Ode to a Taupo¯ fish­er­man


Over the years I’ve guided some amaz­ing an­glers from all over the globe.

Busi­ness­men, doc­tors, lawyers, megamil­lion­aires, and movie stars, they all have one thing in com­mon and that is a love of trout and wild places.

As a guide, I’ve per­son­ally su­per­vised the cap­ture of un­told thou­sands of trout in both hemisphere’s since the mideight­ies, and while I still en­joy the beauty of trout, I gen­er­ally find the peo­ple and per­son­al­i­ties I guide far more in­ter­est­ing.

In fact, guides like me, who spend long hours away from home on multi-day road­trips with clients, on the river, at the pub, and at of­ten shared ac­com­mo­da­tions, bet­ter en­joy the ca­ma­raderie of their an­glers or they won’t last long in the in­dus­try.

One long-time sur­vivor of the guided fish­ing in­dus­try is the in­de­fati­ga­ble Paddy Clark of Taupo¯ in the cen­tral North Is­land.

I’d met Paddy a few times over the decades at an­nual gath­er­ings of the clan at the New Zealand Pro­fes­sional Fish­ing Guides As­so­ci­a­tion around the coun­try each May, but had never had the chance to hang out with such an icon and scion of the fish­ing guid­ing in­dus­try for any length of time.

Paddy came down to Nel­son this month to join an­gler Jim Depew of Texas for a few days of fish­ing and I was ex­cited to have the chance to guide one of my ex­alted peers in the fish­ing game.

Ex-Cy­clone Gita had rav­aged the cen­tral North Is­land fish­eries, turn­ing many into muddy col­lapsed ditches, and Paddy had ad­vised Jim to make other plans.

Jim and Paddy have fished to­gether for more than 20 years, and the bonds and friend­ship they share had prompted Jim to in­vite Paddy down as his guest for a few days of fish­ing.

Paddy Clark, 71, is a larger-than-life char­ac­ter, with a boom­ing the­atri­cal voice and hearty laugh­ter.

A man’s man, and true char­ac­ter and gen­tle­man all rolled into one.

Paddy’s sto­ries, or­a­tory, and anec­dotes are leg­endary and he kept Jim and I en­thralled with all man­ner of tall tales, ad­ven­tures, and es­capades over his very colour­ful life.

Not sur­pris­ingly, Paddy is a pretty good fish­er­man too, and although used to fish­ing over eas­ier to catch rain­bow trout, he adapted well to our highly tech­ni­cal wily brown trout fish­ery.

Paddy, Jim, and I had fun all week, and we all learnt many fish­ing tech­niques and strate­gies off each other dur­ing our fish­ing time to­gether.

Paddy is a cun­ning old dog (who can learn new tricks) and was al­ways vi­tally in­ter­ested in the out­doors.

Ed­u­cated at Auck­land Gram­mar School, and trained as a for­est ranger (with a year-long stint sta­tioned in Reefton in 1967), Paddy’s mother was in­dig­nant that he dropped ev­ery­thing to go meat hunt­ing in the crazy days of the veni­son re­cov­ery era.

Shoot­ing deer on foot, and re­triev­ing the an­i­mals by man­ual car­ry­ing, horse, and he­li­copter, Paddy ap­plied his me­thod­i­cal for­est train­ing to be­come the top in­di­vid­ual veni­son sup­plier in the North Is­land.

His mother wasn’t con­vinced and reg­u­larly lamented about ‘‘spend­ing all that money on your ed­u­ca­tion and then you go off and shoot bloody deer’’.

Paddy had great tales of his hunt­ing ter­ri­tory and chain of meat­safes where he could keep deer car­casses for up to 10 days.

‘‘I wouldn’t have eaten them’’ Paddy laughed ‘‘But they were still saleable in those days.’’

Buy­ing fly spray by the car­ton load, Paddy would lib­er­ally dose car­casses to min­imise fly­blow.

‘‘Some of those blowflies could beat the bul­let to the car­case’’ Paddy joked.

In an­other hi­lar­i­ous aside at the pub, the ul­ti­mate BS story I guess, the ir­re­press­ible Paddy de­scribed how he se­lected the best fly spray brands by try­ing it out on his own ex­cre­ment in a highly sci­en­tific ex­per­i­ment con­ducted over many days in the bush.

In later years, Paddy went on to use his forestry train­ing to man­age forests and prop­er­ties.

That’s how he be­came a fish­ing guide about the same time as I started down South, and he be­came head guide for Poronui Sta­tion, op­er­ated by gold medal Olympian row­ing cox, the late Si­mon Dickie of Taupo.

In some ways, that was the best part of the fish­ing trip for me, hear­ing all the sto­ries, the pol­i­tics, the skul­dug­gery, and North Is­land fish­ing in­dus­try in­trigue from the high priest of the al­tar so to speak.

Hav­ing known all the main char­ac­ters for many decades, I learnt a huge amount about the cen­tral North is­land fish­eries and how busi­ness is still done to­day.

Paddy noted the rapid de­cline in the North Is­land re­cre­ational fish­ery with him keep­ing metic­u­lous records over the decades.

While stay­ing at his East Cape hol­i­day home, most years he would catch in ex­cess of 300 cray­fish. Last year he caught only 43 cray­fish, though.

Nonethe­less, our fish­ing days were busy and event­ful.

Our best days were out of Reefton, where we he­li­coptered into the rain­for­est wilder­ness and also fished by boat along re­mote swampy lake edges dom­i­nated by tan­nin wa­ters, flax swamps and kahikatea forests.

Paddy was in his el­e­ment and loved it all. The Moana Pub over­look­ing Lake Brun­ner was a favourite time while we an­i­mat­edly dis­cussed the state of the guid­ing in­dus­try with an­other long-time guid­ing peer, Brent Bea­dle of Moana.

Paddy has an in­nate abil­ity to talk and in­ter­act with any­one and ev­ery­one and oth­ers had heard through the grapevine he was in town.

One morn­ing we were joined for break­fast by an­other guid­ing peer of ours, John Boyles of Ika­matua who came to pay homage to Paddy.

In more se­ri­ous mo­ments Paddy, 71, gave me good ad­vice and men­tor­ship, happy to share the ben­e­fits of his knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence.

On the river, he was fit and strong and the thought did cross my mind that if I’m still out there in twenty years time, that’s how I’d like to be.

Paddy Clark may well be the last guide left stand­ing.

Spend­ing time with val­ued guid­ing peers is al­ways spe­cial and it’s al­ways handy to be able to cal­i­brate your­self against an icon.

Driv­ing Paddy back to Nel­son, after we’d dropped Jim at St. Ar­naud for the night, Paddy even gave me some val­ued peer re­view.

‘‘Thor­oughly pro­fes­sional guid­ing’’, Paddy ob­served in his no-BS man­ner ‘‘and I’m not blow­ing sun­shine up your arse’’.

Taupo¯ ’s Paddy Clark, a North Is­land fish­ing guide icon, pic­tured in West­land.

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