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Zane Mirfin Fishing Articles 2014

When Progress Clashes with the environment.

Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, When progress clashes with the environment, 30 November 2014, Nelson Mail.
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Good catch: A snapper caught by rod close to town on Monday. Co-existing: A groper caught in 30 meters of water over a mud and sand bottom with sight of Nelson City.
In a modern media world we are constantly bombarded with environmental messages.

Last Friday's Nelson Mail was a real extravaganza of all things environmental, although as a fisherman, of most personal interest to me was the front page news of a large fish kill in the lower Maitai River from a suspected chemical spill.

Now a week later, the answer may not be so clear cut and the small ocean-going pilchards may well have died from freshwater shock, perhaps driven inshore and upriver by the recent kahawai frenzy in Nelson Haven.

Whatever the reason it's pretty much academic to local trout anglers because the Maitai River has been the equivalent of what seems like a fishless wasteland for more years than I care to count.

As a schoolboy, I stalked the riverbanks of the Maitai with friends and our fly rods, learning our craft as anglers. They were halcyon days and the river was flush with trout that were willing targets for boyhood anglers.

The density of trout was something to be marvelled at still, and one of my boyhood heroes, and later fishing guiding mentors, the late Ron Mackay, even used to fish the Maitai River in his work lunch hour. On one legendary session he even caught 47 trout in a single lunch break, although one suspects that his Nelson City employer was probably not watching the clock too closely.

The Maitai River holds a place in the history of New Zealand trout fishing as was one of the first rivers to be stocked with brown trout and opened as a sport fishery within New Zealand.

In W C R Sowman's classic book Meadow, Mountain, Forest and Stream - The Provincial History of the Nelson Acclimatisation Society 1863-1968 the Maitai River features prominently. In 1867, Oswald Curtis, superintendent of the province, gave the Nelson Acclimatisation Society permission to build a fish hatchery on the current site of what we now know as Queen's Gardens to hatch Tasmanian brown trout ova. It was a fabulous success story and with the Maitai River only metres away it was a foregone conclusion where the first trout release was going to be.

In the Examiner newspaper of May 24, 1870, it was reported: "The growth of trout in the Maitai is extraordinary. On Saturday last, a splendid fish, fully eighteen inches in length and estimated to weight upwards of two pounds, was seen in one of the holes of the river, a little above the Nile St bridge, and attracted quite a concourse of people.

"As the spawn from which this trout was raised was bought from Tasmania less than two years ago, the size of this and other fish which have been seen in the river is highly satisfactory, as showing the suitability of our streams for trout, and promise of sport given the angler in a very few years."

Boy, have things changed since then. The 20th century was the golden age of the New Zealand lowland trout fishery, with quality fish stocks, improved equipment, increasing prosperity, better roading, transport, access, technology, and information opening up the fly fishing world. 

However in recent decades, the vigorous economic growth, development, and opportunities which allowed us to enjoy our fishing more have also come back to bite us with declining environmental quality, and in extreme examples, eco-system damage and lowland fishery failure.Alas, the Maitai fishery unravelled over time and while there are still some trout, it would take an extreme optimist to suggest that the fishery is even a mere shadow of what it was prior to the building of the Maitai Dam.

No-one can blame the Nelson City Council because it needed water for the people of Nelson but the decline of the Maitai fishery was a major loss to the junior anglers of the province as a safe training ground with numerous and willing trout. Fast forward to 2013, and the Nelson Trout Fishing Club of which I'm a member has no junior members any more.

Interest in the sport is waning as it all becomes too hard and the lowland trout fishing resources of Nelson, Tasman, and Marlborough arguably continue to slide year by year.

Some innovative club members have even formed a trust and developed a fish-out pond alongside the Waimea River which is periodically stocked with hatchery-raised rainbow trout for supervised fishing instruction with youth and children. It's been a great success, which I salute, but it's still a sad day when local rivers aren't good enough to teach youngsters how to fish for trout any more.

It's a familiar story throughout New Zealand and around the world and I'm sounding like Dr Seuss's character, the Lorax, by describing the tragedy of the public commons where competing economic forces degrade water resources, and fisheries that are important to us all.

One of my own personal highlights this year was meeting Nicole Foss, an international sustainability expert ( Nicole's presentation was chilling and fascinating, all at the same time, and she painted a picture of the world we now live in as being created by a turbocharged cocktail of cheap energy and unlimited credit, the likes of which the world has never seen.

Nicole predicts this clash of economy versus environment will lead to severe global hardship in the years ahead. We can always learn from history too and I've just finished reading the book Collapse - How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond.

It's an amazing history lesson of how environmental collapse has happened many times before in ancient civilisations and modern societies with recurring themes of deforestation, pollution, water degradation, soil erosion, salination, and climate change to name just a few. It's a highly educational view of the future that should be compulsory reading for all members of Parliament, and especially government ministers.

Back to fishing, though, and there's always hope. At a recent Trout Fishing Club meeting guest speakers Rasmus Gabrielsson and Rob Holmes of Nelson's Cawthron Institute described their new scientific model to predict New Zealand stream health and productivity.

It was an exciting presentation explaining the development of a simple numbering system that dumbies and decision-makers alike can understand.

Unfortunately Rasmus did point out that some streams around New Zealand will probably never come back from the brink as the cycle of nutrients like nitrates can take many decades, if at all, to purge from the environment.

Not all our fisheries are tipping over and our current Tasman Bay snapper stocks are probably the best they have been in 30 plus years through good management after commercial exploitation caused a catastrophic collapse in the 1980s.

Out fishing on Monday with brother Scott, and Gary Rae of Incite - Resource and Environmental Management Consultancy, we enjoyed very modest success but at least the fish are out there in the ocean now. We even got a big surprise with a groper caught in 30 metres of water over a mud/sand bottom within sight of Nelson City which was a highly unusual but most welcome bycatch bonus.

I just hope we can get our act together on fisheries and water management so our kids and grandkids can enjoy the thrill of a fish struggling on their line too. We're all in this together and we'll need to work constructively with others, whether as individuals, families, communities, organisations, industries, businesses, bureaucrats and politicians.

At a recent Fish & Game Council barbecue, chairman Owen Baigent read out a story that goes some way to explain the current environmental malaise we now find ourselves in: "This is a story about four people - Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody.

There was an important job to be done and Everybody was asked to do it. Everybody was sure Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody's job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realised that Everybody wouldn't do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when actually Nobody asked Anybody."

Fish bite in winter, too


Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Fish bite in winter, too, 28 June 2014, Nelson Mail

Pick your days and sea conditions and fishing in Tasman Bay can be remarkably pleasant.
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Catch!: Edie Stevenson, 10 left, enjoys gurnard success with friend Rosie Mirfin, 10.

With the shortest day now behind us and cabin fever in full bloom, it was long past time to get the kids out into the bay and into some fish.

Brother Scott and I had been watching the weather and sea conditions and Sunday was looking good.

Getting the kids motivated and gear ready was a bit of a mission, but we were on our way at the crack of 10.30am. Heading north of Nelson, we soon had the two boats in the water, and, laden with nine of us, we headed out into the briny. It was magic with the wind in our face and the sun on our backs as we powered across flat seas en route to fishing nirvana.

Soon there were rods everywhere, dangling over the side, and before long we started to catch a few fish. Jake caught the first gurnard, and Rosie's friend, Edie Stevenson, caught the second, but the fishing was a little slow, just like the Maori fishing calendar had predicted.

So we moved north to catch up with Scotty, nephews Lochy and Ryan, and their school chum, Matthew Edgar of Richmond.

We all caught a few fish, including unwelcome spiky dogs and spotties, but the gurnard were being a little elusive so we thought we'd target a few blue cod over foul ground instead.

The kids were having a great time, hoovering up food and drink, laughing and joking, and as the afternoon wore on we caught enough blue cod for a few family meals during the week ahead.

Soon it was time to go, the kids were starting to get tired and scratchy, Izaak was feeling seasick, and there were fish to fillet. Pulling ashore, Scott and I worked on the fish while the kids played in the dunes and on the beach. It had been a great afternoon out and, as Scott had told me, getting the kids interested in the outdoors was "all about doing a little bit, often".

