TIES THAT BIND

WITH CHANGE ON THE HORIZON, A FA­THER AND SON DIS­COVER SOLID GROUND FISH­ING MOV­ING WA­TERS

Anglers Journal - - CONTENTS -

A fa­ther-son re­la­tion­ship is strength­ened dur­ing a fish­ing trip to New Zealand, as the young man pre­pares to leave home and the elder con­tem­plates a new phase in their lives. By AL­BERTO REY

My only son Diego is 17 and will be leav­ing home in a year. The im­pend­ing change is what put us in­side the small, thin-shelled, plas­tic and alu­minum cabin of a Robin­son R44 heli­copter.

We are slowly de­scend­ing into a val­ley in New Zealand where the Māori hunted herds of South Is­land gi­ant moa to ex­tinc­tion. To­day, the river that flows be­tween two chains of moun­tains in the South­ern Alps is teem­ing with brown and rainbow trout that Euro­peans in­tro­duced in the 1800s.

Seated amid the thun­der of ro­tat­ing heli­copter blades, I think back to an ar­gu­ment my wife and I had 17 years ago. The young man seated in front of me is the re­sult of that spat. I was in my early 40s when Janiel and I had our only real dis­agree­ment; it cen­tered on the idea of hav­ing a sec­ond child. We had a beau­ti­ful, healthy girl, and an­other child was im­por­tant to Janiel. Although we re­al­ized that the odds for com­pli­ca­tions had in­creased as we’d got­ten older, she was con­vinced that ev­ery­thing would be fine and that I needed to trust her. Her as­sur­ances were not very com­fort­ing, but it was ap­par­ent that our mar­riage would be de­fined by the de­ci­sion. Diego and I have a bond that goes be­yond ge­net­ics. As the pilot lines up our land­ing spot along the clear glacial stream, I re­al­ize that our con­nec­tion has be­come more sig­nif­i­cant as he has ma­tured and come closer to leav­ing home. His mother and I are edg­ing to­ward the fi­nal third of our lives while our off­spring are just be­gin­ning theirs.

Fly-fish­ing has strength­ened my re­la­tion­ship with my chil­dren, es­pe­cially my son. It has con­nected us to a world of spir­i­tu­al­ity and beauty, and our time in nature has brought out

the best in us. We have ex­pe­ri­enced a clar­ity that tran­scends our daily rou­tines.

Through­out the year, I cre­ate a small travel fund from the money I make sell­ing my art­work, writ­ing and guid­ing. Our good for­tune does not es­cape me. I re­al­ize how dif­fer­ent my son’s life has been from mine, and I won­der how it af­fects his think­ing and world­view and de­ci­sions. I could ask him, but it’s not that easy. Un­like my wife and daugh­ter, who talk non­stop for hours on a road trip, my son and I are con­tent to talk only after a shared ex­pe­ri­ence, such as fish­ing.

Mo­ments after the heli­copter drops us off and dis­ap­pears be­hind a moun­tain, Chris Daugh­ters, our guide and the owner of Cedar Lodge, be­gins dis­sect­ing the river for us. He ex­plains where the fish will be po­si­tioned in the cur­rent, the best flies to use, and how to ap­proach and cast to the long, dark shad­ows.

My son and I can­not re­tain much of any­thing; we are in awe of the val­ley’s beauty and the snow-capped moun­tains that sur­round us. In this mo­ment, we re­al­ize how for­tu­nate we are to be in this set­ting to­gether.

For the next four days, we are flown by heli­copter into stun­ning sec­tions of river that pro­vide won­der­ful fish­ing. The wealth of riches is hard to com­pre­hend. “This is sick,” Diego says, grin­ning broadly as he sur­veys the moun­tains and the clear, crys­tal stream rac­ing past our feet.

New Zealand is like many other re­mote fish­eries: Less fish­ing pres­sure equates to more fish caught. We have ar­rived in Novem­ber, dur­ing Thanks­giv­ing, when there is vir­tu­ally no pres­sure, and con­di­tions are just about per­fect, which is un­usual for early spring. To im­prove our chances, we fly to a new lo­ca­tion ev­ery day, a rou­tine that is typ­i­cal at Cedar Lodge.

We con­sis­tently find fish mea­sur­ing more than 18 inches, and most take our flies. Some are ag­gres­sive, oth­ers se­lec­tive. Per­fect pre­sen­ta­tions are some­times ig­nored. On other oc­ca­sions on the same beat, a poor cast causes a fish to chase a fly across pools and through rif­fles.

My son and I have done quite a bit of steel­head fish­ing, so we are ex­cited about fish­ing for some­thing unique to us: the elu­sive and beau­ti­ful New Zealand brown trout. As luck and con­di­tions would have it, we land mostly

rain­bows, but the sat­u­rated col­ors of the few browns we catch is em­bed­ded in my mem­ory. Ha­los of white sliv­ers sur­round rows of dark brown dots that crown bright yel­low bel­lies. The dots ex­tend from the tail to the iri­des­cent blue cheeks be­hind their eyes.

Daugh­ters un­der­stands our ad­ven­ture. He, his wife, Shauna, and their two chil­dren moved to New Zealand from Eu­gene, Ore­gon, for the fish­ing sea­son. Other guides might have taken the more eco­nom­i­cal ap­proach and lived away from their fam­i­lies dur­ing the sea­son. These ex­pats found pri­vate tu­tor­ing for their chil­dren and got in­volved in the lodge’s op­er­a­tion as a way to spend more time to­gether. The fam­ily dines with clients, mak­ing for a wel­com­ing en­vi­ron­ment.

Fam­ily fish­ing is im­por­tant to me. As soon as Diego could walk, he joined me on the stream that runs be­hind our home. When he was 4, he be­gan work­ing on his ver­sion of fly ty­ing. He landed his first steel­head — with a lit­tle help — the same year.

By the time he was 12, Diego would spend as many as 10 hours fly-fish­ing for cut­throats on Mon­tana streams. On our long-dis­tance ad­ven­tures, I tried to keep him within eye­sight but also gave him space and a sense that he was fish­ing on his own, mak­ing his own dis­cov­er­ies. We have fished through­out the U.S. North­east, with trips to Italy and Ice­land.

Months after our re­turn from New Zealand, there are mo­ments when my son men­tions, out of the blue, how much he en­joyed our time there. We both have a store of mem­o­ries. And I re­main haunted by the vi­sion of sev­eral large trout that rose to my flies, fol­low­ing them down­stream for a few feet, their noses right be­neath the hook, be­fore slowly turn­ing away.

The au­thor, son and pilot fly through a val­ley in New Zealand’s South­ern Alps in a light heli­copter.

The right mix of wilder­ness, trout and el­bow room.

Diego with a nice brown; fly­fish­ing has strength­ened the bond be­tween fa­ther and son.

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