A Parore Story

Stu Hastie tackles estuarine luderick in New Zealand

Dad! Come and check this out!” My wife and I had dumped our three boys at the bridge to fish while we enjoyed some quiet coffee-time. Now, trying to get them to leave was like having a tooth extracted. I had almost led them all the way back to the car. It was tantalisingly close. Usually Will’s request would have been met with rolling eyes and seasoned scepticism, but the urgency in his voice this time had me backtracking. “There’s parore!” I watched where he was pointing, and out of the murk appeared the unmistakable stripy flank of a parore. It rolled beneath the surface and disappeared back into the depths. It was followed by another, and soon enough, yet another. A small floodgate separated the estuary from a side stream, and now that the ebbing tide had dropped enough to allow the gates to open, a constant stream of green weed was churning up in the swirling current. The greedy fish were feasting with reckless abandon. They were seemingly jostling to be the first to have their snout in the trough. “Can we try and catch them?” asked Will, knowing I was eager to get home for lunch. “Sure!” THE PARORE PUZZLE I’ve tried to catch parore in the past, using mussel for bait under a pencil float, but I’ve never succeeded. I was as keen to see one of them on the bank as they were. Sure, I’ve snagged the odd one, but I’ve never hooked one fair and square in the mouth. I’ve fished off the bridge myself in the past, and had noticed the fish congregating under its shelter at the top of the tide, but I had never seen them up in the creek like this before; right at our feet. The boys had wasted no time at all, and had already sourced some weed from the creek and were now dangling it down into the water. “Take your sinker off. It needs to float back naturally.” They had issues getting the delicate weed to stay on their hooks, but soon Will noticed his line straighten and he set the hook. With his rod bucking wildly, the monofilament sliced through the turbid water at an alarming rate, sizzling, and then, punctuated by a hearty cuss from the 14 year old, the line parted and the fish was gone. After that, it seemed that all the fish had gone. They’d either all spooked or retreated with the falling tide. My head was swimming. In those few short moments, my son had achieved something I’d spent countless hours on several occasions trying to do. But now, the possibilities… “We need to come back with fly rods. Tie some flies, and come back with fly rods. Tomorrow.” PERSONAL CHALLENGE There’s nothing new about catching parore on fly; it’s been well documented (FL#10,#48,#51,#75) but that doesn’t detract from the personal challenge, the journey of the individual into new territory. It’s the essence of the challenge of fly fishing — encountering a constant stream of obstacles to overcome, unlocking the code and getting ‘the eat’. I really wanted to catch one. It actually makes good sense to chase these fish on fly: you don’t need to find fresh bait, and you don’t have to worry about it falling off the hook. They’re visual feeders, so all you need do is tie up something that looks edible to them, put it in front of them, and you should be away laughing! Surely? And of course there is the fun factor of being connected to chunky fish on a skinny stick. Kiwis, it seems, are a pretty apathetic bunch. When you google ‘Parore on fly’ you don’t get nearly as many hits as you do for ‘Luderick on fly’, as our ANZAC brothers know them across the ditch. Parore are a much under-utilised species here in New Zealand. Maybe, rightly or wrongly, with their reputation as a less than preferred table fish, they’ve settled toward the bottom of the species target list, or perhaps it could be the intricacy of their diet that has them off the radar here. When searching images of parore, you soon get a sense that spearfishing for them is the preferred method with more fish appearing unceremoniously impaled by a shaft of stainless steel, and not so many impaled by hooks. My Google search had produced a few images of weed flies, but a lack of similar materials had us improvising with what we had. All the boys were caught up in the hype, and had impatiently awaited their turn at the vice. With marabou, miscellaneous rubbers and synthetic hair of various shades of green at our disposal, our frenzied tying session had produced a handful of different patterns to try, some very rough and ready and others that would undoubtedly receive the lion’s share of the soak time. It was a key part of the process, tying a suitable fly, but I was confident we were good to go. THE BRIDGE The bridge has stood there straddling the Ahuriri estuary (Napier) for a century now and is presently undergoing repairs. Scaffolds are randomly dotted along its length while the concrete piles are being given a facelift. It