The first day of school holidays was also the opening of trout fishing season.
October 1 is awaited with eager anticipation throughout the country, especially in the Mirfin household, and it's great to be able to fish all our local and wilderness rivers again after a five-month break.
Opening day dawned clear and bright, unlike what the forecast had indicated, and the kids were keen to go. Checking river flows, weather forecasts and buying a family fishing licence online was a learning experience for the kids before the panic of getting ready and loading up.
It was mid-morning before we left home armed with rods, reels, gumboots, raincoats, fizzy drinks and food. Youngest daughter Charli decided to stay home but we set forth with Jake, Ike, and Rosie who couldn't wait to start casting as soon as the truck stopped on the banks of the Motueka River, a little over 100km return trip from downtown Richmond.
The kids were pretty rusty and it took a while getting them back into the swing of throwing a spinner across the river and retrieving it back. There was the occasional inevitable tangle but soon lures were zinging across the current in all directions and the kids were transfixed. No hits at the first stop, so we tried elsewhere.
At 43 cumecs the Mot was fairly full and with the kids trying to fish in tennis shoes and gumboots I just took them to the easy places where we could drive right down on to the riverbank and they could keep their feet dry - often not the best places to catch trout.
We tried a few places but to no avail. The moon phase wasn't great and perhaps the water was too cold. Maybe the river had taken a hiding with all the high water flows over winter - whatever, but soon the interest of the kids began to wane.
We had a drink and ate some snacks and the kids started collecting stones, then looking for insects under rocks, with Rosie even catching a large green stonefly nymph which we all admired wriggling on her hand.
On our last stop, the kids had a few casts before I took over for a few more casts and experienced the only thrill of the day when a fish took my lure and jumped clean into the air, throwing the hook at the same time. It didn't matter, the kids had had another fishing adventure, and were keen to head for home.
It did seem ironic to me on the way home that the drive both ways was longer than the time we fished, and I'm sure if I'd had all day to fish myself I would have caught a few trout. But hey, when you're fishing with kids, it has to be fun, and you need success to really get them excited.
Sometimes discretion is a wise move, and when nothing is happening on the fishing front it can be best to retreat early to fish again another day.
The boys, now 10 and 12, have caught some great fish on foot with their spinning rods ,and a memorable three-day camping trip on the West Coast last summer was very successful for us. We saw some deer, and the boys caught beautiful brown trout by day on quality wilderness waters.
It was great to watch, and music to my ears as I heard those magic words, “I've got another one, Dad”. It was special spending time camping with their grandfather Stuart, and fishing success was only a small part of the fun we all had on the river and in the bush.
Spin fishing is a great way to learn how to fish for trout for anyone. For a start you don't need a lot of gear. Rods and reels have got a lot cheaper over the years, and with a handful of spinners or lures you're on your way.
Much of the gear my kids use now I picked up at an Australian Fishing Show in Melbourne for peanuts. Spin fishing is a semi-extensive fishing method where you take a step or two between each cast to cover a lot of ground in a day. Lures are cast across the river and then retrieved back to the angler using "egg-beater" reels and fish impale themselves on the hooks with savage adrenaline-laced strikes.
When you get really good you can pick where the trout are liable to be, but as a beginner with a spinning outfit you can hit enough water in a day to give yourself a good chance at success. Best results generally come in higher river flows and in early season when trout can be more aggressive. Interestingly, as our lowland fisheries become increasingly degraded and murky, they become better lure-fishing waters.
Which lure to use is a big topic but perhaps the all-time favourite Kiwi spinning lure is the Black & Gold Toby in 7g-14g. The heavier models can be cast for long distances, get deeper in the water column, and cover more trout terrain in a day of fishing. Other lures that work well are the bladed spinners with revolving blades.
These lures with commercial names, like veltic or mepps, vibrate strongly and work well, although being lighter lures, they can be more difficult to cast for beginners. I've solved this problem by making my own bladed spinners incorporating lead bodies that cast very well for the kids. They catch fish and best of all, because of their low cost, you don't shed tears when the kids lose them in high trees, roots, power-lines, overhead bridges, and on the far bank.
The best lures are the rapala range from Finland. Many of these lures are made of moulded plastic, with high-definition paint jobs, glowing eyes, even internal rattles. Such lures are expensive, but they work very well, and it's worth investing in the success of your kids.
Years ago, I imported a lure retriever from Australia which is four graphite poles that screw together to make a six-metre long lure retriever - I paid for this tool in the first few trips out in snagged lures that I managed to rescue safely when encountering those "$20 moments", as I like to call them.
Spin fishing is a great way to introduce your family to the joys of trout fishing and is available to all for the mere price of a fishing licence.
Get out on the water and enjoy our rivers while you can. It'll be a great day out for all and any trout landed will be a bonus.
Best of all, you'll get to spend quality time outside with your family, among some great riverside scenery, with not a laptop, iPod, TV, stereo, cellphone or Facebook page in sight.