It's a shame that many people hang up their rods and rifles over winter but the truth is that the best time to go fishing and shooting is when you can. Many people wrap themselves up and huddle by the fire over the coldest months but there are always outdoor opportunities whatever the weather or season.

When it comes to saltwater fishing, Tasman Bay is a year-round fishery, and if you pick your days and sea conditions it can be remarkably pleasant, especially once morning frosts have subsided and the sun has come out. We tend to do shorter days over winter, for safety, but also to get the boat out of the water before darkness descends.Two of the best local fish to target over winter are red gurnard and blue cod. Many of the summer fish of the bay, such as snapper and kingfish, head out into deeper waters, but sometimes it is nice to keep fishing simple and target "carrots" (gurnard) and cod over winter and which, in my humble opinion, are probably better eating anyway.Red gurnard (Chelidonichthys kumu) is one of my favourite inshore fish to catch. Not only are they great eating, either baked, smoked, or pan fried, but they are fish of great beauty.

With orange and red flanks and bright blue "butterfly" side fins that contain the colours of the rainbow, the gurnard is one of New Zealand's most beautiful and striking saltwater fish. They may not be glamour fish like kingfish or albacore but they are easy to catch and present in good numbers around most of New Zealand's coastline.

With a maximum size of about 55 centimetres to 60cm, they still pull hard on lightweight sporting tackle with a characteristic throbbing tug when hooked.

Preferring sand and mud bottoms, the gurnard is an ambush feeder, crawling around the sea floor using its delicate feelers to search for prey. Favourite food sources are shrimp, small baitfish, marine worms, crabs, and baby flounder.

With a square shovel-shaped mouth, the gurnard is an aggressive fish with a big mouth that can devour surprisingly large prey. Gurnard are not a fussy fish and they can be caught on bait, flies, jigs, flasher rigs, and softbaits. The trick to catching gurnard is to fish in habitats they prefer and keep your lure or bait near the bottom.

Gurnard are suckers for bright coloured flashy artificial lures like jigs or jitterbugs and are the kings of bling. You can anchor up and berley for gurnard, but I much prefer to drift fish to cover more water and to try new locations.

Surprisingly, the best days are often when the sea is a little rough, maybe it stirs up the bottom and gets the gurnard all fired up. On days like this fishing at anchor isn't very pleasant so drift fishing can be the way to go.

Over the years I've had to fish in some pretty windy conditions at times and I now always carry two drogues or sea anchors in my boat that I can deploy in different configurations and angles to suit almost any fishing conditions. The sea anchors slow up the drift, keeping your lures or bait in the bingo zone for longer and at a fish-friendly speed.

A landing net is also handy for getting gurnard aboard the boat when using the light softbait type rods we prefer to use, loaded with 5kg-9kg non-stretch braided line, which assists hook-ups. Light rods are easily broken, especially in the tip section, in a phenomenon known as "point loading".

In the tight confines of a small boat, a long handled landing net will catch you more fish and increase the longevity of your valued graphite fishing rods, too.

Once in the boat, gurnard regularly make a distinctive grunting noise and remember to be careful handling live fish as they have plenty of sharp spines on their heads and gill plates to spike the unwary.

Blue Cod (Parapercis colias) is another beautiful fish, with Angelina Jolie lips and thick aqua-blue flanks. Endemic to New Zealand, they range out to depths of over 100m, and are a slow-growing fish that eat most fish, shellfish and crustaceans. Blue cod are a fish of foul ground, so target the rough stuff on your depth sounder and you won't go too far wrong. Prevalent around most rocky coastlines of the South Island south of Cook Strait, areas like Southland have much more generous daily limits of usually larger fish. Here in Tasman Bay, three cod per person, with a minimum size of 30cm, is plenty for anyone, especially when you add them to a daily bag of other fish species which can total up to a maximum of 20 fish per person per day in the Challenger Fishery area.

I'm not a great fan of huge fish kills (partly because I'm the guy who usually has to fillet them!) and have always preferred to take what we need and can eat fresh, rather than killing everything that swims and filling a freezer. Having always been a catch and release trout fisherman, I've always believed that it's best to consider limiting your catch rather than catching your limit.

Blue cod are an exquisite fish to eat with clean, firm, white fillets. Cod heads are pretty good smoked or baked - in fact most people throw the best part of the fish away.

Fortunately, cod are easily caught, by bait, jig, and softbait. One thing we've found over the years is that the biggest cod are always caught using artificial lures or jigs. This is very handy as it means you don't have to catch plagues of smaller fish to land your three legal cod each.

Using artificial lures also works well on gurnard and ensures that you don't catch the dreaded spiky dogs that infest inshore waters over winter.

The beauty of fishing with artificial lures is that unwanted cod (or gurnard) are easily released unharmed. They don't take the hook so deeply in their mouth, and are normally lip hooked. By using a pair of long-nosed stainless steel pliers it is a simple matter to flip the cod off the hook and back safely into the sea without even having to touch the fish.

Often we target other fish while at sea and take our blue cod as a by-catch these day.

It is surprising how often when fishing over sand for gurnard or snapper that you will drift over a small piece of foul ground and pick up a couple of nice bonus cod that no-one would have ever guessed were there. Fish are where you find them so don't be afraid to experiment and to try new places - it makes fishing more fun and will ultimately make you a better fisherman.

Have fun out there this winter and be prepared to catch fish.

Aggressive trout thrill from wintry depths


Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Aggressive trout thrill from wintry depths, 31 May 2014, Nelson Mail

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Go Ugly: American Todd Witzeling of Wyoming with a Marlborough brown trout caught on a well-chewed woolly bugger fly.

Winter has finally arrived and last Saturday was certainly a wild and woolly day to go trout fishing.

Guiding Todd and Nancy Witzeling from Wyoming was always going to be an adventure following heavy overnight rain that had the Motueka River flowing brown and swollen at close to 200cumecs.

Given the rain radar forecast and swollen lowland rivers to the west, I chose to head east, on a direct collision course with predicted gale-force winds sweeping up the eastern coast.

When we arrived, the Pelorus River was still fishable although rising, and we struggled into our waders as the rain started to fall again.  It was no day to look for surface feeding trout as they would all be tucked down deep under the cold winter flows, so I pulled out heavy fly rods, suited to throwing sink-tip fly lines and swinging big streamer flies.

Tying on a short leader of less than a metre of 10lb Maxima nylon, I clinch-knotted a woolly bugger fly to each line.  We were ready to go.

Todd and Nancy were new to this style of fishing where they fired out casts on shooting-head lines designed to sink fast in strong flows and difficult currents.

A quick upstream mend and the line was allowed to straighten and swing across and down before being retrieved back with pulsating strips of the line and recast.  A step or toe downstream after each cast, and the river was being covered with a pattern of concentric circles as we worked downriver.

As the weather deteriorated we fished on.  There was no action from fish in the best palce of the pool and by now the rain was really beating down as the wind began to howl.  Then it happened, Todd's rod tip ripped down, as the reel screamed, and an angry rainbow trout erupted from the water.  It was a great start and it was high fives all around as Todd and Nancy posed for a photo with their first New Zealand trout.

The weather was now really starting to come in as I hurried back to the vehicle to dry out my digital SLR camera on the back seat.  I was just walking back to the river's edge when i saw Todd's bent rod solid into another fish - this time a brown.

The fight was dogged, unlike the rainbow's "acrobat on the high trapeze"; routine, but the fly was again firmly anchored in the trout's mouth.  It was great to have some success on such a gnarly winter day, when the only way to fish was to do so by feel.

There was no way to see fish, or even cast upstream, in the gale-force winters that were now lashing the waters.  Bankside poplars bent double, while mini-twisters lashed the water and whitecaps crashed and foamed.

It was getting dangerous and bitterly cold, and laughing at the bizarre fishing conditions we retreated to the truck for an early lunch while the vehicle rocked from side to side.  Heading for Havelock to get warm and dry, Todd and Nancy wisely decided we should spend the afternoon doing some sightseeing instead.

Fishing streamer flies is a great method to fish for brown and rainbow trout throughout the year.  You can fish such flies in all water conditions, high or low, and hardy anglers can even fish after dark with great success.

At this time of the year most of the upland rivers are closed until October, but larger lowland waterways open year-round offer much scope fro fishing chunky flies down deep.  With cooling water temperatures over winter, fish start thinking less about food and more about sex, and it is possible to aggravate lethargic fish into striking brightly coloured and gaudy flies.

