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Zane Mirfin Fishing Articles 2016

Riuwaka River, Nelson

Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Nelson Mail, Riuwaka River Woes reflect badly on our Environmental Care, 3 September 2016
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Photo: Barry Beck. Guide Zane Mirfin with renowned fly angler Cathy Beck in the upper Riuwaka River in 2009. Mirfin says the decline of the river has been dramatic in recent years.

Once upon a fishery, there was the Riuwaka River. It ran clear and pure, bubbling and gurgling over a stable freestone bed of stones and cobbles in Golden Bay.

From headwaters to the sea there was an endless array of pools, riffles, and runs, all overhung by native vegetation, and especially willow trees in the middle to lower reaches. Insect life was prolific with great hatches of mayflies and caddisflies, and best of all the river was a brown trout fish-factory popular with local and visiting anglers alike.

Being a small coastal river, the Riuwaka was a delight to behold for generations of anglers, a scenic wonderland which excited anglers at each bend and curve. The trout were free-rising brownies that took surface flies with gusto, and the stream was an idyllic oasis near the coastal populations of Motueka and Richmond.

Described as "the best dry fly stream in New Zealand" by iconic author George Ferris in 1970, the Riuwaka has numerous research studies proving historical value as a recreational fishery of national significance, once having the highest biomass of trout per m2 in New Zealand.

Alas, something changed and the fishery progressively deteriorated over many years, although the changes of the past decade have been the most dramatic and the most catastrophic. No-one really knows the true reasons for the collapse, but everyone has their own theories.

Myself, I believe there are a range of reasons, a lethal cocktail of cause and effect, that has robbed local communities of a once iconic and highly valued river: Floods, exotic forestry, willow clearance, agricultural chemicals, 1080 poison, flood control works, rock walls, sediment and siltation, declining insect populations, seasonal workers set-netting estuarine reaches, channelisation, decline of the nearby Motueka river, climate change, some other reason, who knows?

But it happened. The fishery has imploded to an all-time low, just like the iconic Nelson scallop fishery.

Just this week at the Riwaka Rugby clubrooms beside the Riuwaka River (renamed in 2014 as part of Treaty settlement agreements) as many as 50 people gathered to discuss the issues of the Riuwaka. There were locals, landowners, recreationalists, and anglers, who were all concerned about "their river".

Ably chaired by Tasman District councillor Peter Canton a line-up of three speakers presented evidence about the Riuwaka. Fish & Game field officer Jacob Lucas discussed how the lower river previously acted as a trout "reservoir" and how the trout population had collapsed into near oblivion after large scale willow removal and rock wall installation.

There was time for many questions, and time for discussion over a cup of tea at meetings end. Many questions couldn't be answered but the local knowledge displayed by all the people assembled was impressive and the tenor of the meeting was positive, and maybe there is a glimmer of hope for the Riuwaka after all.

We all got to watch the inspirational water documentary put together by council resource scientist Trevor James and Claire Webster with the assistance of local people within the Tasman community who care about our rivers.

"Our Waters in Common" ( is an engaging movie exploring the state of the Tasman District environment, examining the benefits that rivers provide us all, the issues they face, and how communities and agencies can work together to improve them.

According to the blurb accompanying the movie, "the beauty and diversity of the district's rivers shines through and the stories of so many good people working to improve our rivers' health are warmly and poignantly portrayed. With such a wonderful community in Tasman looking after our rivers, it is hard not to be encouraged".

Yes, it's a great start, and well done those people, but I believe we don't want to self-congratulate ourselves too fast. It is important to be positive and to look to the future, but I do wonder how we ever let these rivers and waterways get into this degraded state in the first place. What were we thinking?

Fish & Game have fought tirelessly to protect rivers, riverine habitat and access over many years, yet never rated a mention. Without the stellar efforts of Fish & Game around New Zealand, there is no doubt our local rivers would be in far worse shape.

In some ways, the experience of the Riuwaka is just symptomatic of a common country-wide malaise as formerly valued outdoor resources collapse all around us. Urban growth is everywhere and every night in the Nelson Mail we read of booming house prices, immigrants flocking to the region, and Richmond bursting at the seams with development pressures.

