Category Archives: Fly Fishing

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OWEN RIVER LODGE HIGHLIGHTS 2015/16

Category:Fly Fishing

Owen River Lodge - South Island, New Zealand

Owen River Lodge Fishing, South Island, New Zealand

Running a fishing lodge can be a complex thing. There are so many variables to take into account, without doubt, the weather has a significant impact on the trout fishery and therefore the fishing.

In our early season the weather cooperated brilliantly. November & December saw clear rivers, sunny days and little wind. The results speak for themselves…….

14lb_wild_brown_trout_owen_river_odge, south island, new zealand

Andrew from Sydney’s first trip to ORL was for his honeymoon in 2010. He’s subsequently stayed with us a further 3 times including a quick 4 day trip in early November.
He landed 11 wild brown’s in his 3 days fishing including a sensational 11 lb monster and 2 x 8lb, 2 x 6lb 3 x 5lb and a 4lb wild brown !

In early December, 3 anglers landed 3 wild New Zealand browns and each of them set apersonal record. The 3 browns weighed in at 9lb, 12 lb and new lodge record of 14lb.
There was no expensive helicopter required, as all these browns were caught in our local, drive to rivers!

fly_fishing_dry_fly_NZ, Owen River Lodge, South Island, New Zealand

To be honest during our summer (January > March) the weather was rubbish. It was unusually windy and wet. This made the fishing, at times, challenging, however with the help of the wonderful fishing guides that work with us our guests still caught fish and had some memorable moments on the river.

Vaughan and Bess are regular Australian guests @ Owen River Lodge. Whilst Bess went horse riding, Vaughan had some sensational fishing over 4 days of angling adventure. In a 2 day period he landed over 25 wild browns in the 3 > 5 lb range !

fly_fishing_Owen River Lodge, South Island, New Zealand

Robin & Andrew, from the UK, stayed and fished with us in February. They had some unbelievable fishing, landing 20 browns averaging 4lbs in one day and landing over 50 browns in 6 days

Howard, one of our most regular guests, had four sensational days fishing with his guide David in late March. In his 4 days fishing he landed 24 wild browns including an 8lb & a 9lb caught on consecutive days in the Owen River !

_Owen River Lodge, South Island, New Zealand_Fishing_Owen_River_November_2015_Rene_Vaz


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WE’RE BACK! SPATSIZI LODGE, BC

Category:Fly Fishing

Now I’m a sensitive Green kind of guy, but when you’re up this close, I think it’s fair to say that Grizzly Bears look much better stuffed and inside a glass case.

This big fella is part of the welcoming committee at Smithers Airport. It reminds you that you’re a guest here in this part of the world and also that it pays you to keep your eyes and ears open.

The welcoming party at Smithers Airport. Fortunately for us, this one was in a glass case.

Also joining us at the airport was our expeditor Wendy, who was a lot friendlier than this bloke.

All I needed to do was stand next to anyone I saw carrying a fly rod for the expeditor to find us, load our bags and whip us off to the local hotel for dinner.

The next morning saw us at a local lake getting loaded aboard Wendell’s wonderful Turbo Otter, for the 90-minute flight to Spatsizi. While the rest jumped in the back, alongside our groceries for the week, I got to ride in front with Wendell and I felt like the honorary co-pilot. Wendell even let me pull on the heater control for the rear cabin …

Flyfishing Spatsizi BC, heading off to the lodge in Wendell's Turbo Otter..Woo Hoo

But seriously, I was loving all of it: the noise, the whiff of plane fuel, the power of the take-off over water and then the climb, and finally the scenery below and the anticipation. I was a big boy on an adventure!

 

Fly fishing at Spatsizi. Brother Steve with catch of the day...an eight pound bull trout. With gun guide Florian.

Brothers are brothers, aren’t they? It would be an exaggeration to say my brother Steve was a gun fly fisherperson. He turned up in all the wrong gear but evidently the right attitude and caught the biggest fish on the first day, a bad-tempered Arctic Char.

I sniffily told him it was all about the quality not the size.

Fly fishing at Spatsizi BC today with very cooperative rainbow trout. Great first day in a beautiful part of the world.

Now this was definitely the prettiest fish caught by yours truly on the first day. An absolutely beautiful rainbow trout, held gently for just long enough for our guide Florian to take this shot and then released from a barbless hook. Like I said, it was all about the quality.

 

Fly Fishing Spatsizi BC. Day 2, Sun rising over Spatsizi Lodge. Another beautiful day in paradise.

Heading down to the Lodge for another of Chef Jesse’s wonderful breakfasts.

Fly fishing at Spatsizi BC. A rather irritated rainbow trout in the Rognass River today ....released soon after.

Today we fished the Rognass River adjoining Lake Kitchener and the Rainbow Trout chased flies voraciously, but then turned nasty when the fly didn’t stay eaten.

 

Fly Fishing at Spatsizi BC. Big Brother at evening post dinner drinks outside the Lodge. Another beautiful day.

Well, here we were, with my Big Brother and fellow director Steve, finding time to chat about company marketing and contracting strategies. Our main items of discussion centered on the impact of the new US Administration on inflation in the US and its impact for our CPI. With no local inflation to speak of, we have been using five-year fixed term contracts for our dashboard modelling. The clients love it.

But if the new Administration actually starts to simulate the US economy, we need to start marking our product to the prices in the marketplace. But will Trump really deliver?

Our fellow fly fisherpersons were all from the US and tended to have a bit of skin in this particular game, so it was all research. Aided by Oban on ice at this particular meeting.

 

Flyfishing at Spatsizi BC. Nature studies of local lupins after streamside diversion while working out how to do up the waders.

My Great Grandfather and Father were botanists. I’m more of a stats man, myself. But these lupins were just plain pretty and worth sharing.

John Black - just finished four day fly outs at Spatsizi. Loving it. A man's best friend is a float plane.

Well, here we were, mid-week, back outside the Lodge for another scheduled board meeting to discuss international inflationary trends and the gig economy.

Man, by this time, I was feeling the vibe. Pass me a cigar.

Roughing it as Spatsizi Lodge with the local version of Caesar Salad. Thanks to Chef Jesse.

Our Chef Jesse Phillips was a culinary genius and a perfectionist of the plate. Now this, apparently, was a Caesar Salad. The trip was worth it for the food alone.

Camp fire last night at Firesteel River Lodge.

I must confess, my idea of roughing it these days, is going without the heated seat on my Japanese Toto bidet toilet. But Firesteel Camp was an experience I’d repeat in a heartbeat … even with the long drop and the animal scratch marks on the dunny door.

This is the camp fire outside our hut, with the river in the background. Why the morning camp fire I hear you ask? See next Instagram shot.

 

Spatsizi - 9 am this morning at Firesteel River ...mid Summer in north BC. If you look closely you can see the little red bar at 5 degrees centigrade. It warmed up to 6 degrees by 10.00am.

Well, here’s the reason for a morning camp fire at Firesteel Camp. Five degrees! And this was summer! It was colder than the winter mornings we’d left behind in Brisbane.

We mooched around camp until the sun was well and truly up.

 

#Spatsizi - Firesteel river rainbow ....small but perfectly formed.

Firesteel has squillions of these little three-quarter pounders … and they all think they weigh five pounds and feel obliged to fight like it. It was a grey, windy day, which pushed most of the fish down deep, where we chased them on nymphs, but on a warm, sunny day, you’d be catching and releasing 50 of the little blighters.

 

Spatsizi....beaver lodge on the Firesteel River. These little guys would definitely not win the better housekeeping award.

These beavers are odd little creatures. They tend to gum up waterways and spawning grounds for the fish with their wood-reinforced dams and lodges so they aren’t the favourite animals for fishing guides. And are they messy! Worse than teenage boys.

I fished near this beaver lodge and had to make sure that I didn’t fall into their access hole, about a metre in diameter.

 

John Black - yours truly today catching rainbow trout number 30 at Sheep Creek and Lake Kitchener #Spatsizi BC. It was 3 degrees with a 15 knot wind and driving rain. Completely nuts.

Now I know fishing isn’t about the numbers of fish you catch in a day and nor is it about the size of the biggest fish … although the size comes close.

But sometimes, after months of fishing on tranquil Aussie high-country trout streams, where you might land a couple of careless, one or two-pound fish on a really good day, well, you just want to feel you haven’t lost your touch.

On days like this, personal comforts come last and numbers do count. It’s a man-hunter thing I guess.

In this case – at the Sheep Creek outflow into Lake Kitchener – our personal comfort level was at an all-time low, with three degrees the top temperature and a chilly 15 knot wind blowing straight in our faces, but Steve and I pulled in and released 40 fine, fat, and ultimately very relieved, Canadian Rainbow Trout.

Towards the end of the day, Steve had broken his rod and the stump had to be pulled from his frozen fingers to make him to stop.

In my case, my waterproof jacket had started to leak icy water down my back and arms and my teeth were chattering so much I couldn’t speak. Did I mention my Hardy Hip Flask was also empty?

There were no arguments then. It was time to go.

 

Spatsizi - After a day's fishing in 3 degrees and wind chill here's our entree from Chef Jess: Capresse Salad with tomato three ways, smoked Buffalo Mozzarella and Balsamic reduction. Yum..

Here’s another entree plate from super Chef Jesse. What a guy! I realise now that I only ever took pictures of the entrees, because the main course and deserts just got scoffed down.

 

Spatsizi- Our fishing companion. Carl yesterday with four pound rainbow trout from Lake Rainbow ...where else?

On this particular day, our patience was well and truly tested by some very fussy Rainbow Lake trout. At the end of the day, I was calling it No Rainbow Lake. I think I hooked three two pounders, which is pretty good by Australian standards, but well below the bar set by Spatsizi’s bountiful lakes and rivers.

To make matters worse, our very gentlemanly US fly fishing companion for the day Carl, a retired Academic, seemed to have no difficulty pulling in some plump and friendly Canadian Rainbows.

These trout were simply too discerning to be more readily hooked by a couple of big boofy Aussies. Bah. Humbug. And well done Carl.

 

Spatsizi - Steve pats Abbie our travelling companion for today's pursuit of grayling.

