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Getting Hooked: Kiwi Youth Anglers

Photo by Stu Hastie

When you imagine what a typical fly fisherman looks like, how often do you picture an elderly person with a flannel shirt, wide brim hat and a wicker basket sitting by a river? If you were to ask a non-fly fisherman they would most likely agree with that particular statement, but here in New Zealand (as well as around the world) times are changing as younger generation anglers are on the rise. During my travels around both islands I've had the opportunity to meet and get to know a few of these anglers along the way and luckily, they agreed to let me interview them.

Meet 21-year-old Johnny Gummer. Johnny was one of the very first younger anglers I heard about and had the chance to meet in Turangi back in 2017. In one way or another his life has always revolved around water, fish and all things encompassing a degree of adventure. He has also become one of the main anglers pushing for younger members of the community to join in on the sport.

"So how did you first get involved with fly fishing?"

Johnny: From the ripe old age of two years old Dad (Paul) slung me into the kid carrier backpack while he wandered down the local in search of evening risers. To be honest, I can’t remember it all that well apart from constant wet legs and getting totally irritated by the masses of Manawatu Caddis climbing all over them. What felt like a pretty average and totally safe crossing to Dad happened to feel like the bloody Titanic sinking for me as my waist started to get wet while strapped in the backpack!!

Despite these odd wet evening escapades it all somehow stuck to me like glue. Maybe the thrill of a nice brown ripping line in the fast current was too much excitement to pass up when Dad went out. From there, fishing on the Manawatu or Mangatainoka was part of the weekly schedule. Both Dad and myself enjoyed it more as we learnt more and developed as amateur anglers.

"Where has fly fishing taken you? Career wise or overseas."

Johnny: By the time 2015 rolled round I had been competition angling for a solid five years. My dream was to fish in a Youth World Championship and after quite some effort and preparation, Geoffrey Berntsen from the Hawkes Bay and myself competed as Individuals. I feel like we came back with twice the angler

ability than what we left with. Amazing experience for two kids still at school really. I scored a part time job at the local Manawatu Hunting & Fishing which totally funded my competitive fishing, and one that turned full-time as I finished school. I met so many amazing people and like-minded anglers it really affirmed a career in fishing to me. That year’s Nationals (2015) I managed to qualify for 2016 Commonwealth Championships in Mont Tremblant, Quebec, Canada. Another amazing competition where my loch-style game improved massively.

In between I had been instructing fly fishing folks through word of mouth and customers in the shop, making a little money on the side to fund my fishing. I became an IFFF CI in 2017 with the intention to instruct and dabble in some guiding. I managed to get the traction required in January this year to make a living from Guiding & Instructing full time over the summer months. It was always going to happen as I simply loved it so much. More often than not the satisfaction of my customers success is far greater than my own and so it seemed natural to continue.

"In what ways have you been involved with youth fly fishing? Any programs and/or events?"

Johnny: After our trip to USA for the Youth worlds I wanted to connect with more like-minded youth anglers back here in New Zealand. Geoffrey Bernsten and myself pooled together a bunch of the most keen youth anglers through social media for a ‘youth camp’ on the Putaruru spring creeks and Tukituki system in the Hawkes Bay. From here we had made a start and naturally a group was formed. A bunch of these anglers started to fish quite a lot together, and some pretty hot talent started to emerge. Since 2015 we’ve seen many young guns fish for regional, national and even world titles. We’ve seen Ollie Bassett and Hugo Pearce prove they can compete with the best on the world stage this year in Czech Republic at the Youth Worlds. Pretty amazing to think as I remember showing them both some basic Euro style nymphing nearly two years ago. Time on the water and a constant desire to be great anglers has got these two to where they are now.

"In your opinion, how can we get more young people on the water?"

Johnny: Fishing Camaraderie. The youth camps were so successful in hindsight. We all now fish together one way or the other, and it’s this that keeps us excited to get out on the water. Very few people like to fish on their own, especially at a young age. In my opinion the key age to introduce fly fishing to kids is 10-16. I don’t feel the industry caters enough for youth-specific fly fishers and I’m keen to get this ramped up to a new level over the coming years.

Mentorship is just as important. Be a mentor to an up and coming youth fly fisher. I’ve been lucky enough to have some of the best mentors in New Zealand. My success in the sport is only a sum total of the mentorship I have received and then simply my own hours on the water. It’s more important than we will ever realise.

“What are your plans for the future?”

Johnny: My biggest focus over the coming years is building my business Altitude Fly Fishing here in New Zealand. Expanding my customer base and guiding/instructing services. Of course, our season here in New Zealand finishes in April and so does the guiding. I’m currently taking the steps to work some guide seasons abroad in Alaska or the United States. Among this, I have intentions to fish around the world both in freshwater and salt, although my list of New Zealand trips and exploration is starting to get pretty extensive too!