It's like something out of Dr Seuss's epic book The Lorax as we put increasing pressure on the natural resources that are left. We're all part of the problem, and we have all enjoyed the benefits of growth, but who knows where it will all end?

Like the old Once-ler, in The Lorax book I read my kids some nights: "I meant no harm. I truly did not. But I had to grow bigger. So bigger I got. I biggered my factory. I biggered my roads. I biggered my wagons. I biggered the loads…I went right on biggering...selling more Thneeds. And I biggered my money, which everyone needs".

Often I have to wonder if Dr Seuss couldn't spell too well, and really meant "buggered"?

Economic success is important but so too is our environment and recreation. In a region where we pride ourselves on lifestyle considerations, it is a crying shame that we haven't had a plan to protect our local lowland resources like the Riuwaka River better (or Maitai, Wakapuaka, Wai-iti, or Motueka).

One of my journalist friends tells a favourite story about the late David Lange who once advised during a taxi ride that "you should never rely on a politician to solve your problems, because you'll always be left disappointed". It was sage advice, and local government offers few solutions too.

I see no real evidence of a vision, of a plan, of a strategy, to protect our national riverine and coastal resources into perpetuity. The endless process of "salami syndrome" where slices of the resource are seemingly hacked off at random, can only ever end in tears long term.

Maybe one day, we will come to appreciate the wisdom of the old native American saying "When the last tree is cut down, the last fish caught, and the last stream is poisoned, we will realise that we cannot eat money".

Winter fishing in Golden Bay, nelson - West Haven - Whanganui inlet

Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Nelson Mail, A Winter's tale of Saltwater Fishing, 20 August 2016
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Peter Hamilton with a kingfish caught off the West Haven / Whanganui Inlet.

Winter is always a great time to go saltwater fishing. For a start, sea conditions can be settled and still, with little wind, and many prime target species such as snapper and kingfish head out deep to school-up over sea mounts and foul ground.

Modern technology makes these winter aggregations of fish easier to access and target than previously, with bigger boats, better terminal tackle, increased media information, improved satellite weather forecasts, and superior wind and swell maps. Most of all, modern GPS units, chart plotters, and electronic fish finding technology has meant fish populations now have nowhere to hide.

Keen fishos are always watching the weather and sea conditions, ready to drop tools at short notice and head for fantasyland. It's no secret, and no accident, that many of the most successful local anglers are self-employed tradespeople who have the flexibility to go during weekdays and to access the honey-pot when the conditions are best.

Two remote winter locations, protected by the weather and sea, loom large in the mythology of local saltwater anglers. The first of these are the waters of western D'Urville Island in the far north east of Tasman Bay. In particular the legendary waters of Stephen's Passage home to winter schools of snapper, and oversize kingfish.

The secondary, more remote, more dangerous, and more difficult to access area, are the Golden Bay waters of the West Coast, into the Tasman Sea, accessed via Whanganui Inlet on Tasman district's wild west extremity.

We'd been watching the sea conditions carefully for weeks when fortuitous weather eventuated to allow access across the iconic Whanganui estuary bar. Friend Peter Hamilton, picked me up on the chilly Richmond roadside at 4am sharp, with fishing companions Max Bidlake and Carey Adams already aboard.

It was a long three hour drive to Mangarakau Wharf via Takaka Hill and Collingwood, before we could launch Peter's boat and go fishing. Others had the same idea and the limited parking areas were chock-a-bloc with 4WD trucks and boat trailers. Motoring out in the half-light of dawn, the windscreen kept icing up, as the calm mirror-like surface of West Haven Inlet and rising sun promised an exciting day ahead.

Whanganui Inlet, formerly known as West Haven, is a truly amazing outstanding natural landscape, and one of the largest and least modified estuaries in New Zealand. Formally protected since 1994, the area is contained within the West Haven Marine Reserve and Whanganui Inlet Wildlife Management Reserve, being 13km long and about 3km wide.

Big channels characterise the estuary, with massive intertidal flats to every point of the compass. Coastal forest of kahikatea, pukatea, and nikau palm surround the shallow fertile waters that act as a nursery and feeding ground for more than a dozen recreational species of fish, including whitebait.

