RISE Screened in Hamilton

The Waikato screening of this years RISE Fly Fishing Film Festival was held last night at the Lido Cinema in Hamilton. I went along with friends to soak up the atmosphere and gain inspiration for the upcoming season.

Now in its tenth year this niche film event has built something of a reputation for featuring amazing stories of passionate fly fishermen (and women) targeting a range of species in some incredible places – this year was no exception.  After a relaxed, understated introduction from the event organisers, the focus was put on the amazing films – a series of short films followed by the main feature.

The short films kicked off in dramatic style with ‘Aquasoul’, a story of two passionate fly anglers Brett Wilson and Peter Morse, who’s lives have taken them on very different paths, yet they both find themselves casting together in a fly fisherman’s paradise – the Great Barrier Reef.

“Blue Bastards are one of the most charismatic and enigmatic of fish species… some people could end up going home in a straight jacket because of them!”

We were treated to some incredible fishing, from stalking along white beaches to walking vast shallow flats, from throwing long lines towards big GT’s to casting into holes in the reef for a lucky dip of species… this place really is one of the great wonders of the world. The action was incredible as both anglers connected with a variety of powerful and often colourful fish. The footage of the GT ‘hits’ was simply breathtaking. Underpinning all of this drama was a genuine story of the joys and challenges that faced two fellow fly fishermen.

Another film ‘Yow – Icelandic for Yes’ took us to Iceland to witness a fly fishing trip to this hostile, freezing, volcanic land, where the elements are as much of a challenge as the fish. If you like exploring very wild places in pursuit of salmon and trout, and you also fancy the idea of surfing in a blizzard, this is the film for you!

The third film entitled ‘Those Moments’ took us on a tour with fishing guides on their day off, and included visits to Alaska, the Bahamas and British Columbia. The fourth and final short film ‘Carpland’ headed to the USA and highlighted the often overlooked subject of fly fishing for carp. From a personal perspective I can see exactly why they are overlooked!

After a short break we settled in to view the main feature film of the night, ‘Backcountry – South Island.’ Expectation was high following last year’s highly acclaimed ‘Backcountry – North Island.’

“Backcountry is outside your comfort zone, somewhere a bit special”

The new film included a few familiar faces from last years North Island based film. Mike Kirkpatrick a professional fly fishing guide from Nelson took a few days off from Guiding to take a ‘walk-in’ backcountry trip with an old fishing buddy. The size and quality of the brown trout was amazing. A telling remark from Mike revealed that catching big trout was always welcome but the most important characteristics for him were the quality and beauty of these wild fish. A perspective that I fully agree with. A reality check came towards the end of their trip when Mike’s mate lost the-fish-of-a-lifetime, due to a forgetten landing net. Early on in the battle Mike attempted to land the huge fish by hand, by grasping it above the tail. The big powerful brown wasn’t having a bar of it and threw Mike’s hand off in forceful style. While we all shared the frustration it was comforting to see these things can happen to the best of us!

We also once again saw Andrew Harding, who is developing quite a following on YouTube for his own movie clips. This time, he and Nick Reygaert, the founder of Gin-Clear Media took a multi-day rafting trip down a very remote river, camping as they went. High numbers of naive trout attacked flies with little hesitation, giving both anglers a considerable workout.

Rene Vas was also involved again. As Director and founder of The Manic Tackle Project, Rene is responsible for bringing some of the biggest tackle brands to New Zealand. In this film he reveals that these days the hardships of backcountry camping “are not my scene.” Just as well the jet boat that took him and his buddies up to the headwaters was fully stocked with home comforts!

Another highlight was seeing English fly fishing writer and casting instructor Paul Proctor describe his anxieties as he prepared to cast to a ‘pool master’ brown…  “the 100 ways I could stuff this up!” This part of the film took the viewer through the whole process of fly selection, casting, hooking, playing and the final delight and relief at getting the fish in the net. A sequence that captured the sentiments of many fly fishermen when they encounter a really big fish.

The night was very enjoyable and certainly set the mind thinking about the new season and the fresh challenges that lie ahead. Backcountry here we come.

More about the RISE Fly Fishing Film festival >


James Barnett


Tongariro Returns

Last month I wrote a short piece about the Tongariro River, sharing my thoughts on how the fishing has improved this year, especially for visiting anglers. I even included a few video clips to help bring the scene to life.

It’s often said that a picture is worth a thousand words. If that’s true, I wonder how many words the latest movie from Andrew Harding is worth? Quite a few I suggest, but I’ll let you be the judge:

A fantastic piece of work that captures the mood of fishing a great river. Movie clips like this provide a great illustration of just how good it can be. Great stuff Andrew.

