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Zane Mirfin Outdoor Articles 2014

Passion for the Outdoors has no age limit


Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Passion for the outdoors has no age limit, 8 February 2014, Nelson Mail

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Teamwork: Katy Gordon catches a Lake Rotoiti brown trout while husband Tucker looks on.

Old age is a wonderful thing. Maybe at 46 years old I'm the wrong guy to be writing about advanced age but after decades of taking older anglers out fishing I probably know a bit about age and the outdoors.

One thing I have observed is that love of the outdoors is undiminished with age. In some ways the value of the outdoors shines even brighter as we age, and as we reflect upon a lifetime of fishing and hunting pursuits. With age comes the realisation that you can't climb the hills and wade the rivers forever but with it also comes the wisdom, foresight, and acceptance that you'll enjoy what you can, while you can.

As a young man, I was fortunate to have older outdoor mentors who taught me much about shooting and fishing, about the rivers, the bush and the animals and fish we pursue. Older sportspeople have been there done that and have much valuable wisdom learnt over many years to share.

Family members such as grandparents and great-grandparents were valuable role models but many other older sportsmen were also influential in my own personal outdoor journey. In some ways, many of these older men resembled heroes (and still do) in the eyes of a young man desperate for role models, and I remember being invited to climb the fence as a young lad to view a huge stag head in my elderly neighbour's flat.

Author of the classic stalking book Red Stags Calling, G G Atkinson, was one of the pioneers of stalking the red stags of the Whitcombe Valley as the Rakaia deer of Canterbury colonised the West Coast in the late 1930s. Gordon Atkinson was a formidable man, having stalked and shot some of the greatest wild stags that ever roamed the planet, but memories like climbing that fence and talking with a hunting legend can last a small boy a lifetime.

Nelson Deerstalkers Association meetings were another great place to meet many of the legends of South Island deerstalking, who shot great Westland stags in the heyday of New Zealand hunting, long before the advent of helicopter shooting and the scourge of indiscriminate 1080 poisoning.

Men like the McConochie, Shuttleworth and Curtis brothers are all gone now, also men such as Don Cummings, Tracy Stratford, and recently Gordon Max, but other men have taken their place in the club hierarchy, with a healthy Nelson membership of about 500 local deerstalkers.Gordon Max was a personal hero of mine, being the ultimate gentleman and a fine storyteller. He was a tall man who carried himself erect but spoke gently and with great humility.I learnt a lot about hunting and the outdoors from Gordon and his 100-year-old mate, Tracy Stratford, when I first wrote an article for Fish & Game magazine called "A Century of Hunting" about their hunting relationship together. Tracy being 21 years older than Gordon, was a huge influence on the younger man, but Gordon's storytelling skills virtually wrote the magazine article for me.

It was a vital part of a portfolio of articles that won me the 2004 Sparc Award for Recreation/Adventure/Lifestyle Reporting at the Sir Terry McLean Sports Journalism Awards in Taupo. Gordon took great pride in my success and over subsequent years often phoned me to offer advice and see how things were going.

At Gordon's funeral, I quietly reflected on his outdoor influence, which like a stone cast into a pond, had spread ripples far and wide touching many people.

You can still be very active in the outdoors as you age, as witnessed by the many elderly whitebaiters and flounder set netters you'll regularly encounter around local estuaries. It's true as you age that you probably have to find outdoor pursuits that suit your physical abilities but many older folk still do the big trips while they still can.

Mary and Keith Crane from Australia have made dozens of trips to fish New Zealand over many decades. Keith is over 90 now but his desire to fly fish here is undiminished on his twice-yearly visits here to fish with local guides Tony Entwistle and Craig Simpson.

This month I've been out on the river a lot, but the anglers that stand out the most were not the most successful, but the ones with the most incredible attitudes and the ones that faced the biggest obstacles.