Streamer flies are often tied to imitate larger forms of trout food such as bullies, smelt, freshwater crayfish (Koura), eels, juvenile trout, inanga, kokopu, even mice.

Flies are tied on strong, heavy wire hooks with all manner of materials such as marabou, chenille, flared deer hair, flashabou, and long webby hen hackles.  Modern materials such as heavy dumbbell eyes, epoxy, glass death rattles, coneheads and tungsten beads are other significant innovations.

New Zealand has a proud tradition of streamer fly innovation dating back to when the first settler ships arrived, and as a boy I used to love reading angling and fly tying books by the late Keith Draper of Taupo fame.  I've still got many of these books in my fly fishing library and they document the evolution of fly patterns from around the country.

Two particular areas are prominent when it comes to the development of streamer fishing and these are the volcanic plateau region centred around Taupo and Rotorua, and also the Canterbury region around Lake Ellesmere.

From the North Island came iconic streamer flies such as the Fuzzy Wuzzy, Craig's Nighttime, Scotch Poacher, Grey Ghost, Yellow rabbit, Parson's Glory, Green Orbit, Mrs Simpson, Hamill's Killer and Ginger Mick, to name a few.

From the Canterbury night fishing scene came the Red Terror, Hope's Dark, Wooster's Silvery, and Brunton Red.  Many of these flies are seldom used these days. superseded by newer ties and other styles of fishing, but the methods of fly dressing remain largely unchanged to this day.

Modern streamer fly innovations are now dominated by overseas distribution companies and modern patterns such as the muddler, zonker, bucktail, clouser minnow and woolly bugger figure high on the list.  The woolly bugger is an incredibly versatile go-to streamer fly that can be tied in any colour or size and works virtually everywhere.  Buggers have fluffy marabou tails, chenille bodies, and are palmered with hackle along their length to create amazingly lifelike baitfish imitations that come to life in the water.

Black has traditionally been a favoured colour for streamer flies, with great silhouette underwater, but many other colours are worth trying.  American fly fishing guru Lefty Kreh even reckons "if it ain't chartreuse, it ain't no use".  Yellow is another favoured colour especially on sea run browns, with both browns and rainbows highly receptive to red.  Synthetic krystal flash fibre and flashabou can add zap to many modern dressings too.  The key is to experiment.

Back in the 90's, I was fortunate to have two extended steelheading trips to Canada's British Colombia to fish hallowed rivers such as the Skeena, Bulkley, Kispiox, and Babine.

Swinging a downstream streamer fly on either a floating or sinking line for fresh-run steelhead was highly addictive.
We fished flies with historic and romantic names such as Marabou Muddler, Skykomish Sunrise, Babine Special, and Egg-Sucking Leech, all of them adding to the history and mystique of the sport.

Called the fish of ten thousand casts, it wasn't easy fishing but when the giant sea-run rainbows took, the take was electric and adrenaline turbo-charged the soul.  Chrome-sided steelhead, many over 10kg, would tail-walk down the pool, ripping line and giving no quarter while anglers stumbled after them.  Cradling such magnificent and wild fish before release and removing a favourite streamer fly only added to the magic and allure of these legendary fish.

Trout are the alpha predators in the riverine food chain and are not afraid to eat large prey and to defend their turf with territorial aggression.  Perhaps one of the best books of recent decades in regard to streamer fishing is Modern Streamers for trophy Trout (1999) by Americans Bob Linsenman and Kelly Galloup.

The authors advocate using heavy sinking lines, mega-short leaders, outsize baitfish imitations, and aggressive fast action retrieves.

Concentrate on throwing heavy casts within inches of the bank or instream obstacles and retrieving with an aggressive "rip and jerk" action to stimulate the predatory and territorial instincts of trophy trout.  Many New Zealand trout have never seen this appraoch before and you'll find many kilometers of fine trout water rarely ever fished with a streamer fly.  After you experience the electrifying jolt of a savage strike you'll wonder why you hadn't "gone ugly" earlier.

Wise Aussie anglers save the best till last.


Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Wise Aussie anglers save the best till last, 3 May 2014, Nelson Mail

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Surprise catch: Australian anglers Craig Henderson and Mark Parker with a pacific salmon caught in the Grey River.
When April 30 rolls around each year it's almost a relief that another trout fishing season is over.

After months of chasing trout since October 1, it's always nice to move on to other outdoor pursuits, and to give the trout a few months of privacy for spawning.

March and April are always my favourite time to fish because fishing pressure drops off, fish start moving and re-distributing themselves around river systems, and the trout are in the best bodily condition and colour of the season.

The male trout (or jacks) can put on spectacular bright orange and gold spawning colours, becoming territorially aggressive, which sometimes makes them easier to catch. In fact, if you're going to catch a big fish, late season is often the time to do it.

Late season is generally when the Australian anglers turn up too. They know it is a great time to fish in Australia at this time and they aren't shy about heading to New Zealand to get in a last fly fishing fix before winter arrives.

Over the years it's been my great privilege to guide many Australian anglers. Invariably they are good company and there is always a special bond between the Kiwis and Aussies out there on the river.

Forged on the beaches of Anzac Cove on the Gallipoli Peninsula in April 1915, our joint experiences and path toward nationhood as countries and neighbours unite us still, despite a few playful digs at each other about underarm bowling and good-looking sheep.

This April was a mixed bag of weather, with some awesome sunny days, interspersed with days you'd rather not be out on the water. The tail end of tropical cyclone Ita certainly created a big storm with high rivers, slips, wind-thrown trees, and widespread coastal damage.

It must be tough being a trout in an age of increasingly dynamic change within our environment and it's no secret our valued rivers have taken a real pounding with floods over recent years, perhaps changing them forever. But this trend seems to be happening everywhere with many Australians reporting their home fisheries falling apart with diminished fish numbers and opportunities through alternating patterns of drought and flood.

Fly fishing opportunities in Australia are more limited than here in New Zealand, with most trout fishing happening in the colder regions of Oz. Melbourne is the undoubted capital of Australian fly fishing with many fine streams within several hours' drive such as the Goulburn, Howqua, Jamieson and Delatite.Alas I've never fished any of them, but a winter sambar hunting trip in Victoria years ago, north of Dargo, gave me a good feel of the common water types.Another time I got to spend a day up in the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales checking out the fabled waters of Jindabyne and Eucumbene, both massive freshwater impoundments that offer some of Australia's finest trout fishing.

Tasmania is perhaps the last frontier of Australian fly fishing, though, with the hallowed high alpine lakes and streams of Tassie being spoken of in mythical and mysterious tones. Maybe I'll get to fish these places one day, but the next best thing is getting to fish here with Australian anglers and to share in their experiences and memories of such far-away places.

Australians Craig Henderson and Mark Parker are always great fun to go fishing with in April, and were joined by son Tristan Parker and their friend, Tasmanian surgeon Simon Thomson.

Fortunately we managed to stay dry most of the time and caught some nice trout, along with the expert assistance of fellow guide Tony Entwistle.

We fished a mix of local and wilderness waters in Tasman District, West Coast and North Canterbury, catching brown trout, rainbow trout, and even a bonus catch of a pacific salmon on the West Coast's Grey river. The salmon was a total surprise that came out of nowhere and was the highlight of an otherwise wet and miserable West Coast day. A quick photo and our salmon was released to pursue a one-way terminal spawning mission somewhere upstream.

As anglers, we are always searching for angling's holy grail, and this season it may well have been on our local river, the Motueka. The Australian anglers love it, and the most valued and best section has always been the lower river, below the Wangapeka confluence to the sea, a distance of some 44km.

The Motueka is protected by a Water Conservation Order, similar to a national park status for a river, and this scenic lowland river is valued for easy access and a historically high fish count.

Ironically, the best late season fishing was courtesy of a longtime Australian hitch-hiker known as the passion vine hopper (Scolypopa australis) which lives on the many willow trees which line the lower river. Wherever there are trees, there are always trout on the Motueka and the adult passion vine hoppers fall, jump, and are blown onto the river's surface in large numbers in late summer and autumn.

These delta-winged terrestrial insects may be a pest in someone's home garden but the Motueka trout love them and will line up under the surface, and along the bank, methodically sipping the hapless bugs off the water.

