All posts by james barnett

Fly fisherman and artist who's living and working in New Zealand.

COVID distraction.

At the time of writing New Zealand is progressively removing restrictions as the threat of community transmission of COVID-19 recedes. This is great news and a testament to the choices made by people in this country.

During lockdown, access to work was severely limited so I, like many others, found myself confined at home. A perfect opportunity to experiment with art and illustration.

For some time I’d wanted to try an abstract painting style called acrylic pouring. The plan was to create paintings that captured a sense of the cold, clear, clean water that forms the perfect foundation for trout habitat in the Taupo region.

Acrylic pour painting test 01
Pure Taupo water 01

The acrylic pouring experiments went well. While artists can be at the mercy of the flowing paint, I found a degree of control can be imposed through colour choice, medium selection, and – perhaps most of all – how the paint is applied and manipulated. I can see future opportunities not just for this painting style but also for how it could be combined with other painting techniques.

Acrylic pour painting test 02
Pure Taupo Water 02

I also produced a series of simple stylised illustrations for the children’s education programme Taupo for Tomorrow. They wanted native aquatic invertebrates and plants so I adopted an almost  identical style to the illustrations I created for the revised signage at Lake Otamangakau. Illustrations start life as pencil and ink drawings on paper. Then they are scanned into a computer, where they are tinted in Adobe Photoshop.

Caddis Illustration 01
Caddis Illustration 01

Passing the Baton at Fish & Game

Martin Taylor (left) to take up the role of Fish & Game NZ Chief Executive following the retirement of Bryce Johnson (right).
Martin Taylor (left) will take up the role of Chief Executive at Fish & Game NZ when Bryce Johnson (right) retires at the end of October.

Fish & Game New Zealand has recently appointed Martin Taylor to take over as Chief Executive from the organisation’s long serving head, Bryce Johnson.

Martin Taylor has wide experience in the corporate sector, including as Chief Executive of the Aged Care Association.  He has also been chair of the Wellington Fish & Game council and is presently working for the Capital Coast DHB as a project manager.

The chair of Fish & Game’s New Zealand Council, Lindsay Lyons, is delighted with Mr Taylor’s appointment. “Martin’s the right person for this demanding role.  He’s highly qualified, an experienced leader and politically astute,” Mr Lyons says.

“He’s also a mad keen angler and loves the outdoors and New Zealand’s wild places, so from our point of view, this is a perfect combination.  We are delighted to have him on board.”

Martin Taylor will take up the role of Chief Executive in November following the retirement of the highly respected Bryce Johnson. Bryce has held the position since Fish & Game was established in 1991, and was previously the first national director of the Acclimatisation Societies (Fish & Game’s predecessor) from 1980.

Lindsay Lyons, says Bryce Johnson’s decision to retire is a significant landmark for the organisation. “Bryce is the face of Fish & Game New Zealand and has been a hugely effective leader and advocate.  He has been in his role since Fish & Game’s inception and his hard work has helped shape it into a widely respected and effective environmental organisation.”

Bryce has placed Fish & Game at the forefront of the battle to protect New Zealand’s waterways and wild places. His passion and tenacity have secured 12 of the 15 Water Conservation Orders that currently provide ‘national park’ levels of protection to high value waterways. He also led the way, challenging the ever increasing intensification of agriculture, especially the rapid expansion of dairying and it’s damaging impact on NZ’s rivers and lakes.

Fish & Game under Bryce’s leadership has spearheaded the debate about declining freshwater quality, bringing the issue into the public domain, where it could play a role influencing the upcoming general election.

While Martin Taylor will have big waders to fill, he will lead an organisation that boasts a strong foundation for protecting the interests of anglers and hunters alike, as well as those with an interest in protecting New Zealand’s wild places.

I look forward to the continuation of Fish & Game’s robust role protecting the environment.



Taupo Regs Change

The 2017/18 season starts today, along with the introduction of new regulations governing trout fishing in the Taupo region.

The Taupo fishery is unique in New Zealand, being the only place where fishing is managed and administered by the Department of Conservation (DOC)- this important role is carried out by Fish & Game NZ in other areas of the country.

The changes introduced this year appear to be aimed at improving the quality of fishing in the future, as well as simplifying and clarifying areas where confusion has previously existed.

It's worth noting that buying a license not only allows you to fish legally but also helps maintain the quality of the fishing we love.
It’s worth noting that buying a license not only allows you to fish legally but also helps maintain the quality of the fishing we love and the environment that supports it.

All anglers will need to be aware of the new regulation changes, especially around harvesting trout. The takable limit has been increased to six fish per angler and the size has been reduced to 350mm. Personally, I don’t tend to take many fish for the smoker, so the harvest changes won’t make a huge difference. However the changes are clearly designed to increase the numbers of trout removed from the system, which in turn will reduce the pressure on their primary food source, smelt. With more smelt to go round we could see bigger and healthier trout in the future… as long as people actually take more fish!

The regulations now offer guidance that includes the maximum leader length, as well as the use of weight. Guidance from DOC is as follows “To help anglers to understand acceptable practice, we’ve amended the definition of fly-fishing. The definition now includes maximum leader length (6 metres), minimum fly line length (3 metres) and the purpose of any introduced weight is to facilitate the sinking of the leader. Items such as swivels and sinkers added to assist casting will no longer be permissible.” They go on to add that the use of split-shot is permissible for assisting the leader to sink. Again nothing here that will change my approach but good to have clarification around the use of split shot.

