Phrases that are used to describe trout fishing in Aotearoa are; adventure, peace, and tranquility, but not always in that order.
As you walk along the quiet riverbank, you can hear the subtle sounds of a trout feeding on the surface, your eyes now peer across the crystal-clear water for any sign of that wild the unsuspecting trout. Yet it is easy to be distracted by the calm whispers of the wind, bird songs and the subtle noises found only in New Zealand’s untouched environment miles from nowhere. Even the snow-capped mountains add to the distraction and make up a stunning backdrop, yet you are focused on the trout. After finally making sure where the trout lies, you make that cast, hold your breath and as you watch a big trout rise to your floating fly, breaking the surface water, mouth wide, then all that serenity in an instant, turns to action!
Just as easily you could find yourself on a calm still-water lake, somewhere surrounded by lush native forests, the silence is deafening then across the oil like water comes small bow waves, towards your fly as you slowly retrieve. Suddenly, the serenity vanishes as quickly as your line tightens, the water erupts as a trout breaks the surface, peeling the line from the grasp of your hands and the contest begins. Trout fishing is that juncture position of moments, sometimes hours of quiet serenity impacted by moments of complete drama.
What I personally enjoy the most about hunting trout is the challenge. Seeing a massive fish and then planning, which could take half an hour or so before I make a move to go in. Stalking in on it like a tiger to a deer, getting just into a position just close enough to get a cast and then delivering it. Sometimes you only get one shot, and the cast must be pinpoint perfect. Then once that is achieved, if you are lucky enough for the fish to eat your fly, it all turns to chaos. The fish thrashes around, and they will take you for a wade and run down river, here it requires a lot of skill, experience and, as with all fishing, a certain amount of luck. Eventually, if you get the trout under some control and it makes it to your net after a massive fight. Then there is a moment of pure elation and satisfaction that your planning, practice, skill and some luck came together, which is absolute gold!
These are just a couple of the draw cards of the sport of trout fishing and why I love it, mainly places it takes you and the people you meet. Plus the skills it requires and the challenges. Fishing together with buddies on annual trips but it is also a great family hobby. My wife and children have caught trout fly fishing, and my son Reign caught his first at 4 years old, it is not just the fishing but sharing the environment and the beauty of the places trout fishing can take you. Plus, there is the bonus that trout is also a culinary delicacy, smoked, fried, baked trout, and on occasion, I’ll take some for the whanau who enjoy it.
I was raised in a small forestry town east of Rotorua, which was surrounded by rivers and lakes. As a young fella, my father used to take me out hunting deer on the weekends. Then during the day after school, I would bike down to the local river in search of trout. My passion grew each time I would go out on an adventure and even biked to locations that were nearly 30 km away. We are very fortunate here in Aotearoa as there is generally a freshwater fishery not too far away. It’s no wonder New Zealand is regarded as one of the top trout fishing destinations in the world.
Trout fishing has been in my heritage for well over a century. My great grandfather, Morehu and my great uncle Hoka Downs were once pioneers in guiding for trout and set up a business near Turangi, where my mum’s indigenous side is from. They started on family-owned land called the Kowhai flats, which is perched on the banks of the mighty Tongariro River. It is here they guided the likes of the Duke and Duchess of Wales and a famous American fishing writer named of Zane Grey, who mentions my great ancestor Hoka Downs in his book “Tales of an anglers Eldorado”. It is this book instrumental in putting the Tongariro River on the world map as a mecca for overseas fisherman to visit.
It is this fishing linage from my forebears that lead me to be a trout fishing guide myself. I was based out of Rotorua and did it for a few years. I have helped tourists and kiwis alike have an experience they never will forget. From catching their first-ever trout to catching their biggest. The joy of guiding is not about catching fish (that does help) but it is witnessing the pure joy and elation from clients who were so thrilled to be in that location dn to catch their fist or biggest fish, that is something to cherish and some of those memories I shall forever.
Over the years of fishing and guiding I have formed some great relationships with people who are now lifelong friends and also a few top tackle companies. I became a sponsored ambassador for a Rotorua, with New Zealand-based family fishing company called Kilwell Sports, which distributes Orvis Fly Fishing rods and Scientific Anglers fly lines . I am lucky enough to test some of the very best fishing gear on the planet, which in turn has helped me significantly with my catch rates.
If you would like to see more of what I capture on my adventures from around the country, you can find me on Facebook and Instagram titled ‘Fueled by nature’.
words and images by Dion James