Pictures by Craig Somerville
New Zealand is most appropriately known for its world-leading sighted wild trout fishing, surrounded by some of the most exquisite and dramatic ‘Middle Earth/Jurassic Park’ style backdrops. It is this aspect of New Zealand that, without any shadow of a doubt, is what made this country shine from an international fishing perspective...until now. The mere notion of this being anything but a fact is almost inconceivable. And, the idea that some other fishing exists that is almost more sublime is surely absurd. Now being prompted to put the question forward; are there any other species in New Zealand that are of such a mind blowing standard to draw the wandering eye of the travelling sports fly fisherman from up-stream dry flies? Well, we are here to find out, and when I say "we", I mean the Loop Tackle Pro Team members Craig Somerville (CEO of Castabroad NZ) and myself.
I left Scotland some five or so months ago as a fledgling member of the Loop Pro Team with an agenda or a 'bucket list', depending on the angle I chose to look at it. The aim was not only to experience the wonderous trout that exist in New Zealand, but in traditional Angus-style, to explore the unusual and less obvious fishing that this country was hiding.
Prior to my departure I had heard tales of monstrous, aggressive salt water species whose fight rivaled, if not dwarfed some of the industries greats, the leviathans on the fly - GT’s and Tarpon to name a few. Traveling to New Zealand aware of the potential gems lurking up its sleeve, I had an overwhelming gut feeling that I was about to be a part of something extraordinary; nothing could prepare me or Craig, for what we were about to experience!
While I was based in Blenheim at the top of the South Island, I had an opportunity to really attempt to get to grips with the country and delve into the heart of what makes it tick. While I was digging, I established a dialogue with NZ Pro Team member Craig Somerville of Castabroad. Craig shared my passion for all things fish and we immediately connected. While discussing the opportunities and considering our responsibility as Loop Pro Team members, we soon concluded that the best way to help re-establish Loop in NZ was to team up for some expeditions. Castabroad and Loop wanted to explore other avenues that were being over shadowed by a traditional focus - this is Loop’s mantra, Castabroad’s aim for itineraries and exactly what I was looking for. Gradually the inspiration began flowing like a fine dram and combined with our passion only meant one thing, revolution.
Soon after we first made contact, we delegated ourselves certain responsibilities . I was tasked with researching the salt-water side of the missions, a task I was dying to get stuck into. I began to dig, overturning every rock and keeping a close and ever listening ear to the ground, closely monitoring the sound waves of the NZ fishing scene for fishy whispers. Using my current employment in one of the local hunting and fishing outfits I began chatting to the local fishermen who began to show a modest curiosity in what I was doing, admiring the Loop gear I had and amazed by the dreamy possibility of hooking a Kiwi king on the fly. It was then I ran into what could only be described as somewhat of an underground scene within NZ fishing, being made up of those who prefer to explore the less traditional, those who where drawn to the endless potential the NZ salt offered. It was here in the underground that I heard the names - Kingi, Kahawai and Trevally and others. All were pieces of the jigsaw, slowly but surely falling into place.
Earlier in my New Zealand experience I touched on the presence of the infamous Kahawai in kiwi waters, and mentioned these insane 4 to 12lb fish (see blog post). Well, touching on the topic again, these are possibly the most under-rated sport fish on the planet. From 1,000 strong work ups off-shore to the more intimate and definitely more exciting river mouth gangster style drive-by attacks, the Kahawai truly is the mob member of the Southern Seas. It occurred to me while casting for Kahawai, ‘what would it be like to pursue the hunter that hunted this mob?’ I bet that hooking one of their hunters would be rather like being attached to a freight train, with a mind of its own and no off switch!!
And so the digging intensified. While tracking one of these fishy whispers over a few beers one evening with the lads from work, the conversation soon digressed towards the NZ specific Yellow Tail Kingfish (a sub species unique to New Zealand) on the fly? It dawned on me that another huge piece of the puzzle had just fallen into place! I had heard stories back home of this tackle-destroying machine being taken on the fly, and had considered the concept, but until this point had never really considered my options. What if? From here I focused a large element of my research on this species, tracking down as many contacts as I could, most of which came to no conclusion except one.
While investigating several channels, I had been pointed in the direction of a chap based in the central North Island who had the Kingfish on the fly mastered! What I heard next truly blew me away. It was how he did it that got me really fired up - right up my street! Not long after I had heard word of this fishery and the man behind it, I was on the phone to Craig to express my interest and bring him up to speed.
Both Craig and I instantly saw potential, and even at this early stage we knew this could be even better than it sounded. So the first phone call was made, and after quite a considerable amount of communication and ice breaking discussions, soon flights were booked, and I travelled north for the first leg of the Loop expo 2014. Being tasked with first introductions and meeting the man behind it all, proved to be not only a huge honour but also quite the adventure.
At this point I must introduce the man behind the whispers and the legend behind the scenes of this underground New Zealand salt-water fly fishing mecca, Mr. Clark Reid.
Clark – a Kiwi, a country singing, prize gun-dog training, fly fishing, single malt connoisseur with a talent at the vice, an enviable joke repertoire, and a heart of solid gold, all kept at heel by Tania, his ever supportive and caring wife.
