Mangawhai charter skipper Tony Orton has been getting into some skinny water fishing – having some success fishing his feet first and receiving a hell of a life lesson…
Fishing is a little like life! Some days we get all too pre-occupied searching for perfection. Not happy with the present, we run off into the distance looking for something bigger and better and, in the process, miss out on the diamonds right under our nose. I have to confess I am a sucker for this; my life seems to be driven by always looking for the next fishing fix, aiming to go bigger, better and living life on the adrenalin rush of the chase. But the sad thing is that I sometimes forget to enjoy what is happening beside me right here right now.
I am a dad with a young family. Earning money to support my whanau and spending time with the people I care about are both very important to me, but I often struggle to find the right balance.
This summer I had made a conscious effort to make a few changes in my life, to manage time so I can have a better balance in my personal and working life. I think that little Irish guy named Mr Murphy looked down on me and decided I was going to get the ultimate crash course on balancing all aspects of life. Two weeks before Christmas, my wife was admitted to hospital with pregnancy complications and would remain there for the next four weeks with our seven-and-a-half-week premature baby (all are currently healthy and doing well). All of a sudden, I was the stay at home dad with a four-and-a-half-year old at what seemed the busiest time of the year – our friends and family were all coming to stay over Christmas! It seemed my little boys’ holiday dreams were not going to be as planned. I had promised to do a lot of fishing with Sami this holiday and, for the first few days as house dad, I was struggling just to find his lunch box and get him to kindergarten on time. How the hell was I going to find time to take him fishing as promised?
It took a bit of planning, but I was not going to let this beat me. I wanted to make sure that when we got to the end of this summer break, Sami had some fond memories.
For the next four weeks we got to go on many adventures in between daily hospital visits, house keeping, meals, friends and family staying, and had some of the best times as father and son. We had no time to run offshore, so instead got our fishing fix off the local beach and in our local estuary. Our little adventures turned into a lesson on our local marine system, and we had so much fun learning all about our local skinny water habitat. One day we would be catching jack mackerel live baits off the local beach and using them to catch john dory, and the next we would be anchored up in the harbour with a good berley flow, catching baitfish like piper and yelloweye mullet, and turning these into table fish like snapper, kahawai and trevally.
Turning baitfish into a great john dory catch.
All our left-over bait from these days was taken home and frozen and used a couple of days later when I took Sami and his mate kontiki fishing off our local beach. Over a couple of morning sessions using our Predator kontiki, we caught snapper and gurnard. We had so much fun over these few weeks of fishing and teaching Sami all the different aspects of catching and fishing with baitfish. Any fish that we kept was fully utilized, and part of the learning process was inspecting the innards to see what the fish we caught had been eating. We only fished in areas that can be reached by foot, kayak or small dinghy, and the style of fishing we used has changed the way I fish and actually improved my offshore fishing skills. While we went on many fishing missions over those four weeks, it did not interfere with normal life and was very, very cheap on the pocket.
The boys getting into kontiki fishing close to home.
Once Bea and Brooke returned from hospital and life returned to normal, we still carried out these little two-hour missions for most of the summer. I remember days Sami and I would shoot down to the estuary and fish in two meters of water, catching more than enough snapper for a few meals and still getting him to kindergarten on time.
Tony with a nice estuary pannie caught 200 metres from the boat ramp.
I told my good mate Mr Grant Dixon about our family adventures in the estuary or local beach and decided to invite him along on one of our skinny water adventures. Mr Dixon and myself have a similar problem: we love to spend all our hard-earned cash flying all over the world to fish or running offshore in search of the holy grail of snapper fishing here in NZ (the elusive 30lber), so I was interested to see how he would cope with this slightly different trip.
After a massive two-minute steam from the local ramp, we tied up on a vacant mooring buoy and started berleying up. Armed with very light-weight trout and soft-bait rods with 10lb braid, 25lb Ocea fluorocarbon leaders and small 4/0 hooks, we proceeded to cast half pilchards down the berley trail. The water was so clear we could see piper and small trevally swimming around the berley and it was not long before we started hooking into some snapper and trevally. We both used light braid so could feel every bite. Using the light spinning outfits we cast a little higher into the air so a belly of braid would sit on the water, allowing the bait to sink more naturally and get a better bite.
The fishing was not red hot, but we managed to go home from our two-hour trip with enough fish to feed five families and have a relaxing time doing it. At one stage we had a father and daughter motor pass us in 3.6m Mac boat and another elderly guy in his waders only a stone throw away from us dropping baits back into the current. All these people had the same idea; they need that fishing fix, the taste of adventure, a time to clear the head and some quality parent/child time together.
I have enjoyed this summer. From a difficult situation, we sure turned it into one of the best summers for creating memories and learning.
‘Mr Grant’ summed it up perfectly, “I never wanted that session to end, bent light rods, snapper biting and all in two-meters of water.” I still remember the chuckle and smile on his face when he was hooking into those fish.
We sure live in a stunning country and you don’t have to go far to have the time of your life.
I need to say a huge thanks to family, friends and work colleagues for helping me though those four weeks. Fishing is more than just catching a feed; it’s life, and it sure has a great way of putting everything into perspective!
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