Today we were off with senior guide Luke and Abbie the wonder dog, to pursue the beautiful Grayling, a salmonoid species I’d never hooked before. However, no one seems to have told Abbie she was definitely coming with us.

 

Spatsizi - Our fantastic foodies. Chef Jesse and assistant Twila preparing our breakfast today.

Our Heroes of the Kitchen. Jesse and his Assistant Twila. I go all misty eyed just thinking about the food they served us, morning, and night.

 

#Spatsizi - loading up with Royal Humpies to chase Grayling today.

We had the tip-off from the boys who had been chasing Grayling the day before: It was Royal Humpies all the way. So, yours truly, in a spirit of down-under sportsmanship, bought every Royal Humpy in the Spatsizi fly shop. Hey! Someone had to have them.

 

#Spatsizi - Abbie is keen to get started with Steve and I today, chasing Grayling.

Abbie was pretty keen to come Grayling fishing with us. This was her at breakfast. By this time, she was getting a tad neurotic at the thought of missing out.

 

Abbie the Spatsizi Lodge mascot looking pensive this morning...do I get to come Grayling fishing with Steve and John?

Abbie started to tense up as we loaded the boat. Room for me? Room for me?

 

A relieved Abbie got to come Grayling fishing -#Spatsizi today.

Yay! This was one very happy pooch, as we set off up the Stikine River to chase Grayling on our last day.

 

A bear proof food locker @Spatsizi on the walk to the Grayling hole today...I'd have opened it to show you if I could have, but it was a little too complicated for me.

Words fail me here folks. This is a true story. Your humble scribe from down under could not open the bear proof locker, provided for overnight campers to store their food.

Now, that means that the local bears are very smart or your local scribe is very … where was I again?

 

One of 30 Grayling your humble author caught today #Spatsizi

Here I am with one of 30 Grayling hooked and released on our last day, along with 12 Rainbow Trout and two Arctic Char. These Grayling were just beautiful little fish. And the greatest gutses for a Royal Humpy (Shame Steve didn’t have one). They fought like little Bonefish too.

Looking back on this picture, I may have overdone it with the zinc cream, but it was a hot day. And a great day.

 

Petunias et al on the verandah #Spatsizi ...trip completed and we're now waiting for Wendell and his Turbo Otter to start the trip home. Well, this is it. The fishing is over and we’re waiting for Wendell to take us on the first leg home. With no fish on the line, I’ve been reduced to photographing Petunias. Still, they were pretty.

 

Wendell arrives #Spatsizi - we're heading home.

Here comes the Turbo. Here comes the Turbo. Woo Hoo! Homeward bound.

 

Just back home from Spatsizi northern BC, Canada. My five favourite flies from the trip: from left Tom Thumb, Royal Humpy, Prince Nymph, Mouse and Woolly Bugger, which between them cause and released 100 Grayling, Rainbow Trout and Artic Char. All of them were thoroughly mangled out the bit marks on the Mouse.

Now the caption says it all really. These were the flies which were really hammered by the local piscatorial pirates during our Spatsizi stop over.

The mouse fly was a complete write off and the cork you see here is now blue tacked to my central computer screen as I type. Ah, the memories. Enough to keep me sane for another year. I’m already booked for 2018.

 

A few facts.

You can find out most of what you need to know about Spatsizi at http://www.spatsizi.com/ Seven days of fly-in, fly out fishing will set you back about $8,000 Australian dollars and the Aussie dollar now (August 2017) has parity with the Canadian dollar. Allow about 10 to 15 percent cash for gratuities at the end of the trip.

Our Air Canada flight flew nonstop Brisbane to Vancouver. We went business class and it was a hoot. Sets you back about $6,000, but the beds were comfortable and the service friendly and practical.

We left mid-morning and arrived 14 hours later about four hours before we took off. Something to do with datelines. There’s a bit of a wait before the afternoon flight to Smithers, which you can fill in however you like. I think we got liquored up in the business lounge.

On the trip home, book the afternoon flight back from Smithers and make sure you pay a bit more to have the option of the later flight if the weather delays your trip in from the Lodge.

The flight back from Vancouver to Brisbane was a real treat. It leaves Vancouver at midnight and gets in about 7.30 am Brisbane time a couple of days later – where did that missing day go? Basically, you knock over a few wallbangers after take-off and hit the sack for about nine hours, before being gently woken up for breakfast, just before you land in Brisbane. Worked for me.

For Travel bookings, I contacted my old mate Emily, from Tripaway at Emily@tripaway.com.au

She did all the bookings and travel advisories and talked to Jacki at Spatsizi to make sure it all went well. There’s no hurry booking flights, but Spatsizi fishing places tend to fill up a year in advance, so get in early there if you want to try it in mid-2018.


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FINALLY GOING BACK IN 2017 TO REVIST SPATSIZI

Category:Fly Fishing

Twelve years ago at a Vancouver airport lounge, a tall Prussian looking gentleman strode past me, carrying a four piece fly rod tube.  At the time, I was carrying a six piece fly rod tube, so we started talking, as fly fishermen tend to do in out of the way places.

Herbert by then was in his seventies and had been on his annual visit to Spatsizi Wilderness Lodge, 300 km north of Smithers, British Columbia high up on the Spatsizi Plateau. The plateau featured a myriad of interlocking crystal clear river systems, teeming with fat and wild rainbow trout, beautiful arctic grayling and cannibal bull trout. Fly fishing heaven.

Guests could only get to the lakeside lodge by a commercial Otter float plane, which also brought in the weekly supplies of fuel and food. Every day for a week, Herbert had climbed up into one of the lodge’s smaller Piper float planes, scooting at low altitudes between snow-capped mountains before dropping down to a different lake and river, and catching and releasing up to 50 fish a day. He fly fished all around the world and Spatsizi was one of his favourite spots. I put it on the list.

Blog Darting between mountains

Now, 12 years later, I had just left Vancouver airport and was flying north to Smithers on an Air Canada Dash 8. The two men in front of me were speaking Swedish or German and reminded me of the rich cultural diversity of the Canadian west, where European ethnic and religious minorities came to get away from the majority and themselves became the new majority … but a more tolerant version.

Then I noticed many of the passengers wearing lightweight quick drying clothes, fishing caps and then I saw the four piece rod tubes … I breathed a little easier … I was among my own kind.

Part way down the peaks, the glaciers were collapsing under the summer sun, melting like brown and white turkey necks, down into the valleys, taking topsoil and vegetation under them. I took a look out the window …climbing to full height the mountains were black granite spires, with hard edges sharpened by millions of years of glacial drift, the peaks flecked by snow and cradling small fluffy clouds … I felt like one of the winch men on a rescue helicopter, getting lowered down into rough black seas with white caps and fluffs of spray, but still, as if captured in a digital freeze frame.

And there, deep down in the mountain swell, very deep, lay some delicately braided rivers fed by snow melt – magic waters for trout and spawning salmon. At full cruising height of 7500 metres it was bloody beautiful.

Now, at this point, I should tell you a little bit more about the residents of northern British Columbia. They breed em tough up there. Surviving winters at 40 degrees below freezing, surrounded by animals that see you as an ingredient, does tend to toughen you up somewhat.

Counting the wolverines, wolves, cougars and three types of bears, I’d done some research on the sorts of animals that regard humans as finger food and the apex predator is the boar grizzly bear.

They weigh up to 500 kg, stand up to four metres tall and can charge at 65 kph. They have claws as long as a man’s fingers which can rip a plane apart if they sense food inside. If the thought of meeting one of these critters concerns you at all, close your eyes as you arrive in Smithers airport, because there is a very large and very lifelike stuffed grizzly in a glass cage which was shot in 2001, about the same time I met Herbert.

As a marketing ploy, I thought it was up there with having a stuffed white pointer at the Gold Coast Airport, but it was certainly memorable. I won’t forget it.

This Grizzly, called the Hungry Hill Phantom, had chomped his way through 30 head of local cattle over three years and was shot trying to add two conservation officers to his menu.  The officers saw him at 24 metres, trapped in a steel cable leg hold snare which was wrapped around a large tree. He had been chewing on the steel cable and when he saw the two men, he became enraged as only a boar grizzly can, broke the steel cable and charged them. He got within seven metres before the high calibre cross fire stopped him.

Standing by the bear was our welcoming party or ‘expeditor’ a very nice lady who declined offers of assistance and effortlessly threw all our bags into the back of a small bus and whisked us off to the Hudson Bay Lodge.

The night was young, so I checked out the guest directory and counted 12 different mainstream and evangelical churches, and almost as many gun shops. Off to bed then.

Blog Spatsizi Cabins

Next day Thursday, we were finally loaded onto our turbo otter and away we went, with a French Canadian pilot called Wendell, a weeks’ worth of groceries and assorted hardware items and spare parts tied down by cargo nets around us. Everybody apart from me knew somebody on the plane and it was like heading off to summer camp for grownups, but with our very own plane. It was a real blast.

The scenery on the flight into Spatsizi was unforgettable. The lodge is in a saucer shaped valley, ringed by glaciated black granite mountains, flecked with patches of a pure white snow. Below the tree line was a Bristol green ribbon of Douglas fir trees, then more flat, olive green grassland with splashes of purple wildflowers. The lake itself was a pure processed blue and nestled at the far end were Spatsizi’s yellowed brown pine log cabins with their bright ferric red steel roofs. It was prettier than a box of crayons.

The lodge itself was great. In this neck of the woods, a flushing toilet counts as a luxury and six guests shared two of those. Each guest had their own cabin, with private showers, log beds, and wood stoves. Meals were served in the main building that has a lounge area, fly tying bench and a pine dining table which seats up to 20 guests and staff. The chef provides fine cuisine, freshly baked breads, and homemade desserts. And in this neck of the woods, they eat a lot.

After a lunch I had enough food on board to choke a fully grown goanna and I waddled off for an afternoon of fishing with our host, the legendary outfitter and patriarch Ray Collingwood. Ray is a small, wiry man in his seventies and very tough indeed. When he talks, the sentence starts out kind of slow and gravelly, a bit like an avalanche, grinding down a mountain. You tended to listen respectfully. Especially as he carries the bear bangers and pepper spray.

