Sunny Skies carry a Lead lining
A brown trout caught by Peter Gamble of Australia, one of the biggest he's ever caught.
Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Sunny Skies carry a lead lining, Nelson Mail, 23 December 2017
Geez, it's been hot out on the river lately.
Some days fishing has been really hard work in baking hot, almost scorching conditions.
It has been a stellar burst of weather over the past month with near-record temperatures but the downside has seen dwindling rivers and increasing water temperatures that make trout lethargic at best and nonexistent at worst.
Low flows and increasing water temperatures see trout moving into faster, more highly oxygenated water to function but when the water gets really tepid, trout will hide under logs and rocks, seek shade, cooler inflowing streams or springs, migrate, or in worst case scenarios, die.
In the ideal world of a trout, feeding is best undertaken in water temperatures of 12-18 degrees Celsius but lately afternoon water temperatures in many lowland rivers are regularly exceeding 20 degrees.
Once river water hits 22 degrees plus, then most fish life is in mortal danger, with water in the mid 20's being a death-zone.
Even alpine or mountain rivers have been getting too warm lately, and we aren't even into mid summer yet.
Ironically, New Zealand's moderate year-round water temperatures are what made our fishery famous in the first place because trout can grow year-round and aren't stunted by harsh northern hemisphere continental winters.
Alas, the advancing impacts of ongoing climate change are upon us, with increasing extremes of temperature and rainfall, causing increasingly severe flooding that scours out river habitat and fish life, and heat-waves that send summer river temperatures soaring into the stratosphere.
When you mix in the cumulative effects of 150 years of riparian mismanagement in New Zealand, it's no wonder that our trout fishing resource isn't getting any better.
But hey, you need to go fishing to catch trout and recent conditions have been a delight most days with bright hot sunny days and low flows which allows for easy wading and concentrates fish into smaller areas.
Wading wet is the way to go with light nylon pants, long sleeved shirts, wide brimmed hat, and lashings of sunscreen and lip balm. Some days we've even gone swimming at lunch time.
Pete Gamble of Melbourne, Australia is a great guy to take fishing but the hot weather and comatose half-baked trout made for tough catching.
Our first day was pretty much a disaster in the luke warm waters of the Maruia. Our farmer friend John, had never seen the river so low at this time of year, and the farm was parched and dry desperately needing rain to grow grass to feed stock and make hay.
Another farmer friend noted that the best growing months of the season were now past, and they had virtually no hay, a long hot summer ahead, and a bleak winter prognosis beckoning. Luckily we were only fishing but the intense heat radiating off the ground and rocks was stifling, and you could have fried eggs on the metal cover of my Hilux load lid.
Day two was another scorcher when we climbed down the bank into the Otututu or Rough River near the West Coast town of Ikamatua.
The fishing was fairly ordinary as we worked our way upstream so we tried to enjoy some of the other pleasures of being outside while fishing instead.
Pete is interested in a total experience not just the trout so I explained how my grandfather and his brothers, and their father before them had carved the farm land around us out of native forest with axe, saw, and fire.
The fallow deer are long gone now, annihilated by incessant waves of 1080 poisoning, but fishing up into the edge of the rainforest at the Mirfin's Creek confluence an animal was splashing about in the water. The large pig didn't hang about and swam the river in front of us and bolted into the forest.
Around the corner we saw some goats and had fun stalking in close and calling them closer with imitation goat bleats. We even caught trout, fishing the fast oxygenated water, before a long boulder-hopping session to get back to the truck at day's end. At 3pm water temperatures had reached 22 degrees Celsius.
That night I worried about where to go the next day given the heat, low flows, high water temperatures, and hard-boiled trout but salvation came in the form of a cold bleak day, strong winds, and driving rain.
What a difference a day makes as nature responded to our change of fortune. The trout were feeding hard and Pete was hitting fishing form. Wet and sodden, we couldn't quite manage our tenth trout landed before retreating to the truck for warmth and dry clothes. Maybe our luck was about to change.
Heading to Canterbury waters, the brief rain had also benefitted the rivers.
The stifling heat and hot earth had gone and the rivers noticeably cooler than the previous days. Trout were active again and Pete's two best trout were the biggest he'd ever caught after a lifetime of fly fishing.
The true highlight of the day was an errant back cast that saw me wearing a dry fly impaled to the barb in the bridge of my nose. Back at the truck we were able to rip the hook out and celebrate with a cold beer.
We had more days to fish and hoped that it would rain again soon, and often...
Love on the Fly
The happy couple, Corey Ratner and Jordan, centre, on the banks of the Karamea River. Fishing guides Tony Entwistle, left, and Zane Mirfin, second from left, and friends Dacha, and Dale Kinsella celebrate the engagement.
Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, A fly fishing love story, Nelson Mail, 9 December 2017
The wild remote rivers and oversize trout of New Zealand have drawn anglers from around the world ever since our forebears had the foresight to acclimatise valued sports fish throughout the Dominion.
Corey Ratner of Los Angeles is one such angler drawn annually to our hallowed wilderness waters, and over the past three years we've flown all over the northern South Island by helicopter in search of angling's Holy Grail.
We've never found it yet, but we've come tantalisingly close on many occasions, with beautiful brown trout taken on the dry fly in stunningly picturesque settings amongst silver waters, beech forest, and giant boulders.
Dry flies and diamonds are a girl's best friend. The engagement ring Corey Ratner presented to his girlfriend Jordan on the banks of the Karamea River.
Stellar weather made for classic sight fishing conditions under hot sun and low flowing rivers, with wet wading and lashings of sunscreen being the order of the day.