Clark has been an influential member of the fly fishing community in New Zealand as one of the longest standing guides and patrons of the sport for more than 33 years. Responsible for pioneering the way to many a hidden creek, and putting his name to the discovery of so much that the fly fishing world has to be grateful for. Starting his guiding career at the age of 17 as a junior guide in a company that at that time was also venturing into new territory, allowed Clark to develop his skills. Over the years Clark has worked in and has guided on some of New Zealand’s most influential waters, under the great names of Huka Lodge and Poronui Station to name just a couple. Setting a precedent and raising the benchmark for other Kiwi guides to follow, never mind developing an exemplary track record in all areas of the service has been Clark’s great strength. Having guided and become close friends with some of society's and fly fishing’s greats such as Joan Wulff, Randall Kaufmann and, most impressively to me as a Scot, Billy Connolly, has sculpted a worldly figure in Clark who has so much to share.
At first Clark was very guarded about releasing his secrets about this unique gem in New Zealand’s crown, though as far as I was aware he was really one of the very few people who understood the fishing and as a result was the authority in this area so I persisted. The thought of an almost un-known fishery being exploited for the wrong reasons resulting in its potential demise would concern any fly fisher. So what changed? Here is Clark's take on it;
“I want to know about your Kingfish Fishery?” asked Angus Walton over the phone one early summer evening. I had just got home from work at a retail fishing shop, had an order of flies to tie, and really wasn’t in the mood for another one of these phone calls.... He presented some credentials verbally which could not be ignored... Loop Pro Team, Atlantic salmon guide in several international locations and the enthusiasm he had was infectious, even over a telephone line. To be fair, I kind of fobbed him off a bit... But he rang back, I think three times before I started to open up. He informed me that he and a friend were keen to come and sample this. Still I hedged. Truth be told, I have been catching these fish and enjoying over 20,000 acres of good water on my own and with friends since 2006, with not another fly rod in sight and I wasn’t sure I wanted the world to know about it... I had, almost, retired from guiding, I was select in who I showed “my treasure” to and I probably sounded like hard work to the enthusiastic young Scot on the end of the line... He won me over... “If you come up, I’ll show you” I conceded.
I started my guiding career in my late teens for the illustrious Solitaire Lodge at Lake Tarawera. I was only meant to be delivering some flies, but they were short a guide and asked me to take a client. Fortunately the gods smiled and he did well; better than those fishing with the “professionals” and two weeks later I moved onto the lodge grounds as their resident guide. A few months later at another lodge I met and guided the GURU Randall Kaufmann, a friendship which endures to this day and through him I met Dennis Black, founder of the mammoth “Umpqua Feather Merchants”. Through my work with helicopter companies I was able to show them virgin fishing where trout had never encountered anglers and while guiding them raised my profile, what they taught me set me above other guides... I will always be grateful to them. Joan Wulff, AL Caucci, John Denver, Billy Connolly... my client list goes on and I have been blessed to share time in our outdoors with some amazing people who have taught me more than I have ever shown them. Through Dennis’s generosity I became an “Umpqua Designer Tier” and my Cicada fly became the best selling NZ commercial fly of all time... I remain very proud of that!
As Product Development Manager of Australasia for Feather Merchants I met the Australian fly-fishing legend Peter Morse at a tackle show in Melbourne and I brought him to NZ to conduct a series of saltwater fly-fishing clinics. Regardless of my career on the backcountry streams pursuing trout I was suddenly hooked, literally, into saltwater fly. I caught Kingfish to over 15 kilos under Peter’s tutelage, 13 different salt species in one day and I could see, after an illustrious career on our streams, a whole new vista opening up. This was exciting, world class and unknown to this point.
I bless the courage of my wife when I announced one evening we were leaving Taupo, the trout Mecca, and moving to Bowentown a little known hamlet on the eastern coast of the North Island on the edge of the Tauranga Harbour to be saltwater fly-fishing people... She trusted me and we moved. The fishing was wonderful and every excursion a brand new adventure.
I have only allowed a few to learn how we do it in the Bay of Plenty, where we do it and have been very guarded in its regard... perhaps foolishly... but the fly-fishing world is a political one and I knew I had something special and being just a fisherman, didn’t want to have to watch other people claim it, own it and maybe even destroy it.... It was mine, I felt, and I treasured it and still do....
However, Angus convinced me in his phone call we could look after it; we could allow others to enjoy it and would not have to sell our souls to do so... He assured me enough that we would not give this away, we would simply continue to treasure it, but share it as we saw fit.... shortly thereafter his friend, fellow Loop Pro Team member and Castabroad CEO, Craig Somerville, made contact and I deduced they were solid and genuine people and I could trust them with my treasure. What impressed me most was how well they respected that while knowing I have always been a Loop Reel Fan I was, and have been, connected to another famous brand for over 25 years... Not once was I asked to question that and it brought with it RESPECT! I respected their brand, they respected mine and with mutual respect we went fishing.They came, saw, and experienced it all and know it is exactly everything I have ever whispered it was... They encouraged me to guide and to share this wonderful fishery safe in the knowledge it does take some knowledge to open up the secrets within the harbour and make it all happen. At almost 50 years of age I find myself, once again, as enthusiastic and excited as that 17 year old boy at Solitaire Lodge with a fishery to be shared and explored, a treasure to be wondered at and a whole new adventure to embark on... what lies ahead, and who I can share it with just adds to the mystery and adventure... Safe to say, one of the world’s greatest salt water fly treasures lies on my doorstep and I truly believe I know as much about it as anyone... I look forward to sharing it with those of like mind who look for adventure with a fly rod in hand.”