The first rod went off just as the second one had been set, and Noel Bowden joked as he grabbed the rod, “If it all goes like this, we’ll be finished by tonight!”
“Well, fishing and hunting isn’t always like this, Noel,” we said. “But it’s a hell of a start!”
Noel, a plumber from Patumahoe in South Auckland, was embarking on the annual Rheem Big Six Challenge, and he started with trout fishing at Lake Tarawera.
To put it into perspective – nobody has ever managed to bag all six species in the seven years of the Rheem Big Six Challenge. In fact the best score was four out of six until Wellington’s Tony Cain raised the bar to five last year.
The challenge is to shoot two different game animals, catch two freshwater fish (which can be trout or salmon) and two saltwater fish of different species.
The trout section had proved a real problem in many of the past challenges, with only one scored sometimes, and as this was Noel’s first trout ever it is understandable that he thought it was pretty easy.
And it got even easier when, as he was playing the first trout hooked, the second rod started nodding.
“A double strike!” we said. “We have never had a start like this!”
Noel brought his first fish to the boat and everybody couldn’t believe what a fantastic fish it was – fat and deep, a perfect six-pounder. Then he raced across and grabbed the other rod, as under the rules nobody else was allowed to touch it, and that trout had played the game nicely and not thrown the hook while the rod was unattended with a slack line.
Noel played the fish like a seasoned angler, and so within three minutes of the clock starting he had two points on the board.
The challenger has 48 hours to complete the challenge, and the clock starts when the first fish is hooked or the first animal shot.
It is all about planning. Which do you do first? Hunting is always better in the evening or at dawn, and you can catch fish on the salt all day. Then there is the weather, which in this country is always a major factor.
Well that proved to be the understatement of the week.
With the trout in the bag the team climbed into the Outdoors HiLux and headed down the middle of the North Island – from Lake Tarawera to Taupo, then over the hills to Napier and through Hawke’s Bay to Dannevirke where they turned off towards the coast. It is a remote but spectacular stretch of the Wairarapa shoreline, with crayfish and pauas among the rocks and plenty of animals in the bush. Local hunting experts were standing by to take Noel out for a stag, a boar or a billy goat; and an expert fisherman was ready to launch his boat off Akitio Beach. But then the rain started and, with the help of the residue of Cyclone Hola, it brought wind; howling winds that smashed waves onto the beach and turned the rivers into brown torrents bubbling with trees and branches.
The next morning saw the team high in the mountains waiting for the first flush of light to push through the dense fog which drifted over the tops. The guide pointed to a little valley on the bush edge where a three red deer were watching and all the hunters saw was their rumps bobbing as they filed into the scrub and were gone, then a bunch of fallow deer sprang up and bounded over the ridge.
In heavy rain the team took the buggies into the hills for a billy goat, which is guaranteed here. Noel shot several and his wingman, Shane Middleton who is a serious hunter, added a few more to the bag.
So Noel had a score of three, with 24 hours to go.
They loaded up the buggies with surf rods, and bounced around the edge of the hills to the local river mouth where Noel cast spinners and baits into the foaming water.
“We got five kahawai here the other day,” said Paul Peeti, as he huddled under a dripping rain coat. But the kahawai weren’t reading the script either, and it just emphasized how, no matter how good the fishing or hunting was “the other day”, catching them to order is never easy.
The team called a halt when their coats and clothes could not get any wetter. The sea was totally out of the question, the rivers were in flood and the roads were closed by flooding and slips. The power went out and the phones were out, and it took the team all of the following day just to get out of the hills and into the Hawkes Bay, which was a sea of floodwater.
What was that quip about nailing all six on the first day, Noel? You can’t beat the weather. But he was happy with his trout and goat, scoring three out of six.
Bite times are 8.45am and 7.15pm tomorrow, and 7.40am and 8.10pm on Sunday.
Tip of the week
Check weather forecasts before heading into the hills or out to sea, and always have at least two methods of communication – for example a VHS radio and a cellphone in a waterproof bag. When in the bush a personal locator beacon is a must and these can be hired if necessary, and on the boat an epirb provides the same function. Tell somebody where you plan on going and when you expect to return.
Photo : Geoff Thomas
Noel Bowden finished with three out of six – two trout and a billy goat, which was an impressive effort given the extreme weather.