Friday, November 28, 2014

The Genesis

    He stood in a half crouched in the early morning sun, totally oblivious to the chilled morning air.  Moving carefully forward over the smooth river boulders he searched the ripple again for the movement that had caught his attention a few moments previously.  The young man tensed with anticipation. There!  A rise on the edge of the ripple….   He crouched again, his body tense and knelt down with his bare knees resting his weight on the river rocks.  The fly, a crude beetle pattern was a legacy from the previous evening and he picked it of the ring of his rod, pulled some fly line out of the rod tip and started to false cast.  The clumsy old fiberglass rod came alive in his hand and the grace of its movements sent the fly line up the river, flashing in the early morning.  He judged the distance with a practiced eye and made the delivery, the fly alighting just beyond the point he had indexed in his mind’s eye.  His eyes were fixed on the fly dancing merrily on the ripple, floating back towards him and in a flash and a swirl it was gone.  The rod whipped up and the line tightened as a good size rainbow took to the air.  The “whoopee” he yelled to the sky was spontaneous and totally unrepressed and in short order he had a fat chunky rainbow resting on the stones in the water.  He released it and watched with evident satisfaction as it swam away, washed his hands in the chilly water and stood up. 
   At about this point he became aware that he was not alone on the riverbank.  His friend had been woken up by the war whoop and now stood staring in total disbelief at his friend, who apart from his fly rod was clad in only a pair of socks and his wristwatch.  He had arisen to answer a call of nature and while so engaged, his scrutiny had been diverted to the subtle movement of a single rise of a trout in a distant stream.
  Water, in all forms has always fascinated me.  I started to fish at the age of six.  Trout were not my intentions at that age, even if I could have known the difference between fresh and saltwater species. In my young mind, fish were fish and therefore worthy of capture.  Size and species are never relevant to the young; only the pursuit and capture are.  Size and species is an adult expectation. 
   I bought my first fly rod at the age of thirteen.  A kindly but somewhat misguided relative had bought me a Christmas gift about fishing in the UK.  It contained text and line drawings about all sorts of fishing there.  There were things called Barbel, Pike, Roach, Chub and Dace amongst others.  But the chapter I kept going back to was on fly- fishing for trout.  I became fascinated with the possibilities of catching some fish without bait attached to the hook.  The pictures of the artificial flies held my attention. I had no idea if these would work here in New Zealand, but I was resolved to find out.  A few short weeks later, I had answered an advertisement in the local paper for the sale of a fly rod and reel and became the owner of a fiberglass fly rod and a Hardy Perfect fly reel with a spare spool.  I did not know or even care at that time of the lineage of that reel.  More important to me, was the old Greys tobacco tin with the piece of felt lining.  Embedded in the lining was a range of flies, some blue, some yellow, some red and some with all those colors.  They were lined up in rows and they were just perfect to me.  I had caught Kahawai with flashing spinners and pieces of red cloth attached to the hook, so this looked as if it was just a matter of finding a trout and showing it one of these masterpieces.  One snag however.  I could not work out a way to thread the thick fly line though the eye of one of these flies.  I must have been an inventive child because I solved that problem with a length of twenty-pound nylon off my faithful old snapper reel.  Now off to find a trout!  It said on my licence that there was a limit bag of trout of a fixed number per day.  On one stream it mentioned that there was a combined limit of rainbow and brown trout.  I figured out that twice the species, twice the opportunity.  I may have mentioned about being an inventive child….   I do recall badgering my poor hard working Father, into taking me to this stream and I remember his stern admonishments about being back this particular place at the prearranged time.
  I have come to learn over the years, that anglers of any age have no concept of time and children who fish, with this in mind are usually a lost cause.  You, as an angler should never say to anyone at all that you will be back at a certain and prearranged time.  For if the trout are on the rise, you will surely not be there to keep that appointment.  You would be far better off to say that you will in fact be there…..later…and in some cases, much later. 
  So it was that I picked my down though emerald green grass with the hot Taranaki beating down on me and the graceful slopes of Mount Egmont that was to influence my later life so very much, over my shoulder.  Some distance down through the lush paddock I eventually found my way through the blackberries that seemed to line every Taranaki stream, a magic river.  I had absolutely no idea what to do next.  In the middle of this cold clear mountain stream was an exposed rock that I though might make a platform from which I might cast.  I waded out into the freezing water, up to my chest, with absolute resolve to get there.  I climbed out on to the warm friendly boulder.  Of course my rod was already set up, with a piece of the 20-pound nylon on the end of the line and a bright red fly.  I recalled at about this time, that you had to wave the rod about your head in some mystical, magical manner. I was not too sure as to why this was.  Perhaps it was to mesmerize the trout in some way.  In due course, I had securely embedded my fly in the blackberries on both sides of the river, and even if I could have broken the trace, I was not prepared to loose any of my precious flies in this way.  Retrieval of my fly involved plunging back into the icy, chest deep water several times.  Eventually, I got the whole sorry mess into the river where it was swept down stream.  I stood on the rock in the warm sunshine, looking at the mountain and the cows and wondering what to do next.  It did not say anything in the book.  So I was lost in my reverie with my mind wandering as often happens when one is fishing, when my drifting thoughts were shattered with the staccato tug on the end of the line.  Well I had caught plenty of fish off the wharf and even surf casting off the beach to knew that feeling only too well.  With the best-approved marlin fishing techniques, I set the hook, only to launch a hapless rainbow trout of about half a pound, over my shoulder and into the blackberries beyond.
   I still recall the wriggling little jewel of the trout and at that moment I became a fly fisher.


