Fly Fishing New Zealand

Directions to Stony Creek – the Secret Society and Angling Elitism

Directions to Stony Creek by Paul Corliss

Andy T about to return a brown trout to Stony Creek number 11.

There are many maxims relative to good fishing but three of the most obvious follow the real estate theory: location, location and location. And they all provide the angler and the angling writer with their biggest dilemma. How much do you let out, how detailed do you get, how specific can you afford to be? Hence the “directions to the mysterious location of the otherwise anonymous Stony Creek.”

My thinking was started by the arrival of a letter from a reader of one of my articles who was aggrieved that I had given the name and details of a local river to which he was clearly attached. In forming a reply I was forced to question my own philosophy and, to a lesser degree, justify my stand. The river in question was the Silverstream or the North Branch. It is a well-known and justifiably popular river for those that have mastered the art of delicate presentation concealed among intruding willow and bankside grasses. Every district has several of these “local” waters which have ease of access and handy location to also commend them. No stretch of the imagination could class such rivers and streams as “secret locations” to be whispered about in Masonic angling temples.

This particular river is well catalogued in New Zealand angling literature. Geoffery Hobb’s lovely book (“Fisherman’s Country,” 1955) devotes the whole of one chapter to a delightful day fishing a stretch of this classic spring water. The Silverstream has references as far back as Captain Hamilton’s 1904 book “Trout Fishing and Sport in Maori-land” and has regularly appeared in the more recently published fishing guides.

“… like sides of beef in a butchers window.” Muz the Gillie displays a limit from Stony Creek number 7.

Those anglers that have it sussed have generally gained their knowledge by sheer hard graft and time on a wide variety of water, angling intuition, poring over books and magazines, sharing knowledge within their circle (including membership of angling clubs) and being in-the-know (mates with guides or Fish and Game field-workers, work ing in a tackle shop, etc).

New chums or average anglers are restricted in the above aspects and, other than endless reconnoitring, possibly in barren waters, reliance on magazine articles becomes important. The angling writers, among other roles, are one of the logical sources of new waters and good fishing. A little parasitic perhaps but that really raises the philosophical debate and dilemma faced by most writers. I too get the jitters when a loved river appears in print but if every writer simply told their tales on the basis of endless “Stony Creek number …” the magazine would be as pointless, boring and uninformative as it would be short-lived. Unless we discover all our waters by a combination of sheer luck and excessive experiment, word of mouth and written story will remain the principal source of improving one’s range.

While angling for me is often a solo exercise it certainly shouldn’t be a selfish sport. I view it as a pleasure that needs to be encouraged, shared and spread. This also has the advantage of ensuring the depth of angler support and the level of pressure needed to protect the recreation/way of life from the constant greed that is creating the current opportunity for environmental and political attacks.
Too much of the “Secret Society” approach leads to an angling elitism that will only serve to restrict new
entrants and ultimately leave the sport as the preserve of the few, an angling Cosa Nostra with a fishy
code of “Omerta”. There must be some happy medium.

How else do young and novice anglers learn the joy and craft of angling unless part of the process is steering them to waters that can lend form to their training?

Wiper Williamson nymphing Stony Creek number 5.

I certainly have “private” streams and rivers whose identity I keep close, but these are generally neither easy of access nor are they common haunts. I do not jealously guard them, I am simply more discreet with whom I share the knowledge? Even these rivers, though, are usually reasonably well written-up in the huge range of angling literature over the decades. If any angler is prepared to put the hours and hard yards in learning their moods and secrets, good on them. I agree that more vulnerable and delicate waters should not be trumpeted from the rooftops.

Locations shouldn’t come too easy to the novice though. Long trudges through gorse and blackberry, sliding and slipping through mud and boulder-strewn bush tracks or thudding head down into the teeth of a howling nor-wester are character building and led to a deeper appreciation of the effort and reward such personal and active research produces.

The other question that arises relates to finding the dividing line between blowing a river’s cover and successfully concealing its identity from the ravaging hordes. I have a brother-in-law who suspects me (without good reason) as falling into the “ravaging hordes” category. Very experienced anglers, Muz and his son Andy play this game that has, as its object, the complete geographical concealment of all their Stony Creeks from my gleaming yes. Now, they have no difficulty showing me the products of their visits; thick silver salmon that he displayed like sides of beef in a butcher’s window, photos of unbelievably fat brown trout that look like barrage balloons and reasonably professional video clips of rampaging high country rainbows that scythe line through the crystal water like a skier’s wake. These are simply the visual temptations designed to crush my enflamed curiosity.

While I suspected for some time that they had Stony Creeks of their own there was no amount of bribery or cunning cross-examination that could reveal the actual geographic spot. I am constantly kept on the look-out for clues, trying to establish the whereabouts of the faint shadow of a limestone bluff appearing in the background of a photo or assessing the species of tussock that hugs the low banks of some high country spring creek. A recent viewing of one of their videos showed me the mentality that these close-lipped Masons have developed in their quest for secrecy. Muz generally acts as Andy’s gillie on these expeditions. While he says it is because he has caught so many fish over his many years that he no longer needs the practice, I suspect that Andy simply exposes Muz’s skills for what they are. Andy can catch trout in a ploughed paddock, Murray ploughs the paddock.

Muz has a very convenient Cessna 180 that he is able to land on pig-chewed tussock paddocks, banks of river-shingle or on the hair-thin ruts of Landrover tracks. I further suspect he invested his retirement money in the Cessna simply to prevent me from being able to follow him by car, the depths to which some people will go in order to protect their Stony Creeks! An airborne chauffeur with a suspicious nature. While I was viewing the video Muz, the camera-man/gillie had just completed a scene of Andy easing a disgustingly chubby rainbow back into the stream. The delicate rise to the bobbing dry and the subsequent full flight and fury were eloquently captured. His running commentary was in full flow about the alpine beauty surrounding the release. As the camera angle started to pan to capture the whole scene his voice hesitated. The focus blurred then moved back to close-up. His commentary, in reference to an absent me, hesitates then tells the potential audience “I better not pan too wide, I have a brother-in-law who may recognise the area!” This is followed by off-camera chuckling. I still fail to grasp the humour.

I will continue my research into geology, botany and geography in the hope that some locality-specific rock, plant that grows in only one location or recognizable landmark appears in photo or film and gives me the clues needed to tumble to the whereabouts of this Stony Creek. I have it narrowed down to three unknown mountain ranges and within 10 degrees of latitude, I’m still not sure whether we’re talking North or South Island though. If you know of a rare breed of dwarf matagouri, that has purple berries in late January, grows on a schist/basalt shingle-fan and is located in an area with a prevailing southeasterly wind you have located one of the legions of Stony Creeks.

I would be interested in hearing from readers on what their views are in the general debate (you can comment in the box below). I would expect that there will be two basic approaches. The new angler or the inexperienced one, who wish as much detail as they can possibly glean, versus the more experienced angler who, in fear of finding his favourite pools tenanted, wishes as little detail as possible. I further suspect that most anglers won’t mind writers exposing specifics on any river, stream or lake providing it’s not their river, stream or lake. The question is simply this: How specific or evasive should an angling writer be?

This post was last modified on 13/03/2024 4:11 pm

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