and I sneaked in a quick Brunner trip with five of our kids.  Taking two vehicles and two boats, we loaded them up and headed south, promising to be back on the evening of Christmas Eve, before the arrival of Santa.

We had a great family time.  The weather was awesome, almost too hot, and our accommodation was ours alone to enjoy.

The first evening, we explored Moana and the new boat ramp and marina, walked the Arnold River swingbridge, and watched a young boy catch his first brown trout on a live cock-a-billy bait with assistance from his father.  Native bird life was everywhere, with weka and pigeons in abundance.

The next day, it was our turn to fish.  It was a magical day, with not a breath of wind or a cloud in the sky.  We had a lot of family fun, and the kids spent more time ashore wading on sandy beaches and jumping into the water than fishing.

With that many kids, they've only got an attention span of about an hour, so the odds are stacked heavily in favour of the trout.

We did catch a few trout during the morning, but it wasn't easy, so we went exploring, having lunch ashore at the beautiful Clematis Bay before fishing at Hohonu sandspit.

We were driven off the lake by rising afternoon sea breezes  and white-capped waves.  After an afternoon siesta, we fished Lake Poerua together from the shore till dark, and Scott and I marvelled at how much longer the days are further south, with it still being light at 10pm.

The next day, we managed ta few maore leopard-spotted brown trout before the kids' concentration waned and it was off for more exploring.

The Mitchells end of the lake was much more peaceful with no ski boats and jetskis noisily ploughing the dark waters or pushing ashore the big wakes that are the bane of any angler.

The best part of the day was traversing the lower reaches of the Orangipuku Spring Creek by boat.  The kids loved it, as it was like something out of a Discovery Channel documentary, with clear waters, sunken logjams, trout everywhere, and rainforest hanging out over the water.

It was a long drive home on Christmas Eve, stopping for ice-creams in Reefton, but totally worth the time and effort in expanding the kids' horizons.

No doubt there will be many more successful commercial and recreational trips to Brunner over the coming years, where we will catch more and bigger trout.  But from a family perspective, it's hard to imagine how there could ever bea better Lake Brunner fishing adventure.

Nelson Kahawai and Blue Cod Fishing Trips

Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Good times roll out on the water, Nelson Mail, 3 November 2012
Having the right gear and knowing how to keep fish fresh add to enjoyment.
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Line dance: Big kahawai on light tackle are great sport, as Lars Jensen demonstrates. A keeper: Lars Jensen ofRichmond Plains Winery with a good Tasman Bay blue cod.
The weather has cleared, the wind has dropped and the warmth of summer is on the way.

The past few months have been trying conditions for fishing but better weather in both marine and river environments lies ahead. Ironically, while we’ve been watching the rampages of Superstorm Sandy along the eastern US seaboard on TV, reputedly a one-in-300-year storm, here in Nelson we’ve been basking in idyllic anti-cyclonic conditions.

The past month or so I’ve been out and about fishing all over the district with decent success. Trout fishing season has been pleasant with some willing and hungry trout about after their five-month vacation free from anglers. One of my favourite days was taking my son Jake out early one morning after a southerly storm and having my rod rings icing up while fishing the first half-hour.

When the trout came on, Jake and I took turns playing trout that eagerly took our weighted nymphs in the clear alpine
waters. Another day, two American women, an aunt and her niece, both caught their first New Zealand trout on the Motueka River in glorious sunshine. That afternoon a prolific hatch of large yellowwinged mayflies (Coloburiscus
humeralis), known throughout New Zealand as ‘‘Kakahi Queens’’, came off the water, pirouetting upwards into the sky, as trout swirled the surface, and chaffinches flitted above the river plucking hapless mayflies from mid-air.

The saltwater fishing has also been exciting and although we’ve only managed a few snapper so far, we’ve been catching plenty of other tasty fish. A quick sortie with friend Tony Entwistle out through the Mapua Channel wasn’t quite so successful but we did get one big flounder, and untold spiky dogs on about every hook on our two setlines. Lunch was perhaps the best part of the day sitting on Mapua Wharf sharing a hot feed of fish and chips together while watching the red-billed gulls squabble over the scraps.

The past week or two, we’ve been further out and been more adventurous in the salt, catching plenty of table fish in amongst the traditional early season plagues of spiky dogs and sand sharks. We’ve had good catches of red
gurnard, kahawai, tope and blue cod. As I type I can feel my fingers all sore and stiff from cuts caused by fish spines, teeth, fish hooks and fish filleting. My skin is sunburnt, my eyes are gritty from salt air and tiredness and I’m probably dehydrated, but I feel wonderful. Days out in the fresh marine air, blasting out across blue waters, watching sea birds soar, and catching fish, is a great tonic for the soul.

Sometimes catching the fish is the easy part. The real work in sea fishing is getting the boat and gear ready, driving to the water by vehicle, getting out and back in the boat, and then washing and cleaning everything that is covered in salt spray, mud and fish guts. Salt water is a merciless foe that will rust and destroy equipment unless you are meticulous in cleaning up after fishing trips.

Tonight, my two girls had a blast helping me clean the boat and hose the marine mud from under the truck from beach
launching. One girl would use a brush and bucket of ‘‘salt-away’’ mix, while the other hosed. Sometimes it seemed as though they got as much water on themselves as on the boat but it was a lot of fun and I hope they’re as enthusiastic next time we clean up after fishing.

Sharp knives are an essential part of fishing and it’s always a good idea to re-sharpen knives before your next trip out.

Recently I enjoyed an evening at the Nelson branch of the Deerstalkers’ Association where a professional knife man by the name of Derek expertly showed us all how to sharpen knives and broadened our horizons on all topics associated with knife sharpening.

My knives have never been sharper and nothing beats having sharp knives on hand when you’re faced with filleting a few dozen fish at day’s end. Blunt knives are dangerous and you can never have a knife blade too sharp. It’s also good to own several filleting knives with different blade shapes and densities that suit individual fish  species best.

Care of fish is critical if you really want to enjoy the bounty of the ocean. If your fish is a keeper and above the legal length limit, it’s important to humanely despatch your catch with either a blow to the head with a solid object or better still to spike the fish through the brain with a sharp tool. You can buy specialist tools called an ‘‘iky’’ spike but I have made a few of my own tools to administer the coup de grace by sharpening some old screwdrivers with a file.

One of my favourite killing tools is made from a sharpened piece of metal from one of the kids’ old sandpit toys that I salvaged one winter afternoon.

Once your fish is dead, you can unhook it using pliers, forceps, or other hook disgorgers. We commonly use a larger hook with a smaller ‘‘keeper’’ hook sliding up the line so I prefer to use stainless steel long-nosed pliers to remove hooks and keep my fingers well clear. With squirming fish and multiple hooks it doesn’t take much to spike your hands and even today my hand was attached to a flapping blue cod by a hook –ouch.

Some people use a cloth to hold unwanted fish before release but I’m not an advocate of that method as you will squeeze and damage the fish, removing the protective slime and mucus essential to survival. I much prefer long gooseneck pliers you can buy at a hardware store to grasp the hook and shake the fish free without having to touch it – it’s better for the fish and way safer for you.

As soon as a fish is dead it starts to deteriorate. I like to gut and gill fish immediately where possible and place on ice in the chilli-bin. The guts and gills are the first things to go off when a fish dies and the last thing you want in your cooler is blood, excrement and vomited fish burley leaking out of fish and contaminating your catch.

Always try to wash your fish and fillets in saltwater because they will keep and store much better than if they are washed in freshwater before refrigeration or freezing. I routinely take clean saltwater home in empty plastic bottles to wash and rinse fish if I’m filleting fish at home on my outside stainless steel bench.

Saltwater ice is best in your cooler if you can get it but I commonly use a cooler packed with a dozen or so frozen bottles of water. On overnight or extended camping trips we often drink the water from the bottles as they thaw. Whatever you use, keep the fish cold, and they will keep well. Cold fish also fillet best at the end of the day, being stiff and firm.

Over the past few seasons I’ve been trying to utilise more of the fish we catch by making fish stock, soups, chowders, even baking cod heads and frames in an oven tray and drizzled with melted butter. Many people actually throw the best parts of the fish away.

If you’ve gutted and gilled your fish earlier you can eat the whole fish, and it sure makes it a lot less messy to fillet producing nice clean white fillets. Nowadays you must land whole fish ashore in a measurable state for enforcement officials, so fish hygiene becomes more of an issue than just icing down a bag of fillets that were once processed at sea.

Fortunately modern coolers are so much better these days, with high-tech insulated plastic and fibreglass versions available. A good cooler isn’t cheap but will last for years and ensure that you bring home first-class fish.

Good luck out there on the water over the coming months and bon appetit.


Trout Season Opening 2012

Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Trout season opener a little rusty, Nelson Mail, 6 October 2012
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Great expectations: The Mirfin kids are well-used to catching trout using spinning rods and lures.
The first day of school holidays was also the opening of trout fishing season. October 1 is awaited with eager anticipation
throughout the country, especially in the Mirfin household, and it’s great to be able to fish all our local and wilderness rivers again after a five-month break.

Opening day dawned clear and bright, unlike what the forecast had indicated, and the kids were keen to go. Checking river flows, weather forecasts and buying a family fishing licence online was a learning experience for the kids before the panic of getting ready and loading up.

It was mid-morning before we left home armed with rods, reels, gumboots, raincoats, fizzy drinks and food. Youngest daughter Charli decided to stay home but we set forth with Jake, Ike, and Rosie who couldn’t wait to start casting as soon as the truck stopped on the banks of the Motueka River, a little over 100km return trip from downtown  Richmond.

The kids were pretty rusty and it took a while getting them back into the swing of throwing a spinner across the river and
retrieving it back. There was the occasional inevitable tangle but soon lures were zinging across the current in all directions and the kids were transfixed. No hits at the first stop, so we tried elsewhere.

At 43 cumecs the Mot was fairly full and with the kids trying to fish in tennis shoes and gumboots I just took them to the easy places where we could drive right down on to the riverbank and they could keep their feet dry – often not the best places to catch trout.

We tried a few places but to no avail. The moon phase wasn’t great and perhaps the water was too cold. Maybe the river had taken a hiding with all the high water flows over winter – whatever, but soon the interest of the kids began to wane.

We had a drink and ate some snacks and the kids started collecting stones, then looking for insects under rocks, with Rosie even catching a large green stonefly nymph which we all admired wriggling on her hand.

On our last stop, the kids had a few casts before I took over for a few more casts and experienced the only thrill of the day when a fish took my lure and jumped clean into the air, throwing the hook at the same time. It didn’t matter, the kids had had another fishing adventure, and were keen to head for home.

It did seem ironic to me on the way home that the drive both ways was longer than the time we fished, and I’m sure if I’d had all day to fish myself I would have caught a few trout. But hey, when you’re fishing with kids, it has to
be fun, and you need success to really get them excited.

Sometimes discretion is a wise move, and when nothing is happening on the fishing front it can be best to retreat early to fish again another day.

The boys, now 10 and 12, have caught some great fish on foot with their spinning rods ,and a memorable three-day camping trip on the West Coast last summer was very successful for us. We saw some deer, and the boys caught
beautiful brown trout by day on quality wilderness waters. It was great to watch, and music to my ears as I heard those magic words, “I’ve got another one, Dad”.

It was special spending time camping with their grandfather Stuart, and fishing success was only a small part of the fun we all had on the river and in the bush.

Spin fishing is a great way to learn how to fish for trout for anyone. For a start you don’t need a lot of gear. Rods and reels have got a lot cheaper over the years, and with a handful of spinners or lures you’re on your way. Much of the gear my kids use now I picked up at an Australian Fishing Show in Melbourne for peanuts. Spin fishing is a semiextensive
fishing method where you take a step or two between each cast to cover a lot of ground in a day. Lures are cast across the river and then retrieved back to the angler using ‘‘egg-beater’’ reels and fish impale themselves on the hooks with savage adrenaline laced strikes.

When you get really good you can pick where the trout are liable to be, but as a beginner with a spinning outfit you can hit enough water in a day to give yourself a good chance at success. Best results generally come in higher river flows and in early season when trout can be more aggressive. Interestingly, as our lowland fisheries become increasingly degraded and murky, they become better lure-fishing waters.

Which lure to use is a big topic but perhaps the all-time favourite Kiwi spinning lure is the Black & Gold Toby in 7g-14g. The heavier models can be cast for long distances, get deeper in the water column, and cover more trout terrain in a day of fishing. Other lures that work well are the bladed spinners with revolving blades. These lures with commercial names, like veltic or mepps, vibrate strongly and work well, although being lighter lures, they can be more difficult to cast for beginners. I’ve solved this problem by making my own bladed spinners incorporating lead bodies that cast very well for the kids. They catch fish and best of all, because of their low cost, you don’t shed tears when the kids lose them in high trees, roots, power-lines, overhead bridges, and on the far bank.

The best lures are the rapala range from Finland. Many of these lures are made of moulded plastic, with high-definition paint jobs, glowing eyes, even internal rattles. Such lures are expensive, but they work very well, and it’s worth investing in the success of your kids.

Years ago, I imported a lure retriever from Australia which is four graphite poles that screw together to make a six-metre long lure retriever – I paid for this tool in the first few trips out in snagged lures that I managed to rescue safely when encountering those ‘‘$20 moments’’, as I like to call them.

Spin fishing is a great way to introduce your family to the joys of trout fishing and is available to all for the mere price of a fishing licence.

Get out on the water and enjoy our rivers while you can. It’ll be a great day out for all and any trout landed will be a bonus. Best of all, you’ll get to spend quality time outside with your family, among some great riverside scenery, with not a laptop, iPod, TV, stereo, cellphone or Facebook page in sight.

Mapua Snapper Fishing from a Jetski

Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Another Fishing First, The Nelson Mail, 3 December 2011

There's nothing like an early-morning blast on a jetski – and why not catch some snapper while you’re at it?
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Had a blast: Pete Hill, left, and Zane Mirfin after a morning’s jetski fishing in Tasman Bay.

In four decades of fishing in New Zealand and around the world, I’ve managed to catch fish in some crazy places with some crazy people.

I’ve hiked, biked, swum, rafted, helicoptered, jetboated, and gone offroad in search of fish.

Sometimes you don’t even have to get your feet wet – I’ve been fortunate to catch trout from the back of vehicles, standing on roads and tracks, even bridges, and often in Colorado and Montana I caught brook and cutthroat trout off the back of horses.

One of the more bizarre places I have fished from was a riverside spa pool while we relaxed on a cold, wet day, while sipping scotch from crystal tumblers. The Colorado trout were rising like crazy to a baetis mayfly hatch, and hooking and fighting trout from the spa pool on the private stretch of the Fryingpan River was easy.  The only bummer was having to
get out of the pool to release them.

The other day, I added another first to my fishing repertoire when I went jetskiing on Tasman Bay with my uncle, Pete Hill. It was a great way to spend my 44th birthday, and Pete, from Richmond, was keen to show me his Kawasaki jetski, while I was going to show him how to catch snapper, Tasman Bay-style.

Apart from a super-comfy padded seat, Pete’s jetski is well set up, with storage under a front hatch and a cooler at the back.  Three rod holders and safety clips meant we could take plenty of fishing firepower plus a berley container and bait.

As usual I took way too much fishing gear, but hey, you never know when you’ll need that special lure on days when the fishing is tough, and we managed to fit everything on the jetski.

We left early and blasted out into the bay just after sunrise. It was a beautiful morning with no wind, flat sea, and impressive dawn colours. Pete’s jetski was an equally impressive beast, and with 250 horsepower, it can get faster than 100kmh – which is mighty fast when you’re less than a metre above the water.

Modern jet engines have come a long way since the early Hamilton jets, and these new hi-tech jetskis are four valves per cylinder, supercharged and intercooled for high performance.

They’re remarkably stable, too, and fortunately we never fell off, even when fishing. Pete dressed in wetsuit pants but I opted to wear polypro leggings, shorts, and neoprene booties, plus fleece gear, raincoat, and lifejacket. I was pleasantly surprised at how warm and dry I stayed.

Picking our fishing spot using visual bearings, we anchored up, and lowered our berley pot over the side.

After a while we started to get a few bites, then a solid run, and I was first off the mark with a pansized snapper. It wasn’t frantic fishing, but we picked up a few more modest snapper plus some good-sized kahawai.

The landing net I’d taken along was particularly handy to contain the fish before killing and icing them. It took a bit of fancy balancing and teamwork but it didn’t take long for us to work out some good fishing routines. We certainly proved that you can catch fish off a jetski.

Pete had to be back in Richmond for a mid-morning meeting, while I had to fillet the fish and head down to meet Prime Minister John Key (with fishy hands, as it turned out), so we packed up and headed up the coast for a burn-out to find brother Scott and mate Stevie Bell, fishing from their small inflatable boat.

They’d caught a few fish, were pleased to see us, and were about to head for home too. Scotty snapped a couple of photos for the album and we were on our way.

Pete opened the throttle right up and boy did we fly over the sea – it seemed like seconds before we were back to the ramp. Pete went to get the truck and trailer and insisted I have a go on the jetski. ‘‘What do I do?’’ I asked. ‘‘You’ll figure it out,’’ Pete laughed.

Out on the bay, I squeezed the throttle lever down and away I went. It was awesome, and at full speed even frightening, but the adrenaline buzz was awesome.

With the wind in my hair, salt spray in my face, and blood pumping through my veins, it was a great way to spend a birthday, and I can totally understand why Pete loves his new toy. Maybe it’s a mid-life crisis or maybe Pete is
searching for the font of eternal youth.

But the buzz and thrill of high speed water travel is electrifying, and Pete is going to save a fortune on pills and potions from the local quack in the years ahead. Who needs Viagra when you’ve got 250hp of raw power throbbing between your legs?

New Zealand Trout Flies

Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Tying tempting flies adds to fishing fun, Nelson Mail, 25 August 2012
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Time flies: Ian Bowman of Nelson ties a "woolly bugger" streamer fly in Zane Mirfin's man-cave.

Fly fishing is a wonderful sport, and an ancient one too. New Zealand angling historian the late Bryn Hammond once described it as ‘‘arcane and esoteric to the uninitiated’’ which is so true.

It’s a sport steeped in mystery, tradition and history, of people, rivers, and exotic fish species in magical places all
over the globe.

Many credit the first recorded use of an artificial fly to the Roman Claudius Aelianus in 200AD when he described the
methods of Macedonian anglers on the river Astraeus. However, interestingly enough, the first book about fly fishing was
written by a woman angler. Dame Juliana Berners wrote The Treatise on Fysshynge with an Angle which is found in The Boke of St Albans 1496, which even includes tips for making flies, rods, and lines.

More than 150 years later in 1653, Izaak Walton wrote his classic The Compleat Angler and from then the literary
floodgates were opened. A torrent of fly fishing and fly tying books was unleashed.

Fly tying is a significant part of the sport. After all the terrible weather we’ve had in Nelson over recent months, it’s also a great way to fill in a dreary wet weekend while dreaming about summer fishing. Fly fishing involves the use of insect or baitfish imitation tied with feathers and fur to imitate what trout are eating. New Zealand wild brown trout are known as some of the most discerning and sophisticated trout in the world, due to our clear mountain waters, so fly tying and innovative fly patterns are usually essential steps to fly fishing success.

Artificial flies can imitate virtually anything, including insects, fish, eggs, frogs, crustaceans, small birds and mice.

Insect imitations are the most fun to tie, and can be created to represent every stage of the insect lifecycle. Many subsurface flies require the use of judicious amounts of lead wire and even tungsten beads to sink them deep among the fish, although a heavily-weighted nymph can be the very devil to cast.

Fly tying essentially revolves around a hook secured in a metal tying vice and completed with thread and whatever materials are required   Flies are tied by hand, but some basic tools such as scissors, bobbin, hackle pliers, and whip finisher can also be useful.

Fly tying historically uses some truly exotic materials, including polar bear hair, seal fur, and ‘‘jungle cock hackles’’
 rom the rainforests of the Indian subcontinent. Many of these materials are no longer politically correct to use and many have been replaced by modern synthetic materials.

Some of my favourite terrestrial dry flies, which imitate big summer cicadas, are tied with spun and clipped deerhair. My other favourite tying material at the moment is Cul-de-Canard or CDC feathers from around the oily preen gland of a mallard drake.

Over the years I’ve accumulated a huge collection of fly tying materials, with threads, tinsels, flosses, furs, synthetic fibres and genetically bred rooster hackles. Hooks have come a long way since I first became enthralled with fly tying as a 10-year-old, and now we have chemically sharpened hooks, which are ‘‘sticky sharp’’ and hook fish so much more effectively than those of decades ago. Hook styles have also evolved, with many and varied options in curved, long shanked, extra wide gape, and extra heavy hooks for large fish.

Commercially available flies have improved over the years but the essential beauty of ‘‘rolling your own’’ is that you can make flies that suit your conditions on the right style hook, correct weighting system, size and colour. It is also so much more satisfying catching fish on flies that you have made yourself, and as trout have become more sophisticated, homemade flies often work better than overdressed and unbalanced flies tied in some overseas sweatshop.

Many people will say that fly tying will save you money. Maybe, but once you get addicted to fly tying you’ll accumulate more materials than you could ever use.

Fly tying is my ‘‘escape’’. I have a permanently set-up tying bench downstairs in my mancave where I can plonk myself
down at any time of day or night and crank out a few flies.

As a guide I’m expected to put fish, lots of fish, on the end of people’s lines and fly tying is one way to have the best
possible arsenal available. Over the years I’ve probably tied tens of thousands of flies and over winter I try to tie a dozen a day.

I’ve still got many flies to tie before fishing season opens on October 1. When it comes to fishing and fly tying, the harder I work the luckier I seem to get.

Nelson Scallops & Oysters

Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Life's simple pleasures, The Nelson Mail, 11 August 2012
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Sorting the catch: Zane Mirfin returns undersized scallops immediately to the sea.

Biting into a tasty fried scallop is one of life's simple pleasures and the act of harvesting them yourself is not far behind.  Here in Nelson - Marlborough we can collect our own scallops at a number of locations - all you need is a boat and a dredge or a wetsuit to dive for them.

Over the years we've had a lot of fun harvesting scallops and it wasn't many years ago that there were bumper harvests in Tasman Bay, Golden Bay and the Marlborough Sounds.

Back in the good old days, only a decade ago, you could head out 10 minutes off "the Cut" and harvest full limits whenever you wanted.  Good luck nowadays.  A recent Nelson Mail article by Bill Moore highlighted the plight of local scallops and their short supply around the district.

Moore noted that "picking are looking slim for the region's amateur scallop fishermen this year and the commercial sector is in the same boat".

The commercial take has been reduced and almost all scallops will be harvested from the Marlborough Sounds, with a few being dredged in a remote part of Golden Bay near Farewell Spit.

What has gone wrong with our scallop fishery?  Many different theories exist but the most plausible is the degraded nature of Tasman and Golden bays.  Our human footprint on the land may well be destroying our valued marine resources as silt, dirt, effluent and pollutants choke our local marine waters.

In Moore's article Challenger Scallop Enhancement Company chairman Buzz Falconer noted that this year's surveys did not find any scallops in Tasman Bay in water under 25 metres deep.  As a boy, I can remember people wading out at low tide in Golden Bay to collect scallops after northerly storms.

Luckily there are still places to go locally for a feed of fresh "scollies", most within two hours drive, and within striking distance of Nelson, although with rising fuel prices scallops are increasingly expensive to harvest recreationally.  Fortunately the Marlborough Sounds are still relatively pure, pristine and undeveloped with the most notable scallop locations being Croisilles Harbour and Ketu Bay in Pelorus Sound.

In the Challenge fishing area, which includes Tasman Bay, Golden Bay and the Marlborough Sounds, the scallop season started on July 15 and runs through to mid-February, with the scallop bag limit being a generous 50 shellfish per person. They need to exceed 90mm across the widest part of the shell.

Scallops (Pecten novaezealandiae) are a bi-valve filter-feeding mollusc that are found on sand, silt and mud bottoms between low tide level to 90m deep although the preferred depth is somewhere between 10-25 metres of depth.

They are highly mobile and often migratory, commonly attempting to flee harvest from divers, and spawning between November and March each year.  Dredge oysters (Ostea chilensis) are a common by-catch while dredging for scallops and can be harvested year round when they have a minimum shell diameter of 58mm.

Scallops and oysters are very tasty indeed and can be prepared in many ways, including everything from raw, pan-seared, pan-fried, deep fried, broiled, cerviche, baked, chowder, with pasta sauce, wrapped in bacon, in sea food salad, or creamy mornay.  They're delicious whatever way you prepare them.

Interestingly, Forest & Bird rates scallops and dredge oysters as an E (red- worst choice) because dredging is viewed as a highly destructive fishing method that digs into the seafloor, destroying the seabed structure and life.  In some ways it's an academic argument because wild scallops are disappearing so fast that there may not be any around to dredge for if the current trend continues.

The law allows scallops to be eaten onboard but daily limits still apply.  Any scallops not eaten must be landed in the shell, including when they are being transported by boat from a bach or holiday home.

I like to put my shellfish in a cooler to keep them alive and in optimum shape before I get them home to clean.

Dredged scallops can be a bit gritty and usually need a decent wash before and after shucking.  Getting them out of their shell is easy with a scallop knife, or even an old bread and butter knife, by slipping the knife up under the lip and cutting the adductor muscle on the tops of the curved shell surface.

Once the scallop opens up you can clean up the shellfish with a knife trimming off the skirt and gut before the white meat and roe is removed in one piece ready for cooking.  Dredge oysters can be a bit tougher to open but by using a stronger more durable oyster knife you'll soon get the hang of it.

Blasting out of Croisilles Harbour this week in my boat was a lot of fun.  It was too wet to work so we decided to go fishing instead.

Marty and I put in a lot of effort for our scallops and a few oysters but it was still a great day out with not another boat in sight.  We knew it wouldn't be easy when encountering a sign erected by locals at the boat ramp and after some expert tutelage from Monty and Pam, owners of Okiwi Bay Store, where we purchased some hot pies for an early lunch.

Using roughly three times the amount of rope for water depth, most scallops we caught were in about 15 metres of water over open sandy bottom.  Hauling the dredge to the surface is always the hardest part.  Many people use a float and clip arrangement to float the dredge off the bottom before pulling it to the boat.  It's a muddy, dirty business but the end result is always worth the effort.

We found many of the scallops this year to be undersized but we managed to catch plenty of keepers too.  The fish themselves were in OK shape but the biggest and best ones are always closest to the breeding season when the water is warm and the roe/ gonads ripen into a bright orange colour.

Wild scallops are a real taonga or treasure for coastal communities like Nelson and we need to do everything we can to protect and enhance these wild shellfish for future generations to harvest and enjoy.

Maybe mother nature will heal the scallop fishery over time, and maybe not, but I just hope scallops don't go the way of the passenger pigeon or the dodo bird through greed, incompetence and mismanagement of the land.

As the Native American saying goes "only when the last tree is cut down, the last fish eaten and the last stream poisoned, will we realise that we cannot eat money".

Casting for Recovery

Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, It's all about the whole angle, The Nelson Mail, 7 April 2012
7 apr R
Topp day: Topp Twin Lynda Topp (L)helps everyone have a good time.  Here with 'Fishing Buddy' Bill McKenzie

March and April are always busy months for fishing.

Commercial guiding work always seems to takes precedence, but I try hard to find time for a few special experiences myself, with friends and family, out on the water. Sometimes, the best trips are the ones that happen unexpectedly, at short notice, or that we can do for free. Three short recent trips stand out vividly in my mind.

The first of these was the Casting for Recovery (CFR) event recently held in Wakefield at the Bridge Valley Adventure Camp at the weekend of March 23 to 25.

Organised by Nelson woman Sandra Jermyn and Casting For Recovery New Zealand executive director Sherrie Feickert, of Rotorua, with help from many others, the event was an outstanding success by any measure.

CFR is a charitable endeavour that provides retreats at no cost to participants, and which allows women whose lives have been profoundly affected by breast cancer to gather in a beautiful, natural setting and learn to fly
fish. The goal is to offer participants an opportunity to experience the peace and solitude and the chance to be ‘‘in the moment’’ that fly fishing provides. The two-day retreat for 14 women is one of fun and support and of empowerment and achievement and the successful formula has been developed over many years, in many countries, including now in New Zealand.