Monday, July 26, 2010

The Right hand Reach Mend


Chappie Chapman

Right Hand Reach Mend

While many anglers are quite content to fish the same fly patterns on the same river year after year, some fly fishers are constantly pushing new boundaries. They are exploring new waters, experimenting with new techniques, striving to get a better understanding of the insects that call their local stream home. The inquisitiveness the pastime can arouse is one of its great attractions. Indeed, some anglers I know would say that the day they stop learning new things on the water is the day they’ll cease fly fishing.

A good angler is always ready to expand his or her horizons. Doing so can sometimes lead to immediate gratification, as New Zealand’s Chappie Champan explains.

“I once had a client named Stewart Merrill, an attorney from Anchorage, Alaska,” Chappie began. “He came down to the South Island to fish with me for a few days. Stew is a good fisherman and he did pretty well, though we didn’t get any extraordinary trout. Before the last day that we had to fish together, Stew said, ‘Chappie, I want a chance to catch a trophy trout.’ I told him that to get a trophy fish, our best bet would be to take a helicopter trip into one of the lesser-trafficked streams I know that holds large trout. He was alright with that, so we booked a ‘copter and the next morning we flew off after breakfast. In New Zealand, the fishing doesn’t really start until after 9 am. The water is too cold before for much insect life to be stirring about, and the sun is not high enough to get your polarized glasses to work properly. We fish ‘banker’s hours,’ very civilized. And very appropriate when you’re going after brown trout, the great gentleman of the river.

“The helicopter set us down near a spot I like called the Rock Pool on this particular river, and he took off, planning to pick us up around 5:30. The river I chose that day flows gin clear, and is very isolated, though just a short flight from town. It’s always very special to be there. I have a routine when I’m guiding. At the start of each day, I rig the client’s gear, and set them down on a piece of water where I’m reasonably sure there aren’t any fish, so they can get into a rhythm of casting. It’s the same routine for seasoned anglers and beginners alike. On this day, the routine was no different. After getting Stew set up, I had him start making some casts while I searched the river for signs of any insects hatching. There still wasn’t enough light to really scan the pool for fish. As my eyes were wandering over the water, I did a double-take. In front of a large rock on the other side of the pool, I saw a nose break the surface. I thought that perhaps it was just a single rise, but the nose came up again, and it was evident that it was a large fish. I said, ‘Stew, there’s a fish over there.’ ‘That’s going to be a hard cast,’ Stew observed, and he was spot on. He would have to negate the irregular current flow created by a large rock across the river. The presentation was further exacerbated by a rock that rested between us and the fish. There was no place where we could cross the river and effectively cast upstream to the fish; the only way he might be able to get the proper drift would be with a right hand reach mend, plus another mend on top of that. I suggested this, and he said, ‘I don’t know the right hand reach mend.’ So I led him downstream to show him.

“As I mentioned before, Stew is an excellent angler. Despite this, he had no compunctions about admitting he didn’t know something, and was quite willing to learn a new technique. This is a quality I’ve seen again and again in anglers who visit New Zealand. They come here at least in part to learn. If you come with an open mind, you’re going to learn more than you ever thought possible about trout fishing. The people who think they know it all don’t catch many fish in New Zealand.

“We walked 100 yards or so downstream and rehearsed the cast a few times. It didn’t take long for Stew to get the hang of it. Then we returned to the Rock Pool. I tied on a small black caddis pattern, and Stew began. It was a reasonably long cast—50 to 55 feet—that he had to make, plus the series of mends. It took quite a while to get it just right. Much to Stew’s credit, he didn’t spook the fish, despite the many attempts he made. After 45 minutes, he got the right cast and the right mend in there. I saw the nose come up and and whispered ‘Go Stewie!’ The fish was on. Coming from Alaska, Stew is quite comfortable playing big fish. After 20 minutes, he gave me a shot with the net, and I came up with a gigantic brown—10.5 pounds. Stew was excited to say the least. After we released the fish, he said ‘I don’t want to fish any more.’ I reminded him that it was just 10 o’clock, and that the ‘copter wasn’t coming back for seven hours. I gave him a snack, and he suggested that I fish. I said, ‘It’s your day. You fish.’ He finally consented. We stood up. As I was swinging my pack on to my shoulder, I looked out at the rock. Right there in the same spot, I saw another nose. It was a different fish, but would demand the same cast. I said, ‘Stew, you can make that cast. Have another go.’