This year we explored rivers in Nelson/Marlborough, West Coast, and North Canterbury without drama, unlike last year when we had 1080 poison dumped all around us while we fished the South Branch of the Mohikinui river.
Corey was joined by his girlfriend Jordan, and her best friend Dacha, and although we headed south for a few days to heli-fish Reefton without the girls, Corey was keen to spend more time based from Nelson city.
On our last day down south, the stream was getting smaller and more marginal and the helicopter was less than half hour away from pickup, when I spotted a big trout cruising downstream toward us while we crouched on a high grassy bank above.
We thought the game was up, but fortuitously, the big fish started sipping unseen flies off the water. We tried several dry flies which bought the trout up, but were refused after close inspection.
Lengthening Corey's leader with gossamer-thin 5x fluorocarbon tippet, I attached a tiny #18 Adams dry fly, before Corey delivered the fly 30cm in front of the trout's nose.
There was no hesitation this time, with a confident slurp of the fly, solid hook-up, and a stellar and thrilling fight. We both knew it was a good fish, but when the French-made Chatillion scales thumped down to 10.25lb, Corey had just landed his first ever double-digit trout, and on highly sporting tackle too.
Maybe it was an omen, because tomorrow was the big day.
Out on the river, we'd talked about all sorts of topics, and the big one was Corey's intention to propose marriage to Jordan out on a New Zealand trout stream somewhere.
He had permission from Jordan's family and the blessing of his family, while Dacha was in on the act too bringing the ring over from California. The only thing to do was to choose a location.
Corey's good friend Dale Kinsella, a veteran of 27 New Zealand fly fishing campaigns and a dry fly aficionado, was part of the plot too, and along with legendary guide Tony Entwistle of Richmond, we had all wracked our brains for the perfect location.
By committee, it was decided that "Hollywood Corner" on the Karamea was the ultimate place for the proposal. Long nicknamed for the stunning limestone bluffs and outcrops ringing a tight turn in the Karamea River with emerald green pools to die for, it was here that Corey would ask the woman he loved to marry him.
I'd joked with Corey that there were three rings in marriage: engagement ring, wedding ring, and suffering but there was no turning back for Corey.
The only person who didn't know was Jordan. Flying into Kahurangi with HeliCharter Nelson pilot Matt Gibb we encountered thick cloud on the western side of the ranges as Matt expertly found a hole to descend into the swirling grey world below.
We flew the river to check for anglers but there wasn't a soul in sight and the Hollywood beat was ours alone. On the first decent pool below the bluffs, I spied a trout feeding in fast water that rose with confidence and hammered Corey's dry fly, so things were looking good.
Around the corner, we identified three possible helicopter landing and proposal sites. Corey asked my opinion and I outlined the merits of each site but insisted that it was his choice alone.
Pick-up time came fast and the radio crackled as Matt announced his arrival.
The girls were onboard already and we sped downstream with the two women mesmerised by the turquoise waters of the Karamea below.
Landing at Corey's preferred site, I climbed aboard the chopper again to give Corey, Jordan, and Dacha some privacy while we picked up Dale and Tony to join the party.
When we returned the deed was clearly done, with a positive outcome too. Jordan was hugging Corey, everyone was waving, and even the old married men in the helicopter were going all gooey. Matt did a victory circuit around the happy couple before we landed to celebrate with champagne, grape juice, and nibbles.
We laughed, we cried, we hugged. It was one hell of a way to end a fishing day as a thunderstorm descended upon us with crashing thunder and raindrops as the happy couple departed for Nelson while we fished on.
Anglers still lured to Eldorado (Taupo)
Euro-Nymphing on the Hinemaiaia Stream, a tributary of Lake Taupo.
Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Anglers still lured to Eldorado, Nelson Mail, 11 November 2017
New Zealand has long been famed as a world-class trout fishing destination.
At the forefront of this reputation is the legendary Taupo fishery, situated in the Central Volcanic Plateau of the North Island.
The Taupo fishery was already famous when American angler, and celebrated western paperback writer, Zane Grey turned up on the scene in 1926 as a guest of the New Zealand Government.
Jakob Reynolds, 11, lands his first Taupo rainbow trout.
However Grey's book Tales of the Anglers' Eldorado, New Zealand lit a fire under New Zealand fly fishing that still burns brightly today.
Grey's exploits on the Tongariro River, immortalised New Zealand's most legendary river for all time, and inspired generations of anglers since.
Lake Taupo and the inflowing rivers of Tongariro, Waimarino, Tauranga – Taupo, Waitahanui, and Hinemaiaia have always excited and fascinated me too, often as much for the history and pageantry onstream, as for the hard-fighting and numerous rainbow trout themselves.
Jakob Reynold's, 11, is Skipper Pete. with a Rainbow trout caught in Lake Taupo
On this last trip north, Brother Scott and I attended a Taupo Conference which got in the way of fishing, but we still managed a few hours onstream along the way.
Our first outing was part of a group trip that departed from the Taupo Marina where we boarded one of two large launches that had been chartered to take us trolling for trout in Lake Taupo.
The sun shone down and the beer flowed at the bar while we steamed out into the lake to favoured reefs for fishing.
Baked Rainbow Trout at Wairakei Resort, Taupo
Pete the skipper explained much to me about the fine art of using downriggers to troll lures behind the boat while the crew deployed the rods.
Many trout swim deep within the lake, especially during summer when warm surface temperatures drive them deep in search of the thermocline, a band of water containing optimum oxygen and temperature profiles that concentrate baitfish and provides comfortable habitat for trout. Modern trout trolling equipment uses electric downriggers which lower a 4.5kg lead weighted and keeled ball into the water on a braided wire cable, to which lures are attached via downrigger release clips.