Blog Pix with Bull Trout

That afternoon, I caught about six big rainbow trout, up to five pounds. There were also lots of what the locals call white fish, which were, funnily enough white. And one big, bad bull trout, which was actually an arctic char.

I had run across the bull trout earlier, chasing my rainbow trout after I had hooked them. The bull trout were attracted to the struggling fish and bit savagely at them while the rainbows were otherwise engaged with my hook and line. This began a frantic game of me trying to save the fish I wanted to catch and release, from a real life predator lower down the feed chain, which preferred to catch and eat.

When I finally hooked one of these predatory monsters, it began with a soft nibble, like a white fish, but when I tried to pull it in, dived down and dug in, like a cranky old brown trout. When it decided to run, there was nothing I could do but give it line and trust in my knots. With a lot of side tension, the monster relented and decided to take a breather in some shallow water, where I was waiting. Then it was grip and grin and release and start again.

I got back to the lodge and enjoyed a hot shower and cold beer, long with some comfortable company from the blokes in quick drying gear and a four course meal, accompanied by half a bottle of a very pleasant, understated red, from a nice US winemaker called Jim who brought along a case. See earlier comments about being amongst friends.

Blog land plump rainbow twoAfter that, every day was a new adventure … we climbed aboard the little float planes and zipped in between the mountains, scanning for moose, elk and goats, before swooping down onto one of the 30 different rivers, lakes and streams.

On Saturday, we fished Tatlatui Lake and it was the kind of fishing day you only dream about Australia or New Zealand. When we landed I was buzz bombed by three cm orange stoneflies, so on went an orange stimulator fly and then followed six hours of non-stop hits from some crazy rainbow trout.

Instead of dead drifting dry flies, I was told to hold the line at the end of the drift and let the fly swing in a circle, creating a pointer shaped wake on top of the water. This runs counter to all the theory, but the guide called it the Spatsizi swing and it worked a treat. By the way, the guides also fly the float planes, which keep the costs down to about a grand a day and given our exchange rate this is better value than New Zealand at the moment.

At the end of the day, I’d missed some 60 hits by trout, hooked another 20 and lost them, but caught and landed 41 beautiful big rainbow trout, all over three pounds … it was my best day ever on the water, in terms of numbers … about 120 hits in total over six hours on the water …one hit every three minutes … my life was complete.

Blog Ray Collingwood Perfect HostOn Monday we visited Firesteel camp. Ray had flown in earlier in his little Piper float plane, with his new red dunny door tied to one of the floats and his favourite pooch as his fellow passenger.

Firesteel reminded me of the cabins I love in the Victorian high country …except this one had more mosquitos, no flushing toilets, no solar panels and no electricity. The emergency skis leaning against the cabin were a couple of old sand shoes nailed onto metre long pine planks. Like I said, they breed ’em tough up there.

Ray turned out to be a magnificent host. The moose steaks were delicious … the beds clean and dry and after dinner Ray lit a campfire and rasped out a few yarns about surviving black bear attacks and winters at 40 degrees below freezing point. He even produced a Cuban cigar from his root cellar. It was just like a cubby house for grown-ups. Or men who had never grown up. You can count me in there.

Now I knew why Herbert loved the place. I’d like to have thanked him, but he died a couple of years ago, so you’ll have to take my word for it. Give it a try. It’s nourishment for the soul and we all need more of that.

Copyright John Black 2013.

 


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Photo Essay From Kiwi Guide Zane Mirfin

Category:Fly Fishing

Brown-Trout-Heaven-top

This summer – apart from a brief early season trip to Owen River Lodge – I haven’t had a chance to fish for trophy trout in New Zealand’s famous South Island waters.

So here are some (painful) reminders for me of what could have been my summer from Nelson guide Zane Mirfin, who actually gets paid for having this sort of fun.

If only I could persuade him to swap jobs for just one summer. I’m sure he’d enjoy the statistics. Oh well.

Here is Zane’s photo report from Brown Trout Heaven, New Zealand.

Wilderness Magic: Master angler Skip Herman, IL, USA, enjoys success with Zane in March 2016. Skip & Zane must have been fishing together for close on thirty years.

It’s been another action-packed fishing season and that’s why you haven’t heard from us for awhile! We really enjoyed the company of our anglers, and as usual, had plenty of great fishing action and adventures.

We were everywhere January – May with too many success photos to ever put in one newsletter. So we’re doing Part I now (January – March) and Part II (April – May) later in the month. We hope you enjoy the images.

Next year is looking like being another big season too, with world tourism on the up and up, assisted by a favourable exchange rate. We’re a year-round guiding operation, with year-round opportunities throughout New Zealand: October, November, and December are always the best trout catching months, with January, February, and March being the most popular months with our northern Hemisphere anglers. April – September we have plenty of wonderful saltwater fishing action in Tasman Bay and the Marlborough Sounds, plus great alpine hunting & waterfowling on public wild lands, and private properties alike.

Making a booking with us has always been easy. We just do direct bookings these days and can advise on all logistics and arrangements. As a result we can craft special experiences for each and every customer and ensure that you get to the best fishing, at the best times. You’re always our number one priority, and we’ll put you on the best water every day.


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A big one that didn’t get away

Category:Fly Fishing

fishing---boat-on-river

I’m standing in the front of a small wooden dinghy which is floating on a remote loch in the central highlands of Scotland, and I’m rhythmically, but aimlessly flicking out a fly line armed with an old fashioned Aussie blue bottle dry fly

HeatherIt’s a warm afternoon in late autumn and in the background, the low hills of Rannoch Moor are covered in purple flowering heather and bog-myrtle and their sweet lilac and honey scents carry to me on a soft breeze which is chopping the surface of the loch, making the fly difficult to see for both me and the trout. The dinghy starts to drift off and so do I.

Away to the west over towards the famous Glencoe, we hear the grumble of distant thunder and within five minutes we see red deer scurrying for shelter as the high, dark storm clouds move in. The air now becomes still and we sense the barometric pressure drop before the storm cell is sucked in. As the pressure drops, the peaty waters of the loch come alive with billions of tiny midge larvae or chironomids, which begin to hatch, and then float up to the now totally calm and clear surface film of the loch.

scotlandThe hatch is a dinner gong to the loch’s giant steelhead trout and now we can see three of them, feeding in the top metre of the water column, cruising back and forth at right angles to the drift of our dinghy.

I tie a tiny epoxy midge fly onto about a metre of four kilo line, trailing behind the blue bottle, so that it can sink a half a metre down and hopefully attract the monster steelhead. This is the moment.

From 30 metres away, I see a patrolling steelhead feeding half a metre below the surface. I cast too short, but the monster still spots the tiny midge fly from five metres away, then turns at right angles and dives to intercept the sunken fly. In an instant, the steelhead strikes, my indicator disappears below the surface, my heart leaps to my throat and I set the hook.

Yikes! I was on!

Do you remember the scene from The Hunt for Red October, when the 7000 ton Dallas burst out of the water at 25 knots, its giant black snout clearing the surface and crashing down in a shower of spray?

Well, the steelhead trout I’d hooked was just as impressive as the Dallas – to me at least. It was heading in a dead straight line for the near bank of the loch, first diving to about three metres and then careening into the air, as it whipped out my 30 metres of fly line, and then tore into 100 metres of bright pink backing braid.

At this point, the front of the dinghy where I was standing was being slowly pulled towards the giant steelhead and I realised we were actually being towed by this piscatorial demon toward the opposite bank, as my reel continued to whine. I only had a few metres of backing left by this stage and when that went something would go snap – most likely me, as I dove into the freezing loch to rescue my disappearing line. This bugger wasn’t getting away.
The only thing that saved me was the small size of the loch. The demon steelhead ran out of water, did a quick right hand turn and began jumping and twisting, trying to rip my tiny size 14 midge fly from the corner of its jaws.  The guide books tell you that at this point you’re supposed to drop the tip of the rod, to loosen the line, so that fish can’t get any direct purchase and snap the lightweight tippet on the end of the fly line. Fat chance of that, with 200 metres of line on the water.
The fishing gods smiled on me that day and my four kilo fluorocarbon line held and I was able to work this monster slowly back to the boat, where my ghillie Ian Nelson slipped a net under him. This was a big fish and my big adventure of our Scottish trip. It weighed five kilos or over ten pound in the old scale. And it was definitely harmed in the production of this story because we ate it.
We normally catch and release but the loch was a put and take fishery and these big cannibal fish had to be removed before the loch could be re-stocked, so it just wasn’t his day, really.

The next day we went fishing further out on Rannoch Moor, a spectacularly wild and desolate watershed of peat and bog covering 20 square miles of central Scotland, where rivers start their journeys towards the Atlantic in the west and to the North Sea in the east. It’s such a harsh and inhospitable spot in bad weather that the Defence Department use it for training SAS recruits and pilots and we were regularly over flown by Tornadoes bombers and Hercules heavy transports at what seemed like zero feet. We tried to get pictures, but it’s hard when you’re face down in the mud.

The moor is so boggy there’s no road across it, although there is a railway line over to the west coast at Fort William. The line took 5000 navvies five years to build. The peat had to be overlaid with brushwood, tree roots, and ash, and this fill is all that prevents it from sinking into the bog. At midnight in summer, when it’s finally dark, you walk home on the railway line, as the risk of colliding with the well-lit evening train is far outweighed by the risk of ending up in the bog, like one of the pit ponies from that awful scene in the Hound of the Baskervilles.
IMG_4383We were heading for the Loch of the Sword – so called because a couple of local tough guys in kilts had been going to have a fight over it, but were seized by the beauty of the place and perhaps a flask of the local whiskey, and decided to throw a sword into the loch instead. What can I say? You need to bear in mind there that these were men who used to prepare for a big fight by getting plastered on hallucinogenic liquor and painting their tattooed bodies blue and then they would charge screaming into battle wearing nothing but a big sword, or claymore and a shield to cover the bits that were too difficult to paint or too painful to tattoo. The local heavies had just wanted the day off from this sort of thing and who can blame them?

