Derek Grzelewski : Writer : Photographer : Adventurer




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I can’t remember reading a better fishing book.
I read it over the weekend. Couldn’t put it down. I didn’t expect to have my heartstrings pulled, learn so much about New Zealand and its trout waters, and meet so many fascinating characters, mostly ‘trout bohemians’ and fly-fishing gypsies like the author. This book will surely be a NZ classic. And you don’t have to have fished NZ waters to enjoy it and appreciate its sentiments. Can’t recommend this book highly enough.
Rob Sloane, editor of FlyLife magazine

So much water so close to home

Reviewed in New Zealand Geographic magazine
by Carl Walrond
, author of Survive! Remarkable Tales from the New Zealand Outdoors

Derek Grzelewski is one of New Zealand Geographic’s most prolific writers. With stories on trout and salmon in his back catalogue, and living as he does on the bank of the mighty Clutha River in Albert Town, it’s no surprise that he has written a book about the piscatorial life. The Trout Diaries draws on Grzelewski’s experiences (usually with dog in tow) over one calendar year starting in October; the first month of the fishing season in most places.

Grzelewski’s book is no how-to or where-to guide—in fact he keeps the location of one River X secret—but rather chronicles his evolution as a fly fisher. The writing is incisive and full of anecdotes, like riding shotgun with him as he scours the land for new waters and experiences. It is set largely in the South Island (with a couple of forays to the North Island thrown in,) a backdrop that many consider to be an angler’s nirvana.

Trying to make a living from something you love sounds ideal, yet many anglers-turned-trout guides have killed their passion by that very choice. Grzelewski tried it himself for a few seasons, before realising that his clients fished for different reasons.

“They seemed to have lost their footing on Earth and gone adrift in a dreamland of sound bytes, digitised reality and instant gratification,” he writes.

Quite different then to Grzelewski who, when camped near Lake Moeraki with his dog, read Nature as Teacher by Viktor Schauberger, the Austrian master forester who could stare at flowing water for hours without becoming bored. Schauberger was a pioneer of vortex mechanics but also something of an iconoclast who believed that water was “a living thing, the blood of the Earth”. He designed successful log flumes in the 1920s but swung from derision to fame. “One moment he was an undesirable, strait-jacketed to a gurney in a mental institution in Mauer-Öhling awaiting lethal injection; the next he was summoned to work for the Messerschmitt factory,” records Grzewelski.

So eschewing the angling tourists, Grzelewski joined the ranks of the bibliophiles and trout bums—or ‘trout bohemians’ as he prefers—and set out on an emotional journey to understand why he fishes; as much an attempt to find the right way to live as the right way to fish. And that’s something worth reading.

See original review here


The Trout Diaries
Reviewed in Fish & Game magazine
by Carl Walrond

I met Derek Grzelewski once that was over a decade ago. I had lunch with him and a mutual friend in Christchurch. About this time, or just earlier, the trout bug bit him. It got him bad and I’m pleased it did. Fast forward to the present and you have The Trout Diaries – a year in the life of his fishing journey with chapters based on months. I suspect that some months may have come from different years – or at least some of his asides and digressions do – not that it matters in the least. It’s the people he meets, the expectations and misconceptions that are shattered, the rare moments of insight that lift the stories off the page.

A Pole, Derek came to New Zealand some twenty years ago. He has walked a harder road than most – eking out an existence as a freelance writer – mainly for New Zealand Geographic and magazines such as the Smithsonian. It allowed him to live where he wanted to – Wanaka first, and then when that became a suburb, Albert Town where he now resides on the banks of the mighty Clutha.

There is more to fishing than catching trout and this is evident from the vast literature that trout fishing has spawned – you just have to look at the library shelf space devoted to trout fishing. And there is more to The Trout Diaries than trout. Within these pages there are overseas trout bums who keep returning, lost dogs, river rafters, casting masters, learners, whitebaiters, whanau, lost love, fisheries scientists, river advocates, guides (he was one for a time), Southern men and women and more.

Unsurprisingly he fishes mainly in Otago, Southland and the West Coast with some forays up to the Taupo area. None of his waters were new to me by name except his river X in Otago and who knows I may have fished it? Most of his named waters I’ve never fished. The La Fontaine I had – and I was relieved that it beat him at first too – I didn’t get time to hang around to see whether I could have cracked it – one of the benefits of being a trout bum is you can spend time on the river in different conditions.