The advantage of this system is that you can fish two rods per downrigger and lower lures to precise depths with no tangles (which is essential on a party boat with newbie anglers).
It didn't take long for our first trout victim to impale itself on a lure suspended at 35 metres depth, and an excited 11 year old Jacob Reynolds wound in his first rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss).
More trout came aboard during our short cruise, and the second boat caught trout too, but it wasn't fishing as I know it. The best part was the beer, and the fresh trout served Japanese sashimi style with soy sauce and wasabi paste.
We were also treated to fresh trout from the barbeque hot plate cooked in breadcrumbs and lemon pepper. The next day at lunch, the Wairakei Resort Chef served up trout baked whole on a platter.
Conference over, we were free to fish to our hearts content and our first destination was the Hinemaiaia, a delightful small spawning stream that flows into the Lake near Taupo township.
Scott and I were joined by new friends from Hawkes Bay. Fortunately, we'd bought plenty of rods, reels, waders, and boots across in the Jeep from Nelson, and we togged up on a dirt road beside the gurgling stream.
With everyone a beginner fly angler, I decided to set them up for Euro-nymphing, using short lines and long rods. Anglers fish two flies lobbed up and across, with rod held high to eliminate surface drag and allow the artificial flies to travel deep along the bottom where trout rest, spawn, and hide among the depths and multiple logjams.
Even with the heavy tungsten-beaded jig-fly riding point up we still lost plenty of flies in amongst the snags but we had some ripping strikes too as sassy rainbow trout raced downstream with throbbing rods and screaming reels. The guys loved it, and we had a great time together walking bush tracks and wading beautiful pools.
Raining overnight, it was still raining when daylight came. There was no rush to fish so we let it clear off and prepared for a mid-morning assault on the mighty Tongariro.
The pools I remembered on the lower Tongariro below the main road at Turangi had changed, and the water was unappealing. Scott suggested fishing a small pool on a side channel and I threw a few casts without much expectation. I was now fishing our third Taupo technique of our fishing trip which was a traditional flyline, long tapered leader, floating yarn strike indicator, and tandem tungsten nymph setup.
On my second upstream cast the indicator tugged under in the fast water, I struck hard, and a crimson-sided rainbow tugged and jumped clear of the water in a glissade of spray. Safely landed, Scott suggested I try another few casts, and the indicator tugged down again as another Tongariro rainbow bent the rod double.
On another pool upstream we enjoyed good fishing, as a solo overseas angler from Luxembourg watched our success with great interest.
It turned out that our new friend had been fishing for six days without a touch, so we left him the pool with some advice, and headed for the Interislander Ferry five long hours away.
The following three articles are a three part series so run in order rather than most recent first.
Way out west for an excellent fishing adventure
Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Nelson Mail, 15 April 2017
Phil Clark of Australia with another Lake Moeraki brown trout caught on the fly.
The West Coast of the South Island is a magical and mysterious wonderland, easily one of the world's wildest and remotest outdoor adventure playgrounds.
With the closure of yet another trout fishing season close upon us, it's been special to reflect upon West Coast travels over the past seven months where we fished between Karamea township and Haast.
In this time we fished major rivers and their tributaries, like the Karamea, Mohikinui, Buller, Grey, Taramakau, Hokitika, Wanganui, Whataroa, Paringa, and lakes galore.
The West Coast has so many rivers and lakes because it is a narrow belt of land sandwiched between surging coastline and high steep mountains, which trap rainfall blowing in from over the Tasman Sea. The climate can be savage, often with heavy rainfall and huge swollen rivers, but at times the weather gods can relent with outbreaks of bright sunshine and low clear, silver rivers.
Early season the weather and rivers were volatile, but fortunately there was a magic weather window in autumn and we enjoyed great fishing.
Zane Mirfin and Phil Clark on top of the world at Fox Glacier
Phil Clark of Australia and I have fished together many times, in many places, but Phil is somewhat of a West Coast fly fishing aficionado and he was back again to further explore the Coast in his 75th year.
Last year, we fished extensively around the Lake Brunner region, often using my boat for access to the many surrounding lakes with great success. This had sparked the idea in Phil's head about a grand "bucket list" fishing trip around the whole South Island, starting out on the northern West Coast and fishing our way south.
Probably the best trout fishing on the West Coast is the northern half, generally because the rivers are more stable and less blown apart from mercurial and routine flood events, growing ever more common in a modern climate change-ridden world.
Helicopter landing at Fox Glacier
Hokitika south is what I always term South Westland and although trout fishing results tend to be more variable, it is a truly magical place to visit, fish, and explore.
Catching kahawai (arripis trutta) in the Hokitika river mouth and shopping for greenstone and glasswork, we enjoyed West Coast ambience before heading south on a two week fishing road trip.
At beautiful Lake Mahinapua we looked off the dock for freshwater red fin perch (perca fluviatilis) before continuing onwards to Ianthe.
Phil Clark of Australia with one of the residents of lake Ianthe, South Westland.
Lake Ianthe, just short of Hari Hari township, is a stunning jewel of a lake and home of some big brown trout. Tourists crammed the boat ramp area making it a nightmare to back the boat down the ramp without potentially running over some dazed overseas visitor oblivious to Phil and Zane's most excellent adventure.
Two Chinese couples were especially good natured and full of humour, posing in front of the boat with our fishing rods and landing nets for photographs, even roping Phil and I into hamming it up for the camera.
Soon we were free of the ramp and as I opened up the throttle of the boat, the craziness of tourist season was left behind as Phil and I were alone in a secret world along the far shore.
