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Zane Mirfin Outdoor Articles 2016

At the sharp edge of hunting and fishing

Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Nelson Mail, 23 July 2016
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Zane Mirfin's "butcher buddy" knife sharpener.

There are a lot of frustrations in modern living, and one of my pet hates is blunt knives.

Try filleting a fish, butchering a deer, or carving the Sunday roast, with a blunt crappy knife and you'll know what I mean.

Having always been a low-tech man in a high-tech world, my knife sharpening skills and technical abilities haven't always kept up with advances in modern cutlery, space-age materials, and cutting-edge designs. But I'm now working on it with some success.

Sharp blades can make knife work a joy, leading to a faster, more workmanlike job, while being much safer at the same time. I guess humankind has always struggled with the need for a sharp blade ever since we climbed down out of the trees and stopped dragging our knuckles on the ground. Ancient stone-age humans developed ingenious blades and tools from chipping rocks, but it wasn't until the age of metallurgy with bronze and steel that knives blades and sharp tools really came of age.

Military weaponry probably assisted the development of all manner of new blades, daggers, bayonets, and fighting knives around the world, whether it be the Japanese Samurai sword or the Nepalese Gurkha Kukri.

The famed battle of Agincourt (1415) was a classic example of British supremacy with better blades and strategy when the numerically superior French army was annihilated by the English pikemen and longbow archers, with the French cavalry becoming bogged in a mire of Norman blood and gore.

The pace of modern cutlery development hasn't abated since and there are any number and styles of modern knives for work and play.

Fishing and hunting are no different and I personally own many knives for filleting, skinning, boning, and chopping. My collection of blades includes axes, slashers, meat cleavers, knives for bait, scallops and oysters, and many other specialist tasks – all of which need sharpening from time to time.

I'm no knife expert, but after having gutted trout with a car key, and having watched my father Stuart field-dress a deer with a bread and butter knife, I'd suggest that you always carry one or maybe even two knives at all times in the field. I also recommend buying knives with bright neon-coloured handles so they are much harder to lose on riverbanks and in alpine boulder-fields.  Many years ago, I invested in a tool known as a "butcher buddy" which is really a knife vice which holds the blade firm and secure, while a sharpening stone is rubbed at a constant angle in a bracket attached to the vice.

It is a system that works well, and there are many other similar brands of sharpener out there. Many people still use the old style hand sharpening stone but it does take more skill to hold a constant angle and my sharpening system above holds a constant 17 or 20 degree angle, depending on what you are trying to achieve at the time.

Recently, I purchased a book from Peter Rigg at Page and Blackmore, Nelson's award-winning independent bookstore. Called "Knife Sharpening Made Easy", Peter was almost apologetic as he wrapped the book in a paper bag and rang up the sale on the till.

Admittedly the book was a pretty thin tome, but I joked with Peter that the true value of a book is not how big it is but how much valuable information it contains. I wasn't to be disappointed and I learnt a lot more about sharpening knives. The book really helped my technique with the "butcher buddy" sharpener and I've added new honing oil to lube the sharpening stones, more polishing with finer grain stones to finish the job, and most importantly sharpening both sides of the blade in the same direction and from the point downwards.

My knives seem to be much sharper and I've been using my sharpening gear everywhere lately, from Golden Bay to St. Arnaud, even sharpening my cousin's kitchen knives in Christchurch over the school holidays.

You can always learn new tricks, and from my book I've learnt about colouring the edge of the blade with a black permanent marker so you can see what blade material you have taken off and where you have missed.

I've also learned that you should never use a bench grinder to sharpen valued knives too. If you can see sparks, the heat generated will be damaging the steel and blade. Alloy steel quality and carbide densities also explain why some blades cut so much better than others.

Stainless steel blades are not always the best solution either, often being more difficult to sharpen than carbon steel knives. My book also shows how to use diamond steels, files and hones to touch up blades, but wasn't too flattering about kitchen-style carbide pocket sharpeners which can easily damage a quality knife blade.

Some modern knives don't even need sharpening, and I have several versions that have easily replaced disposable blades, much like a razor blade. When the blade becomes blunt, it is an easy task to replace the blade and experience incredible sharpness again in a matter of seconds. Such knives in different sizes and blade configurations are especially excellent for delicate work such as head-skinning trophy animals and removing capes.

Whatever blade you are using, the easiest way to test for true sharpness is to run the edge across a level fingernail. If it doesn't slip and "sticks" then it is very sharp and will be a delight to use.

You can never own too many knives, and just recently I bought myself a couple of hi-tech Gerber 'Gator Premium' hunting knives, made with CPM S30V high carbon steel blades. I don't really understand what the numbers mean but both knives sure are sharp, slicing through hide and feather, like few knives I've owned before.

Some of the best knives in any family though are heirloom knives, passed on from generation to generation, whether it be trophies of war from WWI & II, family cutlery, or other fishing and hunting blades.

