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Zane Mirfin GENERAL OUTDOOR Articles 2008 - 2012

Hunting and Fishing on Molesworth Station, Marlborough

Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Out in a vast adventure playground, Nelson Mail, 1 December 2012
Molesworth Goose Hunt Oct 2011 400 Tarndale 2011 400
Wild goose chase: Stuart Mirfin and grandson Jake hunt geese at the Sedgemere Lakes. Remote Beauty: Tarndale, one of the historic stations that form Moleworth.
Molesworth Station is an iconic Kiwi location for many reasons.

Romanticised in Lance McCaskill's classic 1969 book Molesworth, there are the historic travel routes of Maori and early Europeans, the legacy of high country farming, the individual trials and tribulations of survival in a harsh environment, and don't forget the stunning alpine terrain and scenery.

For many of us what really appeals about Molesworth are the numerous recreational opportunities available to the public on land owned by the public. People bike, run, hike, raft, drive, camp and swim, but what particularly appeals to many outdoor people are the premium fishing and hunting opportunities available on Molesworth.

Molesworth Station is a massive chunk of dirt covering over 180,000 hectares in the northeast corner of the South Island. It is dry, barren country, with parts of it in rain shadow areas making it as close to desert as anywhere else in New Zealand.

Characterised by harsh environmental extremes, a short growing season, and snow, ice, and baking summer heat, Molesworth is New Zealand's largest farm and about the same size as Stewart Island.

Within three hours drive of anyone in either Nelson, Blenheim or Christchurch, Molesworth is cradled in the headwaters of the three great rivers of Marlborough - the Wairau, Clarence and Awatere. The scenery never fails to impress and the wide open spaces are "big sky country" as the Americans would call them.

Modern Molesworth is made up of the historic runs of Molesworth, Tarndale, Dillon and St Helens that were first taken up in the 1850s. Problems were legion with burning, overstocking, overgrazing, scab mite, erosion, rabbit infestation, and economic recession, all taking their toll on the land.

By the late 1930s the land had been largely abandoned and sorting out the mess left behind became the task of the Government of the day. Since that time Molesworth has arguably been the largest soil and water conservation project this country has ever experienced and farming operations have facilitated the repatriation of eroded rabbit-prone land into what it is today, through weed and pest control, combined with only modest stocking rates of cattle.

Maybe it hasn't turned a sow's ear into a silk purse, but the transformation has been remarkable and a tribute to the three managers that have ruled Molesworth since the land was originally abandoned. Problems will probably always exist and newer weed pests like wilding pines, sweet briar, ground-smothering hieracium and water-borne didymo will continue to offer challenges in the years ahead.

Two main roads bisect modern-day Molesworth allowing access for farming, recreation, and the transport of electricity from the deep South to the North Island via high-voltage power pylons and cables.

Probably the most popular road is the Wairau-Clarence road between St Arnaud and Hanmer, followed by the Acheron-Awatere road from Hanmer to Blenheim which was first opened to the public in the summer of 1988. You can do the round trip in a massive day of driving, but to do the drive, scenery, and alpine experience justice takes at least two days, maybe more if you like to camp and play along the way.Ad FeedbackOver the years I've been fortunate to have climbed, walked and waded all over the remote, even desolate country of Molesworth in pursuit of canada geese, brown trout, red deer and chamois. It's been an awesome adventure and I hope to explore all the last corners I haven't yet visited in the years ahead.

Molesworth places and memories pop into my mind as I type with names like yarra, red gate, guide, leaderdale, dillon, five mile, saxton, severne, alma, sedgemere, and tarndale lifting my pulse rate. On a commercial level I've held commercial access permits since 1995 and have had many successful fishing trips with overseas anglers who have been blown away by the fish and the scenery, but in my heart the best trips have always been with family and friends.

Over the last couple of years, my oldest son Jake has joined the party, too. Alas, during the last Molesworth goose hunt, organised by the NZ Game Bird Hunters Association in October, I was away fishing. Fortunately, Jake, 12, had a wonderful time with his grandfather Stuart, and other men of Tasman, shooting his first four geese, as well as lots of rabbits at Isolated Flat on the upper Acheron River. These organised goose hunts have become a favourite part of our annual Nelson sporting calendar and it is gratifying that the Department of Conservation (DOC) intends to keep this tradition alive with the joint benefits of conservation and recreation.

Public access to Molesworth has probably always been problematic with restricted access or often none at all in dry summers with high fire risk. Many of us have been frustrated at the barriers to public access and the only way I could ever get access in the 1990s was to jump through draconian bureaucratic hoops and pull out the chequebook to obtain a commercial operator permit. Even then access wasn't guaranteed.

At the northernmost Awatere access point to Molesworth there was a sign that went something along the lines of "Molesworth Station: Where farming, conservation and recreation go hand in hand". Often it felt more like three clenched fists - or maybe each giving the other a single-finger salute.

Fortunately, public access to Molesworth is heading in the right direction since the land has been handed back to DOC to manage on behalf of the public. It's long been said that public access to Crown-owned Landcorp properties has been some of the most difficult in New Zealand but now Molesworth farming is retained by DOC, under lease to Landcorp, with the intention of gradually enhancing conservation and recreational values.

This has been a great result for public access and public enjoyment of Molesworth and the area is now designated a recreational reserve under the Reserves Act (1977) with provisions for recreational values.

Not everyone is happy, though, with the September 2012 Draft Molesworth Management Plan acknowledging that "this plan may not match the access expectations of some members of the public" and that includes me.

It's a big job keeping everyone satisfied and the draft plan notes that "the greatest challenge facing the management of Molesworth is how to integrate the various land uses to best advantage" and that "integration requires a strong commitment to a co-operative style of management between DOC, lessee [Landcorp], and the public".

In my opinion, previous management plans have always looked good on paper but failed to deliver as governance intentions are subverted at the management level. Here's hoping lessons have been learnt and will herald a new era of Molesworth management for all.

Getting the management balance right is a real challenge and the Government has appointed a Molesworth steering committee to work through the issues and the contest of values between stakeholders. At a pre-consultation meeting this month in Nelson at Founders Heritage Park, many people with a keen interest in Molesworth met members of the steering committee.

Independent chairman Hamish Ensor and all committee members, except for one, impressed me as fair, balanced and capable individuals. Criticism of Landcorp management for the access issues of the past would be an easy task but times have changed and better access for hunting and fishing to Molesworth lie ahead for us all.

Molesworth means many things to many people. To me, it is the opportunity to experience the haunting cry of wild geese silhouetted against mountain skies. To you it may be fly fishing for trout in remote wilderness rivers or hiking the open hills in search of red stags. Whatever your interest, public hunting and fishing in Molesworth is too valuable to leave to chance. Make your voice heard.

Submissions to the Molesworth Management Plan close on December 14. See Molesworth Draft Management Plan on the DOC website or visit your local DOC office for information.

Tasman Big Beach Cleanup

Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Satisfying to help with Big Beach Cleanup, Nelson Mail, 17 November 2012
Our worst find was a sack containing three full bottles of oil among any amount of glass bottles, aluminium cans, polystrene and plastic drink bottles washed up on the northern shore.
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Quick break: Tasman District councillors Brian Ensor and Glenys Glover rest on the biggest piece of rubbish they found.

Pollution of the world’s oceans is not a new problem. For centuries, humans have dumped rubbish into the sea and it’s no surprise that most issues associated with world oceans have their genesis on the land.

Whether it’s excessive sedimentation choking Tasman Bay, faecal contamination in Golden Bay or runoff from intensive urban development, we all share some responsibility for the decline of our oceans and estuaries.

Plastics are some of the worst global pollutants and in extreme cases manmade marine pollution gathers over vast areas because of oceanic currents. Two of the worst known areas are the Atlantic and Pacific ‘‘garbage patches’’. Such patches are characterised by exceptionally high concentrations of pelagic plastics, chemical sludge, and other toxic substances concentrated by tide and current.

Ugly and unsightly, these patches also have extreme consequences for wildlife and sea life entering the food chain through the gut, causing poisoning or hormone disruption and eventually ending up in the human food chain.

Marine plastics have also facilitated the spread of invasive species worldwide, as such creatures can attach themselves to floating plastic in one region and drift long distances to colonise new ecosystems and wreak havoc.

You would think we would be spared these issues in New Zealand, but it just isn’t so. We dump our own fair share of rubbish into the oceans surrounding our country and rubbish from other places finds its way here too.

My father, Stuart, told me recently about his last hunting trip to remote coastal South Westland, where the shoreline was littered with abandoned nets, floats, broken fish cases, etc, which had been dumped overboard by foreign fishing boats. He couldn’t believe how much rubbish had been deposited on remote beaches and said there was even plastic rubbish and nylon ropes in the native bush where they stalked for deer, hauled there by ocean-going penguins.

Last weekend, the third annual Big Beach Cleanup took place, in which the beaches of Tasman and Nelson were cleared of rubbish by volunteer groups in our communities.

Covering about 300 kilometres of coastline between Abel Tasman National Park and Cable Bay, this annual event is organised by the Department of Conservation in partnership with theNelson City Council, Tasman District Council and Nelmac.

This year, I thought I should do my bit for the environment and get involved.

I have always had a soft spot for the Waimea Estuary, the closest piece of fishable water to my home in Richmond, so I was keen to help clean it up.

Project co-ordinator, Janice Gravett, of Motueka DOC, talked me into cleaning two blocks, one at Pearl Creek, and the other a group of four islands in the eastern arm of the estuary, namely Saxton, Oyster, Sand and Pig Islands. It was nice to assist.

Tasman District councillors Brian Ensor and Glenys Glover volunteered to come along for the ride and help. The first really important job was to set a flounder net before disembarking at Pig Island, a small island with plenty of character adjacent to Monaco.

Surrounded by Pacific Oyster beds, the mounded tussock area provided our first rubbish deposited by the tide, mostly plastics, but also silly stuff, such as Nelson City Council parking tickets blown over from the mainland.

Donning leather gloves and with a handful of black rubbish bags, we soon made short work of our scavenger duty. Eagle-eyed Glenys even spotted a bird’s nest on the ground under a tussock and we all admired the large speckled egg before leaving the nest in peace.

Next stop was Saxton Island. For a long, thin island, it has an amazing amount of coastline and it was here we picked up most of our oceanic rubbish.

Our worst find was a sack containing three full bottles of oil among any amount of glass bottles, aluminium cans, polystyrene and plastic drink bottles washed up on the northern shore.

Rubbish was consolidated into two large woolpacks in the boat and it was getting cosy on board among all the refuse as we headed for the next stop.

Sand Island, directly across the Blind Channel from the airport, is a small, arid island oasis and was the perfect place to have a scenic lunch together on the clean, white sands.

Sheltered from the sea breeze, we ate sandwiches and talked. We looked out over the water towards Nelson City and Richmond and talked.

Somehow out on the estuary, things just didn’t seem so gloomy.

Glenys is an awesome home baker and we enjoyed ginger cakes, before patrolling the island and picking up yet more rubbish. On our way back to the Monaco Jetty, we stopped by Oyster Island, where I gave Brian and Glenys a tour of the native tree planting and trails. After hauling our rubbish mountain ashore, we checked our net for fish. What a disaster. My monofilament net had taken a real pounding with stingrays that had headed inshore with warmer water temperatures. Worse, there wasn’t a flounder in sight for my guests to take home.

We then fired up the boat again and I enjoyed being able to show Brian and Glenys what I believe is special about the Waimea Estuary.

We looked at the birdlife, the plantings, and other people enjoying the estuary as we rode around on the rising tide. Being in the middle of the estuary in a boat is a special marine experience and you can’t appreciate the estuary, its size, character and moods, without checking it out from water level.

We eased up channels, past submerged obstacles. Along the way, we saw shag rookeries, tern colonies, duck hunting
maimais and whitebaiters onshore.

From there, it was into the Waimea River and the bottom end of Pearl Creek, the largest spring-fed stream on the
Waimea Plains.

The largest item of litter we found for the day was on an island between Best Island and Rough Island. It was too good an opportunity to miss, so we took a quick photo before marking the sofa on the map for Department of Conservation staff to collect. It must have come down the river in a flood.

Day two of the Big Beach Cleanup for me was on Saturday. First, it was off to Waimea Old Boys’ Clubrooms to deliver
the boatload of rubbish to the waste compactor truck. Son Izaak and I were welcomed by Rob Francis and team and we were each treated to a cup of fruit juice and a chocolate fish, before we headed off for Pearl Creek rubbish duty.

Launching the boat into the Waimea River at the end of Queen St, Ike and I picked up plenty of rubbish from the lower river out of the boat. It was an interesting block and we checked out maimai we could use next season to shoot from and discussed places we could catch mullet over summer.

Perhaps our best find was a new golf ball freshly hit across the river from Best’s Island course. My worst find was the rubbish dumped from the road at Rabbit Island Bridge. Broken beer bottles, condom packets and used condoms are unpleasant to pick up and I was glad these people wouldn’t be breeding, or at least not yet.

It had been an interesting two days.  We had explored the estuary further and gained a new appreciation for what's on our doorstep.  Along the way, we had picked up some bizarre items and had wonderful experiences.  I will be back next year for the Big Beach Cleanup.  Maybe you could help too.

Waimea River Whitebait, Tasman

Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Chasing the elusive white gold, Nelson Mail, 20 October 2012
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Heavy net: Kit Maling measures a healthy ‘‘pudding’’ of whitebait just scooped from the Waimea River.

‘‘Whitebait change their habits and behaviour daily.’

Looking out the kitchen window, I could see that it was going to be a tough week to go fishing. With even more rain at the weekend, the Waimea Estuary was looking like a chocolate milkshake from a combination of high water, heavy sediment loading, and strong southwest winds.

Tasman Bay wasn’t looking much better for snapper fishing, so I decided whitebaiting was the best option. Chasing the elusive whitebait is a nationwide pastime at this time of year and an eagerly awaited part of the sporting calendar.

Whitebait season runs from mid-August to the end of November, with a shorter season on the West Coast, and targets the translucent immature native fish returning from the sea with names such as inanga, koaro and kokopu.

Whitebait are viewed as a national delicacy in New Zealand and are caught recreationally as well as commercially, with the 4cm to 5cm fish often selling for as much as NZ$100 a kilogram. Sizzling in a hot pan, the patties or fritters are always delicious fare.

My closest whitebaiting possie is the Waimea River. About 7km from home down Queen St and hooking the boat behind the vehicle, I picked up Kit Maling, of Richmond, en route to the river.

Launching the boat into the river, we headed downstream to find a spot to fish. Kit was new to whitebaiting. It was his first foray out after the elusive ‘‘white gold’’ and he was impressed at the number of whitebaiters lining the riverbanks.

Going down the river far enough, we finally found somewhere we could both fish, and best of all, no-one yelled at us for disturbing the water or scaring their whitebait with the boat.

We set up a sock net and screens for Kit, while I opted to fish the far side of the river on a steep grassy bank with a scoop net and spotter boards.

As soon as I set up the ‘‘sighters’’ in more than a metre of water, a nice school of whitebait sped up the river suspended over my white markers of plastic pipe, and an old piece of fibreglass I had bought for $1 at a recycling store. I frantically tried to tie the mesh bag to my scoop net frame, but was bumble-fingered and too slow.

It was a job I should have done at home, but I was ready for the next school, which was even larger and moving quickly.

Putting my net into the water carefully, well ahead of the advancing fish, I scooped down and across, intercepting the path of the fish and watched with excitement as the whole school swam beautifully into the net.

I lifted the net clear of the water and there was a satisfying ‘‘pudding’’ of bait wriggling in the bottom of the net. Maybe I had come on the right day after all.

I’ve never caught huge amounts of whitebait, mainly because I don’t spend enough time at it. You always hear the stories of the big catches, but no-one ever tells you about the days or weeks when they catch almost nothing. Maybe one day I’ll strike it when they are running big time, but ego-enhancing catches aren’t why I enjoy going whitebaiting.

I enjoy the environment, wildlife, people and chance to spend contemplative time outside, usually with family and friends. I caught more schools of whitebait and mucked a few up by being too slow, too fast or trying too hard. It didn’t matter, it was a lot of fun, even in the howling wind which rippled the water, making spotting difficult. As the tide pushed and the water deepened, the scoop net was the ideal technique from a high bank for the advancing schools of fish.

Many times I decided not to scoop, letting small groups of three, six or a dozen whitebait move through because I didn’t want to disturb the water with the net, preferring to watch and wait for the best opportunities on larger schools that were really worth catching.

In between fishing, I looked around, soaked up the environment, looked back toward Richmond, and watched others fish. Kit was engrossed on the bank reading some meeting papers, and others up and down the river were fishing in their own style and with their own methods.

One thing I’ve learnt over the years is that whitebaiters can be their own worst enemies. They often don’t have adequate gear to get the job done, they often choose poor locations to fish and they are often tripped up by their own inexperience and impatience.

I like to have a variety of gear and equipment on hand to get the job done and own set nets and scoop nets, plus homemade screens, stakes, and markers that suit most depths and locations.

You can only use one net at a time, but sometimes you can’t go where you want to and you need to have options available to adapt to the circumstances.

Always choose a fishing location carefully. Some whitebaiters are so keen to be in front of everyone else that they don’t choose the places with the best stream contours, gravel edges or travel routes of the whitebait.

River conditions change too, and just because you were successful in one spot yesterday doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be any good today. Whitebait change their habits and behaviour daily and, if the river rises, falls, colours, or clears,  hey can either be very easy to catch or so easily scared as to be downright difficult.

Control your own impatience and stay out of the water. Your ripples can scatter whitebait to every point of the compass. Move slowly and deliberately. There is no need to panic when you spot whitebait approaching your net.

Always wear dull, subdued clothing, avoid waving your hands around and consider screening
yourself behind some vegetation if the bait are ultra-skittish. Use polarised sunglasses to cut surface glare and to help you spot whitebait. Such glasses are almost more essential than your net.

Eventually the tidal murk came up the river and visibility became poor, so I packed up and went across the river to see how Kit was getting on. He kindly made me a cup of tea, we chatted and solved the problems of the world, then watched a few more small schools of whitebait swim into his net.

Kit loved it and was great company. I’m sure he’ll be on the river with his own net next season.

As we loaded the boat, Ray Day, president of the Nelson Trout Fishing Club, came up the centre of the river in his small boat, towing some large planks to shore. In fact, there were heaps of them floating in the river and the tide, lost from upstream, where contractors were building the new Great Taste Trail Waimea River cycle bridge.

It was obvious, though, on our return journey, passing throngs of whitebaiters, that the Waimea River has been an important recreational resource to local people for a long time, long before new users with shaved legs and tightfitting lycra shorts came on the scene, who will also value the river and estuary.

Waking up the next day, I peered out the window, and could not believe it wasn’t raining. I should have been working in the office, but a quick phone call to my brother, Scott, meant office work would have to wait. ‘‘Let’s go fishing,’’ he said and so we did.

 Winter Estuarine Pursuits


Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, The many uses of our winters, Nelson Mail, 22 September 2012
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No worries: Jake and Charli Mirfin enjoy getting stranded in the murky Waimea Estuary for a few minutes and have a few flounder dinners to show for it.

The day was an awesome rare beast.  it was fine, sunny,windless and I was grumpy.  the problem was that no-one i called could go snapper fishing at short notice.  I could have gone myself, but half the fun of going fishing is sharing the experience, so i went to the gym instead.

Surprisingly, the gym was packed with people, sweating and grunting, with pained expressions on their faces.  Soon I was one of them, and it felt good to struggle too against the rows of metallic grey machines, although it seemed a bizarre experience to be inside under artificial lights, looking back through tinted windows, at the beautiful warm spring day outside.

I did get my water fix for the day though, swimming a few lengths of the pool, and later steaming myself in the sauna.  I though about the tail end of winter being a real dog - wet and miserable, and though about what I had actually achieved in outdoor terms over recent months.  One thing bad weather and poor conditions has meant is that equipment maintenance and gear organisation has never been better because I did less fishing and hunting than I would have liked.

My whiteboard list of jobs has been dwindling and among other things, I've repaired nets, customised my boat, tied flies, made sinkers and jigs out of molten lead, developed new setline systems, serviced reels, researched new locations, checked out the internet for essential new equipment, corresponded with other keen anglers and learnt a lot about new techniques, strategies and approaches.  So maybe my winter wasn't so bad after all, as I'm fully equipeed and ready to go when the conditions come right over the warmer months ahead.

The other day I did manage to sneak out for a feed of fresh spring flounder with some success.  Dropping the net from the boat at low tide, i even went home for a few hours in the office, before returning to collect the flounder net with the kids after school.

Jake and Charli joined me in the boat, while brother Scott, father Stuart, and nephew Ryan were in their dinghy collecting their net also.  We'd left the pick-up a little late and the tide was fair ripping in but because it was a small tide with little variation between low and high, there were no real problems.

My net had a bit of weed and rubbish but also contained some nice fat flounder obligingly caught in the mesh.  Dad had set his net in the main channel and had caught himself a bumper harvest of weed.  They still got a few flounder but my kids were rapt to be top scorers for the day and it was nice to get a few fish dinners for the nights ahead.