Since I had fished here last some idiot had released the pest coarse fish Rudd (scardinius erythrophthalmus) into the lake and I was half expecting Phil to catch some as he expertly stripped damselfly and dragonfly nymphs over luxurious green weed beds below the surface.
It was not to be with rudd, but some splendid brown trout came our way. The brownies weren't numerous, but this was more than compensated for in the size and body condition of the golden flanked fish.
Some of the best fisheries on the West Coast are the lakes and stillwaters because they are stable and largely immune from the effects of flooding.
Lakes come up and lakes go down but the trout populations remain constant. Some lakes also offer some significant pacific salmon fishing opportunities for Chinook salmon (oncorhynchus tshawytscha) with Lakes Paringa and Mapourika being prime stopovers for the nomadic anadromous salmon intent on heading upstream to their natal spawning streams.
On Mapourika, we had a great time, catching trout, and practicing stag roaring on a plastic horn I keep in the boat at this time of year.
Regaling Phil with tales of hunting trips past, I also managed some decent spotting jobs on trout cruising the shallows of the dark tannin-stained lake. On the last fish, I told Phil to leave his cast on the water. "Strip slowly now" I advised Phil. "Got him" Phil replied excitedly as the 3kg brown boiled the surface attached to his fly.
Franz and Fox Glacier are always fun hamlets to drive through and this trip we stayed at Fox, enjoying fine dining just metres away from our motel accommodation. Tourism has done wonders over recent decades for the facilities and services available to travellers and the next morning Phil got me to line up a glacier heli-flight for us both. The weather was epic and Phil and I were piloted in a Hughes 500 helicopter over both glaciers, with magic views of mountains Tasman and Cook.
The glaciers may have retreated markedly over recent decades but they are still magnificent geographic features with jagged crevasses, blue ice, and massive snow fields above.
Andrew, our affable pilot, put us down for a snow landing high above Fox Glacier and we enjoyed breathtaking vistas while standing on glistening white snow. Soon we were back to the melee of tourists on the tarmac below and it reminded me of a shooting trip with hunting mentor Neil Simmons at Fox years ago.
We had four chamois skins on the ground when a busload of tourists disembarked and were fascinated by the thick dark pelts. "One skin, two skin, three skin, foreskin" Neil counted out loud to our great mirth at the time.
Lake Wahapo was too low to fish, with the ramp high and dry, and way too much mud and ooze between us and the lake to launch.
Lake Paringa was a little busy with many boats out fishing for salmon, so we kept driving south to Lake Moeraki.
The lake was all ours with not a sole in sight all day. Phil caught fish in the Blue river and we fished around the shallow lake edges using my electric positioning motor to search for cruising trout before heading to the Haast pub for dinner.
Haast really is the last outpost of civilisation in South Westland. There is trout fishing further south but I've never been very successful in the Okuru and Turnbull rivers.
Upper tributaries of the Waiatoto and Arawhata offer some potential but jetboat or helicopter access is expensive and arduous.
Some of the best fishing we've had on earlier heli-adventures was on the lower Martyr and upper reaches of the wild Cascade river.
The Haast river itself offers some fishing but it is a massive river, better fished down near the mouth for sea run trout. Upstream tributaries like the Thomas, MacFarlane, and Clarke rivers are beautiful places with big red stags and some nice resident trout too.
Phil and I had a magic morning drive over the mystical Haast Pass with bright sun and bright rivers greeting us at every turn in the road, as rainforest surrounded us and mountains towered high above.
We both knew the siren call of the rivers and lakes of the West Coast would continue to draw us back again and again but the fabled alpine waters of the Otago high country were just around the corner.
Fishing the Otago High Country
Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Nelson Mail, 29 April 2017
Phil Clark, Australia, fishes the Makarora River, Lake Wanaka, Otago
The hallowed fly fishing waters of Otago have excited Kiwi anglers ever since trout were first released into the Waters of Leith that flow through the heart of Dunedin City. It was here, at 4am on December 1st, 1874, that angler A.C.Begg was credited with being the first person in New Zealand to take a trout legally on rod and line.
The early pioneers of Otago were made up of a significant contingent of Scottish immigrants who brought their highland ways and passions to a new southern land. Most New Zealanders probably think of the Highlanders rugby team when talk of Otago comes around but in my imagination, alpine fly fishing and some of the greatest Scottish red stags that have ever roamed the earth, have always been dominant thoughts.
As Phil Clark of Australia and I descended into the Makarora Valley of Otago, high mountains gave way to tussock-clad river flats with silver gravels and gin-clear waters. Towing my boat along the highway, we passed the famous headwater tributary fisheries of the Young and Wilkin way across the other side of the vast catchment. Our destination though, was the Makarora River itself, with access by boat to the river delta, flats, and sloughs at the head of Lake Wanaka.
Indicating right, I turned down into the tight gravel road that led to a rudimentary boat ramp at the top end of the Lake. It was a stunning autumn day with bright sun, blue water, and the yellow leaves of fall as willow trees prepared for winter. The lake was ours alone, and soon we were fishing the Makarora river rip, although without success. Walking upstream along high earthen banks soon bought more joy as trout cruised the shallow river bars and weedbeds below. It wasn’t long before both brown and rainbow trout were coming to our net and we had a wonderful morning on-stream before our reverie was disturbed by a jetboat blasting up the river past us. Heading back to our boat it was apparent that the wind velocity had risen fast, and with alarm I saw whitecaps on the lake as I hurried toward the boat in the distance. The boat was laying broadside, with waves pounding over the top and was almost half full of water.