So, there I was, wife and son on the bank of the loch, with Ian furtively rolling a cigarette (it’s the national pastime in Scotland – I think to keep away the midges) and out of nowhere rolls this little passenger train, trundling along the Moor of Rannoch railway track, which ran along the other side of the Loch.

When I commented on the beauty of the loch, the bloody history of the moor and the incongruity of a modern train meandering through the scene, Ian recounted a fishing trip there at the same loch a year ago, when the original Hogwarts Express materialised out of the mists, and ran along the same line alongside the loch, with Harry Potter, Hermione and Ron and scores of other would be wizards, hanging out the windows, laughing, shouting and waving their wands. The train was followed by the helicopters and film crews, capturing another scene from the latest Harry Potter film.  Pure magic.

JK Rowling, you see, lives nearby at Killiechassie House, a 19th century estate house on the River Tay, near Aberfeldy, which is also just down the road from Pitlochry where we headed to the next day.IMG_4901

That day we enjoyed a spot of salmon fishing on the famous River Tay until early afternoon, then we adjourned to Pitlochry to order a kilt at MacNaughtons, followed by one of the nicest curries I’d had in ages over the road at the Prince of India restaurant and later we saw an eerie night performance of the local Scottish drum and pipe band, while enjoying a wee dram from the new hipflasks, before retiring for the night to our castle gatehouse by the banks of our private stretch of the famous River Tummel for supper of single malt and some smoked trout. Seemed like a good day to me.

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I had come to Scotland trying to find the parents of my great great great great grandfather, Rev James Black, who had been born in 1754 in Scotland, soon after the 1745 uprising of the Stuarts.

The Blacks had been a sept, or sub-clan of the local MacGregor clan, meaning they were under the protection of the MacGregors. And, until 1603, the MacGregors were good guys to be under the protection of, although they did acquire a certain reputation for their Marxist attitudes towards private property and a tendency to keep the heads of their opponents as souvenirs of battle.  This latter habit tended to discourage negative comments from passers-by about the former habit.

After some misunderstandings about cattle and sheep rustling and the odd spot of looting, which ended in a bit of marauding, the Privy Council, in 1603, legislated that anyone called MacGregor was: “compelled, on pain of death, to adopt another surname, and all who had been engaged at the battle of Glenfruin, and other marauding expeditions detailed in the act, were prohibited, also under pain of death, from carrying any weapon but a knife without a point to cut their victuals. They were also forbidden, under the same penalty of death, to meet in greater numbers than four at a time.”

So, whenever a Campbell, the local enforcers for the Redcoats, saw five or more MacGregors, around Rannoch, or even one MacGregor with a sharp knife, they were for the chop, if you’ll excuse the pun. The locals called this “untopping”. If you were a convicted crook yourself, and you collected enough untopped MacGregor heads, you could even buy a Royal pardon.

To keep their heads, the MacGregors had two choices: they could go respectable, adopt one of their sept surnames such as Black and move house, possibly to the lowlands, where Rev James surfaced, or they could keep nicking cows for a living, which meant they had to regularly hide out on a fortified island in the middle of Loch Rannoch.

This island was accessed via a secret path of large stones, just under the surface of the loch, known only to the MacGregors, who would dance across the loch on their secret stones, leaving their pursuers waving their claymores at them from the far bank. What the MacGregors would wave back at them is not recorded, but it could have been a blunt knife, your Worship.

The ruins of the fort are still to be seen, but the stone path and most of the island of Eilean nam Faoleag (Isle of Seagulls) has now been submerged under a few metres of water, thanks to the new weir at the end of the loch, probably built by descendants of frustrated pursuing redcoats.Dunalister-Estate-Lodge

After our last afternoon, as we drove back to our nineteenth century stone gatehouse for some baked trout, we passed by the fort at Eilean nam Faoleag and it was framed with a picture perfect rainbow, rising from the other side of Loch Rannoch.

Loch Rannoch may not have been the original pot of gold, but it was close enough for me.

Break out story…

Within an hour’s drive of Loch Rannoch, you can find the following attractions:

Magic? Visit the Hogwarts Express scenes from Harry Potter near Rannoch Station. Or the Enchanted Forest by night at Faskally Woods. Or the Beatrix Potter Garden at Dunkeld. Or the mystic Mountain of Schiehallion. Or the Sleeping Giant mountain.

Adventure? Head off on the moors with Ian Nelson to chase a giant steelhead and make sure you don’t fall in trudging back across the moor at night. Or try white water rafting on the River Tay through the UK Olympic Kayaking training centre.

History? Head for the hauntingly beautiful ruins of the Medieval Cathedral in Dunkeld near Birnam Wood (remember Macbeth?) and discover the burial site of the infamous Wolf of Badenoch. Or take one of the clan walks around Loch Rannoch, through the wreckage of Dunalastair Lodge, or the Black Wood of Rannoch. Creepy.

A Kilt? You can get these at McNaughton’s in Pitlochry … they’ll post it out to you. Have a curry at the Prince of India opposite while you wait to be measured.

Whiskey? We lost count of the number of distilleries around Rannoch- Famous Grouse, Dewars, Glenturret, Edradour, Dalwhinnie. Hic!

Golf? This place invented the game and there’s courses everywhere. We wandered over the eighteenth century General Wade stone bridge to the beautiful little Aberfeldy Golf Course. They were lovely people.

Local Culture? Head for Pitlochry, where the autumn cultural festival features Ghost Tours, Halloween Marquee with mulled wine, Celtic storytelling, street festivals and the famous Pitlochry Festival Theatre which runs six different plays from Monday through to Sunday. And every little highland town has their own highland games, usually in August.

Souvenirs and Kitsch? Head for the house of Bruar at Bruar Falls and get some ridgy didge Scottish tucker, including their famous haggis, neeps and tatties …. And some authentic highland tweed, with accompanying deerstalker and deer antler topped walking staffs. You will really look the part, but I’m not sure which part.

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Do you want healthy living with that green tea?

Category:Fly Fishing

A wedding invitation from an old friend who is a Chinese Australian took me unexpectedly on my first trip to China this year.

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My wife Jeanine came along as GP to the group and we brought our eight month old daughter Juliana with us. Separation from her mum was never really an option.

After a nine hour, mercifully uneventful, Qantas flight from Brisbane to Hong Kong, we quickly cleared customs and then boarded a two and a half hour Dragon Air flight to Nanjing.

There was no fuss at the airports – and a lot less in the way of delays than I normally encounter trying to take fly fishing waders into New Zealand. The airport and road signs all had an English translation and the tour guides met us at Nanjing and loaded us and our baggage on board a bus to our hotel.

Colour-4-P1020623-600pxIt turned out that my friend Warwick had so many of his Australian mates who wanted to make their first trip to China for the wedding that he shovelled us all into one of the tours run by his import company the Tea Exchange, a company designed to cater to Australian foodies and tea fanciers.

The foodies on the trip included Lien Yeomans, born in Hanoi, who came to Australia in the sixties on a Colombo plan scholarship in the sixties and went on to establish the Green Papaya Vietnamese restaurant in south Brisbane. When Lien sold the Green Papaya she wrote her famous Vietnamese cultural history and cookbook and catered for the Queensland Performing Arts Centre, the Gallery of Modern Art, the American Dance Company and the Paris Opera Ballet Company. Trust me, this lady can cook.

We also had Athol Young, director of the G20 Cultural Festival, where he worked on ways to keep 7,500 of the world’s journalists entertained after they’d been bored silly by politicians.

Food-11-P1030642-600pxAthol has worked with food, catering and events management for 40 years and is on his seventh visit to China and his second on the tea and tucker trail otherwise known as the Yangtze Delta Tea and Cuisine Odyssey. His first trip involved five days of mountain hiking in Yunnan on the ancient tea trail.

“We had 12 mules and muleteers and they carried a mobile kitchen with burners and woks, along with beds and tents with them. There were no roads, no cars, no phones … just us, the mules, our guides and our part of a one thousand year old tea trail from Yunnan to Tibet, surrounded by forests of rhododendrons.

“We eventually climbed up to 12,000 feet. At one point we hit one side of a lake, climbed into boats, rowed across and were met with a new team of muleteers on the other side.

“It was too high for rice to grow up there and the meals would comprise up to 50 different types of chilli cooked with broad beans in Yak butter, along with corn picked along the roadside.

“The muleteers knew someone in each village that we’d come to and at night after their meal their relatives would come out of their homes to sing and dance.

“It was the most extraordinary thing I’ve ever done in my life”. Coming from a bloke who has organised receptions for the Queen, the President of Ireland, Australia Remembers and the 130,000 strong march for reconciliation, that’s quite a statement.

Along with the bankers and business types was Moya Steele, corporate lawyer with MacDonnells Law, a 130 year old Queensland law firm.

Why drink tea? “It takes three to four minutes to brew and this gives me a break from the law books and a chance for some quiet reflection. Then when I do get back to the desk with my little ceramic pot of green tea it helps to keep my concentration at a sustainable higher level for hours. It’s great for ongoing blood sugar management.

“You don’t keep using fresh tea, but just add hot water for up to six infusions, so the caffeine effect tapers off towards the end of the day, while the flavour of the tea imprTea-5-IMG_7128-600pxoves. I love it. It’s a smart way to work.

“Young lawyers straight out of University tend to drink strong coffee they get a much heavier hit of caffeine and a real surge of energy, but it has a real up and down effect on their work rate and after repeated hits of caffeine, their energy levels peter out towards the second half of the day.

“As the boys are nodding off, I’m just cruising along, nursing my same pot of green tea through its fifth or sixth infusion. This would no doubt explain Moya’s local nickname among legal opponents of “Moya the Destroyer”.

My wife is a suburban GP and has the same views on coffee versus tea. Four days a week Jeanine is chasing three ankle biters around the house and she needs all the energy hit she can get from a strong homemade Merlo private blend cappuccino straight after breakfast.

But for the other three days working at the surgery, she needs a steady hand and a level head and its Yorkshire blend white day for breakfast and the rest of the day.

Despite this distinguished group of old politicians, bankers, restaurateurs and layers, the real star of the touring part was eight month old Juliana MacKenzie Black.