With the motto ‘‘To fish is to hope’’, the Nelson event was the first to be held in the South Island and was received with enthusiasm by all involved.

Many local businesses and individuals had donated time and resources and there was even a fundraising dinner and auction, competently compered by the affable Jeff Rackley.

Local anglers donated their time and skills for the Sunday fishing leg on the Motueka River, chosen for its proximity, easy access, gentle nature and high fish numbers. Women participants had practised casting and learned streamside tactics on the Saturday under the capable watch of Sherrie and New Zealand entertainer Lynda Topp, of the Topp Twins.

Breakfast on the Sunday morning was at 7.30am at the camp and ‘‘fishing buddies/ guides’’ were fed well and plied with strong coffee, while we chatted with the women participants and CFR volunteers, all dressed in our CFR-branded fishing shirts.

I was fortunate to sit beside ‘‘Toppy’’, who insisted on calling me ‘‘young man’’ every time we talked. After a briefing in another room by Sherrie about the effects of breast-cancer treatment and how to help our anglers best enjoy themselves during the morning, we were marshalled outside to meet our anglers if we had not already done so.

My angler, Lynne, of Nelson, was bright, bubbly and energetic, and a joy to take fishing. Sherrie followed us in another vehicle and soon we were standing in the Motueka in our waders, with Lynne casting for trout.

Alas, overnight rain meant the river had risen and was still rising. At one point, we could see the murky water surging up the bank across the gravel.

We did the best we could, but it was to no avail. Our three hours of fishing went so fast, but Lynne was a trooper and seemed to enjoy every minute. She even posted me a card later thanking me for ‘‘an amazing morning out fishing. We may not have caught a fish, but the gift of time given by you and your fellow guides will always be cherished. I had an absolute ball!’’

Arriving at Alexander Bluff Bridge picnic area on the banks of the Motueka at the prescribed lunchtime of 12.30, only one group had arrived back. Fishing had been tough and everyone wanted to keep trying to catch a fish. Eventually, everyone arrived safely and fortunately at least three fish were caught and photos shared. To my mind, all the women anglers that day were winners and it was a very social lunchtime gathering and probably the best part of the day.

It was a sobering and humbling experience meeting women who had been touched by the spectre of breast cancer, some terminally, but there was plenty of laughter, with one woman, Sally, in awe of winning a split-cane rod, handmade and donated by master craftsman and guide Ian Kearney.  She waxed lyrical about the rod, the weekend, the sharing and the giving. It was a special moment and a privilege to be a part of. Lynda Topp brought many laughs from the fishing buddies/guides, especially when she declared that next year organisers should use the grant money to buy beer.

As I drove home, I thought about the women, the event, the life lessons learnt, and how much fun it will be to do it again next year.

Another memorable outing was with my sons, Jake and Izaak, one night this week. Dropping them off to their week-night youth group at Teapot Valley for ICE (Inter Club Extreme). I decided to stay for the duration, much to the frustration of Ike, who insisted I would be an embarrassment to him.

It turned out to be a great night for all, along the banks of the Waiiti River with torches, looking for eels. All the 10 to 12-year-old boys and girls had a wonderful time, with excited shrieks and lights flashing everywhere as groups roamed up and down the river, looking for eels and freshwater crayfish (koura).

Everyone seemed to enjoy success and the riverside bonfire at the end was a real bonus, along with hot Milo drinks, toasted marshmallows and fun commentary by group leader Carey Adams.

In the truck and on the way home, wet and slightly cold, Ike even conceded that it was ‘‘cool’’ to have his dad along for the ride.

My last adventure was a morning out saltwater fishing in Tasman Bay with friend Tony.  Leaving Richmond at the gentlemanly hour of 9.30am, our bruised and battered bodies were still recovering from a week away fly fishing down south with our merry band of Aussie anglers.

The snapper fishing wasn't anything to write home about, but the company was awesome and we caught seven species of fish between us – snapper, kahawai, gurnard, mackerel, red cod and two species of shark.

Blasting out over the Mapua Bar, I commented that there wasn't’t a single boat in sight on a stellar Nelson day. ‘‘Nah,’’ Tony said. ‘‘The others have to work’’.

Family Fishing at French Pass

Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Fishing, fossicking and family at French Pass, The Nelson Mail, 28 January 2012
28 jan a R
Rocking the boat: Approaching the hole-in-the-rock near D’Urville Island. Steering the boat through the hole
was a highlight of Zane Mirfin’s family holiday. Photo: ZANE MIRFIN

The cool, clear and fertile waters of lower D’Urville Island contain some remarkable fishing opportunities.

First charted by French mariner Dumont d’Urville in the late 1820s, the area still bears many of the French names given during his exploratory surveys, such as Sauvage Pt, Le Brun Peninsula, Chicot and Piege rocks, as well as
the pass between the mainland and the island well known as French Pass (Passe des Francais).

Its coastal features, including unpredictable depths, tidal currents and winds are still formidable navigation hazards for
the unwary, even with modern charts and electronics, let alone in the early sailing ship d’Urville encountered them in.

D’Urville Island is an area we’ve been visiting with our friends, the Morleys, for nearly 40 years. It’s a place that burns itself deep into the saltwater-angling soul.

The Mirfin family had a great few days at D’Urville this month.

Going on holiday is always a mission, especially when you come home from weeks on the road fly-fishing the rivers of the northern South Island. Gear is thrown in the truck, the boat hurriedly packed with all the equipment that could be needed, and then we’re into the vehicle and adventure-bound, over hills, around dusty one-lane roads and
down a steep incline into a bay of paradise – a remote emerald jewel of glistening water, golden hills, bush clad islands, and surging wild coastline.

The fishing was as awesome as ever, in fact it isn’t much different to when we first started all those decades ago.
I guess our knowledge and equipment is better and we know where to target what, under whatever conditions are thrown at us by the weather gods.

This time we relaxed more, fished less, but still had great catching regardless. 

The lower cod limit hascertainly changed our fishing techniques over the years, probably for the better, as we tend
to treat the ever-present blue cod as a bycatch now and angle for other species as much as possible using both rod and net.

On this latest trip we caught 19 species of fish, most edible and some not, but the list included snapper, blue cod, kahawai, red gurnard, trevally, blue mackerel, mullet, spotties, banded wrasse, blue moki, barracouta, rig, red moki, eagle ray, spiky dogs, parrot fish, monkfish, sand shark, and tarakihi.

We went out one evening to a favoured rock, fishing live baits off the boat for kingfish, but apart from one solid run, we returned emptyhanded in the kingfish stakes.

Perhaps the best part of the adventure was that afternoon when the kids caught dozens of live bait by berleying schools of mullet and small kahawai into the clear, shallow waters near the beach, where a feeding frenzy and melee of flashing silver fish were easily caught on a small hook tipped with a scrap of fish flesh. 

There were a lot of highlights from our brief summer holiday to theMarlborough Sounds and many didn’t revolve around catching fish.

Driving my boat through the hole-in-the-rock was one, near Paddock Rocks, on the southern end of D’Urville Island.

Another day we had a huge seal on the sea surface beside the boat, eating a fish it had caught. It was awesome to see nature at work, including porpoises travelling by and schooling fish boiling the surface all around.

Back on land, the kids had a blast going swimming, beach fossicking, building sandcastles and a fort with driftwood, canoeing, digging trenches, and even having a mock battle with granddad using pinecones as grenades and small logs as bazookas.

Fun is where you find it, and the kids enjoyed shooting stones far out into the bay with their slingshots, jumping off the wharf, trapping possums, swinging on a tree swing, playing games inside at night, among lots of other fun experiences, although fireworks were postponed because of strong evening winds.

My brother Scott and I enjoyed exploring new bays, reefs, and camping spots for the future.

Alas our few days passed too quickly before it was time to head back to civilisation, work and responsibilities, but family fun together is never time wasted and was a great tonic for all.


Prepare for Success

Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, When the Fishing's bad, enjoy the outdoors, The Nelson Mail, 14 January 2012

Success for a fisherman or a hunter has a lot to do with being in the right headspace.
14 jan R
Worse places to be:
Patience and persistence are virtues . . . waiting for the next fish.

When it comes to fishing and hunting you can’t always control the outcome but you can always control your attitude.

A new year has dawned and after a slow start to the day I’ve been down in the basement tying new trout flies for a two-week burst of fly fishing, starting tomorrow on the rivers of the northern South Island.

Preparation is an important part of success in life. I’m planning for good guiding success but when heading outdoors many factors are out of our control so in reality you can only plan for the worst and hope for the best.

A fishing mate of mine regularly reminds me of the seven Ps, which stands for ‘‘prior preparation and planning prevents piss poor performance’’. It’s so true, and like the trials and tribulations of life, success in the outdoors relies on going to the right place, at the right time, with the right skills and ability, the right equipment, and the right attitude.

However, sometimes the game and fish don’t make life easy for you. The cycles of nature run on a different schedule to that of man with our urban lifestyle and activities controlled by the clock and the almighty dollar.

When it comes to fishing, fish don’t always want to bite, and the fishing may be poor for days on end, due to moon-phase, falling barometer, wind, rain, high riverflows and many other factors we just don’t understand or can’t control. This is what makes fishing fun and yet frustrating, and also why it is called fishing and not catching.

Recently, we hit an incredibly tough three-day period where the fishing was diabolical. No-one likes admitting to experiencing tough fishing, but if you do enough fishing you will encounter tough days and this was one of those times.

Dick and his group had fished with us before over many years and they are a good-natured bunch of guys who are fair anglers. Our first day of three started off in good spirits and with high hopes but the fish were reluctant to play ball.

We caught a few the first day but it was tough work. Tony was top guide with his anglers, and one of my anglers, Alan, only managed to save our day with two trout at the last stop in the last few minutes of the day.

It was a big relief to have something wriggling in the net and a close shave from what is known as a ‘‘skunking’’ which is the embarrassing phenomenon of not catching any fish.

Day two was also tough with reluctant fish, but happily my day was easier with five trout landed early in the day before they shut off with lockjaw. Unfortunately, the other anglers got shut out all day and it was a quiet, reserved band of anglers who gathered for beers that night.  The guys looked exhausted, a bunch of sad sacks with
furrowed brows, hollow eyes, gaunt cheeks, and dazed thousand-yard stares. The fishing had been brutal, not
what they had experienced before with us.  Just imagine what the guides looked like.

Day three was possibly even tougher, and I had to dig deep to come up with three decent fish in the bag for my two allocated anglers. At our first river, there were anglers everywhere and after catching only one small dinky trout we were able to escape the nightmare, although the morning was lost.

At our second location we stopped for lunch to recalibrate. It seemed to work and the highlight of the day was Darrell catching the two biggest trout, after two days of not landing a fish. I made sure he had the best opportunities but also lost a few fingernails along the way. Darrell was rapt and the life of the party that night while the other guys appeared exhausted and beaten men. Luckily no-one ever died from a lack of fish.

It’s a tough life being a guide, and people assume that running a business in the outdoors means I’m in the eco-business.  Sometimes, it feels more like working in the ego-business, where I’m an eternal optimist trapped in a fishing guide’s body while trying hard to manage angler egos and expectations under trying conditions – almost a modern day Rumpelstiltskin trying to spin straw into gold.

Success and failure are integral aspects of the outdoor experience.  In prehistoric times, success in the hunt meant social standing, the best, most nubile mates, the ability to feed family and tribe, and to survive to pass on genetic material. Failure meant low social standing, fewer rights and privileges, and possibly death through starvation, or being
forced into marginal environments by more successful competitors.

Not much has changed today, but failure or success is usually all in your head with attitude often the most important consideration. If you think positively, limited success can still be great. If you think negatively, virtually every outdoor outing will equate to failure.

I’m no psychologist, but I have been a fishing guide for 26 years and have guided many hundreds of anglers and spent many thousands of days on the water. I have observed that failure does affect guided individuals, relationships between anglers and guide, and the participant’s perception of the outdoor experience.

People feel pressure to perform, have often travelled a long way, spent a lot of time and money getting into position, and
have a burning need to succeed. These people need stories to tell, dead animals or fish to show or share, and photographic images as symbolic trophies to email, frame, or publish.

Failure tells no story, provides no tangible proof of success, and leaves individuals open to scorn, humiliation and the fear of ridicule. Pride, vanity, and ego are powerful human emotions and the need for instant gratification is within us

When it comes to fishing and hunting you can’t always control the outcome but you can always control your attitude. Let
your expectations be tempered by reality and you won’t go too far wrong. Try to enjoy your time out there in the outdoors and don’t beat yourself up when things don’t go as planned.

I was looking for the right line to finish this column when I saw one of the kid’s school projects hanging up in the garage which offered the perfect words of wisdom on this topic – ‘‘For every minute you are angry or sad, you lose 60 seconds of happiness".  How true.

Wilderness Anglers

Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Wilderness Anglers Slowly Dwindling, The Nelson Mail, 17 December 2011
dec 17 R
Happy angler: Dale Kinsella, from Los Angeles, has been coming to New
Zealand for big wilderness trout fishing for the past 19 years.

Wilderness fishing for wild brown trout just has to be one of the greatest outdoor angling experiences available

From an international perspective, New Zealand backcountry rivers are widely regarded as some of the finest veins on this old mudball, with crystal clear waters and large free-rising trout, all set within incomparable scenery and solitude.

Since the mid 80s, I’ve explored the wilderness rivers of the South Island like few others and it has been a great privilege to have explored the wilderness by air, before hiking, wading, and fishing it on foot.

The 80s, 90s, and 2000s were a time of great prosperity and the world was awash with money in that fabulous capitalist experiment called America. As a fishing guide we saw all types of anglers come and go.

First were the Texas oilmen, followed by other wealthy subgroups, even the boys.  Best of all they all liked to helicopter into fantasyland to fish.

Back in the good old days, the resource was relatively unmapped and untapped, with awesome wild brown trout that rarely ever saw a fly.

Back in the days of a weak New Zealand dollar, overseas anglers flocked to the wilderness like bees to honey. When the kiwi was at 39 cents against the United States dollar they would fly every day; when it got above 50 cents they started to question the price; and when it got above 80 cents they stopped flying. Helicopter pilots I’ve talked with recently have indicated a big drop in the numbers of anglers transported into the wilderness, as no-one is immune from the ravages of worldwide recession.

This economic downturn isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you’re a trout, as many local recreational anglers resent ‘‘their’’ trout being plundered by what they perceive as wealthy overseas anglers using helicopters to exploit easily accessed water that locals can usually only dream about fishing.

Many locals believe tourist anglers pay nothing toward resources that they maintain through taxes and licence fees. It’s an emotive issue but at least visiting anglers are unanimously catch-and-release anglers so the trout are still there – just a little more challenging to catch next time.

I’m a fishing guide so I’ll be damned regardless. It’s a tough job but someone has to do it.

One of my favourite anglers is Dale Kinsella, from Los Angeles, a great guy with a big smile and a penchant for big wilderness trout on the dry fly. At 62, Dale is fit and strong and can walk and climb over boulders all day in search of trout nirvana.

Dale comes every year (the last 19 in a row) and every day, weather permitting, we fly to every point of the compass in
search of the holy grail of trout fishing.

There will always be anglers coming to New Zealand to fish but there’s probably not many of the big hitters left. This year I was telling Dale about the movie 10,000BC, partly filmed here in New Zealand in 2008, where a dying prehistoric tribe waited each year for the migration of woolly mammoths (mammix). Each year the mammix got fewer and fewer, until one day they came no more. Maybe there are some parallels to New Zealand tourism today, and Dale thought it
was a hoot when I named him ‘‘the last of the mammix’’.

Dale and I had epic West Coast helicopter adventures again this month and we experienced great fishing in untracked wilderness, fishing limpid green pools to trout suspended like legs of mutton in the water.

Sight fishing to wild trout swimming in cold clear waters that at times resemble an aquarium is unique and my heart still beats fast when chunky trout sip large coloburiscus mayflies off the surface before we cast an artificial fly to them. It’s exciting and addictive close-range visual fishing which one European angler once described to me as ‘‘fish pornography’’. I wouldn’t know, but the fishing is great.

During a day, Dale and I cover a lot of ground, walking upstream over boulders and through heavy jungle, braving sandflies and exhausting ourselves in rugged terrain. Some days it’s almost a relief to hear the whine of the
approaching helicopter that signals the end of another day, and we fly down river, often marvelling at how much water we
have covered.

This year we fished some beats that were new to Dale or ones he hadn’t fished for more than a decade. The trout were just the same as he remembered them – healthy, golden-sided fish with strong hooked jaws or kype. Most trout were black speckled beauties, with scattered red spots surrounded by a while halo.

The rivers alas, had taken a pounding after major flooding, many being unrecognisable from previous visits, with pools ripped apart, and I’m sure trout numbers were way down.

On our best day we landed 20 trout, mostly on the dry fly, and our 20th fish was released just as the helicopter landed beside us in the rocks. Another day we fished the mythical ‘‘slot’’, a sandstone channel eroded and sculpted by the forces of nature that I’d first heard about in reverent whispered tones in my early years by guiding heroes Tony Entwistle and the late Ron Mackay.

Perhaps my last day with Dale was the best with 2.2kg to 3.6kg trout coming willingly to the dry fly before the whine of the chopper signalled the end of our adventure. Piling gear into the chopper standing on the skid is always a great way to end a day.

Flying back over mountains, rivers and the Thousand Acre Plateau below, we soon sighted the Four Rivers Plain of the Matiri, Mangles, Matakitaki, and Buller rivers, and the town of Murchison.  Aimee was waiting at the airstrip with the car to transport Dale to Nelson for yet more fishing with Tony.

Maybe I’d been in the bush too long, but she looked great in her eye-catching floral dress. Alas, we
only had time for a kiss, a few words, and a quick photo with Dale, Aimee and the helicopter, before I climbed back aboard the chopper with pilot Rozzo.
Destination Reefton: there was more flying and wilderness fishing with new anglers tomorrow.

A new Trout Season


© Zane Mirfin, Wildside column, Man for all seasons, Nelson Mail, 23 October 2011

Grim weather can’t take the shine off a life-changing opening to the trout season.
Fishing buddy:
Joe, an angler from Northern California on a return trip to New Zealand waters.

October 1 is opening day for the trout season, but after the diabolical wet and cold September, the rivers were big and ugly, ruling out a planned opening day trip with the kids.

My first real chance at fishing came a few days later when I picked up Joe, an angler from northern California on a return trip here. We hit the road south, heading for the brown trout heaven of Murchison.

It was a road trip and I hadn’t booked any accommodation or made any fixed plans. We’d follow our nose, take heed of the river conditions and chances and do the best we could.

The rivers were high with the Motueka, Motupiko and Buller looking unappealing, but the Owen was finally worth a go.

A friendly farmer was pleased to see us, and in the first pool Joe managed to drag out a beautiful trout of about 6lb (2.7kg). It was a great start to the season, but the next few hours reminded us that fishing is never easy as the trout ignored our flies, bolted for the depths, or just played possum.

Later on that afternoon as the sun shone low in the sky, the trout rewarded our perseverance, taking our offerings solidly, impaling themselves on the fly.

We headed back for civilisation, making a late decision to go further south for the night.

The next day we caught up with some landowner friends, then embarked on a long walk.  The fishing was a bit slow to start, but the trout came on through the day as water temperatures warmed. The river was big – far too big to cross – but we picked away at the edges and every so often I’d see a fishy shape swinging side to side close to shore.

Joe is a great angler and a gentle cast landing the weighted nymph upstream of the fish would generally see the fish move, lift and eat. A quick call from me, Joe would strike, and the fight would be on.

Great fish they were, too, mostly over 7lb, many around the 8lb mark, with one big one pulling the net scales down to 9lb.  It was an epic day and it was two tired men who fished their way towards the truck.

On the way back I spied a good sized pig grubbing around on a grassy flat and we rushed back to the truck and trailer for a rifle.  We stalked opposite the pig, but could only see its back occasionally as it fed away under a bank. 

Only 30 metres away the pig was very close, but we needed to sneak over the rim of a bank to get a clear shot when a rogue gust of wind came from behind.  A grunt and a snort and it was all over as the wily pig galloped for the bush edge. It was probably for the best, because it saved us having to cut the pig up.

We camped out that night and next morning stalked some riverflats in search of deer, but no joy.  It didn’t matter – there was always fishing. In a repeat of the day before, the best fishing was later, with many beautiful brown
trout coming to the net.

Joe and I had great days  climbing down banks, fording large rivers, bashing through wet rainforest and catching lots of trout.  For the end of the trip we headed to North Canterbury.

The weather was deteriorating and I went for a quick evening hunt while Joe rested out of the rain back at the little motel. The  wind howled and the rain came sideways. I never even looked like seeing a deer, but it was a
great adventure and I did find a big trout we could go back for the next day.

That night the rain shook the roof and I had fears of finding any fishable water the next day.  My trout from the night before was safely under high brown water, but eventually we found a river worth fishing. Big and brawling, murky and high, no-one in their right mind would be fishing it, but we were.

Every so often, I spotted a dark shape hugging the bank and Joe would cast as I gave directions. It was arguably our finest day, with fish to 9lb, as we walked miles upstream in bleak conditions in search of new targets.

It was after 11pm before I finally made it home after dropping Joe off. Aimee greeted me at our door. The Tasman District Council election results were in – I had stood for the Richmond ward and I had made
it in. The first fishing trip of another season might have been over, but back home my world had changed.

The Motueka River

Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Lifetime spent on the Motueka River, The Nelson Mail, 8 October 2011
It’s time to step up and acknowledge the mighty resource that is the Motueka River.
 MG 0174 1R
Somewhere over the rainbow: The Motueka River has it's own Pot of Gold with high numbers of Brown Trout.

The main trout fishing season opened last Saturday and so did the heavens, pumping a lot of
 water into local rivers with heavy rainfall.

I thought about heading out fishing regardless, but decided to go to an opening of a different type – the Rabbit Island segment of Tasman’s Great Taste Trail. The opportunity to go bike riding with national cycle trail ambassador, Olympic gold medallist, iconic Kiwi, and all-round wonderful lady Sarah Ulmer was just too good an opportunity to miss.

Biking along with Ulmer and members of the cycle trail trust, I enjoyed the camaraderie, the trail, the rain, and the ferry ride across the Mapua Channel. As I biked to and from my vehicle at the Rough Island Bridge, I thought about how often communities take local resources for granted, especially when they are right under our noses.

Like Rabbit Island and the Waimea Estuary, the Motueka River is a prime resource that I believe has never been fully

The lower Motueka River has always been highly valued by anglers for its proximity to town, high catch rate, easy access and gentle nature, which suits a variety of angling methods and types. It has a number of valuable western tributaries, in particular the Motupiko, Wangapeka, Baton, and a nearby adjacent catchment, the Riwaka, which famed angling author George Ferris described as the best dry-fly stream in New Zealand in the 1950s.

The lower 44km of the Motueka below the Wangapeka confluence to Tasman Bay is widely regarded as the most valuable section of the catchment for anglers. It probably wasn’t until I did a lot of fishing overseas that I realised how good the lower Motueka actually was, with abundant mayfly and caddis hatches, and year-round fishing available.

The fishing isn’t always easy and can be quite challenging at times. Even though there are high numbers of trout, there are days when you could swear there isn’t a fish in the river.

After fishing the Mot since I was a small boy and guiding on its waters as a professional guide for more than 25 years, I have learnt the nuances and moods of the river and am consistently successful. The best results often come by fishing the river when it is low, fishing fine line, fishing small flies and fishing during times of high anticyclonic pressure.

Without the lower Motueka fishery, lowland trout fishing in the region would be a sorry affair. A river has many values apart from trout fishing.
Paul Gillespie of Nelson’s Cawthron Institute noted by email to me many months ago that ‘‘the largest tributary of Tasman Bay is the Motueka River (62 per cent of the total freshwater inflow). The buoyant river plume floats out over a large proportion of the Bay, extending into Abel Tasman Park and Separation Point into Golden Bay. Along with the inflow of nutrient-rich oceanic waters this gives Tasman Bay a characteristically complex and
dynamic circulation that encourages the influx of a variety of pelagic fish species.’’

Cawthron’s Roger Young, an expert on water quality, fisheries and river health, told me, ‘‘we are lucky to have a river of this quality in this region’’ and that while the river is certainly not perfect, it is ‘‘in generally good health’’.

An academic paper in 1984, called The Relative Value of Nelson Rivers to New Zealand Anglers, concluded the Motueka was ‘‘indisputably the most important river in the district, visited by almost 80 per cent of survey respondents . . . and had the highest frequency of visits per angler in the whole district . . . the Motueka accounted for 25 per cent of the total number of visits made annually to all rivers in the Nelson district.’’

The value of the river has not changed, but the river has. The passage of time, agricultural development, forestry operations in the headwaters and in the highly erosive Separation Point granite soils of the western tributaries, urban development, flood control works, access issues, and many more reasons have meant the river is under pressure like never before in its history.

Encouragingly, there have been many more modern studies and groups working together to collate the scientific and cultural values of the Motueka River. These initiatives include the integrated catchment management project led by Landcare Research, along with other initiatives by organisations, local councils, community groups and individuals, including a dedicated bunch of landowners in the Sherry River catchment that ultimately drains into the lower Motueka.

All positive stuff, but I believe we’ve done enough study and it’s time to act. I just hope we’ve got the brains and the balls to look after the Motueka River so that our kids can enjoy it in pretty much the same way we have.

Winter Fishing

© Zane Mirfin, Wildside column, Fishing for hardy souls, Nelson Mail, 13 August 2011
Hardy Soul: Rod Duke flyfishing the Motueka River, 1st August 2011

It’s a fact of outdoor life that the winter months of June, July and August are some of the toughest to hunt and fish. The weather can be cold and bleak and the days short, while the fish and game themselves are often hard to find, tucked away somewhere safe, waiting for spring to come and their natural biorhythms to kick back into turbo mode.

Some species of saltwater fish retreat into deeper water where they can school up in large shoals over foul ground. If you can find them, there can be some epic fishing although they can be a little dour in winter and may take a bit more coaxing than normal to eat the bait.

Some of the best techniques for winter saltwater fishing and less active fish is to use jigs developed by Japanese anglers known as ‘‘slow jigs’’ which have long rubber tentacles and are slowly worked up and down near the bottom. Fished with braided line you can feel the fish nibbling and mouthing the bait and there is no sudden strike, just a heavy weight gradually bending the rod as the fish hooks itself.

It can be cold heading out in the boat, but the real tough guys of winter fishing are the trout anglers. Standing out submerged in frigid water above your gonads takes real commitment – some would say stupidity.

Good quality waders and woolly gear are essential to stay warm and if you are wading deep you’ll only last a few hours before the water temperature drives you to shore with shrunken assets.

Water temperature controls fishing success during winter months and if the water is too cold the fish will be lethargic and less responsive. Many trout are away spawning in up-country streams protected by the closed season but here in Nelson and other areas around the country we are fortunate to have a good selection of waters open year-round, generally the lower reaches of our big lowland rivers and many lake fisheries.

Cold frosty days are beautiful onstream as the sun gets high in the sky but there is no need to get to the water early as a few hours of sun on the water will often induce water temperatures to rise and fish to become more active.

Many trout do not spawn each winter and these often smaller maiden fish make up a good proportion of the winter trout fishing bag. Hatches of insects are rare in mid-winter and most fish will be caught fishing deep and slow in deeper and more placid stretches of river.

Most fish will be caught fishing ‘‘blind’’ as trout will be deeper, less visible and in more secluded lies than they often occupy during active summer fishing. Fishing tungsten beaded nymph patterns is one way of getting your flies deep, but split shot, and even full sinking fly lines are worth a go if all else fails.

Just the other day, we were out trout fishing but the fly fishing just wasn’t happening. At a maximum temperature of 6.8 degrees Celsius, the fish seemed to have lockjaw.

Switching to spin fishing gear didn’t work much better, but when I changed to some homemade leadbodied spinners with revolving blades we finally started to get into the fish. Maybe it was later in the day and the fish had become more active, but it appeared that the heavier lures which could be slowly worked through likely holding water spent more time in the bingo zone and received much more attention from the brown trout.

We checked two fish, and interestingly, both had virtually nothing in their tummies, just a few isolated horn caddis nymphs, but at least we’d proven brown trout can be caught even on one of the coldest days of the year.