The trout can be very selective, with short accurate casts, light line, and exact imitations being required for consistent success. It's highly exciting and addictive fishing, stalking and casting to happy trout suspended under the water surface, while the fish are preoccupied with slurping the Australian invaders.

Actually, without pest species the lower Motueka river would be a pretty sad place. With successive generations of land clearance, channelisation, and the removal of riparian vegetation, it seems like the only thing holding the lower river banks together are plants like crack willow, wattles, gorse, broom, blackberry, and old man's beard, which provide food, cover, structure, and shade for a valued recreational species like our brown trout.

One interesting development this season has been the arrival of the giant willow aphid (Tuberolachnus salignus) to the Tasman District. With the world getting smaller, and the climate seemingly changing, keeping New Zealand's biosecurity borders clear is becoming increasingly difficult and the giant willow aphid (GWA) is just the latest bug to become established in New Zealand since 2013.

Over summer, I'd wondered what caused the oily patches under the willow trees of the Motueka, and it wasn't hard to find out. The residue has a sweet sugary taste which turned out to be aphid poo from the leaves above.

Searching the trees and stems, the aphids were present in big numbers, with adults growing as large as 6mm. No-one knows what impact the latest insect intruders will have, but Australia is indeed fortunate to be one of the few countries in the world with willow trees to be free of this insect.

Maybe the trout will end up eating them, much like the passion vine hoppers, but scientists are concerned that the GWA infestations may have an impact on willow and poplar trees that are important throughout the country for flood control and river management.

Willow trees have large root masses that hold riverbanks together and prolonged insect attack could weaken willow trees leading to decreased flood control with increased erosion and sedimentation in waterways.

Alas, New Zealand's climate is considered highly favourable for GWA and it is able to withstand cold UK winters, with 20 degrees Celsius being considered the optimal temperature for population growth.

Other unfortunate side effects of GWA are the release of honeydew from trees as the insects feed and excrete, causing wasp numbers to explode, and as containment and eradication are impractical there is concern that GWA could migrate to export crops such as kiwifruit. We live in a dynamic environment and changing times. Our trout fishery has always had challenges, and there will be many more in the years ahead. I'm just glad that trout eat passion vine hoppers, wasps, and mice already. Let's hope they like aphids too.

Living it up on the Great Barrier Reef

Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Living it up on the Great Barrier Reef, 5 April 2014, Nelson Mail

0311 Gary McManaway
Team NZ on the scoreboard: Gary McManaway, left, and Tony Fyfe enjoy their success.

The alarm clock started screaming at the antisocial hour of 5am, and I leapt out of bed ready for the next fishing adventure.

Picking up Richmond's Gary McManaway on the way to the airport, we were finally away on our long anticipated tropical fishing expedition to Northern Queensland.

We would be fishing some of the remotest waters in Australia, north of Lizard Island, en route to Princess Charlotte Bay nestled between Cape Melville and Cape York. It was to be new water for both of us, and we were fortunate to be fishing aboard the luxurious 68-foot mothership Blue Martini with Far North Sports Fishing.

It was a big day of travel going Nelson-Auckland-Brisbane-Cairns, but our hotel in Cairns was right by the seaside, so Gary and I headed out to walk the esplanade and find some dinner.

We even saw our first fish of the trip when we checked out the pet barramundi in the hotel pond. They were impressive silver specimens, but alas very safe from our lures.

Tourism is the major industry in Queensland, and Cairns was fair humming, despite it being monsoon season.

Walking the esplanade, the rain hosed down, and we sought shelter and a beer on the main tourist strip. We enjoyed an excellent seafood dinner together, while discussing trip prospects and admiring the wildlife parading the tourist strip.

Being a couple of old fellas, we headed back to catch some sleep before our flight to Lizard Island by small fixed-wing aircraft the next day.

Our morning flight was delayed due to monsoon rain and thunder, but once we got airborne we experienced impressive turbulence and low visibility among white fluffy clouds.

Every once in a while we could look down and view the tropical reefs, islands and white sand beaches of the Great Barrier Reef far below.

One of the great wonders of the world, the Great Barrier Reef is the largest barrier reef on the planet, and contains an unmatched assemblage of shallow water reefs, clear azure waters, and amazing fish life.

Alas, like most other natural resources worldwide these days, the Reef's environment is under threat from climate change, ocean acidification, and man's impact on the land from agriculture, urban development and sedimentation.

There was much written about this in local newspapers, and one can only hope that the Australians don't further maim (or even kill) the goose that laid their golden egg, especially with Queensland tourism being such a vital economic driver to their state economy.One thing the Australians appear to do quite well is with the management of special marine areas, setting aside no-take marine reserves, recreational fishing areas, and commercial fishing zones.Blue Martini was anchored in a marine reserve "green zone" as we flew into Lizard Island National Park and we were met by fishing guides Casey and Mike, and the rest of our fishing team - Craig Parsell, Tony Fyfe, Matt Mell and Mark Norman.

The seas were too rough to set sail that night but the forecast for the following day was easing seas and abating wind. From the boat the fish life was evident everywhere, with giant trevally (known affectionately as GTs) cruising within plain sight but totally safe from our rods.

It had been great to catch up again with legendary Queensland skipper Russ Player, who I'd first met at Port Douglas in October 2013, and to meet his new chef Matt, and 23-year-old French hostess Oriane.

After a few beers the afternoon was closing in when Russ described the highest point on the island above us as "Cook's Look" which Captain James Cook had climbed in 1770 to find a path out through the treacherous coral reefs that ringed the island. I just had to go, and talked 26-year-old guide Casey into taking me ashore for an attempt on the mountain.

No-one knew where the track was but Russ suspected it was over in the corner of a gorgeous tropical white sand beach within easy view.

Casey nosed the 20ft fishing dory ashore and we anchored on the rising tide before locating the trail and climbing hard. It was an awesome track, rough but challenging, especially in wet sandals.

At the top we enjoyed a spectacular 360-degree view and stood on the very same spot where James Cook had been almost 250 years before us.

For a history buff like me, it was a special moment, before Casey reminded me that we'd have to run down the mountain to make it back to the boat by dark. Greeted with another Japanese Asahi beer by hostess Oriane in the darkness, I happily told the boys that in Hillary fashion "we'd knocked the bugger off".

After wonderful appetisers, dinner, dessert, fine wines and much merriment, we marvelled at the fish life basking in the strong stern lights of Blue Martini.

There were trevally, spangled emperor, remora, sharks and even massive spotted groper everywhere. In nearly three decades as a fishing guide, I'd never seen fish-life like it.

Gary joked: "There's no fish here - time to go home," and we enjoyed the fishy spectacle right up until we all went to bed.

Our cabins were first class with Gary and me sharing a cabin, which was very comfortable, along with plenty of storage area.

Being on the top "queen-size" bed I even had a porthole to look out above water level. Gently rocked to sleep that night, we were on the verge of a truly epic adventure.

The concept of a mothership fishing adventure has been taken to a new level by owners Craig and Tony, and the ability to travel to remote waters and stay onboard in luxury has much to commend it.

It is so much better than staying at some tired old fishing lodge thrashing the same waters day after day, when you can travel to the best locations and be in the right place at the right time.

Operating a marine charter service myself, I was particularly taken with the custom-built 20ft centre console fishing dories powered by 100HP Yamaha outboards that are secured and towed behind the mothership when not in use.

The dories were exceptional casting and fishing platforms to explore the pristine waterways of tropical North Queensland and are set up with state-of-the-art electronics and top-quality Shimano fishing reels and rods.

It was obvious that these vast fishing grounds, many in listed World Heritage areas, offered prolific fishing opportunities, and we would sample varied fishing styles such as lure casting, reef fishing, popping, jigging, live bait, trolling, and soft plastics in the days ahead. Our first day of fishing was in moderate seas and whitecaps, in among squalls and tropical downpours.

It was one of those days where the wind-whipped spray stung our faces and the metallic taste of salt filled our mouths.

We anchored up on reefs and fished lead jig heads rigged with scented soft plastics.

The fish didn't like my green soft bait with a wriggly tail, but Tony and Gary were on fire, catching lots of beautifully coloured tropical reef species.

Catching up with Blue Martini later, in the sheltered lee of an island, we had a great lunch on the top deck before heading out fishing once more.