Gear was floating everywhere inside the hull and I was fortunately able to turn the bow into the waves and able to start bailing. It wasn’t a total disaster and soon we were mobile again, but it was a salutary lesson on the requirement to park your boat with extra care when you are leaving it unattended and when lake conditions may suddenly change. Ironically, the lake flattened off again so we headed down Lake Wanaka to the Albert Burn.
Many Otago streams host the term ‘burn’ in their names and it’s a delightful quirk back to those early Scottish immigrants who colonised the land. The Albert Burn was a wonderful alpine stream with some willing brown trout, but I couldn’t help continuing to look upward at Mt Albert, the site of some of the greatest wild stags to ever fall to sportsman’s rifles in New Zealand.
Heading for Wanaka Township, our base for the next few days we passed Lake Hawea, our fishing target for the following day. As we launched the boat next morning, on a cool and cloudy day, red stags in a tourist hunting enclosure roared and moaned above creating special ambience for the fishing day ahead. The lake was calm and still with no wind, and best of all, no other boats or anglers. It was a long haul to the head of the lake, close to 25km, and near the top end we encountered a minefield of drowned trees and shallow mud-filled sloughs to navigate through.
We did catch some stunted landlocked pacific salmon that we saw rising on the lake surface but the iconic Hunter river was our real destination. In the river, I spotted several trout lying tight along a bank in shallow water. Phil knew I had never fished the Hunter before, and insisted I catch the first fish. My cast flew straight and true, with the #16 Adams dry fly landing 40cm ahead and slightly to the left of the closest 2kg brownie. The trout tipped upwards and willingly slurped the surface fly before bolting for the depths when I set the hook. Phil fished really well and caught a number of nice brownies, and crimson-sided rainbow trout, that all fought well in the clean, pristine waters of the Hunter. Heading for home, we powered down the magnificent lake that was covered with the shadows of the mountains above, with nary a ripple. We even stopped off for a quick fish at the river mouth of the legendary Dingle Burn before heading for fine dining and the bright lights of Wanaka township.
Phil Clark on the Teviot River Otago
Driving down the Clutha river via Luggate and Cromwell, we were enroute to Alexandra in Central Otago. Cromwell is a great place to visit, with orchards growing splendid fruit like peaches, nectarines, plums, cherries, and my favourite, apricots. Roadside stalls are everywhere and we gorged like kings on prime stone fruit for the rest of our fishing trip.
My grandmother’s family lived in the area, with my father Stuart being born in Cromwell, and my great-grandfather being the postmaster at Arrowtown before retirement in Bannockburn. Driving past the Cromwell cemetery, I stopped to have a quick search for Dad’s sister Glenda, who died in infancy. It was to no avail but at least I had tried.
The ‘think big’ hydro dams of the Rob Muldoon political era have created some really interesting local trout fisheries but our focus was on the smaller hydro dams to the East. Lake Onslow is accessed by narrow gravel roads from the small town of Roxburgh and is high in the hills, literally miles from anywhere. Onslow is set amongst truly barren terrain, and although different from classical mountain scenery, it has a special beauty all of it’s own amongst the tall golden tussocks and high country silence.
We sat and ate our lunch on the bank of the lake as several trout rose nearby. I was keen to launch the boat and rack up some trout but Phil calmed me down. “Sometimes just being in a place like this is enough” Phil mentored me. In the afternoon, we fished the Teviot River, a small tannin stream that flows from the lake, and what a treat. The Teviot reminded me of what I have always read about classical Scottish Highland burns, with dark waters, and populated with bright, feisty, stunted brown trout. Fishing a pair of soft-hackle wetflies across and down, we caught lots and lots of trout in the 15-30cm bracket and had great fun. At one point Phil got me to demonstrate a difficult cast into a prime trout lie, the line tugged, and I caught two trout at the same time.
Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to enjoy epic adventures on the classic waters of Otago and there are many more rivers yet to go on fishing trips of the future. Rivers like the Nevis, Greenstone, Lochy, and Von would have to wait for another time because Phil and I were now enroute to the joint fishing meccas of Southland and Fiordland…
(To be Continued)
Fishing at the final frontier in the wilds of Fiordland
Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Nelson Mail, 13 May 2017
Phil Clark in the midst of brown trout action, Lake Monowai, Fiordland.
Fiordland has always captured my imagination as the last bastion of hunting and fishing in New Zealand. It truly is a land of high mountains, dense impenetrable rainforest, deep fiords, and wild weather.
Yes, Fiordland is an amazing place, with most of it locked up within New Zealand's largest national park that came into existence in 1952 and covers a massive 12,500 square kilometres.
It's a world class landscape well described by Guy Salmon in 1987 when he wrote that: "The wild mountains here are still skirted by wild lowlands; together they form a vast primeval expanse that speaks it's own language and runs its own world. That such a stunning natural asset has survived almost untouched for so long seems a miracle".
Scenic Wonderland: The waters and mountains of Fiordland are legendary.
If I'm honest though, I'd have to say that Fiordland is actually a sod of a place, almost sterile and infertile in places, with incessant rainfall and sandflies, cascading waterways, moss encrusted trees and logs, and with lichen-clad slippery boulders.
No wonder it was the place that nobody wanted to touch. But on a good day when the weather gods relent it can be a magic wonderland that exposes true beauty and charm. The fact that it is populated with brown and rainbow trout, red deer and wapiti is also another real bonus for outdoor people.
The Eglinton river of Fiordland is arguably New Zealand's most scenic fishery, but so too are the remote tributaries of Lake Te Anau, populated with colourful wild rainbow trout.