Katy and Tucker Gordon are both well into their eighties, and have been coming to fish in New Zealand for two decades. Amazingly, we'd never crossed paths in that time, but we had a great time together, along with Leighton and Alexandra, the wonderful hosts of the Alpine Lodge at St Arnaud.

Tucker was concerned Katy was going to have trouble walking over rocks after recent knee surgery, and climbing banks was definitely out of the question, so we elected to use my boat to access fishing locations.

One great thing about the boat is that you can drive right to where you want to fish and with a silent electric positioning motor the fish don't hear us sneaking up on them around the lake edges. Being highly stable, the boat is great for older folk who can stand up and cast to sighted trout while I stand at the back to spot fish and control the electric motor while we stalk individual fish.

We didn't catch big numbers of trout but we saw and hooked enough to have a lot of fun. Tucker and Katy were experienced enough to enjoy just being there. While both highly experienced anglers, they understood that eyesight, co-ordination and balance weren't what they once were but they enjoyed the experience just the same.

We took it slowly, not overtaxing ourselves, and Tucker and I even joined up together to wade across a river delta at one point. Turning around, to return to help Katy, Katy excitedly yelled out that Tucker had just hooked another trout. On the way back down Lake Rotoroa after our second day together, I knew it had been a good trip judging from the smile on Tucker's face as he soaked up the alpine views from the boat with the sun in his hair and the wind in his face.

One of my greatest memories of age-related outdoor participation was guiding English angler Eric King-Turner on the lower Motueka when he was about four months off 104 years old. Age had withered Eric, but his spirit and enthusiasm were infectious.

We talked about the spring creeks of southern England and the historical angling luminaries he had fished with such as Frank Sawyer and Oliver Kite. To our companion, Nelson Mail photographer Martin De Ruyter, it was like another language, but it was the day of a lifetime for us all.

Martin and I helped Eric on both sides, and we only fished places where I could drive right to the waters edge, and Eric insisted on wearing short gumboots as he didn't want to get in the water with waders. It's fair to say Eric's casting and reflexes weren't what they once were but he caught two fine trout that day and the photos were beamed to publications around the world.

Questioned by one media source about what the hell he was doing out on a river at 103 years old, he was quoted as saying "I didn't want to get to 105 and say I hadn't fished New Zealand". Eric has long since gone to fish the great English chalk-streams in the sky but the legacy of his personality and attitude live on in the memories of Martin and myself.

Old age is really only an attitude. Watching my father Stuart taking three of his grandchildren goat hunting near Murchison lately was another special treat.

I followed up the rear with the pack, while the kids laughed and joked with Granddad while he taught them about the bush and stalking animals. At 71, Stuart can still climb the steep hills, although more slowly and carefully than in earlier years, but if you have the desire you can still get there.

Grandparents often have more patience than parents and are usually better teachers. The kids hang on every word Granddad tells them and best of all, they all go about the same pace.

And the smile on Granddad's face when his grandkids stalk and shoot goats? Priceless.

Getting your Outdoor Equipment sorted

Zane Mirfin, Wildside column, Time to restore order, Nelson Mail, 17 May 2014
Having your sports gear in good condition pays big dividends early season
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Next generation: Jake Mirfin,13, enjoys early season success with his grandfather Stuart.

Servicing equipment isn't

The opening weekend of duck shooting season has been and gone with a bang.

Local hunters did OK, while many shooters went further afield for greener pastures and higher duck numbers.

Richmond's master hunter Geoff Irvine and his daughter Holly even appeared on television, setting a fine example of waterfowler ethics, while shooting near Hawarden in North Canterbury.

North Island hunters had a lean opening with lowered bag limits due to unusually low duck numbers. Why duck numbers are plummeting there is anyone's guess but it can't be blamed solely on hunting.

Changing land use patterns, chemicals, pollution and disease may well be contributing factors. One Wellington hunter told me they got on to plenty of mallards but had all limited out by 7am and that it was a lot of work and effort for only six ducks apiece.