The highlight of the trip home was me running aground on a submerged mud bank in the middle of the murky estuarine waters.  The kids thought it was a huge joke and while i waited a few minutes for the tide to lift the boat, i took the time to snap a quick photo as a family memento.

Once ashore, it's always important to kill, clean and chill fish.  Always remove the guts and gills as soon as possible to ensure quality eating from the fish you've worked so hard to catch.

One trick I've found with flounder, and many other fish, is that you never want to eat them immediately.  A day or two in the fridge relaxes all the muscles and they taste so much better for it.

Flounders are tough critters and even gutted and beheaded they still flap away in the fridge for an hour or two when you get back home.  The kids also prefer to eat the flounder filleted too, which is easy to do once they have stiffened-up in the fridge.

Fillet the belly-side first as this is the best and thickest fillet.  Start by cutting down the lateral line along the centre of the flounder and filleting outwards.

It's pretty simple, and after a few flounders you'll soon be a champion, the key being to use a very sharp filleting knife.

I always leave the white belly skin on the fillets - it's delicious, but take the green skin off the top fillets.  Once the flounder filleting is completed you'll be left with four nice fillets from each fish, and by burying the carcasses in your garden you'll make the plants grow like crazy.

Down in Christchurch recently we caught up with old friends over a meal and vino.  Mark Preston is a well-known identity in the Canterbury fishing scene and it was great to pick his brains on all sorts of outdoor expertise, especially on the topics of trolling for snapper, camouflage systems on open water duck boats, but also the noble art of catching flounder.

I'd seen a Coastwatch programme on the telly recently  where a guy got pinged for being in illegal possession of 82 flounder at Lake Ellesmere (the limit here in the Challenger fishery is 20 per person per day).  Mark and I had never set nets there when we used to shoot the lake together on howling southerlies, but apparently flounder numbers have exploded in Lake Ellesmere of recent times.

Being heavily polluted from agricultural runoff, this surprised me, but flounder are a tough, resilient fish.  Mark's explanation was that many people were now reluctant to eat the fish for fear of accumulated toxins in the flesh and potential fishing pressure from recreational and commercial fishermen had eased.

I hope our local estuaries never get to this state.  Looking after our estuaries for ourselves and future generations isn't rocket science.  We know the history, we know the issues, and we know the solutions.  All it takes is the willpower to act.


The taonga of white gold - Nelson Whitebait

Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, The taonga of white gold, Nelson Mail,8 September 2012
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Waiting game: Awesome company, a bit of sun and lots of quiet is all you need in the magical undertaking of gathering whitebait. The prize: Enough ’bait to share, especially for a first taste of this prized seasonal delicacy sizzling fresh in the pan and drizzled with lemon juice.
Water, water, everywhere but I had cabin fever and had to get out of the house . . . Bad weather is frustrating for anyone but the recent weather and heavy rainfall is enough to drive any outdoorsman barmy. You can only do so much work around home before you need to get outside, stand in the water, feel the sun on your face, and the wind in your hair.

Fortunately my father Stuart is always up for an adventure, whatever the conditions, and we headed forth this week on a local whitebaiting foray.

Immediately after torrential rain, our first attempt was a washout with high riverflows and brown swirling currents – we didn’t even get our nets out of the truck.

Leaving our gear in the Hilux overnight, we had better conditions the next day and best of all there wasn’t another whitebaiter in sight. The river was still high and muddy but just fishable and worth a go.

Setting up one net, we stopped for a cup of tea while sitting on an old truck tyre deposited by the tide. It was a near perfect seat and we chatted about our favourite ‘‘possie’’ and how we must have been going there since the ’70s as a family.

Back in the good old days other whitebaiters would even sit on the banks drinking flagons of beer and lighting bonfires to keep warm. Sometimes we caught whitebait and sometimes we didn’t but it was always great fun and I have valued memories of whitebaiting there with my father, brother, grandparents, other family, and friends.

One time in school holidays, boyhood chum Nigel Riley and I struck it just right when the whitebait ‘‘ran’’ and dark compact schools of bait charged into our nets and filled our buckets.

Whitebait are curious little fish and are the juvenile forms of five species of the fish family Galaxiidae. At about 4-5 centimetres long, depending on species, the inanga, koaro, and kokopu run upriver each spring after life on the high seas to run the gauntlet of anglers using set, scoop, and sock nets to harvest this iconic Kiwi delicacy. There is always something magical about being on-stream when the whitebait are running and whitebait fever takes hold as every man and his dog chase the treasured ‘‘white gold’’.

Today at our spot wasn’t one of those days but the sun shone and the company was awesome. Maybe I could have taken a book or some work to read but there is always too much going on around our estuarine areas to ever get bored.

Pukekos squawked, pied stilts squeaked, and skylarks pirouetted upwards into the sky with melodic song. On the ground, the rushes blew, crabs scurried, and the tide pushed up the creek.

In the background murmur I could hear heavy road traffic, but lying on the sun-warmed tyre I even fell asleep at one stage. ‘‘Study to be quiet’’ was the motto of Izaak Walton, famed author of The Compleat Angler in 1653, and it’s so true. Sometimes we all need to escape from the rat race and become human beings again, rather than just slaves to the clock, calendar and the almighty dollar.

Alas, soon it was time to go. Stuart had had lots of joy but no whitebait and I didn’t expect much myself. But, as we hoisted my net, we could see a multitude of translucent little fish wriggling, and it was pleasing to have a nice little ‘‘pudding’’ in the soft folds of my net.

Dad was impressed, and it was great to have enough ’bait to share for a first taste of this prized delicacy sizzling fresh in the pan and drizzled with lemon juice.

Here in Nelson-Tasman we are fortunate that our rivers are still in reasonable shape, although we could look after them much better.

It’s noticeable these days that they don’t clear fast like they used to after heavy rain, often running yellow from headwater forestry operations, among other causes.

At least it’s not as bad as the Manawatu River in the North Island which is heavily fouled with treated sewage and farm run-off and according to Cawthron Institute is one of the worst polluted rivers and streams across North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. New Zealand scientist Dr Mike Joy is a vociferous defender of our national lowland waterways, regularly featuring in the news, and often speaking of native fish like whitebait becoming extinct in many areas in years to come due to habitat loss and degradation. He likens native fish to the proverbial canaries in the mineshaft as a prime indicator of environmental health.

Personally, I’ve always admired a man like Dr Joy, who has the technical knowledge and the testicular fortitude to tell it how it is, without fear of job security or political ridicule.

The Government has tried hard to get our environmental house in order with the Land & Water Forum and the latest National Policy Statement on Freshwater, but now seems to be backing away in the political battle of economy versus environment. I don’t believe it’s a one-dimensional argument, a choice of either/or, and believe neglecting the environment today will be bad for the economy of tomorrow.

Proponents of increased development argue for “balance” or even “give and take”. Unfortunately when it comes to our precious rivers, oceans, and valued taonga like whitebait, it would seem there has been a lot of taking over the past 150 years, and very little giving.

Winter Outdoors Pursuits In Nelson

Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, These really are the good old days, The Nelson Mail, 28 July 2012
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Nice catch: Using our common natural resources can be as simple as getting on the water to take your partner for a latte.  Aimee Mirfin relaxes onboard before a latte at Mapua.

Here in the northern South Island, we are lucky to be surrounded by water.

Water is everywhere – rivers, lakes, estuaries, and saltwater venues galore. It’s a real boaties’ paradise with navigable water at virtually every point of the compass and mostly close to civilisation too.

Recently we’ve had fun getting out on the water with some of my floating toys. Mid-winter isn’t the greatest time for hunting and fishing as the cool temperatures suppress enthusiasm but also the fish and game tend to shut down with lessened metabolic activity caused by the colder air and water temperatures of winter.

In late July, we always enjoy making the most of the extended winter duck season, rafting the rivers for ducks. My raft has double inflatable pontoons and is highly buoyant and manoeuvrable using oars in fastflowing waters. Drifting downstream and flushing mallard and grey ducks from under the willows is exciting stuff as birds burst forth, often at close range, with strident quacking as they speed off downstream. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, but that is what makes duck shooting such great sport.

The rivers look to have taken a fair pounding after heavy rains lately, with banks stripped bare, pine-tree logjams in places, scoured pools and gravel banks.

We haven’t looked after our lowland rivers very well. Agriculture, forestry and urban development have had a big impact on the rivers and the trout fishing isn’t what it once was.

Many of our rivers no longer run clear like they used to after rain and can flow dirty and coloured for extended periods.

The rivers could be worse though, and after 150 years of development for which we’ve all shared the benefits, we’re probably fortunate to still have some reasonable trout fisheries by international standards.

Overseas, the concept of depleted public resources is often known as the ‘‘tragedy of the commons’’, a phrase first coined by ecologist Garret Hardin back in 1968. Tragedy of the public commons is a dilemma caused by multiple individuals, acting independently, who will ultimately deplete a shared limited resource, even when it is clear that it is not in anyone’s long-term interest. Fortunately, science and society understand the issues nowadays but it still takes willpower to act.

As we drifted downstream, I noted all the introduced weeds like broom, gorse, blackberry, old man’s beard and crack willow growing on the banks that are holding our rivers together. I also mused that in times of potentially volatile climatic extremes we should consider getting people and development away from riverside areas and let rivers be rivers or else be prepared to face the consequences.

We had good duck shooting this season, but bird numbers generally have declined over the years with most serious local duck hunters shooting down the West Coast or North Canterbury these days.

It seems that you need to be more selective where you go and what you do as a hunter or angler. Resources have generally declined on public lands and waters so you need to be more mobile and more diligent in searching out the last of the best sporting opportunities left.

One of my local mates has even shifted to Dunedin recently to take advantage of better shooting and fishing resources down there. He’s loving it, and has had some great waterfowling this season, the likes of which he would never see here in Nelson. John has a great attitude toward fishing and hunting and he’s long told me that these days you’ve got to have five or six outdoor sports so when one is not going so well you can always do another. It’s good advice and I’ve realised that the best outdoor strategy is to be a generalist and pick the eyeballs out of the best opportunities, as they avail themselves.

Aimee always wonders why I’m so keen to go fishing and shooting all the time, but I believe that these are the good old days, and that you need to use it before we lose it. Recently I’ve been reading old fishing books I’ve inherited from relatives and friends who have gone to the great fishing ground in the sky. It’s fascinating reading about rivers that are generally no longer worth visiting. George Ferris in Flyfishing in New Zealand waxed lyrical about the dry-fly fishing in our local river, the Riwaka, in the early 1950s. By 1970 in his last book, The Trout & I, he was despondent about how much the river had deteriorated in two decades. If Ferris knew what the fishing was like in the Riwaka these days he’d probably be spinning in his grave, but he did have one pearl of wisdom when he advised that “it would be a tragedy to be so engaged in the business of making money that one could not find time to fish”.

And to me that is the key – go fishing whenever you can. You need to remain optimistic but yet also have realistic expectations because it’s a sad reality that very few public resources will ever get better over time.

There will always be new opportunities though, and you have to go with the flow of life, adapt, and try new things even if
they are inside. Lately, I’ve been trying to stay in shape and I’ve even joined a local gym. The ASB Aquatic Centre is awesome and a great way to keep my waistline in check between fishing and hunting trips. Variety is the spice of life and with some imagination there are still many worthwhile outdoor adventures to be had close to civilisation.

Picking up my aluminium boat with Aimee, en route to Mapua, I managed a quick pheasant hunt among the long grass and nut trees. One wily old ring-neck with a long tail ran through the grass, dodging behind bushes, and flushing out of sight with a loud kok-kok-kok-kok as he made good his escape. As we drove down the hill with boat attached, another big cock pheasant glided ahead of the truck mocking me.

Launching at Grossi Point, we set the flounder net in the tide to try for a feed of fish, before heading to the wharf to test out the new floating pontoons and have coffee together at a seaside cafe. As I sipped my coffee looking out over the wharf and down Mapua Channel, I considered how great it was to be back on the water again and that perhaps our local resources weren’t so bad after all. With a bit of TLC I thought, maybe, just maybe, we could all have our latte and drink it too.

Biking Tasman's Great Taste Trail

Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Get on your bike and enjoy the ride of your life, The Nelson Mail, 14 July 2012
14 jul R
Free wheelers: Jake, Zane and Ike Mirfin ready to hit the pedals at Brightwater.

Riding a bike is a lot of fun. Ever since I was a kid I’ve owned a bike and recently I’ve rediscovered the enjoyment and convenience of riding. In fact, it’s a big confession for a fishing/shooting-type to make that no fish or animal was harmed in the production of this week’s column.

Last weekend, with my boys Jake and Ike, we enjoyed the opening of Tasman’s Great Taste Trail suspension bridge across the Waimea River between Richmond and Brightwater. Riding from home, with a detour past the gas station to pump up flat tyres, it was the first big bike ride we had attempted together.

We had a blast and there were people and families everywhere, riding as well. I really enjoyed the social atmosphere of the trail and although a few people got crabby in the line waiting to cross the bridge, most were in a festive mood, offering greetings as they cycled past, and were especially tolerant of the younger riders.

I was coaxing a struggling Ike along on gravel when Nelson city councillor Derek Shaw overtook
us on his tandem bike. ‘‘Slow down dad, slow down,’’ he kindly joked.

Back on the asphalt along the Richmond Deviation as we rode side by side, I chatted with councillor Mike Ward about his 50-year vision for Nelson city. Mike’s bike is iconic Nelson transport, with him lying on his back to pedal. Mike’s ideas may seem radical to some but it is not surprising how many of his ideas have become mainstream over recent decades. Mike had even featured in a cameo appearance in the Red Riding Hood and the Three Pigs pantomime at the Theatre Royal that I’d taken my daughter to the night before – as a cyclist!

As the rest of Tasman’s Great Taste Trail is rolled out there is sure to be a continued surge in interest by locals. I’m not sure how many international tourists will come to ride the trail, that may take many years, but over the short term the coastal route from Nelson city via Richmond, Mapua and Motueka, to Kaiteriteri will be a great resource for locals and domestic tourism.

Kids will be able to escape busy urban roads and ride out to Rabbit Island or the river for a swim and it will provide additional recreational opportunities for many throughout the region with the ongoing support of organisations, communities, and individuals. It won’t all be plain sailing for trail development, though, as obstacles will inevitably rise up in the form of funding blowouts and irascible landowners withholding trail access, to name a few.

But there are exciting times ahead for cycling in our region, including the development of a regional velodrome at Saxton Field, so if you haven’t done so already, it’s time to dust off your old bike, or buy a new one, and join the party.

Richmond has changed beyond all recognition since I was a boy, biking to school on those cold frosty mornings. ‘‘Look mum no hands, look mum no feet, Look mum no teeth’’, my boyhood mates and I would chant as we rode along.

Later, we all learnt a harsh lesson about cycling when one friend was knocked off his bike under a vehicle and killed, as someone carelessly opened a car door without looking.  The key to cycle safety is to be highly visible, with bright reflective clothing, and powerful lights at night. You also need to ride defensively but also confidently.

As a responsible middle-aged man, I’m having fun on my bike again and teaching my kids to ride. Cycling has become a very popular recreational activity or as Kelvin Gordon of Nelson’s Kelvin’s Cycles told me recently, ‘‘cycling is the new golf’’.

Recently I went soft and purchased fingerless bike gloves and a pair of lycra bike sorts with standard-issue foam bum pad. The shorts are certainly nice to wear but I refuse to shave my legs.

Cycling has many benefits. For a start it’s an easy way to exercise, you can go on your own or in groups, when it suits you, for as long as you wish. Cycling also builds strength and muscle tone because you use every part of your body – not just your legs. Other benefits include increased stamina, cardiovascular fitness, burning calories, reducing stress
and improving co-ordination.

It’s also good for recovering from injury and after breaking my ankle in 2008, I rode down the Stoke Railway Reserve each week to see Nayland physio Lyndon Chandler. We’re lucky in Nelson and Tasman to have abundant urban cycle trails dotted about the landscape and a great year-round sunny climate to enjoy them.

Over the years I’ve used bikes on many hunting and fishing trips. I can’t remember shooting anything off the bike, but bikes are easy to lift over blocked roads or locked gates and can offer fast access over flat, monotonous, gravel roads and tracks.  One time we tried riding the Blowfly track at South Westland’s Lake Moeraki, but pack and rifle combined with thick mud and incessant rainfall was a total disaster and we ended up walking.

On the drive back to Christchurch though, the steep downward road of Porters Pass was an exhilarating, adrenaline-laced bike ride. In my masters research year at uni, I even preferred to bike to the campus so I could leave my station wagon at home in the shed, fully loaded with duck and goose decoys and gear, ready to head for Lake Ellesmere at a moment’s notice of any sign of a gale-force southerly.

I’ve also lugged a bike around on the back of my truck all over the South Island when trout fishing. The trick is to drop the bike off up the road where you expect to finish fishing for the day and drive back downstream to the starting point. Some days on rivers with low fish densities it is possible to cover 10-15km in a day and the bike saves a long walk at day’s end.

I’m also a great believer in big padded seats for your bike, as bumping along on gravel roads can be tough on your behind.

I like to think my cycling has a quadruple bottom line, in that it’s good for my health, it’s good for the environment, it’s good for my wallet, and I find I achieve more in a day when pumped up after some exercise.

Outdoor challenges for children

Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Kids Conquer Challenges in the game of life, The Nelson Mail, 30 June 2012
30 jun R
Reaching the top: Waimea Intermediate pupils on a school camp at Hanmer Springs.
Kids love school camps and the outdoor excitement they create. Such camps are all about learning, doing and experiencing, and for many kids they are the first real outdoor experiences they will have ever had.

In early May, I was fortunate to be part of a Waimea Intermediate School camp as a camp parent, along with my boy Jake. I had no idea what to expect although I’d had a few emails and read the camp manual that looked more like a council long-term plan with pages of instructions, text, maps, photos, contact details and the obligatory health and safety directives.  School camps had sure changed from when I was a kid.

When Jake and I turned up on day one, the school quad was a zoo, a swirling melee of people, vehicles, and gear, as we loaded up. Meeting my allotted group of five boys to transport was great fun, and best of all the shuttle trailer we were towing was jampacked with all the home baking for camp and it smelt awesome.

The boys were certainly hyped up once we got over the Lewis Pass and adventure was imminent. Once at the camp, gear was unloaded, before groups were formed, and afternoon activities began.

First up, my allotted group of boys and girls tackled ‘‘mission impossible’’ where we were given a set of tasks to solve with old tyres, boards and ropes. Many of the kids had inadequate clothing and footwear and it was freezing cold outside but there were no real dramas except for one boy who ended up wearing a golf club around his ears as another thought he was operating a helicopter.

After dinner every night, it was off to the hot pools to soak, have fun, and relax in the dark. We all changed in the communal changing rooms with the public, where bodies of all types – tall, short, fat, skinny, old and young co-existed, conditioning the kids for life’s continuing journey and the tolerance of other people. That night I slept like a log, in a cabin
with three other dads. Apparently I sounded like a chainsaw with my snoring, but fortunately I never heard a thing.

Day two was even more fun. First up we headed for a morning walk up Conical Hill which gives commanding 360-degree views over Hanmer, across cut-over exotic tree plantations, farm shelterbelts and the golden Hanmer Plains.

It’s big sky country in Canterbury with the vast alluvial bed of the Waiau river shimmering in the distance. The autumn colours were splendid with the red and orange leaves of various deciduous trees contrasting with the yellow larches.

The kids delighted in taking shortcuts on the track and dirty clothes were inevitable. Brighteyed and enthusiastic kids are
always a joy to be with and there were few dramas except for scraped fingers, wasp stings and only a few tears.

Maybe the late afternoon was best, when my new group was allotted the mountainbiking activity along a dedicated series of bike paths through exotic forest ablaze with autumn colours in yellow, orange and gold.

We followed a brook on a trail sign posted ‘‘easy rider’’ that still had enough roots, mud, narrow bridges and steep banks to be exciting. School principal Cleve Shearer was in his element, coaxing and cajoling the slower, larger and less-confident kids. At 56, Shearer is a master educator, the epitome of enthusiasm, a man determined to encourage the best out of every pupil.

He ran an excellent camp, with his genuine passion for children and his ability to motivate them to be the best they can be. One message reinforced by Cleve is that whatever your family circumstances or financial position, the best thing you can spend on your kids is time. That night in an evening pep-talk Cleve even encouraged the kids ‘‘to go past your first fear, and hopefully past your second and third fear’’.

I would feel the fear myself the next day at ‘‘Adrenaline Forest’’ a series of high wires intertwined through a pine forest, at Spencer Park, Christchurch. The complex had nets, drums, hanging wire ropes, ladders and swinging boards from just above ground level to more than 20 metres high, which swayed in the breeze as the trees moved.

It was a great venue with estuary and sand-dune views of the Brookvale lagoon. The kids loved it, but one refused to
participate. Others offered support and assistance, and I tried too, to no avail. Humbled by my failure, I wiped tears out of my eyes as I walked away, wondering how this youngster would get through the difficulties of life ahead.

