I have a saying that drives my team nuts and it is, “these are the days that turn out to be the best”. Every time I make this call the “boys” just raise their eyebrows and say, “here he goes again!”
You learn after a while that filming a fishing show is sometimes about making something out of nothing. Well that’s the way it starts when all of your carefully laid plans collapse in a heap and that is when you need to take a big breath and head off in search of magic.
We were recently in the Far North. It was a trip I had anticipated for weeks and my head was full of huge kingfish and very impressive snapper. Absolutely nothing that I had planned eventuated and we had a team discussion.
What do we do to turn disaster in to opportunity?
Bruce, my regular cameraman, wound up on the rocks at Spirits Bay while Darren and I headed off for our second circuit of 90 Mile Beach.
We had swept out on to the beach in the morning. The 90 mile is an uplifting place for me. After a frenetic couple of months the beach just swept away the clutter in my head. The new plan was to meet up with Milan at Te Paki stream an hour north and take stock from there.
A lazy white ribbon of surf crashed and hissed to our left and the light brown sand dissolved in to haze way up the beach somewhere. The wind was a faint puff and the surf under a metre. It looked good!
We were early, too early for the tourist buses, and the strip of firm sand necessary for the drive was only just wide enough although someone had left earlier than us and their tyre tread left a perfect mark.
“See I told you!” I said the boys.
“Yeah, yeah, we know! These are the days that turn out to be the best!”
We laughed and I edged the speed up a little more. You make your own tracks on the 90 Mile. There is no road just the seemingly endless sweep of the sand. It feels like you are floating rather than driving. It is a good feeling and had us grinning like a bunch of kids.
“I love this place!” I laughed, “and I’ve seen some good fish hauled in along here.”
“Someone caught a 9kilo snapper to win the 90 Mile tournament last week,” said Darren as a sheet of spray flew high in the air and announced the first stream bed.
Yes, it was good to be out on this breathtaking beach swallowing up the kilometres and heading to who knows what sort of adventure. Birds wheeled and danced, others crowded in flocks that lifted on white wings and dispersed as we sped by.
Another stream bed, another shower of spray, more birds, the relentless roar of the surf and the hum of tyres gliding along the brown sandy path of New Zealand’s longest beach. The Bluff materialised in the haze and we slowed to navigate an outcrop of black weathered rock. Up to speed again and on to our meeting place. Milan and four companions tumbled out of the little Sabaru station wagon.
“There’s an albatross just up the beach if you want to have a look.” was Milan’s greeting. “Looks like an old bird that’s come in to die.” He added.
We discussed the plan. “Scott’s Point is out. How about we try Spirits?”
“Sounds fine by me! Anywhere that gets a line in the water is looking good about now.”
Te Paki Stream is the largest of the water courses spilling out on to the 90 Mile. It is also the most northern exit from the beautiful sandy highway. Te Paki gave us access back on to State Highway one and thence to Spirits Bay but first I wanted to see whether anything could be done about the albatross.
There were large black back gulls here and there plus the odd red billed gull. A flock of turns, white and delicate looking, crowded together near where the last of the tumbling surf glided up and was finally swallowed by the sand.
The old bird was on his own. His pride was shattered somehow. That once majestic creature sat with his head down and slightly folded wings scraping the sand. About the human intruders he cared very little. He was beige and white and mottled with feathers that appeared ruffled and untidy. It was clear that he would not last the day and I hoped as we turned back in to the stream that the bird that once swept the sky and grazed the ocean with his wingtips would find peace on that final flight that awaits us all.
Charging up the stream the melancholy was soon behind us. The sand was more golden, the stream water brown, swift and shallow. Huge sand hills reared up as we jinked through the watercourse and up on to the metal road.
At Spirits Bay we interviewed Milan about some of his incredible fishing adventures. He had recently returned from the Amazon which sounded phenomenal. We talked about all manner of escapades before he and Bruce headed for the rocks and Darren and I went back to Houhora and thence on to the 90 Mile for our second circuit of the day.
It was a good decision but the beach was no longer owned by us and one other set of tyre tracks. We could see several cars and other larger vehicles. The 90 Mile had come alive with human sightseers, shellfish gatherers, anglers, one unfriendly chap on a bike and two trampers. The tide had swept back and the road was suddenly and temporarily vast. The already compacted sand had a beaten look where dozens of vehicles had zoomed by.