Of recent years, two of the most special knives to come our way have been the heritage hunting knife gifted to my son Jake by Terry Richardson of Hope, and the knife of my late friend and neighbour, John Bishop of Richmond.

John Bishop was a WWII veteran who served on the British submarine Ultor under the command of legendary Captain George Hunt. The Ultor sank perhaps more enemy shipping, by torpedo and machine gun, than any other submarine in the history of modern warfare. .

John's step-son Mike Brough, kindly gifted me the knife John kept in his bedside cabinet, and the German Solingen steel knife holds a wickedly sharp edge. I don't know the age or history of the knife but I value it all the same and look forward to using it occasionally over coming years.

Maybe one day my kids, and grandchildren as yet unborn, will fish and hunt using my cherished knives and blades. With a bit of luck, they'll learn how to keep them sharp too.

Journey of adventure and discovery in Golden Bay

Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Nelson Mail, 9 July 2016
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Karst rock at the Gorge Creek viewing area in Golden Bay. Wainui falls are worth the walk.

About 90 kilometres from downtown Richmond, is where nirvana begins.

It's a long drive over a vast marble mountain of limestone to get there, but Golden Bay is arguably one of the Nelson region's last best places. Crowded into oblivion with tourists over summer months, the Bay is a great place to visit over winter when life stands still.

Golden Bay is more than just a place to many people, it's more like an idea, a concept, or way of life, where environment and humanity go hand-in-hand. It's a real eclectic mix of friendly local people — alternative lifestylers, overseas immigrants, and dairy farmers, but everyone seems to get along just fine.
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Walkway near Te Waikoropupu Springs, the largest freshwater springs in New Zealand.

On a geographic level, Golden Bay is a shallow, circular bay that is rich in fish and wildlife, and protected to the north by Farewell Spit. The spit is a 26km encompassing arm of fine gold sand that defines the bay, along with the two major rivers, Aorere and Takaka, that flow in from the south.

Golden Bay has marvellous weather too, with copious sunshine, although when it rains it can really pour as savage fronts out of the Tasman Sea lash the western mountains.

Visiting the Bay in good weather is always a good idea, and this winter I've had magical days out exploring, escaping civilisation, and living life.

Basing myself at Rangihaeata, I've been fortunate to have epic adventures exploring the Bay, sometimes with family and friends, and sometimes alone. It's become somewhat of a personal obsession and odyssey to check out as many walks, sites, venues, resources, and icons as I can, meeting great local people along the way.

Over 40 years, I've had a good look around Golden Bay, but like layers of the onion, the more I explore, the more I discover, and the more I savour and enjoy.

Takaka and Collingwood townships are remarkable places, with Takaka fair bristling with eateries, cafes, bars, shops, and services. It's not fair to mention any individually, as they're all enjoyable.

Collingwood was lots of fun recently, as I explored the beach, walked the street, and had lunch at the Courthouse Café.  Locals Victoria Davis and Peter Foster greeted me warmly, with Peter describing Collingwood as "impossible to improve upon perfection". Chef Chris Jackson is a mad keen fly angler who I've known for years, and Chris created a masterful meal of refried bean burritos and salad, along with lashings of great advice on wading the local inter-tidal flats and saltwater fly fishing for cruising yellowtail kingfish that arrive over summer months.  Other days I explored out east, beyond Pohara and Ligar Bay, to Wainui Bay and inlet where I walked the Wainui Spit, before hiking the river track to Wainui Falls, a plunging cascade of whitewater into a jade green pool.

The Grove Reserve was a great walk with a splendid viewing platform overlooking Motupipi, and as the sun sank low in the sky and darkness approached I explored the honeycombed Labrinyth Rocks.

Takaka Hill itself was a real treat, a prime example of limestone karst geology of sharp rock outcrops and sinkholes. Canaan Downs was bathed in midday sun while the native bush was cool and fresh on the walk to Harwood's Hole, a giant 176m deep natural limestone shaft and start of a massive underground cave network.

Alone, I yelled and enjoyed the crisp, clear, echoes, and even practiced my stag roaring. On the way back, I traversed the Gorge Creek Viewpoint enjoying stellar limestone rock formations and scary vistas into Gorge Creek and the Takaka Valley way below. On the way home, I walked the Takaka Hill Walkway, climbing high onto the top ridge beyond the TV transmitters, enjoying the last of the evening sun while the valley below was plunged into darkness and gloom as the glowing golden orb dipped below the silhouetted outline of the western mountains.

On my most recent trip to Golden Bay, no-one else wanted to go, so I went anyway.  Going hard, I drove down Packards Rd and climbed high to Rawhiti Cave. The second half was steep and a great workout, but the cave itself was spectacular. Jam-packed with stalactites and stalacmites from dripping water, limestone and calcification, it was well worth the walk.

 Later, I walked the Port Tarakohe breakwater, watching rock climbers tackle the steep limestone Tarakohe cliffs in the late afternoon sun. With time for one more adventure, I walked the short track upwards to the Abel Tasman Memorial, overlooking Ligar Bay, and learnt what a dismal failure Abel Tasman's 1642 discovery of "Murderer's Bay" had been.