I got to fish many of these special places with highly respected guide Dean Bell of Te Anau in years past, including the iconic Clinton and Worsley rivers.
We even fished the Mararoa river together during my South Island honeymoon many years ago, although Aimee has continued to remind me about this ever since.
On another stellar guiding trip with guiding buddy Graeme Marshall before my children arrived on the scene, we flew the length of the South Island with iconic helicopter pilot Dick Deaker, who was the worthy subject of a later book by Graeme entitled "Aerial Hunter – the Dick Deaker story".
Dick is a first class character, a great raconteur and adventurer, a man who understands Fiordland like few others, both on foot as a youthful deer culler and later as a pioneer of the aerial venison recovery industry. We stayed at Martin's Bay, Lake McKerrow, Fiordland, near the coastal mouth of the Hollyford River.
With magic summer weather, we never even looked like putting on a rain coat in ten days. Heli-fishing the coastal rivers of Fiordland by day, and deerstalking Jerusalem Creek after work in the evenings it was a truly epic adventure.
Some mornings before fishing, we'd even be hooking up piles of red deer carcases under the helicopter, shot by Dick and his shooter, for transport to the Hollyford road end.
Looking back, the trout fishing was actually pretty average in most places, but the adventure was magnificent flying along and over some of New Zealand's most rugged and remote coastline and valleys in search of trout.
Stunningly beautiful rivers such as the Pyke, Olivine, Lakes Wilmot and Alabaster, Kaipo, Transit, Poison, Light, Dark, and Wild Natives will forever be etched upon my mind.
On my most recent foray into Fiordland in April, Phil Clark of Australia and I had my boat along to access Fiordland tributary streams.
Alas the advent of the invasive species didymo has now meant access is restricted by the Department of Conservation and a didymo cleaning permit is now required for every landing. At the DOC cleaning station in Te Anau it was a real circus and we didn't get on the road to Lake Monowai until late morning.
Remote and impressive Monowai is about 22 kilometres long and stunningly beautiful with dead trees and snags protruding above the dark and evil waters.
Dead calm with high sun, we headed for the Electric River mouth, where we saw more deer than trout.
The trout were punishing us and it wasn't until six o'clock that evening until Phil's line finally came tight and a chunky 3kg rainbow leapt high in a shimmering glissade of light and water.
Looking back toward shore, I could see more big fish swirling at the mouth of a small tributary and we had hit the jackpot.
In the end we were standing in calf-deep water as big 3-5kg brown trout herded baitfish like a pod of dolphins into the shallow inlet waters. These incredible trout were carving big bow waves all around us and trout were even beaching themselves in the feeding frenzy and melee.
Darkness was coming fast and we didn't quite land our dozen before speeding for the ramp, dodging dead trees and logs in the last glow of the evening sky.
There were other fishing adventures too, on Lakes Manapouri and Mavora with beautiful still calm autumn days, before we started fishing our way home via the rivers of Southland and further north into the Mackenzie Country waters of the upper Waitaki basin.
But it was Fiordland that captured our hearts and imagination.
Perhaps the highlight of our Fiordland visit was a two hour scenic fixed-wing plane flight over Doubtful and Dusky Sounds and beyond with the vibrant and effervescent Nadia, aged 23.
The visibility was outstanding, and Nadia expertly circled us over Wet Jacket Arm, the supposed home of New Zealand's long-lost moose population that were first liberated in 1910.
Heading for base flying up Cooks Channel, first discovered by mariner Captain James Cook in 1773, we realised that not much had changed in Fiordland in almost 250 years.
Bug bonanza adds buzz to trout fishing
Zane Mirfin, Wildside column, Nelson Mail, 18 March 2017
Wild brown trout taken on a large terrestrial dry fly imitation.
Trout fishing, especially fly fishing, is always about thinking like a fish.
Trout can be remarkably easy to catch at times but it is always about giving them what they want to see. A trout's world is all about food and sex, and in the volatile waters of a river, trout must feed wisely to stay safe, grow, and prosper.
Summertime is terrestrial time, where insects that have their origins on the land, fly, fall, drop, or are blown onto the water's surface where they are fair game for willing trout.
Skip Herman of Chicago is rapt with another typical wilderness brown trout taken on the dry fly recently.
Brown trout (salmo trutta) are the craftiest of all the world's trout species, well known for their wily ways and specific tastes, but sometimes in summer they can throw caution to the wind and feast with abandon on a seasonal smorgasbord of terrestrial insects.
There's just nothing like watching a big leopard-spotted brown trout come willingly to a surface dry fly, and at this time of year I'm fortunate to get my "fix" almost daily.
Perhaps New Zealand's most talked about fly fishing terrestrial bug is the cicada. Some summer days you can hardly hear yourself think as the cicada's fair scream from the tree tops, deafening anglers with their strident love songs.
Xenarchus, a Greek poet from the 1st Century BC, obviously had a sense of humour but would have got into big trouble in a modern PC world when he wrote: "Happy the cicadas live, since they all have voiceless wives". The trout though, are waiting and willing for cicadas to fall, and with 42 species within New Zealand at last count, there are plenty to choose from.
Some days onstream, trout can be stupid, almost suicidal, as they slash and grab at any large surface insect.
Some of the best days are a stifling hot sunny day following rain with a falling river as large golden brown trout come almost from nowhere out of tea-stained waters to engulf large artificial creations made from deerhair, rubber-leg, krystal flash, and foam rubber.
The trout can take the fly so slowly, and often eat the fly swimming downstream as they face toward the angler. It's an electrifying adrenalin-laced experience and it takes nerves of steel to resist striking too soon and ripping the fly away from the big trout's jaws. Steve Lennard of Brisbane is a fine fly fisherman with lightning reflexes on the fly rod, and was way too fast in striking one recent afternoon.