Rainbow trout are less common locally but tend to feed more voraciously into colder winter conditions, making them a prime target for mid-winter fishing. Some of the best winter trout fishing in New Zealand happens in the trout factory known as Lake Taupo and its tributary streams which can be loaded with prime rainbow trout ascending their natal rivers to spawn. Rivers such as the Tongariro, Waitahanui, Tauranga-Taupo and Hinemaiaia are world famous and the angling history here is as much an attraction as the trout.

The opportunity to fish famous pools, fished and often named by famous anglers such as Zane Grey, Vice-Admiral Hickling and Budge Hintz add to the experience and to the carnival-like atmosphere that sees rivers crowded when the rainbows are running.

Fishing Variety in Tasman Bay, Nelson

© Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Mysteries of the bay, Nelson Mail, 18 June 2011

Even after 40 years of fishing her glistening waters, Tasman Bay can still throw up some surprises.
butterfly perchVR March 2011 006VR
You beauty: Butterfly perch might look pretty but the flesh was unpalatable. Mystery fish: A juvenile common or blue warehou was a surprise catch.

Mystery fish: A juvenile common or blue warehou was a surprise catch.

I’ve said it before but Tasman Bay is a glistening jewel which has always been the apple of my eye. Her moods
and variety never cease to amaze me and I am dazzled by her beauty and bounty.

After 40 years of fishing since my first attempts off Mapua and Nelson wharves, guided by my parents, I still marvel at the magic of the bay. Since my first humble spotties and sprats, I’ve explored all over it, driven all kinds of boats from launches and fizz-boats to dinghies, and experienced some truly awesome fishing as well as my share of disappointment and failure.

Roughly defined as a triangular piece of water sandwiched between Separation Point to the west and Cape Soucis to the east, I usually expand my definition of Tasman Bay to include the waters between Farewell Spit and Stephens Island.

However you define it, it is a massive expanse of water, holding an equally awesome variety of fishing opportunities for those anglers who seek adventure on her rich, sheltered and fertile reaches.

Last week we headed out for a mid-week fish, with light winds and low swell. We didn’t start fishing until mid-morning but the fishing was awesome. Between us we managed to catch 10 species of fish: snapper, gurnard, tarakihi, kahawai, blue cod, barracouta, spotties, parrotfish, one I can’t remember, and even a mystery fish.

You’d think after 40 years of fishing the bay that you’d know every fish species out there in the briny but it’s not the case. As well as last week’s fish species, in April I caught another fish which I didn’t recognise.

Doing some research online I didn’t have much luck but Louise at the Richmond library capably showed me where to find a large selection of fish identification books and I was in the hunt. I also emailed pictures to Cawthron Institute scientists John Hayes, Reid Forrest, Rowan Strickland, Tim Dodgshun, and Dave Taylor. What was great was that we all came to the same conclusion about the fish specimens.

My two mystery fish caught in June turned out to be butterfly perch (Caesioperca Lepidoptera). These were truly beautiful fish and the photo doesn’t even begin to do justice.

The bright purple and blue gill plates and exquisite cyan and carmine coloured fins made for a veritable fish of paradise. According to the textbooks these perch are found around rocky New Zealand coastlines between
20 to 200 metres but are most common in warmer northern waters, growing to a maximum size of about 35cm. Eating planktonic animals, mainly invertebrates, larvae and fish eggs, butterfly perch are usually caught by line, or speared by recreational anglers.

Interestingly, although the fillets looked good, the uncooked flesh was tough and hard. When cooked the flesh had a mushy aftertaste and was unpalatable. If I ever catch another one I’ll definitely be practising catch and release.

The mystery fish I caught in April turned out to be a juvenile common or blue warehou (Seriolella brama), which I released. Warehou are an important commercial fish, especially in southern waters, with an average adult length of 50-60cm. Living in water depths to about 100m, blue warehou eat a wide variety of small animal life including jellyfish, and are readily caught by rod.

Catching two new species was a lot of fun and the question that arises when discussing fish is how many species are out in Tasman Bay?

Who knows? And that’s half the fun because you never know what you’ll catch next.

Just off the top of my head I can reel off a list of about 30 or so that often get caught by rod, line, net, and spear (not including crustaceans and shellfish). They include kingfish, groper, sea perch, mackerel, snapper, blue cod, parrotfish, red cod, goat fish, butterfish, moki, flounder, octopus, conger eel, sole, spiny dogfish, squid, thresher shark, ling, john dory, red gurnard, monkfish, albacore, silver warehou, trevally, carpet shark, eagle ray, yelloweye mullet, garfish, kahawai, leatherjacket, tarakihi, grey mullet, tope and rig. I’m sure I’ve missed a few.

The Tasman Bay fishery is currently well managed for commercial, recreational and customary fishing but you can never have too many fish in the water. Many people would say Fisheries Minister Phil Heatley is a brave man signalling increased snapper quota around the country for commercial interests after the election.

Local recreational anglers value their right to fish, and remember well the in-shore pillage of the snapper fishery by commercial interests.

When I was a boy, snapper were virtually non-existent, and the fishery we enjoy today is the best I’ve ever experienced. Overseas studies show that a recreationally caught fish is much more valuable to local economies than a commercially caught fish, so let’s hope our bureaucrats and politicians remember large numbers of recreational anglers, hunters, and families who fish, pay taxes and vote.

Tasman Bay is a world-class fishery for all to enjoy. Like a beautiful mermaid, Tasman Bay will lure me back again and again with her siren call and I just can’t wait to see what other fish species we can catch out in the bay in the years to come.


Shark Fishing in Tasman Bay, Nelson

© Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Not-so-good, bad and ugly, Nelson Mail, 4 June 2011

When the snapper have gone, other fish species may be less attractive but worth attention.
Sand_Shark_1.JPG Spiky_Dog_1_1.JPG
Inedible: Sand sharks have coarse sandpaper-like skin; they turn up inshore as the water cools. Spiky dog: Can grow up to a metre and weigh as much as 4kg.

Shark freezes well and is great fried up in a thick batter.

It’s official – last month was the warmest May on record. But along with the warmth came the rain, and then even more rain. A shallow Tasman Bay was pretty dirty and stirred up by incoming northerly winds and high river flows for much of the month, but eventually I saw a gap.

As chance would have it, a West Coast mate, Dave Heine of Dobson, was in town and the chance to go fishing together was just too good to miss.

We only had a few hours as we sped out into the bay in search of adventure. Normally, the snapper have long gone, heading out deep to hunker down in deep water for the winter, but because it had been so warm I figured there still might be the chance of a snapper in close.

We anchored up, dropped the berley container over the side, and waited for the fish to bite. It didn’t take long.

Catching Tasman Bay snapper in late May within a few hundred metres of the beach was a new experience for me, but it was too good to last. Eventually less desirable species turned up and food gathering was over, but the catching was great.

We caught dozens of fish – seven species in fact, including snapper, kahawai, spotties, sand shark, spiky dogs, barracouta, even an octopus.

Barracouta are the scourge of the sea. A long silver fish with large wolf-like fangs, the barracouta is a fish species that most sport anglers love to hate. Sometimes they are present in almost plague proportions and
they can make short work of monofilament line with their teeth.

On the plus side they put up a great fight on light rods and I’d much rather be catching fish than not.

Sometimes you’ll be winding up another fish species when a savage hit halfway up and half-afish left will signal the arrival of the barracouta. They’ll eat lures, jigs, bait, poppers – virtually anything, but you’d be a brave angler to eat them. Said to be full of parasitic worms they can be eaten smoked, although I’ve never tried. Early Maori caught ‘‘manga’’ on wooden surface lures and dried large numbers on
racks, to be stored as a winter

Sand sharks are a horrible fish.

Inedible, with coarse sandpaperlike skin, they turn up inshore as the water cools down, often in large numbers. They are poor fighters and don’t have much to recommend them except that they are another fish species and they do bend the rod. The best way to get them off your hook is to grab them just behind the head and they will open their jaws so you can get your hook out without being bitten.

Shark species often get bad press because they’re not considered prime eating fish. But many local shark species such as rig (also called smoothhound, spotted dogfish, or lemonfish), elephant fish, or tope (also known as greyboy) offer excellent eating. Rig are most commonly caught with set nets although rig and elephant fish can be caught with crab and shellfish baits. Tope are a common catch, especially off the
West Coast beaches, and can grow quite large but they also make good eating.

All shark species require careful handling for eating – killed, cleaned, and chilled promptly to avoid the dreaded ammonia taste. Fins, tails, heads, and guts should be removed immediately and the trunk chilled and filleted back on shore.

Sharks have no bones, only cartilage, and the skin needs to be removed as well. Shark freezes well and is great fried up in a thick batter. Most fish served at your local fish and chip shop will be shark. However, of recent years shark is sometimes replaced by other cheaper fish species such as imported basa catfish raised in the polluted Mekong Delta.

Personally, I always prefer to consume fish I have caught myself so I know what I’m eating.  Dave Heine recommends minimising the ammonium taste of home-caught shark by dipping fillets in milk, then dipping in
flour, then milk, then flour, and then frying.

On our recent Tasman Bay trip, the fishing really went to the dogs when the spiky dog brigade turned up. Spiny dogfish, or spiky dogs as we call them, can grow as long as a metre and weigh as much as 4kg. They are poor fighters on the rod and I have to admit that I’ve never knowingly eaten one. Spiky dogs are safe to handle, but you need to be careful of the two sharp spikes forward of both dorsal fins on the upper body which can inflict a nasty jab for the unwary.

Some fishing publications rate spiky dogs as a good eating fish, being sold as snow fillets, but recommend that the flesh should always be frozen first to dry out and firm up. YouTube also has some impressive – and amusing – clips about filleting dogfish.

Sharks and other less desirable food fish may not be as glamorous as, for example, snapper, but they can still be fun to catch and worthwhile in your frying pan.

I’ve become more adventurous in what I’ll eat out of the sea, and shark species are definitely worth a go. Maybe you really can teach
an old dog new tricks.

Tail-water fisheries

© Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Opportunity knocks for Lee trout haven
Looking ahead: Could the Lee River be part of a world-class fishing experience?

Trout streams have always been the love of my life. Big, small, fast, slow, pristine, polluted, local or international, I have loved them all.

Some of my favourite memories of trout streams and trout fishing were the rivers of the American West made
famous by legions of anglers, authors and romantics.

During the mid 1990s I spent many summers fishing and guiding on the rivers of Colorado. Just upstream from
my base in Basalt was the party town of Aspen, home of movie stars and the wealthy, and all around were
magnificent fishing rivers.

The best was the Frying Pan, a classic man-made tailwater fishery about 19km long, that issued from beneath the imposing Ruedi Reservoir, before it emptied into the wild and aptly named Roaring Fork river.

They were halcyon sunny days, with punters lining up to fish, and large numbers of free-rising brown, rainbow,
brook, and cutthroat trout that came willingly to the dry fly.

The Pan was a veritable fish factory, and some days it was standing room only, fly fishing for wild, beautiful, and numerous trout.

Some fish were large, fattened on a rich diet of mysis shrimp, mayfly, stonefly, and caddis insects that thrived
in the clear, cool waters. Some days I fondly recall the famous Green Drake mayfly hatches of the Pan.

What made this fishery special was the man-made character, with a highlymodified flow, environmental
considerations (including hydro-electric generation), and special catch and release management.

The reservoir above stored large amounts of year-round water and was released through valves in the dam wall that allowed temperature, oxygen, and flow to be optimised for trout production.

The trout flourished in huge numbers and the river was a mecca for fly fishermen, who spent up large in the
local community.

In fact, recreational fishing in the landlocked state of Colorado has recently been calculated at being worth US$1 billion per annum to the economy.

Other man-made fisheries around the United States are also highly valued, with Montana’s Bighorn River
generating an estimated US$50 million per annum in fishing revenue.

I fished the Bighorn by McKenzie drift boat below Yellowtail Dam, through American Indian lands, and the fishery was simply awesome.

Among the many other great US tailwater fisheries I experienced were California’s Pitt River, Georgia’s
Chattahoochee, Utah’s Green River and New Mexico’s San Juan.

As an example, the Green River fishery below Utah’s Flaming Gorge Dam has as many as 23,000 fish per mile
in the seven miles (11km) of ‘‘A’’ stretch immediately below the dam.

Many of these dams have created world-class fisheries where none previously existed, in dry, arid, or very
warm areas, where without dams, significant cold-water trout fisheries would not exist.

The Americans have done a lot of things right with their fisheries, despite an insatiable demand for water. In the west, south and east, water demand for energy generation, urban consumption, and agricultural irrigation have always been greater than in this country.

Being a continental climate with cold winters and dry, hot summers, the US demand for water is extremely high, but they have found ways to use water wisely and to create economic wealth without always desecrating the

A better understanding of trout ecology and technological advances have allowed tailwater fisheries to be
designed almost like golf courses, where water flow is regulated to be constant, regular, cold, oxygenated, providing stable trout habitat free from flooding
and summer drought.

Insect biomass in such rivers is simply incredible with wonderful hatches and a virtually unlimited food supply for the trout.

The proposed Lee Valley Dam has been an interesting local topic in the media lately. Having met many of the key players, I’ve always viewed the proposal with an open mind.

In the Nelson Mail this week, some groups and irrigators cast doubt on the economics of the irrigation potential, while some believe the project is ‘‘a shining star in the Government’s water policy because it involves unprecedented buy-in from Maori and environmental groups’’.

Who is right or wrong is not for me to judge, but I have read the Economic Development Agency report quoted. As with many of the detractors, I was underwhelmed by the largely onedimensional assessment of the economic opportunities.

Environmental considerations can be worth money too, with the Waimea River potentially able to be developed into a significant tailwater fishery with some careful thought and planning.

Having fished as many internationally renowned tailwater fisheries as probably any other New Zealander, I sense the potential.

Just as dairy farmers create grass farms where they grow grass and convert it into milk and profits by using
cows, the Lee-Waimea river could well be an ‘‘insect farm’’ where a prolific catch and release fishery is created to enhance recreational and economic opportunities by optimising the aquatic environment and recycling the trout that would thrive there.

Dreams are free, but I understand the potential of tailwater trout fisheries for local communities in the US.

Alas, trout fishing opportunities close to Nelson are increasingly limited as local fisheries continue to decline, but man-made tailwater fisheries may well offer a prelude to the future of freshwater angling.

We are only limited by our lack of imagination and vision, so while some doors to traditional angling will close, others may be opened by using the resources we have to best advantage for all to enjoy and treasure. 

Rainbow Trout Fishing in Tasman

© Zane Mirfin, Wildside column, Children get the bug, Nelson Mail, 7 May 2011
A mission to pass on a love of trout fishing is accomplished.
Kids_Catch_Rainbows_Cobb_Valley_2011_1.JPG Jakes_first_Rainbow_2011_1_1.JPG
Teamwork: Mirfin kids catch another Rainbow Rainbow Connection: Jake Mirfin (centre) catches his first rainbow trout, April 2011. Assisted by sister Rosie and Uncle Scotty.

Ever since I started trout fishing 35 years ago, I’ve loved rainbow trout.
My first trout were rainbows caught under the supervision of my father Stuart, in the Cobb Reservoir (now part of Kahurangi National Park), when I was eight years old.

Since that time I’ve chased rainbows all over the world, and the fascination still remains. Rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) is a salmonid species native to freshwater tributaries of the Pacific Ocean in Asia and
North America, but rainbows have been successfully introduced for food and sport into nearly 50 countries, and every continent except Antarctica. I’ve been fortunate to catch rainbows in many forms all over North America, including stunted native rainbows in high alpine Californian streams, silver ’bows in Colorado’s Roaring Fork River, and sea run ‘‘steelheads’’ of up to 15 kilograms on their spawning trips up British Columbia’s wild and remote Babine and Kispiox rivers.

Rainbow trout flourish throughout New Zealand, making our fishery famous even before the time of Zane Grey.
I have been fortunate to fish for rainbows in the most famous North Island fish factory, the Tongariro River, and throughout the South Island, including the rainbow fisheries of the central South Island, the Mackenzie Country and Fiordland.

Here in the top of the south we have less opportunity for rainbow action in a brown trout-dominated fishery, but local rivers such as the Rai, Pelorus, Branch, upper Maruia and Cobb all offer the opportunity to catch a few

Wherever you catch them, rainbow trout are magnificent fish with bright red flanks, crimson gill plates, silver bellies, black spots and white tipped-fins.

Rainbows are also an obliging fish – aggressive, even gullible, but always great fighters on the rod, whizzing off line in sizzling runs and leaping high above the water in acrobatic magic.

My first rainbow fishery is still probably my favourite. When we were small, my parents Stuart and Sherry would take my brother Scott and me to the Cobb on weekends, where Dad would hunt the then numerous red and fallow deer, and Mum would supervise our fishing for the small rainbows in the reservoir. They were golden days which lit a boyhood fire for the outdoors which burns brightly to this day.

It had always been a goal to take my kids fishing in the Cobb and introduce them to the experiences I still remember fondly.

Over the school holidays, we finally made the pilgrimage. There were 10 of us, four adults and six kids between four and 10 years old. The hut was small but very comfortable – a veritable home away from home, complete with an incredible view of the reservoir.

Not much more than 100 kilometres from Richmond, it’s a two-hour drive into the Cobb. The 27km road from the Upper Takaka turnoff is always exciting through the impressive Takaka River gorge, past the Cobb River power
station and on to the steep, narrow and one-lane gravel road that grinds upward to the Cobb Ridge
at 1040 metres above sea level.

We towed our small boats into the Cobb, a first for us, but they came in handy for fishing and access across the reservoir.

It was raining hard when we arrived at the hut, and cold, too. That first afternoon we stayed indoors as the outside temperature plummeted to 4 degrees Celsius. We stoked up the wood stove, played games, drank
hot drinks and talked.

It was heaven on earth – no television, no PlayStation, no emails, and no meetings.

It snowed overnight and the mountain tops glistened white, while the southwesterly wind intensified. It was too cold for much fishing, so we waited for the warmth of the sun each day.

We did some boating and we did some fishing, but we didn’t have time for any hunting. It didn’t matter, as this trip was all about the kids, and they had a whale of a time, running around on the lake shore and doing some fishing.

There were plenty of tangles, hoots of joy and even a few tears, but heading home on day three came all too soon for everyone.

But from a fishing perspective, it was mission accomplished, as all six kids caught a few trout each – or as Rosie, 7, said proudly: ‘‘We all caught rainbow fish.’’

The kids were hooked and were asking to come back even before we had left the valley.

Scotty and I have created six fishing monsters, much like our parents did a generation before.

Alas, opportunities for youngsters to learn trout fishing locally are diminishing at what seems like an exponential rate, for a range of reasons.

The Nelson Trout Fishing Club effectively has no junior members, and some members have set up a trust to create a ‘‘put and take’’ pond stocked with fish, to train youngsters in the art of trout fishing. While it’s a cause I
support, it still seems a shame that most kids will never feel the exhilarating pull of a wild trout in a local river or lake.

Floods not the End of the World

Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Chips are down for battered fish, The Nelson Mail, 29 January 2011
It hasn't been a great time to be a trout in South Island rivers - and that's even before the anglers get to work.

Midstream fishing obstacles: Another big log pile-up in a wilderness stream after heavy flooding. The recent
floods have taken their toll on trout and other fish life.

 If you’ve had a tough week, think about what it must be like to be a trout. Within the past month the South Island has been lashed with rain and floods – big floods. And the trout fishery has suffered as a result.

Not many areas in the northern South Island escaped the wrath of the swollen brown waters, which blew out river banks, ripped out trees, and smothered streams in silt, sand and gravel, turning rivers inside out.

Mother nature can be savage, but life on earth is tenacious and the ability of trout to survive big floods is a true miracle. As floodwaters rise, fish either hunker down under banks and boulders or spread out following the edge of the flow. Somehow some trout always manage to survive regardless of what mother nature dictates.

In Golden Bay the flood in the Aorere catchment just after Christmas was a 1-in-169-year event, but both areas suffered heavy costs in human terms with farms devastated, bridges washed away, roads annihilated, and inhabitants isolated.

By any reckoning there are many millions of dollars of damage to repair but unfortunately the carnage to local trout fisheries mostly goes unnoticed, unless you’re an angler.

Two weeks later, another flood hit the West Coast, Lewis Pass,and Springs Junction area, causingmore river damage than thefirst flood. Interestingly, trout handle drought much better than floods, as droughts don’t rip
rivers apart, or make them unstable and sterile through destruction of habitat and loss of aquatic bug life. Rivers destroyed by floods can take years to recover, if at all.

It seems high-intensity rainfall events are becoming common. Whether this is because of climate change is anyone’s guess but in 25 years of commercial trout guiding I can’t remember events of this magnitude. Sure there were floods and specific rivers were affected, but the scale and nature of some of these recent events has to be seen to be believed.

And it isn’t only trout that are affected. After big floods significant chunks of the land end up in the sea transported there by rivers, choking the marine environment. Those Tasman Bay scallops definitely don’t like all that sediment entering the Bay either.

It is the geographic spread of the recent floods that is truly amazing. Guide friends in Queenstown have described widespread damage to rivers in Otago and South Westland. In the northern South Island pretty much everywhere got whacked with significant damage to the Marlborough, Tasman, East Coast and West Coast areas.

Damage around Murchison was particularly severe, with angling acquaintances describing dead trout lying in paddocks up the Matakitaki. Trout numbers are way down with the survivors being in a shell-shocked state. I’ve
seen trout caught with flood wounds like cuts and abrasions, and heard of several trout being caught only having one eye. Peter Carty of Murchison even had an angler catch a trout with half a tail recently, and saw another that had no tail – it must have been pulverised off in the flood.

Stopping in at the Ikamatua pub for a beer after fishing, we ran into local man Pat Weir who has spent
all his life on the Coast working on the land and sawmilling.

His lament was that modern farming and drainage systems have accelerated flood flows turning many lowland rivers into little more than ‘‘sluicing channels’’ to use his words, where freshwater water reaches the ocean too fast. There’s nothing new in blaming fellow man for the loss of trout streams but in my opinion,
mother nature was the true culprit in the latest floods.

It’s not all doom and gloom out there though, and there are still trout in local rivers. You’ll just have to work harder and search out those areas where fish remain.

Some rivers actually look pretty good after the flood, and in some areas gravel has been removed to the bedrock which could actually help some streams over time. We’ve also been catching some mint-condition trout that look like they’ve run upstream from the sea or lower down the catchment. So don’t give up. Enjoy your fishing and adjust your expectations.

One day last week we flew in to a remote river in search of paradise. As we flew up river we could see the massive damage to an unmodified wilderness catchment.

At the mouth of tributary Mirfin’s Creek (yes, its true name) there was even a huge sand and gravel delta extending out into the main river which had never existed before. When we landed we saw whole trees jammed in sidecreeks, river rocks scoured clean, and stumbled over loose boulders shifted by the floods.

There were certainly fewer fish but trout are great survivors, and they sure were hungry that day.

We caught plentiful fish that came willingly to the dry fly and as the day ended, one of my companions, KC, slapped me on the back and raved that ‘‘today was how I remember New Zealand fly fishing 25 years ago’’.

Trout fishing out of Reefton

© Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Don't anger the fish gods, Nelson Mail, 15 January 2011

The opportunity to catch multiple double-figure trout in a single day is as rare as hen’s teeth.
Slippery fish:
Trout don’t get big by being stupid, and the biggest have legendary cunning. Photo: JON PEPPER

Reefton is just an awesome place. The first town in New Zealand to have
electricity, it seems as though it has been trapped in a time warp ever since.

Although the town is small and stuck in the middle of nowhere, it oozes West Coast character and

Sometimes like last week, the first week of January, the town can feel so quiet that you would swear tumbleweeds will start rolling down Broadway, the main street. I just love it and so do visiting anglers who say it is like walking into 1940s Montana in the American West.

The rivers are the real drawcard, with a world-class lineup of emerald waters, tannin bush streams and big, brawling freestone rivers.

On the down side, the swamps and jungles of Westland can be a frightening place for many, dodging bad weather, hypothermia, floods, large boulders and incessant hordes of sandflies.

This past week or two it has had a lot of rain, resulting in flooding which has ripped the rivers of the northern South Island apart.

Anyone who doesn’t think floods are a big deal hasn’t had to fish in them or their aftermath. The trout themselves have had a pummelling and the damage to the fishery is immense, which is a sobering thought for the start of 2011.

One angler who had it especially tough was Briton Jon Pepper, whose international flights were cancelled before Christmas because of snow and ice at Heathrow Airport. Jon finally made it to Murchison after Christmas when the big flood hit.

The conditions were abysmal, but Jon is a real fisherman and persevered where only mad dogs and Englishmen can.

In Reefton, we hit our stride. The fishing wasn’t epic but it was good enough. On one ripped up
wilderness stream, mangled timber was strewn everywhere and the road was obliterated in places. Amazingly, I found a nice trout in the first stable pool and the first cast by Jon saw the 6lb fish lift nicely, taking his dry fly.

It was a textbook start and in the next pool Jon took an 8lb trout. It was just too good to be true. After that, we walked for miles for limited success, marvelling at the forces of nature and the power of water.

Another day, the fish came on later in the day. At 5pm, Jon took a lovely eight pounder that ran him into his flyline backing. ‘‘That was the last cast,’’ Jon declared but I had other ideas as I could see more fish upstream.

In his book, I Know a Good Place, Clive Gammons talks about the need to appease ‘‘the God of the Last Cast’’, but I told Jon to ignore the bunkum.

The next fish was a real beauty, and when it saw the fly, it pirouetted on its tail, sipping Jon’s fly off the surface ever so slowly and softly. Excitedly, Jon ripped the fly out of the trout’s mouth by striking too soon. ‘‘It’s over,’’ said Jon. ‘‘I’ve angered the fish gods by casting again.’’

I disagreed, spotting another big trout upstream in the fast water. Jon’s cast was straight and true. The trout’s take was splendid. Another solid 8lb trout in the net and a great way to finish the day.  The fish gods had been tamed. 

On our last day, something special happened. In the first pool, we again caught a trout, but not
just any trout. It was Jon’s biggest ever after five trips to New Zealand and hundreds of days of fishing here. It was a great way to start the new year. At 71cm long with a 46cm girth, it weighed well over 10lb on my scales.

There’s something electric about being in the presence of really big trout. Double-figure trout are rare beasts and most anglers will go to the happy hunting grounds never having landed one. Big trout have legendary cunning and they don’t generally get big by being stupid.

On the last pool of the day, I spied two special trout in the river’s glare while my heart leapt in my chest. The opportunity to catch multiple double-figure trout in a day is as rare as hen’s teeth and my hands shook as I replaced the 3x leader material and chose a fly. The cast was good, the fish lifted, and Jon’s rod pulsed and
jumped. His reel screamed as the fish shot across the river taking a full flyline and backing.

Soon, the trout was back on our side and things were looking bright, but a after quick dash around a tricky boulder, the line was shaved and the fish was free.

In shock, I rerigged new line and searched for the other trout further up the pool. It was still there, and in a repeat of the first behemoth, the fish lifted, took the fly, leapt fully into the air showing thick flanks and gut – another double for sure.

Across and up the river with powerful surges, the line sang and again things looked bright before the fish found cover deep in the pool and jammed a leader knot between two boulders, snapping the line and breaking free.

Aghast, we looked at each other in disbelief. The fish gods of Reefton had spoken.

 Exploring the rivers around Blenheim, Marlborough


© Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Exploring an untapped Jewel, Nelson Mail, 1 January 2011

The outdoors lures a man from his Christmas bolt-hole.
Keen fisher:
Rosie Mirfin at Tuamarina near Blenheim.

Maybe the worst time to go hunting and fishing is between Christmas and New Year. Public holidays and warm weather can mean hordes of people out there on the water, or in the hills, getting in the way or detracting from the quality of the outdoor experience.

Personally, I prefer to eat, drink, and be merry, because it is a special time of year to spend with friends and family.

As a self-employed guy, it’s great to escape to the bosom of my family, let the cellphone batteries go flat and sleep like the dead.

Blenheim has always been a great bolt-hole for me and this Christmas was no exception. It has a warm, sunny climate and friendly locals, but the thing I’ve always liked most about Blenheim is the anonymity of the experience, and even cruising along the crowded streets and stores during the Boxing Day sales, we encountered few people we knew.

