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.