Free first chapter of THE TROUT DREAMS

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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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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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THE TROUT BOHEMIA, free first chapter

 

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THE TROUT BOHEMIA

Fly Fishing Travels in New Zealand, 

by Derek Grzelewski

Published by David Bateman (NZ) and Stackpole Books (USA) 2013

 

‘Once upon the time a prince met a beautiful princess.

“Will you marry me?” the prince asked.

The princess said, “No.”

And the prince lived happily ever after. And he fished, and skied, and hunted, and went on long safaris, and he drank expensive whiskies by the campfire, and there was no one there to tell him he played too much, and that it was costing a fortune . . . ’ Anonymous

‘For us, New Zealand is a dream come true, the trout Bohemia.’ Jetske Darbeaud

‘A seeker of silences am I.’ Khalil Gibran, The Prophet

 

Chapter 14PROLOGUE

‘Is that it then? Is this how it all ends?’ she asked, and I did not have the courage to meet her eyes.

For the past half an hour, with a heavy heart, I’d been telling Ella how this togetherness of ours was not working for me any more. How, after the autobahn of a long honeymoon, our road was getting more and more rocky and potholed, and how I was increasingly unsure I wanted to travel it. I’d been telling her how I grew tired of conflicts and dramas, how it seemed I was forever putting out fires and whenever one was out, another would flare up elsewhere until, in the end, I’d given up and thought, ‘Well, just let them burn.’

All the time I talked, she held me with a steady gaze and listened silently, two rivulets of tears running down her beautiful sun- browned face. Now that at last she had spoken, asking the question loaded with so much finality, I could not bring myself to answer it.

Truth was I didn’t know. Despite our best intentions and contrary to earlier promises and reassurances, we had lost our way. Maybe we just went into it all too hard and fast, two stubborn individuals burning with many passions but unable or unwilling to compromise. Or perhaps we were just not compatible. I really didn’t know any more.

I could feel Ella’s eyes probing me for answers, but the words failed me. I got up and gave her a peck on the cheek, tasting the saltiness of tears, then headed for the door. With my hand on the doorknob I turned to her one last time. She was still there on the couch, paralysed in stillness, her usually tall and proud ballerina’s body crumpled as if the bones were suddenly gone from it and there was nothing to hold it up any more.

‘I need to go away for a while,’ I said. ‘Let’s put some time and space into this. Maybe then we can piece it all back together.’ For a couple of beats I waited for a word from her but, as none came, I stepped out through the door and slid it shut behind me. The metal frame gliding on rollers sounded like the fall of a guillotine. Whoosh! Maybe it was how it all ended.

Chapter 7

 

‘The solution to any problem — work, love, money, whatever — is to go fishing, and the worse the problem, the longer the trip should be.’ John Gierach

 

It was early October, in New Zealand the beginning of trout season. My 4WD camper was parked in the driveway, ready to go, and Maya, my Airedale terrier, was sitting in the driver’s seat, waiting. As I was getting in, she gave me a double lick of greeting while her tail walloped the seat cover, raising puffs of sand. Then she moved over to the passenger side. It was her seat again, now that there were only two of us in the camper. I backed out on to the road and, once on the main highway, felt the Land Cruiser pick up its momentum.

I took a deep breath and it came out as a seismic sigh, and Maya’s tail walloped three times like the clap of applause. It was time to cheer up, she was implying. As so many times in the past, and they were always good times, we were again ‘Gone Fishing’ together. Might be some time and out of range. Incommunicado. Address unknown. We were going to the best place we knew: to the peace, solitude and the silences of the rivers.

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SIGNED COPIES of THE TROUT BOHEMIA are available in my online bookshop here. Worldwide shipping.