Switching to normal bait and hook, I managed to re-find my fishing mojo, while Blue Martini kept travelling onwards to our night-time sheltered anchorage.

Close to dark we had caught up with the mothership, but guide Mikey suggested we try a few casts with a floating stick-bait lure off a rocky headland.

Several casts later, a large silver fish savaged my lure, twisting and jumping like an acrobat on the high trapeze.

Soon I had beside the boat my first queenfish, a fish species I'd had on my bucket-list for a long time. Gary insisted I have one last cast before beer thirty back at the big boat and I'm glad I did.

The long cast was taken by the wind, nearly hitting the exposed rocks in the surging seas. I can't even remember turning the reel handle before the rod was almost ripped from my grasp by a hugely aggressive fish with raw power and an attitude to match.

By the time the 20kg GT was at the boat I was knackered too, but tomorrow was another day, and I knew we were about to experience something truly special . . .

Taking sides for the great barra quest

Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Taking sides for the great barra quest, 19 April 2014, Nelson Mail

Part two of Zane’s fishing adventures in remote Queensland waters
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Silver Bullet: Gary McManaway of "Team New Zealand" with a saltwater barramundi.

Daylight was breaking through my cabin porthole as I heard the big engine start and the clanking of the winch and anchor chain. Leaping out of bed, throwing on some clothes, and climbing upstairs to the wheel house, I learnt that the sea conditions were ideal and we were heading north.

Our destination was remote Princess Charlotte Bay, via Cape Melville and the Flinders Island Group, aboard the 68-foot luxury mothership Blue Martini operated by Far North Sports Fishing.

We steamed across a vast ocean as the sun rose higher in the sky and the balmy tropical northern Queensland temperatures hit their peak.

Behind us, the twin 20ft custom-built centre console fishing dories tracked beautifully, and we sat outside on the back deck drinking pineapple juice and coffee, while curvaceous French hostess Oriane served us hot bacon and egg sandwiches for breakfast.

As we rounded Cape Melville, we marvelled at the ancient rocks, boulder fields and headlands, weathered since the beginning of time by salt spray and an unforgiving climate, wondering what fishing experiences we would enjoy for the day.

Cruising through the passage between the mainland and the Flinders Islands we admired white sand beaches, stunted forests and red rock cliff faces towering high above us.

The remote Princess Charlotte Bay appeared to be ripe for the fishing and we were not to be disappointed. A large bay at the base of Cape York Peninsula, 350km north-northwest of Cairns, it is part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Reefs there are described as pristine and reef habitat and onshore wetlands exist in green zones which restrict commercial fishing.

Anchoring up, we had a leisurely on-board lunch of fresh breads, salads, cold cuts, and quality cheeses, all washed down with a glass or two of white wine, before heading offshore in the dories.

With six anglers and two guides, we had decided to split into two teams at the beginning of the trip. With Craig Parsell, Matty Mell, and Mark Norman being true blue Aussies, it was inevitable that it would be Team Australia versus Team New Zealand made up of Kiwis Tony Fyfe, Gary McManaway, and myself.  It was game on, and no quarter was given in the BS stakes, but our Anzac fishing contest sure was fun.

Our Australian companions were excellent and gregarious company being great storytellers and raconteurs late into the night, often fuelled on copious amounts of amber liquid and fine wine. We laughed, joked, and poked fun at each other every night, but out on the water it was a serious game.For each fishing session, Russ the Skipper would outline the target species and what would score the highest points, then it was on to the dories and away fishing.Largemouth nannygai were a spectacular fish, being crimson and scarlet, with a large red eye. Nannygai were also a very obliging fish to catch taking baits and soft plastics aggressively and fighting hard all the way to the surface. We all caught lots of fish over favoured reefs, releasing many and keeping some for filleting and freezing. Some of the larger specimens were approaching up to 12kg in size and offered fine eating.

We all took our regulation 10kg of frozen fish home with us at the end of the trip in sealed stryrofoam boxes and it was surprisingly easy getting the frozen fish past New Zealand customs officials. My father Stuart later had fine praise for the tropical reef fish, describing it as the finest fish he had ever eaten.

We caught a variety of other fish too that afternoon including trevally and cobia, and the anglers got to have a rest and enjoy a cold beer, while guides Mike and Casey filleted and vacuum-packed the fish ready for freezing in the blast freezer below decks. Throwing the filleted carcasses off the back of Blue Martini soon attracted the sharks and we marvelled at the two huge bull sharks fighting over the fish frames.

It was apparent that this area was no place to go swimming or even dip a limb in the water, and Russ the Skipper repeatedly reminded us to be very careful of tropical dangers such as box jellyfish, crocodiles, sea snakes, sharks, poisonous stonefish when wading ashore, mosquitos, termites, and land snakes.

Sharks were often an issue when fishing as they would take hooked fish on the way up. Mikey would often yell out ‘‘upgrade’’ as a shark took yet another fish and bent the rod double.

 Sometimes throughout the week we would fish off the back of the big boat after dark as the fish were attracted to the bright lights, and I even caught a few fish on my fly rod, including a poisonous banded sea snake.

We had an excellent session one day on golden snapper or fingermark which we all enjoyed immensely. Fishing into a big hole in the reef, these aggressive fish ate bait, soft plastics, and virtually anything we threw at them.

I particularly enjoyed fishing ‘‘blades’’ for fingermark, which was a lure style new to me. Rigged with two hooks, the blade-style lure throbbed and vibrated as it was lifted up through the water column, and was savaged by all fish, including hard-fighting queenfish.

Another style of fishing I really enjoyed was throwing large blunt-faced poppers onto exposed reefs and current edges for giant trevally. It was hard work, ripping the poppers back with a ‘‘gloop, gloop’’ action but along with the more easily fished surface stickbaits, it was a technique that will pay dividends back here on our New Zealand kingfish.

One of the things about the fishing at Princess Charlotte Bay that impressed us all was the variety of fish species and the types and styles of fishing we could do.

 Russ and his team of guides knew the fishery well, mixing up the programme to make the fishing a never-ending adventure. It’s definitely the sort of place you could go back to a number of times and still discover new species and learn new fishing skills.

One day we set crab pots and caught big blue mud crabs, with huge sharp claws, that Mikey carefully and expertly tied up with string to be manageable.

Barramundi (ifLates calcarifernf) are an iconic Australian fish present in both fresh and saltwater. These Asian seabass are widely distributed in the Indo-West Pacific region from the Persian Gulf, through Southeast Asia to Papua New Guinea and Northern Australia. Remote Northern Queensland is a great place to fish for barramundi and I admit that catching a ‘‘barra’’ was high on my bucket list.

Barra are a challenging fish to catch, the fish of ten thousand casts. They lie deep beneath logs, rocky overhangs and other structure waiting to ambush unsuspecting prey.

 Part of the appeal of barra fishing is casting floating bibbed lures under the mangrove edges and jerking the lure downwards to tease a strike from the reluctant fish.

Barra will take many lures but the skill of the cast and the anticipation of the strike is addictive. You can also catch many snags too, and Mikey was always reminding us to use ‘‘soft hands’’ so we could float lures over obstructions.

Over time, our casting accuracy got much better and we were able to lead lures through snag-infested waters like professionals.

 When the strike comes, it takes you by surprise with the sheer explosiveness of the take and there is no doubt that you have a very special angry fish attached to your line.

Barra are renowned for their aerial acrobatics on the line and although we never caught one of the coveted metre-long-plus specimens, we had some awesome jumps out of the saltwater barras. They are spectacular fish and catching my first barra was one of the highlights of an angling career.

 We blasted up the Bizant river one day, past mangrove thickets, small tributaries, and bankside logs. We saw magpie geese, orange-clawed fiddler crabs, mudskipper fish, even a crocodile.

Soon it was time to go home, and just fro the record Team Australia won the fishing competition by one session and by just one barramundi.

The Viking Connection


Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, The Viking Connection, 22 March 2014, Nelson Mail

Decorated with silver, bronze, and pewter flanks and a mis-shapen dorsal fin that contains the colours of the rainbow, they were the fish of dreams.
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Connected Again: Swede Arne Berggren, left, holds the lost smart phone, while Henry Larsson savours a fishy moment.
The Norsemen of Scandanavia must have been truly fearsome warriors, exploring Europe by sea and river for trade, raids and conquest in the glory era of 793-1066AD.