James Barnett


Rainbow Pencil Sketch

I’d like to share my latest sketch of a rainbow trout. In this example I’m using colour pencils to explore the amazing colour combinations present around the eyes and gill cover… it really is incredible when you take a moment to look in detail.

The plan is to continue working on a few more sketches before developing a series of larger paintings. I’m hoping the new trout fishing season that kicks off 1 October will provide plenty of inspiration!

Talking of kicking off, there’s going to be a bit of rugby competing for my attention shortly. As an Englishman living in New Zealand you might imagine that the Rugby World Cup is going to test a few loyalties?  Swing looow, sweet charr riot… some loyalties can’t be broken.

James Barnett



Four Weeks to New Trout Season

Spring in New Zealand has arrived in dramatic style, with strong winds and heavy rain hammering most parts of the country… no change there then! For the NZ trout fisherman Spring also signals the build up to the start of a new trout fishing season – 2015 /16 Season kicks off 1 October.

While many larger rivers and lakes have remained open throughout the winter, especially around Lake Taupo, it’s the myriad of smaller rivers, lakes and back country streams that have been ‘off limits’ since June that will fire the imagination of many anglers. Time to get planning – and praying to the weather gods!

Experienced anglers will already have a well trodden path that helps them negotiate the new season. The less experienced trout hunter however might benefit from the following suggestions and observations.

Firstly we need to get our licences sorted out. This year I simply used the Fish & Game NZ website, which turned out to be very straight forward. I completed the online forms, went through the payment process and the plastic credit card style licence arrived a week later along with the latest book of rules and regs. Easy! As highlighted in an earlier WildernessTrout post, Fish & Game has introduced a few new licence options this year, that might offer better value for money to occasional anglers or those who prefer to focus on fishing a single region.

trout flies in box
trout flies in box

Next up is equipment. Perhaps that floating line wasn’t living up to it’s description last time out… maybe your landing net was consumed by heavy bush on a previous adventure… car doors and rods have a habit of coming together in a very destructive way… and trout flies will have divorced from your tippet in favour of a union with assorted riparian flora. The bottom-line is, you’ll probably need to replace and prepare stuff. Personally I quite enjoy cleaning rods, greasing reels, dressing fly lines etc, but that’s probably just my OCD showing through! Whatever your approach, giving a little thought to getting kitted-out now will help ensure you’re ready to go on 1 October.

The style of fishing will also have a bearing on the choice of equipment. If you are hoping to cast a delicate dry fly to rising fish using a light weight set up, you might be in for a long day. In reality early season fly fishing is mostly about getting a nymph down to the trout. In a fast flowing river this can be achieved using a tungsten nymph under a strike indicator, or even swinging a wet fly/streamer across the current using a fast sinking fly line. A smaller creek will allow for a lighter rod but you will still need to get your flies down through the water column. Leaders and tippets can be on the heavier side, given the fish will be a little less wary. Also a heavier tippet gives you a better chance of landing a big strong fish in fast water. Whatever approach you adopt you’ll find it easier if you select the right tackle for the job and get it ready in advance.

What’s your casting like? I’ve been fly fishing for over 30 years and consider myself to be pretty proficient with a fly rod but I still get rusty if I haven’t cast for a while. If you’ve been winter fishing then you’ll be fine, but if not, it might be a good idea to polish up your technique before heading out. You don’t even need water, a patch of grass will be fine – as long as you have enough space.

Deciding on a destination is probably the sexiest part of planning for the new season. I must confess my early season trips tend to revolve around tried-and-tested locations. The choice is usually driven by the potential to catch larger fish that are less wary than normal, courtesy of the fact that they’ve not seen an angler for a few months. However if you are looking for a change from the norm, the internet provides a great opportunity to gather information about new places and help plan trips. Websites such as www.nzfishing.com include loads of info about places to fish, successful methods and even accommodation.

So you’ve decided where to fish. All done, right? Well no, not quite. Now is a good time to consider the weather! The start of the trout fishing season in New Zealand occurs during one of the wettest and most unpredictable times of the year. Many rivers can easily become unfishable following periods of heavy rain, forcing you into a last minute search for an alternative spot or even to abandon fishing altogether.

To avoid this last minute frustration it’s much easier to already have a ‘Plan B’ in mind. Websites such as the Met Service can be very useful in the final weeks before the trip, as can a number of other resources.

With a bit of thought and planning you can ensure you get the best out of your start to the season. Tight lines!

James Barnett