 

Two hours later we were in Southland, heading further into the vast green plains through which so many good trout rivers meander. In spring, Southland can be a volatile place and this time it was no different. Apocalyptic hail storms bore down on us like giant waves from the Roaring Forties, pelting the camper canopy with hailstones the size of peas. The ice bounced off the road and crunched under the tyres. There were bands of brilliant sunshine in-between the storms, and full, double-arch rainbows, and this stark illumination made the farm hills glow with surreal green, so bright it seemed almost fluorescent. It was blinding like the surface of a glacier but lush and fresh and dotted with the confetti of shorn sheep and lambs prancing on newly found legs.

The forecast was good so I was not too concerned about the passing tempests. Here and there along the way, at Anglers’ Access signs and by numerous bridges, I saw fly-fishers’ cars parked, each staking a claim of privacy to an upstream beat, but the opening- day fever was tapering off and I was confident that, like every early season over the past decade, I’d have ‘my’ river largely to myself.

By now, the sense that by driving away I was stretching some invisible rubber cord which would either snap or pull me back to Ella was gone, replaced by the gravitational pull of the river which was growing stronger. I hadn’t been back here for nearly a year and the anticipation was delicious. Butterflies in the stomach. It felt like going to visit an old friend — solid and reliable, always welcoming and always there in times of need.

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The river is not especially well known, nor is it a better fishery than any other waterway in Southland. But because of my experiences there — the rapid evolution of skills it had forced me into, the friendships and camaraderie I’d found there, the moments of magic so numerous and stacked so close together they overshadowed all other memories — it has always been a special place for me. Secret and sacred. The river of the heart.

Two years had passed since I completed The Trout Diaries and much had happened in the meantime. Firstly, like a doting teenager again, I had fallen in love just as when, this late in mid-life, I thought I was immune to such afflictions. Then there was the sad news from Grandpa Trout.   Continue reading

Writing a book is like having a child

Writing a book is like having a child: you conceive it – that’s the easy part – you feed it, and take care of it, and then at some point you have to let it go. I’ve just let The Trout Bohemia go, to the printers, and out into the world. Here’s the dust jacket for your visual pleasure. The book will be out worldwide in early August, you can pre-order a signed copy in our online bookshop

Trout Bohemia jacket copy

From my latest column at Midcurrent.com

 

The Fables of La Fontaine

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Do you have a river of your dreams, a place that comes first to your mind whenever you think “flyfishing?” It may be a memory snapshot of somewhere you’ve already been or a mental compilation of everything that is the best in our pursuit. Picture it for a moment, what’s it like?

What size, with what backdrop, in what country? Does it have long smooth glides where rise-rings take forever to dissipate, or is it fast and boisterous, with plenty of big rocks for rainbows to sit against? Is it an easy ego-pampering water à la Timaru Creek or a fair dinkum test like the lower Tongariro where massive browns regard you with contempt? Whenever I closed my eyes I always saw my river clearly but only this spring I realised that it actually exist, and that it has a name. I also got to fish it for all of three days. Talk about vision becoming a reality!

The river is called La Fontaine and it seeps out of the swampy paddocks on the New Zealand’s West Coast, two hours north of the glaciers, near the farming settlement of Hari Hari. It’d be tempting to think that it was named after the writer Gary LaFontaine who, as one journalist noted in Gary’s 2002 obituary, “was a flyfisherman—in much the same way Albert Einstein was a mathematician.” You may have come across his books – Trout Flies: Proven Patterns, Caddisflies, and The Dry Fly: New Angles – they are classics in their field. But it’s more likely, certain in fact, that the river carries the name of another scribe, the Frenchman Jean de La Fontaine, a conjurer of magic and fables. For a dream river such association seems particularly fitting.