After pulling the fly out of the gob of a particularly large trout, Steve looked at me with disbelief and asked what he had done wrong again. "Premature ejaculation" I laughed.
Other days the fish can be very selective, almost ornery, especially when they have been fished to by many anglers. Trout are fast learners and don't stay dumb for long. On days like this anglers need to be more cautious throwing their best cast early, using longer leaders, finer diameter tippets, and smaller, more imitative flies.
Trout are especially sensitive to size and colour and can lock onto a specific species of cicada in some locations. The alpine cicadas of Marlborough are much smaller than the West Coast bush cicadas, and also much lighter in coloration, being a dull grey to hide amongst rocks and tussocks rather than tall beech trees.
In season, there are plenty of other terrestrial insects to counter-balance the trout's main stem diet of aquatic mayflies, caddisflies, and stoneflies.
Blowflies both brown and blue are a magnet to trout, as are beetles, wetas, crickets, grasshoppers, cockroaches, and spiders. In fact, trout will eat almost anything including mice, rats, and even birds.
Years ago, a trout I helped gut contained a near adult chaffinch. One of my fly fishing and guiding mentors, the late Ron Mackay, once caught a trout in the Maitai River that had ingested a used prophylactic tossed into the river by a careless lover.
My favourite terrestrials are always the big bugs imitating serious trout food.
"Junkfood on steroids" is what one of my Colorado guiding buddies in the United States used to call such artificials. There are many patterns tied with ingenious materials and with clever names such as Madam X, Fat Albert, Dave's Hopper, Stimulator, Carty's General Terrestrial, Royal Trude, Turck's Tarantula etc, and they all work on occasion.
Smaller terrestrial bugs are also an important part of any local angler's arsenal.
Some of the most prevalent in the dog days of late summer are the willow grub and the delta-winged passion vine hopper. Willow grubs are the small pale lemon coloured grubs that fall from the red warts commonly observed on willow leaves.
Trout can sit up under the surface gulping such wriggling delicacies for hours, seemingly impervious to the angler thrashing the water all around in a futile manner. Go small and go fine is my advice when fishing for willow grubbers.
The passion vine hopper is another heralded terrestrial trout food on lowland rivers such as the Motueka and Ruiwaka.
In most such rivers the only thing holding the river banks together after 150 years of riparian mismanagement are valued weed pests like crack willow, poplar, wattle, old man's beard, blackberry, gorse and broom, and this creates perfect habitat for passion vine hoppers to thrive.
Sometimes there are dozens of such bugs on the water at any one time and the trout can rise with abandon but it can take an accurate caster and much patience to coax a fish to take an artificial amongst so many naturals.
Terrestrial season is always a great time to fly fish, and on the cold lifeless winter evenings to come, it will be easy to fantasise about the late summer bounty of the here and now.
Female anglers add special touch to fly fishing
Zane Mirfin, Wildside column, Nelson Mail, 4 March 2017
Rebecca DePole with a typical NZ brown trout.
If you ever read fishing or hunting publications it can invariably be a male dominated exercise.
In the past, female anglers, when they featured, may have been allocated a token spot somewhere toward the back pages or more commonly featured in a large page three photo, replete and proud in a stunning bikini.
Fortunately times are a-changing and women are becoming increasingly involved and accepted within the fishing and hunting fraternity.
Rebecca DePole supervises her husband Pat DePole catch a trout.
This is a great thing, and I've tried hard to encourage my daughters to enjoy the outdoor life like I do. In this modern world of gender equality and equal opportunity, there are a lot more outdoor female role models around for other women to emulate, and my guess is that women anglers and hunters will become a more common sight on local trout streams and in the mountains hunting in the years ahead.
As a fishing guide of 31 years standing, I've had the good fortune to have guided many female anglers both here in New Zealand and overseas. Many of these women, ladies, and girls have been excellent anglers and lots of fun to guide. Often they accompany fathers, husbands, and boyfriends, but increasingly they come on their own terms to enjoy nature and fly fishing success.
Fishing, and particularly fly fishing, is not an exercise in brute-strength, and success invariably occurs because of what you have between your ears, and not what you have between your legs.
Rebecca DePole navigates the backcountry boulders in search of the next trout.
Women frequently show their menfolk how to really fish and can act as a moderator to the excesses of male behaviour onstream.
I find women anglers a real tonic for a guide's soul because they enjoy nature and notice little things many males do not, like the subtle colours of a trout being released, or the sounds and smells of the countryside.
The other thing I appreciate about women onstream as a guide is the near absence of testosterone and ego. Female anglers are more prone to accept good advice and act accordingly than many of their male counterparts. One particularly hardcase female angler even joked with me that "if men menstruated, they would probably brag about how often and how much".
Getting involved in the outdoors is much easier for women these days with specialist women's clothing, online forums, women's fishing events, and increasing media exposure.
Unfortunately, the traditional roles and responsibilities of life often mean it is difficult for women anglers and hunters to get into the outdoors as much as they would like.
Aimee used to come fishing with me a lot before we were married, but the tyranny of childbirth, motherhood, and now managing four unruly teenagers, plus holding down a full time project manager job, running a household, and supervising her fifth child (me), doesn't leave a lot of spare time for fishing.
In the future though, I'm hoping we can spend more time enjoying the outdoors together as a couple.
