Category Archives: art

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

Tribute to Southern Monsters

Some fishing trips are memorable for the fantastic fish you caught while other trips are memorable for the incredible fish that you lost. My latest painting is a tribute to the latter.


I managed to squeeze in a couple of sessions chasing trout during a family touring holiday down the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island.

One early morning sortie turned into an encounter that I’m unlikely to forget. I awoke to a landscape cloaked in grey with smudges of low cloud clinging to the hills behind a small lake. Overnight heavy rain had left everything saturated, but the storm had now passed and the air was still, leaving the surface of the lake like a sheet of polished glass, reflecting every detail in the bush cloaked backdrop.


I carefully approached the lake, examining the edges of weed beds about three metres out. Despite the low light levels the clear water allowed me an excellent view. Suddenly a large shape caught my attention… not three metres away but in the shallow water to my left. No more than 10cm from the waters edge! A sweep of it’s tail and the big brown trout accelerated to engulf a tiny coroxia (water boatman). The trout saw me and immediately turned towards deeper water. This was my first look at a southern monster.

Over the course of the morning I ‘covered’ in excess of ten big trout ranging in weight from 5 to 10lbs. My early efforts weren’t up to scratch but I responded by using longer finer tippets and smaller flies. My casting also became more focused, with the fly placed further ahead of the fish – anticipating it’s patrol route.

When the takes came they were brutal affairs, with big fish generating bow waves as they hurtled towards the fly. My ‘South Island education’ however was to continue… striking too soon, too hard, too late… over 30 years fishing experience and these fish had me behaving like a newby!

Any frustrations however, simply paled when I considered the incredible fish and the stream of opportunities that were presented. Eventually things came together.

A few open drainage channels entered the lake from the surrounding paddocks. They were providing rich pickings for a couple of very large trout, the largest of which, was patrolling an area so shallow that the water barely covered his back. His patrol route saw him regularly return to the discharge point where water from the two metre wide swollen drain entered the lake.

My cast was made and the trap was laid. My nymph was sitting on the sandy bottom a metre out from the drain mouth.  As the fish returned I tweaked the small nymph, triggering an aggressive feeding response. This time the strike was considered and well timed – I hooked a monster fish. My moment of triumph was short lived as the big bruiser of a trout had no intention of hanging around. He took off like a train, heading straight for the sanctuary of some flooded trees. Bugger!

I got a good look at the huge Brown Trout. He was a fierce looking warrior of a ‘Jack’ with a distinctive hook on his extended bottom jaw… the inspiration for my painting.






Chrome Rainbow from ‘Lake O’

This drawing depicts Josh’s first Rainbow Trout of the season – a bar of gleaming chrome that hit a garish green lure on a grey day at Lake Otamangakau.

Rather than write about the artistic process behind the sketch I thought I’d simply show you instead. I took a series of photographs that include initial sketches and various stages through the final drawing.

A fitting memento to a fantastic fish.

Early concept sketches
Early concept sketches

Drawing underway
Drawing underway

Drawing nearing completion
Drawing nearing completion

Chrome Rainbow Trout from Lake O
Chrome Rainbow Trout from Lake O


Copyright Notice – all artwork on the Wilderness Trout website is protected under copyright and must not be used in any way without the express written permission of 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



Fly Fishing Meets Art

One of my main motivations for developing the Wilderness Trout website is to share my ‘trout inspired’ artwork – bringing together my passion for both fly fishing and art.

I’ve been fortunate to have had a career that includes design, brand development, education and communications management. All of which has allowed me to develop a creative outlook and an eye for detail… a brief bio can be found here>

When my children were younger my focus was on ‘family time’ and of course work. I would grab opportunities to chase trout whenever I could but this left only limited time for painting and drawing. Now my children are more independent, it’s time to develop my art further. I plan to focus on capturing those amazing moments when the angler and trout’s worlds collide.

It is often said that the ‘take’ is the most exciting part of fly fishing. While that may be true, there is a whole lot more to the sport than that. Fly fishing can be an adventure that takes the fly fisherman to wonderful places, following rivers and streams through a patchwork of incredible country, forever curious to find what’s around the next bend… just one more pool!

The art of combining hook, fur, feather and synthetic materials to create the trout fly is another huge element to fly fishing, that for many becomes just as important as the fishing itself. Some subscribe to the idea that the trout fly simply needs to suggest something edible, while others will take a far more detailed approach exploring the world of entomology in an effort to create artificial’s that closely resemble aquatic and terrestrial insects.

Fly fishing requires a specific set of tools. The rod, the reel and the fly-line are like nothing found in any other form of fishing. For most serious fly fishermen these beautifully balanced pieces of equipment are chosen with the greatest of care. From hand-crafted to high-tech, the choices can be very personal. In addition different set ups are required for different situations… so begins the collection!

These varied aspects of fly fishing all provide inspiration for me to put pen to paper, or indeed brush to canvas. However there is an even more compelling motivation.

Once the trout has been landed, I find particular satisfaction from taking a moment to admire the raw beauty of the fish – incredible survival machines that battle the harsh elements. When you pause to take a closer look you will see they exhibit an extraordinary range colours – from an athletic bar of gleaming silver and purple, through to a dark gold and yellow muscular bruiser. All amazing fish and a worthy challenge to capture both on fly and on canvas.

James Barnett