Crossing river bars is more art form than science, and always dangerous. With big waves, and strong tidal currents, river bars deserve total respect and should never be attempted by inexperienced boaties.  On our recent fishing trip, conditions were some of the best I had experienced on the West Coast fishery, with a benign bar crossing, and a low rolling ocean swell. Heading out deep, many kilometres offshore, we dropped our baits over deep foul ground where Peter had been successful before. Fishing in water 100-200 metres deep requires different strategies than in shallower inshore waters.

Strong braided "no-stretch" super lines are essential to allow instant bite detection, as are strong heavy rods, big reels, and XOS lead sinkers to get to the bottom fast.

The first fish coming on-board were big tarakihi, a common silver-sided reef fish, and were soon followed by snapper, trevally, blue cod, kingfish, and groper. The bigger fish throbbed and tugged on the line, and at times our arms ached. Unfortunately Max, wasn't feeling too good and started feeding the fish, but conditions improved throughout the day as we tried various locations, depths, and reef types.
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West Haven / Whanganui inlet -estuary entrance in the background.

Deliberately limiting our catch to well below legal limits, we headed for home in the knowledge that there are still some good fishing resources out there if you have the gear and know what to do. But, alas, like everywhere else in the world our fishery resources are coming under increasing pressure from different stakeholder groups, advances in technology, rising demand, and an increasing New Zealand population.

The Challenger fishery area administered by Ministry Of Primary Industries, stretching along the West Coast from Awarua Point, and around to Clarence Point on the East Coast, is a huge management block.

Sustaining fishing pressure from commercial, recreational and customary users, recreational western bag limits are still very generous with mixed bags of 20 finfish per person allowable. Snapper, kingfish, and groper/hapuka have more restricted limits within this mixed bag, but it is still possible to take 20 blue cod per angler, if so desired.

Getting home late at night, I made the mistake of opening some mail to find a court fine issued from the Ministry of Justice for a fisheries infringement that I was unaware of. Checking later, with MPI district compliance manager, Nelson / Marlborough, Ian Bright, it was clear that I had two chances of talking my way out of paying the $280 fine – slim and none.

I'll admit, it did hurt to find out that my only crime was the late filing of a nil return for my amateur fishing charter vessel activity catch return, but I had been warned before, and getting spanked by government bureaucracy is probably just a modern-day cost of doing business.

On reflection though, I do appreciate the value in a fishery being well managed, well monitored, and well enforced. Manager Ian Bright is a positive individual who is a recreational angler himself, and who commented that fisheries compliance in the Challenger zone is "pretty good". "There are some people who choose to flout the rules but most people generally recognise the need to protect the resource".

Here's hoping we have good local fishery resources for protein and recreation for many years to come.


Reel highlights captured for another season

Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Nelson Mail, 16 April 2016
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Jeff Ingalls of San Francisco with his hard won brown trout.
Another beautiful brown trout.

Going fly fishing all the time can be an exhausting business. Walking miles in the hot sun and clambering over big boulders with a heavy pack can really take a toll on a man's body.

Then there is the ever-present pressure of producing results in a challenging fishery and being judged every day on what you produce despite the variables that are largely beyond a guide's control. The general trout fishing season is long too, running seven months between the months of October and April, so winter is always comes as a welcome relief.

There's no doubt that local trout fishing doesn't get any easier out there but there are still some great places to go and great experiences to have if you're prepared to put in the time and effort.

It's still not too late to get out there yourself before the fishing season finishes on April 30. It's likely that you'll have the river all to yourself and have a chance at some of the season's heaviest, brightest coloured, and best conditioned trout.

Tonight I've been trolling through the season's digital photographs cherry-picking the best images for another online newsletter and it was a great visual journey looking at the anglers, places, big trout caught, and many times the trials and tribulations we shared along the way.

It's always fun to look back and to see where you've come from and what you've achieved, and trout fishing is no different. Thirty years ago I probably couldn't have ever conceived the places I would get to explore and the anglers I would get to fish with but the photos don't lie. Sure they probably show the highlights, but the human brain is a remarkable instrument and we probably all prefer to remember our successes rather than our failures.