Characters 1 Dad and Jules ChinaHer blond curly hair, blue eyes and three-toothed smile made her stand out a little from 1.4 billion Chinese with straight black hair, dark brown eyes and a lot more teeth. She was a sensation. If only she could sing.

After a couple of days she apparently had her own Facebook page. I only knew a few phrases of Mandarin, but quickly had to learn how to tell curious passers-by not to touch her as her mum was worried about her baby catching several hundred different strains of cold and flu. By the way, the phrase you use is Bu Yao! It means: Not Wanted or Go Away.

Apart from a dose of croup which Juliana seems to have caught in Australia and incubated on the plane, the little darling had no health problems at all. The only difficulty we had with her came at meal times, as many Chinese restaurants have no high chairs. Fortunately Moya and her mother carried long black belts on their overcoats which doubled as child restraints.

Juliana tucked into most of the same courses we were served, storing left over rice and noodles for later consumption in various nooks and crannies of her bib, her clothing, my front worn baby carrier and the front of every shirt and coat I packed for the trip.

Officially we were there for the wedding, which was a feast for the senses.

Accompanied by deafening explosions from multiple firecrackers the tourparty left our hotel through clouds of black powder smoke, to pick up the bride.

This apparently required eight limousines (eight is a lucky number), with the cameraman occasionally hanging out of a limo window to get the best shots.

Colour-5--600pxAt the bride’s home we had more firecrackers and smoke, before the groom began a ritual of some six hours of ritual humiliation, which, as his good Australian friends, we all enjoyed immensely.

It began with the groom and his representative knocking on the door of the bride’s home, only to be told to go away (Bu Yao, remember?) by the bride’s family.

Then the groom’s representative was supposed to insert a red envelope containing a few dollars though the door’s peephole, get told Bu Yao! one more time, insert a second envelope and then enter.

Well, he did, but he can’t have done it very well, as it took our mate Warwick up to 20 small red envelopes and a lot of shouting to get in the door, to the great amusement of his friends, his new in laws and what seemed to be several hundred residents of the apartment block.

His humiliation was however, only beginning. As we sipped tea in the family kitchen Warwick was supposed to enter  the bride’s bedroom and escort her out. Unfortunately her cousins had hidden the bride’s shoes and Sophia couldn’t leave without shoes, could she?

About half an hour passed while we enjoyed four infusions of local green tea and savouries in the kitchen. By then Warwick had finally found her second shoe hidden under the bed.

At this stage both Warwick and Sophia were getting pretty keen to move along here, but Sophia wasn’t allowed to leave without wearing socks and for that, the bride’s agents demanded payment in Aussie dollars – of which our long suffering groom had none.

Fortunately for him, my wife had a two dollar coin in her pocket, which did the trick and the bride was piggy backed out through the kitchen, past about a hundred laughing family and friends, wearing wedding dress, the once hidden shoes and the socks purchased for a dollar apiece, throwing red chopsticks over her shoulder and shouting something that could have been Bu Yao! as she was carried out the front door. You had to be there.Food-3-range-of-dishes-IMG_600px

Then we had more fireworks, more smoke, a trip back to the hotel and another three hours of this sort of punishment for the long suffering groom, suffered at the hands of a wedding host dressed in a bright silver tuxedo, shouting instructions and exhortations to Warwick in front of 200 guests who were laughing loud enough to put Buddha to shame.

It reminded me of one of Paul Keating’s stronger speeches to the Australian Labor Party Caucus but the Chinese version had fewer obscenities and marginally less humiliation of the target de jour. Suffice it to say, the whole event was a theatrical experience that still lingers in the imagination.

Then began a week of touring from Wuhu to Huangshan, Hangzhou and Shanghai on the official Tea Exchange Yangtze Delta Tea and Cuisine Odyssey. There were 15 of us on a bus driven by the best bus driver I’ve ever seen who squeezed his 30 seater bus through traffic and parking spots where I wouldn’t be game to take my Tarago.

Potter-1-IMG_1192-500pxAt every step, through museums, restaurants, tea houses, hotels and tourist spots we had a local guide and translator. The locals would speak Mandarin, with a strong local pronunciation influenced by their local dialect.

This included in Nanjing a variety of the Jianghuai Mandarin Dialect, in Wuhu, a variety of the Anhui dialect, in Yellow Mountain area, a variety of the Hui dialect and in Hangzhou and Shanghai a variety of the Wu Dialect.

Of course the Australian educated and Chinese born groom Warwick was there to help with translations and the locals loved listening to him, as they told us on the quiet that he sounded like a posh BBC newsreader, which probably partly explains why they gave him such a hard time at the wedding.

The tour then took us on a meandering seven day trip upstream along the Yangtze, past canal villages, then inland to Yellow Mountain, then back down to West Lake and the Qiantang River at Hangzhou and finally across to Shanghai and the mouth of the Yangtze.

We took in ancient industrial factories showing how the locals making delicate translucent blue porcelain, iron art and fine rice paper, blue fabric dyes and a fortuitously small man who climbed a 20 metre bendy tall bamboo pole for the bemusement of locals and tourists alike.

We saw unforgettable scenes of great natural beauty at Yellow Mountain along with majestic BuddhTea-1-IMG_1080-500pxist temples along a river walk path lined with recessed Buddha statues more than a thousand years old. There were memorial gates to famous leaders, ancient Confucian temples, slate domed bridges and six hundred year old tea trees.

In between site seeing, the foodies kept ordering banquets of up to 15 courses to ward off hunger pangs and they succeeded admirably.

Here is Lien’s description of a typical light lunch we enjoyed on the trip:

Four appetisers: Bean and red capsicum pickle, potato and chilli pickle, deep fried anchovy, pickled cucumber with sesame oil.

Eight Mains: Scrambled egg with black fungus, chicken stir fried with strips of broccoli stem and red capsicum, snake bean sprouts, stir fried with chilli, dried bamboo shoot with green capsicum stir fried, prawn cake, snake bean stir fry with chilli, glass noodle stir fried with pork pieces, tofu braised with pork belly.

Towards the end of the meal we would be served steamed rice and a soup – in this case small shrimp with pickled vegetables. The local families travelling with would eat the earlier courses sparingly and fill up on the rice and soup towards the end of the meal.

Desert was little local mandarins.

Old-buildings-5-canal-estate-600pxDespite all the this food, no one seemed to gain weight, no one got sick, although we drank only bottled water. The air pollution was noticeable in parts, especially Shanghai, but we were in a city containing roughly the same number of persons as Australia. Much of this modern city has been built up from little more than paddy fields over little more than 20 years and it now features trains travelling at up to 400 kph.

Chinese by and large seem to be smart, work hard and save a lot. They have a wonderfully irreverent and ribald sense of humour with which comes in handy when you’re part of an economic experiment which is shovelling a population the size of the USA from small farms into high rise urban flats. This required a lot of iron ore and coal, for which we should be rather grateful and I was pretty happy to be able to give them back a bit.

The hotels chosen for us all rated about four stars and cost between $60 and $150 each per night. The only uncomfortable thing about the hotels is that the Chinese in winter do not like being cold, so the air conditioning would invariably be turned up to about 24 centigrade. Invariably, it couldn’t be adjusted and windows couldn’t be opened, so we just got on with it.

I had less luck with the tea ceremonies.

After ten days on the Yangtze Delta Tea and Cuisine Odyssey, I thought I was doing pretty well developing my green tea palate, until I found out right at the end that the special tea that I really liked was described (with some pity) by the tea masters as “Chop Chop”.

Then I had to admit that I might be a bit of a wine snob when it comes to taste, but as far as Green tea was concerned, I remained a complete yob.

Characters-7-Monks-in-file-600pxThe remaining two days of tour took in the sights and shopping of Shanghai. For souvenirs, we travelled to Yu Markets where we picked up all manner of shirts, hats, hanging horoscopes, fans, purses, personal stamps and tea sets. Take your guide with you when it comes to bargaining and you will save about 30 percent.

For those after the real deal with any of the internationally famous French, Italian or US brands, there’s a row of them along the main shopping street, with the knock off versions also available nearby.

I was walking around in my own Chinese brand track shoes which cost me about $40 and had carried me and my baby daughter up to eight kms a day for ten days – so I didn’t have any hang ups about shopping for good locally made products – so long as I had my bargainer and interpreter nearby.

To be honest you could spend a week in Shanghai without missing a beat. We wound up the trip at the Jazz Bar in the Fairmont Peace Hotel with the original jazz band, whose average age is 80 years. I loved it and so did my eight month old daughter … Bu Yao! Bu Yao!

For those of you travelling without your doctor missus you can sneak up to the Cin Cin Wine and Cigar lounge and enjoy a decent Havana cigar. Ah memories.

 

Tea Ceremonies.

The Chinese tea ceremony – often called Gongfu tea – has historical antecedents dating back to the Tang Dynasty (618-906). Today’s Gongfu tea ceremony has also been influenced by Japanese and Taiwanese aesthetics, and finds itself most pronounced as a way of enjoying tea in the south eastern coastal provinces of Fujian and Guangdong.

Tea 3 P1030373The term Gongfu was first applied to the new production methods that emerged in the early 18th century in Fujian and later was applied to the brewing and consumption processes in recognition of the complexity and skills involved.

Gongfu tea is distinguished by its use of small teapots or lidded porcelain vessels and small cups to prepare tea. The Gongfu tea ritual involves the rinsing of the cups before pouring tea into them, and attending to the colour and aroma of both the dried and immersed leaves. The dried leaf is careful placed into the pot or vessel, and hot water to the appropriate temperature is added. The water temperature is between 75-85 degrees, depending on the tea being prepared.

The first infusion is often discarded, as it is to wash the tea only. It also serves to reactivate or open up the dried leaves. The precise duration of each infusion varies from tea to tea, and from infusion to infusion. The art of the Gongfu tea ceremony is to strike the right balance, to bring out the full beauty of the tea.

Tea appreciation draws on many of one’s senses: the visual, the olfactory and the palate. Scholars have often ascribed a highly ritualised state to the Chinese tea ceremony, discerning up to 18 separate steeps in preparing tea for consumption, and another three specifying how tea should be consumed.

