Free first chapter of THE TROUT DREAMS

Trout Dreams jacket

To Jennifer, for being you . . .

‘Study to be quiet.’ Isaac Walton

‘Do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am — a reluctant enthusiast . . . a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here.’ Edward Abbey

‘Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need — a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends, worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing.’ Jerome K. Jerome

‘Your casting is poetry in motion, mine is more like punk rock.’ Jennifer White

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Prologue

The big trout held just under the tongue of current breaking off an island-like boulder and from where we stood it was nearly invisible, camouflaged beneath the liquid greenstone of the river frothed with whitewater. Only the sway of its tail gave it away, and only when a brief window of smooth water passed over it, which was how I first sighted the brute.

‘There is a good fish just down and left of that boulder,’ I said to my companion Frank Mosley, and pointed to it with my fly rod.

Frank couldn’t see it, but this was to be expected. Unless you’ve trained your eyes to spot New Zealand trout, you are likely to miss all but the most obvious ones. Frank was from Montana, accustomed to fishing water rather than individual trout, though to his credit it was tough to see fish here in the Reefton backcountry. The ostrich-egg boulders that cobble the riverbeds are bone-white and, in bright sunlight, as hard on the eyes as the blinding glare of a glacier.

‘Trust me,’ I said. ‘There is a fish there alright, and a big one too. Just cast a metre up and left of that boulder.’

Frank did, even if he was not entirely convinced. His cast was accurate enough, but for a long, suspended moment nothing happened. He lifted the rod and the line seemed snagged.

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‘Damn, I caught the botto. . .,’ he said, but then the bottom near the boulder exploded with a fury of spray. The big trout was airborne above it, shaking its head from side to side, its arched wet body glinting gold as it caught the sunlight. The fish bounced off the water a couple of times, then shot downstream, like a soft lithe torpedo and a contradiction to all laws of fluid mechanics.

‘Oh, my Gawd,’ Frank’s voice was an octave above his usual baritone. ‘Did you see THAT? It’s a monster!’

We followed at a run, rod held high but bent into a deep C, Frank’s eyes fixed at the end of his line. He seemed in a trance, ready to walk on water. Well, almost. He was fit and nimble for his mid-sixties, but a few times I had to catch and steady him as he stumbled over rocks he did not see. The fish was taking us down the river and we crossed and recrossed the tumbling current, wrestling with it, tripping and fumbling on the slippery bottom, gaining some line, losing it again, but at all times keeping it taut like a guitar string.

Twice Frank was down on his knees, flailing, on all threes but with his rod arm steady and strong. With a pang of dread, I saw where the fish was heading: a mother of all logjams in a pool below us. If he went in there, into the debris of past floods, we would never get him out.

But then, in the eye of calm below the rapids and just short of the logjam, I finally netted the fish and he was just shy of the magic 10 lbs that is the hallmark of a trophy. Frank got his pictures and we released the fish immediately. He was a magnificent trout in its prime, with a fiercely hooked lower jaw, muscled body and a glistening skin that seemed too tight for it.

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He was just as spent as we were, and he nosed into a rock in the slack water right at our feet, and for a long while all three of us just sat there in absolute stillness, catching our breaths, the only sound the murmur of the river.

Then I heard that Frank was sobbing — and trying to cover it with laughter. He rubbed his eyes with his buff, his hands trembling. ‘The goddamned river water got into my eyes,’ he said, but he was fooling no one.

I smiled and said it was a really good fish, the kind you’d expect out here.

‘No, no, you don’t understand. I’ve been fishing all my life, since I was big enough to hold a rod, and this is the best trout I have ever caught,’ Frank cut in. ‘Where I live you cannot even buy this kind of experience any more, no matter how much money you have.’

He fell quiet and withdrawn afterwards, taking time to absorb the experience, and he did not want to to fish anymore that day, as if not to dilute the quality with repetition or numbers.

On the way back down the river he said:
‘You’re probably spoilt because you can have this anytime you want, but for me this one fish was worth coming all the way down here for. Mountain climbers go to the Himalayas for the best there is, fly fishermen come to New Zealand. Today, I bagged my personal Everest.’