His boats didn't even obtain fresh water in Golden Bay, and they used the same water for three months that they had first provisioned in Mauritius.

Next day I headed for Rockville and Bainham, up the Aorere Valley, stopping at Bishops Saddle to learn more about the Aorere Goldfields, where I realised that my great-great-grandfather, Captain John Walker, an early Nelson maritime pioneer, would have transported goldminers and their supplies, in his cutter Supply and as first skipper of the Lady Barkly.

After reconnoitring accommodation options at Collingwood, I was welcomed for afternoon tea with John and Carolyn McLellan at Bainham. Carolyn crafted the most wonderfully delicious hot chocolate chip muffins, with a gooey caramel fudge-type centre, and best of all she farewelled me with a "doggy-bag" of muffins to eat later.

Hunting mallards, pukeko, and paradise ducks on several properties while in Golden Bay, it was special to enjoy wild open spaces and watch wild fowl plummet from the sky in a hail of steel shot as they overflew my decoys. Wild duck makes excellent eating, and I was fortunate to meet Will and Sukhita at Langford's Store, a real destination place to visit, with the fabulously rustic and well stocked store, first opened by Sukhita's great-grandfather in 1928.

With flaming locks of red hair, Sukhita is a real character, and it was great to drop off a load of parrie ducks at the family home after shooting finished. I showed Will and the kids how to breast-out some ducks and remove legs and thighs, while Sukhita made me a cup of tea and insisted I take away some of her home preserves and chutney.

Duckshooting over, I concentrated on doing some serious hiking, knocking off the Kaituna Forks Track and checking out the old gold workings and mine shaft loop track. The vegetation was lush and verdant, with nikau palms, tree ferns, supplejack, and all manner of epiphytic plants beside a gurgling river.

The Pupu Walkway was my favourite. Not to be confused with Te Waikoropupu Springs, the Pupu Walkway is up valley and first provided electricity in 1929 by way of a weir, water race, and penstock. In places there is water on one side, a boardwalk in the centre with a high metal rail, and oblivion on the other into an impossibly steep and formidable gorge.

Fortunately, there's just so much to do and see in Golden Bay, and I can't wait to explore it all. With a bit of luck, effort, imagination, and good management, it should take me years.


Moving mountains of rubbish through education

Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, nelson Mail, 25th June 2016
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Ricky of Greenwaste To Zero demonstrates compost manufacture to Henley school pupils.
Environmental educator Adie Leng, left of Tasman District Council, explains the workings of the Recycling Centre to Henley School pupils
.It never ceases to amaze me how much trash leaves our house each week. With two adults and four kids (and their after-school friends) in the house it sometimes seems like a full time job picking up all the crap and rubbish generated by daily living in suburbia.

Every week it seems that our red-lidded wheelie bin is chock-a-block as I wheel the overloaded container down to the curbside for collection. The same goes for our yellow-lidded recycling bin every fortnight, but at least that stuff isn't all going into landfill.

Yes, the modern lifestyle isn't everything it is cracked up to be, living in an ever-accelerating world of mass consumerism, stress, urban isolation, and endemic diabetes. But it's not all bad here in New Zealand, at least it's still mostly uncrowded, and for the most part urban pollution controls, water supply, sanitation and storm water provisions are arguably better than ever.

Sometimes, it's easy to get despondent about what is happening out there in our environment though, in terms of our lowland rivers, our salmonid fisheries, our game herds. Geez, even the local scallop fishery has collapsed for reasons as yet unknown.

But again, there is always light at the end of the tunnel, with signs of an environmental awakening occurring in New Zealand, as Kiwis wake up to what they have lost and what they need to do to enhance and protect what is left. The answers are complex, the stakeholders are many, and not everyone will agree all of the time, but at least many community, business, and political leaders will now publicly acknowledge that recreational and environmental issues do indeed exist.

My hope is that younger generations will be more savvy into the future about managing and protecting our treasured outdoor resources from excessive exploitation, harm and neglect.

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Charli Mirfin at the MIRF building recycling facility.

My kids are already teaching me lots. Modern schooling is so much different from when I was a boy, being more interesting and interactive. There are hands-on lessons, environmental education, even school trips and visits to experience community initiatives first hand.

Last week I was privileged to be a parent helper on my youngest daughter Charli's Henley School class trip to check out recycling, waste disposal, and composting.

Teacher Robyn Mercer-Hall did a stellar job briefing parents and students about the game plan while we handed in signed forms. Maybe I've written too many safety operation plans (SOPs) for my business lately, but it seems not even primary schools are now immune from the claustrophobic clutches of bureaucratic Health and Safety demands, dreamed up by little grey men, wearing little grey suits, and living in a little grey world.