Some of my favourite moments were the lake fishing down the West Coast or catching wilderness trout in emerald rivers on dry flies. Maybe it was the helicopter trips, with the whine of turbine engines or the smell of Jet A1 fuel, or the fun we had at local pubs after hours.

I did spend a lot of time away on the road with angling customers and even some time camping out in wilderness locations. The upper half of the South Island was our playground and it was exciting to fish many new places, often on narrow overgrown roads and tracks with difficult access. I've always relished the adventure of exploration, and the fun of pioneering somewhere new can be more invigorating and intoxicating than the actual fishing results.

Some of the saltwater fishing was epic too, but wherever we went we learnt new skills and made new friends.

Nelson certainly sees a lot of famous people and celebrities these days too. I'm always reading in the Nelson Mail about super yachts at the Port or private jets parked up at Nelson Airport and I guess I've guided my fair share of some of these wealthy and famous folks over the years.

Most of these people are here for a good time and highly value their privacy. Often they live in the glare of the media spotlight and are very careful to keep a low profile while they slip in and out of Nelson. Many of them are fine fly anglers, and they are here for the fishing and the excitement. I figure the best system is to treat them like everyone else, go fishing, and keep their confidence by remaining mostly silent on my time out on the river with them.

On our best fly fishing day this season, two anglers landed 36 trout between them, but looking back some of the best days were where we worked hard for just a few quality fish in challenging locations.

Running ahead of the big one-in-fifty-year floods in late March, Jeff Ingalls of San Francisco had abysmal conditions but was up to the challenge. We barely got home on day one as the rain belted down and rivers started to rise around us, but with three beauties caught and released around 3kg, it was a very special day.

The rain hammered down all night and rivers pounded hard with huge mud flows. There was virtually nowhere to go as Tasman District flooded but we managed to find a little trickle of clear water and a trout. The trout was in a difficult location and was working a beat in a weed filled channel. Every 10 minutes or so the trout would reappear allowing a quick cast before cruising off again into cover.

We really didn't have any other options so we persevered. Time and again, the cast was too long, too short, the fluorocarbon tippet was too heavy, or the fly too large. Eventually after an hour and forty minutes, our persistence paid off. The trout's mouth flashed white as it sucked in the small weighted nymph, and I yelled out to Jeff to set the hook. The rod bent and throbbed and Jeff chased the trout through thick weed beds in pursuit.

The trout wallowed, jumped, and buried itself in thick cover, but Jeff's nerve and luck held. With the 3kg trout safely in the net, we whooped, high-fived and I even got a man hug as Jeff was ecstatic with his catch in such challenging conditions. We caught other fish that day but the first was the best and definitely the highlight of the trip.

Great fishing memories abide, but April is a great hunting month too. I just hope the red stags keep roaring a little longer to give me a chance to shed my fishing gear and to grab my rifle. Maybe there will be some goats, pigs, chamois, and tahr along the way too.

Lakes offer good trout fishing refuge

Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Nelson Mail, 2 April 2016
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Not all lake trout are big – Peter Castle, Tasmania, enjoys lakeside success Trout success on stillwater
Lakes are everywhere in New Zealand. In fact, there are thousands of them – 3,820 lakes to be precise with a surface area more than one hectare. Lakes or in fly fishing terms 'stillwaters', are of many varying types and origins, ranging from the volcanic crater lakes of the north Island, to South island glacial lakes, hydroelectric reservoirs, and don't forget the flooded tree-lined swampy depressions of the West Coast.

Our largest lake is Lake Taupo at over 600 square kilometres and our deepest is Southland's Lake Hauroko at 462 meters deep. Overall we are fortunate to have 41 lakes with a surface area larger than 10 km2, which adds up to an impressive array of prime trout territory scattered nicely throughout the country.

Years ago, I rarely bothered fishing lakes but nowadays they are some of my favourite places. Whatever their origin or type it's a sure bet that they hold trout, often large, and more often than not unmolested by anglers still intent on stalking gurgling rivers. In many ways my conversion to lake fishing has been bought about by the insidious decline of riverine trout fishing over recent decades.

