Tag Archives: brown trout

One That Didn’t Get Away

It was about time I turned around my loosing streak to big browns… so I did!

Early autumn provides a wonderful opportunity to intercept Lake Taupo’s big Brown Trout, as they gather around the numerous river mouths waiting for an opportunity to run up stream to spawn. They are also attracted to the cool oxygenated water, that due to the thermal stratification of the lake in summer, is much colder than the surface layer of the lake.

On the evening in question conditions were perfect – cloudy, with a hint of rain and a gentle on-shore breeze. I had been fishing for 20 minutes when fish began to reveal themselves – firstly a few large swirls under the surface, but that progressed to large fish jumping clear of the water. Adrenalin flowed as I cast towards the gathering fish. Activity continued but there were no signs of a take. A change of fly brought immediate results.

Great golden coloured Brown Trout from river mouth on Lake Taupo
Great golden coloured Brown Trout from a river mouth on Lake Taupo.

The slow twitched retrieve was suddenly interrupted by a solid obstruction. I lifted the rod and tightened up. There was no movement at all, it simply felt like I’d hooked the bottom. I maintained pressure just in case, moving the rod tip to the side in order to change the angle. Suddenly a tug, then solid unmoving resistance again.

A few more angry head shakes from the trout and the fight began in earnest. The fish finally had enough of the strange irritation and decided it was time to head back to deeper water. A powerful determined run saw the tail end of the fly line leave the reel, however on 8 weight gear with an 8lb tippet the fish was soon turned.

The remainder of the fight was typical Brown Trout stuff. Short surges of powerful torque rather than  spectacular bursts speed. After a dogged fight I was mighty relieved to guide the big golden head towards the net… a sweep forward and the large fish folded into the soft mesh.

Thanks to a friendly group of onlookers for agreeing to take a few photos.

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.






Suddenly a Six Piece Rod

If you’re a fly fisherman the chances are you’ve been there at some time or another… that momentary loss of concentration, that brief distraction or act of madness that leads to a broken rod tip! Often car doors are involved but trees and bushes can dish out their own special kind of havoc.

Despite their feather like weight fly rods are very strong when stress is applied throughout their length. When playing a large fish for example, the load is transferred away from the fragile tip and down towards the stronger butt section. The whole structure works in harmony acting like a large energy absorbing spring, buffering the tippet and fly from sudden loads.

nice conditioned young brown trout
The last trout for my trusty A3… at least for the moment!

Modern fly rods are superb pieces of engineering designed to enable the angler to carefully present a fly to a big fish, then do battle with it and finally coerce it towards a waiting net. A fantastic combination of delicate control and power. Of course they are very strong when used properly but not so when the fly fisherman has a brain explosion. In my case car doors and trees were not required. No dramatic story involving monster trout or fighting off wild animals… no, my error came straight from the ‘newby’ book of fly fishing mistakes.

A glorious sunny afternoon and I had been working my way up a familiar stream. I’d already landed a few feisty rainbows and a well conditioned brown. A good rainbow had just hammered a large dry fly and spat the hook during an energetic leap… so far so good. As I approached a productive series of pools I decided it was time to add a bit of floatant to the fly line.

Not wanting to waste a second I tucked the trusty Scott A3 under my armpit, pulled a floatant primed foam pad from the pocket of my fishing vest and proceeded to draw the 5 weight fly line through it. I pulled line vertically down from the tip but didn’t notice that coils of loose line had become tangled in the undergrowth, preventing line from running freely through the rings. The next thing I heard was an agonising crack.

six-piece Scott A3
Scott A3 six piece rod!

I’d inadvertently pulled the rod tip over so it was pointing directly down towards the reel, focussing all the load on the tip section… a break was inevitable. Thank goodness for Scott’s lifetime warranty!

At least the rod went out in style, having tamed a handful of feisty rainbows and a fine young brown. Thanks to the craftsmen at Scott I can look forward to using the A3 again soon… my favourite for fishing skinny water for trout at close range. The aftm 5 weight Scott A3 is great for making buttery smooth, accurate casts into tight spots. It also has regularly delivered the goods for me when absolute stealth is required on some of New Zealand’s crystal clear lakes – YouTube: Hard Fighting Wild Trout in New Zealand>

While not a ‘top end’ Scott rod the construction of the A3 remains very good and it feels like a quality piece of equipment made by a company that truely understand fly fishing and what it takes to make great rods. One of the reasons I’ve stuck with Scott and invested in their higher end ‘S4’ and ‘Radian’ rods, for my 6 and 8 weight options!

