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The addictive pull of a feisty trout

by Libby O'Brien

The air is crisp and still, and the sound of my sturdy boots chomping through frosty grass pierces the early morning stillness. Nearby, a river shapes the landscape and a cheeky piwakawaka (fantail) joins me, dancing in the air around me as I make my way along a well-trodden track.  

This is my happy place.

My favourite memories of fly fishing are more than just catching fish. It’s about heading out into nature, strolling up a river, absorbing everything around me and occasionally being treated to the addictive pull of a feisty trout on the end of your line.  

I remember the first time I hooked a trout. I was feeling awkward – standing knee-deep in the Tauranga-Taupo River south of Taupo, nine feet of fibreglass in front of me, being coached from the bank on where to get the tiny woolly bugger fly attached to the end of fine nylon filament. The pressure was on. Get it wrong and I’d be stuck in blackberry across the river. Get it right and the chances of catching an elusive rainbow trout increased. Even so, my expectations were low. Like, really low.  

They say the tug is the drug, and it really is. You don’t expect to feel the tap… tap-tap-pull on the line. But when you feel it, the adrenaline is unprecedented for such a sedentary sport. It’s a rush like no other, especially with some solid commentary assisting you to pull the fish in. Strike! Keep the rod up! Don’t slip over! Don’t pull it in too quickly! Don’t let the fish get into a snag!  

The relief of getting that fish in the net is akin to watching the end of an All Blacks match with only three points in it when the ref blows the final whistle. It’s a combination of relief, excitement and gracious joy that a mixture of luck and skills has you sharing a few moments with one of these beautiful shiny creatures.  

I prefer to send most of the fish I catch back to the river, as fishing to me is all about the sport as opposed to gathering kai (food). Gently cradling a fish in the water while it recovers, until it gives you a flick of the tail to signal it’s ready to head back to the depths of the riverbed. Watching fish swim away is one of the best things about fly fishing. A brief encounter with an elusive rainbow trout gives you only moments to marvel in its sparling beauty, while you cautiously remove the small hook from its mouth and prepare to get it safely back in the water. It’s a beautiful moment as you part ways, and then get set to start the process all over again.  

We’re pretty lucky here in the Taupo District that a large chunk of our local fishery is much open 365 days a year, which means I can be greedy and claim I’ve got two favourite times of the year to fly fish. Right in the middle of summer is one of them.  

It’s the season where waders are not required. Instead of layering up, it’s more about less being more – all you need is a pair of wading boots, a pair of shorts and a t-shirt you don’t mind getting wet, a good slathering of sunblock and (if you’ve got the river mouth to yourself) a few tunes coming out of your backpack while the sun shines down on your face.  

The other is the middle of winter. Things are cold, you’re covered head to toe to keep toasty warm, and the gentle trickle of the river is the soundtrack to your thoughts. That is, until a nearby kereru takes flight from the top of the podocarps with a dramatic thwack to bring you back to reality. Even if the fishing is slow, things are always exciting on the river.  

Some of my fondest memories have been when I’ve had my fly rod in hand. While I grew up here, fly fishing has given me a new appreciation for the stunning places we have right on our doorstep. Fly fishing isn’t about quick wrists, being able to throw a line 50 metres, or even catching handfuls of trout. It’s about getting out there, being in nature and finding your happy place. I know I’ve found mine, and I can’t wait to make more memories on the river. 

#ilovetaupo by Libby O'brien

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