It’s been a while since my friend Alan Bulmer and I had been fishing so we met up at a favourite location around dawn on Saturday morning. The wind speed was zero – as was the visibility of the horizon at times. In winter the metabolic rate of the fish slows down and they tend to feed in concentrated bursts rather than continually on the prowl. Given the cool temperature, poor visibility and lack of visible baitfish this did not pan out to be a busy day for fishy predators or fishermen.
But then that’s why you bring a camera along the catch images that people tucked up in bed would not get the experience.
No problems with water clarity – superb!
From a photographic perspective, the mist served as a wonderfully diffuse background to isolate the subject … even if they were spinning sometimes rather than fly tossing. The falling tide exposing more and more interesting structure.
But then the fly rod’s call reasserted itself to make for a truely contemplative composition …
On the final walk back, another fisherman was waiting patiently for his opportunity to make a catch.
“Fly Casting with Rio” would be more accurate but more wordy and less dramatic. And this fishing trip had several elements of the unusual and dramatic.
First of all – a half day off work on the first day of calm, clear weather after weeks of rain and stormy gusting. Then there was a new (second hand) car to give a decent run, additionally a few hours hours out with the wee wifey and the core purpose, as the title suggests, time to point my Vapen Red and Rio line combo at some real fishing water.
As with all good adventures we headed due west, out towards Manukau Heads. While the weather back around Henderson was clear, crisp blue sky once past Titirangi there was a surprising bank of mist,considering it was noon, occluding the distant landscape.
We arrived at the recommended spot to find out it was much more civilized than the impression given by satellite photographs on the internet. A short walk to a very attractive beach – with one fisherman packing up and four others with lines in the water about 300-400 meters away.
Obviously this was a fishy spot.
Reality pointed out that I had made a couple of basic mistakes in the rush to get onto the water: no line stripping tray and no boots/waders. However I was not to be easily disappointed or deterred – the water was indeed chilly for wet wading but an opportunity was not be wasted. My wife was aghast – she hasn’t actually been out fishing with me for probably over a decade so hasn’t witnessed the inconvenient and slightly bizarre things that fisherman do in the pursuit of fish. But this was about the fishing, and the casting in particular, so I managed to conscript her photographic services to record my casting prowess with the new outfit.
The lift off … though it would double as a good “trout strike”
The backcast – looking quite good I think
Worth a second look
Then outward bound with the forward cast …ha ha
Thar she goes …
I worked along the beach and back again. The water was cold, the waves kept tangling the shooting line around my shoes, but I was fishing, so it was all good. The bait fisher got a decent kahawai. For a few minutes I saw some interesting swirls in the breaker line but there was no response to my offerings.
This secluded place is a slice of swoffer heaven – nice sandy beach, shelving down a a moderate angle into clear water deep enough to be patrolled by anything wandering in from the nearby harbour mouth. Nice rocky ledges that give access and opportunity at low tide. All this in classic Kiwi bush surroundings with the calls of Tui to punctuate the tranquility as your line rustles through the rod rings onto the Manukau waters.
At the end of the Part I I (Far North Kingfish – Part I) I had hooked and lost a good sized kingfish across a shallow reef. Craig and I continued up the estuary but after a couple of hours without any further sightings our time had come to leave. We hopped into the van and headed north to Parengrenga Harbour: a name of mythical grandeur in the fishing realm in New Zealand. This would be my first visit and my thoughts were swirling with tales of big snapper, trevally and kingfish to be caught by fly on shallow flats.
The massive white silica dunes were impossible to miss from the road.
And then the vast expanse of flats hits you when you get down at water level … the scene looked like a semi abstract modern landscape painting.
A sandy beach that transitioned into a wide flat rock shelf that bordered a relatively shallow channel where the tide was funnelled along at fairly good rate. Again a perfect predator haunt. So it was stepping out with a handful of rods to get to the water.
We were using Rio Outbound lines with sinking tips and weighted flies to get down the water column in the moving water.
Easy to land from the flat ledge.
Meanwhile frequent schools of smallish kahawai roamed through and provided plenty of entertainment for me. There were lots of mini- bust ups and piper skipping in panic, but even with our bigger kingfish flies all we could hook were small kahawai.
Meanwhile the wind was slow picking up and any chances for sight fishing were effectively gone. The tide was rising and coming over the ledge and the current quickening in pace.
I was having a kahawai fest and learned that with a roly-poly retrieve you reef the line in quick smart, hook a fish,and without bothering to remove the rod from your armpit, just haul the madly cavorting fish all the way to your feet. No danger of a trout strike!
Somewhere after the twentieth fish or so I was working like a well oiled machine on another school of kahawai. Shoot the line out, pause to sink, rod tucked in and strip, strip, strip: wham!