Sometimes you have to conquer your own demons though. Strapping on a harness and climbing with the kids through the trees with two carabiner safety straps and a flying fox device was frightening for a guy like me – scared of heights.

It’s difficult to appreciate the challenge until you are right up in the heights of the pine forest.

There’s also something daft about a man perilously close to his mid- 40s leaping out of trees into cargo nets and zooming down flying foxes, but I made it. Terry, one of the camp dads, was amazing with the kids throughout the whole camp, but I knew I was totally outclassed in the pines by the fearless leaps of a man in his 60s.

Our last full day on camp was magic, with no wind, not even a cloud in the sky. Perfect for an ascent of Mt Isobel, a 1340-metre high mountain that towers over Hanmer township. My boy Jake was away running with the pack,
and I hardly saw him all day, but I decided to stay at the rear to help some of the tail-end-charlies.

Unfortunately, many kids in our modern society are a ticking time bomb of obesity and woefulness, being a product of parents asleep at the job, no sport or outdoor interests, and too much time inside watching TV or playing computer games. Believe it or not, there are children out there who can hardly even walk, with poor co-ordination and balance.

As Cleve confided to me on the track, ‘‘schools can only do so much’’. Like all of us, kids need challenge, excitement, adventure, and achievement on the road to self-actualisation, and it isn’t something you can teach them – it is something they need to discover for themselves.

All kids need a good start and not everyone starts the game of life from the same position.

Problems in our society don’t appear to be getting any better and that is why outdoor camps run by schools are so important.

Sadly, with the nightmare of Occupational Safety and Health, bureaucracy, and the risk of liability, many Auckland schools are now deciding not to do school camps because they are considered too dangerous. In life there is no reward without risk and we should be encouraging our kids to embrace challenge and
adventure. The natural endorphins that generate those natural highs are so much better than the harmful artificial
stimulants our kids may encounter only too soon in the form of alcohol, drugs, cigarettes and violence.

As we neared the top of Mt Isobel, some of the dads probably felt more like musterers, herding the stragglers to climb the last few metres. ‘‘Why do we need to go to the top?’’ one exhausted girl asked. ‘‘So we can get a photo,’’ I answered lamely, but they all made it and the sense of achievement was awesome as we stared down at the Hanmer Plains below, flanked by an impressive ring of mountains. Maybe it was a small step for mankind that day but it may well have been a giant leap forward for many youngsters.

Moon & Tides

Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, When to heed the pull of the tide, The Nelson Mail, 19 May 2012
19 may R
Jumping on board: Emily and Peter Rickards enjoy a father-daughter fishing moment.

Ever since I was a boy, I’ve known that the sun and moon influenced the behaviour of fish, birds and mammals. It’s taken decades in the field trying to figure out how, when and why living creatures behave like they do – and I’m still learning – but that’s what makes fishing and hunting so all-absorbing.

Over the years I’ve developed definite theories on the best and worst times to go fishing and hunting, but the more you learn, the more you realise what you don’t know or understand about the phenomenon of the sun and moon and their combined influence on our outdoor sports and the natural and physical environment around us.

Rotating around the sun every 365 days, gaining heat and warmth, this little mudball owes the diurnal rhythms of night and day and the four seasons to solar influence, but the influence of the moon is also highly significant.

Orbiting planet Earth in an elliptical egg-like pattern every 28 days, the moon adds gravitational pull which dictates the four reversals in tidal flow and direction within each 24 hour period, meaning two high tides and two low tides each day. Without tides, oceans and ecosystems would die, and without the influence of lunar patterns on plants and animals, the intricate biorhythms of life would be all stuffed-up.

Many people know that fish are affected by factors such as barometric pressure and moon phase, but few people fully integrate such factors into their fishing and hunting routine, typically just going when and where it suits.

Most of us are controlled by artificial human processes, such as time, schedules, holidays, family and that four-letter-word called work. Humans have artificially removed themselves from the natural biorhythms of the planet and generally function out-of-sync with the natural world. It’s little wonder that for many people, fishing and hunting success is literally hit or miss.

Maori were keen observers of the natural world, and understood the influence of sun, tide, and moon phase. When you depended on the natural world to supply your daily food, there was greater importance on being successful. There was little point in risking life and limb if the chances of success were slim.

I’ve always been a keen follower of the Maori fishing calendar, and while not infallible, it can provide a good potential trend for each day of the month. Wherever possible I always try to fish or hunt on the days that are signalled as ‘‘good’’ or ‘‘fair’’.

You can still be successful on the days marked as ‘‘poor’’ or ‘‘bad’’ but you will generally work much harder for a lesser result.

Europeans too, developed their own predictive systems, the most famous of these being John Alden Knight’s Solunar Tables first developed in 1936 (sol = sun + lunar = moon). These tables predict the major activity times or feeding periods of birds, animals and fish.

Knight was aware that dawn and dusk were good times to be out in the field but he also knew that the then-legal waterfowl market hunters didn’t limit their activities to those times, nor did they spend all day in search of their quarry. They seemed to know when they should be out searching and when they should be at home.

Knight believed those times – referred to as ‘‘odd hours’’ because they could be in the middle of the day, mid-morning, whenever – were somehow linked to the position of the moon.

Knight’s theory was unorthodox for its time but his Solunar Tables worked and sold by the tens of thousands. It became apparent that the basic theory was applicable anywhere and could be generally applied to all forms of wildlife.

His tables are still uncanny in predicting when nature is at its busiest, utilising concepts such as when the moon is overhead or underfoot (every 12 hours), as well as moon phase.

Over time other companies have refined and perfected these predictions adding even more complicating factors such as lunar declination and diurnal inequality but the Solunar Tables are still the go-to standard against which all others are measured.

Although such charts specify the precise and exact times when fishing and hunting would be best or worst, their best feature in my opinion is telling fishermen when it would be a waste of valuable time.

One humorous feature I always liked on New Zealander Bill Hohepa’s Maori fishing calendar was the picture of a lawn mower on ‘‘bad’’ days which signified that it is sometimes better to stay home and achieve something worthwhile other than going fishing.

Some of the best times to fish and hunt have always been at the solar triggers of dawn and dusk, but the times of moon rise and moon set are also excellent times to be in the field.

Personally I always dread the week before full moon, as trout in local rivers can develop lockjaw and make themselves scarce, although this pattern is highly variable due to prevailing weather patterns and barometric pressure, river flows and any number of other relevant environmental factors.

The phase of New Moon (when no moon is visible) is definitely one of my favourite times to fish and hunt although I’ve never caught fish or shot deer sitting at home, so sometimes you just have to go regardless of the moon phase, time, or conditions.

There are any amount of theories on the influence of the moon and you could write many books on the topic. There are blue moons, black moons, wet moons, dry moons and other lunar phenomena that boggle the mind.

On the first weekend of May we had a ‘‘supermoon’’ which was the largest moon of the year. This was caused by a phenomenon known as perigee where the moon was at the closest point to the Earth in the elliptical orbit. The moon was supposed to be appear up to 15 per cent larger and 30 per cent brighter than normal, and while it probably caused some localised sleeplessness glowing through windows and curtains, werewolves didn’t howl, lunatics didn’t go nuts, and life pretty much continued as normal.

Last year’s perigee moon on March 20, 2011, caused a lot of consternation around New Zealand with weather forecaster Ken Ring predicting a big earthquake in the northern South Island to be caused by the moon’s gravitational pull.

Mr Ring predicts all his weather by the moon, and I’ve used his long-range annual forecast books with some success. One thing I’ve never been able to disprove is his comment that the full moon will always have clear skies and fine weather so I admit to spending days last summer bolting stuff down at home, stockpiling food, water, fuel, gas bottles and even a large water tank to collect rainfall for the earthquake that never happened!

On the Sunday of this latest perigee moon, I didn’t give earthquakes a second thought and went fishing instead, with mate Peter Rickards of Richmond and his 16-year-old daughter Emily. As we motored out into the bay, through the estuary, the currents were fair humming with the largest spring tides of the year.

The tidal currents were some of the most powerful I can ever recall, but the weather was fine and the sea calm, with few other boats around. We didn’t expect to catch much because the Maori fishing calendar said ‘‘bad’’ but we went anyway and just hoped for the best.

It only took one stop to experience stellar fishing for ‘‘pannie-sized’’ snapper or brim, red gurnard, kahawai and tope. In fact the action was so hot at times, that the fish were coming over the side faster than I could unhook, release or kill, and rebait the lines, sometimes two or three fish at a time.

Pete’s rod bent double again on yet another fish as he turned to me and laughingly exclaimed: ‘‘Imagine what it’d be like if the fishing was really good.’’

The Wonders of Golden Bay

Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Half a World away, The Nelson Mail, 5 May 2012
5 may R
Beach day: Family fun at Green Point at the mouth of the Wairoa.

Adventure is the spice of life, and every school holiday our family embarks on a new adventure. This April we decided to
head for Kaihoka Lakes and Whanganui Inlet in Golden Bay.

Less than 150 kilometres from suburban Richmond but more than half a world away, it was a wonderful place for a family holiday, with four adults and six young school kids.

Brother Scott had set up accommodation on the farm of Jock and Joyce Wylie at Kaihoka, 7km from Pakawau, sandwiched between West Haven Inlet and the wild western coastline. The farm is a classic, lush and green, with windswept reaches, limestone outcrops, sand dunes, bent and twisted trees and the ever-present sound of pounding surf.

Joyce Wylie is an enchanting woman, a legend of Golden Bay. She is a farmer and a community advocate, and she even finds time to homeschool her children. Joyce kindly gave us jugs of fresh, fullcream milk to enjoy during our stay. It was delicious, so much better than the watered-down milk that you buy at any supermarket.

Watching Joyce milk the cows in bare feet, the green cow dung ooze up between her toes was priceless and the kids had lots of fun on later days when they got to feed pigs and chickens with Joyce.

The old homestead we stayed in was rustic and homely, with plenty of room to stretch out and space for the kids to play inside and out. I felt right at home with the No 8 wire ingenuity of paua shell soap holders, 24-ounce lead groper sinker wired to the washing machine hose, and the sofa with a broken leg propped up on a pile of books.

Reading material was in abundance, with one of my favourite book discoveries being a history of Golden Bay coastal development between Waitapu and Puponga.

The old 1980s National Geographic magazines were a special trove too, and I read about the decline of wild salmon, acid rain, and most significantly, American conservationist Aldo Leopold.

The first night, Scott and I whipped out into West Haven Inlet to catch a few fish. Whanganui inlet is a vast area of mud, sandflats, and channels totalling almost 3000 hectares, including a 536ha marine reserve at the southern end. It is wild, remote, and even dangerous, with strong currents and rough seas.

Memories flooded back from boyhood visits with our parents, fishing, shooting black swan, and whitebaiting in years gone by.  Launching down a long hardfill ramp out into a muddy channel, we followed the shallow meandering channel marked with bamboo poles until we hit deeper water.

Blasting down the channel while wild swans flew in front of us, we anchored off a rocky point catching some nice snapper and large tarakihi. On our way back things started to go pear-shaped. Somehow deviating off the channel in the half-light, we ran out of water and had to tow the boat by hand as the tide sucked outwards.

It’s hard to believe that you can be standing in ankle-deep water in the middle of the huge inlet.

Losing time with navigational difficulties, it was well past dark before we located the outermost channel marker with our powerful torch, which led the way to safety and the ramp. It could have been worse – one of our friends once got home at 3am after running aground in the treacherous inlet.

On day two we had a lovely picnic day with friend Martine Bouillir and her family from Takaka. The sun shone and the westerly wind blew, but our sheltered site at Green Point at the mouth of the Wairoa River was an epic place for the kids and adults to talk and play.

We set flounder nets, but alas, only managed one big greenback flounder. It didn’t matter, it was a great afternoon out, and Scott and I scoped out some areas for a successful night-time flounderspearing sortie another night during our holiday.

 On day three, we chose the perfect day to head to the beach, with bright sun and light winds. The walk to Kaihoka Beach was special, under the shadow of the Luna limestone ridges. Wandering through lush tropical forest, then windswept manuka onto sand dunes flanked by farmland, lagoon, palms, white sand, and the surging Tasman Sea was truly exotic and exciting. First up we headed for the rocks to the north, where Scott suited up in wet suit, mask and flippers, and the 20-kilogram lead weight belt he had lugged over the dunes in pursuit of the famous Kaihoka paua.

Paua are an iconic New Zealand seafood. The flesh considered a delicacy and the shell a valued resource for traditional and contemporary arts and crafts. Maori consider paua taonga or treasure, and highly polished shells are popular as souvenirs with their iridescent blue, green, and purple swirling colours.

Paua are commercially harvested from wild fisheries and even farmed, for flesh, shell and pearls.

The blackfoot paua Haliotis iris is the most common species of abalone or sea snail and can be legally harvested at 125 millimetres, with a bag limit of 10 paua per person per day. Perhaps the most impressive feature of a paua is the strong muscular tongue, which would put even KISS’ Gene Simmons to shame.

Paua are easily shucked with a strong thumb under the largest end of the shell, and once free, the gut and skirt can be ripped from around the stem.

A V-notch in the feeding end of the fish to remove teeth and your paua is ready to pound and tenderise. We wrap ours in a tea cloth and pound with one substantial hit between two blocks of wood, which relaxes and tenderises the meat ready for frying whole, in slices, or to be ground up into patties.

The tides were small and the sea rough, and Scott found it a challenge to get out deep enough in the tidal wash and coloured water. The rocks were sharp and the sea surge powerful, pushing him around like a rag doll at times.

It was tough work, and Scotty managed half a dozen legal paua before it was time to stop but it was plenty for a good feed that night. Paua are fun to harvest, but you can only eat so much of the rich, salty flesh.

The rest of the day was spent exploring and playing in the afternoon sun as the day improved even more and the wind dropped to nil. The beach was ours alone to enjoy and you could go back to the same place 50 times and never see another day like it.

What great family fun it was running, playing and swimming in the surf, but the highlight of the day was everyone stripping to our undies and climbing a massive sand dune hundreds of metres tall with unmatched coastal views. At the top, we all held hands and ran down the steep slope, laughing like lunatics. It was a family memory to last a lifetime.

On the walk back I thought about the words of hunter, angler and conservationist Aldo Leopold who talked about the environment.  He saw American farmers, not bureaucracy, as protectors of the land and I thought about how fortunate we are in our district to have the land stewardship and access ethics of the Wylies at

As Aldo wrote, ‘‘harmony with land is like harmony with a friend; you cannot cherish his right hand and chop off his left; the land is one organism’’.

On day four we took a family trip with two boats out onto a flat, calm Whanganui Inlet where we caught snapper and kahawai in plague proportions – often three at a time.

Picking up a set net on the way back created some real drama when we ran out of water and all the family had to abandon ship and help push us to safety. It was a lot of work for one flounder, but Scott is adamant that the photos he captured of us all pushing the boat will look great in our annual family calendar.

The cold, clear waters of Kaihoka Lakes, too, were ideal for the kids to swim, splash and play, and by the afternoon of day five no-one wanted to head for home.

Descending a steep winding Takaka Hill road, the lights of urban Tasman Bay twinkled in the distance and reality wasn’t far away.

The words of Leopold flashed before me. ‘‘Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them.’’

I was challenged by his enduring question: ‘‘Is a still higher standard of living worth its cost inthings natural, wild and free?"

Sandflies and how to cope with them

Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Sandflies a curse and a blessing, The Nelson Mail, 21 April 2012
 MG 0134 2
Prepared: Overseas anglers equipped for wilderness fishing with gloves and "buff" around their necks.

Anyone who has spent any time in the New Zealand bush will know the humble sandfly well.  in fact if you can't tolerate sandflies, you probably won't last long in the bush anyway.

We're lucky here in Godzone to have relatively few troublesome pest species that bother humans in our bush, mountains, rivers and coastlines.  There are no snakes, leaches, dangerous spiders or other creepy crawlies like scorpions that many other countries have.  We do have mosquitoes, wasps and bees, but by far the most commonly complained about insect and its effect on humans is probably the much despised sandfly.

Sandflies are plentiful in most wilderness areas that are under 100m in altitude, and are most common during the warmer times of the year, although they are present year round.  Known to Maori as "namu" there are 13 species in New Zealand but only two species bite and both are indistinguishable in size to the human eye.

Sandflies occur wherever there is flowing water and bush but are also common at beaches and near lakes and swamps.  Some of the most fearsome concentrations occur on the West Coast and Fiordland where sandfly stories are legendary.  Aimee still talks about the beach walk we took on Gillespie's Beach in remote Westland on our honey moon where hordes of fierce sandflies made a feast of us.

Early Maori legend even has it that the god Tu-te-raki-whanoa had just finished creating the landscape of Fiordland, but the landscape was so stunning in beauty that it stopped people from working and they stood around staring in awe.  The goddess Hinenuitepo became so angry at these unproductive people that she created the sandfly to bite them and get them moving again.

Later on James Cook was probably one of the first Europeans to record his impression of sandflies at Dusky Sound in 1773 where he noted that  "The most mischievous animal here is the small black sandfly, which are exceedingly numerous, wherever they light they cause a swelling and such intolerable itching that it is not possible to refrain from scratching and at last ends in ulcers like the small pox".

Interestingly it is only the females that bite and suck blood, which helps them to breed and produce eggs.  Before humans arrived they had to make do with penguins, other birds, bats and seals.  Fortunately they are a daytime insect, but then at dark we have nocturnal mosquitoes working the night shift and terrorising us outdoor campers in our sleep.

On sunny days, sandflies never seem to be as bad.  My theory is that the sun's energy bounces off our skin, reflecting heat , confusing the insects whereas in dull, overcast, or humid conditions they can be fearsome and I'm sure our bodies must give off more radiation and heat that the sandflies can hone in on.

Fortunately New Zealand sandflies and mosquitoes don't spread disease but many people react adversely to the bites, with swelling, itching and scratching.  Interestingly you can become immune to sandfly bites and a guy like me who spends a lot of time outdoors has become so acclimatised to them that I rarely use insect repellent.

In my early years of fishing guiding I spent summers living at Lake Rotoroa where sandfly swarms are legendary for their size and ferocity and you soon learn to cope.  I remember reading about an early immigrant pastor's wife who was driven insane by sandflies somewhere in the North Island in the 19th century.

I have seen some really bad cases of sandfly bites, generally caused by anglers failing to cover themselves adequately.  t-shirts are generally not a good item to wear in the bush as arms are constantly exposed letting the little black villains have unrestricted access to blood vessels.

Foreigners appear to be the least tolerant to the insects and it is almost like the sandflies can sense their blood is sweeter or that they are most vulnerable.  The little black bugs attack wherever blood vessels are close to the surface, so other vulnerable parts of the body are hands, wrists, face, ears, throats and ankles.

You can use repellents to keep the buds at bay but the best tactic if you are susceptible to sandflies is to cover up with long-sleeved shirts and long pants.  Many of our anglers wisely wear lightweight synthetic fingerless gloves to protect their hands and wrists from sun and bugs.

Some even wear headnets, but this is pretty extreme, and generally only around camp at night after fishing.  One item of clothing Ive been experimenting with lately is called a "buff" which is a lightweight and tight fitting tubular cotton scarf that you can pull over your head.  Designed in the tropics for fishing saltwater flats, a buff will protect your ears and face from the sun with a 50SPF rating but it also works great at keeping sandflies at bay so you can actually enjoy your fishing and hunting when the bugs are at their worst.

As far as repellents go, there are heaps of choices.  Early Maori used crushed Ngaio leaves to deter insects, nut other organic repellents include orange peel, citrus juice, eucalyptus, lavender, teatree oil and even vinegar.

Other non-toxic potions to try may be olive oil mixed with Dettol, Tiger Balm, Listerine, Vicks Vaporub, or Rawleighs antiseptic salve.  Allegedly, you can even pre-treat yourself before heading into the bush by eating plenty of vitamin B, in either tablet form or by eating vitamin B rich foods like Marmite, or Vegemite.

If all of these fail you could buy some of the high-octane modern repellents, particularly the ones containing a high percentage of deet.  Some work better than others, and they come in all forms such as roll-on,sticks, aerosol sprays, pastes and creams.

Some of these repellents are toxic and will burn lips or tongues if you're unfortunate enough to imbibe.

Some of these potions will also melt nylon and plastics, which makes you wonder what it is doing to your skin.  Be careful with handling flylines with deet-covered hands and I've seen anglers leave permanent fingerprints on expensive plastic coated sunglass lenses.

I prefer to use repellent sparingly and always apply it onto the back of my hands and rub it everywhere else using the back of my hands.  I try to avoid getting any on my fingertips because hen handling nylon, fluorocarbon traces, and trout flies you can scent your terminal tackle, which trout can smell and will avoid like the plague.

Often the worst experience with sandflies is after they have bitten you.  Some people swell up, become irritable and miserable, and can even suffer anaphylactic shock.  I've taken anglers to A&E when they have suffered shaking and uncontrollable scratching.