Blenheim is a bit of an untapped outdoor jewel, with some wonderful opportunities in and about town.

Built on a swamp, it has rivers running right through town, is close to the sea, and has abundant hills and mountains nearby.

The dominant physical feature of the area is the nearby Wairau River, which has shaped the Wairau Plains and created the extensive Wairau lagoons. So within a half hour drive of town, there are arguably many more quality sporting opportunities than on our side of the Richmond Ranges.

Trout can be caught in the centre of town in the Taylor and Opawa rivers, nearby Spring Creek and the large braided alluvial Wairau River.

The Awatere River offers more opportunity. During the summer, pacific salmon run the Wairau, and saltwater fish such as kahawai and flounder abound in estuarine waters, as well as plentiful whitebait in season.

In the vast and shallow Wairau lagoons, birdlife flourishes and waterfowl congregate in large numbers during the winter shooting season.

In the hills and river valleys nearby, quail and small game such as rabbits and hares abound. Walking along tussock and matagouri-clad gullies and slopes has turned on some wonderful hunts, as coveys of quail explode in a flurry of wings. Other great wing shooting has come in the pursuit of feral pigeons, either over decoys or waiting near evening roosting spots near cliffs and eroded gullies.

Further back, mostly on private land, there can be great hunting for larger game in the form of goats, pigs, and red deer.

South Marlborough is a vast area which is mainly privately owned, meaning wild animal populations can
get a lot of protection from landowners, unlike the heavily poisoned public lands to the west. Getting access can be problematic unless you have good connections, but some properties hold a lot of animals that are readily accessible on day trips from Blenheim.

The thing I like most about fishing and hunting from Blenheim is that you can slip out for a morning, an evening or a whole day. There are a lot of places you can go to fill in a few hours with success, but it’s not generally a destination for visiting hunters and anglers.

The trout fishing can be good, but the weather and wind protect the resource and no commercial fishing guide has ever made a living there, because it doesn’t suit visiting overseas anglers who only want to fish the cream of the upland waters.

Fishing has definitely slipped over the years, though. Intensive development means streams have been
disturbed and don’t clear as quickly after rains as they used to. Agricultural chemicals, sewage outfalls, urban trash, housing subdivisions, more angling effort, immigrant vineyard workers, gill nets and more have probably all had their effect, but the fishing still remains remarkably resilient and worthwhile. My kids love it and have caught some impressive fish up to 3.5kg in recent years.

This trip wasn’t quite so successful.  We took two vehicles, a boat and all the gear, but never quite achieved what we’d hoped. Tired from a hard year, the spirit was willing but the body wasn’t. Jake caught one nice trout, fishing the Taylor from shore on dark during a half-hour outing on Christmas evening, but our efforts at trolling just didn’t pay dividends.

The river was coloured from recent rains, which should have been good, but the fish didn’t want to know us.

With the kids, I’m mindful of only doing short enjoyable adventures. We go out for a hour or so, but any longer
and the fun quickly wanes. This trip we enjoyed birdlife such as pukeko, swan, and royal spoonbill along the river and, although we hooked a few fish, we never got to put one in the net.

The best was a large brown trout that seven-year-old Rosie fought alongside and underneath the boat after some epic jumps and long runs.

The 3kg plus trout was a beauty, but somehow, with 10-year-old Jake on the landing net and Rosie on the rod, the 4.5kg nylon trace parted and our big fish was gone.

Then the rain came, blowing out all the rivers and even blocking the roads around Havelock and the Marlborough Sounds. It seemed as though any surviving fish would be safe from holiday anglers under swirling brown floodwaters.

Rosie and I went for a drive the next day, but the Taylor, Opawa, and Spring Creek were high and almost
unfishable. The main Wairau was brown, running bank to bank, while the Tuamarina looked like the gravy from an Indian butter chicken dish.

We took a few photos before retreating to Henderson’s, the best fishing and chandlery store I know.

Rosie chose a few new lures for her tackle box, because there is always next time and she wants to be ready for when that next big Blenheim trout strikes.


Lures, Braid and Fishing Innovation

© Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, The hi-tech approach, Nelson Mail, 4 December 2010
Lure of trout: Chris Parkinson of Ballarat, left, and Bill Classon of Melbourne during a day out rafting for trout.

Since I was a boy I’ve loved trout fishing. I’ve caught trout by just about every method known to man, and although I prefer to fly fish, I’m open and agreeable to every legal method in the pursuit of trout.

I started off as an eight-year old using a fibreglass rod, 8lb monofilament line and a black and gold toby lure, but in the intervening 35 years, the fishing resource, technology and techniques have changed considerably and lure fishing has now gone hi-tech.

High modulus carbon fibre rods, superior reels, braided gelspun lines, fluorocarbon leaders and life-like designer lures have revolutionised how anglers choose to light-tackle sportfish.

Braided fishing line has been one of the greatest revolutions in lure fishing, as the small-diameter, non-stretch lines give amazing sensitivity and bite-detection, allowing longer casts and far more hook-ups.

The lures, too, are amazing, and while most Kiwi anglers balk at using $20 lures, it makes a massive difference to the fishing results.  Many of these lures are made of balsa wood and are painted and lacquered in realistic colours, with scales, eyes, gills, spots, internal rattles and chemically sharpened hooks.

Last week, I was out on the water with fishing media mogul Bill Classon of the Australian Fishing Network, publisher of Freshwater Fishing, Sportfishing Australia, Yak Fisher, Flyfisher, Fishing Gear Guide and Sportfish DVD Magazine.

Bill has been in the publishing game for more than 30 years and we first met at the Melbourne 4WD and Fishing show in 2008. Two years later, Bill and his friend and cameraman, Chris Parkinson, were here to test the New Zealand trout with their hi-tech lure gear.

Our plan was simple: meet on the West Coast and raft the big water in pursuit of trout.

The guys had all the latest technology and really knew how to fish, plopping lures within centimetres of the bank, trees and logs before retrieving the lures fast while also working the rod tip to impart more action into their lures. It wasn’t long before the first few trout were in the net.

Throughout the day we tried a variety of lures and soft plastics, floating and sinking, large and small, depending on water type, nature, and depth. The speed of lure retrieve was also important and sometimes faster can be better. When an aggressive trout is chasing a lure it is almost impossible to retrieve it faster than a trout can chase, grab and gobble it.

The guys were impressed with our rivers and the raft rig and by day’s end we’d nailed many trout and got some good footage. Most trout weren’t big with many in the 1-2kg bracket.

That night we got back to our motel to learn breaking news on TV, an explosion at Pike River Mine, just down the road, had trapped 29 miners in the shaft.

Dinner was subdued as we talked with locals at the pub while the drama unfolded before us, and indeed dominated our fishing trip for the next few days. Being of West Coast stock, having fished the Pike River area since boyhood, and knowing many people in the local community, it was a sobering experience.

Fishing the really big water the next day was the plan, and we were joined by guiding buddy Dave Heine of Dobson. With two rafts, the plan was to get some different camera angles and have a lot of fun. It was another brooding and misty Paparoa day, luckily with plenty of fish.

On Day three, Bill, Chris and I were after more footage to fill in the gaps in the filming and to give the film editors more choice in the final cut.

By the time we got on the water, westerly gales had the whole river stirred-up with large whitecaps. So far the rafting had been benign on the gentle Class 1 waters, but it was comforting in tough conditions to be carrying full safety gear, including epirb and satellite phone.

We tried to row downstream, but it was a futile mission.

Accepting the need to bail out fast we allowed ourselves to be blown back upstream a short distance to the put-in point. By relocating to calmer waters, although still windy and difficult to control the raft, we still caught fish.

Our last morning dawned clear and fine and we got away early, deciding to fish a lake, to have a new experience but also mix up the filming.

Bill rigged up with scented softplastic lures, and was soon showing me some innovative techniques, that I mentally noted would come in handy some time.  Fishing toward the kahikatea and flax-lined shores, our lures ran through tannin tea-stained waters stocked with leopard-spotted brown trout.

Catching just four trout, the boys were happy and we had video footage of lake fishing action.

Racing back to the launching spot, we threw the raft frame on the trailer, before the boys had to beat a hasty retreat over Arthur’s Pass for Christchurch.

Securing my load and packing the truck, I ate lunch on the lakeshore as, ironically, the trout started to rise all around. But hey, that’s fishing.


Trout fishing St James Station

© Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, The end of a fishing era, Nelson Mail, 20 November 2010
Progress arrives in a cherished back country fishing haunt.

Magnificent: The modern world has finally encroached on St James Station.

Hanmer Springs is a great place to visit. Known best as an alpine holiday retreat with wonderful thermal pools, it is a fabulous venue for all manner of pursuits.

The town itself is awesome, with oak-lined avenues, forest walks, good shopping, fine restaurants and bars, and plenty of accommodation options. There’s a lot of outdoor adventure available in the form of bike trails, jetboating, bungy jumping and even Mt.  Lyford Skifield.

Myself, I like Hanmer for the trout fishing nearby. By road, it’s easy to access the headwaters of the Waiau and Clarence river systems, but what makes Hanmer a really good base for guiding foreign anglers is the great helicopter access waters. Magical rivers such as the headwaters and tributaries of the Rakaia, Waimakariri, Hurunui, Waiau and others beckon enticingly. We’ve even fished for sea run trout and kahawai in the surf by chopper or flown over the West Coast mountains into the large rivers that drain into the Tasman Sea.

The real attraction of fishing the waters of North Canterbury is the abundance of large brown trout. The eastern rivers are big sky country, with stunning vistas of alpine peaks, tussock-clad valleys and mountain forests.

Protected by the weather and wind, fish grow large in clear rocky streams, and many trout are sea-run nomads from the Pacific Ocean. The dreaded nor’wester wind is feared by all fly fishermen.

When the wind howls it can reduce experienced anglers to tears, but when conditions are optimal the quality of the fishing experience can be unbeatable.

Some of my favourite memories are with Los Angeles fly fishing hotshots Skip and Ken.

On one heli-trip, Skip broke three rods for the day – with my help, when my pack dropped on a spare rod while Skip fought a big fish. We managed to make a composite rod out of the three, with the help of some insulation tape, and kept on fishing. Skip landed 11 fish weighing more than 3.5 kilograms that day, but the fun part was when he obtained an ‘‘I’m In Training’’ badge at a restaurant that night, which I was made to wear for the rest of the trip.

My last trip to Hanmer fishing this week wasn’t so successful. I drove down the night before, only seeing the rivers of Tasman district in the headlights. Arriving at 1am, everyone was snoring when I quietly bunked down.  Morning came fast and it was great to catch up with Otago guiding mate Selwyn Shanks, who owns Centrefire McCarthy’s Flyshop in Dunedin, and Americans Paul and Walt. It was a cracking day and I was on the phone at 7am to the helicopter company. It was Christchurch Show Weekend and we assumed anglers would be out in force; we also knew the wind was coming.

The plan was to fly into St James Station for the day, and even as we flew in we could see the vehicles heading for the Waiau River area. Purchased by the last Labour government for about $40 million, St James Station is a magnificent piece of real estate, with towering mountains, rocky gorges and broad meadows. There were no fisherman around, but it was clear that things had changed.

There were worker tents pitched at the Henry confluence as the last bridge was constructed across the river for the current Government’s vision to provide cycle trails. Bike trails had been constructed and roads had been
improved to allow four-wheel drive access to the public. It was clear that fishing here was never going to be the same.

The wind was strong and the fishing results modest that day between the two parties, but we did land fish to 3.6kg. Fish numbers appeared to be down, the fish smaller and more skittish, and much of the magic waned as we encountered boot prints and recent signs of other visitors.

Flying out, we were in for a shock, as people had turned up from everywhere. There were cyclists, pig hunters, anglers in the river behind us, even a tent city.  I’d hardly ever seen other people in the St James before, so this was a totally new development.

As we flew out to spend the next day in the waters of Molesworth, I realised that I had probably seen the best of these rivers, from a fly fishing perspective. The past few decades of no-one much around had been a bubble before better roading, improved public knowledge, DOC management and the internet.

In many ways, improved public access to St James Station will be a bonus for Hanmer and introduce a new type of recreationalist to the area. The bike ride will be wild and epic, and improved vehicle access for hunters and anglers will be appreciated by most. I’ve always supported improved public access to our wild lands and no one can complain about access issues to St James again.

Progress is good, I guess, except when you’re a hardcore fishing bum like myself. Alas poor St James, I knew you well.


A man for all seasons.

Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Man for all seasons, Nelson Mail 23 October 2010
Grim weather can't take the shine off a great opening to the trout season.
Joe Roberson 041 400
Fishing Buddy: Joe, an angler from northern California on a return trip to New Zealand waters
October 1 is opening day for the trout season, but after the diabolical wet and cold September, the rivers were big and ugly, ruling out a planned opening day trip with the kids.

My first real chance at fishing came a few days later when I picked up Joe, an angler from Northern California on a return trip here. We hit the road South, heading for the brown trout heaven of Murchison.

It was a road trip and I hadn't booked any accommodation or made any fixed plans. We'd follow our noses, take heed of the river conditions and hances and do the best wecould.

The rivers were high with the Motueka, Motupiko and buller looking unappealing, but the Owen was finally worth a go.

A friendly farmer was pleased to see us, and in the first pool Joe managed to drag out a beautiful trout of about 6lb(2.7kg). It was a great start to the season , but the next few hours reminded us that fishing is never easy as the trout ignored our flies, bolted for the depths, or just played possum.

Later on that afternoon as the sun shone low in the sky, the trout rewarded our perseverance, taking our offerings solidly, impaling themselves on the fly.

We headed back for civilisation making a late decision to go further south for the night.

The next day we caught up with some landowner friends, then embarked on a long walk. The fishing was a bit slow to start, but the trout came on through the day as the water temperatures warmed. The river was big - far too big to cross- but we picked away at the edges and every so often I'd see a fishy shape swinging side to side closeto shore.

Joe is a great angler and a gentle cast landing the weighted nymph upstream of the fish would generally see thefish move, lift and eat. A quick call from me, Joe would strike, and the fight would be on.

Great fish they were too, mostly over 7lb, many around the 8lb mark, with one big one pulling the scales down to 9lb. It was an epic day and it was two tired men who fished their way towards the truck.

On the way back I spied a pig grubbing around on a grassy flat and we rushed back to the truck for a rifle. We stalked opposite the pig, but could only see its back occasionally as it fed away under a bank.

Only 30 meters away the pig was very close, but we needed to sneak over the rim of a bank to get a clear shot when a rogue gust of wind came from behind. A grunt and a snort and it was all over as the wily pig galloped for the bush edge. It was probably for the best, because it saved us from having to cut the pig up.

We camped out that night and next morning stalked some river flats in search of deer, but no joy. It didn't matter- there was always fishing. In a repeat of the day before, the best fishing was later, with many beautiful brown trout coming to the net.

Joe and I had great days climbing down banks, fording large rivers, bashing through wet rainforest and catching lots of trout. For the end of the trip we headed to North Canterbury.

The weather was deteriorating and I went for a quick eveing hunt while Joe rested out of the rain back at the little motel. The wind howled and the rain came sideways. I never even looked like seeing a deer, but it was a great adventure and I did find a big trout we could go back for the next day.

That night the rain shook the roof and I had fears of finding any fishable water, but eventually wwe found a river worth fishing.

Big and bvrawling, murky and high, no-one in their right mind would be fishing it, but we were.

Every so often, I spotted a dark shape hugging the bacnk and Joe would cst as I gave directions. it was arguably our finest day, with fish to 9lb, as we walked miles upstream in bleak conditions in search of new targets.

It was after 11pm before I finally made it home after dropping Joe off. Aimee greeted me at our door. The first fishing trip of another season might have been over but another season had just begun.

Fly & Lure Making

© Zane Mirfin, Wildside column, Happiness is...a box full of flies, Nelson Mail, 17 July 2010
Roll your own: Making your own flies, spinners, jigs and sinkers is fun, easy, enjoyable, economical and best of all, catches you more fish.

Making your own flies and other lures is a rewarding way to spend winter while awaiting the start of the new
fishing season – and the only limit is your imagination.

Every angler can tailor lure-making equipment to suit their own particular fishing style, water depth, water conditions, fish species and fish behaviour.

Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve loved mucking around with fishing tackle. Later, I started making my own fishing gear in the form of rigs, sinkers, lures, flies, nets, setlines, rods, spears and other associated equipment. These are skills I’m still learning and perfecting, but the enjoyment and satisfaction continue to this day.

There is always something exciting about catching fish with your own equipment, and my favourite fish have been caught on gear I made or assembled myself.

Winter is a great time to get ready for the best local fishing in warmer months by using the bleak days and long evenings to get your fishing tackle assembled and organised.

Anglers are great dreamers and innovators, and winter can get you inspired to create new fishing systems created in your own mind and experiences, or through reading fishing books and periodicals.

Making your own gear can save you a significant amount of money but, most importantly, it can make sure you have equipment that will catch you more and better fish.

As a saltwater angler, you can make all manner of rigs from stainless steel wire, kevlar cord and heavy nylon, ranging from flasher rigs to groper traces to jig assist-hooks, using components as simple as hooks, swivels, fluoro tubing, heat-shrink tubing, metal crimps and a pair of crimping pliers.

Commercially-made rigs are available at local stores if you aren’t into ‘‘rolling your own’’, and such rigs can be fine templates on which to build your own, tailored to your specific fishing circumstances.

Lately, we’ve been busy making lots more sinkers, lures and jigs with melted lead. This is a pretty simple exercise but one that should be undertaken with care (and lead is becoming increasingly difficult to find).

One of my favourite books on making lures is a classic called The Complete Book of Tackle Making, by C Boyd Pfeiffer. He is adamant about the need for safe practices when working outside with molten lead, and advises anglers to ‘‘never become so confident that you are not scared of it’’.

I’ve heeded that advice and have accumulated all manner of equipment, such as a leather apron, extension leads, RCD current protectors, a bottom-pour electric lead melter, forearm-length leather gloves, safety goggles, and breathing apparatus to filter out lead dust and fumes. I’ve also got tools like gate shears, split ring pliers, side cutters, crimping tools and wire formers.

Now that I’ve got the OSH warning out of the way, I can talk about all the fun recreational lures, sinkers and jigs you can make in all types of shapes, weights and configurations, mostly unavailable commercially in New Zealand.

The internet has opened up a world of opportunity and choice. While foreign purchase fees and shipping costs can be
pricey, quality lure-making components are usually here within a week or so, and if a purchase is less than $400, you should avoid paying customs duty and GST. The world really is your oyster, and you can find anything to create any lure you can dream up in your mind.

My brother Scott and I have been fortunate to have collected a range of different aluminium lead moulds, making all manner of things such as egg and worm-rig sinkers; jigs heads in roundhead, stand-up and seahorse configurations; oddballs such as larva jigs, ear ball weights, lure bodies and removable split shot; even conventional moulds that make kingfish jigs, trout lures and 32-ounce puka bombs.

Every angler can tailor lure-making equipment to suit their own particular fishing style, water depth, water conditions, fish
species and fish behaviour.

When it comes to trout, I’ve been a mad keen fly-tyer since I began fly fishing at 10 years old. I’ve probably tied tens of thousands of trout flies, and have accumulated an impressive collection of tying gear along the way. It’s no accident that fishing guides are some of the best and most innovative tyers in the country, and exceptional tyers like Murchison’s Peter Carty and Marlborough’s Clayton Nicholl make flies that look so good you’d swear they could crawl out of the vice by themselves.

Fly tying is fun, too, because anglers are always problem-solving, thinking about ways to create better flies and sharing ideas, techniques and theories with other anglers. As trout have become more educated and sophisticated, trout anglers have needed better insect and baitfish imitations to enhance catch rates. ‘‘Technological creep’’ has seen space age materials such as chemically sharpened hooks, tungsten beads, synthetic fibres and genetically modified rooster super-hackles improve modern trout flies exponentially.

The advantage of tying is that you can make what you need to suit the water conditions and hatches, creating trout flies that are not commercially available.

Over summer, I write notes to myself with ideas about what is missing in my fly boxes, so when winter rolls around I know exactly what to tie for the following fishing season.

Commercial guides need large numbers of trout flies in specific patterns, sizes, weights, colours, shapes and designs. When you spend a lot of time on the river getting flies chewed by trout and having anglers breaking them off in fish or, worse, repeatedly whacking them on rocks or high into bankside trees with errant back casts, it can soon deplete whole boxes.

Guides get paid for results, so having the right gear tied on anglers’ lines is particularly important. Last season, we caught more big trout than ever, but we also lost plenty more, because big mouse-fattened fish often straightened standard fly hooks.

This year, I’m tying most of my flies on extra-strong hooks to hopefully solve the problem – so watch out, Mr Trout.

D'Urville Island Fishing, Nelson


© Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Fishing mecca fails to inspire, Nelson Mail, 19 June 2010
D’Urville Island offers a great retreat for a few days in the outdoors – but where are all the glamour fish?D_Urville_Island_1.jpg
Thank cod: Zane Mirfin with a blue cod caught off D’Urville Island.

‘‘Eating fresh fried cod, caught from pristine ocean waters, was heaven on earth. Later, Dave steamed open large mussels collected off the rocks for dessert.’’

Croisilles Harbour was flat and calm, as brother Scott, West Coast friend Dave Heine and myself agonised
over how to free a seized steering system for our 90 HP outboard motor. With some Kiwi ingenuity, and good preparation by Scotty with appropriate tools, we were soon out of trouble and finally heading for fishing Shangri-la.

Speeding out of Croisilles, we headed for D’Urville Island, or Rangitoto Ki Te Tonga, which was to be our home for the next three days.

‘‘Discovered’’ by French mariner Dumont D’Urville in 1827, D’Urville is the eighth largest island in New Zealand at 150 square kilometres, with a permanent population of fewer than 100 people.

Travelling up the western face of the island we sped past iconic fishing spots such as Paddock Rocks, Black Reef, Bottle Point, Nile Head, Nelson’s Monument, Cape Stephens, past the Bishops Cauldron and Hell’s Gate, and into the famed Stephens Passage, sandwiched between the northern tip of D’Urville and Stephens Island (the home of the rare and ancient tuatara).

Sea conditions were excellent with a slight swell and little wind. Sport fishing with jigs is our preferred method and we flogged the water to a foam with little success. At slack water we decided to head to a hapuka or groper hole northwest of Stephens Island where we have had great success on past trips.

Dropping 32-ounce ’puka bombs into nearly 200 metres of water with whole mullet baited on 16/0 hooks and 80-pound
braid wasn’t any more successful, with only a few sea perch and big tope or greyboy shark to show for our efforts.

Heading for camp in remote Port Hardy, we became ‘‘cod botherers’’, catching a few trusty blue cod (Parapercis
colias) along the way for dinner, collecting firewood on a sunny sheltered beach, before beelining for a favoured campsite.

Securing our 18-foot alloy boat with ropes stretched between trees across a small cove, we settled down for the night with a big fire on the beach, blue cod pan fried and stuffed in sandwiches with salad and all washed down with a few cans of fine ale.  Eating fresh fried cod, caught from pristine ocean waters, was heaven on earth, and we even had starters of raw cod, soy sauce and wasabi paste.  Later, Dave, a gentle giant with an appetite to match, steamed open large mussels collected off the rocks for dessert. Tall tales were told before retiring to our tents under a mild and starry winter evening.

Fishing the next day was much better, but forecast strong southeast gales (which never eventuated) had us fishing our
way back down the coastline at Nile Head and Bottle Point, en route to Greville Harbour.

Barracouta, the silver snakes of the sea, were a scourge and we lost a lot of gear to their sharp teeth.

On the satellite phone that night, my wife Aimee warned of forecast southeast gales over 30 knots from lunchtime onwards, so we planned for an early start to get back home safely.

Powering out of Greville, we beat our way back through rough seas, and with salt water stinging our eyes and much
water coming over the windshield of the boat. Past Sauvage Point and Le Brun Peninsula, across Current Basin into Waikawa Bay, and then down the coastline of the mainland past Okuri Light and Taipare into the safety of Croisilles Harbour.

The real fun began when our motor battery died, but fortunately electrician Scott had a new spare aboard and there were no dramas after some quick rewiring with new battery and battery terminals. The savage seas began to ease as we fished and by mid-afternoon it was warm and pleasant. So much for the forecast again.

They say that the leasttrusted professions are real estate agents, politicians and used car salesmen, but after the inaccuracy of the weather forecasts over the three-day D’Urville trip, as a keen outdoorsman I wonder if weather forecasters shouldn’t be added to the list.

We’d seen some great marine life, with porpoises, penguins, seals and sea birds abundant.

In hindsight, we should have taken our rifles so we could have looked for a deer or pig to stalk ashore, but there is always next time. Our trip had been a lot of fun but the fishing was disappointing – probably the worst catching I could
remember. We caught gurnard, tope, spotties, parrot fish, sea perch, barracouta, but without the ever-present blue cod it would have been slim pickings.

It was the first trip in more than 20 years I could remember that we hadn’t caught any glamour fish like kingfish, groper, snapper, or even kahawai, trevally, or warehou.

Maybe it was the wrong time of year, water temperature or moon phase, but I have a feeling that the fishing just isn’t what it used to be. Every day we had to share the water with other recreational anglers and offshore the commercial trawlers worked.

We’ve now come to the conclusion that the way to be constantly successful is to hope we win Lotto so we can go hitech.

Just as military night vision technology has meant no wild animal is safe, portable GPS units and fancy highresolution depth sounders have left the groper and kingfish nowhere to hide in the ocean.

All I can say is thank cod for the blue cod fishery, which is remarkably resilient.

The remote western side of D’Urville has always been protected by the weather and seas, unlike the accessible eastern side and inner Marlborough Sounds, which have been fished hard by recreational anglers for generations. Recently, the inner Sounds was closed to blue cod fishing by the Ministry of Fisheries, with dubious science and virtually no consultation with recreational angling groups. My personal thoughts are that education would have been a better strategy than whacking recreational anglers with a big stick – maybe encouraging the use of artificial jigs and lures to minimise under-sized fish swallowing baited hooks, and educating anglers on the safe release of under-sized fish.

Aligning the lower North Island limit of 20 cod per person per day to the Nelson- Marlborough limit of three would also have been a good start, stopping North Island boaties crossing Cook Strait in summer, plundering the Sounds and D’Urville and landing all their catch in Wellington.

It’s no secret that New Zealand needs better management and fair allocation of fishery resources, both commercial and recreational. Let’s just hope MFish can get their act together and create a sustainable fishery for us all to enjoy. So help me cod.


Kahawai Fishing in Tasman Bay, Nelson

© Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Humble kahawai: great sport and good eating, Nelson Mail, 22 May 2010
Sometimes a booby prize is worth having.
Neighbourhood watch: Shane Schaab with kahawai caught on the Waimea Estuary.

THE day was just too good to waste at my home office. The Nelson sun beamed down and the day was calm and still, so it was an easy decision to go fishing at short notice. Giving my new next-door neighbour Shane a call got a positive answer, and we were gone – gone fishing.

The estuary water was clear and close to low tide when we placed the beach seine net from my dinghy, using oars. Running the remaining warp rope to shore, we jumped out of the boat, and grabbing a rope at each end of the net, hauled the seine towards our shore.

The theory was that flounder would lie in the deep holes at the junction of the estuary and the sea, but alas it was not to be. After four exhausting hauls of the seine, we didn’t have a single flounder to show for our efforts.

The stingray fishing, though, was epic, with big rays thudding into the net and splashing water furiously in their attempt to escape. The big rays made hauling the net hard work, but one haul was especially tough on the arms when we dragged up an old truck tyre in the net as well as heaps of rays.

Releasing all the rays unharmed, while avoiding whipping tails and big spikes, we were fortunate to at least catch a few
kahawai to take home.

Although it felt like winning the booby prize, the humble kahawai has saved my bacon many times on trips such as this.

The kahawai (Arripis trutta) has been important for Maori and Europeans ever since human habitation of New Zealand and kahawai can be a stunningly beautiful fish fresh from the water, with silvery sides dappled with black spots. On the back they can even glow almost iridescent blue, green, or purple. They are renowned for their hard-fighting ways once hooked on a line and grow up to about 5 kilograms, although average fish are mostly 1-2kg.