Only this wasn’t no juvenile kahawai, and it only took another couple of seconds to realise this weren’t no kahawai either: a runaway green-backed hoodlum that felt every bit as weighty as the first one from the morning. Within seconds I was well into the backing and Craig came wading over and grabbed my camera to take some photos as the Sage 10 weight arched over as I cranked up the drag. This fish had well over a hundred meters out when it slowed and stopped. In that position it was over the other side of the channel and I didn’t know if there were rocks over there or not. But this time the hook held- and so did the fish – it was simply holding position facing up into the current. This was rather unexpected behavior, but Craig was all for taking advantage of this docility: “Reel it all back in – but don’t upset it!”
So I did. Slowly, steadily it came in over the next few minutes. Meanwhile the line was collecting every bit of seaweed going along the current and it was hanging like a disheveled clothesline.
I backed up from the edge of the rock ledge and Craig moved over and started plucking weed off at the rod tip. I got it back into the channel and when it was about 10 meters out it sensed trouble and buzzed off again, at a slower rate, and sulked again. This pattern repeated a couple more times, so that after about 15 minutes we had out first sighting of a nice big yellow tail. I was handling it with a bit more authority now, confident that it was definitely tired and that the tackle was equal to stepping up the pressure. It thrashed a bit as it neared the rock ledge but thanks to the rising tide the water was over knee deep and enough to swim it in to beach it. But I keep wading back and got it safely about 3-4 meters past the edge. Craig was wading quietly behind it to help shepherd it up into the shallows. I was already mentally planning the grip and grin shots.
Then it happened -again: the hooked pulled out and the fly catapulted into the air. Time froze. I stood there gob smacked, speechless. Craig didn’t see what had happened but looked up at me and noticed the rod was now straight up with a loose line waving in the breeze. He clicked and made a grab for the fish’s tail as it too had not reacted to its hook-less freedom. But within a split second as Craig reached down his hand closed on empty water as the fish scythed its way past him, swirling back into the sanctuary of the channel depths. It was a decent fish, easily bigger than my 7 kilo best. Craig put it at 9 or 10 kilos.
We saw out the evening as the tide continued to swell, the sky warm and red as sunset coloured the western horizon. As for me, sometimes you know that your aren’t going to get another one that day.
We headed off and spent the night at a camp ground, tired enough that even sleeping in a van was no obstacle to falling alseep in pretty quick time.
The next morning up before dawn and back to the same spot.
Parengarenga was beautiful at sunrise …
A dozen or so small kahawai obliged to my fly and I even managed to foul hook four piper. But no hoodlums crashed the party. Even a berley trail Craig engineered attracted only dozens of small kahawai and a few juvenile trevally. The kingfish mojo of yesterday was gone – you could feel it.
We headed south and stopped at a wharf in Mangonui where Craig tried for kingfish with a deep, slow presentation.
However no response. Around this point the van started misbehaving – it was losing water from the radiator and threatening to meltdown every ten or fifteen minutes. We lost count of the number of times we stopped on that drive back – filling up every bottle we had at every possible water source. Craig even dashed down the road and across a paddock to fill up bottles in a cattle trough. The problem was I had a bus to catch back to Auckland from Kerikeri and Craig was absolutely determined that come hell or lack of water was not going to stop us making that rendezvous.
And miraculously we did – with ten minutes to spare.
Thus ended the trip. Two fish hooked and lost, but my fishing future was totally changed. Kingfish were no longer something that was like waiting to win lotto. The switch had flicked on in my mind. It was now real: I could plan to pursue them and even hook them – and hopefully, with some angler’s luck, even land one or two. It was a quiet but deep revelation: Kingfish on the fly and land based is a low percentage game even compared to saltwater fly in general, but when you succeed, or even lose, the glow of achievement is with you every time you think back on those special encounters.
Okay – I took my wallet to a recent Strip Strike club meeting at Totally Fly in the Viaduct, Auckland. Cunningly Rene Vaz had berleyed the shop with enticing specials and I decided to bite down on a new fly line for my Redington Vapen fly rod.
This is the first ridge construction line I’ve owned and the texture definitely feels different to the super slick conventional designs. It is a saltwater beast with an aggressive front taper that is design to pile drive heavy flies into annoying breezes. The core is 50 pound breaking strain braid so your 15 kg leader will break first, rather than a trout-evolved fly line would do. If you are unlucky enough to get snagged, in my experience, you’d straighten or break the hook before the leader would part.
Then there is just out and out cool colour scheme. First the clear intermediate front taper, a grunty floating blue belly section that is the engine designed to pull out the 92 feet of high visibility yellow running line. That all adds up to 120 feet of reach – for the truly skilled casters. For me, if can do 90 feet (27m) I will be a happy swoffer indeed.
Now all I need is a window to do some winter swoffing!
Finally took the Vapen out with the Sniper for a test fire on the local school field.
Wow – this line is a beast!
You could point it at Cyclone Bola and it would slap the fly in her face with a smug grin. The front taper would probably turn over a seagull if you had one on the end of your leader.