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Yep, you’ve guessed it: I was back to guiding and it happened in a most roundabout kind of way. Ever since The Trout Diaries was published in 2011, and even more so after The Trout Bohemia two years later, I’ve been receiving a steady flow of emails from the readers, an unexpected perk and delight from writing books. (When you write for magazines, whether local or international, as I had for the past two and a half decades, most commonly the only reader feedback you get is when you make a mistake — a trivial gaffe or a factual error — which certain kind of people just love to point out, though rarely in a constructive or humorous way.)

But these letters were different. Often they were deeply personal since, at its best and true, fly-fishing is a profound and intimate experience, and, yes, they were also filled with accounts of the writers’ own river exploits, both happy and less so, and they carried a common message that somehow we fished in similar ways and for compatible reasons, responding as if by resonance to the call of the trout waters. The authors of the emails wanted me to know that they got what I was trying to convey in my own writing about the magic of fly-fishing that defies explanations and is so hard to put into words, or, as Hemingway said, it’s just plain ‘too swell to talk about’.

More often than not, the emails would conclude with something like ‘I wish we could go for a fish together one day’ to which I routinely replied that I was busy but my guide friends, some of whom were featured in the books, could certainly help with that.

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Then, one time, after an email exchange with a particularly insistent reader, I thought ‘why the hell not?’ I was about to leave on a week-long trout hunt and so was he, and in the same region. The fishing was good, the forecast even better. Our dates matched; it was too much of a coincidence.

We met, and fished, and camped, and talked long into the campfire nights about all manner of things. For the first time guiding did not feel like drudgery to me, an exercise in miracle-making against all odds and lack of even the most fundamental skills that needs to be tactfully endured at the time, and later washed off with copious amounts of whisky.

To the contrary, the outing turned out to be one of the most memorable fishing trips I’ve ever been on largely because I’d changed the way I guided — changing not the what but the how. The mechanics remained the same, but the attitude was different, and the attitude is like tinted glasses: it can darken or brighten how you see things and colour your perception. And so instead of trying to guarantee saleable goods — usually trout and ideally big trout and plenty of it — in the process attempting to control the uncontrollable and getting stressed about it all, I began to guide the way I fished for myself.

Walking the rivers, looking for and finding fish, taking shots at them to the best of my ability and seeing how this played out, celebrating when it did, laughing when it didn’t. Essentially, going fishing with clients as I would with friends, just giving them all the opportunities. This made for a much more relaxed atmosphere, reducing the pressure that so often both the guide and the guided angler put on themselves. After all, fly-fishing was meant to be fun, right? Wasn’t this one of the reasons why we did it?

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In a way then, this was a return to what fly-fishing was supposed to be, at least in its pure and true form, before it has been subjected to rampant commercialisation which has turned trout into a commodity to be advertised, acquired, shown off and bragged about. As John Gierach wrote with his trademark sarcasm, the kind of people he’d want to guide didn’t usually want a guide or to be guided. Somehow, though, the second time around I managed to find the middle way of doing what I loved without pimping it out. I guess my books have acted as a filter and a declaration of intent, style and approach so that I did not attract wannabes who just want to catch big fish only to post pictures of them on Facebook but rather true anglers who engage with the world of trout through fly-fishing and on deeper levels, more like my own.

This change in attitude of treating guiding not as a job but as a way of taking new friends out fishing and helping to make things happen for them took time to grow and evolve. It has been both radical and revelatory, although I cannot claim to be the originator. I had a friend who was a mountain guide, one of the most experienced in the country. We used to fish and ski tour together a lot, and one time he told me that for him it did not make any difference whether he was guiding a client or climbing with a friend; he was getting just as much enjoyment out of both.

Anton died guiding Aoraki/Mt Cook some years ago, but his words have stayed with me ever since. Finally, I think, I too got what he was trying to tell me. Perhaps I’d grown up a little as well.

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And a good thing I did, because otherwise I’d might have never met Jennifer.