Duck hunting has always been an effort-intensive sport, requiring lots of homework to be in the right place, early starts, cold muddy locations, and heaps of expensive decoys and gear to hump across often inhospitable terrain.

It's easy to see why many people have quit the sport, although Richmond Stirling Sports was certainly pumping on the Friday before opening when I popped in to buy my son Jake a licence and pick up a few last-minute essentials.

Not having done any homework, and wanting to avoid too much effort on opening day, we decided to take the raft and float the river. Ducks are "jump shot" as they flush from along tight hiding spots under willows or as they fly overhead.

We had a great day out in the brilliant sunshine, with three generations of Mirfins enjoying opening day together. Father Stuart shot a few ducks, then it was 13-year-old Jake's turn. Jake had some good opportunities with a few missed shots, but also some success.

It is an important task to establish the next generation of hunters in our swamps and wildlands. Over the years I've probably seen thousands of ducks shot but now it is every bit as exciting watching my kids do the shooting.

Being on the oars, I never fired a shot but opening day on the river with my father and son was highly enjoyable.

What I did notice was all the work getting ready and all the work packing up at the end. Gear was disorganised and the inflatable pontoons and metal frame needed repairs. Bolts, nuts and washers had to be replaced on the wooden raft frame holder that goes on the tandem axle trailer for transporting the raft.Ad FeedbackAfter the shooting day, holes had to be drilled in the raft frame floor plate to alleviate drainage issues. Evolution, innovation, and adaptation are all part of fishing and hunting and recently I've been working hard, fixing, organising, sorting, storing, and even throwing out gear.

After a seven-month fishing season, and heaving all my gear between trips into the shed and office, I've been trying to get my outdoor affairs in order. It's a big job and likely to take all winter. Pottering around in the shed, I've concluded that organisation may well be next to godliness.

Over the years I've lost a lot of gear through my stuff getting mixed up with that of other anglers and hunters so lately I've been walking around with a black vivid permanent marker putting my name and phone number on items as I put them away. I've also had an inexpensive electric engraver out too carving my details on to aluminium, fibreglass, steel and plastic items like step ladders, tools, and decoys.

For items that shouldn't be scratched, I use a drop or two of coloured fly tying head paint to mark items such as headlights and fly rods. Years ago, I had some cattle ear tags in a bright red colour, lazer printed with my name and contact details that I attached to highly valuable equipment like waterproof camera bags, cases, and fishing vest in case they got lost, stolen, or misplaced.

It's also a good idea to mark your gear in case you lend it to other people too. That way you have a better chance of it being returned. By the way, when gear is returned, always make sure it has been dried out, has the correct number of parts, and is in good shape.

I've probably been too generous lending my equipment over the years, especially my treasured fishing library, and have "lost" many items, including all my boyhood possum traps. If you lend stuff you probably should always write it down somewhere so you know where to go looking when you can't find your valued gear.

Friend Henry Sulser, of Tahunanui, always has good advice and jokes that in his native Switzerland they have a saying that "if you lend something, it means you have to buy it twice".

Other jobs I've been working on are systems for hanging up shooting jackets, clothes, and waders on sliding racks to keep gear dry and separated. Gear always lasts longer if you look after it and the old saying "ridden hard and put away wet" is best avoided. Rust, mould, and mildew can occur in cold, damp storage conditions but equally avoid storing items in areas of heat which can perish rubber and plastics over time.

The more gear I've been putting away, the more equipment I have re-discovered which creates more work in the way of servicing, repairing waders, and washing gear like whitebait scoop net socks to clean away salt which will rot netting over time.

Servicing equipment isn't a sexy topic but cleaning, oiling, lubing, and replacing parts always pays big dividends and lately I've been able to re-constitute plenty of gear I thought was past its best-before-date.

Some of the fishing reels took only a few minutes to disassemble, clean, oil, and lube but now they work like new, and by replacing the braided line or nylon they will catch many more fish in the months ahead. I've also been putting up shelving, shifting cabinets, sorting tackle boxes, even writing winter jobs on a whiteboard at the rear of the garage.