In my photos archives I've got a great image of an angler holding up his swollen arms showing the worst case of sandfly damage I've ever seen.  My fellow co-authors in my first book Brown Trout Heaven -Fly Fishing in New Zealand's South Island wouldn't allow this photo in the book, so great was their fear that no angler would travel to New Zealand if they were to see someone who looked like they had contracted bubonic plague on-stream.

If you have problems with bites, make sure you pop some antihistamine pills, and rub on something like calamine lotion,ibuprofen, or hydrocortisone cream to get on top of the problem fast.  Other home remedies that may be worth trying if you get caught short are baking soda, vinegar, toothpaste or something as simple as rubbing with a piece of onion.

Apparently you can also urinate on bites to take away the sting, but that may be fairly challenging especially if you've been bitten on the face, or don't' know someone very well.

Love 'em or hate 'em, sandflies are an integral part of the New Zealand outdoor experience.

Sandflies are usually all in your mind and you just have to adapt if you want to enjoy the best outdoor experiences.  Often overseas anglers will complain about them when I haven't noticed a single sandfly around - I guess it's all relative to what you are accustomed to.

I'm even glad that we've got sandflies in our wilderness areas because they help keep plenty of people away from areas I selfishly prefer to enjoy on my own or with family and friends.

One golden rule I can advise after  lifetime in the bush and near rivers, is that deer and trout are always most active when the bugs are at their most fierce.  If the sandflies are on-the-bite make sure you have your fly in the water or that you are stalking a good clearing.

When nature is at work is when you will always be most successful outdoors.

Waimea Estuary, Tasman region

Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Out in the Estuary, far from the madding crowd, The Nelson Mail, 24 March 2012
Hunting the big water is always a great challenge, decoying the wily mallard within shotgun range, pleading to incoming birds with a reeded duckcall.
24 mar R
Tidal playground: The Waimea Estuary, between Tahunanui and Mapua, is in good shape ecologically.

The Waimea Estuary has always been a happy place for me.

Ever since I was a boy I’ve roamed the shore, playing, exploring, fishing and hunting.

I’ve experienced the moods and nuances, at high tide and low, in fine weather and in foul, during heavy rain and strong winds.

In that time I’ve come to appreciate and value the estuary as a place of wild beauty, an ecological oasis situated near a
shoreline of human chaos. Now it’s fun introducing my kids to our estuary wonderland where we can have fun
together and enjoy nature on an urban doorstep.

The Waimea Estuary is a vast inter-tidal area of mud, islands, and channels, connecting freshwater to the ocean. Tides
come and go, night and day, covering and uncovering 65km of coastline or 3500 hectares, twice a day.

The estuary stretches between Mapua and Tahunanui and has a number of islands, somewhere between 10 and 16, depending on how you define an island.

I’ve enjoyed exploring all these places and the great thing about the estuary is that I’m still discovering new special places every time I go there. It’s taken a lifetime navigating the tidal channels of the estuary in small boats and I’m still learning.

Under the jurisdiction of two local bodies, Nelson City and Tasman District, the estuary has an artificial line drawn through it on coastal maps. Fortunately residents from both sides of the line care about the estuary, and I’ve enjoyed getting to meet many of these people through the Waimea Inlet Forum.

It’s true that the estuary has been used and abused over the years with massive shoreline development, residential and
industrial pollution causing damage, but I believe the ‘‘tide has turned’’ and the estuary has an exciting future ahead.

Being a proud signatory of the Waimea Estuary Charter, I subscribe to the ethos of the organisations, groups, and individuals who believe in collaboration, community ownership and the need to step up and accept responsibility and
leadership for determining the future of the estuary.

Many people have been involved already and many new faces will assist in the future, but what is important is that we all value the estuary for what it is and what it can be in the years ahead.

Last Saturday, we had a great morning at the Headingly Centre with the Waimea Inlet Forum hearing about all aspects of the Bells Island sewage treatment plant.

Excellent speakers were in attendance representing sewerage managers, forestry consultants and scientists with photographic images showing the processes of sewage transport under the estuary via pipelines, treatment methods, release into the estuary after high tide to allow flushing, irrigation of bio-solids on to the pine forests of Rabbit Island, and scientific monitoring results.

Perfection may only be a concept, but it was pleasing to see how much progress we have made together as a region in the ecological management of our human waste.

Our estuary is in good shape and it was fascinating viewing photographic images of how abused the estuary once was and where we have come from as a society. It’s still not perfect out there, but individuals, community groups, landowners, business owners, industry and others really are making a difference.

The Waimea Estuary means different things to different people and some of my great memories of the estuary stem back to boyhood days when we lived in Lammas St in lower Richmond.

Next to the A and P grounds and racecourse, we spent countless hours after school roaming the edges of the estuary between the dump and Headingly Lane, with our bows and arrows, spears and slingshots.

Later, when we got more mobile on our push bikes, we whitebaited creeks such as Reservoir Creek, and set mullet nets at Borck Creek. We also used to spend lots of time eeling in Jimmy Lee Creek, which ran alongside Beach Rd, either spearing eels with carving forks or catching them with eel lines when the creek was high.

As soon as we got our driver’s licences our horizons widened but the estuary still drew us back for duck hunting and I well remember the maimai Charlie Taylor and I constructed at O’Connors Creek off Hoddy Rd.

Built up on wooden poles, it was a great effort for a couple of 16-year-old boys and to our eyes at the time was a feat of engineering excellence. It lasted for many years and we had some good hunting from it.

I well remember my cousin Geoff and I getting so excited as some low-flying ducks whistled past the hide that we let rip
without considering our shooting angles. Shooting from an elevated position our pellets skidded off the water, ricocheting towards Dad and brother Scott, anchored in a camouflaged aluminium dinghy.

We heard Dad yell ‘‘get down’’, then the ting, ting, ting, ting of pellets hitting the boat. All ended well, but it was a life lesson learnt well.

During winter school holidays I used to love spending sunrises and mornings on the estuary hunting for ducks with school friends.

Hunting the big water is always a great challenge, decoying the wily mallard within shotgun range, pleading to incoming birds with a reeded duckcall.

I can still recognise estuary birds virtually instantly at long distances by the outline and cadence of their wing beats. My boy Jake is a great bird watcher but he still can’t beat the old man at identifying flying birds at long distance.

Duck numbers may have plummeted on the estuary as land use changed ashore meaning less habitat and food crops, but now duck hunters will have to accept new uses of the estuary that compete with existing and historical uses.

Unfortunately Tasman’s Great Taste Bike Trail seems set to clip local duckhunters’ wings even further, but times change, and there is room for everyone on the estuary with tolerance and cooperation between all stakeholders.

In later years of my education I even studied estuaries and coastal geomorphology at Canterbury University with Professor Bob Kirk (son of New Zealand prime minister Norman Kirk).

Bob taught my classmates and I many things about coastal processes, but I particularly remember him describing coastal reclamation and development as ‘‘theft’’. In one research project I was measuring tidal currents at Monaco with a friend when a huge school of kahawai came round the corner boiling the water in a frenzy of feeding fish.

The hi-tech measuring equipment came out of the water, into the boat, and my university project was doomed to mediocrity, but the fishing was great. Warren and I were up to our knees in kahawai in no time and science had to be put aside as we spent the afternoon back home filleting fish.

Of recent years, after exploring fishing and hunting spots all over the South Island, I’ve come back to my home estuary. It’s just so close and I can see it from my kitchen window.

One aspect I love about the estuary is when I’m out in the middle looking back towards humanity. Looking towards Nelson City and Richmond, all you can see is a sprawling mass of urbanisation that doesn’t seem so important when you are standing out in the middle of nature watching birdlife, scurrying mudcrabs, and the surge of tides.

Just the other day my boys and I explored Pig Island before checking our flounder net. We played in the mud, checked out tidal pools, identified wading birds, fossicked for shells, skimmed stones, laughed, ran, and splashed in the water. Hauling in our net from the channel was uneventful, with no flounder to show for our efforts but the water was clear with no weed and we had plenty of snapper dinners from rod fishing further out in the estuary an hour or two before.

The Waimea Estuary was in good shape, probably much better than when I was a boy, and my kids were having a great time.

There will be many more estuary adventures together in the years ahead and for that I am thankful.

Technology in the Outdoors

Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, New but improved?, The Nelson Mail, 10 March 2012
10 mar bR
Outdoor tech:  Technology like GPS devices are well and good, but are we losing something in the process?

In a modern fast-paced world there’s nothing better than chilling out and having lunch with my grandmother. Old world
wisdom and hospitality will never go out of style and Nana Pat has always made good soup to complement great conversation.

She has just presented my family with a completed book of memories from throughout her life, from childhood, marriage, to recent years. Flicking through the pages, special moments in my grandmother’s life jumped off the
pages, but Nana’s observations over lunch were extra interesting. ‘‘Technology has changed everything,’’ she observed. ‘‘When I was a girl, local communities were more close-knit and caring, and everyone shared what they had and helped when they could. ‘‘If you went fishing and caught fish, you shared them with your neighbours because there were no
fridges or freezers.’’

Transport too has changed dramatically. Nana can remember horse and cart transport and her father Kenneth Livick’s specially adapted milk truck in the early 1930s. In those days, people left their houses unlocked and Livick would enter, fill their milk jugs, and leave.

Thinking about technology inevitably made me think about the mind-boggling array of outdoor technology we use today.
Just off the top my head I can think of transport advances such as four-wheel-drive vehicles, fizz boats and helicopters, along with technological attachments such as depth sounders, fish finders, radar, GPS units, personal locator beacons, satellite phones, digital cameras, iPods and LED lighting.

For hunting we use high-quality roof prism binoculars, range finders, spotting scopes – even tape-recorded deer roaring
devices. On the fishing front we use rods made of space-age materials, Gelspun non stretch lines, fluorocarbon leaders, chemically sharpened hooks, flies and lures made out of the latest exotic synthetic materials.

If you don’t know where to go on your next fishing and hunting trip you can pop down to the nearest bookstore and buy a book of GPS waypoints that tell you which rock, pool, or grassy clearing should produce the results.

You’d think the game and fish resource would have no chance given all the modern technology available, but success still comes down to the skill of the hunter or angler. Technology certainly helps, but it isn’t the total answer to overwhelming success.

Published GPS waypoints showing reefs and channels will not always reap results, because snapper move around in response to the conditions and habitat they require to survive. Many Tasman Bay anglers have said that they haven’t been as successful this year. Being a colder year, with cooler water temperatures, and more fresh water entering the bay, snapper seemed to have stayed deeper.

Whatever technology you have on your boat or on the river, you still need to be a hunter at heart, understanding the habits and behaviours of the fish you are targeting and being in the right place at the right time.

Perhaps the biggest change in technology in regards to the outdoors is the advent of the internet.

Nana Pat has been spared the internet and the endless waves of emails and spam. In my early years of fishing guiding, I
remember helping Tony Entwistle write letters to reply to fishing inquiries, then next summer Bob Haswell, then owner of Lake Rotoroa Lodge, showing me his new wonder communication tool – a fax machine. Then came the internet and the world changed virtually overnight. People demanded instant communication, information could be instantly beamed all over the world for next to nothing, and reality went out the window.

It’s been noticeable in recent years that my vehicle often goes silent inside when we come within cellphone range at the end of a fishing day. My anglers become engrossed in their cellphone messages, texts and emails, communicating with grunts, beeping, and the tapping of keys.

It’s almost amusing, as men become slaves to their machines, squinting into glowing screens; the fishing and events of the day forgotten.

Maybe I’m a technophobe, but I’ve always gone into the bush to avoid the phone, television and emails, preferring the sound of running water, screaming reels, and the smell of camp cooking. Unfortunately, as communities break down and the world speeds up, people have less personal relationships or connections with the outdoors and become more
dependent on the internet for information.

However, the internet is here to stay and will be an integral part of the outdoor scene in the years ahead. Many websites are extremely useful, especially sites showing satellite weather imagery, river flows, moon phases, and such like.

No doubt we will learn to embrace the internet even more but I hope it never replaces our love of hunting and fishing. Maybe one day we’ll leave our cellphones, laptops, iPads and other electronic gadgets at home while we re-learn how to talk to each other and enjoy what attracted us to the outdoors in the first place.

Back-country huts: wonderful and diverse legacy

Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Back-country huts: wonderful and diverse legacy, The Nelson Mail, 25 February 2012
25 feb R
Away from it all: Meeting others in the great outdoors can be fun, but most of us would rather have solitude.

Many issues divide the outdoor community, but one thing most people could agree on would be the first-class hut and track system throughout our public wild-lands.

Back-country huts especially are a wonderful outdoor asset in an often cold, bleak, wet and  inhospitable mountain environment. Many of these public huts have great history attached to them and many date back to the earliest days of deer culling in New Zealand when a network of huts was established.

Nowadays, the Department of Conservation looks after about 950 huts nationwide, but there are also many other huts maintained by clubs and other national organisations that are also available for public use.

I’ve been fortunate to have spent a fair chunk of my life in the bush and have always appreciated huts wherever I’ve found them.

Some range from little more than a dog kennel with basic facilities, to virtual mansions that can accommodate large numbers of people, with outside seating, storage areas, even stainless-steel bench tops and cooking facilities.

All huts are great, but I tend to prefer the more basic options that are more remote and that you’ll usually have all to yourself.

Meeting other people in the wilderness can be a good experience, but given half a chance most of us would rather have solitude away from the madding crowd.

In inclement weather, huts offer a welcome retreat from the elements.

 Camping during a storm is no fun and we’ve had trips on the tops when the wind has threatened to blow our tent, with us inside, down the mountain.

Retreat to a decent hut is always the best option when bad weather threatens, but even there the effects can be extreme.

One time at the Mohikinui Forks Hut on the West Coast, we cowered inside as the rain fell so hard that it sounded like a dozen vandals on the roof-iron with hammers. The river rose alarmingly to the point that the swollen brown waters were up into the bush on both sides of the valley as the Mokki Gorge dammed the flow of the river.

It was two days later before the chopper could get in to retrieve us and even then we had to swim a flooded side channel with our packs to get to a gravel island where the chopper could land. It was a great adventure but that hut was truly awesome.

Over the past few months I seem to have spent more time sleeping in the bush than in my own bed, and huts have always been welcome for a good night’s sleep after hard nights on the ground.

Huts also need to be used with respect and care.

Fire is always a risk and all fires should always be supervised carefully.

Ventilation is another issue, and in smaller huts with less ventilation, gas bottles and cookers should probably be put outside overnight in case of a gas leakage.

Tidiness, cleanliness and hygiene are also important, and you should always leave huts in the same state you would like to find them. Keep your wet boots outside and pack your rubbish out. Make sure you replace any firewood you use, too, because someone else may need a warming fire in challenging conditions and it’s no fun when some idiot has burnt all the wood at the hut.

Riverbeds can be the best places to find some easy wood bought down from the last flood, but expect to carry wood some distance to heavily used huts.

Perhaps the most important consideration when using huts is other users, and this can be more of an art than a science. People use huts for different reasons and have different schedules, activities and personalities.

There is always a need to be considerate towards other users, and hunters and anglers need to fit in with others. Always make sure rods and rifles are kept in safe places out of sight.

Most people at huts will be pleasant company, but sometimes there can be conflict when two groups pursuing the same interests – clash over fishing locations or such like. In situations such as this everyone has to be big enough to realise that a negotiated settlement that everyone can agree to is the only way forward.

Sometimes there can even be resentment by trampers towards hut residents who fly in by helicopter. Sometimes hut and track development has encouraged new users and impacted on traditional recreational uses such as hunting and fishing.

We meet some great people in the bush, and I always make sure I have plenty of supplies on hand so I can offer chocolate biscuits with coffee or some other treat. It’s very difficult for someone else to be critical when they are sharing your food.

Recently we had an irritable Australian tramper and his wife in the hut. We got back from fishing and were cooking dinner in the dark and talking quietly to other hut inhabitants when a voice called out from the bunkroom for us to shut the noise. My first thought was to suggest that there was another nice hut three hours down the track, but I thought better of it and immediately apologised even though noise was minimal.

Another hut dweller from a different group wasn’t so hospitable and threatened to douse the complainee with a bucket of water if there was any more nonsense. Quiet ensued and we probably all learned a lesson that night.

Early the next morning, however, two men were still butting horns and squabbling.  Being bigger, stronger and younger, I leapt out of bed to quell the rebellion with a few wellchosen words – and, fortunately, all ended well.

Perhaps my last hut night was the best. Staggering back to the hut in the dark with a full load of venison straining the stitching on my pack, I lay all the meat out first on bracken fern to chill overnight.

It was all quiet on the western front as hut inhabitants were sound asleep and I even contemplated a swim in the river, but the size of the eels at the last river crossing made me change my mind.

The hut deck offered another alternative as I stripped off, drank a glass of red wine, and contemplated the Milky Way in the night sky above while I cooled down.

My padded hut mattress was about to become the best part of the day.


Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Living it up with a tent and a chocolate biscuit, The Nelson Mail, 31 December 2011

The pleasures and hardships of life under canvas.
31 dec R
Challenging: Wet or fine, camping out really can be good for the spirit.

Camping in the bush can be a lot of fun. Over the years I’ve had some epic hunting and fishing trips roughing it under a fly, a sheet of plastic or a tent.

My last camping trip this month, at Nelson Lakes National Park with mate Rob Wilson from Wellington, was no different.

Rob owns Evolve Outdoors, a New Zealand-based outdoor company specialising in the design, manufacture, importation, and distribution of fishing, hunting, and general outdoor equipment. We were fortunate with fine sunny weather and Rob marvelled at the beauty of Nelson Lakes, where he’d never fished before.

Fishing by day and camping by night was a great tonic, far from the madding crowd. The fishing was OK, nothing brilliant, but we still landed 27 trout for our three days of fishing, as well as getting some nice product photos along the way for Rob’s next catalogue.

We used my old tent that is a veteran of hundreds of campaigns and it worked like it always has since my parents first gave it to me for my 21st birthday, more than half a lifetime ago. Rob and I had a lot of fun – laughing, eating, discussing outdoor gear and even snoring.

But, alas, ever since the movie Brokeback Mountain, two men having fun in a tent is probably something best not mentioned in polite circles.

Camping away from huts, road ends, tracks and day trippers has always been a sound outdoor strategy as you can stay close to where the action is likely to happen, fish or hunt early or late, and maybe ensure you are ahead of everyone else.

Rob and I took a rifle, and although we saw two deer in the evening, the morning stalk through grassy clearings ringing to the sound of the dawn chorus was unsuccessful. We had no venison to take home but it didn’t matter – we’d had our chance without a long hike from a hut.

Camping out can be a wonderful experience but it can also be a nightmare if you get it wrong.

Siting the tent or camp correctly is important to give safety from wind, flood, and other recreational users. Every year I see foreign tourists camping right beside rivers and I’m surprised more aren’t drowned when water courses inevitably rise.

Another consideration is the stability of dead tree spars in the forest which can blow over in a strong wind. I also like to be super-visible nowadays and frequently rig an orange tent fly as a gear storage area or a cooking shelter in rain or drizzle, but also to be visible to other hunters during the day and at night.

It’s also good to pick a location that drains well, so you don’t end up in a puddle; that is soft and free of tree roots for a good night of sleep; and well away from any fire that could melt synthetic tent fibres from flying sparks or embers.

I’m not a big fire guy on hunting trips, as you only alert the deer to your presence. My father Stuart always taught me to light your fire only after you have secured your venison.

Insects can also be a problem, with sandflies by day and mosquitos by night. Once we woke up so heavily bitten around the face by mozzies that some of us couldn’t open our swollen eyelids.

Mosquito coils and insect repellent can be the best money you’ll ever spend.

Modern tents often have insect netting sewn internally and this can work a treat.

Wasps can also be a big issue in late summer and autumn, and it is always a good idea to check you’re well away from any nests. One time I sat on a log near camp after dark and wasps crawled up my shorts, stinging me badly where it really hurts.

In winter, it can be a good idea to camp back under the forest rather than on the flats to avoid heavy frosting and ice. Many times on alpine trips in exposed areas we’ve had to tip boiling water on our socks and boots to be able to get them on for a morning stalk.

Mid-winter camping takes real dedication, and it can be tough getting out of bed some mornings, when temperatures plunge below zero and everything is frozen solid.

Whatever time of year you camp outdoors in New Zealand, mud, sandflies and rain are almost inevitable. In fact, some of my most memorable trips have been when things have really turned to custard.

I remember camping on an island in a rugged forest-clad wilderness river with limited camping spots when heavy rain swept in overnight. We could see (and hear) the swollen river pounding all around us in the torchlight while we checked out which tree we were going to climb should we need it.

Another time, four of us spent four days in two tents on the banks of the Whataroa River in south Westland while the rain thundered down. We talked, played games and drank tea, while all around the floodwaters raged.

All the side creeks on the track were bank-to-bank cascading torrents so we weren’t going anywhere. I even shot a big chamois buck close to camp that stood up on a rock to shake himself like a dog in the rain. I still have the mounted cape and horns on the wall at our lake house and often think back about the abysmal conditions we endured on that trip.