All aboard the bus, capably driven by Lou of SBL, we headed off for our first stop at the Richmond Resource Recovery Centre (RRC) down Beach Rd.Ad FeedbackMet by Adie Leng, environmental educator co-ordinator of Tasman District Council, we were in for a wonderful morning learning about all things recycling. Adie was excellent with our class (and with the other classes that were following us), answering questions like the professional she is, and keeping the kids attention totally focused on recycling.

Joined by Emma-Jane Carpenter, office manager for Smart Environmental, which operates the facility, we all learned more than anyone ever needs to know about recycling, refuse disposal, and commodity prices for steel, aluminium, plastic, and glass.

The highlight was walking through the MIRF building (Material Recovery Facility ), with conveyor belts of recycling, magnets, clanging motors, and jumping bottles, paper, cans, and cardboard.

One thing for sure, every kid went away enthusiastic about the concept of recycling, and understanding the need for clean, well-sorted recycling bins at home. I was just pleased that our local plastics are being recycled, with strong commodity demand overseas, especially as I had just read in the Nelson Mail recently that international scientists are predicting that by 2050 there will be more plastic floating around in the world's oceans than total biomass of fish.

Next stop was Eves Valley Landfill, just off the Waimea Plains, near Brightwater, where we were met by Catherine of MWH, which monitors the landfill in association with contractors Fulton Hogan.

Catherine gave the students a brief lesson on waste, where it goes, and how the environment is protected. Operational since 1989, the Eves Valley landfill is a multi-layered, impermeable lined mountain of rubbish, belching methane and CO2 from strategically placed pipes or vents around the operational area. Well controlled and well managed, we discussed the disposal of leachate, stormwater, and many other environmental considerations that occur in modern day rubbish disposal management.

OPINION: Most people probably give little thought to where their rubbish goes once they dispose of it but modern local facilities are far superior to what was available when I was a boy.

I can still remember the Beach Rd tip in Richmond, looking like something out of Dante's Inferno, under the supervision of legendary town rubbish man Les Cargill, with huge pits, smouldering fires, burning tires, wheeling overhead seagulls, rats, cats, and the overpowering stench of pollution. The sad part of it all being the inevitable leaching of toxins out into the Waimea Estuary, or as they were called then, "the mudflats"'.

It wasn't much better down the lower Appleby River either, with a big smelly dump right near the river, on the site nearby the Great Taste Trail Cycle Bridge. I hate to think what has leached into Tasman Bay over the years from these and other dumps of the past. We'll always need landfills as a society but the key is to minimise (or reduce) the volume of what we need to put into them.

Illegal dumping is still prevalent around our region though and is called "fly tipping" where offenders commit crimes against the community by illegally dumping rubbish and waste along local waterways. T

he most recent abhorrent rubbish sight I saw was guiding a visiting American angler last month on the lower Pelorus River, in Marlborough. Right beside the river, there were piles of unsightly and stinking rubbish. It looked like the offenders had dumped several trailer loads of household waste, rubbish bags, and other trash because they were too cheap to pay to go to a refuse station. Randy was aghast, and I was so embarrassed, even ashamed that someone could even consider behaving like that beside such a beautiful river.

Our last stop on our environmental school tour was at "Greenwaste to Zero" where green waste such as lawn clippings, garden cuttings, and other vegetation waste can be disposed of for a fee by residential and commercial customers. The waste is put through a shredder, before going through an intensive two year process to turn it into high grade compost which is then on-sold. The shredded mulch is turned every six months, and extreme heat generated through biochemical processes renders the enriched compost sterile, and free of all seeds, weeds, and worms.

Ricky of Green Waste to Zero had the kid's absolute attention with his description of compost manufacture and the benefits to the environment. It was great to see the kids get some dirt under their fingernails, and the children were all invited to collect a pottle of compost each to grow some seeds back in the classroom.

Our day out wasn't a huge leap for mankind, but it sure was a small step in the environmental education of a group of local youngsters. We've only got one planet and it needs all the help it can get. Maybe we can all make a difference, a little bit at a time.


Lessons from school camp for everyone

Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Nelson Mail, 11 June 2016
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Dunkirk Re-visted: Boat pickup from Blumine Island Sanctuary, Queen Charlotte Sound Spotties Galore: RM 16, Waimea Intermediate pupils catch spotties in Mistletoe Bay, Queen Charlotte Sound
School camps are an outdoor rite of passage for many school children, offering the opportunity to get outside, interact with nature, and be educated in environmental issues all at the same time.

Alas, many kids these days are trapped indoors, slaves to the modern world of television, mobile phones and other electronic devices, so school camps provide exciting learning opportunities well beyond the scope of traditional educational boundaries.

School camps are also a lot of fun and I've been fortunate to have been a "camp Dad" at three of my children's week long school camps.

Daughter Rosie, 12, was excited about her Room 16 school camp to Mistletoe Bay in the sheltered waters of Queen Charlotte Sound last month, and the fun began when senior teacher Todd McAuley and principal Justine McDonald herded 27 kids and parent helpers, Jocelyn, Chris, Mike, and Zane into action on the Waimea Intermediate school quad. Mini-bus, bike trailers, shuttle trailer, boat, and support vehicles loaded with endless gear, food, and kids finally hit the road and it was game on.