Reuse and recycle has been a common theme, with many inexpensive items being able to be used in my cleanup. With four hungry, growing kids eating us out of house and home there is never any shortage of peanut butter jars, or other storage containers. I'm also setting up a bank of battery chargers on a desk in my office for fast re-charging of phone, camera, motorbike batteries and other electrical devices.

While you're at it, remember to make sure that all larger batteries are stored up off concrete floors on a block of wood to stop the cold sucking the life out of them.

The prophets from DOC are predicting massive rodent numbers in plague proportions. I'm no fan of the massive 1080 poison drops that will happen this winter but I've certainly been baiting up all the poison stations around my home with rat poison to protect my sporting gear from rodent damage. These ingenious poison stations are called "departure lounges" that you can stock with enough poison bait to last a winter and keep kids safe too.

Being tidy has much to commend it but don't be so efficient that you pack everything away in places you can never find it. It's good to have systems where you can find sporting gear when you need it and I'm a big fan of plastic bins with lids to store equipment for the many outdoor pursuits I enjoy year round.

Sometimes too, it can be therapeutic to take a load of old gear and rubbish to the refuse station but always check what you are throwing out. Once in Sweden, I saw my friend Anders Dahlen almost in tears when his homemade hunting knives, which he had spent countless hours making, were mistakenly thrown out and lost.

He had stored them in a paper bag.


Rites of passage and dancing in the rain

Zane Mirfin, Wildside column, Rites of passage and dancing in the rain, 2 January 2014, Nelson Mail
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Creating memories: A family barbeque at Old Macdonalds Farm -From left, Aimee, Kirstie, and Scott Mirfin

Summer camping is an iconic tradition for many Kiwi families.
Most of us have fond memories of family camping trips from our childhood, swimming in local rivers, cooking outside on the BBQ, or just hanging out at the family bach. In some ways, outdoor summer holidays are a rite of passage here in NZ and probably form part of our identity as New Zealanders.
Living here in the Nelson Province, we are fortunate to be blessed with an awesome outdoor climate and our region is well endowed with virtually unlimited camping-out potential. Surrounded by National Parks, rivers, lakes, and the ocean, there are no shortage of excellent places to go. When you add family and good friends into the mix, camping-out can sometimes be a match made in heaven
By the time you’re reading this column, there will be literally thousands of people camping-out around the top of the South as silly season descends upon us.

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

Some people must have so much gear that the camping probably gets in the way. In reality, you don’t always need lots of equipment to have fun because you can recycle items from home, borrow gear from friends and family, and accumulate items slowly over many years of family camping trips.
Camping isn’t for the faint hearted either, as you’ll need to be patient of summer crowds, loudmouth dickheads, blocked toilets, and blaring music. Along the way you may combat sunburn, heat-stroke, insect bites, flooding, drunken bums, faecal coliforms, snoring, food poisoning, and any amount of other equally gnarly challenges.

Relax, it’s all part of the camping experience, and like the old Beach Boys song goes “you’ll get there faster when you take it slow”.

The worst part of going camping with the family in my opinion is getting all the gear and food packed ready to go and then cleaning up again when you get back home.

Drying out your tent and other gear is really important so your equipment is left in top shape and is ready for next time.

Aimee and I have even made an extensive list of everything we need to take on our family camping trips and try to update it on a regular basis.

Having much of our camping gear stored in dedicated plastic bins also speeds up the procedure for next time, minimising stress and leaving more time for having fun where we can recharge, renew, and refresh ourselves in the great outdoors.
Again this season we continued our tradition of a pre-Christmas trip away for the kids. Brother Scott and I are fortunate that our wives Kirstie and Aimee get on well together and the cousins all get on famously.