The polyurethane material feels very tough and the line flies out like an express train. I was on the rugby field and easily got 24 meters. Okay, this is a 120 ft line, so shouldn’t I be expecting at least 27 (90 ft)?
Well that’s my fault. As mentioned above this is a 12 wt line and I have a 10wt rod. You can over-line for sure, but in this case , it was definitely too much: getting the head fully aerialised was over-taxing the rod and unable to get good line speed. The fact with less than optimal line speed and flight profile that I could get 22 meters plus says a lot for the line.
At first I thought about cutting back the front taper to lighten it, but it is a line designed for a purpose: deliver big flies with authority. I respect the design and the build quality enough to not want to mess with it because I took a punt on over-lining.
Now to get a good 10 wt to bring out the best in the Vapen … there’s winter fishing to be done!
Just got myself a brand new fly rod for first time in about six years. In the last year I have caught the kingfish bug, particularly since landing a yellowtail bruiser at Pt Chevalier on a 7 weight outfit. Up in Northland in February this year, with the guidance of Craig Worthington, saltwater fly fishing guide, I managed to hook two kingfish, land based, of at least 9-10 kilos in one day (and lost both, but that’s how it goes when your up against such hoodlums). Life changing stuff in terms of my fly fishing.
You can’t really begin to think of taking the fight to such fish with trout-scale rod and reels. In a snag free environment it can be done, and I have done it twice now, but it is better if you have tackle that let’s you do more than just hang on while the fish dictates the battle.
On that trip I used a Vapen 10 wt outfit that Craig was testing and was impressed that such a grunty rod was so slender, relatively light and easy to cast with. My birthday arrived a few weeks after that trip and I had was gifted the capital to make a serious investment into a heavy weight outfit.
My selection was for a Redington Vapen Red, so named for the gaudy red golf-style vinyl handle grip. There’s no way that rod will ever get lost! The choice of a 10 where some would get a 12 weight was a compromise as my intention was that this would become my “go to” outfit for most of my saltwater fly fishing. I wanted it to still be fun with smaller fish as well as having enough authority to handle some of the big boys that crash the party.
But in the saltwater realm, you need more than a beefy rod. You need a reel that is not only strong but has a drag system that put some serious hurt on a fish when it flees the scene. Again I was impressed at the power and smoothness of the top line Sage reel on Craig’s outfit. The partner purchase of the combo was a Sage 4210 fly reel, a more modest model, but from what I can see, the drag system is of comparable power. As with the Vapen rod, this reel is a relatively lightweight design for its heavy weight capability, with plenty of capacity yet overall it presents a compact form factor.
I will present some images of the rod for a start, and my thoughts will follow in a few days. Enjoy!
Double locking reel seat and fighting butt and woven graphite inlay
So three days after the “Shallow Water Kingfish” episode I met up with my fishing buddy Alan Bulmer on the Manukau Harbour to hit the last of the outgoing tide. I was already keen as I had encountered some probable kingfish action four days previously in the same spot. And the extra icing on the cake today was my first outing with my brand new Redington Vapen 10 wt rod teamed with a Sage 4210 reel that packed a drag system that could look a kingfish in the eye and say “game on”.
I arrived a few minutes early and was setting up on the beach when a the water erupted a 100 mteres to my right as a decent kahawai was doing a ram raid in the shallows on a school of sprats. I now know that it is possible to run that distance in neoprene chest waders – but alas not fast enough as the hit and run perpetrator was gone before my frantic casts pepered the area. And that was the scene set. Every 30-45 minutes we would witness some sort of predator bust up or movement – but they were all randomly located one-offs. Despite several schools of bait fish present for the whole duration of our fishing we never saw any attacks by multiple predators.
Meanwhile the weather was not following the predicted pattern and the south-easterly was ruffling the surface which both stirred up the silt in the shallows as well as ruffling the surface making spotting cruising fish virtually impossible.
Just on low water, the wind abated for a while and the silty water began to clear. Alan and I fished off a rocky ledge in water barely a meter deep. I was fishing a floating line with a tan and white clouser as a vague imitation of a small flounder such as we know kingfish enjoying hunting in this type of mudflat environment.
I was retrieving in a slow smooth stripping action when the rod tip jolted down, the line went tight and the water boiled about 10 meters in front of me – a decent fish to christen my new outfit! The first run took all the fly line and went another 20-30 meters into the super braid backing. Alan already had his iPhone out and shooting like a seasoned photo-journalist.
It was quickly obvious this wasn’t a 10 kilo kingy, but the head-thrashing tactic of the unseen fish had me thinking ‘snapper’ but it turned out to be good sized kahawai. I cranked the drag up and it definitely put the hurt on as the runs became shorter and shorter, and within 5 mins the fish was exhautsed and was beached without any last moment histrionics.
One of my best land based kahawai on the fly at 2.5 kilos. A handsome fish and worthy of of respect for it pugnacious fighting abilities.