It was a long, tight, curvy and windy road into the secluded Mistletoe Bay Eco-Village. The Bay is an oasis of serenity and the village is controlled by an educational trust set up to administer the facilities on leased Department of Conservation land. Open to the public, the site is highly sought after by Marlborough schools, but also by schools from throughout New Zealand, including Nelson and Tasman.

We weren't allowed to launch my boat onsite but it did provide the excuse for Mike and I to drive to Torea Bay via Te Mahia and Portage in Pelorus Sound.

The fishing there was pretty pathetic but the pod of playful Dusky dolphins (Lagenorhynchus obscurus) we encountered was awesome. It was wet and cold at Lochmara Lodge and café, but the kids had a ball exploring the grounds, feeding stingrays and kakariki native parrots, eating their lunch with hot chips and jumping off the jetty.

I took a load of three back in the boat while the others hiked home and we set my 60m flounder set net on the saltwater flats of Mistletoe Bay for nought. Collecting the net later, the only catch was two small skate and a couple of mullet.

Apparently the inner sounds are a virtual fishless desert after decades of use and over-abuse. Maybe when things are so stuffed up by recreational and commercial overfishing, dredging, and marine farming, it explains why most facilities and services in Queen Charlotte Sound now have to call themselves eco-villages, eco-lodges, or eco-tours, because there's bugger-all else left to sell or market.

The kids were excellent, although some of the boys tried the teachers' patience at times. Mealtimes were crazy, with a cacophony of noise like you could probably never imagine.  Jocelyn did a great job with the meals and all of us mucked in and helped where we could. One wet day the kids had a series of modules, which included ropes and knots, marine education by Otago University educator Richard de Hamel, and kayaking in the Bay.

I was assigned to rescue boat duty while Todd and Chris manned the kayaks with the kids. The boat was stocked up with lightweight fishing rods loaded with braided line and fluorocarbon but the fishing was always going to be difficult in such a degraded marine environment so we targeted "spotties".

Spotted Wrasse (Notolabrus celidotus) are a small, prolific, and voracious reef fish with no food value, but to the kids they were a recreational godsend. The spotties bit hard with small hooks and bait, and we shared the rods around as the kids reefed up fish after fish from the kayaks to be released unharmed. Twenty-six kids went kayaking that day, and all 26 kids caught fish, something many of them had never had the opportunity to do before.

My favourite camp day was an eco-boat tour out into Queen Charlotte Sound, an area steeped in history and rich folklore. The playground of early miners, whalers, sealers, farmers and explorers, it is the history of Captain James Cook in the area that fascinated me most.

Indeed the Sound was first named by Cook, in honour of Charlotte, wife of British ruler George III, in 1770. Over the years I have followed in the footsteps of Cook in the equatorial Pacific, and in remote northern Queensland, and to continue the odyssey locally was a special treat.

Our hosts upon the 75 year-old kauri hulled vessel 'Tutanekai' were Takutai and Peter Beech of Picton, a most remarkable couple, who wove a compelling story of European and Maori history within the Sound. Peter told wonderful stories all day long over the strategically placed intercoms, and while it probably went over the heads of most of the kids, I was enthralled.

As a tourism operator myself, I was in awe of Peter's wordsmithing skills and Takutai's keen eye spotting dolphins, seals, native forest birds and insects. Our group hiked Blumine Island trails, and climbed up high to historic concrete gun emplacements built to protect the strategic Marlborough Sounds from Japanese Invasion during WWII.

It was magic touring the wild East Bay of Arapawa (Arapaoa), past Wharehunga bay, hearing of the ordeals of Cook and able lieutenant Furneaux, captain of his consort vessel. Cook was a remarkably astute judge of indigenous Pacific people always treating them with dignity and respect. Even when 10 men were killed and eaten, Cook gave Maori the benefit of the doubt because he had had trouble with the same men over similar issues elsewhere in the Pacific.

I loved the tales about the release of endangered English Milch goats, Spanish merino sheep, and the legend of Portuguese sailors potentially discovering Arapawa and living amongst local Maori in the 1500s. On the internet later, I read that DNA testing of resident Maori and the remnant wild sheep on private land, if undertaken with positive results and true, could potentially rewrite New Zealand history and probably turn the myth of modern conservation thinking upside down.

It's a great story and I hope the kids took away some special memories of the sea, the islands, the wildlife, and the history as we steamed back up Queen Charlotte Sound and the sun lowered over the horizon. Peter's commentary railing against corporate greed, seabed desecration, and political corruption were insightful and revealing and illustrated the educational value of exposing differing points of view to our children who will one day be the guardians of our environmental future.

Perhaps the most poignant reminder of the educational and environmental value of school camps to our children were written on the back of Jocelyn's t-shirt as we all ate lunch together on the Anakiwa wharf on our last day. "Unless we reach their hearts today, they will break our hearts tomorrow".