hasn’t carried traffic for about 30 years, and the rail track on it is currently ‘mothballed’. I can well remember travelling over it as a kid, sucking my breath in as we negotiated the central span. The bridge was narrow anyway, but the central span, for some ungodly reason, chicaned across by about a foot, thrusting opposing traffic together like hulking knights in a steampunk joust. On a good day you didn’t meet any traffic at that point, but on the odd occasion when a truck was coming the other way, I held my breath extra tight. Now, the only traffic is cyclists, pedestrians and the occasional fisher. It’s not the first time it has needed repairs. On 3 February 1931 the infamous earthquake that rocked Napier that day jolted the southern approach spar off its piles and into the harbour. The rest of the bridge got off relatively lightly in the quake, but the lagoon itself suffered dramatically, with the bed lifting by nearly two metres and draining some 2,000 hectares of land in the process. We’re left wondering just what the harbour fishery would have been like back in those pre-quake days. GETTING SERIOUS When I reached the bridge I was greeted by excited yelling from the kids. I had dropped them off there earlier while I continued on to the boat ramp and then rowed across to greet them. They were happy to soak some pilchard baits and catch mullet, but the bend in Alex’s rod hinted that he was hooked up to something more substantial. He was working his way along the bridge and soon a plump parore was flopping in the shallows, beached. The boys excitedly hurried down to the water’s edge, and after a few photos the foul-hooked fish was slipped back into the tide. The presence of fish and the boys’ success further buoyed my enthusiasm. My plan was pretty simple: anchor the boat up and deep-drift the flies through the main channel where the fish were congregating, upstream nymph style. I figured the fish would be tucked in tight against the piles of the bridge, and Alex, spotting from his vantage point above, confirmed this. There was a good tidal flow and I was getting a really good drift up against the piles, but not the merest hint of a take from the ‘thingamabobber’ drifting down with the current. It’s good when things don’t come too easily, but I was soon starting to doubt myself, and I didn’t have a Plan B. The flies were cycled through, tippets changed down, split shot added and boat repositioned — all the things you do to unlock the secret while on the water. When something’s not working, it’s time to make a change. Finally the monotony and rhythm of continually casting and retrieving was interrupted. The indicator dipped, and a good solid lump on the end of the line had the rod in a deep bend. My “whoop” of jubilation was quickly overcome by trepidation. Parore are reputedly hard fighting fish, and being connected to one a few quick tail beats away from the freedom the piles promised, had me on a knife-edge. Also, which of those two flies had it eaten? All too quickly, the fish was brought to the boat and the net slid beneath it. It was a bittersweet moment. Joy from finally succeeding at adding another species to the list, but with an undertone of disappointment from an underwhelming battle. What was all that hype about the fight? Had I just hooked a dud? Was an 8-weight too heavy? REFINED APPROACH My little commotion below the bridge had drawn the attention of my children above, and now Alex was keen to get in on the action. He joined me in the boat and he too laboured away for some time before it was his turn to hook into one. This time though, it appeared he was into a more spirited fish, which gave a better account of itself, slack line spraying chaotically as the panicked fish bolted. As the afternoon wore on, the fishing heated up, and soon all the boys wanted to get their piece of parore. Now the greatest battle was between the three boys, as there were only two fly rods to share between them. Nobody wanted the spin rod. Poor Will had suffered three losses from as many hookups and was in a very dark place when he had to relinquish his fly rod privilege in favour of his younger brother. Over the ensuing days and weeks we returned to hone our skill and further our understanding. We refined our approach, tweaked our flies, adapted our hook sets. The 5-weights came out, then the sixes. Questions that needed answers were addressed, some successfully, others still remaining unanswered. Most importantly, we had fun. The parore, with their funny small mouths and their raspy yellow teeth, proved to be a worthy adversary. Their fiery first run made the effort worthwhile, but the true reward was in the fishing itself and unlocking the secrets to success. Now I’m left scratching my head as to what will be next on the list to give such a thrilling chase.

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