I’ve just got back from a couple of days in Whangamata. We were joined on Thursday afternoon by a retired family friend who has just left the work force and was looking to learn how to spin fish. The plan was to fish for a couple of hours before dinner, follow with a meal of fish & chips and watch the local comedy shows on the TV. The friend, let’s call him “Bob”, was to head of the next morning back to Auckland.
“Bob” is a typical kiwi bloke. Heart of gold but slightly “rough around the edges”. His SUV is an Isuzu MU diesel and it is jam packed with detritus along with a selection of the necessities of life. MU stands for Mysterious Utility and it is a bloody mystery to me how anyone could drive around enveloped in so much clutter! Despite this, Bob is top company. Salt of the earth type who’d give you the shirt off his back. Wicked sense of humour and a pleasure to be around. He is a diabetic but lives his life in a manner which is definitely inconsistent with medical recommendations. First man in the queue for anything sweet and edible. Bob has a knee which is “on the blink” and is carrying a bit too much condition around the midriff. As my son Hamish would say he obviously has a hyperactive knife and fork! The plan was for me to fly fish and for “Bob” to flay away in the prime spots with a Binsky blade.
The conditions were perfect for fishing. Warm and sunny with the merest hint of breeze to take the edge off the heat and make things extremely pleasant. We got down to the estuary with about 2 hours of tide left to run to dead low. I pointed out where we were heading and explained that there was the odd small patch of mud to negotiate. “No problem” said Bob as he pulled on a pair of thigh waders painfully slowly. Well I knew that it could potentially get ugly as soon as we started out across the sand. Even dawdling at my slowest speed, Bob was quickly lagging behind. It was as if he was towing an anchor across the sand and it was catching on the bottom every 10 feet or so.
Eventually we veered right towards the marina and got to the now infamous patch of mud or “glutinous gloop” as it is affectionately known. I lead and quickly negotiated it without any difficulty. Pausing, and glancing back, Bob was gingerly moving forward. He saw I was watching and told me to go on ahead as he’d just follow my steps. I hesitated as Bob was making negligible progress. Within seconds he was stuck and sinking quickly. The mud had reached his knees and had set it’s sights on his crotch. He was sinking faster than the Titanic after it hit the big chill. I charged back in and got to him just as he fell forward. I caught him with my one free arm and averted the inevitable face plant. Together we danced a slow swaying waltz for several minutes, balancing off each other, both teetering on the brink. Two rods flailing about like conductors batons. By now Bob was starting to panic and was panting like a hair dryer with a faulty speed control. For a second I had visions of us being cemented into the mud for all eternity but slowly and inexorably I was able to draw myself and Bob clear to the firm sand. He was absolutely knackered. “I’m done” he said “leave me to find a way back to the car and you go fishing”. “I’ll make my way home once I’ve got my second wind”. We debated this for a few minutes and eventually we parted and headed in opposite directions, me with a flea in my ear.
I was sweating like a fur clad Eskimo in a sauna as I made my to the main channel. Tying on a Salmon Ice dub Clouser I began casting. The fly got smacked first cast but I missed the strike. Ditto the second cast and then the third. “Take a deep breath and calm down Alan” I muttered to myself (or an expletive laden phrase meaning roughly the same as that anyway). I decided to let the fish take the fly and not strike until the fly line drew tight. Next cast I was in. It was a kahawai of about 2 lb. which took a while to subdue and draw onto the shore. Well, the next 1 ½ hours was like Groundhog day. Sixteen fish between 1 – 2 ½ lb. ended up nailing the Clouser. Most ran parallel to the shore for a minute or two, tossed in an obligatory jump and then a flail or two in the shallows before release. You could actually feel the fish mouthing the fly before the line drew tight. Fantastic sport.
When I got home there was a pair of mud encrusted thigh waders lying on the driveway near Bob’s Mysterious Utility but of him, there was no sign. I eventually found him lounging in a downstairs chair still breathing erratically. “Got to the park bench near the car and watched you for about half an hour then made my way home” Bob said. “Had to stop at the Bus shelter for a breather but got here about 10 minutes ago”. You’ve got to admire his tenacity. Top effort.
I managed to slip out again yesterday afternoon for another session on my own. When I got to the car park I noticed a couple of stationary figures out where I fish in the main channel. I thought it was probably the set netter and his mate as we’d had a chat the previous day and he intimated he’d be back. Apparently he’d caught four decent snapper (40 cm) earlier in the week but only parore since. He told me where he’d caught the snapper and I was keen to work my fly through the general area to see if there were any others lurking.
But I digress. As I trudged out across the flat I was muttering obscenities under my breath. “Gosh I’m disappointed about other people being on the estuary”, or words to that effect. Imagine my surprise when I got closer and discovered that they were not the dreaded set netters but a pair of bait fishermen. They were surrounded by a throng of salivating terns and gulls all eager to snatch a morsel from the bait board whenever the fishermen waded in to cast out. From a distance the gulls were like impetuous buzzards honing in on a recent kill. The anglers had only caught one small kahawai by the time I reached them and it was evident watching them in action why.
Having exchanged pleasantries I headed upstream a respectable distance and started fly fishing. It was quite breezy and the wind was from the South which moves the fly towards the right ear of a right handed caster, close enough to hear the whoosh and feel the air part as the needle sharp point speeds past. Lovely tell your mother! One lapse in concentration and you’ve got an ear adornment that most punk rockers would die for. The fishing was exactly the same initially. Two fish in six casts, same size and modus operandi as yesterday. Then nothing. Nothing squared. Nothing for 80 minutes. I moved a long way upstream, saw several large pelagic s charging in to scatter bait fish within casting distance but couldn’t buy another touch. It was also hard going for the foetid bait lobbers and their attendant cloud of circling gulls as well. It was as if someone had turned off the “Fish” switch.
In the end I headed back downstream, passed the bait fishermen and started fishing again below them. It was still hard going but I did get two more small kahawai in the 15 minutes before I discovered the set net and headed home. Meanwhile the bait fisherman carried on lobbing baits with metronomic regularity into the same section of channel. When I passed them they’d only had three fish between them since setting up their stall and planting the anchor.
In hindsight, I wonder whether the circling gulls, noise of fishermen wading in and the freshening southerly breeze were all factors in the fish zipping their mouths shut. C’est la vie. That is fishing.