The sacking of the Abbey at Lindisfarne in 793 AD became legendary and as one Northumbrian scholar of the time described it: “never before in Britain has such a terror appeared”.

Fortunately, the world has changed, and the Vikings are no more. In these modern days, the people of Denmark, Norway and Sweden are much more peaceful and it has been my very great privilege to have spent much time fishing with many of them here in New Zealand.

I have a special fondness for the Swedes, having many great fishing connections and special fly fishing memories.

Friends such as leading fishing author Gunnar Westrin, and outdoor photographer Leif Milling have been highly valued, along with other awesome personalities such as Anders Dahlien, Palle Andersson, and Per Thelin, among others.

They’ve also sent their friends to fish with me, and Gunnar has written many stories about our adventures together. It’s a special relationship, and just this week I was guiding two more special Swedes, Henry Larsson and Arne Berggren.

We had a great time together and luckily their ‘Swinglish’ was better than my Swedish, although I knew enough to ask them “har do fottnogen fisk?” (have you caught any fish!). Henry and Arne were very pleasant companions, both having a good sense of humour, and we had much to talk about and many rivers to fish.

We also caught some nice trout, although one day up the Travers river, Henry managed to lose his smart phone along the river. On our next day on the Wairau, Henry was a very sorry fellow who couldn’t concentrate, and although Arne and I had some mirth teasing Henry about his career as a ‘technical consultant’ and his omission to have his data backed up, we resolved to return to the Travers to search together for the missing phone.

The Travers river in Nelson Lakes National Park is a wonderful river, although it gets whipped mercilessly these days by recreational anglers, tourists and guides alike, as other more local options fade into mediocrity through arguably poor stewardship by stakeholder groups. Arne and Henry were worried about being beaten to the water so we went early in our search for the phone, and as always, a little fishing along the way.
Walking straight to where we had had lunch two days before paid no dividend, likewise did a search around where Arne had caught a nice trout and Henry remembered taking a photo on his phone. We headed upstream and I put the odds of a find at 100 to 1. Soon I spotted a nice fish, one that Henry had hooked two days before but had escaped.

“Go try again” I suggested as Henry slid his giant 6’5”frame and 68 year old body down the bank. “Voila” Henry shrieked in French as he spied his very dry and totally useable smart phone tucked under the bank. To say he was rapt is an understatement and the old Henry was reconnected again. He even caught the trout.

We had a nice day out and at day’s end Henry kindly invited me to catch the last trout just below the swingbridge.

Using my old sage four weight LL rod that had worked well for the Swedes, the fish made me work hard.

Well camouflaged against the rocks and under fast water, the selective trout made me change nymphs several times until I saw a flash of jaws, a tightening of the line, and felt the strong throbbing pull of a solid fish.

Walking back to the boat, Arne and Henry even invited me to fish with them for char and grayling on the river Pite Alven in late July, which flows from Norway and through Sweden into the Baltic Sea. Although there are two chances of me ever making it – slim and none.

On the way back we saw two red deer running across the matagouri flats, and I was able to tell the Swedes about my Swedish Husqvarna rifle and even point out places I had shot deer on past hunting trips.

During our week together, the Swedes and I had much to discuss, and it bought back fond memories of my trip to Sweden during the summer of 1996.  Flying into Stockholm via Hong Kong, I went north by train to the small northern village of Gimdalen to stay with my friend, noted photographer Leif Milling.

We had great times and great fishing, and I was impressed with the Swedish people and the countryside. Swedes are no-frills, do-it-yourself type people like Kiwis, and they especially like summer feasts, home brewed ‘moonshine’ and lots of dancing.

Some of the best fishing from Gimdalen was at a private managed river fishery that allowed only eight rods per day, and was strictly catch and release.

Idsjostrommen flows out of a lake and this 2km tailwater fishery is widely regarded as one of the finest grayling streams in Sweden. Driving flat out through long grass to the river one day, a large boulder stopped Leif’s Rolls Royce car dead in it’s tracks. “I have not met that rock before” Leif giggled uncontrollably.

Grayling proved to be a spectacular fish. Decorated with silver, bronze, and pewter flanks and a huge mis-shapen dorsal fin that contains the colours of the rainbow, they were the fish of dreams.

Being a fine sporting fish with selective eating habits and an alarmingly quick strike, they inhabited fast water and were strong fighters. Idsjostrommen was stuffed full of big grayling that liked dry flies but the nymph fishing was dynamite. Best of all, the grayling had never seen a Kiwi nymph fisherman with double truck-and-trailer nymph rig and yarn strike indicators.

One day the river keeper ordered me off the river because I had been too successful, but amusingly Leif caught the same gentleman fishing my technique the next day on the same river, so he must have been impressed.

We caught many other species of fish also including pike, brown trout, perch, and Id, but perhaps the most rewarding fishing was fishing in the far North of Sweden, in the mountains of Lappland and into the land of the midnight sun. Here we fished for Arctic char in the bare, windswept, glaciated mountains of Jamptland, a few hours south of the arctic circle.

Here, ice has permanently sculpted the landscape and tattooed impressive striation marks across huge expanses of rock. Lower down, the slopes were green and heavily vegetated with beautiful forests inhabited by moose, bear, and lynx.

In the remote valleys we found the semi-nomadic farms of the aboriginal Swedes, the Lapps.

Looking more Asian than European, these hardy people farmed reindeer. Principally meat eaters, their favourite delicacy was dried, rancid, reindeer fat, and boy was it disgusting to eat. Arctic char were the first fish to inhabit Sweden after the last ice age, with brown trout following soon after. We fished private lakes at the hospitality of the local Lapp community which was considering starting a tourist venture. We walked miles across tundra, through forests and over cascading waterfalls. Some of the single log bridges took our breath away.

The only bad part of the experience was Anders forgetting the food and we had to live on half-rotten moose meat when we were forced into a tiny hut in inclement weather for a few days.

The whole Swedish experience proved to be something profound, unique, and incomparable, and my world is richer for having known Swedes and having valued Swedish connections.  I just can’t wait for the next Swedish adventure.

Special friendships spawned on the river

Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Special friendships spawned on the river, 8 March 2014, Nelson Mail

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Surprise: Skip Herman was rapt to land the catch of the day.

Local trout fishing can be hard work over summer. With drought upon us, low flows, warm water temperatures, and every angler searching for the last best place, trout can be masters at keeping their heads down and their lips intact.

There are still trout to be caught though and many days have exceeded expectations in a tough fishery. It's all about hunting the cooler water and thermal refuges, and there's no substitute for knowledge, experience and long hours on the river. As always at this time of year there have been wonderful moments of eye-popping glory amid many hours of fly fishing drudgery.

The past few days out on the river as a fishing guide were certainly educational. After decades in the game, most of my guide days now are with people who know me by professional reputation, have fished with me before, have been recommended by others, or have found me direct on the internet.

But this week, I had my arm twisted behind my back and talked into doing some travel agent-organised jobs. Agent jobs are the mainstay of the general tourism business, but I must admit that I've never really enjoyed guiding people who don't know me from a bar of soap and have no prior relationship.

It's a tough job guiding anglers you don't know and it can be very stressful, especially if things aren't going well on the fishing front. A river can be a lonely place as a guide, and many times over the decades I've felt like some sort of modern day Rumpelstiltskin trying to spin straw into gold.

You can't make chicken salad out of chicken dung, and often as a guide you are battling circumstances beyond your control.

Often anglers are sold a fishing trip by an agent without being fully briefed about what they are getting themselves into and many times they will have inflated expectations about what they can realistically expect given often poor mobility and limited fly fishing ability in a challenging and declining fishery.

Add micro-management by demanding agents, infighting and egos between people in the same tour group, competition from rival operators in the eternal race for water, poor weather like rain, wind, or drought, and it can be a match made in hell.

Fortunately there were no great dramas this week but it made me really appreciate the great anglers I have met over the years and made me resolve to stick with ones I know and like, fishing the places I prefer to go.

Fishing is supposed to be fun and you should always appreciate the good times you have with valued family, friends, and customers. Just last week I was fishing with US angler Skip Herman from Chicago. Skip and his awesome wife Meg first fished with me more than 20 years ago on their honeymoon to New Zealand. It was an unlikely trio of bride, groom, and spotty youngster leading them around the trout streams of Murchison but we got on like a house on fire and Skip has kept in touch ever since.