The next kiwi to be interviewed is 16-year-old Hugo Pearce from Hawkes Bay.

Photo by Stu Hastie

"How did you start fly fishing?"

Hugo: We have a family batch near Turangi so growing up spent lots of time fishing on the lake with my Dad and Grandad. This eventually led to me wanting to go fishing more when I was back in Hawkes Bay. So I ended up going spin fishing a bit in the rivers around home. Then watching YouTube videos made me want to try fly fishing. I started by practicing casting on our lawn with an unused rod my Dad had. Then eventually this led to fly fishing in the Tongariro with my grandad. Then I bought my first fly rod when I was 12 and spent every day I could fishing many of the local rivers in Hawkes Bay.

Eventually I started to meet other fly fishermen, on the river and via social media. When I was 13, I got a part time job in the Napier Hunting and Fishing Store where I made many contacts and earned money to buy more fishing gear. I then fished every day I could get off work or school.

"What drew you into the sport? Any role models you'd care to mention?"

Hugo: My fishing really became serious was when I met John Gummer at a youth training camp he held in Waipukurau, where I got introduced to competition fly fishing. Since then I have spent every day possible on the river and did my first competition at the start of last season and went from there. My main role models would be my grandad who has spent his whole life farming and hunting in the north island, John Gummer, and Cory Scott (National Fly Fishing Champion.)

"Where has fly fishing taken you so far?"

Hugo: So far fly fishing has taken me to the Czech Republic where I fished with Ollie Basset in the World Youth Fly Fishing Championship 2019. I hope to pursue a career in fly fishing.

"What’s been your most memorable experience so far?"

Hugo: I have had so many amazing experiences from fly fishing but one of the freshest on my mind would have to be just recently in the Czech Republic. Fishing the infamous Devil Stones on the

Vltava River, named due to how technically challenging it was for both wading and fishing. Catching mostly hard fighting browns on both drys and nymphs.

Next, meet 19-year-old Tarn Mack-McEwen from a small town on the West Coast of New Zealand's North Island.

Photo by Kyle Adams

“How did you start fly fishing?” Who’s been one of your mentors?”

Tarn: As a young boy I never found great amounts of pleasure in the past times a lot of my peers enjoyed such as video gaming etc. Instead I found enjoyment in the outdoors hunting, playing sports and of course fishing. Fly fishing was always extremely accessible for me growing up with a great stream just 200 meters from my house, numerous trout streams all within an hour’s drive or less and my dad going on regular fishing adventures, it was something I could do very regularly. My dad has been a great mentor in both life and in the early stages of my fishing career and I’m thankful for the adventures he’s taken me on, and I can’t wait to repay the favour.

“Would you say you’re a pretty keen angler? Has fly fishing taken you very far?”

Tarn: As I write and look around my room it is apparent that fly fishing has consumed my whole life from the rod tubes and reels scattered across my bedroom floor, the posters and pictures of fish covering my walls even to my current job working in the local tackle store I literally am surrounded by it every day. Fly fishing has taken me across a lot of the North Island of NZ from the shallow weedy lakes of the central North Island to the beautiful clear river systems of the east coast. I especially enjoyed competing in the Sport Fly Fishing New Zealand competition circuit for a couple years getting to fish new water and learn a bunch of effective and new techniques along the way. Although competing was fun I soon realised my true passion was getting away, going bush and sight fishing on the many clear and quiet waterways our country has to offer.

Photo by Kyle Adams

“Any particular experiences you’d car to share?”

Tarn: One particular favourite memory of mine was when friend Kyle (another great fishing mentor), my dad and myself took off on a 5 day helicopter fishing trip in the centre of the island, blessed with great weather, spectacular fishing and even better company, it was a great feeling to be out there with two people that have taught me so much. We fished all day, talked gibber gabber and slept next to the campfire, I wish everyday life was that simple. One other aspect of fly fishing I totally fell in love with was all the different people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting along the way. Young, old, experienced or a fresh convert to the sport most if not all have completely different outlooks and experiences on how fly fishing has improved their lives. I hope to continue meeting these characters as I continue my fly fishing journey.

“Any plans for the future revolving around fly fishing?”

Tarn: I look forward to traveling to NZ’s South Island in the near future to have a taste of their amazing fishing and hopefully one day make it over to some of the tropical atolls to chase bonefish, permit, tarpon and giant trevally. And I especially can’t wait to reconnect with friends already made to share another epic time on the water. If there’s any advice I can give to any aspiring young anglers it would be to enjoy the small things, accept every possible opportunity thrown your way, and buckle up because you’re in for one hell of a ride kiddo.