I’d been meaning to explore it for years and never had but this time we’d finally set a date and made it happen. My fishing compadre David Lloyd flew in from Hong Kong and one sunny November day we set off in my camper, from Wanaka and up the coast. By that time we’d already had a week’s fishing on our favourite River X, hard but rewarding, and it was the most memorable trip ever (sorry mates, no GPS coordinates here.) Sight-fishing to eager browns, the solitude and the luxury of having the river to ourselves had raised our standards, honed the expectations. Thus we arrived in Hari Hari a little too cocky perhaps, two self-professed experts ready to kick butt. The La Fontaine browns would see to it that we did not delude ourselves for long.

lafontaine_releaseLa Fontaine is a river-size spring creek, with fat weed beds waving in the current over clear patches of light gravel and sand, all of which makes for rather good spotting. David and I delight in sight fishing, now almost to an exclusion of any other style, and the “See no fish, cast not” adage has become something of our modus operandi. We are happy to walk for miles just looking for the moments of magic this particular kind of voyeurism affords, knowing that to see even one fish react to a fly – to see it  take, inspect or refuse – is an experience far more intense and memorable than catching half a dozen fish blind.

Maybe it’s because we’d both done our river mileage, flogging the water without seeing the fish first, or perhaps it is a residue of my years as a fishing guide. For a guide, watching his clients fishing blind can be intolerably boring which is why we so insist on finding the fish. Spotting makes a guide feel useful and engaged, a part of the adventure. All other alternatives are grim by comparison. Consider the renown Scottish gillie who was asked what was the single most important skill for a career fishing guide. After scratching his beard in deep thought he replied: “I’d have to say it’ll be the ability to yawn with your mouth shut.”

Continue reading …

 

Trout Diaries Radio – Episode 4

 The Punk-Rocker of Fly Fishing

In this episode we visit and chat with Stu Tripney who runs a delightful little doll-house of a tackle store on the Upper Mataura in Athol, New Zealand’s Southland.

Stu Tripney

Stu, who is one of the characters in The Trout Bohemia – which is now avaialble for pre-orders in our BOOKSHOP – is a guide, FFF Master Caster and an innovative fly tier. He’s also the punk-rocker of fly fishing. You can read about my re-learning to cast with Stu here.

Lot of movement in the tip, not a lot in the handle

But, as you will hear, there is a lot more to Stu than casting or punk rock.

Enjoy the show! Use the Comments feature below to let us know how you like it and what else you’d like to learn about fly fishing in New Zealand.

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Trout Diaries Podcasts – Episode 3:

 

Johnny Groome fishing the Arnold

Johnny Groome fishing the Arnold

Johnny Groome and the Arnold. The saving of “One of the best trout rivers in the world you’ve probably never heard about.”

Episode 3 of the Trout Diaries podcasts features a happy-ending post script to the story of Johnny Groome and Arnold River (featured in the book and as ONE MAN’S RIVER ONE MAN’S WAR on Midcurrent.com.)

An inspirational tale of what happens when we follow our passion and stand up for what we love and believe in.

Let us know what you think (use Comments below.) This is our first fully audio-engineered  show.

 

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The Trout Diaries Podcast – Episode 2:

 

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Episode 2 of The Trout Diaries podcast is up on iTunes, an interview with Derek by Brian Bennet of Moldy Chum and Teeg Stouffer of Recycled Fish, recorded by by MauroMedia. Coming up in Episode 3 a chat with Johnny Groome and the saving of his beloved Arnold River. Stay tuned to the Trout Diaries podcast, brining you the best of fly fishing in New Zealand.

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The Trout Diaries – February

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Anaru (Henare) giving it his best shot

GONE NATIVE AT THE BIG O

“YOUS FELLAS FISHIN?” a Maori guy asked on the shore of lake Otamangakau. I said we were having a look.

“Plenty a fish here, bro, big bastards too, but bloody hard to catch, ay.” He was lean and hard, dressed in a bush shirt and hunting shorts, and his legs and arms were scratched with bush lawyer and blackberries, the barbed wire of the backcountry. Behind him was a camp that looked like a mobile butcher’s workshop. Game carcasses wrapped in fine white muslin against blowflies were hung from meat hooks on all available trees. On a log his companion sat pulling an oily swab through the barrel of a large-calibre rifle.