Golden Bay dreaming

Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Nelson Mail, 5 March 2016
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Miles of magical coastline to explore. Golden Bay Snapper
Golden Bay is a magical place and there's always something therapeutic about descending into the Bay from the formidable heights of the Takaka Hill. For some reason it feels like you're going back in time, to a simpler kinder age, where you can "go troppo" and operate on "island time". Just recently I escaped over the hill by myself for a few days of solitude and exploration.

Although I know Golden Bay well, I'm always keen to check out new fresh and saltwater locations for future use. You can never do too much fishing or hunting and as I dropped the truck into second gear on the steep incline down into the lush Takaka valley I thought about my earliest introductions to the Bay by my parents on boyhood family trips.

Floundering at Pakawau, whitebaiting at Collingwood, snapper fishing and swan shooting at West Haven, and beach exploration at Wharariki were just a few of the adventures. Fond memories came flooding back of walking the Kill Devil track into the Waingaro Forks and Lake Stanley, to stay at the old "Smokey drip" hut to hunt goats. I even shot my first red deer in the Bay on the Cobb tops in 1981 under the tutelage of my father Stuart.
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Cobb River.

The Cobb of the 1960's was one of Dad's favourite places where he hunted regularly with his late brother Rob, whose rifle I still use today. In the Cobb Reservoir I caught my first few dozen rainbow trout, feisty bright crimson-sided fish of paradise, which fired my imagination and enthusiasm for trout fishing and perhaps propelled me forward into a three decade-long fly fishing career.

Later at university, one of my best mates was Gary Baigent from East Takaka, infamously nicknamed "Shagga" for his hard case ways. Along the way, I heard legendary tales of Golden Bay, about Rangihaeata headland that the Baigent family have owned for generations, about Turimawiwi and Anatori on the wild western coast south of Paturau, and about diving in Te Waikoropupu Springs, and the big brown trout of the Aorere river.

Of more recent years personal Golden Bay adventures have included crossing the Whanganui Inlet Bar to fish for blue cod at Kahurangi shoals with Peter Hamilton of Richmond, and accompanying my own family to play at many famed Golden Bay locations such as the Wylie Farm at Kaihoka Lakes.

On my most recent visit to the Bay, I was hoping to learn more about boat launching areas available and where the estuaries and coastline could be accessed. It was getting dark when I arrived at Rangihaeata so I sat on the beach eating my fish and chips and listening to the sound of the wind and surf. The solitude was magnificent and the silence from humanity deafening.

Each night I enjoyed the moonrise alone with a big full moon lighting up the Bay like daylight. One evening I walked up on the headland and watched the sun set blood-red and orange against the western mountains and over Farewell Spit, while the beach glistened and the sinuous patterns of nature lit up on water and sand. I pondered the legacy of Maori warrior chieftain Te Rauparaha and his tribal rampages of the 1830s and what may have occurred near to where I sat.

Time on your own is a rare treat and I enjoyed abandoning clock and calendar in the pursuit of nirvana. On day one, I walked the beaches of the western Bay in search of stingrays and the target species of kingfish which symbiotically ride the slipstream of the rays while hunting for baitfish.

My 8 weight fly rod was ready and rigged with a clouser minnow fly but alas not a target could I locate with polarised glasses under bright sunny skies. The water wasn't clear though after a huge rainstorm with tons of sediment flushed into the Bay a week before. Kingfish are sensitive to the saline balance of water and it was full moon too which wasn't ideal. In the end I went swimming, and like a man refreshed decided to go exploring more of the upper Aorere river trout fishery. Along the way I met local farmer, Doug Baker, and we discussed the huge flood that had just passed and ripped the river apart. But I still had fun. At Browns Creek at the start of the Heaphy Track, I fished upstream into limpid green pools, wading across chest deep crossings, feeling wild and free.

Next day was saltwater fishing with the boat, travelling from Port Tarakohe to Taupo and Separation Points. The sea was a little rough, and the water discoloured but it was a fabulous day out on the water. The only minor drama was dropping a snapper onto my barefoot and a spine breaking off in my ankle. Luckily the spine pulled out and nature's remedy of blood and saltwater helped to quell the swelling.

Trolling lures around the Wainui Bay marine farms failed to produce a kingfish before it was time to head for base and a fine red wine. My last day in Golden Bay was a trout fishing job from Patons Rock on a stellar hot summer day, and it was a big adventure driving the ever-exciting steep and narrow Cobb hydro road, past the reservoir, and hiking into the upper river onto beautiful meadows with crystal alpine waters.

Yes, Golden Bay is nature's playground alright, but the people that live there are also special, being resilient, resourceful and fiercely independent.

It's long been regarded as a hotspot of alternative living, which many still embrace enthusiastically, but it's not all about free love in a haze of green smoke. The hippie movement was based on going back to nature and the freedom to chart one's own destiny away from the tyranny of the modern world. There's a great 2009 documentary, well worth watching, about the Kiwi hippie movement called "Dirty Bloody Hippies" which can be found online.