Much has been written about the decline and we see many articles in local papers and on TV news, about poor water quality ad nauseum. Sadly it's true, and even this week in the Nelson Mail there was coverage of students marching on the Beehive to challenge Central Government politicians over water quality.

In the article "Emotions run high over freshwater" Environment Minister Nick Smith was quoted as saying "I do get quite annoyed with people that want to run down New Zealand's brand in a domestic argument about improving water quality".

Well Mr Minister, taxpayers do get quite annoyed too when their recreational assets get trashed. Especially when many of our elected government representatives fudge the seriousness of environmental issues like water quality and riverine habitat, often appearing to be deaf, blind, and equipped with cast iron taste buds.

Sadly, it appears that economic growth at the expense of the environment is a politically entrenched concept that is here to stay. It's worse too when we have to endure the half-baked outputs of the Government's Land and Water Forum, with Fish & Game's Bryce Johnston describing the latest offering as "an attack on the environment and the value of natural freshwater".

Sometimes though, you have to clear your mind of the doom and gloom and just go fishing. I have a simple philosophy about how to catch fish, and that is to go where the fish are. In a freshwater fishery that is now defined more by the rivers that you avoid, rather than the rivers you visit. Lakes are becoming an increasingly important option if you want to continue to catch good numbers of trout. Some lakes even have cleaner water than they used to as regional councils become increasingly proactive.

It's easy (and unfair) to solely blame human land use impacts on a declining fishery but other factors are also highly relevant. With increasing drought, high intensity flooding, and rising water temperatures, lakes can be good refuges for trout where they can escape the summer doldrums or be protected from Armageddon flood events. Lakes go up and down and are less affected by the extremes of climate change and that is why many lake fisheries are holding up so well.

Some of my favourite lakes are on the West Coast and this fishing season it has been my good fortune to have explored many more of them. My Maritime NZ certified boat is fully set up for fly fishing lakes with an electric positioning motor that allows us to stalk the cruising brown trout in silence, and usually alone.

Using a boat can get you to locations wading anglers can't access and is especially good for older anglers who have trouble getting around and can be taken right to where the trout are. Mostly we fish subsurface nymphs in the tannin swampy waters surrounded by kahikatea forest and conservation land. Well fed on damselflies, dragonflies, chironomids, and galaxid minnows, the fish are hungry and beautiful, with golden sides and spotted backs.
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Sex & Fly Fishing: Mating Damselflies on a West Coast Lake

Sometimes they fight hard, diving into sunken logs or burrowing into flax jungles, but it is always exciting. Peter Castle, an ex-Tasmanian fishing guide was highly impressed and waxed lyrical this month about the lake fishing resource. "I can't understand why Australian anglers aren't crawling all over this place" he told me out on the water. "This is what Tasmania used to be like, only it's better". Maybe it's a good thing visiting anglers can't fit a boat into their suitcase I thought at the time.

The Lure of Trout Fishing

Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Nelson Mail, 12 March 2016
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Nice one Dennis! The Lure of the Wilderness
There are many ways to skin a cat, and many ways to catch a trout. Fly fishing may well be the most noble and prestigious way to angle for the wary brown trout but there are many other ways to enjoy river fishing in New Zealand and in local rivers.

Much is written about clear pristine mountain streams and fly casting a dry fly to large trout hanging suspended in surface flows, but there are trout scattered throughout the country, in many other streams, rivers and lakes that are much less scenic and attractive. In fact trout reside in small creeks, huge rivers, even estuarine saltwater areas and are catchable close to many urban areas with basic gear and the price of a seasonal fishing licence.

One of the best known alternative methods is known as spin fishing or threadlining, where a lure is cast out using nylon or braided dyneema line and retrieved back toward the angler. If a trout attacks and savages the lure, the rod bucks and throbs, and there is no doubt that a fish has impaled itself onto the hook. In many ways, it can be a simple and straight forward method to catch a trout, but in other ways still requires much skill and guile to be consistently successful.