We even caught up in the US a few times during the 90s when I was working for Taylor Creek Flyshop, out of Basalt, Colorado on the banks of the Roaring Fork and Frying Pan Rivers.One of my great memories was staying with Skip and Meg at their condo in Vail, better known as a winter skiing resort town, but in the summer also a fine fly fishing destination.Skip took me fishing multiple days on the waters of his private club on the Eagle river with great midday mayfly hatches and superb dry fly fishing. By night we BBQ'ed steaks, visited the sights of Vail, and even attended a concert by one of Skip's favourite bands called Little Feat, with their keynote song to fame Rocket in my Pocket. Skip has now graduated on to Bruce Springsteen Concerts, travelling the world to watch "the Boss", even managing two Springsteen concerts in Australia and two in Auckland this trip.

Skip and I were even talking about what I've learnt from Americans over the years, driving back from fishing the other day. Spending so much of my adult working life with overseas anglers Skip observed I'm fortunate to have been influenced by many successful and talented people. He's so right and Skip is definitely one of them.

In fact, I'm probably half American in my thinking and when I look back on all my trips to the US and Canada it was almost like going into the future as a young man. Back here in New Zealand I'm still learning but the wisdom, influence, kindness, generosity, friendship, and mentoring freely offered by many special Americans, but also Brits, Aussies, Africans, Austrians, Swiss, and Scandanavians, has been gratefully appreciated, both on and off the water.

What I like most about Skip in particular is his attitude. He is always happy and always upbeat. Even a recent health scare has failed to dent his optimism.

He is a pleasure to guide, revelling in the moment, and his excitement at catching rising trout lights up any fishing day. Skip is a dry fly aficionado, taking special joy at watching a trout come willingly to the floating fly. One trout this trip, hung suspended under a deerhair cicada fly on a limpid green backcountry pool.

It couldn't make up it's mind whether to eat the fly or not, and Skip and I even had time for a conversation, before the fly sank below the surface and the white flash of the jaws signalled a take. Skip's rod bent double and his reel sang but the best part for me was watching Skip's smile and laughing at his child-like pleasure.

We had some great days in the wilderness, fishing a different catchment each day by helicopter, but perhaps my favourite day with Skip was fishing a deep and boulder-filled gorge virtually inaccessible unless in severe drought. In the chopper, I asked Skip, 60, whether he wanted easy walking or hard, and he told me "Let's go where the fish are" so that's where we went.

Out of the air, boulders never look so big but when we started walking upstream it was like climbing a giant staircase. The water was magnificent, emerald green, with trout cruising the depths like an aquarium, but between the pools were giant boulders, lots of giant boulders. In several places, access upstream was virtually impenetrable, but we got through by crawling through the holes in the boulder fields stacked there by the 1929 Murchison Earthquake. We even joked that no bureaucrats had yet placed earthquake warning signs on the rocky tunnels we climbed through.

Skip revelled in the location, and the fish were only a bonus. We laughed and discussed many things, but our shared history, memories, and experiences of fishing trips past added a special richness and value for us both. Life is short, and like a quality single malt whisky, you should always appreciate the special times you spend with special people.

On Skip's last fishing day, we'd caught some beautiful trout on dry flies, and the day just disappeared. Before we knew it, the helicopter was coming up the river searching for us.

We shut the helicopter down to try one last pool and Skip rose the best fish of the day which was a great way to finish. Skip debated fishing another pool but there is always next year.

"My professional advice is to walk away a winner on your last cast," I joked to Skip and he agreed. It had been another epic adventure with Skip and I can't wait to go fishing together again next year.

Rivers nearly too warm for the fish


Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Rivers nearly too warm for the fish, 22 February 2014, Nelson Mail

Some days lately, I've even taken to throwing myself into high country rivers at lunchtime in a desperate attempt to escape the heat and dust, although a massive eel snacking on our lunch scraps made me think twice about swimming one day.
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Better luck at sea: Brian Whitestone with an albacore tuna.
Like it or not, the dog days of summer have arrived.  Over recent weeks the full heat of summer has kicked in, with a drying summer landscape, shrinking rivers, and soaring in-stream water temperatures.

Water restrictions are not that far away and significant rainfall is not on the radar yet.  It's always been this way as long as I can remember, and the last few weeks of February and first week of March have often provided tough fishing until the days get shorter and water temperatures cool, or we get rain.

It's been a great time to go swimming though.  Recently, during school holidays at St Arnaud we swam in Lake Rotoiti every day - pristine waters that are always refreshingly chilly.

Kids just love the water and it's great family fun watching them develop water skills that will last them a lifetime.  There were plenty of other people around too, enjoying boating, sailing,kayaking, waterskiing and we made sure we had our toys out on the water as well.

Swimmming in local waterways has always been a rite of passage for our younger generations but alas this is increasingly under threat with the exponential rise and rise of agriculture, urbanisation and forestry.

There are plenty of places I wouldn't let my kids swim these days but upper parts of any catchment are generally a safer bet and the Roding Rver is the best freshwater river swimming close to Richmond that we know of.  We'll often nip up to the Busch reserve for a quick swim after school, or at weekends, and recently we even had the river to ourselves in the evening as it started to rain and blow.

Some days lately, I've even taken to throwing myself into high country rivers at lunchtime in a desperate attempt to escape the heat and dust, although a massive eel snacking on our lunch scraps made me think twice about swimming one day.  Fishing the dog days of summer has always had it's challenges.  For a start, many of our lowland rivers become gunged up with weed and silt in the low flows, creating technical issues like snagging weed on the line and hooks, and pushing fish out of many pools.  Habitat issues are also very apparent at this time of year, such as the common lack of adequate riparian vegetation to filter out sediment and nutrients, and importantly shading the water edges on hot days.

recently fishing up the Baton River on a blisteringly hot day, we despaired at the forestry harvesting and disturbed soil on nearby slopes.  Other areas of the Motueka catchment have unstable geology in the form of Separation Point Granite soils which can dissolve like sugar in heavy rain and it's debatable whether many of these areas should ever have been planted in exotic forests in the first place.

You can still catch fish in some pretty scungy places.  Recently friend Steve and I fished the lower Waimea right on dark.  The fishing had been slow but it was a great place to avoid people as the cyanobacteria warning meant no-one in their right mind was going to be swimming or running their dogs.

Steve was standing in the looming blackness as I waded upstream to meet him at the head of the pool.  He'd seen a fish rise in the gloom but had lost his fly on the far bank and kindly insisted I have a go.

One cast and the fish was on, and what a beauty.  At 3.2kg, the butter fat, golden-sided trout with leopard spots was one of the finest trout I'd ever caught since fishing the Waimea from boyhood.

Finding good trout fishing from Nelson City at this time of year can be a big challenge and usually involves driving big distances, so I suggested to Brian Whitestone of Calgary that we go saltwater fishing for our first day out together.

Pelagic fish species love the warm thermal currents and Brian caught albacore tuna and kingfish.  These fish thrive on hot days and warm waters and we appear to be seeing more tuna locally each year as the climate, weather and ocean currents change.  My prediction is that it won't be too long before you'll read in the Nelson Mail about some local angler catching a marlin in Tasman Bay (hopefully it'll be me).

Trout fishing the next day, Brian and I headed for Marlborough and disappointment.  Our best fish was a stunning brownie, just shy of 3kg, taken on 5x fluorocarbon tippet and a #18 pale yellow willow grub imitation.  The fish was finning quietly in a tiny, gin clear pool overhung with willows, gently sipping willow grubs which were falling from the trees above.  A good cast, a delicate slurp with flashing mouth, and it was game on.

But htat was the highlight of a rather depressing tour of Marlborough, observing the environmental degradation in progress firsthand.  Stock in waterways, thick, excessive slime choking streams, massive dairy farm conversions, cornfields on streambanks, noisy pump stations, and centre-pivot irrigators vomiting out water in the hot midday, high evaporation temperatures.

it was disappointing to say the least and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out that the Wairau catchment will be sucked dry in the years ahead.

Marlborough is a conservative region, but I've watched the local riverine resources decline there ever since I married Aimee and started spending lots of time with her family in Blenheim.