Reading this book is to open a window into his life.  You can compare and contrast, see where he chooses to fish and why – and importantly where he doesn’t. While the rivers each angler chooses to fish are different the destination is often the same – towards greater simplicity and fewer flies and fishing for yourself rather that what others think – or what you may have imagined they thought! And that’s what his book is largely about.

To become a trout angler is to enter a circle of learning and appreciation of the natural world. Each angler is unique – no two have fished exactly the same waters at the same times. In fishing one can’t help but meet other anglers and learn from them. Derek met his fair share and his book abounds with the varied creatures that you find on our riverbanks.

Grzelewski can write. He has perfected the art of moving quickly, of throwing the reader off balance. If occasionally self-indulgent his digressions have a point – they take you somewhere.His journey for trout has been one towards his true self. Whether he meant to or not he addresses the question of why we fish? In the end, as he points out, trout are unknowable – and perhaps that is part of the reason. In fly fishing, the journey very much is the destination. And what a journey his has been! Go with him and it may make you view your own journey with eyes shining bright.
Read it.

Kennedy Warne
founding editor of New Zealand Geographic and author of Roads Less Travelled and Let Them Eat Shrimp

"This is a book about trout fishing in the same way that Moby-Dick is a book about whaling. The author has an eye for larger, more elusive quarry: the meaning of rivers, the nature of wild encounters, the relationship of humans to their environment. THE TROUT DIARIES is a trophy catch that will satisfy angler, adventurer and philosopher alike. Readers will respond to Grzelewski's honesty. This is writing that will affect people and lead to personal growth."

Adrian Bell, author of New Zealand Trout Frontiers, Rod & Rifle magazine

"What does a reader most want from a new work on trout fishing? Tips and techniques? Advice on where to go and what to use? Probably not, because we are already supplied with enough books that address those issues. When opening a new fishing book, I look forward to joining the author as an unseen, but involved member of his party as he quests a variety of waterways and reflects upon the experience. I certainly felt that connectedness as I read Derek Grzelewski’s book, The Trout Diaries, but there was more than that. This is an author whose love of trout fishing is a cohesive force in a life experience where relationships with people and the environment (plus the emotions that they generate) are at least as important as the fishing.

His motivation for writing The Trout Diaries was generated by the experience of a retired teacher from the American Midwest. He first met Henry, a ‘trout bohemian’, on the Eglinton and thereafter bumped into him several times a year. Henry thought of himself as ‘the trout Columbus discovering his own personal Terra Trutta.’ When Derek last encountered Henry at Reefton, he was told the news that Henry had cancer. He was not going to submit to chemotherapy, however, but ‘would fish every day until the Reaper came’.

So Derek puts the question: where would he go, what would he do if he knew that next cast could be his last? That consideration generated two more. Which rivers and places would he choose? What events on the trout calendar would he want to witness and participate in? The Trout Diaries, divided into chapters entitled with the months of the year, is the answer to those questions. And so Derek begins his wide-ranging journey, enticing us to participate with his beautifully crafted sentences and engaging narrative. With disarming honesty, he provides insights into his interactions with people, rivers, lakes, fish, dogs and personal situations. While writing exposing the vulnerabilities of an author can be risky; by inviting us to share in a human predicament so common to us all, Derek presents a persona we can relate to and the communication process is enhanced as a result. Though the writing assures us of the scholarship of the author, the narrative is never pompous. Throughout there is a wealth of useful angling information that we can apply to our own fishing: for example, I had never before realised that autumn trout could be taken at the mouths of the rivers of the southern lakes using the smelting techniques more commonly associated with the Taupo fishery.

As an English teacher, I take note of writing quality. Derek Grzelewski's is of a superb standard, as good as anything that Norman Maclean wrote. This quote from ‘February’ epitomises his approach to the sport: ‘In fly-fishing there are very few short cuts worth taking, and the beauty of our quest is that there are no lasting formulas, and all patterns eventually fall apart to be replaced by new ones, equally transient. All the science in the world cannot model the next day’s fishing or assure that the magic we seek will happen, for that comes in its own time, and all we can do is to be there, prepared, ready to receive it.’


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