 

Yellow Mountain

Yellow Mountain is a range of granite peaks up to 1800 metres tall, forced upwards from an inland sea 100 million years ago and then pared down by glaciers in the last few million years. It has been a while in the making.

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It’s now a UNESCO world heritage site and one of China’s major tourist attractions and it draws about as many tourists every year as Australia has residents. On the down side its granite peaks inspired James Cameron to make the fictional world for his truly dreadful film Avatar.

The region was also on our must see list as it’s one of China’s premir green tea growing mountains producing fur peak tea, a well-known local variety taking its name from the downy tips of the local tea leaves.

You get most of the way towards the top by cable car where we found modern hotels complete with hot springs where tourists stay overnight, specifically to see the sunrise.

Sometimes the lucky tourist can see rainbow like solar “glories” as the sun rises through the peaks and mists part to slowly unveil golden granite spires, dotted by100 year old welcome pines which grow out of the rock. Below you on most days of the year you see seas of clouds. The solar “glories” are locally called Buddha’s Light and all the seas of clouds are given names.

It’s pretty swish really and worth a bit of a walk. This is just as well, because on Yellow MountaiYellow 10 Porter IMG_7104n I walked eight kilometres, with an eight month old baby strapped to my chest on a carrier.

For the less energetic, teams of porters will take you up and down the stairs in the traditional Chinese sedan chairs or palanquins – basically a light cane chair strapped between two bamboo poles.

There were over 50 kms of footpaths with some 60,000 stone steps, carved into the mountain from up to 1500 years ago. I can still feel most of them.

With the baby in my front carrier and the never ending steps, I was feeling sorry for myself until I was passed by one of the local porters in his numbered blue uniform, with a bamboo pole slung over one shoulder and a special balancing pole on the other, to steer his load and rest on end of it between climbs.

These blokes do two trips a day and each trip takes between four and five hours up and down the mountain, carrying supplies up to the hotels built at the ends of the cable car runs and then carrying all the garbage and dirty linen back down again.

Yellow-6-Porter-P1030278-v400pxThe porter I saw was carrying a small stove, part of a desk and medium sized oil heater. The total weight I estimated at about 70 kilograms. I soldiered on.

Following the trek up and down Yellow Mountain, our hosts organised a restorative hour long massage and a 15 course feast back near our hotel. We survived the night.

Travel

We flew Qantas direct from Brisbane to Hong Kong and then on to Nanjing in the same day and returned on an overnight flight from Shanghai to Sydney lasting 10.5 hours. Economy flights for the three of us cost about $1000 each.

We paid about $100 a night for four star hotels which were suggested by the Tea Exchange and booked directly through Agoda.com. All hotels were international standard.

The Tea Exchange paid for the bus tour and we paid for admission prices to tourist spots. We paid for our own food and meals tended to cost about $25 per head for a share of 15 courses. There was so little fat content in the food that we ate well, but – with copious quantities of green tea, we never felt bloated.

We drank only bottled water which was freely available on the bus. Towards the end of the trip most of us were carrying small plastic jars of green tea. Give up on the idea of getting any decent wine unless you strike it lucky and don’t start on the rice wine. The local beers are great.

Massages are a very good idea at the end of long day’s hiking, and cost about $40. Negotiate the price first.

Toilets by and large were no different to which you’d find anywhere in the world and probably a lot cleaner than those I usually find at the Sydney airport.

We saw five beggars on the whole trip and they were organised into a small huddle outside a Buddhist temple and closely watched by five policemen. We never at any time felt threatened or in any danger from passers-by who were overwhelmingly friendly and curious.Old-buildings-3-600xp

All road signs were in Mandarin and English and the drivers seemed a lot better than you’d find in Italy and probably on a par with the English. If you lived there, you would feel ok driving around.

Apart from my daughter, who brought a cough with her from the germ factories otherwise known as the Australian child care system, no one got sick, but we travelled with a GP equipped with a doctors bag just in case. We had insurance and with serious illness you go straight to hospital and take plenty of credit, as you do in any country in the world.

Save your shopping until you get to Shanghai and take your guide to interpret and bargain. The custom when buying any service such as a meal or massage is to sort out prices first and don’t tip once the cost has been agreed.

 

 


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OWEN RIVER LODGE – CAN’T WAIT TO DO IT ALL AGAIN

Category:Fly Fishing

Owen River Lodge , New Zealand

Bottom line with any trip is whether you’d do it again. With Owen River Lodge the answer is yes and as soon as possible.

We left home in Brisbane on October 1 frazzled and stressed and returned after five days at the lodge kind of chilled, man.

Jeanine and I had spoiled ourselves with a business class ticket to the lodge via Auckland and Nelson and then we took the airport pickup with Margo to avoid the hassle of a hire car.

Paul was a patient instructor with Jeanine, who was a bit out of practice. Bringing up three little kids tends to minimise fly fishing opportunities for both of us, but especially for a nursing mum. By the end of the trip she was flicking the line out with the best of them and we were both catching fish. I caught more but I don’t like to boast, as you already know. The welcome from our host Felix was sincere, the food from our chef Ryan was outstanding, the fly fishing guide Paul was courteous and professional and the massage from Marci’s stand in on the last day took us both to another place well away from clients and patients.

And then late morning on the last day, we rolled into the shuttle car with our driver …. and pulled up outside our Brisbane home for dinner. Worked for us, man.

Mind you we had left three kids under eight at home with their Nan and Pop for the trip away and that helped a little. Tony and Fran did look pretty pleased to see us and left bright and early the next morning, looking pretty relieved.

I asked them where they were going and they replied: “Oh just anywhere”. I offered to let them take the kids but by that time they had jumped the fence and were driving off rather quickly.

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE TRIP

The Host. Felix the host is courteous and helpful without being intrusive. If we wanted anything, from a glass of fizz to some anti-itch cream, it tended to just appear, without much fuss. Felix’s an Aussie and he
Beautiful Food - Owen River Lodge New Zealandknew I liked to watch the Rugby and he recorded the England v Australia game for me and also let me know the match was about to start as we finished breakfast. Our guide Paul was a typical Kiwi Rugby nut, so the fishing was postponed for an hour or two while we sat back in our fly fishing gear and watch the Aussies gain some sweet revenge for past defeats by the Poms. It was worth it.

The Food. Our chef Ryan was a real find. His meals prepared in the modern Kiwi cuisine style with exclusively local ingredients and with exceptional skill at blending food flavours. I kept snooping around the kitchen picking up tips and noted one lot of simmering water complete with lemon halves, sugar, vanilla beans and saffron. The final blend of tastes in our dessert that evening was a knockout. Really. It was worth the  trip just for the food. Jeanine’s comment: the food was superb and I put two kilos on. With all the fishing, I lost weight, but we mustn’t boast.

Our Guide Paul was a real pro. He had a camera and a weighing net in case we lucked out with a trophy fish. He also carried an emergency beacon in case our luck was well and truly out.

Owen River, New Zealand.Over three days we shopped around the various local rivers, including the famous Owen. Like all great guides he knew the locals and had secured their confidence to gain access to the best spots across private farmland.

He was a gun fish spotter and little grey shadows fifty metres upstream amongst several hundred other grey shadows that Paul said were trout, invariably were correctly identified.

Paul was a patient instructor with Jeanine, who was a bit out of practice. Bringing up three little kids tends to minimise fly fishing opportunities for both of us, but especially for a nursing mum. By the end of the trip she was flicking the line out with the best of them and we were both catching fish. I caught more but I don’t like to boast, as you already know.

For future reference Paul reckons the right sort of tree is flowering along the local rivers so that means another mouse plague next year and lots of big far trophy trout. I’m booked already.

The Massage. Marci was away but her stand in did an great job. On the last day we stopped fishing and enjoyed a sleep in and a long breakfast. Then we loafed for an hour or so in the hot tub overlooking the peaceful Owen River and then spent another hour each on the massage table. I don’t know where the rest of the day went. We were in a bit of a dream state really. Then tiffin and dinner. All go really.

The Travel.  The best thing about Felix’s lodge is that he has everything. All the gear you might need, from the rods and waders and boots, to the shirts and any extra fly gear. I think I only packed Fishing Rod my normal lightweight shirt and some polypropylenes, along with some thick socks and my old fly-fishing gloves to minimise attacks from Kiwi sandflies.

My lovely old seven piece Hardy Smuggler aka “Precious” also found its way into my bag, but that’s ok. We travelled light and there was no hassle with international airports at either end, wanting to take and clean boots or waders. It’s an old but true travel tip: take double the money and half the clobber. In this case, I think Jeanine was flat out spending $200 Kiwi notes and the rest went on the credit card. Well, my credit card actually, but that’s another story.

While over there we picked up some John Black - For future reference Paul reckons the right sort of tree is flowering along the local rivers so that means another mouse plague next year and lots of big far trophy trout. I’m booked already.Kiwi made arnica based massage cream called Anti Flamme which is absolutely wonderful for bruises and strains. And we also used basic anti-histamine tablets as insurance against itches from the sandfly bites.

The tablets worked well but it’s probably not a smart idea to take the 24 hour anti-histamine just before bed and just after sharing a bottle of Felix’s wonderful house red and nice single malt from his bar collection. No need to go into that any further.

And finally, if you book Air New Zealand business class, make sure it’s an Air New Zealand plane. We ended up on a substitute carrier in a plane which looked older than the flight crew.

The crew were professionals and the food was fine but there was no real entertainment worthy of the title.

That’s it. Check into http://www.owenriverlodge.co.nz/ and give Felix a call. I think you’ll enjoy it.

Owen River Lodge, New Zealand

 


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Roller Coaster for Grown ups

Category:Fly Fishing

nimmo-bay-bell-helicpoter

NIMMO BAY Canada. http://nimmobay.com/

 

Talk about an adrenalin rush.

I’m strapped down tight in a Bell Jet helicopter two kilometres above the western coastline of British Columbia and I find myself hanging on to pretty much anything in the chopper to convince myself that flying through the air in a machine without wings is a perfectly natural and safe thing to do.