The kahawai is present throughout New Zealand and Australia (where it is called Australian salmon). A mainly northern species, kahawai are present down the West Coast and as far south as Banks Peninsula during summer. Being a streamlined inshore pelagic species, they roam the coastlines in small and large schools, eating mainly small baitfish, which they herd to the surface, often creating impressive boil-ups.

Kahawai are found anywhere from the open blue ocean through to estuaries and rivermouths, especially areas where there are strong currents. Such a wide geographic distribution and varied habitat preferences make them a very accessible and valuable species for recreational anglers.

From an eating point of view, kahawai probably aren’t as popular as other coastal fish such as snapper, tarakihi, flounder
and gurnard, but prepared well, kahawai are a fine table fish in their own right. They can be baked, fried, grilled, made into fish pies, fish cakes, and fish soup, but my favourite way to eat kahawai is brined in a brown sugar, salt, and soy sauce mixture, then smoked with a portable hot smoker.

Kahawai have a high oil content and high omega-3 levels and are also well suited to eating raw as sashimi. Killed immediately, bled, beheaded and gutted, then put on ice, there is nothing better than eating wafer thin slices of raw kahawai dipped in soy sauce and wasabi while out on the water.

From a fishing point of view kahawai are an exciting sport fish. Very few fish in the sea are as aggressive, and because of their small fish diet they are easy to coax into hitting a lure or fly.

Over the years we’ve caught kahawai by spin fishing off the rocks, trolling lures in open ocean, fishing for king salmon in Canterbury rivermouths, bait and fly fishing in berley trails in Tasman Bay, and on surface poppers fished with soft bait rods and braided lines. They can be caught surfcasting off beaches, from local wharves by children fishing for sprats, or on snapper setlines. We’ve even caught them wade fishing with drag nets on local beaches, set nets in tidal channels, or beach seining in estuarine waters. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that kahawai can be caught virtually any way, any place, any time in saltwater.

Kahawai can be easy to catch but there are always a few tricks that work better than others. Most anglers use lures that are too big when the target food of kahawai is often small whitebaitsized fish.

I always carry a few slim trout flies that imitate small bait fish in my fishing kit, such as matuka-style flies or clouser
minnows, and regularly use them. Tie a small swivel on your line above your lure and slide the trout fly down on to the swivel, and use your lure or jig head for casting weight.

Small hooks catch more fish, especially when fishing to schools of smaller fish, and are less likely to rip out of soft lips.

A landing net is always handy to avoid losing fish ripping out the hooks when close to the boat and another thought is to not set your reel drag too tight, especially when fishing hi-tech non-stretch braided lines.

When fishing to surface feeders, the best idea is to troll along the fringes of the school so as to not spook the fish into the depths.

Many times I’ve seen braindead anglers drive right through the middle of a surface feeding school, ruining the fishing for
everyone. If this happens to you, change to silver jigs or softbaits to plumb the depths and drift fish the general area and you will often pick up the fish again.

The best tactic and most exciting too, is to position yourself up-current of boiling fish, casting and drifting on to the approaching school.

Unfortunately, not all is well in the kahawai fishery and commercial overfishing has hammered once plentiful fish stocks.

Of most concern are the overseas fishing boats depleting vast schools of fish with purse seines, assisted by spotter planes, scooping up kahawai, and shipping them across the Tasman to be used as low value fishmeal and crayfish bait.


Fly Fishing Murchison & the Buller River, Nelson Region

© Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Buller River dreaming, and Murchison on my mind, Nelson Mail, 27 March 2010
Locally Produced: Zane caught this 11lb brown trout in Murchison with his friend Tony Entwistle in January.

The variety and diversity of angling opportunity is probably unmatched.

Murchison fishing guide Peter Carty once wrote that ‘‘fishing is a disease. It’s not usually fatal and there’s no known cure for it, but the therapy is wonderful.’’

I couldn’t agree more and often think back to when Pete and I began our guiding careers together in the mid-80s around the Nelson Lakes and Murchison areas.

They were halcyon days and we were just the latest in a long line of anglers intent on exploring and enjoying the rivers of Murchison. I still fish these rivers and Murchison has become a playground for anglers from all over the world.

Murchison is situated on the Four Rivers Plain – the flood plain of the Buller River, which flows through the centre of town, fed by tributaries the Mangles, Matiri and Matakitaki.

The thing that has always impressed me about the Murchison area is the people, and we anglers are lucky that Murchison landowners are so generous with access to the rivers. Developing relationships with many of these local families, watching their kids grow up, and enjoying good times along the way have made the fishery even more special in my mind.

Murchison is probably best known for the magnitude 7.8 earthquake that ripped the place apart on June 17, 1929, causing 17 deaths and untold mayhem. The landscape still bears the scars of this massive quake. The Mirfin family has a connection to the tragedy, with my grandfather’s elder sister, Jessie, being married to Murchison farmer Charlie Morel when the earthquake struck. Charlie was killed by a huge mudslide and flying roofing iron. According to witness Samuel Busch, the mudslide crossed the Matakitaki River from the west and wiped out Morel’s house at the Six Mile. A gentleman to the last, Charlie’s last words were, according to family folklore, ‘‘Save yourself Jessie, I’m done for.’’

Immediately after the earthquake, my grandfather Ash and his twin brother, Bryce, managed to ride and carry pushbikes through the mangled one lane Buller Gorge road from Reefton in a futile attempt to help their sister. Later, it took 18 months with pick, shovel and saw to re-open this vital link to the West Coast. Ironically, the road works and repair to the land after the earthquake created many jobs and insulated Murchison from the worst effects of the 1930s Depression.

The Buller River system is one of the world’s greatest brown trout fisheries. The variety and diversity of angling
opportunity is probably unmatched, with trout-filled small, medium and large freestone streams and rivers at virtually every point of the compass. Nearby are the waters of North Canterbury’s Waiau system to the south, the Grey and Inangahua catchments to the west, the Wairau catchment to the east, and the Motueka and its tributaries to the north.

The Buller River itself is a worthwhile fishery, but a shadow of its former glory due to the invasive alga didymo, which has choked the upper reaches above Murchison. Its stranglehold on the rivers of Murchison is expanding, but it isn’t the end of the world because the worst affected areas are the mainstem Buller and the Gowan River, which come out of Lakes Rotoiti and Rotoroa. Tributary streams that are not sourced from fertile lake waters seem to have fared much better. Virtually every river and stream in the Murchison area now has didymo, but even when its presence is heavy, the fishing can still be good, and excellent trout fishing can be had in areas that many anglers avoid.

The Matiri River is a great fishery for small to medium-size trout, but can be a little tough to fish these days, with a lot of didymo present, possibly due to the fertility effect of Lake Matiri.

The Matakitaki is a great blue river, alluvial in nature in its upper reaches and more confined within gorges as it makes its way to join the Buller atMurchison. A fabulous dry fly stream, it is also rich in gold and still mined to this day. Lately, the Matakitaki has been in the spotlight with Network Tasman looking at harnessing it for hydro-electricity generation, but the
river already has a rich history of intensive human use, including heavy mining activity in the late 1800s.

The Mangles River, along with its major tributary, the Tutaki, is a lovely fishery and I have great memories of wonderful days on-stream. There are some great scenic drives up these valleys, such as the track over the Braeburn saddle leading to Lake Rotoroa or the road through to the upper Matakitaki and Mataki Station.

Two other world-class Murchison rivers and Buller tributaries must also be mentioned. To the north is the small limestone river, the Owen, a bountiful fishery complete with challenging leopard-spotted browns. The Owen was
the apple of my eye when I was a boy, and it was where I learnt to fly fish and hunt with my father, Stuart.

To the south of Murchison is another great trout river, the Maruia and tributaries. The Maruia has always been revered as a fish factory, and this year the bonus for south bank tributaries such as the Maruia and Mataki has been some large mouse-fed trout, many into double-digit weights by imperial measurement.

However, there have been some low catch rates around Murchison the past few months. Many anglers and guides have told me their fishing has been the worst in living memory.

Fish and Game field officer Lawson says recent assessments of trout populations have shown up excellent quantities of medium and large fish. He believes that with so much trout food around this year, the fish don’t need to feed as often or for as long, making them less vulnerable to capture. Let’s hope this is the case and that the Murchison fishery is in good shape for future generations to enjoy.

The Murchison area, people, land, rivers and trout fishery will always be special in the minds of many. Recently Murchison dairy farmer Ken Caldwell struck a chord when he talked glowingly about his new farm in the area and described how he was ‘‘farming it already in my mind’’. Fly fishing addiction and love of rivers is no different and I, for one, will be fishing the trout streams of Murchison in my mind forever.

Famous Fishing Photographers

© Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Days spent fly-fishing with angling heroes, Nelson Mail, 27 February 2010

Guiding with fly-fishing couple Barry and Cathy Beck is a memorable learning experience.
Cathy Beck Zane Mirfin 400
Weigh to go: Zane Mirfin and Cathy Beck weigh a handsome Motueka River brown trout. American Mrs Beck and her husband Barry are ‘‘superstars’’ of the sport of fly-fishing.

They are the ultimate flyfishing couple and a brand name of desire within the industry.

AFTER nearly 25 years of guiding anglers from all over the world on the rivers of the South Island, I am fortunate to have exciting new fishing experiences almost every day.

Sometimes, I even get to guide the superstars of the fly-fishing industry, like this month. In life, you’re allowed to have fly-fishing heroes and Barry and Cathy Beck of Pennsylvania, in the United States, are certainly two of mine.

The Becks travel the world taking outstanding photographs of fishing, fishing scenes and fly-fishing experiences for commercial and editorial use. Their images grace the cover pages, centrefolds, and pages of prestigious angling publications around the world and are regularly drooled over by anglers.

With a busy and exhausting schedule, they host trips to destinations like Patagonia, Argentina, Belize, Bahamas, Mexico, Alaska, Montana, Mongolia, Brazil and the South Island of New Zealand.

They’ve been hosting some of these trips for 30 years and also have a guiding business and fly-fishing school in Pennsylvania where they lease private water for their anglers to fish and enjoy. Their website,, has some great images of their proficiency with a digital camera, the quality of angling locations they frequent, or their status within the international fly-fishing fraternity.

The Becks also work the US fishing show circuit representing companies such as Frontiers Travel, Sage, Rio, Redington, Tibor, Smith and so on, with Cathy giving casting demonstrations like a modern-day Annie Oakley. They are the ultimate fly-fishing couple and a brand name of desire within the industry.

Despite their high profile, both are just great people who enjoy fishing. I enjoy their company immensely and we’ve always had a great time together. Best of all, they are happy to share their knowledge and experience and I learn so
much from them both. This year we were assisted by Strike Adventure guides Tony Entwistle, Martin de Ruyter, Cameron Reid, Bill Mckenzie and Clayton Nicholl, fishing with the Becks’ hosted angler guests.

Some of my favourite times with the Becks are the moments walking back down rugged tracks and roads at the end of a fishing day talking about wider industry trends and future opportunities.

Barry and I are both keen angling history buffs and I especially enjoy asking him about the well-known anglers and personalities he has fished with. Barry has been fishing all his life, catching his first trout on a fly at nine, while his parents owned a Pennsylvania fly shop that immersed him in flyfishing culture at an early age.

Now 63, Barry has spent a lifetime building relationships within the flyfishing world.

The history of fly fishing is long, dating back to the ancient Macedonians, but the Brodheads area of Pennsylvania was the cradle of modern American fly fishing in the 19th century. As a result of this history, Pennsylvania has a proud tradition of attracting the best and brightest anglers.

Famous anglers Barry has counted as valued friends include Vincent Marinaro, author of In the Ring of the Rise and Modern Dry Fly Code, and Ernest Schwiebert, author of a host of books including Trout and Remembrances of Rivers Past.

Marinaro and Schwiebert were both strong-willed and eccentric men, but were prodigious angling geniuses and their contribution to angling literature resonates strongly to this day.

As a schoolboy I used to save all my money to buy American fly-fishing classics that I found in bargain bins and the back shelves of fishing stores around the country.

Under-valued and under-appreciated by New Zealand anglers I often purchased these books for peanuts and still have them in my library.

This trip I was able to show Barry some of the books and he was able to explain points of interest and recall memories of Marinaro, Schwiebert and many others.

Barry Beck is a living link to the history of modern fly fishing as we know it today, and the chance to discuss and learn more about the history of our sport is priceless to me and far more  important than any trout we may ever catch together.

Having said that, though, catching trout together is still pretty important, with Cathy undoubtedly being North America’s most photographed female fly angler. Casting a mean line, she can foot it with any angler in the world and has been a fly-fishing machine since she met Barry more than 30 years ago.

Barry, of course, is a fly fisherman’s fly fisher and it is a pleasure to watch him work a feeding trout. Barry and Cathy rate New Zealand as one of their favourite destinations, Barry especially so. He values the wild places, clear waters and sight fishing for wary brown trout.

He acknowledges that the fishing is difficult, challenging, and so often just downright frustrating, but he relishes the chance to explore new places and capture exciting new images with his beloved cameras.

At the end of their New Zealand fishing odyssey I was tasked with a few more fishing days and getting them back to Nelson Airport.

On the last day, I took them to Mirfin country on the West Coast’s Rough River where generations of the Mirfin family cleared farmland out of rainforest. They appreciated the history, the stories, and the steep track and rope down into the river. After lunch, and after one of their rod tips being bitten in half by a curious cow, they both finished with a fine trout each on their last cast in New Zealand waters for 2010.

Flounder Fishing Abel Tasman National Park


© Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Floundering around in the Marahau shallows, Nelson Mail, 13 February 2010

Zane Mirfin reckons it's rude to turn down a fishing trip when invited, especially when it is with brother Scotty.
Gone paddling: Scott Mirfin finds it easier to transport a kayak than a boat on fishing trips.

There is always something refreshing about the sea – something calming and therapeutic that dulls the pain of everyday life and soothes the soul.

Here in Nelson we are fortunate to have an ideal climate and safe swimming beaches that are within easy reach. It’s often said that the best things in life are free, and when it comes to Nelson beaches, it just couldn’t be more true.

The coastline along Abel Tasman National Park has always been a shining jewel, with its golden beaches and azure waters.

Recently on a rare day off, my brother Scott telephoned with a cunning plan to go floundering that evening in Marahau – the gateway to Abel Tasman National Park. Neither of us had fished there so I was keen to go. I’ve always believed that it’s rude to turn down a fishing trip when invited, especially when it is with brother Scotty. We’ve had so many epic trips together over the years and have always enjoyed each other’s company in the great outdoors, so our Marahau adventure was to be no exception.

The plan was to set our nets by hand, wading off the beach, and then retrieve them with Scott’s two open-topped kayaks. Marahau had changed a bit since I was last there. Catching up with long-time resident Alec Rae at the beach was a hoot as we discussed floundering, hunting at Rotoiti, and the impact of tourism on local communities like Marahau.

After a long walk down the beach at low tide with fish crates on our shoulders loaded with nets and grapnel hooks, it was a relief to wade out and set our net along the beach.
he evening was magnificent, warm and sunny. After walking back to get the kayaks and carrying them to the water’s edge, it was fun to go for a paddle. The only other time I’d used a kayak like this was when salmon fishing the Waimakariri, where we’d floated 10-15 kilometres of river for the day, stopping to fish the goodlooking holes from shore.

Scotty’s boat was far more stable than my experience on the river and there were no problems out on the sea, gliding along on the tranquil water.

Kayaks have now become very popular fishing platforms in the North Island where there are limited boat launching spots. Kayaks are also great because you don’t have to tow a trailer, you can carry them down the beach, come ashore when the sea gets rough, and glide around to favoured fishing spots silently without scaring away wary snapper.
t’s a fishing method Scott and I will be using more often in the years ahead.

However, safety at sea is essential and wearing a lifejacket is vital, but more important, in my mind, is the need for a brightly coloured kayak, paddle and lifejacket so you can be readily seen by motor boats. Because kayaks are low in the water they can be difficult to see. As we paddled out into the gloaming, we wore headlamps for safety, and to check our nets with.

What a disaster it was. Both nets were so full of weed we couldn’t get them back into our kayaks. The only solution was to disconnect the grapnel weights and tow each net into shallow water where we shook the brown fuzz-like weed out as the tide fair roared in. We then loaded a net on to each boat.

If the weed was bad, that was nothing compared to our combined tally of flounder – a big fat zero.

Paddling back in the dark together was great fun. Looking over the side of the kayaks we could see all manner of baitfish: Mullet, garfish, spotties and eels. Scotty even saw a big flounder right under his kayak.

In hindsight maybe we should have been spearing flounder using a spotlight rather than netting but it didn’t matter – our exploration would be put to good use another time.

Pulling up on the beach, the magic of Abel Tasman continued with a full orange moon rising up over the horizon, lighting up the hills and islands.


Vehicle Access & Safety

© Zane Mirfin, Wildside column, Take care with those trusty steel horses, Nelson Mail, 30 January 2010
Getting to the great outdoors might be half the fun, but it comes with its own perils.
 We came around a corner in the dark at open-road speed to find three black cattle in the middle of the road.
  Back of Beyond: Scott Mirfin drives through the bowels of Molesworth Station enroute to Lake Tennyson.

The modern automobile has revolutionised fishing and hunting in New Zealand. Increasing mobility and access has become a double-edged sword, though, because pretty much everyone has a 4WD vehicle and areas once lightly fished and hunted can now be pounded by the masses.

Access by vehicle, great though it is, is not without risk and after a few near misses by idiots lately, I’d have to say the most dangerous part of hunting and fishing is getting there. Sure, the occasional helicopter goes down, a boat sinks,
or someone gets swept away in a flooded river or dies of gunshot wounds, but these are extraordinary circumstances, whereas car accidents are a common and largely under-rated risk.

Over the years, I’ve had some memorable experiences with my trusted steel horses and have learnt a few things along the way. For one, I’ve always found time and money spent servicing vehicles when rattles, leaks and strange sounds appear is the way to go avoid inconvenient breakdowns. One time I had to hitch a ride with some pig hunters and almost got licked to death by their dogs while my vehicle languished on the roadside.

Sometimes, breakdowns are more sinister. I’ve heard tales of sabotage and vandalism and experienced a few myself,
including brake hoses being cut. Others have had tyres slashed or wheel nuts loosened.

Fortunately, such behaviour is rare, but it never hurts to keep a careful eye on your vehicle. Recently my steering wasn’t
feeling too good and I knew enough to get straight to the garage, where we found a front tyre rod controlling the steering
was about to fall off. A bit of wheel alignment was straightforward and I was back to fishing.

Careful driving goes without saying, but many drivers out there think they are Stirling Moss and Evel Knievel rolled into one. Single-lane gravel roads can be treacherous at speed and when you add wet weather, one-lane bridges and other motorists, it can be lethal.

Having the correct gear in your vehicle is important. People are always amazed at what I’ve got in the back of my truck but when you go into remote areas, it’s good to be self-sufficient. Some of the things I carry are tools, air pump, battery jumper cables, bolt cutters, satellite phone, personal locator beacon, tow rope, spare parts and all manner of odds and
sods that have saved my bacon.

Sometimes when I go really remote on gravel roads I even take two spare tyres in case of two flats. Believe me, I’ve seen it happen.

Over the years this gear has been most useful for getting other recreationalists out of trouble. One time I found an English guy up Rainbow Station who had taken a corner too fast and buried his truck in a swamp. It was a big job to extricate him with a 10-metre strop. His lights didn’t work, his brakes were virtually non-existent and the engine was
clogged with mud. I told him to go ahead slowly and we would follow him out to be safe. When he accelerated like a madman, we couldn’t keep up. I never read about him in the paper so I guess he made it to his destination alive.

I’ve had my own share of driving disasters and it’s probably no wonder I prefer Aimee to drive on family outings. It also means I can look out the window for new river access, channels to net flounder or nicelooking ridges to seek venison at
some other time.

Some places are more treacherous than others and the Maruia Valley, between Murchison and Springs Junction, has been the scene of a few incidents I’d rather forget.

As a young man, I hit black ice on the old Pea Soup Creek corner and spun out of control, dinging the car badly. Another time, heading home on the last day of the fishing season, we came around a corner in the dark at open-road speed to find three black cattle in the middle of the road, facing away so their reflective eyes gave no warning. As we slammed on the brakes and went into a big skid, two cows miraculously stepped aside while the third one came up on the bonnet – but fortunately not through the windscreen. There was blood, fur and gore everywhere, but fortunately not ours. Any accident you can walk away from is a good one, in my opinion.

Perhaps my worst accident was tipping into an unmarked culvert up the Maruia while pulling over to fish a favoured fishing location.

I was 50 metres too short and although going only 30kmh, we ended up hanging upside down in a culvert and totally writing off my new truck. Again, we were fortunate to walk away unharmed. The great thing was we didn’t even break a fishing rod.

My last vehicle drama was due to worn battery terminals at Reefton. Luckily, our local helicopter pilot and motelier performed sterling service and with a bit of No 8 wire ingenuity, we were back on the road. The next and last day of fishing was epic and after releasing the biggest fish of the trip, we were relieved when the truck turned over nicely and
we could head for the nearest source of cold beer.

When it comes to going outdoors by road, look after your vehicle and drive carefully, and the odds are good that you’ll be around to enjoy hunting and fishing trips for many years to come.

Keep hunting & fishing strategy simple


© Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Keep hunting strategy simple, Nelson Mail, 2 January 2010
A dreadful Christmas song gets a man thinking about hunting lessons from a German wartime legend.
The Baron’s tactical skills are just as important in modern day fishing and hunting excursions
Spoils of War: Ash Mirfin’s souvenirs include an Iron Cross and letter written on piece of a plane.

This Christmas my children discovered music. Unfortunately they also discovered the song Snoopy’s Christmas and have been thrashing it at volume ever since.

Out on the river lately, guiding anglers in the Rainbow and Molesworth stations, I found myself singing the words of the
Snoopy song over and over again. Walking up river, I thought about the song, the Red Baron, my grandfather’s involvement in World War I, and how it all relates to modern fishing and hunting success.

Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen, aka The Red Baron, was a master fighter pilot and perhaps one of the most mythical and iconic figures of modern warfare. In doing some research for this story I couldn't validate the truthfulness of the Snoopy song and toasting his enemy behind enemy lines, but it sure makes for good folklore. One thing is for
certain, with over 80 confirmed planes shot down during his career, von Richthofen was the best in the business, becoming a celebrity and legend in his own brief lifetime.

Watching TV’s History Channel recently I was transfixed by documentary footage on von Richthofen’s legacy, as the Red Baron and as a hunter of men. The baron’s strategy was simple – attack from a position of surprise and advantage, getting in so close that it was almost impossible to miss when the shooting started. These are the same fundamental elements adopted by successful outdoors people throughout history in their pursuit of game and fish.

Von Richthofen had technical mastery when flying his Fokker tri-plane, but first and foremost he was a hunter flying an aeroplane, one who understood the machinery, habits, and capabilities of his prey – allied airmen. Indeed, he often hunted wild boar and red deer after ‘‘work’’ throughout the war and enjoyed extended hunts during leave back in Germany.

One of the highlights of the war for my grandfather, Ash Mirfin, was watching the Red Baron fly over him in the trenches of northern France, occurrences carefully noted in his extensive war diaries. Fortunately the Mirfin family was spared the
tragedy of the battles for Passchendaele, with Ash and his brother George held back a few weeks to face disciplinary proceedings after a hand grenade exploded accidentally in their UK barracks, injuring some of their West Coast comrades.

Interestingly, according to my grandfather New Zealand ground troops were specifically instructed not to shoot at the
baron on fly-bys, such was the esteem and mana in which the man was held.

The baron’s tactical skills are just as important in modern day fishing and hunting excursions. A major tactic of truly successful outdoorsmen is the ability to avoid detection by species that they are targeting.

With deer, hunters need to sneak around inside bush edges looking out into the open at the change of light, stopping
frequently to look, listen and observe, and above all making sure the wind direction is favourable to a successful stalk. Animals that are harvested without knowing the hunter is present always taste the best too, as they have no adrenalin laced through the meat.

With snapper, fishers need to be in fishing position before daylight to get the best results at the change of light. Small boats with small engines and low revs are the way to go with less engine noise allowing you to ease into position without disturbing fishy residents. Avoid clanking anchor chains or dropping stuff on the bottom of the boat to minimise noise. Depth sounders left on while fishing can scare off wary snapper and we prefer to ease into premium positions before daylight with GPS to be ultra sneaky.

Big boats with larger surface areas scare a lot of fish with wave slap, and by casting a larger shadow on the seafloor of shallow Tasman Bay; while onboard large motor batteries can give off a negative electrical charge around the boat, repelling snapper.

Never roar around with a big motor looking for that perfect reef or selfishly around someone else’s setline, because you will just herd all the sensitive fish further out into the bay.

When fishing is over check out new places that you can GPS for another time, so you can use stealth mode when next you fish. Bait too is important, and fishers should attempt to ‘‘match the hatch’’ and use bait that complements the berley that they use. It’s not rocket science but it makes sense to use bait that the fish are expecting to eat.

With trout, avoid heavy footfalls and splashing about like a wading elephant, or thrashing or ripping the fly line on the water – an activity known as casturbation. My angler on Boxing Day, Jamie from Canada, joked that back home they call it  "fish conservation through incompetence’’.

Be delicate and gentle and think about where the best locations to fish are, perhaps avoiding over-pressured waters, public holidays, or bad moon phases. If a trout refuses to eat your fly, retreat out of sight to eat your lunch and give it a
break. It is amazing how often such fish will take first cast when you sneak back into position with the element of surprise on your side.

Your brain is the most powerful fishing and hunting tool you will ever own and you can train yourself habits and strategies that will allow you to locate and get closer to game and fish without detection.

My friend and outdoors mentor, Dave Heine of Dobson, is one of the best outdoorsmen I know and while Dave may get a little ornery sometimes with me talking too much or having trouble getting out of bed on early starts, I have learnt many lessons on how to be more successful outdoors by careful planning and most of all, the use of stealth.

For fishing guides, every day is a win or lose scenario, with the fishing world being small and guides who develop ‘‘the stink’’ quickly sinking into oblivion. Nelson’s Tony Entwistle, to my mind, is the Red Baron of New Zealand fly fishing guides, still flying high after 30 years in the cockpit, while all around wannabes crash and burn.

You can’t win every day though, and even the Red Baron’s luck ran out when the hunter eventually became the hunted. Shot down by Australian ground troops in 1918, his plane and clothing were stripped within the hour as trophies of war.

But the strategies of the Red Baron have stood the test of time.

This summer, whatever you are hunting or fishing for, make sure you do as the Red Baron did – come out of nowhere and whack’em before they know what happened.

Life in the ultimate outdoor playground

© Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Life in the ultimate outdoor playground, Nelson Mail, 19 December 2009

St Arnaud and the Nelson Lakes offer a world of opportunities.
You could almost miss St Arnaud if you blinked, but the town has enough civilisation to make it a great place to visit.
Snow St Arnaud June 07 017 400
Lakeside views: Jake, left, and Ike Mirfin enjoy the St Arnaud snow from the deck during winter 2007. Photo: SHERRY

BING CROSBY may have dreamed of a white Christmas, but a recent viewing of an old winter photo at Lake Rotoiti made me realise how fortunate we are to have our Christmas in summer, when we can enjoy our food, wine and recreation outside.

Last week, all rivers were high and murky as we blasted through St Arnaud in search of fishable water. My American anglers were fascinated and I began describing what a great place the town was, the outdoor resources nearby, and how the Mirfin family valued our association with the area.

As the gateway to Nelson Lakes National Park on the shores of Lake Rotoiti, you could almost miss St Arnaud if you blinked, but the town has just enough civilisation to make it a great place to visit and stay a while. ‘‘The Lake’’, as most people know the place, has a long and varied history. Julius Von Haast observed in 1859 that, ‘‘I am sure that the time is not far distant when this spot will become the favourite abode of those whose means and leisure will permit them to admire picturesque scenery’’.

Land development, burning and sheep grazing saw the slopes of Mt Robert collapse into the lake, but land stewardship changed in later years, with the area being gazetted into the Nelson Lakes National Park in 1956.

Apparently it is named after Jacques Leroy de Saint Arnaud, French commander in the Crimean War of 1854. Today, the town is heavily populated with Department of Conservation staff and their families looking after the national park.