Other changes relate to boat and spin fishing around river mouths, so will not impact on my winter fishing but may tempt me to make greater use of my pontoon boat in the warmer months.

International anglers will also notice an alignment in the weekly and annual license fees, to tie in with the costs of Fish & Game licenses. According to DOC the additional revenue will be used to “help gain a better understanding of the demands for the Taupo Fishery District.” Given the high cost of accessing quality trout fishing elsewhere in the world I suggest this still represents extraordinary value for money!

For a full account of the changes visit the DOC website>




Salt Revisited

Josh and I returned to the Hauraki Gulf with the intention of giving the resident Kahawai and Kingfish a hard time… well, a couple of them at least!

I continued with my mission to use the fly while Josh focussed on hooking a Kingfish on any method that worked. He kept his options open with an assortment of baits including frozen bait, fresh fish, softbaits and lures.

The morning began with an extraordinary encounter – a large pod of dolphins hammered a huge school of baitfish while Gannets whirled and dived from above. Fishing took a back seat while we enjoyed the show. We kept our distance but all of a sudden the dolphins turned and headed directly toward the boat. They may have passed by the boat quickly but their memory will stay with me for a long time.

On to the fishing. While the fly was successful and tempted a nice sized Kahawai it was a fresh piper the won the day. Josh flicked the bait into the path of a hunting Kingie and induced an aggressive take. The biggest issue was the gear… in the rush to get a bait in front of the fish Josh had quickly grabbed an older set up not intended for these hard fighting fish. The kingie was played and landed while being serenaded in the background by a creaking reel! We also had to tail the fish because I’d forgotten to pack the net.



It’s a Tank of a Rainbow!

The rivers and streams entering Lake Taupo can be magnets for trout seeking to escape from the warmer temperatures that occur in the surface layer of the lake during summer and early autumn.

During a recent visit I was delighted to land a ‘tank of a rainbow’ – a good sized hen in magnificent condition.  Also great to have my wife on hand cheering from the shore whilst filming… helps explain the jerky footage!

The fish gave me quite a run-a-round, even on 8 weight gear that had recently been used to tame a good Kahawai off the coast of the Coromandel. While the Kahawai may have bent the rod into a shape most trout can only dream about, the sea fish couldn’t compete with the aerobatic performance of this stunning rainbow, which leapt clear of the water on several occasions aggressively shaking its head each time. Rainbows, you gotta luv em!

After a few photos to capture the moment the trout was returned to continue her preparations for spawning, which could take place in a month or so. The icing on the cake was the nice footage I managed to capture on my old Olympus Tough TG-01 as the fish swam back to the sanctuary of deeper water.


Truck Overhaul to Start the Season

The first day of the 2016 trout fishing season saw me hit the roads and tracks with renewed confidence thanks to help from the guys at 4 Wheel Drive Solutions in Cambridge.

With the new fishing season still a month away, my beloved 2002 Toyota Prado VX had been showing signs of ageing. Her engine was getting noisy, and the alloy wheels were way past their sell-buy date. As if that wasn’t enough the old Pirelli Scorpion AT tyres were starting to resemble something you might find at a race track – slicks! Not exactly an inspiring combination for heading onto the muddy stuff for an early season fishing excursion. It was time to get busy.

Before spending too much money I needed to know if the engine was up to the job. The 3.4 litre, 24 valve, V6 petrol power unit had well over 300,000k’s on the clock, was seeping oil from the rocker gaskets, had noisy fan bearings, a dodgy thermostat, and the cam belt and water pump were overdue for replacement. 

Rodger the Service Manager at 4 Wheel Drive Solutions asked one of his technicians to give the Prado a test drive. The prognosis was good so she was booked in. After a week of automotive TLC I was delighted to  pick up a refreshed truck – the engine was smooth at idle, revved freely and pulled strongly throughout the rev range. I’ve been told the 5VZ-FE engines have a very good reputation and can handle high mileages, but the key is regular maintenance, paying particular attention to the cooling system. I suspect this work was a timely intervention.

With the engine sorted, it was time to consider rims and rubber. The more I investigated options the more complex things became. It was time for a chat with Morgan, the owner at 4 Wheel Drive Solutions. I’d already established that I wanted to focus on improving the trucks off road capabilities, and didn’t need to retain the typical Prado ‘look’. In fact, I was quite keen to emphasise the off road intent behind the changes.

After running through a bunch of ideas I decided to go with a set of Mickey Thompson STZ tyres – an aggressive All Terrain tyre that gives an excellent combination of on-road and off-road performance. In terms of rims, we were down to two options, each with a different offset value. Morgan suggested the best way forward was to fit tyres on both rims and try them on the vehicle, to see exactly how they fitted. This proved to be a great idea and enabled me to confidently choose what I wanted. I opted for a set of 16×8 Australian mine site approved ROH BlackTrak steelies with an offset value of 0. 

Micky Thompson STZ tyres did the trick

The tyres were christened on a trip to Lake Otamangakau, high on the Central Plateau above Lake Taupo. The weather at this time of year can be grim at times, with extended periods of very heavy rain. Therefore I was not surprised to find many of the tracks around the lake to be very muddy. I’m pleased to report the Prado performed well. While not ‘mudders’ the the STZ’s clawed through the soft stuff with relative ease and got me to the waters edge.

First trout of the 2016 season

The proof of the pudding is in the catching! Fourth cast and an athletic young Rainbow hammered a black buzzer. A small fish by Lake O standards, but the season was underway.