Sitting up front next to the pilot, I’m surrounded on four sides by clear Perspex and it feels like the only think stopping me from dropping two kilometres is the seatbelt strap.

Now we’re scooting along at up to 200 km/h and the tips of the twin props are nudging the speed of sound, thumping out a booming bass accompaniment to the headphones sound track of Neil Young, the Canadian Godfather of grunge rock, on electric guitar belting out Rockin’ in the Free World.

nimmo-bay-bell-helicopter-2Down we go again dropping a few thousand feet and slowing to about 15 knots as the Douglas fir tree tops sweep past well above us on either side.

Now Don is spotting salmon in the Wakeman River about 50 feet below. He looks first for the schools of fish, then individual trophy sized fish. The shape, size and colour indicate the species of salmon, whether pink, sockeye, Coho, chum or Chinook.

He finds a likely spot, where the Atway River joins the Wakeman and we drop down vertically, like moving down a magic green lift, with Douglas Firs and Alder trees decked with Spanish moss, surrounding the chopper on three sides.

nimmo-bay-5While we’re waiting for the blades to slow and stop, Don gives us a routine warning about there being a resident Grizzly Bear in this spot, but at least he usually makes a lot of noise from the opposite bank, so we get plenty of warning. Apparently it’s the black bears that like to sneak around from behind, if they are seriously stalking you, so we should keep looking over shoulders here, just in case.

Just in case, Don’s packing a 12 gauge chrome plated pump action shotgun with three inch magnum single ball shot, kept in a back holster at all times.

For an Aussie farm boy, this is bloke heaven.

I flick out the fly to schools of ten pound Coho and some 30 pound Chinooks. The Coho seem to like my fly – a lot – but the big Chinooks prove elusive and they keep jumping from the water, just out of casting range. Still a ten pound fighting fish on a fly makes it memorable in any fly fisherman’s almanac and ten of them in an afternoon makes it the trip of a lifetime.

nimmo-bay-1
Earlier that day we had ridden the Bell with Don to lunch on the Kingcome Glacier on the Silverthorne Icefield. While I did the mature thing and peed my initials in the snow, Don pulled out portable table and chairs and laid out red or white wine, gourmet antipasto, fresh fruit and profiteroles, all served on crisp yellow tablecloths and napkins contrasted against the ice blue of the glacier.

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After we’d climbed stiffly back into the chopper, feeling rather pudgy with all the layers of clothing and too much food, Don lifted off the ice and took the Bell straight out over the Kingcome Valley floor, 4000 feet below our lunch site and then began a steep descent. The pit of my stomach told me it was all over, but it had been a great ride. I turned up the headphones Richard Wagner’s Flight of the Valkyries. You had to be there.

If a roller coaster is a seven on the zero to ten ghost train score of scary things, and a 100 foot bungy jump is an eight, then the sensation of looking at the ground drop 4000 feet beneath you is scary on a completely different level, like a roller coasters for grown-ups.

nimmo-bay-dolphin

The next day I was off with Don to Kakweiken River, a short flight in the chopper, but impossible commute in a realistic time frame, by boat or overland.

When we head over a likely spot, we see a big lumbering female Grizzly, followed by three ‘small’ cubs … so Don decides on discretion and we keep flying.

It’s on this trip that I discover the only fool proof way to see bears in British Columbia – you forget to bring your camera.

Now we’re dropping down near the famous two mile pool, into a tight landing spot right alongside a massive migrating shoal. The normally clear turquoise shaded Kakweiken looks black from a massive shoal of big migrating Coho.

A father and son from the US are on the trip with me and they’re using lures, which the big Coho find irresistible and after an hour, they caught and safely released a combined 50 Coho. The Coho didn’t seem to mind – they had a date with some sandy gravel a few km upstream, followed by an uncertain fate at the hands of mother nature, so they just got on with it, stoic these Canadians.

Then I note Don shouting at us. He picks up two big rocks and starts bashing them together. I think what have I done wrong here? Turns out it is not me he’s shouting at, but a pesky Grizzly Bear which has been watching us catch what he considers HIS fish.

nimmo-bay-bear

At this point I reach for my camera … not there. Then I ask the US dad to please snap a few shots of me fishing, with the bear in the background. My editor will love this. This is my idea of a real story.

Don had other ideas and, seeing as he had the big gun and was standing between us and the helicopter, we did what we told.

By this time, the bear was fast approaching the chopper from the opposite end of the pool. And well, Grizzly Bears don’t practice catch and release.

My US companion kindly snapped a few pictures as we trotted back and were quickly on our way, relieved to hear the reassuring thump, thump, of the chopper blades.

Adrenalin rush? Absolutely! Would I do it again? Yep.

nimmo-bay-

Back at Nimmo Bay we experience the sort of service that this resort arguably the best of its kind in the world. Certainly the testimonials from the rich, famous and powerful, provide enough evidence, from captains of industry, to the cast of Boston Legal and former US president George H Bush, confirm what I know already.

nimmo-bay6-The adventure guide Mike is there to meet us and takes to the heated gear room, to help us get out of the waders and boots. In my intertidal chalet, my housekeeper Gillian has been at work, arranging everything with neatness verging on the OCD – I’ve never had my toothpaste tube rolled up for me before.

I take an hour out for a massage from Reiki master Jelena, to iron out my kinks, then pop down the ramp to the outdoor hot tub and plunge pool, to enjoy a preprandial foaming libation, kindly served to me from Brianna, who made sure my favourite brand of single malt was always available, along with a complimentary hand rolled Cuban cigar, presumably kept on hand in case William Shatner popped down from his nearby digs for a bit of R and R.

Then it was an open shower by the plunge pool and I toddled off, purring, to the floating fire deck, where the guests snuggled under woollen throw rugs, to do very little except relax, watch the Nimmo Bay sunset and be indulged with entrees prepared by Chef Sandi and resident Baker Teri.

The dinners were invariably delicious and I even picked up some tips from Sandi on how to clean my barbecue plate back home. She was a class act in the tucker department.

Fraser, our host was there, with Mike and Troy to organise activities for those who wanted to chill and avoid the excitement of the chopper rides and being chased by bears. These kinder, gentler souls could visit the local indigenous Canadian cultural museum, enjoy a spot of yoga, watch migrating whales broaching or follow some of the local killer whale pack around the waters between Nimmo and Vancouver Island. There was also more family oriented activities, like wildlife walks, white water rafting, kayaking, rock climbing, meeting the local survivalist expert …

nimmo-bay-fly-fishing

So, if you’re an old fart like me, who just likes to go fly fishing, it was heaven on a stick. Oh, and if you really like anadrenalin rush, spare a day for Perry, the local fly fishing expert, who takes you out in his jet boat, skimming over the shallows in narrow streams inches from overhanging leaves. Perry doesn’t take a gun. If he sees a bear he reckons he and his mates chase them, just for the fun of seeing a big grizzly clamber a tree. So he said. Perry has been an Australian with stories like this.

Many of the clients were grandfathers and sons, fathers and their kids, mothers and kids; sometimes three generations … there was a fair bit of bonding going on here.

The costs for the basic wilderness package were about $1500 Canadian a day each, plus gratuities. The chopper rides added another $1500 to $2600 each per day depending on how many mates you teamed up with but the chopper is at your disposal all day and the pilot doubles up as the guide and the bloke who chases away very large bad hairy things that want to eat you.

This price seems competitive with heli fishing in New Zealand, where the helicopters tend to just to drop you off and pick you up, which means you pay to transport the guide and you pay the guide. So factor that into any costs.

But if you’re quibbling about a grand here or there, forget it. Nimmo is all about indulgence. Think Fantasy Island with a fly rod.

I loved it, especially as the Canadian Tourism Commission were picking up the tab, but the realities were pretty practical, really. I was on a 14 hour mid-morning direct flight from Sydney to Vancouver and you arrive three hours before you leave local time. I took a detour to another resort, but I think the local connections would normally get you to Nimmo Bay around about the same local time you left Australia. That’s fast.

I’m doing it again. Soon as I can really. I made the mistake of telling my wife about the bears. Bugger.

 

NIMMO BAY Canada. http://nimmobay.com/

 


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Wetting a line in Rugby Territory

Category:Fly Fishing

Flyfish Cape Town with Inkwazi Flyfishing, South Africa

John Black – Fly fishing Cape Town, South Africa

If Rugby Union is indeed the sport for thugs played by gentlemen, then fly fishing in small streams for nervous trout would have to qualify as the recreational activity for mugs, albeit played by the same gentlemen.

And did I mention gentlemen and their love of red wine?

You can get all three – Rugby, Fly Fishing and some very companionable reds in Cape Town, South Africa, during the current Super 15 Rugby season because the Rugby season overlaps with the trout fishing season and by the end of March all the grapes have been harvested.

Now there’s a happy set of coincidences. So it was in the interests of my company’s small but discerning group of social media fans that I undertook this research. Plus of course, my daughter was getting married to a local South African and I had to give her away, along with some of my savings.

The wine industry began in South Africa, when the first vineyards were planted to take advantage of Cape Town’s Mediterranean climate after 1652 to ward off scurvy amongst sailors travelling the spice route.

John Black, Flyfishing Cape Town, South AfricaIt was of course my concerns about scurvy on the direct flight back to Sydney that caused me to undertake a rigorous health regime of sampling the local Shiraz and cabernet sauvignon based wines and also a local cross of pinot noir and cinsaut called Pinotage – which is worth a punt.

Speaking of the punt, the rugby Super 15 season is well under way during the period March to the end of May, which overlaps nicely with the local trout season.

The Cape Town Rugby team the Stormers play the Canberra Brumbies at Newlands on May 8 and then the Melbourne Rebels on May 22. These should be great games to watch, with the qualifying end of the season approaching.

So, you can head over to Cape Town at the pointy end of a direct Qantas flight from Sydney to Johannesburg and catch a commuter direct to Cape Town, watch the game at Newlands and then head out to relax with some wine tastings at Paarl and Stellenbosch. After a day or so loafing by the pool I suggest you duck up the mountains to try a spot of fly fishing with local guide Tim Rolston. I think it’s worth a tick on the bucket list.

