• The Trout Diaries: A Year of Fly-Fishing in New Zealand

    By Derek Grzelewski, published by David Bateman, distributed in the UK by Quiller Publishing

    $21.95 (£16.95 UK), www.countrybooksdirect.com

    At first sight, you may think the definite article in the title, The Trout Diaries, rather presumptuous, as though there were no other books on the subject. And you might expect the sub-title to promise a 24-hour, blow-by-blow account of rods, flies, waters and fish totals. Neither expectation is true.

    To begin with, this is about more than trout. We hear tales of other quarry, from salmon to whitebait. Although fly-fishing in NZ is the connecting thread, Grzelewski uses it to weave a series of human stories into a tapestry of life and, at times, an after-life.

    Thankfully, the book is not a regurgitation of the author’s diaries but a distillation of his daily entries into monthly essays, factual and practical as well as philosophical and contemplative. Instead of a linear narrative, we are presented with something more like a novel, shaped by recurrent themes.

    The project was sparked by a memento mori when one of the author’s fishing pals is diagnosed with terminal cancer at the start and still surviving it (with a changed attitude to life) at the end. This other-worldly dimension, which finds general expression throughout the book, results in a style which is an amalgam of Tom Sawyer and The Wind in the Willows, of boyish adventure coupled with
    a hint of something overarching (nothing more defined than that), which many a fisherman senses on the riverbank, at the lakeside or by the sea.

    The fishing wisdom is sound and refreshingly honest. Grzelewski once earned a living as a fly-fishing guide until he realised that making a profession out of a passion had robbed it of its enjoyment. As soon as the commercial imperative was taken out of the equation, he got his passion back… and his enthusiasm is palpable on every page. But he does not shy away from owning up to skunks (blank days) and acknowledging the superior abilities of other fishermen, whether names or unknowns.

    While Grzelewski writes engagingly about fishing, nature and landscape, he seems most at ease describing life’s characters, whether ones he fishes with or those from another age or sphere of activity (not necessarily anglers) whom he admires. He even refers to them in Walton’s memorable phrase as the Brotherhood of the Angle.

    Among his eclectic mix are Marc Petitjean (he of CDC inter alia), scientist Viktor Schauberger (whose observation of trout in rivers led to the birth of vortex mechanics), Marc Hertault, aka Grandpapa Truite, who was a stickler for fishing comme il faut (which meant his way), David Lloyd (his regular riverside buddy) – the list goes on.

    The illustrations, beautifully drawn by fellow angler Johnny Groome, are in black-and-white soft focus, which is nicely judged, as the text is about so much more than fly patterns. The photographs, collated in two separate sections, do not obsess with trophy fish, but give a sense of a wider view of fishing – companionship, dogs and scenery. On the other hand, for those not familiar with NZ, a few more maps might have made the geography easier to visualise.

    This book will deservedly have a wide appeal for anglers seeking something more than an instruction manual. It is in the tradition of Romilly Fedden, Sir Edward Grey and Harry Plunket Greene, but who knows how it will be viewed sub specie aeternitatis?

    For Grzelewski, eternity is a lake fed by the river of life and a reunion of anglers in lakeside cabins, fishing and sharing their stories. Will his book be on the celestial cabin shelf? As Grzelewski might have said himself, the deer knows…

    RA Neale

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