A kilometre up the beach two guys were surfcasting. One of them was up to his armpits in surf. He heaved and flicked his sinker out to the waiting denizens. Using the surf to help he came back up the beach and joined his mate.
“Any luck boys?” I enquired.
“Graeme, what are you doing here?”
“We came to film those big snapper you are catching!”
“Nah! Just one pannie, a trevally and a parorae.”
“But we’ve only been here 20 minutes,” added the second angler.
We talked for a while and then spotted a kite fisherman preparing to set his line.
“C’mon mate,” I said to Darren, “let’s go and wave the camera at these guys.”
We had agreed to meet Bruce and Milan’s buddies back at Spirits Bay around 5.00pm. It was 3.30pm and neither Darren nor I were in much of a hurry to leave the beach. Big buses sped by heading south. The tourists were starting to drift back to Kaitaia and the Bay of Islands.
Carl, the kite fisherman and his German partner Anna were after enough snapper for a feed topped up with a few tua tua. The red kite contrasted brilliantly with a blue sky and fluffy white clouds. We pulled in alongside the aging red Hilux.
“Gidday Gone Fishin’, said Carl, “hope your not going to point that bloody thing at me,” he said nodding at the camera.
Try as we might we couldn’t get Carl to say much in front of the camera but he invited us to hang around until the line was retrieved.
His great lolloping, slobbering German short haired pointer chased sticks and a ball for Anna and try as she might there was no way she could lower the level in his energy tank.
In their wonderful, instinctive, bird hunting way the dog remained on full alert.
“Throw the stick, throw the stick, the ever alert face demanded.
The line went out, Carl waited 20 minutes and in it came again. Four good snapper satisfied the menu. Carl and Anna went home while Darren and I headed for Te Paki Stream.
“Bruce might be waiting for a little while,” I said.
“Yeah mate especially if someone else pops up.”
The beach was almost back to its lonely, wild, empty self when we drew near The Bluff for the second time that day.
Another surfcaster stood waste deep in water that boiled and broke around the rugged geography of The Bluff. The surf had lifted up or just picked on this desolate spot to heave and smash about. The blue ocean water had tumbled and was stirred up in to a foaming brown strip along the shore. Ideal for a decent snapper I thought. Two young chaps leaned against a four wheel drive, one of them had his arm in a sling. Aija, the chap in the water suddenly leant back and it was clear that he was attached to something solid.
Darren and I slid to a stop and my companion leapt out the door, camera in hand.
In short order Aija had his snapper flapping in the shallows. It was a good fish of about two kilos. He walked up to the car all smiles.
“Graeme, what are you doing here?” came the familiar enquiry.
“Watching you catch some good snapper,” I said, “now get that bait back in the water.”
“You’d better have a look at the fish in the back of the wagon.” Said Aija frantically hooking up another bait and heading for the surf.
One of Aija’s mates went around the back of the vehicle and held up a very sizeable fish.
“Been four fish in four casts so far,” he said.
The wet suit clad angler waded deep in to the maelstrom and heaved with all his might. I couldn’t follow the sinkers flight but knew it had sailed far. Heavy surf broke over the black jagged rocks to our right and to the left a vast expanse of beach stretched away to disappear in the washed out looking brown and grey gloom where earth and sky fused.
It was 5.00pm and Bruce was about to twiddle his thumbs for a while.
Our enthusiastic angler hooked up again. It was a legal fish, but only just, and he released it. The boys had their feed and started packing up.
“Thanks guys!” we said and headed off for our rondezvous.
As I turned in to Te Paki Stream I thought of the old albatross alone along the beach. He knew loneliness well as he glided a majestic path through the Southern Ocean. He symbolised a kind of freedom that we humans would never know and now his life was at an end.
“Poor old bugger!” I said to Darren, “what amazing stories he could tell.”
The boys were all crammed in to the Subaru heading out of Spirits Bay as we started in. They understood, as fellow fishermen do, that being late was part of the game.
“How did you go on the rocks?”
“”Nothing doing,” came the reply.
“Nothing at all?”
“Just a little “rat” kingfish, “we saw a couple of good ones but they wouldn’t eat.”
“How’d you guys go?” asked Bruce.
“Well Brucey,” I said , “these are the days that turn out to be the best!”
It had been a great day. I hadn’t even got to hold a rod but had enjoyed sharing others success in this amazing place. The 90 Mile always lifts my spirits. From the time you sweep out on to the sandy expanse, hear the roar of the surf and begin your journey you know you are a very privileged human being.