The man’s summary of fishing at the lake – big, challenging trout and plenty of them – was precisely what had attracted us here. Sure enough, we saw the first fish, large shape shadowing against a patch of dark-gold sand, as soon as we descended to the waterline. I was with Marc Petitjean, the Swiss fly tier and angling innovator extraordinaire but even his masterly casts and best-money-can-buy flies made no impression on this or any other fish we saw. The trout were weary, not giving us even one honest opportunity.

Marc made a face of mock dejection. “This is not a place for casual drive-by fishing,” he said. “The trout here need to be studied and understood before anything of consequence happens.” I had to laugh. This was exactly what I had planned for the next few days. For now, we were just filling a couple of hours waiting for Marc’s afternoon flight to Christchurch where he was to give one last NZ fly tying demo. Before we left I went back to ask the fellas if there was anywhere nearby I could camp.

“You can camp with us bro,” one of them said. “Plenty a room.”

And so it began, my affair with the big O, its trout and the whanau that camps along its shores.

With just enough foresight, I had borrowed a three-metre inflatable tender for the Otamangakau because the lake is an old swamp filled by the hydro scheme, and the shoreline fishing is limited to a few small and unconnected beaches. The rest of its margins are boggy and full of holes oozing muck and oily blackwater, quickly discouraging any exploration on foot. By the time I returned, set up camp and pumped up the boat it was already dark. One of the bros materialised, beer in hand, and unceremoniously put another one for me on the bumper of my truck.

“Come and have a feed with us,” he said. When I joined them both by their great incinerator fire he picked up an enamel plate from a sheet of corrugated iron which served as a dish-drying rack and heaped it with venison steaks and token stalks of boiled broccoli. Then he took a dinged-up mug, half filled it with Jim Beam and handed them both to me. We ate in contented silence, the lake behind us so still, even the stars reflecting in it did not shimmer. These two, I thought to myself, were my kind of people. My tribe.  Continue reading

The Trout Diaries Podcast – Episode 1: Introduction

 

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Welcome to the first of our TROUT DIARIES podcasts. New Zealand is a phenomenal place to fly fish for trout, many say the best in the world, but it’s also one of the most challenging. Many anglers have come here to live their dream of the Trout Eldorado only to come away beaten and humbled. This is because, as Charles Gaines wrote in his The Next Valley Over:

 “In some places and at odd times trout fishing can be easy in New Zealand but typically and essentially it is more technically challenging and butt-kicking difficult than anywhere else in the world.”

This is just one of the reasons for these podcasts: to help you improve your fishing and, if you are coming from elsewhere in the world, to come prepared.

In subsequent episodes I will be brining you the best of New Zealand fly fishing: interviews with top guides, trout scientists, river conservationists, tips and tricks for what to do and what NOT to do here. I will take you with me on the road – the research trips for my trout books – and show you our diverse regions and how they differ through geography and seasons.

Another reason for these podcasts is to spread the word about conservation of our trout rivers which are under an unprecedented threat from industrial interests. The more anglers know about this the sooner the change in environmental awareness will come about. So please join us, let our voice be heard. The hour is late.

In the course of our journeys you will meet some of the characters who inhabit my books – the trout bohemians – and learn what makes them so passionate about fly fishing in New Zealand. You will gleam some of their river wisdom and experience. We will finish each episode with an audio excerpt from my books THE TROUT DIARIES and THE TROUT BOHEMIA (which will be out in August) to give you a literary taste of what it’s like to live the trout dream here.

There is always a danger in a writer writing about himself and his work so to begin with and, to forestall any self-indulgences on my behalf, here’s an interview about The Trout Diaries which Colin Shepherd did with me for his HOOKED ON FLY FISHING radio show.

So, sit back, pour yourself a glass of your favourite, and join us in living the trout fishing dream.