The New Zealand Haig-Brown should have seen

The Trout Bohemia, a new book  reviewed by Peter McMullan

“Every trout fisherman must dream sometimes of New Zealand, where the great rainbow trout come up on the shallow bars in the big lakes, and everyone who knows and loves Pacific salmon must sometimes wish to see what Chinooks look like down there, so many thousands of miles from home in a country where winter is summer and summer winter and coastal currents do nothing to help the migration.” – The writer, Roderick Haig-Brown, the book his beloved A River Never Sleeps, published in 1946, with the extract drawn from the chapter entitled November: Before I Die.

Trout BohemiaRod Haig-Brown’s sudden death, at 68, in October, 1976 meant he never did see New Zealand, never did have the opportunity in his later years to experience trout fishing that remains, by and large, as good as it can be to this day. The challenge, as New Zealand author Derek Grzelewski knows all too well, will be to protect, to enhance those fisheries in the years ahead.

As it happens I was just finishing yet another encounter with a well-used, early edition of A River Never Sleeps when the mail man delivered a much-anticipated package from overseas, in it my signed copy of Derek Grzelewski’s The Trout Bohemia Fly-fishing travels in New Zealand, the anticipated sequel to his widely acclaimed first book, The Trout Diaries A year of fly-fishing in New Zealand, which appeared in 2011.

In January of this year (2013) I had the good fortune to meet Derek when we made our way to the South Island town of Wanaka on the banks of Lake Hawea. The Trout Bohemia was just around the corner and he was rightly excited at the prospect, at what the future might hold in store.

A professional in every sense of the word with numerous prestigious magazine credits to his name he has, in a matter of a few years, climbed to the pinnacle of the fishing writers’ order of merit. There is a lyrical, thoughtful quality to his work that draws the reader along as his close companion on each and every adventure on rivers and lakes across the whole expanse of New Zealand and its two very different islands.

Derek, the seasoned journalist, provides his readers with wonderfully insightful descriptions of the kindred spirits he meets along the way, his Bohemians; Derek, the thoughtful and expert fisherman, and also accredited guide, shares his knowledge, his understanding, of the brawling brown and rainbow trout he encounters, in a way that can only ensure his reader is a better, more discerning angler at the end of the day.

Most certainly New Zealand Tourism, and Air New Zealand for that matter, should already have his name penciled in for special recognition in the year ahead. If any one man has underlined the need for every trout fisherman worth his or her salt to see and experience New Zealand then it has to be Derek.

Rod Haig-Brown’s stories of fishing on Vancouver Island most certainly captured my imagination as a very young man, encouraging me to bring my family from Northern Ireland to Nanaimo more than 40 years ago; Derek’s New Zealand narrative is just as powerful, just as evocative, painting word pictures of a wonderfully scenic, fish-rich country where an angler and his fly rod are assured of both a warm welcome and the almost certain fulfilment of his or her wildest angling dreams.

He writes, too, with feeling of challenging personal relationships and of Maya, his cherished Airedale companion. The blend is captivating, the content, beautifully presented and illustrated, ever so readable and enjoyable.

I have to admit fishing books have long held a special fascination for me. I love the look of them on the bookcase shelf, the memories they hold, the depth of information they can provide. The Haig-Browns, a dozen and more, are very special as are those by the likes of B.C’s Art Lingren, New Zealand’s O.S.Hintz, Ireland’s T.C.Kingsmill Moore, Scotland’s Sidney Spencer, the American steelheading trio of Lani Waller, Trey Combs and Dec Hogan, England’s writer-artist Bernard Venables and the Frenchman, Charles Ritz.

Now Derek Grzelewski has most definitely earned the right to be added to that distinguished list, a fisherman’s fisherman if ever there was one, a writer whose first two books are quite simply as good as any I have come across, in recent times or indeed down through these many years.

 The Trout Bohemia Fly-fishing travels in New Zealand (2013) and  The Trout Diaries A year of fly-fishing in New Zealand (2011)  are published by David Bateman Limited, Auckland, New Zealand.  Copies ($40NZD each) can be ordered direct from the author at www.derekgrzelewski.com with the final cost, which includes postage from New Zealand to Canada, around $50Can. each depending on the exchange rate on the day. Money well spent, a pleasure to read and read again as another Canadian winter looms ever closer.