Artificial lures work particularly well in high early season river flows but continue to catch a fair share of trout throughout the season. One of the best times to fish lures is in late season when the trout are at their largest, fattest, most colourful, and best of all most aggressive. Aggression is important in the pea-brained life of a fish because all they can focus on (like many humans) is food and sex. When spawning is near, large male brown trout become dominant alpha predators and are ready to attack or kill any interloper or lure that enters their fishy domain. Most people believe trout eat lures because they are hungry, but you can catch many trout by using their primordial instincts against them through appealing to their inbuilt territorial aggression. Best of all, it’s adrenalin-pumping stuff when an arm-long brown trout charges out of nowhere and slams your lure at close range.

Lures have come a long way over the years, fashioned from all manner of wood, plastics, and metals, with the kiwi favourite still being the metal spinner known as a “black and gold toby”. Some of the best lures ever made come from Finland and were first fashioned by Lauri Rapala in the 1930’s. Made of balsa wood, with incredible paintwork and design, rapalas are the go-to lures of lure fishing and have probably caught fish on every continent on Earth. Sporting diving bibs, weighted ball bearing rattles, and multiple treble hooks, they are all fabulous lures but my favourite is still the original floating minnow. The magic is in the wiggle, and when retrieved rapalas have the ability to drive a trout beserk with desire. As the rapala website says, it is perhaps “the greatest fishing story ever told” and I’ve had the great fortune to have caught fish all over the world with rapala lures in such faraway places such as northern Queensland, equatorial pacific atolls, and Swedish Lappland.
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These days there are all sorts of new fish catching lures, many of them cheap plastic knock-offs manufactured in some Asiatic sweatshop, but they are all worth a try, and there is no end in sight to human imagination, ingenuity, and innovation in the creation of new lures and fishing techniques. Whatever you use on the end of your line though, water type, location, time of day and season will all play a part in your success. Many local anglers have almost given up trout fishing these days as local fisheries have wilted and died on the vine. No one knows what the problem is but it’s likely to be a combination of factors including riparian mismanagement, topped off with climate change, drought, and extreme flooding. Surprisingly, spin fishing with lures still works pretty well, mainly because it is a semi-extensive method where you can cover a lot of water in a day and the trout will come a long way to hit a lure. This makes lure fishing a viable method in areas and regions experiencing low to intermittent trout populations. It’s fun too and you can fish without being too serious, have time to daydream, look at the scenery, and even teach a youngster to fish successfully.

Some anglers are very skilled lure practitioners. Barramundi fisherman from Australia are extremely diligent and accurate casters, while USA bass anglers from the southern States have always impressed the guide in me too. Recently I guided lure anglers Jon and Dennis from the Central Valley in Southern California. We flew into the backcountry by helicopter on an overnight campout and these guys could really fish. Both men especially enjoyed the camaraderie and stories of legendary venison-recovery shooter and pilot, Syd Deaker of Action Helicopters with whom we flew. Equipped with lure rods and rapalas, they could throw their lures within centimetres of any bankside snag, log, shadow, or hidey hole, and they caught fish – lots of them. They’d just shot huge stags and bull tahr near Queenstown but rated the Nelson fishing trip highly. Both caught their largest ever trout and have already booked again for fishing next year. South Island trout fishing may not be what it was decades ago but there is always opportunity in the outdoors - you just have to go out and find it.

Love of fishing and each other keeps couple coming back

Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Nelson Mail, 20 February 2016
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Katie Gordon battles a brown trout taken on fly, watched by her husband Tucker.  
Persistence is to the human character what carbon is to the manufacture of steel.

That inner hardness, drive and determination within is what allows human beings to overcome long odds and to achieve great things. It's the same with fishing and hunting and successful outdoor people have always had to have patience, endurance, determination and staying power to be really successful in the field.

Driving back home from fishing tonight, it was great to see the upper Motueka at Janson's Bridge in a raging bank to bank flood, because the drought has finally broken. It'll help the fish get through summer and really help to calm the summer doldrums we have been experiencing over recent weeks.

Fishing has been an exercise in resolve, tenacity, steadfastness, and stamina but with perseverance there have still been some good trout to catch along the way. Doggedness and persistence, with long days and big walks, still produce trout even when others have given up.