It extensively features Golden Bay communities and local identities. Nelson Mail columnist Gerard Hindmarsh is a hoot, speaking engagingly about his 70s hippie journey. In one humorous incident he recalls running away naked from a police raid on his home, and worrying about vicious police dogs biting off his penis. The movie did make me think that the outdoor recreation movement has some similarities with hippie-dom, especially in the railing against the worst excesses of bureaucracy, big government, and rampant agri-business.

Luckily there are many more Golden Bay bucket-list goals to achieve. My list includes a Paddy Gillooly Farewell Spit tour, hiking the wild western coastline to Big River and Kahurangi Lighthouse, as well as drag netting for flounder at Rakopi. There will always be new adventures and new horizons in the world of shooting and fishing and I hope to enjoy Golden Bay for many more years to come. Maybe there's a little bit of hippie hiding in my DNA too.

Making summer memories

Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Nelson Mail, 6 February 2016
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Jake Mirfin hauls a nice-sized snapper from the Marlborough Sounds. Marlborough Sounds Scallops

Outdoor summer holidays are probably a rite of passage for Kiwi kids of all ages. I can still remember the excitement of family holidays as a kid and hope my children will remember the good times with their family as well. It's exciting being young, exploring new places, enjoying new experiences, and doing important stuff like hanging out as a family.

Our annual summer holiday down the Marlborough Sounds was another overwhelming success with epic weather, calm seas, and plentiful fish to catch.

With the kids and their cousins (six in total) all getting older and more adventurous, it was a more relaxing time for mum, dad, uncle, auntie, grandma, and grandad. The kids loved the limpid green waters of Current Basin, swimming, snorkelling, jumping off the jetty, kayaking, skiing, biscuiting, and kneeboarding.[Fresh Marlborough Sounds scallops.]
Zane MirfinFresh Marlborough Sounds scallops.

We didn't do as much fishing as we used to, but still caught loads of fish. Maybe we know the waters and tides better, have superior tackle and techniques than in years past, but the fishing was as good as it ever was and we ate fish every day like snapper, blue cod, gurnard, rig, and tarakihi.

The kids even spent hours fishing themselves, catching and releasing spotties, mullet and kahawai from the shore and jetty. It was great treat sending them down to catch fresh mullet for bait by both rod and bait net before heading out in the boat and I'm sure it helped our success at sea.

We weren't so successful at scalloping, but I couldn't blame my equipment, I just don't think the wild scallops are there like they used to be. Just recently I upgraded my dredge to get the latest technology in an attempt to catch my unfair share of the last of the scallops. I'd done the research and 'Kev's Super Dredge' as manufactured by Yvonne and Kevin Mead of Cissy Bay was the only way to go.

Modern dredges suction down on the bottom and rake the substrate with gusseted tines to root up the scallops and oysters. At Kev's advice I'd also splashed out on a 150 metres of hi-tech dynice rope which is a fine diameter, low stretch rope, much like braided fishing line, which allows scallop fishers to get down into the deep water and catch scallops in up to 40 metres of water where previously they were safe from recreational boats.

I received much ribbing after my first outing, when I came back with 5 legal scallops after spending the thick end of a thousand bucks on dredge and rope. I shucked the scallops for my lunch and enjoyed what Aimee described as the $200 scallops. Kev had previously hand delivered my 2/3 dredge, designed for smaller boats, to our home address in Richmond but I was away fishing the rivers that day, so one afternoon I drove over the hill into Cissy Bay to say g'day.

By chance I met Kev on the road by the Cissy Bay ramp and was invited back up to his place to check out his boat and to receive heaps of advice about scallops, scalloping, and the politics of scallops. It was special treat to spend time with one of the great characters of the Marlborough Sounds and I also had the chance to check out two new boat launching areas that would be useful at some other time. Lord Baden Powell famously said 'Time spent in reconnaissance is never wasted' and this advice applies equally well to chasing oysters and scallops.

We did lots of other outdoor stuff while on holiday with the kids too. They went walking, fossicking, catching paua and kina off the rocks at low tide, we even had family kayak races one evening. One coffee morning we celebrated Grandma's birthday and we all stayed up too late at night (kids included).  All the grandkids loved going possuming with Grandad Stuart, marching off together to set traps in the evenings and vying for who would get to shoot the possums in the morning. They were pretty successful too, judging by the bags of plucked possum fur they accumulated and would sell later. We enjoyed afternoon siestas, beers in the sun, family dinners, evening card games, and discussed politics, resources, deerstalking, you-name-it, much like every other family on summer holiday.

Yep, kids are a lot of fun, and I feel sorry for those people who by choice, circumstances, or by force of nature don't contribute to the gene pool by leaving a little bit of themselves on the planet before they head to the great fishing grounds in the sky.

