In February 1967 Jim and Megan Harvey, with their good friend John Cullwick, organised a week-long camping and fishing trip to Boat Harbour on Lake Taupō.

They didn't know then, but they were starting an annual tradition that would continue for five decades. Log-books, catch returns and photographs provide an extraordinary insight into this 50-year journey.

Starting from the main wharf, the first trip involved a rough crossing to Boat Harbour in a 20ft launch named Korora. Jim Harvey, instrumental in organising the trips, has a vivid memory of the gear and supplies loaded onto the boat for that first adventure.

Details from one of the early log books includes a photo of the pressure cooker used to bottle trout. Photo / Paul Harvey, Department of Conservation
Details from one of the early log books includes a photo of the pressure cooker used to bottle trout. Photo / Paul Harvey, Department of Conservation

Along with full fuel tanks they had a 12-gallon [45 litres] fuel drum on the back seat, a 15 litre drum of white spirit, Coleman store, a fish safe, tent and all the bedding and equipment needed for a week of camping by the lake.

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A 3m by 3m scout tent served them well in the early days, but this progressed to a larger three-room tent complete with 12-volt lighting, dining table, chairs, two gas stoves and small barbecue.

"An independent home away from home … carpet on the floor and all," said Jim.

The original base camp at Boat Harbour was chosen due to its proximity to both the Kawakawa and the Waihora Rivers — allowing the crew to fish these highly productive river mouths and easily return to camp.

Over the years, others got involved and formed a dedicated group of like-minded fishing and camping friends who shared a sense of fun and adventure.

"We simply loved what we were doing," Jim says.

With numbers growing, in 1982 the group moved base camp to Waihaha. Jim made arrangements with Waihaha Māori Land Trust to camp close to the lake shore, and this idyllic setting remained the base for future trips.

Boats were integral, not just to ferry gear to the campsite but also to give anglers access to remote beaches and river mouths. In 1991 John Sorensen saved the trip by offering the use of his boat Viking II following the sale of Jim's boat. John soon decided to sample the camping and fishing experience. He was soon hooked and continued to attend whenever he could.

While the camping and camaraderie was great fun, it was fishing that drew the group to Lake Taupō. Catch returns confirm that over the years the group landed 2590 trout, including a 4.5kg fish caught by John Cullwick, now on the wall of his cottage.

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David Renton caught a fine 4kgb specimen, while Jim had a couple of fish just shy of the 4kg mark and his wife Megan's best was a 3.8kg rainbow.

From a quality perspective 1984 was a red-letter year. The heaviest trout topped 4.5kg and there were more in the 2.7kg to 3kg range than any other year. In terms of pure numbers, the most successful year was 2011, where 122 fish were caught, while the worst was 2004.

There were many angling highlights such as the occasion a couple of adventurous crew members wanted an early start, so they elected to spend the night camped under polythene in the ferns beside a river mouth.

The plan worked. They arrived back at the main camp with a box full of trout, which included a bag limit — 20 in those days.

John Renton and Mark Morgan joined the crew in 2011.

The new guys were an instant hit, not just because they were good blokes, but because they caught loads of trout. On their first trip they made a major contribution to the record 122 trout landed that year.

The reduced limit of three trout per angler resulted in a third of those fish being released to fight another day.

Trout were never wasted.

Those that weren't smoked, grilled over an open fire or cooked with a tasty sauce, were bottled.

Jim says they were introduced to the bottling process on the first trip. Trout are filleted and packed into jars along with one teaspoon of vinegar and the same quantity of plain salt, all closed under Agee seals. The jars are then cooked in a pressure cooker at 17psi for 90 minutes. The process cooks the trout perfectly with the added benefit of softening all the bones.

Megan Harvey notched up 32 trips. Not only is she a keen trout angler but she's a dab hand with a paintbrush and produced many beautiful watercolour landscape paintings while sitting by the lake.

Jim says much has changed over the years but thankfully the appeal of the Western Bays continues.

The scenery when viewed from the lake appears remarkably unspoiled. The marina at Kinloch was developed around the same time as the trips began and its growth has made the Western Bays more accessible, resulting in a predictable increase in boat traffic.

During autumn when the fishing trips take place, it is still easy to find an isolated spot to cast a fly.

Some changes are not quite as rosy.

According to Jim there has been a dramatic decline in the green beetle population since the 60s and 70s. The crew used to regularly encounter ankle-deep rafts of the bright green insects washed up the length of beaches.

During these periods the trout would switch from smelt and focus on these easy pickings, making for some exciting fishing.

The fishing may have gone through peaks and troughs, but trout continue to come to the net with satisfying regularity, and Jim confirms their flavour irrespective of cooking method continues to be outstanding.

This is a summary of countless log entries and an interview with Jim Harvey. The DoC Taupō Fishery Management Team thanks Jim for sharing his story.