By contrast, the weather in the American West was much more pleasant, with dry summer conditions meaning camping out was always a pleasure.

I never had any trouble with snakes, skunks, bears, coyotes or poison ivy and used to sleep out under the stars on an inflatable mattress all the time over many summers.

Maybe the biggest surprise I ever got was when a drunk Sioux Indian tripped over me in the middle of the night near Little Bighorn in Montana. I don’t know who got the biggest fright, but there was a lot of yelling and flailing arms and legs before we figured out what had happened.

There are sure to be many innovations in camping and outdoor equipment in the years ahead but the enjoyment of sleeping outdoors will remain regardless, and the surprises will never end.

When Rob and I got back to our camp well after dark, we were looking forward to some good food and a good
night’s sleep, but it was apparent we’d had visitors.

Pesky keas ( Large Alpine Parrots) had got under the front flap, ripped the insect mesh in many places and unzipped the front zipper for easy access to our supplies.

Food was laying everywhere, packets ripped open, sausages mutilated, muesli bars eaten, and all our chocolate biscuits were gone.

Rob finally found the empty packet and yelled out with elation that two biscuits remained.

It was time for celebration, and we sat in the darkness, eating our Toffee Pop, washed down with a can of cold beer, under the glow of the stars and the solitary hoot of a Morepork.

Fishing with Kids

Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Rain or Shine, it's fun Fishing with the Kids, The Nelson Mail, 22 October 2011
School holidays can only mean one thing – it’s time to take the kids fishing.
October 2011 089 R
Fine catch: Ike Mirfin shows off a sea-run trout caught during an extended family fishing trip.

Rugby fever has taken hold of us this year, so we didn’t want to be too far from the
nearest TV set.

We had contemplated going down the Marlborough Sounds, but a dud weather forecast made it an easy decision to
head up to Lake Rotoiti for a few days of R&R at the family lakehouse.

The week before I’d got a new toy in the form of a big whitebait sock net.

Love’em or hate’em, sock nets are a great way to catch whitebait as they ascend rivers in spring.

Many whitebaiters despise them because their double traps and 3.5 metre length means they are set and left, requiring virtually no skill or ability.

I used to think the same, but my new net is a real winner and the two times I’ve used it we’ve taken home a feed of whitebait.

Our home river is the lower Waimea, just a few kilometres from home.

My first whitebaiting trip this season I took daughter Rosie and we had a great time.

The best thing about the sock net was the ‘‘set and forget’ aspect, although there were a few dramas setting it on my own, in river currents up to my chest in full-body neoprene waders, while whacking steel waratahs into the stones and gravel with a short handle sledgehammer.

Once set, though, life is grand and I could concentrate my full attention on Rosie while we waited on deck chairs close to the net and screens.

It’s amazing what you learn from your kids when you have time to just talk with no business or household interruptions.

I had such a good time with Rosie that I took our youngest daughter, Charli, 6, out on her first whitebaiting trip soon after.

Charli just loved it, and she chattered away flat out for three hours, learning about the river, the fish, the birdlife, and the other whitebaiters on the river. At the top of the tide, I waded deep and dismantled the net, stakes, and screens, while Charli was fixated with her ‘‘pudding’’ of transluscent wriggling whitebait in the bottom of the net.

The next day it was full-on. We had been joined by brother Scott, wife Kirstie, and their two boys, Lochy and Ryan, at the

All our kids get on like a house on fire, but it was almost like a zoo, feeding all the kids breakfast, putting them into warm dry clothes, loading them into the vehicles, and towing our two boats down to Kerr Bay. The kids loved blasting up the lake, with snow-capped mountains and reflections on the mirror-image surface.

We tried some fishing, but the kids can only last for so long.  When a black wall of ominous gloom started fast approaching down the lake, it was time to head to Coldwater Hut for shelter before the rain hit.

Fortunately we had had a bit of success, with Jake landing a fine brown trout, wading in the Travers River mouth.

At the hut we lit a fire, ate snacks, and cooked noodles on a primus stove as the rain thumped down on the tin roof.

It was so much fun that it was hard to leave.

On the way back to base we tried some trolling to no avail, but the kids didn’t care as they’d had a great
adventure, especially when we hit a squall and hail on our way back down the lake.

Our destination on the Saturday was Lake Rotoroa, about half an hour down the road. Rotoroa has always been a mysterious place for me, and I spent many summers living there in my earlier fishing guiding days.

One thing that never changes at Rotoroa is the legendary and ferocious sandflies, and it was a case of move fast or be eaten alive.

Out on the water, we left the sandflies behind, en route to the head of the lake.

More than halfway up, the weather closed in and the heavens opened.

‘‘What a stupid idea,’’ Aimee announced as the kids cowered  in the boats in the heavy rain while we powered for the safety of the D’Urville Hut.

The kids were cold and wet but fortunately the hut fire was already lit and the room warm. Removing lifejackets and raincoats , the kids soon warmed up and we had lunch and forgot about the rain.

The hut was full of sleeping bags on bunks, and soon some waterlogged residents returned.

It was pleasing to see other parents bringing young children to Rotoroa to give them a school holiday outdoor experience.

During a gap in the rain we made a quick trip out to fish the two inflowing river mouths with the boys.

We’d just pulled ashore at the D’Urville river mouth and caught the first rainbow trout of the day when it started to pour again.

Just when we thought we should evacuate to the hut, the rain lightened, and we raced for the Sabine River mouth to have another quick fish.

This time the sun came out and a half hour of fishing produced for the kids a few more rainbows, which we released for another day.

Rotoroa is one of the few places you can catch quality rainbow trout in our district and it’s nice to conserve fragile fish
stocks for another day.

Our fishing adventure the next day was near Blenheim.

We drove down the Wairau Valley in convoy, dropping Aimee off to spend some quality time with her parents, while we loaded two boats into the water with kids and adults.

Heavy rain the day before had coloured the rivers and conditions weren’t ideal. We had some dramas with a rutted-out
boat ramp, but finally we had lines in the water, navigating snags and sandbars. The kids loved it and although we caught only two sea-run trout, it was a great day out for all.

When you take kids fishing you always have to lower your expectations because you can’t go as far, can’t fish as long, or fish as hard.

You’ll never catch as many fish as on your own, but there will be bigger and better fishing trips ahead in the future as the kids develop more ability, endurance and enthusiasm.  What is important is lighting that fire for the outdoors within your children, by making it fun, and not pushing them too hard too fast.

After a feed of takeaways, it was the sign of a successful fishing trip that all the kids were sound asleep as we sped back up the valley to catch the semifinal between the Wallabies and the All Blacks.


Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Enthralling tales of Life as a Shag, The Nelson Mail, 10 September 2011
10 sept R
Scrambled Eggs: Estuary birds like the variable oyster catcher nest on the shore in a heavily modified environment close to humanity.

Last night I popped into Nelson for a quick shag.
Fortunately this shagging experience was nothing untoward, illicit or lurid, it was simply the monthly meeting of the local branch of the Ornithological Society of New Zealand. The guest speaker was respected marine bird scientist Dr Ralph Powlesland of Wellington speaking on his favourite bird species – shags.

And what a great job Ralph did, keeping us enthralled with tales about shag species, habitats, behaviour, breeding, feeding, issues with humanity, and virtually everything else you could ever think to ask about shags, even mass regurgitation sessions on Golden Bay’s Tata Beach. I loved it and two hours just flew by as I learnt more about shag species such as king, spotted, pied and little shags, than I ever thought possible.

I had never thought much about shags, perhaps only viewing them as a nuisance species that ate trout, but Ralph made these birds so interesting and exciting that I was glad I had got to hear him speak.

It did cross my mind during the talk that as a younger man I had often viewed game birds such as ducks and geese as something that looked best when the shotgun barrel swung past their heads, but as I have grown older and greyer I
have begun to appreciate the intrinsic nature of the environment and the many other mainly native species that make New Zealand unique and special.

Attending a lot of meetings in the past year about the Waimea Estuary, and meeting a lot of great folk concerned about our marine and coastal environment, has made me realise that you don’t have to kill and eat things to enjoy and appreciate them. Our wild environments provide habitat and refuge for a multitude of species – native and introduced, and there is no reason why we can’t enjoy them all. Many of the groups interested in protecting the Waimea Inlet are diverse, but they all share the same desire to protect and enhance the values of the estuary for future generations,
whether it is for native species preservation, fishing, game-bird hunting, or a nationally important cycleway.

Our community has come a long way over time in accepting the value of our marine environment and it is great to see progress being made on protecting and enhancing the South Island’s largest estuary, which is 3500 hectares in size and home to some remarkable wildlife such as banded rail, bittern, marsh crake and many dozens of other bird and fish species.

Estuaries are some of the most fertile and productive ecosystems on Earth, providing habitat and nursery areas for commercial and recreational fish species as well as the prodigious birdlife. Tidal estuaries were also a premier food
basket for early Maori before they became valuable later for agriculturists, orchardists, industrialists, and developers on their fringes. Mudflats through European eyes, were often viewed as wastelands to be ‘‘reclaimed’’ or became the rubbish dumps of society as patterns of land development changed and the impacts intensified on the environment. You do not have to be Dr Seuss’s Lorax to realise it was inevitable that the estuarine fish and birdlife that lived there would be massively impacted by the activities of humans living on the edges.

Perhaps the most famous bird inhabitants of the estuary are the arctic migrants that make the annual pilgrimage to spend the summer in Nelson. The eastern bar-tailed godwits are the star
species that start arriving in September, after flying non-stop from the northern hemisphere, and their arrival is eagerly awaited by many people around our region. My boy Jake knows all about them and is mad keen on marine birds and knowing them all by name. It is great to see his enthusiasm and excitement as he describes bird habits and behaviour to me. It is a great hobby for a boy to have before the ‘‘birds and the bees’’ kick in and he shows more interest in other forms of ‘‘birdwatching’’. I just hope he grows to love the estuary as much as I did as a boy, fishing its waters and enjoying the native birdlife. It may seem bizarre that a fishing and shooting type like me can’t wait to be a card holding
member of the Ornithological Society. Maybe in time, I’ll know more about our native birds than my 11-year-old boy

Recyling metal for lures


© Zane Mirfin, Wildside column, Fish lured with aid of spare parts, Nelson Mail, 27 August 2011
Sea_perch_2011.JPG Tasman_Bay_winter_2011.JPG
Flash of Inspiration: A fishing lure recycled from a metal plate that spent three years inside zane Mirfin's leg fooled this sea perch. In the bag: From left, Steve Bell, Scott Mirfin and Stuart Mirfin with a mixed bag of perch, parrotfish and blue cod.  Steve bell holds the ankle lure with a sea perch attached.

It’s hard to believe it’s been more than three years since I started writing this column.

In my first Wild Side in July 2008 – headlined ‘‘Injury proves lesson in the value of being prepared’’ I described
skidding on ice and breaking my ankle hunting in the remote Marlborough wilderness where I ‘‘hobbled with a
wobbly, floppy, bone-grindingly useless left leg to a snow-covered bank’’.

Luckily, with the modern miracles of satellite phone and helicopter, help wasn’t too far away and it was off to
Christchurch Hospital for surgery on the badly dislocated ankle with the bone broken in three places.

Screwing my ankle together with a metal plate and six screws got me walking again and with a bit of physio
by Nayland guru Lyndon Chandler, I was almost good as new.

In the intervening three years, my ankle had performed well with plenty of hunting and fishing in some really
rugged places but I could still feel the plate rubbing against my boot, and I certainly knew when I whacked the plate against rocks. My ankle was also prone to stiffening up overnight and it didn’t like the cold water when wading wet.

Orthopaedic surgeon Julian Ballance, anaesthetist Alastair Mark and the great team at Manuka Street Hospital took care of all that just a few weeks ago. One minute I was lying there talking rock climbing at Mt Owen with Alastair and the next minute I woke up all stitched up minus the metal hardware.

Julian gave me a good report immediately after surgery and handed me a shiny stainless steel metal plate
and six screws in a sterilised bag – it sure looked like something I could use to catch a fish with.

As a boy, I always loved Maori mythology and especially the legend of how Maui caught the North Island or te
Ika a Maui – the fish of Maui. Preparing a special fishhook, which had a point made from a piece of his grandmother’s jawbone, he punched himself in the nose and smeared the hook with his own blood to catch the sacred fish.

The piece of metal I’d carried around in my leg for three years was a non-event next to the legend of Maui but it was definitely going to be the most expensive lure I was ever going to use. If I can read Julian Ballance’s handwriting correctly, the new plate and screws were worth about NZ$800, but can’t be re-used. With six screw holes along its length, the plate had plentiful attachment points to add split rings, swivel and treble hooks.

Making the lure was the easy part and now all I had to do was go fishing. The opportunity wasn’t long in coming when my brother rang to suggest a day out along the western face of D’Urville Island. The day was stunning and the company stellar with brother Scott, father Stuart and mate Steve Bell, all of Richmond.

Trying out deep on GPS marks of isolated mounts on foul ground, we fished with heavy jigs catching some nice fish, but it wasn’t until late in the day when Scott finally suggested we go in close to catch some blue cod before blasting for home. At last, a chance to catch a fish on my home-made ankle lure.

Attaching it to my light soft-bait rod, with a sinker above for weight and a couple of saltwater flies tied on as
droppers, it worked a treat.

On the first few drops I got sea perch, often known as jock stewart, plus some brightly coloured parrotfish, and even a leatherjacket. After that it was pretty much cod all the way for everyone. On one drop, I even caught three legal cod at the same time. In next to no time, we had our dozen blue cod in the bin and were homeward bound.

The rich marine waters of D’Urville have always provided fishing magic for us and on this trip we had explored some new fishing spots and even went ashore at Otu Bay for a quick look on the beach.

It was also the first fishing day in D’Urville waters any of us could remember that we never lost a lure or hook. I even had my special ankle lure to use again another day.

As we sped for home we marvelled at the rugged beauty of D’Urville Island basking in the golden glow of the
afternoon sun. As the light softened and the shadows lengthened, the folds and contours of the island titillated the eye like the sensuous curves of a beautiful woman. As we reached the safety of Croisilles Harbour, again named by famed French mariner Dumont D’Urville in the 1820s, the eastern light had turned pink while the western horizon was lit by a flaming orange orb.  Soon it was black, and the adventure ended in darkness as we trailered the boat at Okiwi Bay.

It had been a great day to be alive and a great way to test my metal recycling skills.

Lighting systems for  your outdoor Adventure.

© Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Happy hunting in winter's darkness, Nelson Mail, 9 April 2011
With the end of daylight saving for another summer, it’s time to see the light.
Let there be Light: Another beautiful day dawns over Tasman Bay.

with the end of daylight saving last Sunday, it’s time to start anticipating those shorter days where there is more
night than day. Fishing and hunting activities don’t have to end with shorter days and many of us are out there making the most of the opportunities, positioning ourselves in the dark for the best times at dawn and dusk.

But to do so, outdoor people need decent lighting systems to make fishing and hunting safe, comfortable and possible.

Lighting systems have come a long way in my time in the outdoors and some of the torches or flashlights I used to own are now almost laughable when compared to modern, energyefficient LED lights.

Nowadays you can get headlamps that fit on your head and handheld lights that have in excess of 200-metre beams and will last for 13 hours’ burn time on a single set of AA batteries. A friend owns a massive LED torch run on eight D-cell batteries that is described in its marketing literature as ‘‘a torch that will single-handedly light canyons’’.

Modern technology is great but you still need to look after your lighting gear. Most of it doesn’t like water, especially salt water, and in heavy rain and windswept coastal lagoons lighting can let you down, right when you need it most. From a safety perspective, I always try to carry two lights, both equipped with fresh batteries. Then if for any reason I lose, drop, drown, break or inadvertently run one flat, I’ll have a useable light or spare batteries.

One time many years ago, my mate Cam and I ran out of battery power and couldn’t find an old hut marked on a map. We spent a cold night in the rain huddling together in sodden sleeping bags before waking up at dawn to see the hut 50 metres away on a bank above the river.

I also like my personal lighting systems to use common batteries like AA or AAA that are readily available and can be swapped between other outdoor equipment like GPS, depth sounder and camera flash. Then when you get caught short somewhere, you can always cannibalise batteries from somewhere else.

Years ago most of us were fans of the mini-Maglite torches that were a product of the time. They still work well and you can now get LED bulbs for them on the internet to make them more energy efficient.

What made Maglites great was that the headpiece had to be screwed undone for them to work and meant that it was impossible to accidentally flatten batteries.

A cunning trick with modern lights is to reverse the batteries in your torch to avoid accidentally switching it on – you can always change batteries around when you really need the light later.

One of my favourite lights was a Petzl headlight I bought in 1993 in Aspen, Colorado. The price of US$70 was a princely sum at the time but I still have the light, and although it’s heavy and clunky next to new-generation lights, it served me well on those dark Colorado rivers.

Back in those days, Taylor Creek Flyshop was the largest and busiest year-round guide service in the United States, and I used to do what the boss termed the longest day, where I would guide three different groups of anglers per day.

Doing the night shift at the end always meant finishing in the dark, and I have great memories of mule deer, coyotes and even a black bear in my beam as we headed for the vehicle.

Flounder spearing and spotlighting for small game and deer are fun pursuits in the dark. In earlier years we used carbide lamps for flounder spearing but modern sealed beam lights on poles for under water, using
closed-cell motorbike batteries, makes this activity so much easier and more efficient. Old-style batteries used for spotlighting deer were shockers too, as leaking battery acid was an occupational hazard, burning holes in clothing and equipment.

Modern spotlights are so much better with brighter bulbs, rifle attachment systems and colour filter options to hold game in the beam longer.

When spotlighting, always obey proper firearm safety by identifying the target beyond all doubt and always considering your firing zone behind the deer to make sure farm houses or stock are safe. My rule has always been that if you can’t see the whole animal, don’t shoot.

Other essential lighting systems for night-time use are boat navigation lights. Nav lights make sure you are seen by other boat users when travelling and help keep everyone safe between sunset and sunrise or in other times of reduced visibility.

Lights aren’t always practical on small boats but having a flashlight on board can help to signal your position to other water users as required.

On my aluminium dinghy I made up a simple system using a board that is bolted through the rear rowlocks and has red/green sidelights and a white stern light attached.

What to do with your Wild Bounty

Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Dealing with bounty from the wild, The Nelson Mail, 26 March 2011
First, catch your prey . . . but then what?
Novel approach: Christian Wurzinger hamming it up after hunting some dinner.

When it comes hunting,  the easiest part  actually shooting deer. After the gunsmoke clears, ears stop ringing and the photos are taken, the hard work of putting the venison on the family table usually begins.

Recent red stag success had me working hard to field-dress the beast, removing the gut and offal, and letting the beast cool in the shade of the forest.

Later in the day, I worked fast to render the beast down into boneless meat, while all-around angry wasps fought with me over ownership of the carcase. Taking about half an hour, I soon had eyefillet steaks, back straps, back legs and shoulders in a boneless state and miraculously had only sustained four wasp stings to my left hand.

Back home, we ate the steaks, and I took the frozen legs down to Rik Taikato and James Fairbrass, of Meat Solutions in Salisbury Rd, Richmond. What these guys don’t know about meat probably isn’t worth knowing and they made me up some great venison sausages, flavoured with beef fat, semolina, and paprika seasoning. Best of all, the kids loved eating them, too.

Rik and James had some great advice for me with the annual red stag rut or the roar coming up because they see deer carcases from all over the district being bought in by successful hunters.

Hunters routinely bring in whole animals, or you can bring in carcases in various stages of disassembly.

Years ago when I used to shoot lots of deer up the Owen Valley, I’d often drop in whole skinned carcases to my local butcher to be made into boxes of steaks, meat patties, sausages and salamis, but in recent years I’ve mostly cut my animals up myself into steaks, roasts and casserole pieces. I used to love eating liver and kidneys, but indiscriminate poisoning on public land now means that all offal should stay on the hill for safety’s sake to avoid any chance of consuming poison residue. So much for wild harvested organic meat.

The good news is that Rik and James can turn any animal into good eating, even suggesting that rank old rutting stags can make excellent lean salamis. They suggest keeping meat clean is an important first task for hunters, avoiding dirt, gravel, and flyblown venison. Another important task they advise is to let meat and
carcases cool properly, never putting warm meat into plastic bags where it will sweat and deteriorate very fast.

Sharp knives are an important part of fishing and hunting. James is a great believer in soft knives with soft steel that are easy to sharpen regularly. Modern hard knives often come factory sharp, but can be the very devil to sharpen properly again. I’ve always found stainless steel knives difficult to sharpen and my knife sharpening skills were pretty rudimentary until I bought a commercial Butcher Buddy tool a year or two back that allowed me to put great edges on knives every time.

On my hunting belt I always carry a diamond sharpener I use as a steel to straighten sharpen my knife edge as it bluntens with use. Be careful with sharp knives, however; it’s been my belief that getting cut or burning yourself with boiling water are probably two of biggest risks in the outdoors.