The Lake has always been a place where many Nelson and Marlborough families have had holiday homes, but
the Mirfins spent a lot of time in the hills and rivers of the Nelson Lakes area before we ever owned our own holiday escape there. I remember many hunting and fishing forays into the valleys of the Travers, Sabine and D’Urville as a boy with my father, Stuart, and brother Scott. Later, in November 1985, Tony and Sharon Entwistle, with their business, Nelson Lakes Guiding Services, were to employ me as an apprentice fishing guide, and I got to spend my first full summer at the lake learning my craft – it’s still a work in progress.

During the 1980s and the 1990s I spent many summers living at the lake and at Lake Rotoroa during my guide days before self employment and business ownership. In the winter of 1992 I even worked as a liftie at Rainbow Valley Skifield but the weather was abysmal and I spent days at the bar with ski buddies, often accumulating an alcohol bill larger than my weekly pay cheque.

During the mid-1990s I abandoned St Arnaud to work in Colorado as a fishing guide during New Zealand winters. The pay was better and American summers far more appealing.

My wife-to-be, Aimee, and I even got marooned at the lake during heavy snowfalls after a chance meeting. Aimee was unable to get back to her job in Christchurch, meaning my days as a single man were numbered. When we married it was at the lake, high up on Mt Robert, looking across toward the clear blue waters and the high peaks of the St Arnaud range on a beautiful early-October day – before the fishing season hit full stride. As my best man (brother Scott) drove me to the Mt Robert car park, we crossed the narrow single-lane Buller River bridge and a lucky fisherman held aloft a fish he had just landed. It had to be an omen.

St Arnaud has always been a lucky spot for me and is held in high regard by my children, who now enjoy St Arnaud holidays with their parents and grandparents in the family lakehouse built in 1994.

My boys thrive on hunting rabbits, and hopefully they will graduate to the numerous quail, duck, goose, deer, pig and chamois hunting opportunities nearby. My dream is that one day they will take their dear old dad out hunting near St Arnaud and remember the fun we had there together as a family.

Our lakehouse is a fabulous family hang-out, complete with animal trophies, paintings and other artworks depicting gamebirds, mountain scenery and brightly coloured brown trout.

It’s hard not to be nostalgic about the great times shared, whether swimming, skiing, skating on the ice-ponds, sailing, water-skiing, or enjoying the antique boat show, boat racing and native birdlife.

One of my favourite St Arnaud residents is Bill Butters, who for many years operated his Rotoiti Water Taxi on the lake.
Bill’s great grandfather, John Kerr Jr, was the first man to release brown trout and whitefish (whitefish failed to acclimatise) into the lake and upper Buller tributaries in 1873, ultimately creating the trout-fishing mecca that St Arnaud was destined to become.

St Arnaud continues to be an epic base for fishing, situated in the headwaters of the Buller, Motueka and Wairau river systems, allowing easy access to these rivers and their numerous tributaries. Situated on the east/west divide, the weather is invariably favourable for fishing somewhere and you can fish to any point of the compass for brown trout. Places such as Lake Rotoroa, Owen River and the rivers of Murchison are nearby to the west; to the east the waters of Rainbow and Molesworth Station beckon enticingly. Maybe, just maybe, St Arnaud and the Nelson Lakes are the ultimate outdoor playground.

Mystique and misbehaviour of Zane Grey


© Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Mystique and misbehaviour of Zane Grey, Nelson Mail, 7 November 2009

An American fishing legend, and his trip to New Zealand left a great legacy, including my name.

Namesake: Zane Mirfin with Zane Grey's Tales of the Angler's Eldorado, New Zealand 1926

Ever since I began fishing, I've known about the legend of American Zane Grey and his 1920s fishing exploits in New Zealand. It wasn't until last Labour Weekend, while on a family holiday at Lake Rotoiti, that I finally got around to reading his epic1926 Kiwi fishing book -Tales of the Angler's Eldorado, New Zealand.

It reads like one of his paperback Western novels and leaves no doubt that Grey was the pioneer of modern fishing in New Zealand.

He documented saltwater and freshwater fishing, caught plenty of big fish and was the first fishing writer to incorporate the character of New Zealand with dialogue on local Maori, native birds, geography and natural history.

Most of Grey's book deals with billfish and shark fishing, but his depiction of the Tongariro and his beloved Dread-nought Pool, to which he was led by Maori guide Hoka Down, and where he was photographed by personal photographer Morton, stand out in my mind.

Grey promoted the Tongariro as the greatest trout stream in the world, and 83 years on, volcanic Lake Taupo and the inflowing tributaries are still one of the great freshwater fish factories of the world.

However, he was not popular with everyone. New Zealand angling historian Bryn Hammond has said his reputation was contrived and everywhere he went he outstayed his welcome, argued and fell out with the locals. In the end he had to pay people to go fishing with him because he was so unpleasant to be around.

Grey had what we in the trade call a Mexican complex, where he saw New Zealanders as "inferior, docile human beings to be used and abused". In spite of this Grey became besotted with young Kiwi actress Nola Luxford, who was able to rebuff his advances yet still use Grey's influence twitch the Hollywood movie studios.

Grey was asked by the New Zealand government in 1925 to visit and promote the tourist fishery to the world. After a 26-day steamer ship journey, he arrived in 1926 with his travelling companion, Captain Mitchell, and their entourage.

He was given star treatment and got to dine with the prime minister, MPs and many other important people of the day.

While freeloading off the New Zealand taxpayer, Grey managed to light an angling fire that still burns brightly to this day. He has probably repaid his debt many times over in the volumes of overseas anglers who have visited our shores since.

Fishing tourism existed well before the time of grey, particularly for the British, but Grey was frustrated by pompous bureaucrats and petty officials who got in the way of access and fishing during his first visit.

Hammond described Grey as "all padding and Fluff", but noted that an internet search showed all number of people and businesses today trying to cash in and gain material advantage from the Zane Grey name. "There are even fishing guides named after him" Hammond said.

I guess this is where the influence of my father, Stuart, comes into play. Dad was an avid reader of Zane Grey paperback westerns in his boyhood - hence my name.

Grey never fished in the South Island, but I have been fortunate to have fished in the footprints of Grey on the Tongariro and in Oregon in the United States. I had a week swinging streamer flies through prime steelhead runs, in classic bedrock pools unchanged since the time of Grey. Later, I learned that he used to hire bouncers to guard prime pools and physically intimidate other anglers into moving on.

It is a little known fact that Grey almost succeeded in his attempts to buy the entire Tongariro River in New Zealand for his own purposes.

He wrote many articles for international sporting magazines highlighting New Zealand fishing, principally in the Bay of Islands, producing heavy tackle world records for the major billfish - striped marlin, black marlin, blue marlin and broadbill.

He held numerous world records during his time, included a 111lb (50.3kg) kingfish, and was a key developer of the teaser, a hookless bait trolled behind a boat that is still used today to attach large game fish.

It is unfortunate that he had so much acrimony with local anglers at the time, but Grey had the last laugh - the game fish techniques and strategies he promulgated in his book are how New Zealanders fish today.


Wildside - Young & Hungry

© Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Young & Hungry, Nelson Mail, 10 October 2009
The opening of the fishing season is a great day for renewing friendships and reminiscing.
❞ We all had a blast. I enjoyed spending time with my boys, explaining all manner of things as we quietly stalked upriver.
Ike and Jake Mirfin with a brown trout caught on opening day 2009.
OPENING day of the trout fishing season has always been one of the highlights of the outdoor calendar. Every year on October 1, thousands of hopeful anglers venture forth, rain or shine, in the hope of catching an easy trout or two.

Part of the attraction is to get out after a long winter cooped up inside, fantasising about clear rivers and new equipment to test. It’s also a great time to celebrate the arrival of spring with the onset of warm, sunny days, green grass, spring lambs and budding willow trees dotting the sinuous curves of the waterways.

Then there are the trout, lean and hungry after a tough winter of spawning and cold waters. Most anglers get excited about visiting favourite locations to see what populations of trout are in residence for the coming season and to target fish that haven’t encountered anglers for at least five months. Opening day can be the worst day of the year to go fishing if you like solitude, but it draws anglers back again and again with a siren call that non-anglers will never understand.

This year, we ventured forth on a family effort with family friend Steve Burns and his son, Tate, aged 4 1⁄2. My two boys, Jake, nine, and Ike, seven, were keen to go on their first opening day, too, and were wide awake at the first blast of the alarm clock at 5.15am.

The Burns and Mirfin families have been friends as long as I can remember. Our fathers, Neville and Stuart, were hunting buddies long before we ever did family stuff together, and the three Burns boys and two Mirfin lads have great memories of many days over many decades of fishing and hunting together.

This year, opening day was even more special because Neville had died last Christmas.  Neville was a fantastic man, the epitome of enthusiasm, and he had a wonderful sense of humour. He was a great friend, mentor and role model to many young men, including the Mirfins.

Last year, on the eve of opening day for 2008, Neville phoned me to fine-tune the details about taking his grandson,
Tate, and my boy, Ike, fishing, but I had bad news for him. The weather forecast was abysmal – snow, rain and
freezing polar blasts. ‘‘We’ll go,’’ said Neville enthusiastically.  ‘‘It’ll be good.’’

I talked Neville out of going that day – too far to go in bad weather. The kids would get wet and cold. Fishing would be
a waste of time, etc.

All sensible comments, but I was really stupid and I have kicked myself ever since that Neville and I never got to fish
together again. I had broken my golden rule that if you get asked on a hunting and fishing trip, you should go. So opening day 2009, Steve and I were going to go fishing with our boys, come hell or high water.

We went early, and to our delight, Neville’s favourite opening-day fishing location was all ours. We decided to split up, with Steve and Tate heading for one branch of the river and the Mirfins fishing another, agreeing to meet up at lunchtime by the vehicle.

We all had a blast. I enjoyed spending time with my boys, explaining all manner of things as we quietly stalked upriver.

We had to navigate fences, inflowing creeks, prickly bushes and mud puddles. The fishing was slow, but I was able
to keep the boys interested as they learnt outdoor lessons along the way and I kept my eyes on the water.

We saw a few fish, but they weren’t doing much. The moon phase was poor and the water very cold. Close to lunchtime, we retreated to the car fishless, my tail between my legs.

Steve and Tate had not returned, so the boys practised casting with their spinning rod. I was impressed at how much
the boys had improved from earlier attempts – and out of the corner of my eye, upstream in a pool we had fished earlier, I finally spied a feeding trout, swinging from side to side in the current. This was more like it, and my cast furled out, straight and true like a lover’s kiss. The fly sank home, the rod bent and bucked, and that magic feeling that makes trout fishing so addictive signalled that the fishing season had finally begun.

Ike took over the rod and fought the fish with sore arms until he finally had it flapping in the shallows, while Jake managed to net the fish on his third attempt. The boys were jubilant, but when I suggested releasing the 2kg jack, both were close to tears as they insisted we take it home. ‘‘OK,’’ I said, ‘‘but you’ll have to kill and gut it.’’ So we had a lesson on how to clean a fish and ended up looking at all the various bugs in the gullet that the fish had been eating. Ike even pulled out a freshly eaten mouse from inside the trout.

Soon, Steve and Tate were back with a tale of woe about a lost fish, but not much else. It didn’t matter. The three boys had a great time together, playing on the edge of the river while Steve cooked sausages on a gas cooker for lunch.

It was just like the old days, a generation before, as boys with the names Burns and Mirfin soaked up outdoor memories and experiences that would stand them in good stead for life in the years ahead.

In my experience, opening day has never been a good time to catch a lot of fish, but it is always a great day to renew friendships, revisit favourite places and remember old friends. I can’t wait until next year to do it all again.

Nothing beats a whirlybird.


© Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Nothing beats a whirlybird, Nelson Mail, 26 September 2009

East Coast Helicopter Pick Up: Ken August, USA, loads up after a great day's fishing

Helicopters make everything easier - from finding choice hunting and hunting spots to getting safely out of them.

Some of my greatest trips have been in Hughies and the craft has plenty of reserve power for dicey boulder landings or backing out from under overhanging forest canopies in tight river gorges.

Helicopters are just great machines. They have speed, manoeuvrability and space-age looks to be the perfect magic carpet ride to choice hunting and fishing locations.

Helicopters have always fascinated me. I'm not a pilot but I enjoy getting skyward whenever I can, enjoying wonderful views and epic adventure.

As a guide, I'I've been fortunate to travel regularly in helicopters as part of my job and I've had hundreds of helicopter rides exploring the length of the South Island over the past two decades or so.

The northern South Island has many helicopter companies and we are spoiled for choice in a region awash in helicopters.

My favourite is the old workhouse Hughes 500 - the C,D,and E models. The H500 is a really grunty machine, with that characteristic whine of the turbine engines. Some of my greatest trips have been in Hughies and the craft has plenty of reserve power for dicey boulder landings or backing out from under overhanging forest canopies in tight river gorges.

Helicopter travel is generally safe with the industry being heavily regulated by Civil Aviation, and helicopter maintenance is regularly monitored and audited. Skilled pilots are in abundance and many of the older pilots came from the halcyon venison recovery days in the 70s and 80s when deer were hunted to very low numbers.

There are some great books available from this era and Mike Bennett's The Venison Hunters is a classic. If you want a real thrill, buy a copy of The Last Great Adventure on DVD. It has some phenomenal flying footage of the pursuit of deer, with live capture guys throwing themselves out of helicopters on to the backs of fleeing deer.

The wild west cowboy days were not to last, however, as animal numbers dwindled, deer farming came on stream and wild animal export markets dried up.

Helicopter companies then moved into agriculture, forestry and tourism with a lot of work from government departments and organisations such as the Conservation Department and Animal Health Board.

Early in my guiding career, helicopter access was fabulous because we could go wherever we wanted. But regulation crept in as DOC management plans progressively excluded helicopter access and limited the numbers of operators with concessions in certain areas.

Today, helicopter-free areas in the Northern South Island include Molesworth Station, Paparoa Wilderness Area, Tasman Wilderness Area, and now restrictions for flying into the main-stem Karamea in Kahurangi National Park.

All the new rules achieve is to increase hunting and fishing pressure in smaller geographical areas.

Interestingly, in Kahurangi National Park, as tourism and recreational helicopter users are increasingly managed, DOC acknowledges that the majority of helicopter use in the park is by its staff.

Some of the ugly aspects of helicopter use include balance of power issues, with many helicopter companies competing for access to the same resources. Some days it can be like playing musical helicopters as everyone is racing for the same location.

Many recreational hunters are concerned about commercial helicopter shooting. Contentious issues are the shooting of trophy stags, chamois bucks and Thar bulls by overseas tourists from choppers and the technique known as "spot and drop", where a trophy animal is herded into a place where the tourist hunter can disembark from the helicopter before shooting the animal. The NZ Deerstalkers Association, of which I'm a member, opposes this practise, which seriously affects recreational hunting.

Fishing etiquette is also vital with helicopters, with good guides and recreational anglers always flying the water first to check for other anglers, while staying high enough not to spook the trout.

Most trampers are generally accepting of helicopters, especially when they understand that helicopter access often Pre-dates tramping use of some wilderness areas.

Good helicopter pilots are great people and I've been fortunate to fly with many of New Zealand's legendary pilots. Some of the long-time pilots have a lot of knowledge and history to share and time in the air can be handy when things don't go to plan or the weather closes in unexpectedly.

Some of my greatest adventures have been based around the weather and I have fond memories of helicopter trips in abysmal conditions. One time, we were stranded at the Mohikinui Forks hut for days as a rainstorm created a massive flood that reached up into the trees on both sides of the wide valley.

The first time the helicopter came fro us, there was nowhere to land so the pilot had to leave us there. When he returned the next day we had to swim a flooded channel, with gear, to reach the chopper.

Another time on the West Coast, the weather totally crapped out and we were fogged in with abysmal visibility. I knew it was bad when the pilot landed on the tops and took the doors off to stop us soaking-wet anglers fogging the bubble.

I sat there in the back with freezing cold wind whistling past my frozen ears and hands, holding on for grim death to all the doors that were on my lap as we made it to safety following the sag in power wires to the Buller River below.

Whether it's at the start or end of a successful wilderness adventure, the approaching whine of the helicopter turbines kick-starts an adrenaline turbo-charge through the veins.

Climate change be damned, I'll burn my A1 jet fuel and av-gas any time.


When the Kahurangi Lion Roared


Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, When the Kahurangi Lion Roared, The Nelson Mail, August 29, 2009


Outdoors people can have thousands of safe and enjoyable experiences in New Zealand, but things sometimes turn pear-shaped without warning.

"As I reached the main river I witnessed a huge wall of water, carrying whole trees, as the river exploded in front of my eyes"

Our kids are only allowed to watch one weeknight TV programme and this winter they chose Man vs Wild.  This is where a British ex-military guy, armed only with a knife, challenges himself to survive in hostile environments all over the world.  I had the greatest time snuggling up with four children in the spare room watching the programme with them.  Explaining things to the kids along the way, it was great to see them thinking and asking about survival and coping in the outdoors. After the programme we would
often talk about some of my own adventures in the outdoors and I’d regale them with tales of land crabs in equatorial Kiribati, fishing with bears in British Columbia, living on moose meat with Lapp reindeer herders north of the Arctic Circle, even catching trout in Colorado lakes at altitudes higher than Mt Cook.

My heart as an outdoorsman belongs firmly in New Zealand, and here I’ve had thousands of happy, safe and enjoyable outdoor experiences and episodes. But ones that really stand outare where things haven’t gone as planned and an outdoor trip has become an outdoor survival epic.

Most of my truly gruelling adventures have involved water, particularly extreme rainfall and flooded rivers.  On one hunting trip into the remote Whataroa River in South Westland, we were marooned on a piece of high ground between an absolutely angry main river and two raging side creeks.  Confined to a sodden pup tent for four days in abysmal deluge conditions, it was quite an experience.

With improved knowledge and modern equipment, the outdoors should be a much safer place. Regrettably, this isn’t always so and people still regularly make bad decisions and take fatal risks.

Perhaps my greatest outdoor challenge so far was in Kahurangi National Park, on the banks of the famed Roaring Lion River.
 It had rained overnight, but the river was low and clear as I crossed at daylight in search of some easy venison before the chopper was due to pick us up at lunchtime.

We had just completed an arduous fishing adventure further up the river on foot and I was feeling bullet-proof. Under-dressed in shorts, poly-pro singlet, PVC raincoat and a
knife belt, I commenced stalking around grassy river-flat areas hoping for a deer to show itself, when it happened.

Water appeared from nowhere in a gushing waterfall high on the hillside above the Beautiful River (a Roaring Lion tributary), and in one motion I turned and ran toward the main river instinctively knowing what was going to happen next.

As I ran up the dry riverbed, water rushed to meet me.  Dirty water, mixed with sticks and vegetation, rose alarmingly up my legs.  As I reached the main river I witnessed a huge wall of water, carrying whole trees, as the river exploded in front of my eyes. A
shot from my rifle alerted my sleeping companions to my plight as the full might of the storm hit.  I couldn’t find shelter as the rain fair pelted down, turning the forest floor into a swamp. Sitting helplessly under a tree, I started to get cold, and being wet, I started shivering. Without shelter I was probably going to die.

There would be no help from my companions across the flooded river, the helicopter was never going to arrive in such conditions, and the only person who could solve my predicament was me.  I decided to make shelter and came up with an idea of using the numerous tree ferns available. Making an A-frame structure, I dragged two rotten logs together to go underneath to get me up off the swampy ground. I spent an hour or so cutting fern fronds with my hunting knife, dressing the shelter, and staying warm in the process.  At last I was ready to crawl inside, pulling ferns across the small entrance way. Above me the storm raged as I lay warm and snug in my dark bunker.

When the storm abated, I emerged from shelter, and went to check out the Roaring Lion which while raging had become less angry.  Fred managedto throw a can of corn beef and a silver-foil space blanket across the narrowest point in a plastic bag.  It didn’t quite make it but I was able to scoop the rapidly sinking bag up with a long stick while hanging out over the river on a small tree, to the cheers of my companions.

Darkness came suddenly, and I retreated 400 metres back into the forest, but I couldn’t find my shelter anywhere.  Blundering around, I realised I was facing my second predicament of the day and while at least it wasn’t raining anymore, the wind was rising
while the temperature dropped.  Wrapping my foil safety blanket around me,I cursed as the old folded foil broke into a hundred useless rectangles.  I spent the night so cold I thought my  chattering teeth were going to crack every tooth in my jaws, and ended up
running round and round a tree in an attempt to stay warm and avoid nodding
off into oblivion. 

Just when I thought I couldn’t last much longer, a pinprick of light through the forest canopy showed daylight was on the way.  Soon the dawn chorus was in full swing as I checked the Lion in the half light. While still big it was clear enough to see the bottom.
Bouncing downstream through the chest-and-neck deep crossing with my rifle held over my head, I emerged 50m downstream on the other side, to big hugs from my concerned companions who had hardly slept all night worrying about the idiot on the other side.

Interestingly, Aimee (in the days before marriage) had called home that night while on holiday in France after a bad dream sensing that her beau was in big trouble.

As the chopper pulled us to safety later in the morning, I reflected on the close shave. Since that time, I’ve been more careful outdoors and will always remember the time when I saw the Lion roar.

The Rat Pack.

©Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column- The Rat Pack, The Nelson Mail, August 15, 2009
Mouse feeders are often easy to identify, with wide thickset flanks, big full bellies with hard nugget-like chunks being able to be felt from the outside...
Huge New Zealand trout feasting on rats and mice are the stuff every trout angler dreams of. Big, fat, heavy brown trout, engorged on a turbo-charged, protein rich diet of rodents are something to marvel at and enjoy. But it only happens once in a blue moon, in those special years when the native beech forest produces an abundance of surplus seed, which causes rodent populations to explode in number.

Most New Zealand trout are limited in size by the food available to them. Many trout streams here have limited fertility and are not the insect-rich waters that premier overseas waters often are. So, when they get a bumper terrestrial food source, trout are only too happy to take advantage of it.

Recently, I read reports in the Nelson Mail about increased catches of rodents and predators by volunteer trappers in the Brook Waimarama Sanctuary area. I also noticed a few more rodents around my garage this winter before I put out bait stations, with the excellent name of ‘‘departure lounges’’.

With the general trout fishing season due to open on October 1, I’ve been busy fielding inquiries from international anglers interested in the fishing prospects for the coming season. Reports from Nelson Lakes Conservation Department staff would indicate that a spectacular beech seeding in autumn has paved the way for a substantial increase in rodent populations in the spring and summer.

New Zealand rodents range from small to a massive 30 centimetres for a big Norway rat. Rodents are prodigious breeders and a female rat can produce 12 litters of 20 rats each year, according to pest contractors Target Pest, potentially having the ability to have thousands of descendants a year, which is a lot of trout food.

When rodent populations boom, their predators, such as stoats, ferrets and weasels, also peak, which is bad news for native birds and invertebrates, which suffer when rodent numbers abate. Cuddly little critters such as rats and mice don’t get a lot of positive press from government organisations and the media, but they are actually pretty interesting animals and, whether we like it or not, they are part of the history of humanity as well.

European history is richly laced with tales of rats and mice. In New Zealand, rats were of cultural importance well before Europeans arrived on the scene, with kiore or Polynesian rats being a treasured part of Maori culture, having spiritual value to some iwi. Maori considered kiore a delicacy. Rats fattened on a diet of berries and invertebrates were trapped and preserved in their own fat for those cold winter days, long before Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse, Ratatouille or self-styled love rat Major James Hewitt.

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate as a recreational angler and professional fly-fishing guide to have been involved in the capture of an unfair share of very large brown trout, many of which have been fattened on rodents. Some seasons’ trout will be 1kg to 2kg heavier than normal in many rivers, and we all dream of trophy trout 4.5kg and bigger.

So how do the mice and rats end up in the water?  It seems rodents range far and wide nocturnally for food, move to new territories, die of hypothermia, drown, and fall or swim in rivers and so become available as trout fodder.

Most mouse-fed trout are caught on traditional tackle offerings such as dry flies and weighted nymphs during the daytime, although we have caught trout on mouse imitations fished during the night shift. Slow-stripping a large floating deerhair mouse imitation across a still pool after dark can provide exciting fishing, although, interestingly, the trout usually take the mouse imitation quite softly.

Rubber mouse imitations or other topwater poppers also work well on spinfishing gear, with the advantage being that anglers can cover larger distances with longer casts and also avoid standing in the water among the eels. Mouse feeders are often easy to identify, with wide, thick-set flanks, big full bellies with hard nugget-like chunks being able to be felt from the outside of the fish. Trout can eat multiple rodents and fish with up to several dozen mice inside have been recorded.

Sometimes with rats, I’ve seen a rat’s tail hanging out of a captured fish’s mouth. I remember one captured trout regurgitating dead mice in the net. Big trout act like a magnet to overseas anglers and word of big fish present will prompt many anglers to book longer and more adventurous trips.

One overseas fishing agent is already playing the mouse card, with worldwide recession and lower than normal bookings requiring different strategies to attract high-value, big-spending tourist anglers. Personally, I’m waiting until I get on to the water and have a look around this coming fishing season before I talk too much about mice and rats.  If the hype fails to match reality and the big fish just aren’t there, a river can be a lonely place as you attempt to be a modern-day Rumpelstiltskin trying to spin straw into gold.

Secretly, however, I’m hoping a big rodent year will happen and that the big trout will appear like magic. It might be tough on the native birds but the trout fisherman in me says ‘‘bring on the mice’’. Let’s just hope the Department of Conservation isn’t crying wolf – or in this case, rodent – because, when you’re a hardcore trout bum, you can never have too many mice. Hickory, dickory, dock.

Landowners open to access

© Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Landowners open to access, Nelson Mail, 18 July 2009
River view: Zane Mirfin at Little Grey Bridge near Ikamatua.

Access to fishing and hunting resources has always been a hot topic.

Fortunately, in New Zealand we are surrounded by ocean, rivers and mountains which are mostly accessible to all. With about one-third of the land mass managed by government agencies, public access for fishing and hunting is good by international standards.

Practical access to public lands, however, is still not without problems. For example, the 111 government-owned Landcorp properties scattered throughout New Zealand are arguably some of the most difficult for the public to access.

Some of the best outdoor access in New Zealand is available through private land once permission has been given by private owners. I’ve always believed that private property rights are sancrosanct and owners must always have the absolute right to say who is able to be on their land. Many landowners are incredibly generous and I regularly marvel at the generosity and assistance of private landowners in allowing access across their properties to rivers, beaches and other public places.

Last week, we were away on a late season duck-hunting trip in Canterbury where I was humbled by the many fantastic landowners who welcomed us on to their properties, helped us access the river and gave freely of their local knowledge and goodwill.

One farming lady, with her charming and vivacious personality, capped off a great day as she chatted on the riverbank, sharing in our hunting success.

One landowner arranged access through his neighbour’s property, while another farmer worked with our topographical maps to work out the best way to access a duckcamp we had located. We appreciated the time, energy and opportunities these people put into the success of our hunting trip.

While we each shot plenty of ducks, the highlight for me was the great people we met.

I’ve always been impressed, that in most cases, a polite and reasonable request for access will usually be granted. With opportunity, though, comes responsibility to the landowner because access is always a privilege, not a right. Always obey the house rules and instructions and try hard to be a model guest as others may follow in your footsteps.

Never take access for granted and never go back so many times that you wear out your welcome.

Access changes over time as properties sell, managers move on and owners need to develop access strategies that are relevant to their properties. Recreational people should always take a refusal for access with good grace. Landowners may not be able to allow access but may suggest you try again after lambing, or direct you to a legal road where access to a river is possible. The local knowledge of landowners can be valuable and we are lucky New Zealand landowners are so friendly and reasonable to the recreational public.

In my family line, access has always been an important topic. Being a sixth generation Nelsonian, my mother’s family’s connection here began with Thomas and Anne Hill stepping off the sailing ship Thomas Harrison in Port Nelson in October 1842.

Hunting and fishing were tough pursuits in the old Britain, being the realm of the wealthy and privileged, but with the advent of local acclimatisation societies, fish and game species were introduced throughout the country so all new residents would soon be able to hunt and fish for the price of a common licence fee – a radical concept in its time.

On the same boat out was my great-great grandfather on my father’s side of the family. Captain John Walker must have been quite a character, being on first name terms with many of New Zealand’s early explorers and surveyors. His cutter, the Supply, regularly dropped off such passengers around the northern South Island.

