Throughout the last 4 years I have met hundreds of anglers from all corners of the globe, and follow thousands more on social media. Of course we somewhat get to know the basics of these individuals- where they're from, what kind of beer they drink and their biggest trout to date seems to be a few of the main topics of discussion. Having said that, it's rare that anyone will openly talk about the negatives, past trauma and hardships they've been through because naturally, most of us tend to keep those dark secrets behind closed doors. But, what if by sharing your story you're able to help others going through a similar situation?
I first met Johnny Kane, a kiwi born and bred in Hamilton, at the Turangi Winter Fly Fest in 2019 but knew of his passionate and outdoor-oriented nature from social media long before he attended my C&R presentation. Not long after becoming friends on the web I quickly learned of the role that fly fishing played in his everyday life and how he came to accumulate such drive for the sport. This is his story.
"It’s early in the morning and I can see the sun shining through the horizon. It's going to be another beautiful day and those browns are gonna get it!
Feeling well rested from a good night sleep, I decided I'm going to one of my most treasured spots to date. Immediately I got up, organized my fishing gears, took my coffee out on the porch to sit in the sun and then as I do every morning checked my phone. And there it was, a notification of my 3rd year sobriety. Wow, I thought to myself, it’s been quite a journey, I can’t believe I made it this far.
I’m Johnny Kane, a passionate fisherman from New Zealand. And I am here to share with you the story of my recovery and how fishing is my miracle.
Growing up, I was comfortable with solitary wanders. Exploring the unexplored gave me a certain sense of freedom. In fact, I am at peace with myself when I’m with nature.
My parents, who are both teachers, always had activities prepared at home to keep me entertained as a child. There were a lot of camping and out of town trips which I greatly enjoyed.
Like most students in school, I had my fair share of accomplishments and success. My small circle of friends was an interesting combination of different personalities. Getting into a lot of mischief was the one thing we had in common. We were kids being kids and as the saying goes, boys will be boys. It was a lot of fun. And then we got curious.
At age 11 I had my first taste of cigarettes. The year after that I was experimenting with cannabis. Then at age 13, I was diagnosed with ADHD and was prescribed Ritalin and that was my very first introduction into the world of addiction. I would swap weed for more Ritalin from other kids taking it every time I ran out and it didn’t take long before the need to take the next stronger drug consumed my purpose in life. I was enslaved. I was hooked.
For the next 20 years of adulthood, my life solely revolved around substance abuse. And in the throes of the addiction, there were a lot of regrets and repeated mistakes. I had my children, but I was never there, and they were at the bottom of the list. Those years were filled with blurred unpleasant memories and hopelessness in life. Hitting rock bottom was a constant scenario but that’s what drugs do, it drains your soul depriving you of life. For me, it was like a slow agonising crawl through a dark tunnel. It felt almost impossible to reach the end.
Three years ago, while I sat absent-minded and watching my kids playing one afternoon, I noticed something odd. There was sadness in their eyes and a profound sense of longing. I felt their pain and broke down. How long have they been feeling this way? I wondered. Like a ton of bricks, it dawned on me that unknowingly I had lost a huge part of their lives. My addiction had taken their father away from them. They were growing up with a father who was never there, and I am missing out a lot.
It was an awful truth that was too painful to accept back then. I started recognising the problem and I realised that I’m ready to find that light at the end of the tunnel.
The winding road to recovery opened up and the journey began. It was initially overwhelming and full of uncertainty. I had no idea how and where to start. I sought help professionally and went to rehab. I opened up myself to a few hobbies, welcomed different parenting ideas and met new people who would become friends.
I found fly fishing although I'd rather say fly fishing found me. Again, I’m hooked, this time in a good way.
I had the privilege of waking up to a spectacular view in rehab. Watching the sun rise over Lake Rotorua from my bedroom window each morning was my moment of reflection and was a perfect opportunity reminiscing the good old days. I was reminded of my early fishing days with my father spent in the seemingly astonishing beauty of the rivers of Rotorua. I remember being a nuisance, cheekily tangling up the line catching bushes and bird nests distracting my father while he concentrates on fishing. Little did I know, I was being mentored. That was my first fishing education, my father being my first mentor.
With my mental health significantly improving, emotions from those memories also emerged and I realised those were some of the best memories of my life with my father. These same memories made me decide to take on fly fishing while I continued to work on bettering myself.
Since then fly fishing has become my religion and the outdoors, my cathedral. It is euphoric yet calming, meditative but also adrenaline pumping. It’s a whole new world that I will never stop exploring. Fly fishing is my happy place. It clears my mind and appeases my emotions each time I wade my way through the gin clear rivers and lakes in Aotearoa. It has kept me sane and steady when I inevitably almost stumbled in my recovery. It is an anchor I whole heartedly hold on to, to stay strong and keep on going. I could not have made it this far in recovery if I didn’t have fly fishing as a motivation to get up each day and enjoy life. It gives me purpose and goals. Every time I catch a brown, I feel accomplished and that’s a great feeling. It’s a satisfying buzz, so much better than drugs. It is a miracle.
Living in New Zealand, a fishing paradise and one of the best in the world, is an advantage. Trout are big and they are everywhere. I was once told that local knowledge is the key to finding and catching fish, so I made a crucial decision to hire some of the local guides in the country. Paul Mickkelson, Theresa and Claudio, Sam English from Sanctuary Guiding, Rotorua Sight Fishing Adventures, Miles Rushmer and Rob Vaz are some of the few and I’ve learned a lot from each one of them. I am grateful for their time and for sharing their knowledge and techniques.
But I have learnt the most from Jaime of Rototrout New Zealand. Not only did we share the same curiosity and passion, we also became good mates. We have spent countless hours trying to learn the art of sight fishing and figuring out how to outsmart big browns and rainbow trout, cunning buggers. There is so much more to learn and many more waters to explore, more flies to tie and more catches to release. This is what makes me feel alive, this is the force that’s making the crawl a bit easier than I have imagined. I am slowly getting there and definitely not looking back.
I’ve been so blessed. I not only have fly fishing, but a consistent support system. How I even deserved these people still remains a mystery to me. I will forever be indebted to them, especially to my parents. They are the true epitome of unconditional love. I want my kids to know that Dad is trying really hard, and that it will all be ok.
To my partner, thank you for being there when I thought I had no one else. And thank you for the encouragement to change. I love you all very much.
Now I've finished my coffee and I’m off fishing. See what the day brings, hopefully a brown or two!"
You can follow Johnny's journey and see more of his epic fishing posts on social media by following the link below!