Fish, too, require treatment to obtain the best quality.  Fish need to be iced immediately, after being killed
humanely with an iky spike screwdriver through the head. As soon as you can, they should gutted and gilled, to preserve the best flavour.

Often I’ll ice my fish down and bring them home whole to process on my outside stainless bench, complete with tap that can plug the garden hose. Aimee used to hate me bringing gore and guts inside the house,
and now I can fillet fish in my dairy-worker plastic apron, hose the lot down outside when  I’m finished.

Filleting is what most people do with their fish, but you can end wasting the other half that is left. Lately, I’ve been enjoying those smaller 30cm pan-sized snapper cooked whole in tinfoil with butter and spices on the barbecue.

When I fillet a snapper, I also cut the wings off the filleted carcase and smoke them after brining in rock salt, soy sauce and brown sugar. Smoked snapper wings, complete with a cold beer, is my favourite part of the fish.  I also boil some of the heads and frames, after removing guts and gills, to make fantastic fish stock for fish soup and bouillabaisse. Then when I’m left with only snapper and flounder frames, I bury them under trees around the section as excellent organic fertiliser.

Storage of processed game and fish is important, too, and I like to chill them down as soon as possible, especially fish. Game meat and game birds are often best aged in the fridge for a few days before eating, and I’m convinced fresh fish is always best left in the fridge for a day or two before eating to fully relax all the fibres in the flesh.

Cover your fish in plastic food wrap, to avoid it drying out too much. Freezing meat and fish is always an option, but I’m a great believer in giving away fish and meat as a special gift or koha to family, friends, and neighbours. If you must freeze all your catch, make sure you get all air out of sealable bags and label with ID and date so you can eat it inside six months for best flavour.

Sometimes it’s easy to get demoralised about the outdoor scene and our shrinking resources, but lately I’ve been as successful outdoors as I’ve ever been and have had plenty of practice cutting up fish.

On one recent trip, as all four rods bent under good fish, a friend joked that ‘‘the catching is so good that I haven’t had time to fish’’.

Another morning this week I took out my brother-in-law Guy Mullon and his eldest daughter Caitlin, who now live in Melbourne to make the big bucks but where there is crap fishing on the doorstep. Guy marvelled about the quality of Tasman Bay fishing and the 30 fat snapper that packed the cooler to the max, but as we pulled ashore on the beach I knew that the work had only just begun.

Join an Outdoor Club


© Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Your club needs you, Nelson Mail, 3 July 2010

There are any number of outdoor clubs and associations you can align yourself with, depending on your interests.’’

Does yours measure up?: Ike Mirfin assists NZDA Nelson secretary Warren Plum.

A recent evening out to the Nelson Branch of New Zealand Deerstalkers Association (NZDA) made me realise the true value of belonging to outdoor clubs and associations.

The annual NZDA head measuring night is eagerly awaited on the local sporting calendar with another great
collection of animal horns, antlers and tusks shot by members in the last calendar year.

It’s great to see the success enjoyed by local members and I don’t think winning or losing really figures in why club members attend the evening – you don’t even need to enter a head to enjoy the night.

Last year, Mirfin thar heads achieved 1st, 2nd and 3rd in the Bob Baigent Cup for horned game, but this year I don’t think the Mirfin brothers had any luck with the few chamois and thar heads we put on the table. It didn’t matter – it was great to look and talk with other members about what they had been up to and what trips they had enjoyed in the past 12 months.

My boy, Ike, came along for the first time, and loved it. I don’t think rabbit shooting will ever be the same for him
again, because he now has his sights set on bigger game.

Rob Shuttleworth had a massive 15-point red-deer head on display which scored 285 on the Douglas Score (DS). He also had some wild ram horns from the remote Clarence River scoring DS 85. Rob comes from
impeccable deerstalking genetics (Jack and Charlie Shuttleworth were iconic Kiwi stalkers and authors in the
golden age of New Zealand hunting), but his red deer trophy at last year’s head night was nothing short of
incredible. Scoring DS 356, it was a massive rack of antlers that dwarfed everything else and went on to win the National NZDA Orbell Trophy for the best head of any species.

Cunningly, the club had its annual meeting on the same night. President Bill O’Leary and secretary-treasurer
Warren Plum retained their long-running positions and it is obvious many clubs and associations rely on one or two key members to keep their organisations afloat.

Warren has always been a hero of mine, and his role in the success of the club over his 36 years of membership is immeasurable.

He is proud of the Nelson branch membership of 400 and climbing, and enjoys the large number of younger men who are motivated by increased opportunities of recent years.

Warren told me a story about local farmer Lloyd Higgins and his granddaughter both entering red stag heads on the same night one year. ‘‘What other sport could you have grandfather and granddaughter competing and enjoying at the same level?’’

Club patron Lester Bowden paid homage to the proud history of the club.

The next day I was able to call another of my hunting heroes, Gordon Max of Brightwater, a foundation
member of the Nelson Deerstalkers way back in 1948, who was very pleased to know that his club was in good heart.

Having been a member of the NZDA since I can remember, I’ve always enjoyed the social camaraderie of our club nights, but an effective club or association is much more. NZDA has 50 branches and about 8000 members. Local membership benefits include the Packer’s Creek rifle range, where rifles can be sighted in
and where local, national and international competitive shooting events are held; Red Deer Lodge, situated at St Arnaud, which houses some of the greatest red deer trophies shot in New Zealand by local men such as Gordon Atkinson, Newton McConochie and Temple Sutherland; hunter training; and national advocacy on behalf of hunters on issues such as gun ownership, access, dogs, poison and bureaucracy.

There are any number of outdoor clubs and associations you can align yourself with, depending on your interests.

I’ve been a keen member of the Nelson Trout Fishing Club for more than 30 years. We have such a great time at our club, although the advancing age of the membership is a concern, with no junior members – I may well be the youngest member at 42.

But the club has been invigorated by the enthusiastic membership of many anglers who speak with English, American, Swiss, German and South African accents. The club was started by Chappie Chapman, a man of great magnetism and personality. Saltwater anglers are possibly the one weak link in New Zealand membership of clubs and associations. Nationwide, there is real concern over the effective lack of representation for recreational anglers because Government and the Ministry of Fisheries don’t know who to engage and negotiate with. The lion’s share of resource allocation goes to commercial and iwi interests, because they are organised and can lobby Government effectively. That’s
another reason to join a club like our Tasfish.


Close to Home Pursuits in Winter


© Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Neither fish nor fowl too easy, Nelson Mail, 8 May 2010
Cast_Blast_Weekend_May_2010_1_014.jpg Cast_Blast_Weekend_May_2010_2_028.jpg
Bird in the hand: John Stewart of Brightwater with some of the morning’s bag of ducks, shot near a pond in Wakefield. Winter Brown: John Dow, Chairman of Pike River Coal, catches winter prize.

The first birds swung around the pond like ballerinas of the sky as they pirouetted downwards toward us. It’s still possible to get a good dose of hunting and fishing close to home – if you know where to look.

THE alarm clock started screaming at 4.50am and with great effort I struggled out of bed.

The first Saturday of May is revered among keen wild fowlers who celebrate the opening of the duck shooting season every year, so when my mate John Stewart of Brightwater asked me to shoot a small farm pond at Wakefield with him I just couldn’t say ‘no’.

They say home is where your heart is, and sometimes you can’t always get to the best places and you just have to make do with what is on your doorstep.

Nelson duck shooting is generally considered to be pretty poor compared with further down the South Island. Agriculture is limited up here with very little grain and crops grown to boost duck numbers.

Outlying areas such as Murchison and Golden Bay offer more opportunity but there are still a few mallards around Tasman Bay if you know where to look, and John’s small shallow pond out in the middle of a grassy paddock was definitely worth a go.

Setting up our layout blinds and decoys before daylight was a mad frenzy before the legal shooting time of 6.30am.

The shots had already started in the distance when we jumped into our hides ready to go. The first birds swung around the pond like ballerinas of the sky as they pirouetted downwards toward us. John fired and missed and I was just too slow.

The next bird that came within range wasn’t so lucky, and I folded it cleanly, hearing the satisfying thump of the duck hitting the ground on the other side of the pond.

More birds came our way throughout the morning with both John and I shooting a few birds apiece. It was a great morning out and best of all, I was home for lunch with the family.

Finding places to shoot close to home isn’t getting any easier with fewer ducks, more land subdivision, and less opportunity, but if you look and ask there are still worthwhile places to go.

That afternoon we went as a family to a fun cross-country run organised by Nelson Athletics at Saxton Field. Dave Dixon was the man in charge, and it was a great event with a record 200 kids turning up to run in four races.

Dave is also a mad keen fisherman, a champion New Zealand coarse angler who has won national titles catching fish such as tench, perch, rudd and carp.

Dave and I have often lamented that there are no coarse fishing opportunities close to urban areas for young anglers in the Nelson and Marlborough regions, but that is another story.

As the kids splashed through mud and water, I just couldn’t keep my eyes off all the fat, contented mallards floating around on Saxton Pond – safe and sound on opening day.

In the evening, John Stewart took us to another pond around the Coastal Highway. It was a beautiful spot that he had been feeding with an automatic feeder that scatters wheat a few times a day for several weeks before the season. My
boys Jake and Ike had a great time helping John scatter a bucketful of acorns in among the wheat before settling down in the layout blinds we had set up safely behind John and I. We were camouflaged in the dead vegetation surrounding the pond. We saw ducks, we called to ducks, but alas, only nonshootable grey teal came within range, proving that even feeding ducks isn’t a surefire method to success. It didn’t matter – we all had a good time and John even promised to take the boys out pukeko shooting to a favourite local possie one night after school.

On Sunday, I was trout fishing close to home. Nelson’s Linda and John Dow are wonderful people and we’ve had some fun fishing trips together in the past. A chance meeting down the streets of Nelson last week set the scene for my last guide day of the season when John, who is chairman of Pike River Coal, had a special guest for the weekend, celebrated United States angel investor Bill Payne.

The day was a cracker, sunny, calm, with no wind on the lower Motueka River, which is open to winter fishing from May 1. The Mot is a great local river – scenic, close to home, excellent access and usually plenty of fish. The river was a little high, with a touch of colour after recent rains, and the moon phase wasn’t good but it was the only day available to Bill so there we were.

I’ve always been convinced that moon phase is a major factor in the success or failure of fishing and hunting trips, and the same conditions that meant many had reduced duck tallies at the weekend also affected our fishing.

The company was excellent and I sure learnt a lot about mining and investment over the course of the day but the river was like a biological desert, with no bugs hatching, fish rising or biting our flies.

We plied the river with everything and flogged it to a foam but to no avail. Later we came across another fly angler who hadn’t touched a fish all day.

John saved our bacon with two beautiful brown trout after I had to dig deep into my box of magic tricks.

Fortunately, we had something to show for our efforts at the day’s end, with John keeping a 2 kilogram jack for his fish smoker and we gratefully received plastic bags of nashi pears and apples from our generous orchardist friend who allowed us access through his property to the river. The catching may have not have been epic but the fresh, sweet
fruit certainly made the day.

Interestingly, my last outing this week, a night sortie spearing flounder with my brother Scott, was a runaway success.
When we had two dozen beauties safely in the onion sack we decided it was time to head for home.

Fishing and hunting close to home is like that. You just have to keep going, keep enjoying yourself, and sooner or later the results will come.

Sometimes it’s easy to get depressed about the continual loss of outdoor rights, resources and opportunities here in New Zealand, but there will always be fishing and hunting opportunities close to home for those with an eye for the main chance.


 Fishing for Eels

©Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column - Chasing the not-so humble eel - Nelson Mail, 10 April 2010
Their slimy, scary appearance belies the remarkable life story that lies behind each and every eel.
Catch of the Day: Mirfin boys Ike and Jake and their friend André Malthus know the ins and outs of eeling.

LET’S face it, eels are not sexy beasts. With their slimy, serpent-like appearance they are never going to win a beauty contest.  Despite their looks and reputation as a scavenger of the fishy world, they are remarkably well-adapted to their watery environment, fulfilling an important ecological niche and being an important indicator of water quality. They
taste good too and ‘‘tuna’’, as they are known to Maori, have always been a major dietary component of tribal life, allowing inland habitation far away from the fertile coastal zone.
In recent decades they have also become an important commercial fishery managed by the Ministry of Fisheries under the Quota Management System. Forest and Bird is scathing in its condemnation of commercial eel fishing, claiming that longfin eels are now an endangered species.

Almost every small child in New Zealand has a tale of going eeling and my childhood memories are rich with tales of chasing the humble eel. Whether by net, hook, hand, spear or gaff, chasing eels became all consuming and the local
eels were in grave danger during school holidays. The best time to catch eels was always the months with an ‘‘r’’ in them. During the cold winter months of May, June, July and August most eels go into a dormant phase and fishing is
generally a waste of time. As kids we would pour rotten eggs, blood, meat scraps and fish berley into the water to attract eels to the hook or spear, and later, when allowed to go out after dark with torches, we became even more successful.

One small stream that flowed in a drain down Richmond’s Beach Rd was a favourite daytime haunt and we would spend hours turning over rocks and spearing the small eels underneath. One friend used a carving fork as a spear but got more than he bargained for one day when he spied a large tail poking out from under a bank. Down went the spear and the angry eel wrapped all the way up his arm trying to bite his face. The screams were priceless and we eventually
managed to prise the eel free while also learning a valuable lesson that eels should always be speared behind the head.

Although it sounds barbaric now, catching eels was a lot of fun and we learnt a lot about life in the process. My kids are now interested in eeling too and it’s been great helping them learn about water and what lives within. We’ve even become more ecologically friendly, letting most eels go unharmed.

In New Zealand, we have two species of eel, the short-finned eel (Anguilla australis) that occurs throughout New Zealand, Australia and much of the South Pacific, and the longfin (Anguilla dieffenbachia) which is unique to New Zealand.

Longfin eels can grow to large sizes with the females typically twice as long as males, with an exceptional specimen growing to two metres in length and weighing up to 50kg.

Longfin eels are the dominant South Island species and make up 40 per cent of the total allowable
catch nationwide. Both species are diadromous, living at sea for the early stage of their life and returning to freshwater as juveniles until maturity and spawning back in the Pacific Ocean, thousands of kilometres from New Zealand.

Short-fin eels breed in the ocean near the Coral Sea and New Caledonia while longfins breed in the deep Tonga trench. Breeding is an intense affair with an orgy of eels intertwining together by the hundreds to squeeze the last eggs
and sperm from their bodies before dying. The larvae float on ocean currents for as long as 15 months before reaching New Zealand and transforming into ‘‘glass’’ eels that ascend fresh waters and make their way upstream as elvers. Wild and boisterous waters are easily navigated and the young eels can even travel considerable distances over moist ground. Once the eels mature they head to sea to complete the circle of life.

The story of the eels of Nelson Lakes National Park is particularly fascinating with many believed to be the oldest living eels in the world. Being some of the most inland lakes in New Zealand and being cold, deep, glacial waters, eel
growth is slow. According to the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research’s Don Jellyman, who assisted me with my masters thesis on trout back in 1990, the female lake eels grow at about 9mm per year with the average migratory adult eel being 93 years old.

With the Nelson Lakes offering 17 per cent of the total area of New Zealand lakes unaffected by hydroelectricity development and no commercial or recreational eel fishing, they are an important genetic reservoir for the longfin

Over the years I’ve encountered lots of eels on hunting and fishing trips. Night fishing for big brown trout in Canterbury’s Lake Ellesmere and Rakaia Lagoon has been frightening at times when surrounded by hordes of eels while standing in the deep water and mud. My advice when you feel light tapping on your waders is to not turn your headlight on and look

Our last family eeling trip at Easter was a lot of fun. With an approaching front, we only had an hour or two to coax an eel or two from under a big willow tree on Marlborough’s Wairau River. With rotten eggs and a dead rabbit for bait and a couple of handlines, the seven kids had a ball. Before the rain hit, we managed three nice eels that excited the kids and gave them some great stories to tell their mates when they get back to school. Maybe when they learn about the birds and the bees, they might appreciate eels even more.

Holiday fun in Kaiteriteri, Nelson Region


© Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Hooked on the great outdoors, Nelson Mail, 15 March 2010

A family holiday is a time to pass traditions on to the next generation.
Net result: Izaak and Jake Mirfin out catching flounders with Uncle Scotty.

KAITERITERI Beach is a glistening jewel in the crown of Tasman Bay. With golden granite sand, clear blue water, great accommodation, entertainment and lashings of abundant Nelson sunshine, it sure is a tough place to beat. Best of all, Kaiteriteri is close to the region’s main population centres – and, most importantly, free for all to cherish and enjoy.

With Aimee virtually being a solo mother for the past few months while I’ve been guiding overseas anglers on the rivers of northern South Island, we were due to have another family holiday again, and what better way than to spend a weekend at Kaiteriteri testing our new family-sized tent at the beachside campground? With half of Christchurch now having returned home, it was time for some Nelsonians to reclaim Kaiteri for some autumn outdoor recreation.

We were joined by my brother Scott, sister-in-law Kirstie and their two boys on our minicamping adventure, which added immensely to the experience. Our kids all get on great, and this weekend was to be no exception, whether it was out in the boat, having a barbecue, or playing catch together with their megahowler toy.

Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time away at various campgrounds as a cabin dweller on fishing trips, but couldn’t remember camping out at such places in a tent. Normally, I associate camping out with wild, remote places far removed from huts and other modern conveniences, so camping near to flush toilets, kitchen facilities, hot water and electricity seemed a bit weeny-ish. But as it turned out, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

After fishing the Motueka River for the day, I was fortunate to arrive late at our jam-packed camp sites with tents already erected and a cluster of vehicles, boat and shuttle trailer. There were camp tables, folding camp chairs and all manner of kids’ boogie boards, sand shovels and wet suits lying around.

After I drove my truck on to the site towing my tinnie, there wasn’t much room left for anything else. The Mirfins definitely had all the toys for a great weekend.

Kaiteriteri is a great place. For a start, there is the beach, plus Little Kaiteriteri, Breaker, Stephens and Tapu bays a short distance away. Along the main beach there are all sorts of places to eat and drink, playgrounds to visit, a flying fox, and mini-golf to play. We had a great time doing family stuff, other people were very friendly, and judging by the number of other families we already knew, Kaiteri was a favourite of plenty of others, too.

Having young children, our outdoor priorities have changed over the years. It is now harder for Scott and me, in our early 40s, to get away and be the intrepid outdoor men we used to be in our 20s and 30s. Sometimes our outdoor jaunts are limited to short adventures, not so much for us but for our kids, so they can learn about the outdoors and to safely develop competence and enjoyment out there, on and in the water.

On our first morning in Kaiteriteri, Scotty and I raced out in his Naiad inflatable to set a setline for snapper and a set net for flounder in the Riwaka estuary. A few hours later, we were able to take the kids out to check them. Alas, no snapper, only a few sand sharks – the fishy vermin of Tasman Bay, which had spun the setline into a ball of knots in places. Our netting success wasn’t much better – a bit of weed and only one flounder – but the kids were having a ball. Back on the beach, we sunbathed, swam, snorkelled, made sandcastles, caught mud crabs, and talked of other places we planned to visit together as a family in the years ahead.

On Saturday night after dinner, my boys Jake and Ike were insistent we go flounder spearing, so off with Uncle Scotty it was to the Riwaka sandflats. The howling southerly was cold, and we kitted the boys out in fleece clothing, lifejackets and beach shoes for the long walk out to the low tide mark before full darkness hit.

Out in the shallow incoming waters, we shared the one immersible flounder light we had. Other powerful torches failed to penetrate the wind-chopped water surface adequately to see flounder moving inshore to feed with the tide. The simple spears we carried were home-made with the assistance of the boys one evening previously – slender manuka stakes with a long piece of sharpened steel rammed up a hole in the end of the pole.

Ike was getting cold, and I thought we were going to go home empty-handed when suddenly a flounder appeared before us in the corrugations of the sandy bottom. The boys were excited, urging me on as the spear sank home. What a shot – right through the head – and there was a satisfying throbbing on the spear as the flapping flounder stirred up the sandy bottom.

Scott reached down and put his hand under the flounder to stop it coming loose, and we had our first and only catch of the night. The boys were hooked, and it was the perfect time for a quick photo before heading back to camp.

On the walk back, the boys were excited to catch and release a few small fish and juvenile flounder in their small hand nets, but I knew they had become real flounder men when they talked flat out about saving their pocket money to buy a flounder light each. Somehow, though, I don’t think they’ll have to wait that long, with a birthday coming this month and dad, Uncle Scotty and their granddad keen to take the boys out again as the days get shorter and the nights get longer.

To many people, wading around in the dark, cold waters of Tasman Bay will hold no appeal, but to generations of Mirfin boys, spearing flounder isn’t a matter of life or death – it’s much more important than that.

Hunting & Fishing and Outdoor Pursuits in South Canterbury


© Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Press-ganged into having fun after all, Nelson Mail, 16 January 2010

A reluctant trip south turns up trumps because of great people.

