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It was a frightening prospect for the fit young mining engineer and father of two, facing mortgage payments, immediate hip replacement surgery and a lifetime of pain and disability.
More than four decades and multiple surgeries later, Doug is a content Taupō resident who has refused to let his diagnosis stand in the way of work or play. Or fishing.
With the help of newfound friends at Taupō Fishing Club, the 76-year-old retiree has discovered a host of fly fishing spots he can easily access a short drive from his adopted town. He is also tying flies and has picked up a paintbrush to recreate watercolour renditions of the trout he seeks.
While his wife Janet is not an angler, she heads the fishing club’s environmental arm and helps trap predators around local waterways. Thanks to respiratory issues, shoulder surgery, two knee and five hip replacements, Doug’s mobility is limited and his balance can be poor. Steep tracks are difficult, standing in fast-flowing water is dangerous, long hikes are out of the question. But a quiet amble alongside a river is both doable and pleasurable, always with a fishing buddy close by to offer an arm or shoulder if required. He is still finding suitable new haunts.
“For people like me, with mobility issues, the lifestyle I can enjoy here is fantastic really,” he says. “I have to be mindful of my limitations but the beauty of Taupō and the river system is there are a lot of places I can go and fish and I’m safe.
“When I was living in the north of England, I didn’t river fish at all because it was very challenging to get into a lot of the rivers. You’ve got to walk a long way to get to the river, then you might have to climb down banks. Here, I have the Waitahanui River, the Tongariro River, the Hinemaiaia River.”
Club president Shirley Fraser and her friends have shown him the spots where car parking is close and river access is easy, with options to fish in water that is perhaps only shin-deep.
River mouths are usually quite good. At Hatepe, I can fish where the river comes into the lake because a lot of fish congregate there and I can sort of wade up there, where it’s still only up to your knees, for the fish coming up the river to spawnDoug
He is careful about where he goes, when and who with. He will steer clear of rivers that are flowing too quickly and only accompany people prepared to walk at his pace.
“The club’s been very good for that, I’ve found plenty of fishing partners and it’s easy to arrange and go. And someone is there if I need help. If I catch a fish, they can help me net it; I can’t kneel down and I don’t want to be bending over if the river is running fast because I haven’t got that stability.”
Back in England, Doug tried charter boat ocean fishing but found it too tough on his joints. Loch-style fishing by boat can be expensive and required advance bookings that did not account for weather conditions or spontaneity.
Not like here, where I can decide the weather’s nice and I haven’t been fishing for ages. I can be at the cliff pool at 7am, up the Waitahanui. And back here at 9am. Within half an hour of deciding to go, I’m on the river. I don’t have to plan here.Doug
By the time Doug retired after 27 years in a sales management role with Pall Corporation, both the couple’s children were living in the southern hemisphere. After visiting their son and his family in New Zealand several times, the Oldfields decided to emigrate. By August 2016, they were visa holders living in Taupō, on their way to permanent residency.
“This place is fantastic for someone with my issues. I can’t imagine a better place to be. We’ve got some really nice neighbours, a nice view of the lake, you don’t have to queue to get onto the road. It reminds us a lot of Scotland and the Yorkshire Dales, all this countryside and freedom without people being everywhere. We just love it.
“I just think I’m so lucky. I’ve had these things, physically, with my body, but I’ve never had the attitude of ‘why me’. I just feel as though I’m very fortunate to be here.
“Like this morning, I just had a couple of hours on the river and I wasn’t bothered whether I caught a fish or not. The birds are singing in the trees, the river is flowing nice and clear, you’re out in nature. And you can go swimming in the lake if it’s a nice warm evening. Fabulous, isn’t it? It keeps you young as well.”
Department of Conservation’s Taupō fishery manager Dave Conley says the region offers a vast range of opportunities for anglers, including options for people who have mobility limitations.
“Just by virtue of what nature has given us, there really is something for everyone here,” Dave says.
“We have backcountry fishing for people who are really keen and adventurous, where you basically make your own path, right through to areas where you basically drive a car right to the stream. That kind of access is quite common here, right around the lake. We also have jetties and wharves and boat ramps on the lake edge that provide choices with a reasonable chance of success, not just token fishing opportunities.”
He recommends the Tokaanu Historic Wharf as a respected fishing spot with good accessibility. The Two Mile Bay jetty is another well-loved spot. Several stream mouths offer excellent vehicle access, with carparks that are close enough to the river, with flat enough tracks to accommodate mobility vehicles.
However, Dave echoes Doug’s warning that anyone with mobility issues should fish with a guide, a competent friend or a Taupō Fishing Club member.
It’s not just the ability to get you to the water, it’s the ability to get up and out in the event that something untoward happens. Moving water carries with it an inherent risk and my advice is to never go without someone who can help you manage.Dave
"It is the inexperienced who are most at risk but even an experienced angler can still find themselves in a tricky position. We have unfortunately lost anglers of all abilities at these places. They suffer a medical or health event, or just a fall. There is risk with every step, that’s the nature of the outdoors.”
Dave’s area of responsibility includes the fishery in Lake Taupō and several smaller lakes, as well as tributaries flowing into them.
“There is a huge array. And the rivers themselves change in size and temperament, from big, boisterous rocky areas that are quite difficult to access, to rivers like the Waitahanui which tends to have very gentle, consistent flows."
1. I would not advise anyone with mobility issues to venture out without a fishing buddy or a guide until you are familiar with the terrain. The river can be a dangerous place and is constantly changing.
2. The best advice I can give is to join Taupō Fishing Club – they are so willing to take members to accessible spots. The club also runs regular courses for beginners – both men and women - and it has rods and reels and other gear so there is no need to have all the equipment beforehand. The courses includes:
4. The Waitahanui River is spring-fed and is super clear, so when you’re nymphing don’t get in the water unless you have to. The fish can sense the vibrations and will spook, don’t get in front of the fish, don’t let your fly line go over them, and splash in the water. So a long leader and a small indicator are called for. The Waitahanui is also very good for Euro nymphing; be prepared to add removable split shot to get down quickly in the deeper parts of the river.
5. If you’re going into the water, wear waders with a good belt. In my opinion, a wading stick is essential. I find a net with a long handle or extending handle helps to net the fish and minimise handling, especially if you have mobility issues. Better still, ask your fishing buddy to net the fish.
6. For most situations, a #5 or #6 weight 9ft rod and a floating line is all you require. Euro nymphing is a totally different setup. However, if you’re fishing the Tongariro River you may have to beef things up, especially if you’re wet lining and use a sinking line.
Professional fly fishing guide Dave Wood quickly spotted the silver lining after Covid-19 snatched away overseas visitors and battered his business. Now, he has more time to cast for joy.