Alex Hastie is a 17-year-old angler from the sunny Hawkes Bay region and grew up fishing its various rivers and streams for both rainbow and brown trout.

Photo by Stu Hastie

“When did you start fly fishing?”

Alex: I started fly fishing at a very young age as my dad, Stu Hastie, is a passionate angler and fly fishing photographer. He would take me and my two younger brothers, Will and Blair, out fishing regularly and let us bring in the fish he’d hooked. Over these first couple of years he taught me everything he knew, bar a few secret spots he’s still hiding. Him and his friends have been my biggest role models in fly fishing and have shown me what a fisherman's lifestyle can be like. As I continued to grow so did my passion for fly fishing and with time my casting and angling flourished under the pressure of tight water and strong rainbow trout. My addiction is now in full swing and for the past 3 or 4 years I have fished most weekends and whenever I have spare time.

“What was it that made you become such a keen angler?"

Alex: There are so many aspects that make fly fishing important to me. It has taken me to some amazing places with stunning, lush scenery and abundant wildlife, to the point where catching fish is a bonus. I love spending time in nature as I also believe it has significant mental and stress relieving benefits. From my time fishing I have learnt so much about myself and with all that time to think, problems in life seem far less important. I also thrive on the mental and physical challenges fly fishing creates, such as outwitting a clever fish in clear water or long hikes into the backcountry. My main motivator to fish is enjoyment. I love being able to use the skills and knowledge gained over countless hours on the river to overcome the beautiful and often elusive adversary of a trout. Catching a trout is also a very material and definite proof of success but not the be-all and end-all in fly fishing.

Photo by Stu Hastie

“Have you had the chance to take your fly rod very far?”

Alex: So far, my fishing has been confined to the North Island of New Zealand and a little in the South. The North Island has so many different fishing possibilities from lakes and rivers to even saltwater and is definitely not a bad backyard to have. Over the next few years I plan on exploring the North Island further afield than Hawkes Bay and fishing as many new rivers as possible. As we all do, I also have many aspirations for trips overseas in the future. However in the next couple of years I’ll be heading up to Darwin targeting both saltwater and freshwater species on the fly there.

“Okay, what’s been your favorite so far regarding fly fishing?”

Alex: To pick a favourite fly fishing experience is tricky but I’d have to stick to my PB rainbow trout. It had been a spectacular 20 fish day, catching 4-5 pound rainbows in some awesome New Zealand scenery. Dad and I had just reached a big gorge and were getting ready to turn back but as always I wanted to get one last fish. I spotted an average rainbow near the bank at the tailout of a pool and cast in a red worm of all flies. To my shock a far bigger fish slid out from under the bank and ate it right in front of the other fish. A few minutes later a stunning 7 pound backcountry rainbow lay in the net. Although not a monster by New Zealand’s standards, it was certainly an unforgettable catch.

Finally, we have 18-year-old Ollie Bassett from Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty.

Photo by Theresa Beilby

"How did you get into fly fishing? What made it stick?"

Ollie: I got into fly fishing a few years ago after we sold our boat and stopped fishing out at sea. I was really interested in fly fishing after seeing it in Turangi and Rotorua. I also wasn’t catching much spinning so thought I would try something new. I taught myself how to fly fish which was a very steep learning curve. After about 6 months I managed to catch my first trout and was hooked. I really enjoy learning new things every time I go fishing and I especially enjoy being alone in the bush fishing and bowhunting.

"Who has/have been your role model(s) and or inspiration?"

Ollie: As I got better at fly fishing I decided to try competition fly fishing so I could learn some new techniques. I’ve been really lucky to have met and received heaps of help from Cory Scott, Johnny Gummer and Sam Bourne amongst others who have helped me become a much better angler. Recently at worlds I was lucky to receive lots of help from Martin Musil and Johannes Krill.

"Where has fly fishing taken you so far?"

Ollie: So far I’ve been privileged to have been able to travel to the Czech Republic for the youth world fly fishing champs which was one of the best experiences I've ever had. I’ve also been lucky enough to do a bit of guiding in my local area mostly to raise funds for the bigger competitions. Fly Fishing also helped motivate me to start my degree in Marine Biology and I’ve just finished my first year.

"Care to share your favorite experience had while fly fishing?"

Ollie: Fishing in the Czech Republic with Hugo in the practice week and meeting all the guys in the Czech fly fishing youth team. It was super cool fishing in Czech especially for chub and brown trout on the lower river below the castle at Rozemberk. I also really enjoy backcountry fly fishing and I have great memories of fishing with Alex up in the Hawkes bay backcountry.

"What are your plans for the future?"

Ollie: I’m looking forward to competing in the 2020 Commonwealth fly fishing champs which are going to be held here in New Zealand. I’m also counting down the days till the backcountry trips I have planned for this summer.

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