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“I think you’re either an angler or you’re not,” the Taupō Investment adviser says. “My sister always hated it and I always loved it. It’s that intermittent reinforcement, like gambling, where you might catch something or I might not on every outing’. Apparently, it’s quite a powerful psychological force.”
This autumn, she is organising a fly fishing tournament for women. While the Central Plateau Womens’ Fly Fishing Social Tournament will include a competitive aspect and offer prizes, it focuses far more on friendliness and fun. The Tongariro-based event begins on May 26 with informal drinks and finishes on May 28 with a weigh-in, prizegiving and dinner.
Sarah credits Tongariro River Motel owner Ross Baker with launching the concept in 2019, as a way to support and encourage female anglers.
“It started when Ross saw another tournament advertised and thought the marketing was very sexist, very male focussed, with men’s whisky tasting and so on. He thought I’m going to do one for women.
“It’s now annual and has become increasingly popular."
Our hope is that women who sign up for the tournament this May will see it as a networking opportunity to find more fishing buddies and to get some extra experience on the river.Sarah
"There is so much to learn but it’s so much faster and nicer when someone shows you the safety aspect, the location, all the gear, what fishing technique to use, what waders you’re going to use, what you need on the river, how to land a fish, all that stuff."
“It’s nice fishing with your peers. When I started out, I didn’t know any other women who fished. Now, there’s a big network of women I could go fishing with, particularly around the Taupō area.”
Sarah arrived in Taupo 17 years ago, seeking a quieter life and more access to the outdoors in the wake of a corporate city job. She immediately joined Taupō Fishing Club, which now has a female-dominated leadership team and female membership edging close to 50 percent.
However, those initial fly fishing hopes were dashed by ongoing back issues.
Since spinal surgery restored her mobility 18 months ago, she has made up for lost time and been named as a reserve for the Oceania women’s fly fishing team (cancelled due to Covid).
“Following that second back operation, I’ve been obsessed with getting out fishing because it’s good for my fitness and also my mental health.
“I find the sport side is just fantastic, just the challenge that it provides. I suppose I have a competitive nature but rather than wanting to beat someone else it’s about improving my angling."
It’s physical but it’s also actually quite a mental challenge to be in such a changing environment, in big to small rivers, using different techniques, figuring out what to use in different seasons, how to catch that fish, how to land itSarah
"I also love the calming nature of being out there. A big part of it is getting out into beautiful spots. You might have a day trying to catch a fish but you’ve also spent a day out exercising, away from people, away from an urban environment.”
It was Sarah’s father who introduced her to boats and fishing while growing up in a coastal Wellington suburb. Her dad, who fixed wharfs and painted boats, also owned a small commercial launch and the pair would occasionally fish or dive in Cook Strait or the Marlborough Sounds.
Then, she joined a beginners’ fly fishing course while studying parks, recreation and tourism management at university. The young student was thrilled to realise she could fish without a boat, simply by walking upriver.
Even so, she has always wanted her own vessel.
“My father was a big influence on me being able to fish. But I longed for more. I wanted to learn the knots and he would never teach me anything about the boat because I was a girl. He taught me to fish but if I was a son I would have been running and fixing the boat as well.”
This summer, Sarah bought her first boat. She is now the proud owner of an aluminium dinghy that she uses for fly fishing on and around Lake Taupō.
With that goal ticked off, she's named a member of the NZ Women's Fly Fishing team, the "Fly Ferns," heading to compete in Norway this year!
1. Ask questions. When you see someone catching fish, ask what technique and set-up they are using (leader length, tippet strength, flies). I always used to ask about flies but it’s not all about the flies.
2. Don’t let the technical jargon get to you. For instance, people talk about tippet in four ways; pounds, kilos, millimetres and 4x or 5x. This is very confusing but don't worry about it, just ask for an explanation.
Or do what I do and rush home and google it.
3. Get out with as many people as you can as they will teach you a lot - different techniques, spots and ways to fish the river.
4. Check out YouTube. Some very well-respected anglers produce really good how-to videos and offer tips and information for all levels, from beginners up.
5. If you’re looking for other women to fish with, join your local fishing club or ask at fishing stores. And come along to our tournament!