The broken A3 has now been dropped off with the retailer, who will send it back to the New Zealand distributer, who in turn will send it to Scott in the United States. The whole process could take up to six weeks… I’m hoping it can be turned around a bit quicker!

New Season Underway

Opening morning of a new season and Josh and I made the short drive up into the mountains from the town of Turangi to Lake Otamangakau. The weather forecast for the morning was ok, with a risk of some wetter stuff arriving in the afternoon.

At first light ‘Lake O’ was almost glass-like, with a slight breeze gently moving the surface. In the subdued light Josh and I quickly assembled our rods and set about inflating a couple of ‘Water Striders’… it may be early season but the occasional splash suggested fish were on the move and these stealthy water craft would allow us to get amongst them. As we set up, a steady stream of eager anglers arrived at the lake and in no time boat trailers filled the car park surrounding the main boat ramp. We had plenty of company but that was fine… lots of quiet corners on this lake. So far so good.

Within half an hour a bitter cold southerly blew in bringing dark grey skies and squally rain. The wet stuff arrived early! As far as the trout were concerned, mother nature had just flicked a giant switch. Any early promise had now turned to a more gritty prospect, where every fish would be hard earned.

A moody 'Lake O' on the first day of the season.
A moody ‘Lake O’ on the first day of the season.

As the morning passed, bright bars of sunlight occasionally burst through gaps in the slate clouds and plunged towards the lake. The bleak mountain landscape began to  tease anglers and fish alike, with brighter periods quickly blotted out by angry looking clouds carried on the cold southerly. This harsh environment has a raw beauty that can challenge those who visit. These conditions are not for everyone. While I love presenting a dry fly to a sighted fish on a warm summer evening I also enjoy the more brutal challenge of days like this. These conditions offer a stark contrast to the convenient, controlled comfort of daily life. A chance to face up to the elements as they assault the senses. An opportunity to remind ourselves of where we fit within a bigger picture.

In the early afternoon during a break in the weather I came across a large Brown Trout feeding in the shallows. I watched him for several minutes. His broad back and dorsal fin regularly broke the surface, along with his shovel-like tail. As he turned I clearly saw his spotted bronze flank and golden yellow belly… a great looking fish of around 10lbs. This is what we came here for.

I already had a 16 ft leader attached to my 6 weight set up, but needed to change fly. On went a size 14 dark p/t nymph tied ‘Cove’ style, which was easier said than done as the adrenalin caused my hands to tremble while threading the eye. The huge fish didn’t appear to be patrolling, rather, slowly working his way along the bank picking at snails and small nymphs. I carefully moved to stay ahead of him.

Ok, the rain had stopped and even the cold wind had briefly subsided. I was ready. The cast was fired almost parallel to the bank, with the fly landing perfectly – exactly where the large trout was now heading. At that very moment I spotted another smaller Brown Trout out of the corner of my eye. It was swimming towards my fly on a determined intercept path. This interloper triggered an immediate aggressive response from the larger fish, who lunged, sending the smaller fish dashing back towards deeper water.

I watched in disbelief as the large trout swirled back towards me, but in the commotion he had bypassed my carefully presented fly and was now directly under the thick fly line. The big trout’s demeanor immediately changed as his attention shifted to the line overhead. He came to an instant stop with fins bristling. Both trout and angler frozen like statues. Then he was gone. Leaving me staring at a cloud of sand and silt!

While disappointing at the time, on reflection I was pleased to have had such a dramatic encounter with a fantastic fish. On this occasion the trout won but there will be others, and the tables will turn… such as the Waikarimoana Brown my wife Caren captured on film>

Time to move to another spot.
Time to move to another spot.

Josh and I ended up fishing a few rivers and lakes around the central plateau over three days with 10 or so fish between us. Josh was delighted to take the biggest – a 5lb ‘Lake O’ Rainbow that he hooked while using the Water Strider during the heaviest downpour of the weekend. A very hard earned fish indeed!

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