Captain Walker’s achievements included being the first European to successfully navigate the treacherous Buller River bar in a sailing ship when he landed surveyors John and James Rochfort ashore in 1859.

The personal effects of Captain Walker are now on permanent display at the Nelson Provincial Museum – something I enjoy every time I visit the museum with my family.

While Walker didn’t require access permission for most of his landings, his family wasn’t above stopping others having access when it didn’t suit. Brother George Walker won the tender to build a road through the Warwick Saddle between the Matakitaki and Maruia rivers. When the job was completed in 1864, the Nelson Provincial Government was so impoverished it could not pay but gave Maruia land and an extensive grazing lease in lieu of money. The Walkers ran the
upper Maruia River (between modern-day Murchison and Springs Junction) like a feudal kingdom in the years up to the World War 1 and bought up strategic blocks to stop others farming there – a process known as ‘‘gridironing’’. They even had a chain of properties down the Buller and Grey rivers to move their cattle to market. The Walker luck ran out,
however, when about 1920, the government of the day requisitioned all the Maruia land, forcing the Walker’s to sell so land could be allocated to returning soldiers.

William Craven Mirfin Sr gained access and ownership of his prime land in a most innovative way, too. Extensive diary notes show that he was a good friend of explorer Thomas Brunner (1821-1874). On Brunner’s advice and previous exploration knowledge, Mirfin put in a claim for the first Mirfin farm cradled between the Rough, Little Grey and Big Grey rivers, near modern day Ikamatua. When Mirfin was named as roading engineer to build a road down the north side of the Grey, his land claim was rapidly processed. Then as now, who you know mattered. William Craven Mirfin Jr later married Captain Walker’s daughter, Sarah, and took over responsibility for the farm.

This same land was later farmed by my grandfather, Ash Mirfin, and his brothers Bryce and George. Roughly hewn out of the West Coast bush by axe, saw and fire, the Rough River block teemed with fallow deer in the days long before 1080 poison.

My father, his brother and their cousins were always wanting their fathers to limit hunting access to family only but the older Mirfins said no, always allowing access to anyone who asked. In hindsight, it turned out to be an excellent access policy, with no-one able to remember any problems resulting from open access. In fact, decades later, fishing and hunting access is still pretty good around Ikamatua for those willing and able to make a polite and reasonable request.

If you read the papers and listen to the TV news too much you could mistakenly believe that access to the outdoors has become a real problem. Of recent years, though, I’ve become heartened about the quality of access throughout New Zealand and believe we really should be thankful that private landowners are such reasonable and decent people. It’s the bureaucrats who control public lands we really need to watch out for.

Salmon epitomises a lifestyle

© Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Salmon Epitomises a lifestyle, Nelson Mail, 25 April 2009
More than a meal: Neil Goldie with the salmon Zane caught on the Waimakariri.

Salmon are a magnificent fish in every regard. Large, powerful and sleek, they ascend many South Island rivers in late summer and autumn to spawn and die in their natal high-country rivers.

Living most of their life at sea, they are ocean-going nomads that feast on the bounty of the tides, growing large and strong for their return to fresh water to complete the circle of life.

Fishing the Wairau River over the past few months has got me excited about salmon again. While it is not legal to fish for salmon above Marlborough’s Wash Bridge, I have observed very good numbers of salmon while pursuing trout. Not usually considered a good salmon river, the Wairau appears to be getting better year after year.

Apparently, a Fish and Game count observed 800 salmon last season and it will be interesting to know what the annual helicopter survey comes up with this year.

I can’t remember ever seeing multiple pools with large, strong fish in residence in the upper river. Seeing a black mass of salmon is exciting and watching up to 30 salmon chasing around the pool sure doesn’t help the trout fishing but makes for a great visual highcountry treat. Let’s hope the salmon make the most of it before proposed hydro-electric development and canals ruin the river. Maybe the pending Environment Court case will help the salmon of the Wairau.

Salmon are largely a phenomenon of the eastern South Island, although good runs have now become established in Westland on rivers such as the Taramakau and Hokitika.

Further south, the South Westland lakes of Mapourika and Paringa have produced good salmon this season for boat anglers trolling lures. Lester Higgins, of Brightwater, has put in the hours there this season and taken six salmon of 3 kilograms to 4.5kg.

Pacific salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) are an introduced gamefish from the West Coast of
North America. Commonly known in New Zealand as quinnat salmon, they should more correctly be known as chinook salmon. While the New Zealand populations have never been able to emulate those in their home waters, until recently we have had the only successful transplanted runs in the southern hemisphere. South American populations of
chinook have now become established, mostly from escapees from commercial sea cage operations.

In my trips to British Columbia in Canada in the mid-1990s, the runs of salmon were incredible. Multiple salmon species jammed the river and watching them spawn was simply awesome. It also made for great fishing, as target species such
as rainbows, steelhead and dolly varden char lined up behind the spawning salmon to gorge on eggs.

In Colorado, I had great years of fishing for landlocked kokanee salmon ascending the Gunnison river, and it was possible to catch fish until your arm fell off.

Here in New Zealand, we used to take annual trips to the highcountry waters of North Canterbury in April to experience a ‘‘mini - Alaska’’ on the spring creeks of the Rakaia and Rangitata, catching chubby rainbow trout up to 4.5kg that were feeding heavily on eggs behind the spawning salmon. Sadly, Fish and Game has closed these streams to fishing, citing the spread of the invasive alga didymo.

Commercial pen raising of salmon has become big business.  Freshwater raising happens around the country and an interesting phenomenon occurs when surplus feed drifts beyond the salmon cages to fatten outsize rainbow and brown
trout, which have at times grown to 20kg.

Closer to home, I’ve taken nieces fishing at a salmon farm in Canterbury where the fish are paid for by the kilo. Not a pristine wilderness experience but for a first fishing experience for youngsters, it sure was a lot of fun.

Salmon in New Zealand face many threats, including tough ocean conditions, ending up as commercial by-catch at sea and running the gauntlet of recreational anglers in fresh water. Perhaps the biggest threat is the damage to their habitat due to lack of water through hydroelectric developments and irrigation schemes. Many salmon smolt heading downriver to the sea are diverted into irrigation canals and end their short lives flapping on pastureland. Possibly some of the new up-and-coming fisheries with protected headwaters, such as the Westland populations and those of the Wairau, may become increasingly important to the sustainability of wild self-sustaining populations of salmon in the future.

Most salmon are caught with metal hardware, the most popular lures being the ticer and zed spoon (or zeddie), mostly with a silver finish, although more exotic colour offerings have found favour in recent years. Salmon are not eating when they enter fresh water and the lures aim to irritate fish to strike through territorial aggression. Lures need to be fished close to the bottom in prime resting holes and first light has always been a favoured time to catch salmon.

They can also be persuaded to take a large fly, which is usually presented with the assistance of a large banana sinker to reach the bingo zone. Once hooked, salmon fight strongly, but it is the effort involved that makes them so special.  They are known as the ‘‘fish with no mouths’’ or the ‘‘fish of 10,000 casts’’, and some Kiwis take decades to catch their first one.

My last salmon was no monster but when I hooked up in a side channel of the Waimakariri, my mate and guide, Neil Goldie, was even more excited than I was. That salmon was a special fish that represented way more than just a tasty meal. To me, it epitomised everything great about our freshwater fisheries and the anglers who fish them. Long may salmon continue to swim in our waterways for us to enjoy and appreciate.

Look, listen, be willing to try something new and stay fresh


© Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Look, listen, be willing to try something new and stay fresh, Nelson Mail, 11 April 2009
Wilberforce 400
Another horizon:  Scott Mirfin enjoying a new outdoors experience in North Canterbury’s Wilberforce Valley.

Fishing and hunting are like sex – you’re only limited by your imagination... FISHING CLIENT

Fishing and hunting is supposed to be fun and exciting. But lately when out snapper fishing in my boat, the magic just wasn’t there for me. It wasn’t because we weren’t catching fish – it was because I hadn’t used my imagination.

Out twice this week, I took my brother-in-law from Melbourne and his eldest daughter, and then an old mate from varsity days.

My guests had a great time and thought the snapper fishing was epic, and it was good fun, but what I did wrong for myself was go back to the same old places where I had been successful in the past.

Catching fish had become routine and turned into a fish-harvesting exercise rather than a fun recreational sport.

I’ve always loved the excitement of visiting new locations and challenging myself in different conditions in the outdoors.

Exploring new places and learning new things is more than half the fun of hunting and fishing and will always make you a better outdoorsman.

Becoming a creature of habit and pounding the same locations doesn’t have much going for it, and running back to favourite spots time and time again is fraught, because ‘‘never-fail’’ locations will always let you down.

If you understand the habits and behaviour of the fish and game you seek, and know a range of locations under different weather, environmental and seasonal conditions, you will always be better placed long-term to be consistently successful.

Trying new places can take time, energy, and initially you may not do as well, but ultimately it will make you much more successful. Like an elderly American client once told me, ‘‘fishing and hunting are like sex – you’re only limited by your

From the earliest times humans have been explorers. When hunting grounds became overcrowded or when lands became uninhabitable through natural disasters or warfare, they needed to find new locations to support them.

Our forebears endured abysmal conditions in the hope of a new and better life in New Zealand. We are lucky that they succeeded in their endeavours and that now all we have to do is concentrate on enjoying the egalitarian sporting paradise they created.

When it comes to trying new places for hunting and fishing, embrace change and learn to enjoy it.

Many outdoors individuals get stuck in a rut and keep going back to the same places and doing the same things. Often they complain that the hunting and fishing are no longer any good, but I think boredom and familiarity can destroy the experience. A little innovation and exploration can add wonders to your attitude, enjoyment and results.

One of my good mates describes the definition of insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

For about six or seven years, a group of mates and I would go on an annual fishing and exploration trip together each October. We fished areas such as Golden Bay, South Canterbury, Central Otago, South Westland, among others, and while we’ve had a recess for a couple of years while careers and family take precedence, I’m really looking forward to the next trip together which is written down as Southland.

My brother Scott and I have always enjoyed testing out some great new spots together over the years, whether it be a new kingfish spot, a new channel to set a flounder net, or a new bluff system to climb after a shaggy bull thar.

One day I particularly enjoyed was exploring the Wilberforce Valley in North Canterbury for brown and rainbow trout. It was a truly magical high-country day and something to cherish for years to come.

My last two decades or so as a fishing guide have been great for learning new areas and I’ve been fortunate to have been all over the South Island by foot, vehicle, jetboat, helicopter and raft, searching for the holy grail. I still haven’t found it – but I’m not giving up just yet.

Trying new places needn’t be a hazardous exercise and often minor variations in your approach can work wonders.

For example with trout fishing, I often try to fish a river from the least popular side, or approach a trout pool from an unorthodox angle or try fishing that same location at some unusual time of day.

Experimentation coupled with exploration can make you a more diverse, experienced, and successful outdoorsman. But most of all it’s fun and exciting, keeping you fresh and young.

As a professional fishing guide I try to dedicate time every day to trying something different – trying a new location, a new fly, a new technique, a different approach.

When it comes to learning new locations always listen to what other people have to say as well. ‘‘Big ears, small mouth’’ is what a West Coast friend likes to say.

You can learn a lot and create some wonderful outdoor opportunities for yourself by listening carefully, asking questions, and learning from the experiences of other people.

But at the end of the day, you’ll still have to get off your backside and do the hard work yourself, because there is no substitute for experiencing it first-hand.

As the world’s No 1 boy scout, the very late Lord Baden-Powell, wisely said, ‘‘time spent in reconnaissance is never wasted’’.

Fishing in the Marlborough Sounds

©Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column-Playground in the Heart and Mind, Nelson Mail, January 17, 2009
The Marlborough Sounds would have to be one of the wonders of the world. A recent family holiday there made me realise that there is always something special about family holidays with the opportunity to renew and strengthen family ties together.

After being on the road a lot lately working hard guiding customers, it was a welcome escape into the bosom of the Mirfin family for some serious fun and relaxation.

Covering a huge geographic area, the Sounds are a complex mosaic of drowned river valleys, headlands, bays, rugged coastlines, islands, tidal passages and blue water magic.
They have a rich history of Maori and European exploration and settlement, and names
such as Queen Charlotte, Port Underwood, Tory Channel, Endeavour Inlet, Portage, Kenepuru, Havelock, Penzance, Forsyth Island, Elaine Bay, Bulwer, Okiwi Bay, Croisilles Harbour, French Pass and D’Urville Island leap off any Marlborough Sounds map.

Among the explorers, Maori, and whaling, farming and fishing families associated with the sounds, the name of maritime explorer Dumont D’Urville stands alone.  In 1826, D’Urville set sail on the Astrolabe on a three-year voyage of exploration and scientific inquiry. His investigation of Tasman Bay and the discovery of French Pass and D’Urville
Island were significant contributions to the discovery of New Zealand’s coastline.

Today there are literally hundreds of places for modern explorers to visit in the
Sounds and the area is a vital outdoor playground in the hearts and minds of
thousands of people from the northern South Island and beyond.

Roading in the Sounds is as good as it has ever been and even the most remote
places can now be reached within a twotothree-hour drive from Nelson or
Blenheim – a far cry from the early bridle tracks, which were one horse wide. Boat access is virtually unlimited, with the main entry points being Picton,
Havelock, Tennyson Inlet and Okiwi Bay. Whatever way you access the
Marlborough Sounds, it doesn’t take long to figure out that the area is very special
to a whole lot of people.

The Mirfin family has been fortunate to have had regular family holidays down the Sounds with family friends for more than 35 years and these memories are treasured
and enshrined in family folklore and photo albums.

This trip was not such a frenzy as in times past when my brother and I, as single men, often fished like mad men. No more dawn starts, always back before dark, and more time spent with wives, parents and children made for a relaxing holiday.

We had a great time with the kids, six youngsters having a wonderful time with their cousins and their grandparents. The kids swam, fished, fossicked and built sandcastles on the beach, saw closeup live dolphin action, explored rock pools, built huts, trapped possums with Granddad and went on treasure hunts and searched for pirates.

My older boys, at six and eight years old, have developed into demon fishermen, often out-fishing their father, uncle and grandfather this trip. It was fun teaching them the fine art of setting nets and setlines, as well as them learning the various merits of synthetic
soft baits, metal jigs, and traditional cutbaits to fish on their rods. Watching the boys fishing from the boat and wharf, helping bait their hooks and taking the fish off their lines was fun, but watching them develop selfreliance, independence, perserverance
and confidence was priceless.

The Marlborough Sounds are a fish rich environment and although those people holidaying and fishing in the inner Sounds this summer will have been mourning the loss of blue cod from their diet with last year’s imposition of the notake zone for the fish, we were fortunate to be able to enjoy many fine blue cod dinners with fish from the outer Sounds.

We also got to harvest and eat many more fish species, including snapper, gurnard, rig, monkfish, kahawai, flounder, moki and butterfish, as well as catching a few less palatable species like spotties, mullet and stingray. The individual fish species’ different
behaviours and habitat preferences made for valuable learning experiences for the

I learned lessons too, like the need to have sharper knives to process fish with or to be more organised with my fishing equipment so there was a quicker turnaround when a jig was lost on the sea bottom or a hook was bitten off by a barracouta. The lessons learnt this trip give something to aspire to on our next adventure and something to plan and
think about during those times when we can’t go fishing.

The Marlborough Sounds have been a marvellous training ground for me personally over many decades and it is special to me that my children can experience and enjoy this world-class area and resource also.

Sure, the fishing and hunting may not be what they were in times past, but our latest adventure together as a family showed that great sporting resources still exist and are readily accessible to most people with a little effort and exploration, whatever their age, sex or ability.

Special Anglers

©Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, It's not just about the Fish, Nelson Mail, 20 December 2008


A good day out: Zane Mirfin with his latest celebrity client, Eric King-Turner, 103. Mail photo: MARTIN DE RUYTER

 As a guide, you have to really enjoy people because if you’re only in it for the money you just won’t last long. It can be tough hard work but fishing or hunting is far more than just catching or killing.

After all the media coverage of 103-yearold fly fisherman Eric King-Turner lately, everywhere I go someone wants
to know more about Eric and his day out fishing on which I guided him.

Eric is an amazing man and not just because he happens to be old. He is as sharp as a tack with a wonderful sense of humour.

Catching a lovely Motueka brown trout totally unaided was a good result for a guy who turns 104 years old in April, but
what I enjoyed most about the day was chatting with Eric about his fishing experiences and some of the fishing icons he
had known from the UK, such as nymph fishing legends Oliver Kite and Frank Sawyer, and the streams they had shared with Eric. This link to the past for a fly fishing history buff was priceless.

Eric’s enthusiasm and zest for life is something to be admired and savoured forever – it’s totally possible Nelson Mail photographer Martin de Ruyter and I enjoyed our day out even more than Eric did.

Over the past two decades or so, I’ve been privileged to guide many fine anglers but some of the most satisfying trips have been where age, health, or physical adversity stand in the way of the angler. Overcoming barriers or obstacles for older customers that younger, more physically able anglers do not face, is always the most satisfying.

As a guide, you have to really enjoy people, because if you’re only in it for the money, you just won’t last long.

It can be tough, hard work but fishing or hunting is far more than just catching or killing. It is about nature, experiences and people, with the outdoor journey being far more important than the destination.

Anyone can enjoy the outdoors, whatever their personal circumstances.

Here, then, are a few special people I have been privileged to know, enjoy and fish with:

❏ Jim was an amazing guy with an amazingly positive attitude who had survived polio as a child.

One arm was withered away and unusable and the other had very limited use, mainly just in  the fingers.

Jim could only cast about four to five metres due to his condition which made stalking wild trout a tough proposition.

We persevered, catching some great trout. Jim showed me that life can deal you a tough hand of cards but how successful you ultimately are in the game of life is totally up to you and your attitude.

❏ Stuart was a big man, standing 198cm, who had multiple sclerosis and was losing the ability to walk.

We had a fine week fishing the rivers of the northern South Island – Stuart was absolutely exhausted but so was I after
helping to hold him upright, getting him across rivers, and just getting the job done.

Stuart’s courage and determination in the face of a terrible predicament was inspiring beyond mere words.

❏ Michael was an Australian and it was my great privilege to guide him on his last fishing trip. Michael had terminal cancer and had trouble walking or balancing in the stream. Thanks to gracious landowners, there were places where I could drive the truck close to the water’s edge after I had located feeding trout..

We had good fishing, with Michael taking some of the best trout he had ever caught. Michael had worked hard and planned for a long retirement with plenty of fishing before the spectre of cancer arrived unexpectedly and way too early.

‘‘Do it now, Zane,’’ Michael implored me on a number of occasions. ‘‘Live your life like there is no tomorrow.’’

After Michael’s death, his wife wrote to me thanking me for making Michael’s last fishing trip so special.
She sent me a kangaroo leather coin wallet that Michael had wanted me to have.

It sits beside my computer in the office and I think of Michael and his advice often.

❏ Ron had always impressed me when we had fished before.

A guy with a 100 per cent personality, you couldn’t help but like him.

His grandson, CJ, had just graduated from high school and Ron was treating him to a New Zealand fishing experience.

Fishing was going well when early in the week Ron took me aside and told me of his health problems.

His condition had worsened significantly since the beginning of the fishing trip and he feared the worst.

He was adamant his grandson should not know the extent of his health issues and that his grandson’s fishing should not suffer.

During the following days Ron took it very easy, not venturing far from the truck, while CJ fished.

Late on the last day, I spotted a really big fish, CJ and I conspired to get Ron into his waders and across the river into a casting position. The big fish was holding on the upstream side of a midstream boulder, happily taking surface flies. When the trout took Ron’s dry fly, all hell broke loose as it screamed out line, tail-walking down the pool.

It was a battle of two veterans, but Ron won. As he held the fish for a photo, we both saw tears in each other’s eyes.
CJ was oblivious – to him it was just a big trout.

I never saw Ron again and have always wondered how he got on, but maybe there are some things in life that you are better off not knowing.

 Judith was a frail little lady well into her 80s whose husband had died without ever taking up fly fishing in New Zealand as he had always talked about with her.

Judith decided to take on the challenge and what she lacked in skill, she made up for with great enthusiasm.

We had great days on the stream together, even helicoptering into the West Coast’s remote Rough River. Perhaps
our last fish together was the best, a beautiful 2.7kg (6lb) trout from Murchison’s Owen River.

As Judith cradled the golden flanked and leopard spotted brown trout in the water, I noticed tears streaming down
her face. ‘‘Judith, what’s wrong?’’ I asked. ‘‘Nothing’s wrong, Zane,’’ she replied. ‘‘This is the happiest moment of my life’’.

Kingfish in Tasman Bay, Nelson

© Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Hail To the Silver Torpedo Kingfish, Nelson Mail, 6 December 2008
DUrville KIngfish 2013 400
SULTAN OF KING: Scott Mirfin has caught plenty of fine kingfish, most of which he quickly returns to the sea.

When it comes to exciting saltwater fishing, it doesn’t get any better than fishing for kingfish. If snapper are New Zealand’s most popular fish, then the kingfish would have to be the most exciting to catch.

Yellowtail kingfish (Seriola lalandi), kingfish, or just plain ‘‘kingies’’, are widely distributed throughout the warm,
temperate waters of the Southern Hemisphere and in New Zealand range from the Kermadec Islands to as far south as Banks Peninsula in summer.

With long, streamlined bodies, these wild fish can reach 1.7 metres in length and amass body weights of up to 60 kilograms, although most specimens taken in the northern South Island fall far short of such gargantuan specimens of the deep.

Kingfish are beautiful straight from the water, with greenish blue on the dorsal surface shading into a silvery white on the
underside, and a distinctive brown stripe running the length of the fish from the snout to the tail.

The most admired and prized colour feature is the bright radioactive-yellow fins, especially the tail. Once you’ve cradled a fresh wild kingfish in your arms, admired the beauty of the fish, and gently released it alive and unharmed back into
the briny for another day, your life will never be the same again.

One of my greatest kingfish memories is of the fish we never caught. In one torrid kingie session, both brother Scott and I were hooked up on strong fish, when our friend Chris Cooper yelled out that a shark had eaten a big kahawai on his jig.  We ogled the huge fish wallowing on the surface, gnawing on Chris’s 3.5kg kahawai, but it wasn’t a shark – it was a
huge kingfish with a giant yellow tail.

That fish was the stuff dreams are made of and it’s great to know that kingfish of that size and quality exist in the northern South Island. We might never catch a kingie of those proportions but it is enough to know that kingfish like that are out there swimming now.

Kingfish are the ultimate fishy predator, with speed, brawn and aggression to match. Feasting mainly on pelagic fish such as trevally, piper, garfish, kahawai and mackerel, they will eat anything that swims, including bottom fish like blue cod.

What makes fishing for kingfish so exciting is their size and strength. No other fish around our coastline, so readily
accessible to recreational fisherman, can fight like a kingie. The power-to-weight ratio of an angry kingie when attached to rod and line has to be experienced to be believed.

People who say fishing is a relaxing sport have never had the cold-blooded equivalent of a freight train attached to
their line.

They are virtually unstoppable early in the fight, with rod bucking and reel screaming, and they can make a big man hurt – sore back, bruises, line burns, aching arm muscles and just plain general exhaustion.

The biggest kingie we’ve been fortunate to land so far, reduced me to sitting on a beer crate later in the fight, using the side of the boat as a lever to keep pressure on while my exhausted arms slowly cranked the tired fish nearer to the boat. The fish first showed as a huge silver torpedo underwater and was soon aboard before release. The big kingie stretched from the boat deck to my chin, but I still think my grin was wider.

Kingies love wild blue water around rocky headlands, strong tidal channels and passages, and indeed anywhere where
current and accumulations of baitfish occur. Many kingies are caught in relatively shallow water, with depths over 80 metres pretty difficult to fish effectively. Braid or nylon both work well and you’ll want line weights over 15kg and up to 40kg to have a real chance if you hook Mr Big.

Kingies are dirty fighters and just love diving into foul ground and shaving the line to freedom. A capable boatman can do
wonders by leading the boat into deep water early in the fight to give the angler a chance of keeping a determined fish from reaching the bottom. Reels can take a real pounding, and quality equipment is always good. We especially like to use high-speed retrieve reels for speed-jigging home-made electroplated lead jigs, but kingfish can also be caught by fast trolling, fishing live baits, whole dead fish at depth, casting surface poppers, and of recent times by fishing large scented soft baits.

Of most importance in successfully catching kingfish is going to the right places, at the right times, understanding the right weather and sea conditions, best tides, moon phases, time of day and the season.

I know enough about fishing to know that my brother Scott is the undisputed ‘‘Sultan of King’’ and I just do whatever I’m told when on a kingfish mission with Scotty. After 23 years of fishing-guiding for trout, I know when to bow to superior
talent. An electrician in his day job, Scotty the kingfish warrior has put untold fine kingfish on the end of our lines.

Kingies are school fish and when you catch one it’s almost a certainty that you will catch others. Many times we have had triple hookups, with three guys grunting on each rod as demonic kingfish do their best to tangle our lines.

Smaller kingies, often known as ‘‘rats’’, put up a great fight too and it is possible to catch many fish on the right days, mixed in with sundry species such as snapper, warehou, trevally, kahawai and barracouta.

It is sport fishing at its best and the reduction of the recreational blue cod limit should encourage even more cod-sloggers to try their hand at catching a kingfish.

Ironically, the bigger jig you use, the bigger ‘‘accidental’’ cod you catch when your jig occasionally stays too long near the

We tend to fish big jigs all day long and still get our quota of big cod and whatever else is on offer.

Kingfish are a tasty oily fish to eat and are great smoked but we normally release our fish alive – such is the esteem in which we hold kingfish.

Some of my greatest fishing experiences have been off the wild waters of D’Urville Island in the company of friends and
family. Seasickness, sunburn, dehydration, exhaustion, cuts, bruises, fuel-fum  inhalation and hangovers at sea are all
worth the price of admission when it comes to the opportunity to fish for kingfish.

These magnificent silver torpedoes of the ocean will continue to haunt your dreams and draw you back time and again in search of the angler’s El Dorado.


Australia - Melbourne Fishing Show


© Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Hunting the 'lucky' Country, Nelson Mail, 22 November 2008
Aimee_with_Bill_Classon_Australia_1.JPG Zane_with_Paul_Worsterling_Australia_1.JPG
Melbourne 4x4 & Fishing Show: Aimee with AFN 's Bill Classon. October 2008 FISHING FOR BUSINESS: Zane Mirfin with Australian iFISH TV 's Paul Worsterling at the fishing expo.
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Big Fish: Rex Hunt visits our stand & talks fishing with Zane. Great Show: Aimee on our stand with show organiser Paul Morgan.

In these modern times of credit crunches, retrenchment and global recession, the New Zealand tourism industry has been dealt tough cards.  Guided fishing businesses are not immune and are scrambling with big corrections in the marketplace.

In the race to be the last guides standing, Aimee and I recently flew to Australia to attend the National 4x4 Show, Fishing Show and Outdoors Expo – Australia’s biggest indoor sportsmen’s event and an extravaganza of all Australian things outdoors, and particularly all things fishing.

Melbourne is the powerhouse of Australian trout fishing and getting there is easy – and, thanks to Air New Zealand, positive as well. The fishing expo has been running for 13 years and is entrenched as one of the highlights of the annual fishing calendar. It is heavily marketed in magazines, television, radio, online, press and so on, and most years attracts more than 40,000 pilgrims.

Our Strike Adventure stand was situated right by the fishing stage, where luminaries of Australian fishing kept showgoers spellbound with tales of how to catch the big one. Perhaps the most famous Australian angler was Rex Hunt, an ex- AFL legend and host of numerous TV fishing shows.

Hunt packed the seating and it was great talking fishing with him later. Other wellknown angling identities at our stand
included Paul Worsterling, presenter of IFISH TV fame on Channel 10 and Bill Classon of the Australian Fishing Network – a huge publisher of fishing magazines and books.

Dozens of other keen fishers were doing the rounds and keen to gaze at large images of fishing success and talk about NZ fishing opportunities.

The 42-inch plasma TV running the fishing DVD filmed and edited by Nelson fishing guru Tony Entwistle went down a
treat and stopped traffic as the Australians gasped at the stunningly clear water and big trout. Being the only New Zealand exhibitors gave Strike Adventure Fishing some novelty value too.