A few years had passed since I lived and wrote The Trout Bohemia. Ella, the book’s main protagonist and its chief villain, was long gone. Last time I heard anything about her she was studying tango in Buenos Aires and no doubt had taken her demons there with her. After the endless dramas and emotional fireworks of trying to be with her, I delighted in silences and the peace that followed after she was gone. They were like a clearing after a storm, quiet enough so that I could hear the sound of rivers again, and so I wrote, and I fished through the seasons and ski toured the winter backcountry with my dog Maya and only a few of the closest friends. I thought if this was all that there ever was, it was fine by me and certainly enough and fulfilling. But Life does not let you idle for long and new events of the highest magnitude were already approaching my horizon even if I could not quite see them yet.

Like Frank and so many others, Jennifer wrote to me asking about fishing in New Zealand. She had read my books and she was intrigued by them and by the challenge of trying to catch those almost mythical antipodean trout, the style we favoured and its self-imposed purity.

‘I’m a simple Colorado girl who just loves to fly fish and doesn’t care about catching,’ she wrote, and I thought ‘Yeah, right. They all say that, until you get them to the river and point out trout bigger than anything they’ve ever seen.’

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All this was happening during the busy peak season and so I wrote back to her with some hasty suggestions, all of which were long-shot and rather expensive options, at least a year away, and so I fully expected not to hear back from her. Surprisingly, she replied the very next day; she was positively dreaming about New Zealand trout. I wrote back, and so did she again, and before long we had a conversation going, then daily messages, then the first phone call and a video chat.

I was taken by her enthusiasm. She had never fished in New Zealand before, but she’d clocked an impressive fly-fishing mileage elsewhere, as diverse as it was exotic. British Columbia steelhead and salmon, Christmas Island bonefish, tarpon and snook in Mexico and Florida, redfish in Louisiana, and trout, wherever she could find them. In her family, fly-fishing went back four generations and she lived near one of the best trout waters in America: the Fryingpan and the Roaring Fork rivers near their confluence with the upper Colorado.

Her father Brit, retired to a riverside property, fished most days and when he didn’t he tied flies, exquisitely crafted and just as innovative, and they spent many happy river days together, reunited by their mutual passion for trout after years of estrangement and living in different countries and cultures.

One thing too was clear, that unlike so many fishing wives, girlfriends or daughters dragged into the sport against their will but enduring it just to please their loved ones, Jennifer’s interest in fly-fishing was pure and independent, unadulterated by influences and peer pressure.

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‘I love it all, all aspects of it,’ she told me in one of our earlier conversations, ‘the fishing, the fish, the bugs, messing about with the gear, thinking about it, reading about it, dreaming about it. Fly water is where I’m the happiest, and all I need to know is that there are fish in it and that there’s possibility of catching some of them.’

I was intrigued. The season flew by — the cicada summer, autumn mayfly hatches, the first spawning runs of early winter — and my days were often long and demanding. Yet every time I got home, every morning I’d get ready to head out to the river again, there would be a little message from Jennifer — a note of few words, a picture or an e-card, a link to a song or a movie clip, a joke or a flirt.

Before she went fishing for steelhead on the Dean River with her father, for a week at a remote fly-in camp and totally out of cell and Wi-Fi range, she mailed me a pack of home-made postcards with a detailed instruction what to open on what day and in which order. Thus, in our communications, she never missed a day and, as I replied in kind, I also thought ‘This chick is not just keen on fishing; she’s got some staying power too’.

But all is glitz and glam and endless optimism in the digital world where everything seems possible and our minds fill in the blanks with more of what we want to see. After months of living in this cyberspace bubble of trout fishing romance we felt ready for a real-life encounter. ‘We should meet’ became our standing joke and a sign-off line. By early New Zealand winter, we started to hatch a plan.

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She wanted to come for a week and I thought it was an awfully long way to travel here and back for just a few days of fishing. ‘Look, why don’t you come for at least a couple of weeks,’ I suggested. ‘I’ll guide you for the first few days because you’ll definitely need it, and from then on we can fish like friends, see if our trout dreams match, and how everything else falls into place.’ She said yes, but as we continued to talk our dreams and make plans it soon became apparent that even two weeks did not seem anywhere near enough.

‘Why don’t we just jump in at the deep end? Make it two months if you dare,’ I suggested, and to my greatest surprise Jennifer again said yes.

