Fishing: Time warp

By Geoff Thomas

A tamati, top, a red and a turkey, centre, and a ewe wasp and lord's killer. Photo / Geoff Thomas
A tamati, top, a red and a turkey, centre, and a ewe wasp and lord's killer. Photo / Geoff Thomas

The boy cast awkwardly, the line flopping into the brown water. The old man watched as the boy looked into the water anxiously, then pulled a short length of line into the old clinker dinghy. The line jerked and the boy hauled on the rod as a trout splashed among the weeds.

When the gleaming trout lay beside the boat the old man slipped the net under the prize and held it high in front of the boy. The boy admired his trout. Its head and back were a dull green marked with just a few black spots. A deep red washed the flanks.

It was a solid fish, deep of body. When split and gutted, the flesh would be bright pink and firm. It looked unlike any trout from nearby Lake Tarawera or Lake Taupo, for the trout in Lake Rotomahana are descended from the original strain of rainbows brought from California more than 100 years ago.

The old man was my great-uncle, known simply as JF, and a great outdoorsman. A trip fishing with JF was the highlight of a summer holiday at Tarawera.

These trips usually involved trolling red and copper penny spoons along the edge of the weed beds between Ngongotaha and Kawaha Point, close to his home on the shores of Lake Rotorua, but occasionally JF would take me to his favourite fishing hole on Rotomahana.

He kept his dinghy among the rushes, and it was a short row around to the arm which narrowed to where the only stream flowed into the lake.

Rotomahana can be a fascinating place, and it can be intimidating. It is a wildlife refuge and the birdlife is varied and extensive. And, as the site of the famous Pink and White Terraces, it is rich in history.

The lake blew out during the 1886 eruption of Mt Tarawera which destroyed the terraces and considerably enlarged the lake. But the lake received a huge injection of minerals and nutrients, creating the basis for a rich environment for trout.

When we fished there 50 years ago it was virtually a virgin fishery. A handful of keen anglers, including JF's dearest fishing mate, an elderly Maori called Darkie Hall, would take the boats out from Rotorua and leave them at the lake edge. Vandalism, thievery and biculturalism were unknown in those days.

JF's favourite fly is also unheard of today. It was called a tamati, which he used in a small size 8. The body was a blend of yellow, red and black wool, and the wing was made of short lengths of dark brown feathers from the wing of a turkey.

Another favourite was the lord's killer, named after Rotorua fishing personality Frank Lord, and also fashioned from brown feathers. Like many of the old patterns, they have slipped into obscurity, replaced by synthetic flies with modern names.

Our fly rods back then were hand-crafted from solid but cumbersome split cane; however, they were works of art and lovingly treasured.

Today's rods are feather-light and combine synthetic materials with space-age technology.

JF and Darkie Hall would take turns rowing and casting into the narrow channels among the thickweed which lined the arm of the lake where they always ventured.

The trout grabbed the small brown flies eagerly and fought strongly. The tackle has changed and the dinghies have changed, but the flies are still brown and the trout remain unchanged.

- Herald on Sunday

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