“Stew stripped some line off, made a few false casts, and dropped it in there perfectly. As the fly drifted down, the nose came up and I said ‘Go, Stewie!’ The line came up tight on the fish, and we were off again. I couldn’t help but saying ‘Oh God, Stewie, that’s a big fish!’ ‘Bigger than the other one?’ he asked. ‘Can’t tell until we get him to the net.’ Soon enough, Stewie did just that. This fish—another mammoth brown—was 11.5 pounds.

“In my twenty years of guiding, I’ve had a number of occasions when I’ve had clients catch double digit fish. I’ve had a few occasions where an angler has caught two such fish in a day. But I’d never had a client catch two 10 pound plus fish on two consecutive casts. After landing the second brown, Stewie was silent. He walked 30 or 40 yards away from me, and just looked at the river. He understood that what he’d done was something very special. And he wanted to savor it.”

Monday, July 19, 2010

Winter fishing


Winter fishing on the Tongariro




Every so often I get a wild hair and disappear to the Tongariro in The Central North Island. I am usually too busy with summer fishing in the South Island to go to the North Island at any time other than the winter time. When I can finally get my head around the mostly gregarious fishing that is to be found there I really enjoy it! And then I remember that with a little effort I can spend many hours on the river and seldom see any one.
There is superb summer fishing there too as my friend Jared from Sporting Life (sport.life@xtra.co.nz) will attest to. Jared updates the shop website as time (and fishing) permits him, several times each week. He is indeed lucky to live on the banks of a wonderful fishery that allows him to fish twelve months of the year.
From my point of view I love the long casts and mends of the fly line to assure the perfect drag free drift. One even get used to casting flies that weight only slightly less than a horse shoe...these flies are called "bombs" and you get used to fishing with the hood of your wading jacket up to avoid being impaled especially on a windy day. Your hood is your bomb shelter... Jared is particularly adept at fly removal from various parts of his customer's anatomy.
In recent times I have been using a Spey rod on the "Big T". The advantages are wonderful. The rod I prefer is 13 feet long and and uses a 7 weight Spey line. In Spey casting you mostly use roll types of casts called Spey casts even. One of the main advantages is is that you do not need a back cast. This means you can fish bits of water that can not be fished with conventional casting. Another advantage is the ease of distance you can cast. A hundred foot cast is quite easy and this of course mean that you can get to bits of river that can not be reached by conventional rods. Even better still you can mend line right down the end of the fly line; something that is so essential in this sort of fishing. You can use leaders as long as you like and flies as heavy as you want and it is nearly impossible to get yourself hooked! I think Spey rods are making a resurgence on the Tongariro. In the 1930's and 40's most of the fishing was done with the two handers; split cane of course!



One of the special times for me is at change of light at one of the many rivers mouths that flow into Lake Taupo. You often get these places to yourself and the fishing can be great!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Chappie's Winter Update



Another season is just around the corner after a fantastic previous season on mice. This population explosion of these furry critters induces rapid growth in the trout. They put on great condition very quickly and often this carries through until well after the spawning season and into the spring. The trout respond very well to large...no...very large flies. I heard of a guide this year whose clients landed 14 double figure fish. One of those fish was unable to be weighed because the scales on his net went only to 15 pounds! Well there will be a carry over for some of these fish in the coming season.
We had some early winter floods and I think that they will have cleaned the spawning gravels in the streams well prior to the spawning. As long as we do not have any further floods of that size we will be in good shape for a first class fishing season.
It's just about time for me to do my pre-season walks up the rivers that I go to. I enjoy the exercise and it is always fun to see how the rivers have changed over the winter. It's a bit like going to a new river! Many of the old pools and familiar back waters have gone and been replaced by brand new ones!
The fly schools continue to be popular and the new seasons bookings are well under way now. I run fly schools at two levels. The Introductory Course is designed for beginners through to anglers with up to three years or so experience. Each of these classes is of two days and over a weekend. No equipment is needed for this course and everything is included lunches and morning and afternoon teas. On completion of enrollment you will be sent a 30 page book of notes together with a covering letter. Bookings are essential for these courses as each one is limited to five students. Please note: you will NOT need a fishing licence to do either of these courses as you will NOT be fishing!
The Advanced Class is more suited to anglers who have had at least one year's experience on the water. The idea if this course is to give your fly casting a pre season tune up and then to take your fly casting very much to the next level. In this class you really learn what your fly rod is capable of doing (often with surprising results). You will learn how to cast in tricky situations such as a strong wind, distance casting, and several presentation casts. This course is one and a half days in duration. The first day is on the grass and the half day is done on the water. This course has fifteen students on it and is usually over subscribed.