Yes, you'll need to be persistent to be a trout angler into the future but there are always fishing opportunities for those that work smart and try hard. "Never give up" Sir Winston Churchill famously said, but persistence is hardly a new concept, with the word dating back to French origins in the 1500s, and Latin before that.

Two anglers I truly admire, are Tucker and Katie Gordon of Pennsylvania, both in their eighties, and a fine fly fishing couple. We've fished together before, although Tucker and Katie have been persistently enjoying New Zealand fly fishing for more than 20 years. They especially enjoy the Nelson Lakes National Park and are annual visitors to Alpine Lodge at St. Arnaud where hosts Alexandra Unterberger and Leighton Marshall take great care of them.

Katie and Tucker are awesome people, who are overwhelmingly positive and optimistic, even when approaching their mid-eighties together. They may not be fast over the ground or cast like they used to, but they love every moment fishing together and Tucker is the consummate gentleman toward his wife of 35 years. They are persistent too, coming every year to fish and planning on 2017 again already.

This year, they were getting tired after a big programme of fishing so on our two days together we took it easy.

You don't always have to walk huge distances to catch fish so we mixed it up and went saltwater fishing for blue cod and gurnard on day one. It was a great adventure out at sea, a first for Tucker and Katie in NZ, with wild coastline and obliging fish.

Having dinner with the couple at the Alpine was a special treat and we had a lot of fun together. Chef Chris, did a fabulous job preparing a large platter of our fish fillets as a starter, cooked in tempura batter and served with dipping sauces of tartare, aioli, and tomato salsa. Tucker and Katie are catch and release fly anglers first and foremost, and love to fish the dry fly to rising trout. On day two we used my boat to access Lake Rotoroa and to save on walking.

The sandflies were fierce at the boat ramp and with stiff legs Tucker and Katie were aboard and travelling up the Lake. We tried the Sabine river mouth for starters but had no luck. The fish were lethargic, Tucker missed a strike, and lunch on a beachside log seemed like a better option.

Persistence was a part of our plan so after lunch we fished from the boat, stalking shoreline cruising trout from the boat with my electric positioning motor. Perseverance paid off when several trout came into casting range. Tucker fired out a cast onto the water ahead of the trout and waited. "Strip your line and twitch your fly" I instructed Tucker. As the rubber legs on the terrestrial imitation wiggled the trout pounced with a solid rise.

The water boiled as Tucker's rod arched and the reel screamed in protest as the trout ran out into the lake. Soon we netted a handsome bronze-sided brown trout and celebrated success before Tucker handed the rod to Katie to try her hand.

Motoring silently back into position, Katie cast at two fish without success, when a third and larger trout swam into view. Katie's cast was true, and with a strip of the line the fly wriggled and the trout surged forth like an alligator, engulfing the fly. The water erupted and the trout sounded for the depths of the lake. It was an epic fight with weed beds and sunken logs ever-present obstacles but soon Katie had her trout in the net too and we were all ecstatic at our persistence paying off.

"It's time to go" Tucker instructed. "We've both caught an amazing brown trout on dry fly on our last cast each in New Zealand."

It was a class finish and there is always something special about walking away a winner when you can. "Let's go home slow too" Tucker said "we need to soak up as much of this magnificent scenery as we can". "This is God's country, let's not drive through it like hell".

Success in fly fishing is often measured in numbers of fish caught or the size of the catch but observing the smiles on the couple's faces and watching them hold hands together on our journey back down the lake made me think differently. Maybe success when you're in your eighties, is just being out there fishing with the love of your life.

Competition and climate change put pressure on freshwater fishery

Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Nelson Mail, 9 January 2016
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Any more is a crowd: three Aussie mates enjoy fishing the Nelson / Tasman wilderness  
Competition is part and parcel of life. All of our breathing years are dedicated to grappling with competition, whether it be at school, on the sports field, for employment, business, wealth, prestige, status, or even when searching for the best looking partners to mate with.

Competition is everywhere, and even fishing and hunting are not immune.

