(With apologies to Richard Brautigan**)
29 November 2013
By Mike Smith
With the upper streams of Rotorua opening to fly fishing, I was reminded of the time I first met Trout Fishing in New Zealand when I was a little kid. My grandfather Harry first introduced me to him when I was about six years old.
We were living in the Auckland suburb of Point England at the time, which, if you don't know it, was part of a sprawling state housing area, but the size of a small city like Rotorua.Harry grew up in Dunedin back in the old days. His father "Marmalade" Bill Smith had his own interesting story but that's for some other time.
The Great Depression, war and urbanisation brought my family to Auckland but Harry also brought with him the split cane rod he used to fish in the Otago rivers. Later, the rod was put to use by Harry and my dad in the Hutt River, when the family moved to Wellington. One of our family stories relates to dad shoving a fish he'd caught hurriedly into his school bag to avoid being caught in those pre-social welfare days.
Trout Fishing in New Zealand was a bushman who was related to us and the day he visited for lunch I recall being a bit scared by this swarthy, very hairy and stout man. Granddad must have been pleased to talk to somebody about trout fishing and I was surprised to see how the two men who appeared to be so taciturn came alive when showing us casting methods with the rod on the back lawn.
I didn't get into trout fishing at that time - there weren't so many fish in the creek dividing Point England and Glen Innes. But a few years after marrying Sue Wilkie, we came to Rotorua in 1981 and I rounded up some second hand gear and had a crack for a couple of seasons. My sole reward was a rainbow trout I caught in the Ngongotaha River on opening day. Not long after, family came along and work intervened. As well, the mediocre return seemed to outweigh the cost of a licence at that time.
The kids are doing their thing now and last year I was out in a boat with Trout Fishing in Rotorua, Lynmore, a distant cousin of Trout Fishing in New Zealand. I was telling him how I really like fishing in rivers and streams but wasn't that good at fly fishing. He told me that the Rotorua Anglers Club ran an A - Z Trout Fishing School and it was worthwhile going to.
First step was to join the club where I quickly learned there was much to learn about fly fishing. I still struggled along with my casting but experienced members were only too happy to help me with my technique. It's true what people say - fishing folk are patient people.
When the March dates for the upcoming A - Z Trout Fishing Course were announced, I was one of the first to sign up. I fully expected the five weeks of the course to be spent out the front of the club rooms learning how to cast. But it was much, much more than that.Head tutor Roger Bowden and his team of other club members opened the book on trout fishing, starting with a history, all about rods, reels and tackle.
We learned how to cast, including a DVD from the US expert. Theory was followed by a practical exercise where previously wildly swinging arms, rods and lines were transformed into various degrees of smoothly unfurling and whip cracking models of casting.
A fingers and thumbs type, I came through the night of the fly tying lesson with sufficient confidence to have a crack on my own. Incorporating knowledge from the lesson on knots helped. My own attempts still look a bit like backward flying moths but results are encouraging.
A highlight for me was the lesson with club member Eddie Bowman, who works with NIWA in our lakes. Eddie gave an insight to the life of a trout and the other creatures in its surroundings, why what we are fishing with looks like it does, and how to present what and when.Roger and his team gave us the low-down on the lakes in our district during our final lesson, giving me an appreciation of how Rotorua really is the "best trout fishing city in the world".
We didn't catch any fish during our practical session at tiny Lake Okaro but that may have been due to the family of bare-foot skiers enjoying the calm of a light drizzly Sunday morning. However, I felt empowered when I entered the water, more able to target trout when I saw occasional giveaway ripples.
Some experienced anglers expressed the viewpoint that the school should be mostly, if not solely, devoted to teaching students how to cast a fly. It is true that I still have a lot to learn about that particular art but my late father-in-law, Rod Hill, much of whose gear I am now using, used to say you never stop learning how to cast.
The scope of the school has given me the tools I need to more fully realise my dream of trout fishing in Rotorua. Granddad Harry would, I hope, be proud and when I next meet Trout Fishing in New Zealand, we will be able to share some good stories.
Pic courtesy of Eastern Fish and Game web site.
*First Published in the Rotorua Anglers Association magazine July 2011
** Richard Brautigan was an American novelist, poet and short story writer, whose book "Trout Fishing in America" explored his life in the Pacific North West and his relation to the act of trout fishing.