She booked her air ticket for late October. That winter at the Southern Lakes was one of the best ever, with an abundance of snow and sunny still weather, and so I was out ski touring every good day, sending Jennifer little movie clips of our ski runs, or chatting with her live from the mountain summits whenever cell reception allowed. Then the trout season started and I was back to River X, on my annual early-season pilgrimage, and every day I drove out of the valley and into reception so we could chat and reconnect.

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‘Maybe we should send the Apple people some champagne or single malt with a thank-you note,’ we joked, ‘as without them this transcontinental trout romance could never be possible.’

After so many hours and terabytes of data it felt as if we had known each other forever and now, like kids before Christmas we were counting days: 14 . . . 10 . . . 5 . . . 3 . . .
But with growing excitement also came matching anxiety. Could we really do this? Could we truly live the trout bohemia dream of doing what we love with someone we love, finding a kind of trout soulmate in each other? And, could we face the disappointments of failure should our visions and dreams come crashing down?

What if this whole crazy plan did not work out? On the other hand, what if it did?
We were about to unplug from the digital reality, meet in real life for the first time, and find out.

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The MAYFLIES have hatched …

My story about Mayflies in New Zealand Geographic is now out in bookshops and online

Hatched in rivers, mayflies rise to the surface and unfurl new wings, the final phase of their precarious and astonishing lifecycle.

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At dusk, on the upper Waiau River under the swingbridge entrance to the Kepler Track, the mayflies were hatching. Each insect rose from a dimple on the water’s surface, then took a hyperbolic flight path, vanishing into the glowing Southland sky.

The mass emergence of mayflies attracts trout, which I had come here to fly-fish, but such was the explosive beauty of the spectacle before me, I put my rod away and just watched.

Mayflies spend almost all of their lives underwater among rocks on a streambed—usually a year, sometimes two in the case of the largest species. Then, when conditions are right, they ascend to the surface to hatch. There, they struggle through the viscous membrane that separates the two worlds and climb out of their nymphal shucks—think of a whitewater kayaker, adrift in a current, pulling herself out of a tight cockpit. Then they fly off, keeping their bodies vertical in flight, tails trailing like long legs, giving an overall impression of dainty ballerinas carried on gossamer wings.

Once in the air, they live only a day or two, to mate and procreate, to die and to fall back into the water. This phenomenon, and a misunderstanding of their complete life cycle, has given rise to their Latin name Ephemera—living for a day—to describe the fleeting nature of their existence.

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Though trout hunt mayfly nymphs among the river gravels all year round, they are especially attuned to the calendar of the mayfly hatching. Ascending insects, briefly trapped in the surface film, are at their most vulnerable—away from the safety and shelter of riverbed crevices, caught out in the open and silhouetted against the sky. No surprise then that, as I watched, the weaving currents of the Waiau were roiling with feeding trout, the fish slashing and punching from beneath the surface, their jaws snapping like so many pairs of wet hands clapping shut.

But the mayflies’ strength is in their numbers and the brevity of their emergence. Some of the hatches in the United States have been so huge and dense, they registered on radar systems at local air traffic control. One species, Hexagenia limbata, erupts from the waters of the Mississippi in hatches totalling some 18 trillion insects—more than 3000 times the number of people on Earth. The newly emerged mayflies are attracted to lights in riverside towns and descend on them like a blizzard. Local authorities use snow-clearing vehicles to sweep up in the aftermath.

Above the Waiau, thousands of fluttering insects streamed skywards until night fell and the spectacle ended as if by the flick of a switch.

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The trout were gone just as quickly and I turned on my headtorch, climbed up the steep rainforest bank and headed back to my camper, pausing for one last look at the river from the swingbridge. Only now I realised that, faced with this extravaganza of mayflies and trout, I had completely forgotten about fishing. This, it later turned out, was not an uncommon reaction, as many careers in entomology began with a fly rod. “You start by fly fishing for trout but after a while you stop bringing your rod,” one mayfly researcher told me. “The invertebrates are a lot more interesting.

Continue reading …

all photography by George Novak

Saving Trout Country

My story Saving Trout Country, about trout and water quality in New Zealand, is in the March issue of North & South Magazine.

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Have a read and join the groundswell!