Like a multi-headed monster, competition takes many forms, with some being positive and some negative. There is direct competition between participants for access to resources and opportunities, but also many forms of indirect competition where different groups and industries seek to utilise a common resource such as water for recreation, tourism, irrigation or hydro electricity generation.

Alas, our valued freshwater resources continue to slide ever downwards, and in many cases no-one seems to know why. The usual excuses of poor land management practises gain most of the airplay, with dairy farming, plantation forestry, and urban development being blamed for a range of ills ranging from nitrate poisoning, sedimentation, eutrophication, increased water temperatures, riparian destruction, to pollution, and more.

Fish and Game, an organisation independently funded by recreational licence holders, hit the headlines of recent months when it chose to walk away from the Central Government sponsored Land and Water Forum (LWR) — a theoretically collaborative attempt between stakeholder groups to resolve New Zealand's freshwater woes.

Clearly competition for water usage and quality was part of the reason for bailing out and the best comment I've seen on the decision was by one Tom O'Connor writing in the Letters of the Editor section the Christchurch Press . O'Connor described the LWR as "yet another cynical ploy to ringfence and emasculate reasoned opposition to unmitigated exploitation of freshwater resources".

While there is no doubt that New Zealand Inc could have done more to protect valuable freshwater resources, the insidious effect of irreversible damage to lowland waterways has pushed much angling pressure onto the remaining backcountry rivers. In reality, the angling resource has got smaller and what is still worth fishing is getting hit harder by more people than ever before. 

Competition is fierce on many wilderness streams lately, and it's common to find sandy beaches covered in bootprints increasing the need to get there early to make sure you are ahead of others. Fish numbers and fish habitat appear to be declining too.

Some anglers blame the invasive algae didymo, or massive 1080 poison drops over the back country public commons, but my thinking is that excessive pressure with advanced equipment and technology is an understated issue. Catch and release is practised by most anglers but maybe we're all loving our trout too much?

Rivers are dynamic systems and another factor I believe is a major issue in fisheries decline is that riverine habitat from headwaters to the ocean has become disconnected. Female trout commonly utilise the lower reaches of rivers nearer the sea to recover condition after the rigours of headwater stream spawning, while small springs and streams formerly used for spawning sites are now commonly drainage ditches or cut off by culverts and fish passage issues.  But my big reason for the fishery issues of recent decades is climate change. Over the past 30 years of commercial fishing guiding I've watched increasing high intensity rainfall events, which has led to more riverine flooding and habitat degradation.

Rivers have filled in with gravel, pools have disappeared, insect hatches are less common, and there is marginal habitat to support once healthy trout population. These days I mostly fish away from lowland areas and in most places there are no stock, no fences, no farming. I don't believe water quality is the issue in many areas, it's more about riverine habitat and because many of these rivers are on conservation land it's a problem bigger than all of us.

With the advent of Facebook, Youtube and the internet, our backcountry rivers are getting fished by more people than ever. In fact we're in the middle of a mini-tourism boom at the moment and tourism is once again New Zealand's number one export earner. Recently in the Nelson Mail it was reported that many tourists are even doing day trips to Queenstown from Auckland because of limited accommodation availability at peak season.

What we're seeing is more anglers stacked into fragile headwater fisheries and that's where the competition factor really kicks in. It would be nice to be the only one fishing such areas but that is unrealistic in a modern global environment and economy. Dan Gerber in his book 'Sacred Trusts' wisely noted that "Each one of us wants to be the last one allowed into paradise and to lock the door behind us. But there is no door."

Some anglers of my acquaintance have even given up and haven't bought a fishing licence this year but there are still some great trout out there to catch if you are prepared to put in the effort. You just have to enjoy the resources we have for what they are, and part of that acceptance is embracing increased competition.

Go early, stay late, walk further, fish better, fish harder, fish smarter, and don't punish yourself when the results are disappointing. Recently on a tough fishing day, my two British anglers still had a wonderful day out. They enjoyed blazing sun, wilderness scenery, never saw a soul, and yet only caught one small trout accidentally when fishing to a comatose larger fish sulking on the bottom. Attitude is everything and maybe I need to remind myself more often of the old axiom that "no-one ever died from a lack of fish".