The salmon-fishing experience was enjoyable but, alas, unsuccessful, not even seeing a salmon porpoising in the perfect water and low-wind conditions. The only thing we caught was a brand-new lure I hooked up off the bottom on one of my casts.

Blown Away: Izaak and Jake Mirfin in the hills above Albury.

Over New Year, I was dragged kicking and screaming on a family holiday. My anglers had pulled the pin at short notice and I had no excuse to avoid Aimee’s cousin’s wedding down south. Aimee was adamant that I go and although I
was press-ganged into the journey, it turned out to be a great family holiday.

Pleasant Point in South Canterbury is a wonderful place, a small rural town reminiscent of a safer, more traditional New Zealand. The area is a sportsman’s paradise with hunting and fishing opportunities all around, and a warm, sunny, and inviting climate.

From a trout-fishing perspective, the lowland streams revolve around the Opihi River and significant tributaries, the Opuha, Tengawai, Waihi and Temuka. Historically these streams were iconic trout streams that I’ve fished on earlier trips, but time has not been kind to such waters, with development taking a significant toll. The Opihi has improved in recent years as a result of the Opuha dam releasing cold constant flows but the grim reaper of trout streams, the invasive alga didymo, continues its relentless march.

Driving around the district, it’s not difficult to notice the huge water demand for agriculture and horticulture – water use must be massive, with large-scale irrigators watering crops and pasture as far as the eye can see.

Talking salmon fishing, it seems everyone in South Canterbury has salmon fever at this time of year and fortunately one of the best New Zealand Pacific salmon rivers, the Rangitata, is not far away. Catching up with my old mate and guiding comrade-in-arms Graeme Marshall was fun and easy too, as he now lives in Pleasant Point, only minutes from where we were staying.

When Graeme suggested salmon fishing on New Year’s morning, it took me all of two seconds to accept his invitation.

The wedding was on New Year’s Eve, so the kids and I spent the morning visiting some icons of the South Canterbury sporting scene at their premises in Pleasant Point.

Adrian Gilbert, of Gilbert Tackle, is a well-known figure in fishing circles, manufacturing fishing lures of all manner of styles, shapes, weights and colours. Adrian has been in business for decades and supplies state-of-the-art lures to wholesalers all over the country. He was just wonderful with my children as we selected brightly coloured ticers and zed spinners for future kahawai and salmon-fishing adventures together.

Just down the road was G D O’Rourke & Sons Taxidermists, a wellknown taxidermy service run by three O’Rourke brothers. Kerry O’Rourke is a fabulous chap with great patience who explained all manner of things to my boys and girls as they ogled mounted creatures, skins, skulls, horns and antlers from all over the world. As we left, Kerry offered to call some local landowners about wallaby hunting access for us if we were unsuccessful in meeting local farmers at the
wedding. I was humbled at small-town South Canterbury hospitality and thankful that my children had the chance to spend time with Kerry and Adrian and their kindly outdoor ways.

The wedding itself was special. As an old married man of 10 years, it’s hard not to be a little sceptical sometimes, but the old stone church on the hill at the small rural settlement of Cave was a perfect venue and it was great to be part of the happy celebrations.

The kids lapped it all up and the outdoor party that followed beside the old Oamaru stone stables at the bride’s family farm, ‘‘Loudon’’, was fantastic. We met wonderful people with South Canterbury charm and after a few hours of enjoying glasses of Pimms and fine company, I’d met several local landowners who kindly invited me on to their properties to hunt wallabies.

The evening just kept getting better in the big white marquee and we were entertained with a ceilidh, a Gaelic dance party.

The kids had a wonderful time folk dancing with everyone and we even got to dance hand-to-hand with outdoor endurance guru Steve Gurney. Steve may well have got voted off TV’s Dancing with the Stars but he will always be a far better dancer than Mirf, even with his left arm wrapped in a sling from a recent misadventure.

New Year’s Day was seen in beside a blazing bonfire under a big fat full moon. Sleep was too short, and I was woken by a text message from Graeme Marshall outside at 7am – ‘‘your taxi awaits you’’.

Graeme is a well-known author of numerous hunting and fishing books – we even wrote a book together back in 2000 called Brown Trout Heaven – Fly Fishing New Zealand’s South Island. While fishing, Graeme and I had a great time catching up, reminiscing and talking about his latest sell-out book, Aerial Hunter – The Dick Deaker Story.

It’s an epic read and we talked about fantastic helicopter adventures we have had together with Dick and our American anglers over the years, including the time we both flew the length of the South Island from Nelson, spending 10 days fishing the wild, remote and pristine rivers of Fiordland with Dick at the chopper controls.

We had a great time fishing two favoured pools on the large Rangitata river for several hours, which we had all to ourselves. The salmon-fishing experience was enjoyable but, alas, unsuccessful, not even seeing a salmon porpoising in the perfect water and low-wind conditions. The only thing we caught was a brand-new lure I hooked up off the bottom on one of my casts – someone else had had even less luck than us.

That afternoon the wind intensified as the nor’wester hit gale force. High on the foothills above Albury, the boys and I searched in vain for a wallaby in the howling wind. Wallabies are introduced marsupials from Australia, offering great sport in their stronghold of South Canterbury’s Hunter Hills, but conditions were diabolical for the boys’ first attempt at the speedy varmints.

I can’t remember winds so strong – it felt like being slapped as the gusting winds knocked us around, even blowing the boys off their feet at times. After my hat blew from my head and went hundreds of metres up into the air, Jake, 9, looked at me as though I was a crazy man and said, ‘‘The wind’s too strong Dad, I think we should go back.’’ And so it was, with a great adventure making it back to the safety of our vehicle.

As we headed down the mountain, a text from Aimee said: ‘‘dinner @ Loudon’’. The timing couldn’t have been better. Salmon fishing and wallaby hunting in South Canterbury mightn’t have been very successful but the people of South Canterbury and their legendary hospitality couldn’t have been more awesome.


Introduced Species

©Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Exotic can be profit, Nelson Mail, 12 September 2009

Desirable Immigrant: Fishing for an alien species - trout inthe DOC-controlled wilderness.  Not all introduced species are unwanted and are generally valued by New Zealanders.

❞ Without introduced species, the New Zealand economy could not function as we know it.

In New Zealand we are fortunate to have so many introduced animals, fish and plants. These introduced life forms, including us humans, have had a profound influence on the modern lifestyle and have created great social, economic and recreational opportunities.

As an outdoor recreationalist, I highly value introduced species for sustaining the outdoor pursuits I enjoy.

Sure, there are a few important native species if you a hunter and fisherman in New Zealand, most notably saltwater fish and gamebirds such as paradise ducks and pukeko, but without introduced animals and the introduced plants, trees and creatures they feed on, the outdoor sporting scene would be pretty barren.

Just this week, my father Stuart and I were up at our forestry block pruning Mexican cypress trees while listening to Kathryn Ryan on Radio New Zealand National interviewing various people, in preparation for Conservation Week, about the negative effects of introduced trees on the New Zealand environment. Dad and I just kept rolling our eyes as we listened to waves of propaganda and bureaucratic justification.

The view from our ladders was impressive, over the Waimea plains and out into Tasman Bay. Below us the sinuous curves of the Waimea River led through the intensively modified landscape and we discussed the value of introduced species in our economy. Before us we saw grass, sheep, cattle, vineyards, willow and eucalyptus trees, pine plantations, citrus and olive orchards, and many other signs of a well-balanced modern agricultural economy.

Without introduced species, the New Zealand economy could not function as we know it. We rely on those introduced grasses, tree crops and vegetables that also feed our dairy cows, sheep, pigs, deer and many other valued introduced animals.

If we were totally reliant on all things native, we would head back to the Stone Age at a rapid rate. Early Maori found coastal areas or tidal lagoons and estuaries to be the best real estate to occupy because there was plenty of fish, shellfish and eels on hand. The interior of New Zealand, by contrast, was a harsher place, with limited food resources. Thomas Brunner, an early explorer of the Buller Gorge, found this out the hard way when he had to eat his faithful pet dog, Rover, when he ran out of food along the way.

Lately in The Nelson Mail, there has been robust debate in the letters column about introduced animals, native birds and toxins such as 1080 poison. This debate is healthy and is largely polarised as divergent groups go head to head, as is their democratic right.

The Conservation Department (DOC) and other government organisations such as the Animal Health Board have copped significant flak, but I believe it is every taxpayer’s right to question organisational orientation, budget and spending priorities that affect taxpayer values, interests and recreational activities.

It seems to me that the land stewardship models of conservation and preservation regularly get confused. At university, we were taught that conservation was the wise use of resources, while preservation is where you lock something up and throw away the key.

I’m a great believer in the intrinsic value of native species and love nothing more than visiting coastal areas with my
son, Jake, a mad-keen bird enthusiast, to enjoy the marvels of nature.

Our company, Strike Adventure, is also a concession holder, able to operate commercial tours on crown land, but I find that paranoia in the bureaucracy and media about introduced species gets a little tiring.

There has to be a better way of managing New Zealand’s valued resources, native and introduced, and I believe it needs to start with deviating from the ‘‘native is good, introduced is bad’’ mentality.

Sure, some species haven’t worked out well, such as stoats, rats, old man’s beard and didymo, but many species, such as deer, chamois, pigs, mallard ducks, canada geese, trout and salmon – to name just a few – have become highly valued recreational species and have added significantly to the social, sporting, tourism and cultural amenities of New Zealand.

When you look on the positive side, many introduced species have at least some value to outdoor recreationalists. The biodiversity and ecology of the New Zealand landscape has been irrevocably changed but in life you can’t go back.

The world wasn’t meant to have so much human movement and modification and the ongoing introduction of new species and organisms is pretty much inevitable, because you can’t cut yourself off from the outside world.

Many of the arguably worst introduced invaders were brought into New Zealand waters and on to the land unintentionally, and organisms such as didymo, sea squirt, undaria and varroa mites arrived despite the best efforts of biosecurity, and will continue to arrive in the years ahead.

Interestingly, one of the worst invaders in North American rivers is the New Zealand mud snail, which went there attached to an angler’s boots, proving that our own native species aren’t totally benign in new locations, either.

There will always need to be sanctuaries for New Zealand native species, and public and private initiatives, in association with volunteers, will play a valuable part in preserving at least some of our native heritage. But you can’t turn back the clock and in the years ahead it would be nice to see introduced species treated with more respect and better management by politicians and bureaucrats.

Treating most introduced species as pests has proven to be unworkable and is definitely not sustainable long term.

The current mantra of reducing valuable introduced resources to pest liability status at the expense of the taxpayer just doesn’t make sense in an era crying out for the wise use of resources. It costs a lot of money, disenfranchises interest groups, and alienates a large percentage of the population who just happen to hunt and fish.

Resources such as introduced fish, birds and game animals can only be managed well if they are perceived to have value.

In the future, I’d like to advocate for protein management reserves, where wild animal populations close to civilisation could be managed sustainably on public land. Such areas could be toxin-free, organic food-gathering areas, where the public could harvest free, safe and healthy meat to feed their families and subsidise their Third World pay cheques.

We could even have innovative resource management systems where DOC was self-funding and incorporated the value of introduced species.

Maybe we could even access our latent mineral resources on Crown land for public good – now there’s a really contentious idea.


Outdoor Equipment Organisation

© Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Getting your Brain into Gear, Nelson Mail, 4 July 2009
Depressed because bad weather is keeping you from the outdoors? Cheer yourself up by making sure your hunting and fishing equipment is ready for action in the spring.
 MG 0654 1R
Safety First: Check your gear is ready, batteries charged, for the next adventure.

❞ Some of my most prized outdoor equipment is gear I have either made myself, someone else has made for me, or other items that I’ve inherited along the way. I still use my late grandfather’s homemade, aluminium scoop net frame for whitebaiting. 

According to the Nelson Mail that night, it was the coldest recorded morning in Nelson for 16 years and so . . . the
perfect time to go floundering!

Naturally there was no-one else around and the channels of the Waimea Estuary were all mine.

As I set my net alone on the calm waters, I pondered the homemade netsetting frame I had made two winters
previously out of 4x2 timber off-cuts.

Screwed together with coach screws and with a piece of old carpet stapled on
to stop the net getting sucked up into the outboard motor propeller, it has caught my family many flounder
dinners since.

Costing virtually nothing to make,my homemade frame has had a few minor modifications along the way, but these have just improved its efficiency whenever I find time to get out on the water.

Making outdoor equipment yourself has a lot of benefits. You can tailor it to your own requirements and it will generally cost far less and give you more satisfaction that any commercially available product.

Some of my most prized outdoor equipment is gear I have either made myself, someone else has made for me, or other items that I’ve inherited along the way. I still use my late grandfather’s homemade, aluminium scoop net frame for whitebaiting. My grandfather, Ken Hill, put a lot of thought into the design, but the thing I like best is the history and the family connection to idyllic boyhood days spent on the riverbank with Ken and my grandmother, Pat.

This winter I’ve been busy again, building, designing and repairing gear for hunting and fishing trips. Recently,
I built a foam-padded gun rack out of 4x2 boards for sighting in my rifles at the rifle range. Designed to be used on a concrete bench-rest shooting platform, my rack will hold my rifles absolutely steady so they can be the most accurate
I can make them on the range. Attention to detail will always bring home the bacon.

Other recent projects include using surplus timber to build drying racks inside my garage so when I arrive home
wet at night, I can dry waders, raincoats and other outdoor equipment before another early start the next day. I’ve also installed rod racks on the ceiling and have been building storage systems to hold all my net ropes, weights and floats.

Recycling plastic electrical cable reelsto hold different length ropes, and colour-coding the reels by wiring on plastic milk bottle tops, costs nothing, but will make it so much easier later on when, in the dark, I’m in a race against the tide.

Most of these jobs only take time and add greatly to efficiency and enjoyment on the water in those warmer summer

Winter is a great time to complete such projects and while maintenance is a boring topic, keen outdoor folk will appreciate the need to look after their valued sporting equipment.

My outside shed has now been customised with LED lights run off a motorbike battery and interior shelving to store gear out of the weather and, most importantly, to have equipment readily accessible and organised for when I need it.

In the process of getting organised, I’ve realised that recessions are actually good for us because they force us to use
the resources we have available and to appreciate what we have now. A customer once told me that a person is wealthy if they can’t name everything they own and that probably includes pretty much all of us.

In getting organised, I’ve found tools, materials, resources and other gear that I had forgotten I owned and by putting it all together where it can be easily located I’m back in control again. After months of spring-autumn outdoor activity, gear had been thrown into sheds, and was in desperate need of a clean, a wash, some repair or just love and attention in the form of a lube, new line, or a new part.

I’ve started writing jobs to do on my garage whiteboard before I run out of winter, including splicing ropes, repairing nets, oiling a rifle stock, making new whitebaiting screens, replacing braid on saltwater reels, untangling decoy rigging systems, patching waders, repairing multiple pairs of wading boots, re-tying new setline traces, sharpening knives,
cleaning out the bait freezer, making sinkers and jig, tying flies for the upcoming fishing guiding season and more.

Every keen outdoor person will have their own to-do list. Mostly it is a lot of fun and you’ll learn new skills along the

Maintenance can cost money, but it is definitely cheaper, easier and safer than having to replace equipment at short notice because your outdoor gear wasn’t given some TLC when it desperately needed it.

Winter is also a good time to get your outboard motor serviced.

While you’re working on throwing out junk, stacking shelves and repairing outdoor gear, you’ll also get some great brain waves on improvements you can make to existing systems.

If you want to continue to be successful you need to be thinking about how to customise gear and tackle to get the best results with the least hassle when you’re outdoors.

It can take years to perfect your gear organisation, transport and operational usage, but you can learn a lot by talking with other hunters and anglers and by checking out their kit and systems.

Being invited into the man-cave of noted angler and guide Peter Church of Turangi last winter to check out his fishing gear and boating systems was a revelation. It is amazing what you can learn in a few hours that you can then adapt to your own situation.

Half the fun of fishing and hunting is thinking about it,and preparing so you can be ready to go whenever the opportunity arises.

After all, when spring rolls around there will be deer to shoot and fish to catch.

Outdoor Etiquette


© Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Fishy antics no way to enjoy outdoors, Nelson Mail, 28 March 2009

I shouldn’t have gone fishing this morning, but I went anyway.

ZM Mirfin s Bridge 1

Naming rights: Living up to your name isn't always easy, but it's important to remember our manners outdoors too.

There were jobs to do at home, kids to walk to school, a school camp to attend, magazine and newspaper editors to keep happy, customers to call back. Then there was Aimee’s upcoming 40th birthday party to organise, and lots more in-between guiding trips. But the fishing was great – sitting out in the pre-dawn glow of Tasman Bay with my father Stuart, watching the eastern hills come alive to the colour of a golden sunrise, while prodigious numbers of snapper bent our light rods. As we motored for shore, the fish box filled with our quota limit of nice-sized specimens, we marvelled at how fortunate we were to have the water to ourselves on such a beautiful day.

Fishing has always been a passion of mine, but as fellow local guide Peter Carty observed in the book New Zealand Masters on Fly Fishing, ‘‘Fishing is a disease. It’s not usually fatal and there’s no known cure for it, but the therapy is wonderful’’. I couldn’t agree more, although my wife and family might not.

There have been times when I probably should have received treatment for my addiction. In fact, I can almost visualise standing up at a meeting of Fishing and Shooting Anonymous and saying. ‘‘Hi, I’m Zane and I’m a fisherman and hunter’’.

The passion and energy that we devote to our outdoor sports is what drives us as individuals to perform. This performance and competitive instinct is also where things often go wrong. Over the years, I have enjoyed the company of many fantastic people I’ve met on chance encounters. I’ve also been on the receiving end of a few people with the manners of lavatory rodents.

I’ve run into a few boaties recently whose behaviour suggested they hadn’t engaged their brains. They jammed up the boat ramp, zoomed past anchored boats actively fishing, and did not give other boaties some space while fishing at a favoured position they had arrived at first. Small stuff, but frustrating, and many of the transgressions I’ve observed lately could have been easily avoided with a little thought, consideration and brain power. Other people have rights also, and it’s a lot easier if we can all get along and share the great outdoors amicably. Rules and regulations will never really solve conflict in the outdoors between recreational users, but education and ethics might.

While I was doing a masters thesis at Canterbury University in 1990, called Trout Fishing in Nelson – Management of a Recreational Resource, I commented that ‘‘ethics are moral precepts that keep people from breaking the law when no one is looking’’. Ethical behaviour in the outdoors is just like ethical behaviour in life – it is an individual thing, and the definition varies from person to person. In this modern age of increasing pressure on resources, it is important that outdoor users accept the importance of ethical behaviour, because failure to do so can lead to increased conflict between user groups and individuals, which unfortunately often means decreased satisfaction for all.

You’ve had the Billy Graham sermon now, so what can go wrong out there on the seas and rivers and in the bush?

Over the years, I’ve witnessed some shocking behaviour between groups and individuals, probably caused by greed, fear, egotism and stupidity. Screaming matches, ugly confrontations and vandalism aren’t fun, and I admit to coming close to a punch-up on several occasions myself when testosterone levels became overheated on both sides. One time, I lost my temper on a boat ramp; another time, someone backed their boat into my vehicle. Last year, a group of kayakers paddled over a pod of rising trout we were enjoying on the Motueka River. Most of the time, though, I try hard to keep a level head, because mistakes do happen, other people have rights, and often people don’t realise what they have done or perhaps why they have upset someone else.

Many times, though, skulduggery is deliberate – such as when trout anglers ‘‘jump’’ in front of another angler to get to the best water, when whitebaiters claim multiple positions, or when duck shooters ‘‘skybust’’ – shoot at a range of birds so they don’t fly into the decoys of other hunters.

None of this is very pleasant, but things can get worse – like the time the Murchison mechanic was adamant that my vehicle brake hoses had been cut up the Maruia Valley, or the time I was salmon fishing with my friend Ross Millichamp on the upper Rakaia River. Ross is the manager of North Canterbury Fish and Game, and we were using his jetboat, towed by his Fish and Game truck. No salmon caught was disappointing enough, but when we arrived back at the truck, tyres had been let down and abusive messages scrawled on the dusty windows and doors. All in all, a sad, cowardly and despicable act by some desperate individual.

Life is just too short to go around upsetting other people and having to deal with aggression in the outdoors. My advice is to have fun and always strive to use common sense and show courtesy towards other users of the resource. Talk with people, and work out a fair and equitable plan so everyone can have a good experience. ‘‘Honour agreements and don’t tell lies,’’ is what our mothers taught us, and this has always been great advice.

Think long-term in the outdoors, and always remember that the toes you stomp on today may be attached to the butt you have to kiss tomorrow.

Small Boats

© Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Nothing like messing about in a small boat, Nelson Mail, 14 March 2009

N009SB 1R
Braving the Storm: Goose hunters Scott and Stuart Mirfin hunker down behind the tinnie.

Some days when I’m out on the river guiding, I start fantasising about days fishing and hunting with family and friends in my small aluminium boat. Boats have always been a part of my life and my father always had a small boat to take his boys out fishing in.