The big trout held just under the tongue of current breaking off an island-like boulder and from where we stood it was nearly invisible, camouflaged beneath the liquid greenstone of the river frothed with whitewater. Only the sway of its tail gave it away, and only when a brief window of smooth water passed over it, which was how I first sighted the brute.

“There’s a good fish just down and left of that boulder,” I said to my companion Frank Mosley, and pointed to it with my fly rod.

Frank couldn’t see it but this was to be expected. Unless you’ve trained your eyes to spot New Zealand trout, you are likely to miss all but the most obvious ones. Frank was from Montana, accus- tomed to “fishing water” rather than individual trout, though to his credit it was tough to see fish here in the Reefton backcountry. The ostrich-egg boulders that cobble the riverbeds are bone-white and, in bright sunlight, as hard on the eyes as the blinding glare of a glacier.

“Trust me,” I said. “There’s a fish there all right, and a big one too. Just cast a metre up and left of that boulder.”

Frank did, even if he was not entirely convinced. His cast was accurate enough, but for a long suspended moment nothing happened. He lifted the rod and the line seemed snagged.

“Damn, I caught the botto…,” he said, but then the bottom near the boulder exploded with a fury of spray.

The big trout was airborne above it, shaking its head from side to side, its arched wet body glinting gold as it caught the sun- light. The fish bounced off the water a couple of times, then shot downstream, like a soft, lithe torpedo and a contra- diction to all laws of fluid mechanics.

“Oh my gawd,” Frank’s voice was an octave above his usual baritone. “Did you see THAT? It’s a monster!”

We followed at a run, rod held high but bent into a deep C, Frank’s eyes fixed at the end of his line. He seemed in a trance, ready to walk on water. Well, almost. He was fit and nimble for his mid-60s but a few times I had to catch and steady him as he stumbled over rocks he did not see. The fish was tak- ing us down the river and we crossed and re-crossed the tumbling current, wrestling with it, tripping and fumbling on slippery bottom, gaining some line, losing it again, but at all times keeping it taut like a guitar string.

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Twice Frank was down on his knees, flailing on all three limbs but with his rod arm steady and strong. With a pang of dread I saw where the fish was head-ing: a mother of all log-jams a pool below us. If he went in there, into the debris of past floods, we would never get him out.

But then, in the eye of calm below the rapids and just short of the log-jam, I finally netted the fish. He was just shy of the magic 10lb that is the hallmark of a trophy. Frank got his pictures and we released the fish immediately. He was a magnificent trout in his prime, with a fiercely hooked lower jaw, muscled body and a glistening skin that seemed too tight for it.

He was just as spent as we were, and nosed into a rock in the slack water right at our feet, and for a long while all three of us just sat there in absolute stillness, catching our breaths, the only sound the murmur of the river. Then I heard Frank sobbing, and covering it with laughter. He rubbed his eyes with a ban- dana, his hands trembling. “Got the god- damned river water in my eyes,” he said, but he was fooling no one. I smiled and said it was a really good fish, the kind you’d expect out here.

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“No, no, you don’t understand. I’ve been fishing all my life, since I was big enough to hold a rod, and this is the best trout I have ever caught,” Frank cut in. “Where I live, you can’t even buy this kind of experience anymore, no matter how much money you have.”

He fell quiet and withdrawn after- wards, taking time to absorb the expe- rience, and he didn’t want to fish any- more that day, as if not to dilute the quality with repetition or numbers.

On the way back down the river he said: “You’re probably spoilt because you
can have this any time you want, but for me this one fish was worth coming all the way down here. Mountain climbers go to the Himalayas for the best there is, fly fishermen come to New Zealand. Today, I bagged my personal Everest.”

Continue reading in the March 2014 issue of the magazine or get the online version here

 

More on writing dog’s life …

Writing is such a solitary pursuit sometimes you wonder if your work just goes out to disappear into the Great Void. Fortunately, seems not a day passes without emails, messages and comments from the readers around the world. Even better if you get to meet them in person, and find that you share the same passion and spirit for adventures. Sometimes, like Karilyn here, and Mark who took this picture, they turn out to be Airedale people as well.

Thank you all for your generous feedback, kind words and encouragement. They make the writing journey all the more worthwhile.