This fishing season I've been able to enjoy the company of more special lady anglers, and one of my favourites was Rebecca DePole of Texas. With flaming locks of red hair, petite figure, and over-sized enthusiasm for life, Rebecca was a true star onstream. Fishing with her husband Pat, Rebecca was fit and able, throwing a mean fly line, and a threat to every trout in the river.
Rebecca's enthusiasm was contagious, and the 60-something Texan was a delight to guide.
We fished local waters and helicoptered into wild and remote wilderness streams. Many of our best trout were sighted in emerald green pools, hanging suspended near the surface for all the world like a leg of mutton. As the dry fly landed in front of such fish, they would tip upwards and gently sip the fake imitation before Rebecca would expertly drive the hook home, the flyline would sizzle and slice through the water, and trout would run or jump, often attempting to change postal codes.
We worked hard through a challenging moonphase, but Rebecca's unfailing positivity added real value to each day and meant we were always going to win.
One day we even took a day off from fishing to see the sights of the West Coast, and a special dinner at Greymouth's Speight's Ale House capped off a great day of windswept surf, isolated beaches, limestone outcrops, tree ferns and nikau palms.
Best of all, Rebecca made the fishing seem like fun again for Pat and I. It's true that lady anglers can be a real asset, and I can't wait for us to fish together again next year.
Tribute to artist and fisherman Martin Simpson
Martin Simpson's brown trout print takes pride of place in Zane Mirfin's lakehouse.
Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Nelson Mail, 7 January 2017
Christmas and New Year Holidays are always a great time for self-reflection, as well as rest, relaxation, eating, drinking, and merriment. I've always believed that we all need to be grateful for what we have and the families we get to enjoy life with, and recently I thought back to an insightful piece that local dental authority Ross Ferguson wrote last year in about the need for an attitude of thankfulness.
I haven't got the article available to quote Ross, but I believe he made very good points about the positives of being grateful for what you have, what you have achieved, and appreciating all the good fortune that occurs along life's continuing journey, despite the ups and downs of the modern lifestyle.
The history of thankfulness goes back a long way and the Americans have got it well sorted with their annual Thanksgiving public holiday.
This tradition dates back to the early English pilgrims and Puritans celebrating their first harvest in the New World back in October 1621 but it was up to President George Washington to proclaim the first nationwide Thanksgiving celebration in 1789.
This past week I've been especially thankful of a fine gift bestowed upon me years ago by New Zealand artist Martin Simpson, a first class brown trout print that takes pride of place on wooden panelling inside the front door of our family St Arnaud lakehouse.
Titled simply Brown Trout - Salmo trutta, and hand signed in art pencil M. Simpson 69/250, it is a true work of art that inspires angler and non-angler alike.
Lit up with spotlights, the large trout print is exquisite, a true work of art, with each scale meticulously hand touched. With golden flanks and leopard spotted fins, flashing eyes and hooked kype, the trout artwork literally leaps off the wall into the eyeballs of the beholder.
Every day as I leave the house enroute to fishing, either recreationally or commercially, the immaculately crafted image created by Martin Simpson inspires me to seek out the best and biggest of the species.
Brown trout, to my eyes, have always been the most beautiful fish on the planet and many others agree. Arnold Gingrich famously wrote that "A trout is a moment of beauty known only to those who seek it" and Simpson's talent to capture that moment in oils and acrylics was second to none.
Talented American fish portraiture artist James Prosek once observed that "trout are the embodiment of what I hold to be ideal" and Martin Simpson truly had the ability to translate such magic onto art paper.
Martin lived the life of a real trout fisherman, relishing his time onstream, away from art and family.
With Martin growing up in Nelson, I often ran across him at Tony Entwistle's fly shop years ago, enjoying his gentle ways, and sharing fishing stories and anecdotes.
My last long phone conversation with Martin was interviewing him extensively for an article I had been commissioned to write for Fish & Game Magazine called "Luring the Beasts of the Deep". Martin even caught his own beast of the deep in recent years with the capture of a personal best world class wild brown trout in excess of 16lb on a wilderness stream.
Martin Simpson always showed great joy. Maybe it was because of his lifestyle and beliefs a devout Seventh Day Adventist, or maybe it was because of his true love of fishing.
Whatever as it was, Martin showed resolve in his greatest challenge as the spectre of terminal prostate cancer stalked him in his late 40s.
In his last days, tributes to Martin and his talent flowed in from around New Zealand and the world, onto Facebook and a special website where friends and colleagues could post messages of support and thankfulness for Martin to enjoy while he still could. Martin loved everything about the art of fishing for trout and was a true ambassador for the beautiful sport that we all love.
Legendary American Fly Fishing Author, Ernest Schwiebert, perhaps said it best: "Everything about our sport is beautiful. It's more than five centuries of books and manuscripts and folios are beautiful. Its pristine rivers are beautiful, and the landscapes that surround them are beautiful.
"Fly fishing is an old and honourable sport. Its roots are literally found in medieval codes of chivalry. Our methods of fishing are beautiful. Its artefacts of rods and beautifully machined reels are beautiful. Its wading staffs and landing nets and split willow creels are beautiful. The best of sporting art is beautiful.
"The delicate artifice of dressing flies is beautiful. Such confections of fur, feathers, and steel are beautiful, and our work tables are littered with exotic scraps of tragopan and golden pheasant and blue chatterer and Coq de Leon. Our sport is awash in such things, with bright rivers tumbling swiftly toward the salt, and the deft choreography of swifts and swallows working to a dancing swarm of flies, and the quicksilver poetry of the fish themselves.
"And in times of partisan hubris, selfishness and outright mendacity, beauty itself may prove the most endangered thing of all"
RIP Martin, you and your fish-filled artwork were inspiring and beautiful too.