I now own a number of small craft myself, including a 3.7-metre aluminium dingy with 15 horsepower motor, small tractor tube PVC boat and even a 4.3m pontoon raft.

When you start looking around, there are small boats of all shapes and sizes out there, which is hardly surprising when you consider that New Zealand is a maritime nation surrounded by coastline, harbours and estuaries. More than 90 per cent of the Kiwi population live within 40km of the coast, so it’s only natural that New Zealand would be a nation of boat owners.

When you factor in all the lakes, ponds, streams and rivers flowing into the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean, there are
huge numbers of places to have fun fishing and hunting in small boats.

Small craft come in many types of construction: Wood, aluminium, fibreglass, plastic – even inflatable boats with rigid alloy keels like my brother’s, which he uses to deadly effect on the local snapper population. All have their uses and the craft you own is likely to reflect the type of outdoor activities you undertake, and the places you commonly go.

Driving around the district lately, I have noticed many larger boats for sale and I’m guessing that there will be some
very good buys on larger craft in the next year or so in these challenging economic times.

Small boats have many advantages over large craft, in that they are less expensive to buy, are easily stored, easily towed and easily handled into difficult locations. They use less fuel, and allow access to places far from concrete boat ramps. Sure, they aren’t as seaworthy as larger craft, but with intelligent use they are, in my opinion, every bit as safe.

We often launch off any of Nelson’s beaches bordering Tasman Bay in my small aluminium boat. If the weather cuts up, we can be within 300m of safety.

The other advantage of a smaller craft is the huge saving on fuel in these energy-efficient times. For example, my brother Scott and friends caught 150 snapper last summer over a number of trips on less than a 20-litre tank of gas.

We have found that smaller boats outfish larger boats because they are quieter, cast less shadow, and suffer less from wave slap on the hull.

Just the other day, I was out fishing with my German mate Stefan in Tasman Bay where we had good success. The fishing had started slowly because we had got out on the water too late. By 8am (normally the time I’m heading for home) there were boats everywhere. One guy in a big boat was roaring around among the anchored burleying boats, looking for the perfect reef to fish.

‘‘Big boat, big penis,’’ my mate muttered as the unthinking boat owner did his best to scare every snapper deeper into the bay.

Fortunately, the fishing picked up as everyone decided to go elsewhere, and I was quietly chuffed when Stefan later admired the 60-litre cooler full of prime pink snapper.

I’ve had a great run with my little tinnie craft, having used it for hunting ducks on tidal estuaries, deer on alpine lakes, geese in the high country, goats and whitebait in Westhaven Inlet in Golden Bay.

I’ve also taken it fishing for brown and rainbow trout all over the South Island, red fin perch at Lake Mahinapua near Hokitika, set netting for flounder, and blue cod fishing in the Marlborough Sounds.

Some of the more memorable trips include 10 days fishing the lakes of South Westland where I had to navigate tricky waters into the pristine Lake Ellery. Another time I brought the boat loaded with possum traps and pelts down a raging Lake Rotoiti.

There have been deerstalking trips when the boat was overloaded with deer carcasses, and the time when a snapper got lost up under the seat and the boat became a seething mass of maggots.

One time we even shot a chamois buck from the boat. Cutting the motor, we glided on to the curious beast while mate Brian readied himself over the bow.

Retrieving the trophy buck from the water, Brian, who was in his 50s, said: ‘‘I never thought I’d ever get to shoot a chamois buck but the hardest thing about getting this one is keeping my feet dry while I pull it out of the lake.’’

One of the most frightening trips in the tinnie was on a Canada goose shoot in the Marlborough high country with my father Stuart and brother Scott. Fully loaded with guns and decoys, we were three-quarters across Lake Tennyson when dark ominous clouds and a huge squall hit us.

We only just made it ashore in fearsome waves, and pulled the boat high on to the land, and used it as the only shelter in a landscape devoid of any cover.

The following snowstorm was awesome and something the three of us have never forgotten, as it left us covered in thick snow during the whiteout conditions.

Most of the time, though, the sun shines and the outdoor experiences are very pleasant and enjoyable.

My kids now love to go out in the boat, especially to a sandspit they call Treasure Island in the Waimea Estuary.

I’m looking forward to many more great adventures together with our small boat in the years ahead.


Outdoor Photography

© Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, A different kind of shooting, Nelson Mail, 31 January 2009
Smile: Zane Mirfin with renowned American fishing photographers Cathy and Barry Beck. Photo: Martin de Ruyter.

A recent holiday down the Marlborough Sounds reminded me of the power of photos from the outdoors, when I studied several large photo frames stuffed full of images recorded over more than three decades of recreation and relaxation. Looking at people I knew, including many members of the Mirfin family, recorded at different ages and stages of their lives was fascinating. Looking at some of the fish species caught and the places we fished also showed how the fishery has changed and how our methods, techniques and attitudes have evolved.

I’ve always been interested in photography but what got me really excited about it was my guiding career and getting to fish and guide with many of my heroes. Successful American fishing photographers such as David Lambroughton, Tom Montgomery, R Valentine Atkinson, and Cathy and Barry Beck have had an enormous influence on my personal photography, and my latest fishing photography book, The Last Best Place, was really just the result of these people encouraging me to carry a camera every day to the world-class places I was fortunate to visit in the course of my job.

Being the chief photographer for Fish and Game Magazine, I need to own some pretty good camera gear to get the image quality required for magazine reproduction. I use Canon SLR cameras with a variety of macro, wide-angle and telephoto zoom lenses, which weigh a ton.

As I get older and the rocks seem to get bigger, I have rationalised my gear to one camera, flash unit and lens per day so I have room in my large pack to carry other gear as well. I’m still a film buff, using high-quality colour transparency (slide) film, but will eventually evolve into the digital medium as technology improves further.

But it doesn’t actually matter what equipment or photographic medium you use. What is important is the act of recording images for further use and enjoyment. There have been millions of great images recorded on the old ‘‘box brownie’’ camera, and the real skill in photography is good lighting, good subject matter and good composition. I like to always take three shots of a subject but vary each shot to have a variety of images.

Try using your camera in both horizontal and vertical formats, avoiding always putting the main subject directly in the middle of the frame. Get in close and make the shots interesting, trying not to cut off arms, legs and faces but eliminating dead space that doesn’t assist in telling a story.

One man I especially admire is 85-year-old Gordon Max of Brightwater. Gordon and his mate Tracy Stratford were deerstalkers in the golden age of New Zealand hunting, long before the advent of helicopter gunships and 1080 poison. They shot many big stags, with Tracy taking the biggest. Tracy may have scored the big stag but Gordon’s love affair with his cameras secured the true trophies in my mind.

Carrying two camera bodies with one interchangeable lens and both black and white and colour film, Gordon recorded some phenomenal images that made the adventures of the two men really come to life. These images remain as powerful today as when they were taken in the 1940s and ‘50s.

Just recently at a friend’s funeral, we were treated to a 15-minute array of images, professionally arranged by Nelson photographer Melinda Baigent. A touching music soundtrack, some wonderful quotes and dates on the side made the images of Neville, his family, friends and outdoor adventures come alive. If there was a dry eye in the place, I sure as hell couldn’t tell through my fogged-up eyes. That procession of family and outdoor images made me resolve to record even more images of my family and friends at play in the outdoors while I still can.

Always carry your camera, and always remember to record a few images along the way. Don’t worry if the fish isn’t big enough or the moment isn’t important enough – have fun with your camera and think of the future.


Outdoor Mentors

©Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Outdoor life the Ideal Education for our Youth, Nelson Mail, 3 January 2009

’Twas the night before Christmas, and some drunken hoon was urinating on my letterbox. After making what was probably the mistake of challenging him on his behaviour instead of just ignoring his Christmas message of goodwill, I received a hail of expletives and had several young men fuelled on liquid courage and testosterone charging up my driveway in an attempt to intimidate me while I stood on my deck.

Having a screaming match or worse with antisocial drunkards was something I didn’t want my wife, in-laws and children to witness, so I reluctantly retreated inside in an attempt to set a good example to my family.

I’m no angel and have done stupid things before, like most of us have in our lives. I still love a good party, some loud music and a few drinks, given half a chance, but it would seem that today’s youngsters just don’t have the same respect they used to have.  I’m pretty sure Aimee and I never behaved like that as university students and over the past several years, we have witnessed demolished letterboxes, stolen metallic numbers and broken bottles littered down our street. I’ve even been threatened by an intoxicated punk, complete with spiked hair and metal studs in most of the visible parts of his body, waving a Steinlager bottle at me in the Richmond Mall carpark several years ago while I loaded my groceries. When I pulled a heavy aluminium fly rod tube out of my truck and called his bluff, he and his mates beat a hasty retreat in their car, with wheels squealing.

Just last night when I was walking home alone from a friend’s house in the dark, I had to walk past a large group of young men and women on both sides of the street, all clearly intoxicated and many smoking goodness knows what. As a guide, my job involves knowing the habits and behaviours of the animals and fish we hunt and catch, and I knew enough to stay out of the way of these young people, say nothing, and walk at a brisk pace. I made it through OK but was heckled and intimidated. Aimee reckons I lead a sheltered life, but I’d have to say that nowhere in the New Zealand bush is as frightening as having to walk the streets of Richmond at night.

Every generation worries about the state of their young people but it seems to me that many of these young people have not experienced discipline and the respect that follows. They are now trained by their peers and not their elders. They now understand that they can challenge authority and the social order and get away with it. Maybe my friends and I were lucky, but we were always more interested in the outdoor scene and I’m sure it moderated our behaviour. Challenging ourselves against the mountains, sea and rivers was all positive and we never developed the anger and aggression that many of today’s young people so readily exhibit.

It’s pretty sad that the only outdoor experiences some young people may have enjoyed is casual sex down the Back Beach or urinating on someone’s letterbox.

As a male, it is important to be surrounded by older males of all stages of life who can advise, teach, and illustrate civilised social behaviour. As a young man growing up, I was fortunate to have male mentors all around me, men who would say a kind word, make a suggestion or offer some advice to a young man who needed it. The men I respected most were always those who hunted or fished.

Having been a member of the local branch of the NZ Deerstalkers Association and the local trout-fishing club for close on 30 years, I was lucky to have close contact with decent men who I could calibrate myself against on the road to manhood. In my early fishing guiding years, and still today, I was fortunate to have great mentors who I could learn from and be guided by.

Mentors other than parents or family are essential to young men integrating themselves into society and the common bond of hunting and fishing made it easy to admire, respect and listen to the older men I was associated with. You may not always agree with older mentors and many times you will grow beyond their advice, but the wisdom and knowledge an older generation can pass on is their enduring legacy.

An outdoor saying from America goes ‘‘It takes a hunter to make a hunter’’, and it is so true. I wonder about some of the aggressive young people I have encountered lately and ask, what mentors do they have in place in their lives?

It’s entirely possible that it is just as easy for ‘‘a mongrel to make a mongrel’’ if we let our young people down by not making the effort and time to involve them in our lives, society and outdoor sports. A few kind words and friendly guidance by all of us to our young people can help make our community a better place.

On the wall of the Sport Tasman offices in Nelson’s Rutherford St, there are the words ‘‘A kid in sport stays out of court’’, which speak volumes.

Neville Male, the Sport Tasman chief executive, recently emailed me initiatives by Sport and Recreation NZ to get people involved in the outdoors by identifying the barriers and obstacles to outdoor participation. One of the major barriers in my mind would be the lack of mentors of all ages, taking the time to introduce new people into the outdoors, sharing their values and passing on their skills and knowledge.

This is where all outdoor people can assist in their own way. If you have the opportunity to introduce some young person to the outdoors these holidays, you will be making the world a better place.


Outdoor Politics

©  Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, This Election, Speak up for the Outdoors, Nelson Mail, 25 October 2008
Peter Dunne Tasman Bay
Captive audience: Zane Mirfin takes Peter Dunne fishing in Tasman Bay.

It’s election year again and I haven’t heard anything much on TV about hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation issues. As usual, the big political brands of Labour and National are dominating the limelight and the same old debates about the economy, tax cuts, welfare, immigration etc are at the fore. Understandably, people vote for their back pocket and their self-interest but unfortunately, many of the outdoor issues that add quality to our life are conveniently ignored.

In the 2002 general election, Nelson was the genesis of the Outdoor Recreation New Zealand political party, which highlighted the plight of hunters, fishers, four-wheel-drivers and other outdoor enthusiasts. Campaigning on issues such as access, pollution, poisoning, gun control, bureaucratic excesses, marine reserves etc, the Outdoor party raised the political profile of the outdoor people and their loss of rights, resources and opportunities.

Throughout the country, outdoor people were talking in excited whispers about ORNZ but the election-night result was disappointing at 1.28 percent of the total election vote, or about 26,000 individual votes.

Disappointing, when it is generally considered that about 1 million New Zealanders hunt, fish and vote. The West Coast-Tasman electorate had the highest percentage party vote for Outdoor Recreation at 5.3 percent, followed by Nelson and then Kaikoura (Marlborough), perhaps showing that the top of the south is a hotbed of keen hunters, fishers and outdoor people.

Politicians from all other major political parties rushed to adopt similar or plagiarised outdoor policies to neutralise the leakage of votes to Outdoor Recreation and many of these policies exist throughout the political spectrum to this day.
The national director of Fish and Game, Bryce Johnson, commented to me a year or so back that those outdoor policies have helped the Fish and Game organisation immensely on the political front over intervening years because politicians will now actually listen.

In 2005, the Outdoor Recreation Party joined forces with United Future Party, led by Peter Dunne, but small parties got hammered that election as the big political brands of National and Labour turned MMP into a two-horse race.

One of the great things to come out of 2005, before the Outdoor Party expired and imploded through lack of support, was getting to spend time with the current Minister of Revenue, Peter Dunne, of United Future, even getting to take him fishing on the Pelorus River.

Peter Dunne has never forgotten the outdoor man and woman. Just this year, his initiative on the benefits of wild animals (deer, chamois, thar, pigs) has reached fruition and led to the formation of a Big Game Hunting Council and
a Wild Animal Control Advisory Committee. This is great news for hunters because for the first time, we will have meaningful input and a say in how this public resource is managed.

Most politicians are good people on a personal level; the lust for power or control and the baubles of Parliament causing most of the schoolyard problems we see nightly on TV political news. One West Coast hunting mate confided to me that ‘‘politicians are the most genuinely insincere people that I’ve ever met’’.

Whatever your personal beliefs, take the time to outline your personal outdoor issues to your chosen local politician – we can all make a difference, but don’t expect miracles. A media friend of mine once told me that the late David Lange wisely commented in a private moment that ‘‘don’t vote for a politician thinking they will change your life because they will let you down every time’’.

Read any outdoor magazine and the letters to the editor are always a scathing cauldron of criticism of bureaucrats, crown organisations and politicians. Outdoor people make the mistake of complaining to kindred spirits, which in general is a total waste of time, draining everyone’s time, energy and motivation.

If you have a problem, make the effort to write to your local general circulation newspaper. Look how a handful of individuals collapsed the Tasman District Council plan to assist Grace Church in providing a first-rate community facility for Richmond, or how a few Grey Power members have led the charge to derail Nelson City Council plans to rectify decades of infrastructural neglect.

It doesn’t matter if they are right or wrong; it’s the process that sways public opinion.

A politician whose name escapes me once said that one letter in a local paper is unimportant but half a dozen letters on the same topic indicates a problem. If a quarter of a million New Zealanders all wrote to their local newspaper about their opposition to aerial 1080 poisoning, the poison rain would (to borrow a Don Brash term) be ‘‘gone by lunchtime’’.

Outdoor recreationalists have long been facing an outdoor Armageddon as rights, resources and opportunities are undermined, over-ruled or just downright stolen. As an individual, it is your role and responsibility to protect what is special to you personally.  Infighting, backstabbing, complaining, ego and apathy are not going to save our proud outdoor
hunting and fishing heritage.

As the US cartoon figure, Pogo, infamously remarked: ‘‘We have met the enemy and they is us.’’

Fishing for Whitebait

© Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Getting down to the serious business of chasing white gold, Nelson Mail, 27 September 2008
White Gold: Fresh Whitebait ready to eat. Yum!

Whitebait have almost mythical status in New Zealand. Hailed as a Kiwi delicacy, these tiny, transparent estuarine fish are in great demand by commercial and recreational fishermen during the New Zealand springtime.

When the whitebait are running, job absenteeism is high, people speak in hushed, secretive tones, and it is every man for himself. Often termed white gold, fresh and frozen whitebait can reach upwards of $105 a kilogram in local fish shops, if and when it is available.

Whitebait in technical jargon is made up of the young of three main galaxiid species: inanga, koaro and kokopu, with inanga being the most commonly caught species. All whitebait species spend part of their life cycle in fresh water and part in the sea.

Tiny fish hatch in late autumn and are carried along rivers out to sea, where they live and grow over winter. In late winter and early spring, whitebait migrate back up rivers and streams, finally settling and growing in bushcovered streams and swamps (making great trout fodder along the way).

Mature inanga adults migrate downstream to lower river sections and estuaries to spawn in grasses covered by
water during spring tides. The eggs remain in the grass until the next spring tide covers them again, when the
young hatch and are carried out to sea, renewing the cycle.

All interesting stuff, but the really fascinating part about whitebaiting is the human behaviour and culture associated
with the annual runs. All manner of people live streamside during the New Zealand whitebait season (August 15 to November 30, shorter on the West Coast), hoping to spy the familiar black shadow of a large shoal entering their net.

All sorts of nets are used, from small set nets to the large ‘‘Southland Sock’’ style, which is set for the entire tide, with two internal traps to stop whitebait retreating back downstream.

Tony Condon, a West Coast whitebaiting legend who I met on the lower Paringa River in South Westland, told fascinating true stories about the huge quantities of whitebait caught there over the years, mostly by people fishing from registered commercial stands. Condon’s view is that internal traps in large modern set nets have totally revolutionised whitebaiting.

Department of Conservation staff would probably face a streamside lynching if they tried to remove such nets on the Coast, though.

‘‘Feral inbreds’’ we may be, but whitebaiting is a very serious business.

Many whitebaiters like myself like to use a scoop net, which is a long-handled aluminium-framed net with a large oval mouth.

The mesh and net bag consist of a fine, soft white or grey material, and whitebaiters wait patiently along stream banks, visually searching for shoals that swim over their white ‘‘sighter’’ or ‘‘spotter’’ boards.

Once a shoal of whitebait has been sighted, a careful attempt to slowly scoop up the swimming shoal is attempted. It is exciting stuff when the net is lifted and a black pudding of whitebait is seen wriggling in the belly of the net. More often than not, though, the whitebait escape, as they are often skittish and very capable of eluding capture.

I’ve always enjoyed this visual form of whitebaiting, something I learned from my grandparents when I was a small boy. Indeed, one of my most treasured fishing tools is my grandfather’s handmade scoop net frame, which was handed down to me.

My last really good catch of whitebait was several years ago on the raincoloured Grey River on the West Coast. My fishing buddy Graeme Marshall, formerly of Nelson, and I had only a few hours to fish, and the water was too stained to spot individual shoals that day. Graeme suggested we take turns ‘‘blind scooping’’ as the tide pushed. I’m glad we did, as we managed a prodigious weight of bait in short order. Unfortunately, I had to go, but that’s whitebaiting, and part of the allure of the sport.

Whitebaiting to me is spending time with friends, challenging myself against a tiny foe, enjoying nature with the miracle of spring and the tides, and, with a bit of luck, ending up with a feed to give to family and friends.

Whitebaiting around the Nelson- Marlborough area can still be pretty good. Golden Bay is the star performer, with the Takaka, the Aorere and the wild rivers of Mangarakau consistently producing results each season.

To the east, the Wairau River, Wairau Diversion and Opawa River turn on some consistent action for keen whitebaiters. Closer to Nelson, we have the Wakapuaka, Waimea and Motueka as likely places to try your luck.

I haven’t seen anyone whitebaiting in the Maitai River for years, but the Nelson City Council reservoir on the North
Branch Maitai wiped out this once excellent trout fishery, so it’s logical to assume that the whitebait took a pounding, too.

We had a great time whitebaiting last Saturday, close to home in the Waimea catchment. My two boys, Jake and Ike, watched over by their grandfather Stuart, had an awesome adventure together.

Being young boys (six and eight), they were just as keen catching crabs and throwing sticks and stones, but later,
when wearing polarised sunglasses, they were transfixed by the small shoals of whitebait moving upstream on the first push of the tide.

Sharing one set net, the boys had their first whitebaiting experience, and we were fortunate to catch one pound
(450g) of the elusive delicacy – not a bad tally for the early season around Nelson. Wet, tired and covered in mud, the boys staggered home triumphant.

That night, we were probably one of only a few Nelson families tasting fresh, locally-caught whitebait. I can picture it still: a sizzling pan full of thick spoonfuls of succulent fresh bait, mixed in Baton River organic eggs, a dash of pepper, a twist of lemon, and washed down with a honey-spiced summer ale.