Unfortunately the people of Marlborough don't know what they are losing by stealth, but one day they may wake up and find that worshipping the false gods of viticulture, forestry and dairy farming wasn't necessarily the smartest course.

Economic development is vital to any modern economy but without basic environmental safeguards, the mess we leave for future generations to clean up will be our legacy.  Development should be sustainable and as we walked back to the truck Brian and I discussed the true cost of a litre of milk.

It certainly isn't what you pay at hte supermarket, for the true cost is subsidised by the environment and by our treasured waterways.  The rivers are the arteries and veins of our planet and we monkey with them at our peril.  Our local waters in Nelson and Tasman are not immune to the same processes, seasonally magnified by low flows and high water temperatures.  Fishing the Motueka river this week, the river was deathly warm, 20.3 degrees Celcius at Woodman's bend by 9.30am.

Temperatures significantly over 20 degrees are widely regarded as moving into the "death-zone" for salmonoids and will see them seeking thermal refuges in the form of cool inflowing springs, streams, deep water or shaded areas.

The western tributaries of the Motueka keep the river system alive during drought, delivering cooling flows which buffer against the worst effects extreme water temperature, but even then the river still warms up in the relentless afternoon sun.  Some days the trout must be fair cooking, almost boiling in the tepid flows.  We even caught a record trout at 6pm, long after we should have left the river, in an unbelievable water temperature of 24.1 degrees below Woodstock.  On a dry fly too.

Maybe it's the way of the future, and maybe many of our valued trout streams will go the way of the dodo bird.  But like the classic Dr Seuss quote in the epic environmental book The Lorax: "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot nothing is going to get better. It's not".

The search for fish never ends.

Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, The search for fish never ends, 25 January 2014, Nelson Mail

0336 Fred
Over the rainbow: Fred Young and daughter Mindy, share a father- daughter moment with a rainbow trout.

Fly fishing is a wonderful sport and one of the great joys of fishing is exploration. To an angler and guide, the mystery of exploration and discovery is an intoxicating experience where you go to beautiful places in search of beautiful wild trout.

Over the years I've made some amazing fishing discoveries and also found some real dogs.

In my younger years as a single man, I had the resources and opportunities to head off to all points of the compass at any opportunity. Having fishing customers that also enjoyed exploring only fed my addiction to fishing new rivers.

Back in the good old days when the world was awash in money, many fishing customers even willingly funded exploratory helicopter excursions in search of fly fishing's holy grail.

When you figure in exploration by hiking, 4WD, boat, raft, jetboat, mountainbike, and fixed wing aeroplane, there is much of the northern South Island that I have already seen, but there are still many places to go because one man couldn't explore the South Island fully in a lifetime.

I'm always looking for new fishing and hunting places to go and realised long ago that the journey is what I crave most and not necessarily the destination.

Anticipation and adrenaline are the real kick, even when the actual fishing may be disappointing.

I'm always planning the next trip, often telling my wife Aimee that it's the opportunity of a lifetime. Aimee usually has a different opinion, sometimes telling me that I have "trips of a lifetime" every week over summer.

The West Coast has always been the apple-of-my-exploration-eye and I just love it there.

Maybe it's because I'm of West Coast stock or maybe I just love the wild places, the clear rivers, gnarly gorges, swamps, rainforest jungles, sandflies and Monteiths beer. I'm getting close to having visited much of the West Coast but there are still a few valleys and streams that alluringly remain a mystery to me and continue to draw me back time and again. Years ago I even suggested selling up in Nelson and moving down the ‘Coast but Aimee told me I'd be very happy down there, on my own.

The people of the West Coast are part of the attraction too. You meet some real characters on your travels in the back blocks and West Coasters are some of the most genuine people you will ever encounter.

I love it when gas station staff address me by name when I'm passing through town, or when publicans joke with my anglers and when accommodation providers go out of their way to assist our adventures.You meet some amazing people on the Coast, and these personal interactions add real and tangible value to every fishing experience. On the Coast surnames still mean something and it's probably not unlike the Highlands of Scotland where clan affiliation is everything.One time we walked into the Ikamatua Pub, which was in full swing and packed with beer-swilling revellers. Heading to the men's room, a huge, rugged, bearded, inebriated man confronted me at the urinal.

"Who are you?" he asked menacingly. Apprehensively I told him I was a Mirfin. "I'm a McEnroe" my new friend exclaimed while changing hands in full flow and enthusiastically shaking my right hand. You never know who you'll meet on the Coast and that's always more than half the adventure.

My last trip down the Coast was another cracker. I'd been fishing with Fred Young and his 25 year old daughter Mindy up at Nelson Lakes for a few days before heading for the Coast.

I'd been hearing about Mindy from Fred ever since she was a little girl, but she'd grown into an intelligent and attractive woman, who is a talented professional photographer.

Fred and I have fished together many times over the past 20 years or so and have had some awesome adventures and fun together. One time Fred threw an apple and can of corned beef across a swollen Roaring Lion river to me when I got stuck on the wrong side of the river from the hut on an early morning deerstalking foray.

Fred even taught me about fishing his secret "leech" fly which has caught a lot of trout for us together over the years.

One time in a howling gale force nor-wester we took shelter in the truck as the trees doubled over and touched the ground. Fred reckoned he's never seen a vehicle rocking so much since his university days, but we went out and fished anyway into the crashing lakeside waves.

Fred caught a miraculous draught of trout on his "leech" and it's been part of our angling repertoire together ever since.

On our recent way westward to the Coast, the rain started to pour, and pour some more. We kept driving eventually ending up at Lake Haupiri, where it continued to pour.

Fred wasn't in any hurry to fish and we spent the whole afternoon in the vehicle with Mindy, while the boat filled with water on the trailer, regaling her with tales of fishing adventures past.

Eventually we gave up, decided fishing was a no-go, and headed for the Stationhouse Cafe at Moana for fine dining and cold beer.

The rivers may have been swollen and raging but the lakes were prime for fishing the next day and Fred had plenty of leeches in his fly box. We fished the flooded forest, swamps and edges with boat and electric positioning motor, stalking in on fish rooting around amongst the reeds and snags.

It was a stellar day and we caught trout after trout, by far our best day of the trip.

Soon it was time for Fred and Mindy to head over the hill to Canterbury, but I was honoured when Mindy hugged me like an old friend and thanked me for allowing her to become part of the fishing history too.

I'd been looking forward to staying down the Coast for a few more days and doing more personal exploration, something that's a lot harder to do these days with more work and a growing family to supervise.

I had a plan of where to go and what to do when Aimee rang. She had more guiding work for me and she was sending Daniel of Switzerland down the Coast to Brunner to meet up with me.

My exploration time on my own was now one day so I had to go turbo. I drove, walked, and fished.

At one new bridge I spied two fish from the vehicle. Grabbing my rod I was fortunate to catch both trout with consecutive casts.

One river I'd always wanted to fish was the upper Crooked, a tributary of Lake Brunner. The river was beautiful, everything I'd ever imagined, and I was all alone, until another angler drove up.

Christchurch ATV and watercraft dealer, Mike Phillips was a positive and affable bloke and we decided to share the water together.

The fishing on the short section before an impenetrable gorge was tough with spooky and angler-educated trout but Mike managed a nice brown on one of my small sparsely tied flies. As he dropped me back at my truck in his black Range Rover, we resolved to keep in touch and go fishing together again.

The night before I was fortunate to encounter the landowner on the upper Crooked out herding sheep on the back road.

As we shared a beer from my chillibin, he despaired the exponential growth of the dairy industry and told me how the Puzzle stream and its tributaries that we looked out across, once ran black with spawning trout when he was a boy.

Trout are just a measure of water and habitat quality, the virtual canaries in an environmental mineshaft, and like me, Bruce was very concerned for the future of many West Coast lowland rivers, lakes and spring creeks.

It's a complicated scenario of human causes, land use, and naturally occurring high intensity "weather bombs", but I was unable to name even one river that has got better over time when asked by a guest at the motel complex I was staying that night.

Unfortunately, as I grow older and wiser as an angler, there is increased urgency in my need to explore and experience as many rivers as I can before my dotage.

It's a difficult task to explain my passion for exploring new rivers, but maybe I just need to fish as many rivers as possible before they are degraded and gone.

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