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Have you ever seen anything this cool and original?

A case-building caddis, what a gem of an insect!

Hubert Duprat, ‘Caddis.' (Images: Zero Gallery & Art: via Cabinet Magazine.

Hubert Duprat, ‘Caddis.’ (Images: Zero Gallery & Art: via Cabinet Magazine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The images above illustrate the results of an unusual artistic collaboration between the French artist Hubert Duprat and a group of caddisfly larvae. A small winged insect belonging to the order Trichoptera and closely related to the butterfly, caddisflies live near streams and ponds and produce aquatic larvae that protect their developing bodies by manufacturing cases from silk and incorporating substances—grains of sand, particles of mineral or plant material, bits of fish bone or crustacean shell—readily available in their environment. The larvae are remarkably adaptable: if other suitable materials are introduced into their environment, they will often incorporate those as well.

Duprat began working with caddisfly larvae in the early 1980s. An avid naturalist since childhood, he was aware of the caddis in its role as a favoured fly for trout fishermen, but his idea for the project depicted here began after he observed prospectors panning for gold in the Ariège river in southwestern France. After collecting the larvae from their normal environments, he relocates them to his studio where he removed their own natural cases and then places them in aquaria that he fills with alternative materials from which they can begin to recreate their protective sheaths.

He began with only gold but has since also added the kinds of semi-precious and precious stones including turquoise, opals, lapis lazuli and coral, as well as pearls, rubies, sapphires, and diamonds. The insects do not always incorporate all the available materials into their case designs, and certain larvae, Duprat notes, seem to have better facility with some materials than with others. Images courtesy of Cabinet magazine.

And how are you case-building caddis imitations?

 

 

It’s a dog’s life …

Writer’s life, dog’s life

Gustave Flaubert, oh so Bohemian, always broke but still doing what he loved, once wrote:

“Writing is a dog’s life, but the only life worth living.”

Ask my dog Maya about writer’s life. She’d probably say it’s not all bad. Here are a few postcards from the dog’s life. Decide for yourself:

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Guide to fly fishing in New Zealand – where, when, how and how not – free ebook

Readers and clients have been writing to me asking some basic questions about fly fishing in New Zealand. I reply to all these queries but as both Qs & As have become quite repetitive I thought there must be a better way of handling this. And there is!

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Doug Stevens at nzfishing.com has put together an excellent primer about all you need to know planning your trip to this Country of Trout. Beyond the usual must-know nuts and bolts of travel, he has written up a detailed month-by-month breakdown of what’s happening and where. Best of all this essential ebook is free. You can download it here.

Doug has also put together six regional guidebooks about fly fishing in New Zealand – three for each island – and these are available for purchase here.

PJ Jacobs in action

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy fishing and may the trout rise for you wherever you go!

 

Izaak Walton and James Prosek: “Study to be Quiet”

Look what I’ve found in the back eddy of the cyberspace! A superb documentary about visiting and fishing the hallowed waters of Izaak Walton and his Compleat Angler. Take an hour off, pour yourself a glass of your favourite, and enjoy this lyrical journey of author and artist James Prosek

Apparently, The Compleat Angler is the 3rd most published book in English language, after the Bible and the works of Shakespeare, though now Tolkien would probably be a close contender too. You can get The Compleat Angler as a free Kindle ebook here

Next time you lose a fish remember Walton’s timeless words:

“You cannot lose what you never had”

Happy fishing!

 

More fly tying with Magic Tool – the CDC caddis

 

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Marc Petitjean using his Magic Tools in New Zealand backcountry

My post about Marc Petitjean’s Magic Tool and how it simplifies fly tying with CDC, has been hugely popular so here’s its sequel, this time about tying a basic Caddis fly. Watch how Marc does it, his tying is poetry in motion. Between the mayfly from the previous post and this caddis here you’ll have most of the dry flies covered. And, after you’ve tried and tested these CDC gems, you’ll never want to go near a trout stream without them.

 

For GUIDED Fly-Fishing in New Zealand visit us here

For signed copies of THE TROUT DIARIES and THE TROUT BOHEMIA go to our online bookshop here

Happy fishing!