I stayed at the Grande Roche Hotel at Paarl, a small luxury hotel at the foot of Paarl Rock, set in working vineyards and overlooking beautifully maintained gardens and with spectacular views of the Cape Fold Belt Ranges.

Grande Roche Hotel at Paarl, Cape Town, South Africa

If you do stay there, organise yourself a trip from the airport with the hotel staff, and keep your receipt, as you do not want to be hunting for a cab as a tourist in Cape Town or its airport late at night. Or in the morning, if it comes to that, as there’s a lot of unofficial cabs about the fares tend to be flexible.

When you are in Cape Town, you should take maximum care of your personal security, especially when it comes to travelling alone, or at night or outside ATMs. Muggings and burglaries are a fact of life and razor wire around private homes bears testament to that.

And get used to having cigarette smoke blown in public places – my room had a lovely historic thatched rooves which unfortunately conducted cigar smoke from next door through my room at night. Still, they were good quality cigars and I’ve been known to enjoy a Cohiba Esplendido while overseas, from time to time. Cigarettes on the other hand are a bloody nuisance.

But the food and the service from concierges more than made up for some minor inconvenience. The hotel caters for English and German speakers and the German chef turned out some of the most magnificent meals I have ever enjoyed. I loved it.

 Grande Roche Hotel at Paarl

The German tourists were an interesting bunch in the culinary stakes, with their breakfast typically starting with oysters natural, splashed with tabasco sauce and accompanied by crisp local champagne and followed by cured hams and sausage. I tried it and it certainly took your mind off any concerns you might have on how you’d be spending the rest of the day.

I had all my meals on the terrace overlooking a working vineyard, where I did my best to navigate my way through media webpages using the local Wi-Fi service. The champagne helped after a while.

I had all my meals on the terrace overlooking a working vineyard

But I really stayed there for the fly fishing and first thing after my oysters and champagne, up rocked local guide and raconteur Tim Rolston of Inkwazi Flyfishing to whisk me up to the Du Toitskloof Mountain Range part of the Cape Fold Mountain Belt. We arrived at the Elandspad River after a quick drive through a toll tunnel and the whole trip took about 45 minutes from the door of the hotel.

If you go up through the tunnel, I would recommend you return via the old pass route as the views of Cape Town are really something.

The Elandspad River was more of a stream really and about 300 metres above sea level and located in Elandspad Riverthe
Limietberg Reserve, a nature reserve under the management of Cape Nature. The height above sea level produces a cool microclimate which enables the local introduced Rainbow trout to flourish since they were stocked in 1897.

The fishing on the streams is controlled by the Cape
Piscatorial Society
in conjunction with Cape Nature and fishing is fly only, barbless hooks only, catch and release.

The streams are divided into beats and all anglers must secure a booking for a beat for the day prior to fishing. No more than two anglers are permitted to fish a beat on any given day.

The Elandspad River now has four beats, each averaging approximately 1.5 Km. The lowest beat starts right next to the road, the highest beat is approximately an hour’s walk along the trail to the commencement of the fishing.

To get there, we walked past a group of bare arsed baboons, who were fortunately totally uninterested in us. I hate monkeys of any description and no good ever comes of feeding the buggers.

At this point I should mention that South Africans tend to be reasonably robust types. It comes with the territory.

Fishing is normally done without waders. No problem. There are a few snakes around that can kill you -like puff adders and cape cobras – but these critters are coloured brown in Oz and are just as effective at killing you, so I had no difficulty there.

John climbing mountain goat styleThe problem came when we had assume the mountain goat stance to get into the river from steep sandstone canyons and – whilst your humble scribe was fit enough from swimming and walking – my mountain goat training was sadly deficient. I have been known to fall off cliffs while fly fishing.

Still, I did it. We got there. The fishing was great.

The trout were canny little buggers, nervous to the point of being neurotic. But cute to catch on my seven foot six inch three weight sage rod.

We used tiny size 16 sedge dries, with even tinier size 20 wets hanging underneath, all tied with Tim’s special penny knot. The stream was not unlike my favourite little Bundara River in the Victorian High Country of East Gippsland – shallow, freestone, small pools, but lots of fun with very light gear – which unfortunately I later managed to leave in Tim’s car after enjoying a few beers after the fishing.John's FishEP

But, being a true gent, Tim sent it back to Oz with my daughter and her new husband when they came home.

I also still have the flies which we used that day, pushed into a grange cork atop one of my three computer screens, so when my bum gets numb after a 18 hours straight of sitting down, churning out statistical profiles of schools, elections and the labour market, I can cast an eye over the flies – and all the other flies in corks blue-tacked to my computer screens. Then I relive old adventures in faraway places which gladdened my heart.

And this was one of them.

So, if you’re a Rugby fan and you’re heading over there to catch a game, I would recommend you give Tim a call and settle into the Grande Roche for a week or so. Break it up with a few winery visits and a day or two of fly fishing. And of course, you can be in Cape Town in an hour and the hotel lay on a shuttle bus to take you there and bring you back.

And while you are there, make sure you drink some medicinal doses of the local Pinotage to ward off scurvy on the long flight home. Worked for me. No sign of scurvy since.

 John6

The Grande Roche Hotel can be found at http://granderoche.com/

For full details of the Cape Town Harvest festivals, try http://www.capetownmagazine.com/news/harvest-festivals-in-the-cape-winelands/10_22_18520

The Super 15 season fixtures can be seen at http://www.superxv.com/fixtures/

Relevant contact details for trout fishing and Tim Rolston Inkwazi Flyfishing:

Web: www.inkwaziflyfishing.co.za

Blog: http://paracaddis.wordpress.com

Email: rolston@iafrica.com

Tel: +27 (0)83 6260467

Cape Piscatorial Society:

Web: www.piscator.co.za

Email: cpsoc@netactive.co.za

Tel: +27 (0)21 4247725

Downloadable history of the CPS:

http://www.piscator.co.za/the-club/history/


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Small Streams Big Thrills

Category:Fly Fishing

I learned to fly fish 23 years ago, on the beautiful Bundara River at Anglers Rest in North East Victoria. The learning process took a while, as I lived in Brisbane but I enjoyed the rugged beauty of Australia’s south east and the romance of pursuing the wily brown trout with a fly rod.

 

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I had been fascinated since I was a young man watching fly fishermen, gracefully looping out their fly lines over a big dam stocked with rainbow trout, near our property in the Adelaide Hills. After they left, I’d turn over a few rocks, dig up a mud eye and catch dinner with my telescopic poacher’s rod. Maybe I felt a bit guilty, but I resolved to try it the old fashioned way when I next got the opportunity. This ended up taking another decade or so, when the good voters of Queensland decided I needed to take an involuntary break from politics.

The first chance I got I was there on the Bundara, with my new fly rod kit in hand and absolutely no idea of what to do next. Fortunately Frank Jones was on hand to provide some cheerful advice but I still had to master reading the water, picking the fly, spotting the trout, delivering the cast, mending the drift, setting the hook and then netting uncooperative and very cranky brown trout. It took me a year to get to the netting stage, as it’s a bit hard to learn each stage before you’ve mastered the previous one.

Over this time, the hardest part was actually delivering the fly on the micro pools and drifts of the upper Bundara. Apart from the streamside brambles and overhanging willows to limit the arc of your cast, there was limited stream access across wombat holes into very shallow tailing water, where the slightest unnecessary movement would spook the wary trout feeding in the lower end of the pool. It would then swim upstream casually, telling all its mates that the idiot from Queensland was back.

The good part however was that, if you could fly fish for trout on the Bundara, you could fly fish for trout and salmon pretty much anywhere in the world. So I did and I still am.  fly-fishing-1

The problem with this is that is you get spoiled by the eager guides and their default selection of the easiest runs containing mildly suicidal salmonoids who really like getting their photograph taken.

A little while back I found myself back on the Bundara and losing a lot of flies on the same brambles and overhanging willows that used to frustrate me 20 years ago … and the trout also seemed to have become a lot more cautious, especially in the longer pools where I knew the local catch and kill crowd regularly trailed the dreaded unweighted worm from a fixed line. Was it time for yours truly to head back to piscatorial prep?

The opportunity to answer that question arose recently when I had to fly home to Brisbane from Melbourne and I found I could take a Rex flight out of Melbourne to Albury early in the morning and then catch the late flight out in the afternoon. The in between part was work of sorts, but when you own the company, it’s easier to justify to yourself.

Which was how I found myself partnered up with Scottie McPherson recently on the lower reaches of the Mitta Mitta River in north east Victoria, re-learning all I’d forgotten.

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Scottie runs courses for old farts like me called “Short Line Fly-fishing”. In his own words:

It is about having only a few feet of fly line out the end of your rod and using mainly just the leader and tippet with the minimal casts and getting the longest drag free drifts from your single or twin flycombo.

A good buoyant dry fly with a nymph dropper below is my favourite rig.

I like to keep the cast to one or two false casts at most, then stopping the rod with the rod tip high and only having the tippet and flies land on the water.

Using the rod tip to follow the drifting flies with enough slack so that the fly can drift drag free but not too much that you cannot easily lift the rod tip and set the hook if the dry is taken or dips.

With practice you can cover a section of stream very effectively with a minimum amount of casting, but making sure that your nymph is bouncing along the bottom of the stream where the fish are.

You can also easily reach over fast water to fish the slow deeper pockets on the far side.

Scottie runs weekend sessions on this style of fly-fishing all season long but suggests an early start, so you can get the best value for the rest of your season.

Towards the end of session, my rusty short casts were repaired and my flies stopped getting jagged on the willows. I kept my fat feet out of shallow pools and found myself shooting my fly in from the banks with bow and arrow casts zinging in through dartboard sized gaps in the brambles. After lunch, my virtue was rewarded and I ended up hooking a six pound brown in a riffle about six inches deep.

What happened to that six pound brown trout is between me, Scottie and his landing net, but I’m over it now and heading back to Albury and Scottie’s place in the first few weeks of the next trout season on my home waters away from home.

The moral of the story is: small streams hold some big fish and they’re not easy marks for the live bait boys, such as your humble scribe in his younger days. So don’t pass them by.