Recently I've guided several fly anglers who have recently become fathers in their mid-forties. Phil described fatherhood as "liberating" and Dave observed that it had forced him to "pull his head out of his own arse". Interesting thoughts but most of all kids are fun to be around and keep you young at heart. Our four kids are a big family these days and the costs never seem to go away but it's far from a passport to struggle-street. The benefits of kids are immeasurable and outdoor summer holidays together cement those family bonds even more. Alas, it was soon time to pack up and head back to work and civilisation but the great news is that there is always next school holidays to look forward to.

The Dog days Of Summer

Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Nelson Mail, 23 January 2016
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Summer fun: Zane Mirfin towing the kids on Lake Rotoiti, Nelson Lakes National Park. All Covered up: Zane Mirfin with his new boat cover made by TM Covers Ltd

January is a horrible month. Maybe I sound like Dr Seuss’s ‘Grinch that stole Christmas’ but there’s usually people everywhere in the outdoors with not enough to do, and then there’s the sweltering afternoon heat and wind. Absolutely, it’s a great time to be a holiday maker, to hang out with family and friends, to BBQ and to drink cold beer, but as a serious month for fishing and hunting, January has to be one of the worst months there is.

Snapper can be caught but they are generally pretty lethargic in January off the back of spawning. The change of light at daylight and dusk are definitely the best times to target snapper but the days in January are so long that you have to be up ridiculously early or home so late as to make it a herculean task to collect a few fillets.

Fishing during the day sometimes works but there can be lots of other people out on the water, often getting in the way, plus the afternoon sea breezes can turn the sea pretty lumpy making for short days afloat. It’s a great time for collecting a few scallops or trolling up a few surface kahawai but January is not generally the best month for serious result-orientated anglers.

Trout fishing is similarly afflicted with often low river flows, and plenty of local anglers taking advantage of the summer holidays. In fact many overseas tourists deliberately avoid New Zealand in January to miss clashing with the summer rush of locals. Peak overseas tourism months are often February and March which are the coldest bleakest months back home for northern Hemisphere anglers, and the late summer weather is often more settled, days are shortening, and trout more active on large surface terrestrial insects like cicadas, blowflies, and even passion vine hoppers. Lowland rivers in January can be full of swimmers, and the midday hours will often see a full-blown “rubber hatch” with flotillas of holidaymakers in rafts, kayaks, and inner tubes. If you head for the backcountry in January too, there’s a pretty good chance you will have company on-stream as many people use their summer holidays to get away from civilisation, just like you.

Hunting is always a year-round activity but again January isn’t generally a great month. The days are so long and the hills so hot, that animals climb high and become close to nocturnal. Hinds have fawns at foot and the stags are in velvet so it can be better to wait a month or two until better opportunities arrive.

Yes, January isn’t one of my favourite months, so every year I always take the time to lay low, chill out and enjoy my family and friends while plotting the next round of outdoor adventures. I’m still out on commercial fishing jobs but I’m certainly careful with my own outdoor adventures. There’s something highly therapeutic about turning off the cellphone and hiding from the manic crowd while attempting to regrow a few brain cells from the tumultuous months beforehand. It’s nice to go down the Marlborough Sounds with the family, have some R&R and catch a few fish, but not get too serious. In fact, the best thing about January holidays are the long afternoon siesta’s to avoid the heat of the day. It’s great to become a human being again rather than just a human doing where you are leaping and jumping like a performing circus monkey at someone else’s bidding.

Sometimes, January is a good month to avoid fishing and hunting altogether. Just this past weekend there was a special carnival atmosphere at the annual Colgate Games Athletics Championship. This year teams and clubs of youngsters from all over New Zealand descended upon Nelson at Saxton Field for three days, hosted by Tasman Centre Children’s Athletics (Marlborough, Nelson, Motueka, Takaka and Richmond clubs). It was pretty hot out there in the sun all day but all the athletes and volunteer organisers and attendants put in a stellar effort and it was epic to watch local kids win an impressive number of medals along the way. The real winner though must have been the Mr Whippy icecream van that had a long line queueing up all day and every day until well after the Colgate Games had finished.

The most pleasant time of the Games was on the last day when everything had been packed up and put away, and the Athletics Richmond parents and kids enjoyed takeway pizzas and cold beer overlooking the abandoned Saxton track in the gloaming.

January is also a surprisingly good month to get outdoor jobs done too. With everyone away on holiday or stupefied with the heat, local businesses will often highly value your patronage and appreciate your purchases. Just lately I had my truck serviced, purchased a deep cycle marine battery for my electric positioning motor, ordered new waders and fly tying gear etc with no issues unlike other busier commercial times of year. I even took advantage of January timing to get a marine cover custom made for my aluminium boat. It was as simple as dropping my boat into TM Covers in St Vincent Street for the day and letting them perform a marvellously professional job in crafting a cover that keeps prying eyes away and extreme weather out. Best of all, I was able to choose from an extensive collection of materials and colours, selecting a dull anonymous green so that the ducks won’t know what hit them. Thinking ahead about winter during summer may seem a little odd, but January be damned, I can’t wait for winter to arrive.