After four days under fluorescent lighting and air conditioning, with some days approaching 12 hours, Aimee and I
were knackered. Talking fishing all day is an exhausting exercise. I even managed to make a few purchases of my own when doing the rounds to introduce myself and our business to other exhibitors during quieter periods.

My favourite memory of the show was the last day when exhibitors slashed prices to clear stock. At one stand the public went crazy buying cheap two-for-one rods and reels in a rugby-scrum purchasing frenzy. Overall, though, long-time exhibitors noted that the fishing expo was in decline, sales were nosediving, and the final tally of people through the door in four days struggled to make 30,000. It was very obvious that financial woes had arrived in the lucky country.

One thing that impressed me about meeting large numbers of Aussie anglers was mesmerising them with the amount of fishable water we have so close at hand. Australia is 45 times larger than New Zealand in land mass but New Zealand
receives the same amount of rainfall annually as the whole Australian continent (500 cubic kilometres, or enough water to fill Lake Taupo eight times over). Australia has a terrible water problem and years of drought (with no end in sight) has exacted a heavy toll on freshwater angling.

Another issue that was big in local Melbourne news was the state of the Yarra River that flows through the centre of
town, past the Exhibition Centre. The lower Yarra is one of the most polluted in the world with stratospheric levels of
mercury and arsenic – even worse than Vietnam’s Saigon River.

Part of the problem is Victoria being in the 13th year of drought and the Yarra has 100 billion litres less water per annum
flowing down it than 10 years ago.  Apparently, good fishing catches can still be had, with one angler posing with an 8kg
mulloway caught in the centre of town, but because the newspaper photo was black and white it was difficult to see if the fish had a radioactive glow.

After the expo we headed south to the rural area of Gippsland for a spot of night shooting, Aussie-style. Daryl and his father Max, are successful dairy farmers and have some great properties to explore at night by four-wheel-drive. The wildlife by night is just incredible, with kangaroos, wallabies, wombats and European red foxes everywhere. Foxes were introduced into Australia near Melbourne in 1845 and were once red gold when fox pelts fetched high prices, before anti-fur sentiment collapsed the markets. Hunting foxes that night was an epic adventure, either running them down in 40-hectare paddocks and shooting with shotguns, or luring them up with distressed rabbit calls from a silent vehicle then shooting with Daryl’s .22-250 heavy barrelled varmint rifle with a 12-24X scope at ranges often exceeding 300 metres in the powerful spotlight. It was a fabulous night out and we finally got to bed about 3am, with ringing eardrums and covered in orange dust.

Our Melbourne adventure was a lot of fun and New Zealanders should expect to see more Australians visiting here to fish and hunt as airfares become cheaper and travel becomes easier. However, if you thought New Zealand’s ‘‘nanny state’’ was oppressive, you should check out Australia, which is a deceptively bureaucratic country. Australians are losing the right to own firearms, duck-hunting rights have been seriously impaired, fishing is highly regulated and complicated, trout have been poisoned in certain waterways to make way for native fish, and it is illegal to own a set
net for fishing coastal waters.

In New Zealand we need to avoid the Australian experience at any cost – and resist losing our outdoor freedoms that we often take for granted.

Flounder Fishing in Waimea Estuary, Nelson


© Zane Mirfin, wildside Column, In Pursuit of the Humble Flattie, Nelson Mail, 8 November 2008


Night Moves:  Zane Mirfin with another mid-winter Flounder dinner.

Call me a heathen but I love catching flounder. Sure, I get to go on some fantastic fishing and hunting trips each year to more exciting locations and for more exotic species, but when it comes to fish, flounder are one of my all-time favourites.

New Zealand has eight commercial flatfish species with the most common recreational catches including sand flounder, yellowbelly flounder and lemon sole, all of which grow up to a maximum length of about 45cm. Most flatfish species reach legal catchable size within two years living on a diet of small crustaceans such as sand hoppers, crabs, marine worms and small molluscs. Flatfish are a very important commercial and recreational resource because of their wide distribution in shallow coastal waters, where they are readily accessible to fishermen.

Flounder also taste great and are wonderful table fare cooked whole in a pan, rolled first in flour and then fried in a little butter or oil, with a twist of lemon and pepper. Picking away at a whole flounder is a great meal, with the succulent white flesh, crispy skin, and roe all being edible.

The second point I enjoy about flounder fishing is that it is generally close to home, so you can nip out for a few hours of fun without having to burn excessive rubber or diesel. More than 90 per cent of New Zealanders live within 40km of the coastline, so flounder-catching opportunities are never far away in coastal bays, lagoons and estuaries around the country.

Third, I enjoy the attraction of the tidal estuaries where there is always something happening and always something to enjoy, be it the birdlife, the tides, or the wide-open spaces. Out in the middle of the mudflats can give great perspective looking back at the excesses of humanity on the built up shores.

Maybe there is even a historical aspect to my love of floundering, with rich memories of floundering trips to Rabbit Island and Ruby Bay with my parents and my grandparents over many decades, something I have been enjoying with great success with my own children. My little girl, Rosie, even calls herself ‘‘Daddy’s Flounder Girl’’.

The flounder resource has held up well over the years, with good bags of fish still a reasonable expectation under favourable conditions, depending on location and time of year.

As with many fish species, there is more than one way to catch a flounder:

Spearing them at night is a lot of fun and as boys, my brother and I used to flounder at night with our father, using carbide lamps and later, submerged, battery-operated lights. Stalking shallow beach water and estuarine areas by night offers a totally different dimension to fishing. The fish life can be prolific, with mullet, eels and other creatures of the night more common than the skittish flounder, which can be difficult to see, camouflaged against the sand or mud.

Spear fishing is never as successful as net fishing but sure is a lot of fun. One of my childhood memories is lying in bed after a successful late-night sortie, listening to the beheaded and gutted flounder still flapping in the fridge.

Net fishing is always the most successful way to catch flounder. Drag netting off beaches is great social fishing where teams of participants take turns at hauling the net along shallow coastal beaches. Drawing the short straw and being allocated the ‘‘deep end’’ on a cool autumn morning is a brass monkey adventure.

Nets called beach seines can also be used, being taken offshore by dinghy, and then hauled back ashore by two teams using ‘‘warp’’ ropes. This was the preferred method of my grandfather and we had some great catches on those magic summers long ago.

In recent years, my flounder fishing method of choice has been set netting, where the net is set from my dinghy
using grapnel hooks, chain, ropes and floats at each end of the net. My preferred net configuration is a nine mesh high net that can be used anywhere including the Marlborough Sounds which have special netting regulations.

Flounder move with the tide in their search for food and swim close to the bottom so there is no advantage in using a higher net which only catches current and excess weed. Big mesh is also an advantage and I prefer 15-17.5cm mesh so as to only catch decent-sized flounder which are wedged at the widest point on their flat body. I normally just fish the first half of the incoming tide in channels and estuaries before currents become too strong.

In extreme cases, nets can turn inside out or become clogged with weed. One day out in the Waimea Estuary we caught more sanitary pads from the Bell Island sewage plant than flounder.

In open coastal water, it is possible to catch flounder at any stage of the tide. As with any fishing method, experience and knowledge is useful in obtaining good bags of flounder – anyone who says that catching fish in a net takes no skill doesn’t know what they are talking about.

Flounder can be caught throughout the year, although they are at their most plentiful in spring, summer and autumn. They are a bountiful local resource and are a popular recreational fish throughout the country.

Some days, too, there can be lots of competition out on the water. On a recent floundering trip, my father Stuart and friend Graham Reburn squared off in their boat against my brother Scott and me in our rubber boat. The old guys were like something out of the TV programme Last of the Summer Wine with their antics and banter.

As a boy, I can remember my father bemoaning unemployed guys shooting all the deer while he had to work during the week. The thought did occur to me that these days, we workers have to compete against all the retired guys catching all the flounder.


Family Fishing

© Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, The Family that Fishes Together, Nelson Mail, 11 October 2008

The Mirfins about to set off on another family adventure. Parents Zane and Aimee
are ankle-deep with Jake, 8, Ike, 6, Rosie, 4 and Charlotte, 3.

‘‘In our family there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing,’’ said Norman McLean in his epic book A River Runs Through It.

In the Mirfin family, fishing probably is our religion. It’s been a major part of my life for as long as I can remember, and I get great joy watching my kids developing an unhealthy  obsession in the fine art of fishing, too.

Being the spring school holidays, we like to get away and have fun together, and for the kids, that means doing some fishing together.

Getting away these days is always a mad panic of packing up, cleaning the house, finishing jobs in the office and just plain getting organised. This year, we’ve had to take two vehicles and a boat to fit two adults, four kids
and all the necessary gear in.

It’s a big job going on holiday because we like to be ready for any contingency or opportunity. This year, we’ve got the gear to handle floundering, whitebaiting, trout fishing, clothes for the theatre and feral pigeon and rabbit shooting.

As always, we never get as much done as planned, tiredness catches up with us, the weather doesn’t cooperate, the tides are wrong or, as in this holiday’s epic, we all fall victim to the plague.

Vomiting bugs all round and an ear infection for our younger daughter made for a fun holiday week.

Despite the drama, we managed a great few early days at Lake Rotoiti at the family bach before heading off to stay with Aimee’s family.

We got some trolling in despite rough, cold weather, with modest success on the local trout population. Trolling is where lines are towed behind the boat at varying depths in the hope of crossing the path of a trout.

We have most success in the alpine lakes of Rotoiti and Rotoroa with leadlines (lines with a lead core) that get the lure deep, a long 10-20m leader of 10lb maxima nylon, and the favoured Tassie Devil lure.

The boys particularly enjoyed the boating, and it was great to see them developing confidence in driving the boat and handling it at the ramp and on the trailer – I noted with satisfaction that it won’t be too many years before the boys are taking me out fishing.

Many of the waters we fish as a family are open year-round. While everyone is tripping over themselves on up-country waters, it is rare for us to see another angler.

Fishing from a boat is great way to go anyway – you keep your feet dry, keep the kids corralled and safe, and get to go where others have trouble getting to. There are virtually hundreds of places you can go in the northern South Island, and we’ve had a lot of fun as a family trying out differing locations.

It is true that it is getting harder for families to experience the great outdoors as the pressure on them continues to rachet up. Fishing opportunities close to major urban centres are becoming harder to find, people are busier and work harder, and many of the outdoor skills of generations ago have been lost.

To be successful on the fishing front, you need to be more savvy and, most of all, be prepared to put the time in to learn and adapt.  My parents Stuart and Sherry were always great believers that family fishing and hunting had to be fun.

Dad was always dreaming up ‘‘soft adventures’’ to take my brother and I on. He would never push us, and made the adventures progressively more demanding and exciting as we gained confidence and proficiency.

Dad told me recently that he believes parents should always try to be heroes to their children and lead by example. If I can be half the man my father was as a parent, I would be very proud.

Finally, the stars aligned on our family holiday and we were ready to go.

Three great evenings out fishing for big trout, with more yet to go. Evening one, No 2 son was insistent we go despite the strong cold southerly winds.

It worked a treat, and big, beautifully coloured brown trout came easily to the net. In the half-light as I trailered the aluminium boat, I was already being asked by an excited little boy about where we would go fishing the next day.

Evening two was a cracker. Warm evening sun and no one else around.

I was taking my father-in-law’s excellent GP and his two lovely daughters out on the girls’ first ever fishing trip.

Steve, Lucy and Katie weren’t quite sure what to expect, and couldn’t believe it when the rod tip bucked strongly and Lucy, 11, was into her first big brown trout.

The fish came stubbornly to the net and we all cheered as I hoisted 8lb of trout over the side of the boat. Katie, 9, managed another trout nearly as big soon after, and when the girls had caught another one each, we decided to head for home. Steve texted the same night to my mobile – ‘‘Bragging pix already in the UK. Awesome evening the girls will never forget’’.

Evening three was maybe even better. My brother Scott, his wife Kirstie and our nephews Lochy and Ryan were in town for the day to spend quality family time together. After a great day doing other things, we headed out for a family fishing effort with two small boats.  Shambolic is the word, as Aimee and Kirstie rugged up the kids with warm clothes and
lifejackets while Scott and I launched the boats and readied the equipment.

What fun we had for a couple of hours until the small children wore out and the tears began. By then, Lochy, 4, and Ryan, 2, had caught their first trout, among other fish landed, hooked and lost by our kids.

Ryan’s nearly 3kg trout was almost too much for him but with help from the other kids, it was safely netted. When rain threatened and we could feel the cold of the advancing southerly front, it was time to go.  But the special memories and photographic images obtained will probably last a lifetime.

Family fishing is fun and highly addictive. Hey, it’s time to go – I’ve got a six-year-old tugging on my arm telling me that his rod is loaded in the truck and it is time to catch another big trout. 

Tasman Bay, Nelson Snapper


© Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Snapper - an abundant local resource, Nelson Mail, 13 September 2008
13 Sept 2008 400
FROM SEA TO TABLE: Scott Mirfin fillets a snapper. The past season was one of the best in decades.

Tasman Bay is a glistening jewel that enthralled early explorers like Tasman and D’Urville and continues to dazzle modern Nelsonians today.

Life has certainly changed in almost 200 years of European settlement but the one constant that remains is the snapper of Tasman Bay.

Snapper were abundant when my ancestors Ann and Thomas Hill arrived on a sailing ship, the Thomas Harrison,
in 1841, and the snapper are abundant still for my children, who are seventh-generation Nelson snapper fishermen.

It is no secret that the past summer was one of the best snapper seasons for top of the south recreational anglers in
decades. We are fortunate to have such a marvellous resource so close and so available to all.

Snapper (Chrysophrys auratus) are a wonderful saltwater fish, and it is probably fair comment to label them the country’s best-known and most popular marine fish.

Common around most of New Zealand except for south of Hokitika on the West Coast and south of Kaikoura on the
east, snapper is an important recreational and commercial species.

The term ‘‘snapper’’ is a bit of a misnomer – they are actually a type of sea bream, hence the local term ‘‘brim’’ for smaller, pan-sized specimens (called ‘‘pannies’ in the North Island). Smaller snapper are generally school fish, while older and larger specimens can be more solitary.

They are most commonly caught in inshore waters during late spring to autumn, when waters are warmer – most fish retreat to deep water during winter.

Snapper fresh from the sea are a lovely pinky silver with blue spots, while older specimens (up to 60 years old) can be dark red, depending on where they have been living.

All New Zealand fish resources, including snapper, are managed by MFish and subject to rules, regulations and bag limits, which vary throughout the country.

The great thing about snapper is that they can be caught by a variety of methods, mostly near the bottom, where they eat all sorts of small fish, shellfish, crabs and worms.

Snapper are also a mid-water fish and range throughout the water column, depending on the season and food opportunities. They are an aggressive fish and are great fighters on a rod and line, and can be caught with bait, jigs, flasher rigs, synthetic soft baits, trolled lures and even artificial flies.

Catching these fish with light tackle from the beach or boat can be a real buzz.

Setlines with 25 baited hooks, set-nets that gill and finwrap snapper, and even beach seining with long ropes are more passive ways of catching a feed.

Snapper are a great table fish but at about $30 a kilogram at the fish shop, almost unaffordable to most families.

Fish should be killed with a spike at capture and put on ice immediately. Salt-water ice is best, and don’t wash the fillets in fresh water – salt water is always best.

Watch your hands as snapper are spiny beasts and thrashing fish can carve your hands up with bites and spikes that could become infected.

You can cook and serve snapper in a variety of ways, including frying, baking, grilling, fish pies, smoked – you name it.

Filleting is a good way to get most of the flesh off but only uses about half the fish. I now also cut off the fleshy flaps
behind the gill case, which includes the side fins, and smoke these pieces with the skin on in my portable smoker – they are delicious to pick away at with friends, accompanied by a fine ale.

Last summer I bought an outside boil-up pot, burner and bracket that runs on gas. Once snapper carcasses are gutted and gilled, they can be boiled up with onions, herbs and spices to make outstanding fish stock for chowders, bouillabaisse etc.

The final use of the snapper carcasses is to bury them under some of your olive or citrus trees and just watch your trees grow.

Snapper are a wonderful sporting fish. Long may they swim in our coastal waters for us to harvest and enjoy.


Felt soled Boots & Fly Fishing in New Zealand

© Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Felt-sole move putting the Boot into Anglers, Nelson Mail, 30 August 2008

AT RISK: River crossings will be more dangerous if felt-soled fishing boots are banned and replaced with rubber soles.

October 1, 2008 may be a black day for New Zealand recreational fishermen.

On October 1, set netting will be banned around much of the New Zealand coastline, fishing for blue cod in the inner Marlborough Sounds will cease, and in the latest bombshell for freshwater anglers, the right to wear felt-soled wading boots may be removed after a decision by the Minister of Conservation on the advice of Fish and Game New Zealand.

For the uninitiated, felt soles are glued to the sole of most trout fishing boots to allow safe wading in rivers. The felt soles wear out over time and are readily replaced but they give safe passage for anglers on slick cobbles and rocks.

Make no mistake – felt soles are an essential piece of equipment for successful trout fishing, and as Nelson fishing guru Tony Entwistle pointed out recently, ‘‘felt soles were instrumental in creating a whole range of fishing opportunities for anglers’’.

I agree and believe rubber soled boots are going to make trout fishing less effective, less enjoyable, and definitely a whole lot less safe.

The reason for the felt sole ban is supposedly to stop the spread of the invasive alga Didymosphenia geminata (didymo), a native of the northern hemisphere that is now established in the South Island. It is considered that didymo can survive longer on felt soles than other less porous surfaces, which may increase the risk of transmission to another waterway.

Fears of the alga spreading to the North Island and further contamination of South Island rivers are the reasons cited for the ban. Anglers are feeling victimised by the decision and by Fish and Game, the organisation that they believe should represent their interests.

Many believe Fish and Game has closed the door when the horse has already bolted. Those of us who have been cleaning our gear conscientiously since 2005 when didymo turned up in the Nelson-Marlborough region don’t believe
that banning felt soles is going to achieve anything. If anything, rubber soles may mean anglers take less care cleaning
their equipment.

The new regulations only affect anglers, and have nothing to do with other spreaders of didymo such as
swimmers, kayakers, dogs, stock, Department of Conservation vehicles, hikers and native birds such as black shags, which have no such restrictions placed upon them.
Interestingly, many brands of wading boots have up to five layers of fabric in their construction, so removing the felt soles is unlikely to make much difference at all in the transmission of didymo but will certainly increase the risk of injury and drowning for anglers through a lack of in-stream traction.

Rob Wilson, of Evolve Outdoors Group in Wellington, is a major importer of waders and wading boots and believes
that anglers have no choice but to embrace the change to rubber soles.

Wilson points out that there will be a lot of new boots for importers and retailers to sell. By his estimate, there may be only 3000 pairs of alternative soles available in New Zealand at present and up to 120,000 NZ anglers requiring new boots by October 1. Many anglers are hopping mad that they will need to buy new boots (commonly $200-plus per pair) with no compensation in sight. Lodges and guides often have dozens of pairs of feltsoled boots to outfit customers. My
guiding business has in excess of 20 pairs in various states of repair, from old to brand new, available for use. Grinding felt soles off existing boots and replacing them with inferior rubber soles is going to be a big job.

However, the threat of a Fish and Game conviction and a maximum $5000 fine will motivate most anglers to comply
with the new regulations.

Fish and Game staff have been caught in the crossfire by angry anglers.

Nelson-based Fish and Game manager Neil Deans believes that most anglers want to do the right thing to minimise the chance of spreading didymo. He concedes that the decision is contentious but says it is based on public consultation and that proper process was followed at all times. He rightly notes that ‘‘the whole tale of didymo is one of missed opportunities’’.

I also spoke to the national director of Fish and Game, Bryce Johnson, who reasoned that the decision was a ‘‘probability argument’’ and that banning felt soles was ‘‘an opportunity to minimise a potential vector’’.

He said the ‘‘strategic border’’ between north and south islands had to be protected and that ‘‘anglers need to think
beyond self-interest and to think about the threat didymo poses to the resources that they currently enjoy’’.

Was the decision to ban felt soles the right move? Not according to every angler I’ve talked to. The fallout will be costly to Fish and Game in terms of future support from anglers and in future licence sales from both local and overseas anglers.

One bright angler observed that Fish and Game is ‘‘fiddling while Rome burns’’.

Myself – I’m not looking forward to getting back in the stream with a recovering broken ankle, dodgy rubber boots and rocks like oiled bowling balls. Believe me, I know all about slipping on wet, icy rocks with rubber boots.

Guest speaker takes in sights on the fly

© Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Guest Speaker takes in sights on the fly, Nelson Mail, 16 August 2008
Destinations: A broken ankle keep Zane from pursuing Golden Trout in the high Sierras, but Aimee, on driving duty, made sure he got to the many compensatory experiences the US had to offer. Photo: Lance Severson

Aimee and I returned recently from a great trip to Southern California, mostly holiday and part business to promote our tourism fishing business, Strike Adventure.   One of the great parts of the visit was being the guests of seven Californian fly fishing clubs.

Being chosen as the New Zealand speakers to address the clubs was a big honour and privilege and we got to meet many great fishing people along the way between Santa Barbara and San Diego.

Our trip had become uncertain when I broke my ankle three weeks before departure but with medical blessings we set forth, reliant on wheelchair, moonboot and crutches.

In hospital, I’d read Mark Inglis’ book Legs on Everest and I figured if a guy with no legs could climb the world’s tallest mountain, then a puny fishing guy from Nelson with a broken ankle could take on Los Angeles with crutches.

Mid-summer in Southern California is hot and sticky, and fires everywhere had made the air thick with smoke.

What struck me most since I had last spent time on the ground there 17 years ago was the traffic, the noise and the mile upon mile of concrete urban jungle.

Air pollution had improved since my last visit but the traffic was fearsome, and Aimee was a great driver who adapted well to right-hand travel and the voice of the GPS unit and as many as eight lanes of traffic flowing one way.

There were no rivers in the gullies, only freeways and rivers of cars – even then, people told us that traffic flows were one-third lower than normal due to high petrol prices.

The LA river was the only fishable fresh water near Los Angeles, home to fat carp up to 15lb (6.8kg).The great guys at a local fly shop called the Fisherman’s Spot gave me a T-shirt to take home – ‘‘Fish the LA river’’, the shirt says, ‘‘a sewer runs through it’’.

One night, we were invited to the Santa Monica house of one of our regular fishing clients, Skip, a Hollywood deal broker, and his movie star wife. Skip and a friend had caught and released 60 sharks up to 130lb (60kg) on fly the same day.

A great dinner ensued at a top restaurant, surrounded by beautiful people. The service and food was great, and I could see why when our young George Clooney look-alike waiter told me that Skip owned the restaurant.

The US economy is based on excessive consumption, particularly of energy. There is an insatiable demand for vehicle fuel, natural gas and electricity to maintain the American lifestyle in a harsh environment.

Things were tightening up fast, with TV and newspaper media talking down the economy at every chance. Unfortunately, this will have a big impact on New Zealand tourism.

One great fishing store we visited was BassPro. Apparently, when this store first opened, it blocked freeways as city fishermen flocked to it. The gear in the store had to be seen to be believed – fishing on the ground floor and hunting on the next floor. I rode around the store on an electric shopping cart, marvelling at the mounted animals, aquariums, boats and equipment.

There was even a trout stream flowing through the store, complete with large trout and shooting galleries upstairs. After five hours, Aimee dragged me out of BassPro, but I was disappointed because I hadn’t got to see everything.

The fishing clubs were great, with some clubs having 300 members, although with it being mid-summer, many anglers were away on fishing holidays in Montana and other exotic locations. Still, we had good attendances, with lots of anglers coming to see the New Zealander talk. It never ceased to amaze me about the great reputation New Zealand has in the eyes of Americans.

Fishing clubs have the same problems attracting younger anglers to the sport as in New Zealand and most anglers were in their ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. The Pasadena Casting Club was one of my favourite clubs, with an outdoor clubroom and casting pond, a very friendly crew and one of the bigger meetings.

I had hoped to hike into the high Sierras with friends in pursuit of golden trout, one of the few US trout species I hadn’t caught, but my leg put paid to that. Luckily, I got to see golden trout in a Sea World aquarium and, being in America, I was able to buy a book at a fly shop so I could read all about golden trout before my next visit.

Wharf Fishing Nelson

© Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Wharf a good Place to Start, Nelson Mail, 19 July 2008
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Mapua Wharf: This new extension to the old Mapua Wharf floats up and down with the tide and make access easy.

Wharves, kids, and fishing for sprats are a natural combination around the  ports, harbours and estuaries of New Zealand. Here in Nelson, we are fortunate to have a multitude of venues suitable for family fishing. Nelson Wharf, Sunderland Pier, Richardson St Fishing Platform, Mapua Wharf and Port Motueka are just a few examples that spring to mind, but with a bit of research, imagination and experimentation, many more places are available throughout the Marlborough Sounds and Golden Bay.

They make for great places to learn the skills and enjoyment of fishing in a safe and easy-access environment.

Small baitfish are attracted to the stable environment of wharves. Most of the fish caught will be small and rarely of a size to bother cooking – the humble spottie and the yellow-eyed mullet, but also mackerel and kahawai – but sometimes a good-sized specimen of snapper, kahawai, gurnard or dory will start tugging on someone’s line, so you just never know.
Light tackle is the way to go and eln cheapo kids’ rod and reel sets are readily available at any local sports store. These rods take a real hiding with young kids stepping on them and shutting them in car doors so it’s probably wise to not have too much money tied up in them. The cheapest version can be as simple as a spool of nylon, although a rod and reel is more effective and fun for young kids.

One thing that has always staggered me is just how unsuccessful many wharf anglers are when it can be so easy to catch a bucketful of fish. A few pointers for new chums would be to go on a nice high-pressure day with light winds. Try to fish either side of the high tide, when water volume will be at a good level and strong ocean currents will be lessened.

All the fish species above respond well to ground bait or berley. You can buy all sorts of fancy berley pots to disperse attractants but they are easily made out of chicken wire or drilling holes in old peanut butter jars or milk bottles. Add some cord long enough to reach the bottom and a few rocks or chunk of lead for a weight and you are set to go.

The berley you put in your pot can be as simple as pieces of bread, cereal scraps from breakfast, or dinner scraps.  Add a few tablespoons of tuna oil, frozen commercial burley preparations, chicken pellets and/or fish scraps and you will have a winning combination. If your berley pot is positioned in the upper of the water column, you will tend to catch sprats and mackerel, while if you fish your berley on the bottom, you will often catch more spotties and other fish types, so it pays to vary your technique depending on what you are trying to achieve.

Get your berley pot in the water early to let the magic begin and then lower your lines over the side downstream of the berley flow and at about the same depth.

One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that most people use hooks that are too big. Use a light line and small hooks. A tiny sliver of frozen squid is our bait of choice.

Arm yourself with a pair of surgical forceps to remove hooks from fish. Many fish can be released alive once your kids have satisfied their initial desire to take fish home to show grandparents and friends. If you can avoid handling the
fish, clamp the hook with the forceps and flip the fish back into the water unharmed.

Pinching the barb down on small hooks also aids fish release and helps when someone hooks themselves or their

I try to limit my kids’ fish kill so that there are always plenty of fish left for other days and other people. There are no fisheries regulations governing many wharf-fish species but if you are taking fish away, then the onus is on the supervising angler to understand and abide by the regulations.

A bucket is a good place to store and display caught fish and we try to never waste fish, offering them to neighbours
to feed their cats, burying them in the garden as a marvellous fertiliser, or keeping them for bait on later adventures.

Another great technique from wharves is jigging using the ready-made sabikitype strings of three to six hooks dressed with flashy materials. Unwind the rig, tie to your rod and line, clip a small sinker on the bottom and you are ready to go. Lower the rig into the water and lift up and down to mimic small fish or shrimps. The fish will hook themselves. When you feel a fish on, let it struggle a little, as its motion will attract other fish to attack. It can be common to catch a
fish on each hook.

Nelson Mail photographer Martin de Ruyter used to make his own jigs for fishing the wharf with his boy Troy by wrapping white cotton around small hooks to imitate small flakes of bread in the berley trail. It is a deadly technique.