I’d never been fly fishing before – and there’s very good reason for that. Growing up in the UK, there is a large divide that separates fly fishing from sea angling – class. I was firmly planted in the working class camp. With welly boots, plastic buckets and surf casters we were a long way removed from the sophisticated aura of the fly fishing gentry. Their gentle sport of waders, split cane poles and gillies seemed a foreign sport to us. The gentle curve of a lightly weighted fly line looped gloriously across a trickling stream bore no relevance to my experiences of fishing. Instead we were lobbing 8 once leads into pummeling surf and skull dragging fish back through kelp encrusted rocks. My ‘gillie’ was a mate with a home-made gaff hauling 6ft long, writhing conger eels from the jet black sea in the dead of night. I lived very close to the coast and there were no rivers that offered the opportunity to catch any of the UKs freshwater species. The sole option being the local reservoir which was run much like a golf club to keep its wealthy members amused. Every year a couple of thousand rainbow trout were dumped into its waters and over the following months the clubs members would hook them out. No fish ever grew to be more than a couple of pounds. Certainly not my idea of a sporting endeavour.
So 10 years ago when I arrived on these hallowed shores I paid little attention to the freshwater species. Beside those freakishly large rainbows that menaced the Southern canals, I paid little attention to their river dwelling cousins. Angling for the myriad snapper and the mighty kingfish have been my sole focus for many years but when you live in a land with such magnificent back country and scenic waterways, I could definitely see the attraction in spending some time getting amongst it with a fly rod and tackle.
I’d never had the opportunity to try it though and without the right equipment and knowledge I realised it would take a healthy nudge for me to make the leap. And that nudge came just recently thanks to an on-going relationship with the guys at Composite Developments. Their small family business import various fishing brands and outdoor equipment into New Zealand. They are best known however for their technological prowess in designing and manufacturing rods. Modern materials and methods have propelled the humble fishing rod forward to a level where although they may look similar to rods of old, their materials and construction are totally new. Light, flexible and astoundingly strong, even a cheap rod is far better than the old fibreglass broom-sticks of yore. But while materials, adhesives and construction have seen vast changes, no one has sought to redevelop the product itself. . . Until now. Composite Development have taken a sideways look at the one rod for one purpose way of thinking and created a new rod set that is revolutionary in its design. It’s one of those brilliant ideas that is so simple and effective you can’t help but wonder, ‘Why hasnt anyone thought of this sooner?’ I certainly think it will find a place in the tackle armoury of many kiwi fisherman – and quite possibly the world over. The concept is simple – a multi rod system where you have a single butt section which connects to multiple top sections. There are freshwater and saltwater versions which employ the same design principles. You can change the top section to suit the style of fishing – for instance – stickbait, softbait, jigging or straylining. Plus there are numerous innovations in construction, and performance to deliver an all-in-one rod that suits almost every type of fishing application. The other great bonus is the compact dimensions of the travel case they stow into. It’s a go-anywhere solution that is easy to store in your car or boat and even carry as hand baggage on a flight.
I’d previously tested and photographed the salt water versions ( and loved them) so was naturally keen to get hands on with the other models – and finally have that reason to pop my fly-fishing cherry!
The location chosen for the shoot was Turangi on the Southern shores of Lake Taupo. This tiny town is a world renowned fly-fishing mecca and sits at the mouth of the mighty Tongariro river. From here it offers direct access to some of the best trout streams in the country . . . perhaps the world. The bach we had booked for our stay was perfectly geared up for a crew of fisho’s with filleting tables, sinks, smokers wall to wall fly-fishing memorabilia . . . and an old school log burner to beat the winter chill. We were just a couple of doors down from the Creel Tackle House which was quite the revelation for the operation they run. Not only are they New Zealands’ oldest tackle shop, they also combine the business with a superb in-house cafe serving some fantastic grub. I’m not one to dwell on online reviews, but this cafe is consistently rated the best on all of the big sites, and it’s a reputation well deserved.
We had a full days fishing planned to document the whole fly-fishing experience. The rods were the main focus of the shoot, but also the anglers, the tackle, the spectacular environment . . . and hopefully their catches.
The day of the shoot dawned cool and wet – very wet in fact. A low grey sky and heavy drizzle were perhaps the worst conditions to shoot in. Nevertheless you have to make the most of what Mother Nature delivers and we set off to a nearby riverside locale to sling some flies across the water. Despite the dubious weather, the fish were hungry and within 15 minutes the first rainbow trout was flapping on the stones. Fly rods are extremely light and long and even this modest 2lb fish gave quite the show of strength. I marvelled at the long drawn out struggle on such a long, whippy rod and light line.
As the morning progressed the light improved and though the fishing was slow there were a few catches to keep to pique the interest. After a couple of hours on the camera, I finally found time to pick up a rod and reel myself. After a brief lesson from the experts I was out on my own and in at the deep end. It’s a technique that was easier than expected to execute . .. but harder than expected to master. With a couple of casts I was effectively throwing the fly a decent distance, but my accuracy and control were seriously lacking. Nevertheless I had a line in the water and while there were still improvements to be made, I reasoned I still had every chance of luring a trout.
By early afternoon the skies had cleared and while the light was far better for photos, it seemed far worse for the fish. We drew a blank for several hours while scrambled along mossy green boulders amongst densely forested river-banks. The environment itself is a joy to explore and the fact we weren’t catching was never really an issue. It wasn’t until the sun started to dip below the horizon that the fish came back on the feed. A late flurry of action saw a couple more rainbows fight their way to the bank and the beautiful glow of late afternoon skies, made for some stunning photos to round off our day.
Despite its similarities to the saltwater sport I know and love, freshwater flyfishing is quite the different discipline. Refined and gentile, I understand why it is often regarded as a pursuit of the elite and well heeled. Feather-light tackle, trickling streams and wooded shores, it’s a far cry from the hurly burly of being bounced around on a boat out at sea. The presentation and deployment of your fly to wary fish in shallow waters is an art in itself. While I doubt its a sport I will ever master, I’m certainly keen to pursue it further and enjoy the challenges it offers.