Going before Christmas is a great family camping strategy because campgrounds are virtually empty and a good time is guaranteed for all. This year we didn’t have a lot of time and wanted to go somewhere close to home to catch up together before my family headed off to Melbourne for Christmas.

We chose Marahau because of the beach and stayed at Old Macdonald’s Farm. E-I-E-I-O. It was a wonderful facility, basic but good, affordable, with a park-like atmosphere and the gurgling Marahau River right on site.

The kids could safely run and play, while the adults could join in, relax, have a beer, cook dinner on the BBQ, and work on becoming human-beings rather than human-doings.

We all had a great time, even though the women wouldn’t let Scott or I take boats or fishing rods along. We still had plenty of toys though as Scott took his tandem wheel caged trailer while Aimee towed my weatherproof and lockable shuttle trailer which made camping easy.

The kids rode bikes, paddled kayaks in the Otuwhero Inlet, played cricket, volleyball, and hide-and-seek. We also went swimming as a family in the cool, crystal clear waters of the Marahau River.

It was classic family fun and our two night camp-out was way too short. I did manage to sneak in some fishing equipment undetected so Scott and I dragged for flounder with a 15 metre drag net on the first morning.

It was beautiful experience wading the exquisite golden sand flats, but the flounder were elusive and we only managed to catch big stingrays which thudded explosively into the net. On our second night Scott and I  arose at 2am and went flounder spearing.

It was a long walk through the water at low tide, all the way to Tinline, with a choppy sea, and at times, discoloured water. Conditions weren’t optimal but we were out there having a boys-own adventure, enjoying the beach lit up by an almost full moon. Across Tasman Bay, the lights of Nelson City glistened enticingly but the flounder were hard to find.

With only two flounder for our efforts we headed for camp as the eastern glow appeared over the ranges of Nelson. At 4.30am the roosters were already starting to crow, and we crept back inside our tents as the deafening dawn chorus of native birds began.
On our last morning the adults packed up camp while the kids played and explored some more. We were off to Kaiteriteri Beach for the day which was also on the way home.

What fun the kids had swimming, kayaking, catching shrimps and bullies with dip nets in the estuary, and playing on the flying fox playground. 

The sun beat down, the wind blew, and the sand got in our picnic lunch, but it was all part of the experience. Soon alas, it was to time to go but there was always Toad Hall in Motueka for the obligatory real fruit ice-cream to break the journey home. It was almost a faultless family adventure, right up to the point where the car radiator dangerously overheated, and I had to walk the last 3km home to get our other vehicle. Family camping trips, it turned out, are cheap when compared to vehicle repairs.
Back home, my son Jake’s Christmas came early the other day when he finally shot his first deer under the guidance of Grandfather Stuart. We’d tried many times before, but the deer were always too wary, too fast, or too far away. Eventually a Marlborough fallow buck gave Jake the opportunity he needed and his aim was straight and true. It’s always special for a 13 year old boy obtain his first deer, but Grandad was probably more excited than any of us. I can still remember Stuart guiding me onto my first deer in the Cobb Valley when I was 13 years old too. The subsequent magazine article I wrote one rainy day called ‘My First Deer’ was my first published work, appearing in Rod & Rifle magazine 1981.

I’ve shot many deer since, and Jake will too, but a boy’s first deer is a pivotal outdoor memory that needs to be celebrated as a highlight in a lifetime of outdoor experiences.
Whether it is family camping trips, or other hunting and fishing pursuits, you just have to get out there and do it. The experiences and memories you, your family, and your friends will generate are all part of life’s rich outdoor tapestry. Rushing around tonight on last minute urban shopping errands, I even felt like Charles Dickens character Ebenezer Scrooge from the classic 1843 novel, A Christmas Carol. Peering through a closed shop door, the sign I saw seemed to sum up camping and outdoor pursuits perfectly and is a good way to finish.

The inspirational sign went something along the lines of ‘Life isn’t about taking shelter and waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain’.
Happy Holidays Everyone.