If you had three months to accomplish your dream in life what would you do?
Taylor Kirkpatrick and Hardwick Caldwell drove, hiked, climbed and fished their way across New Zealand.
The pair had been friends since they were kids living in Tennessee and they grew up on the river together. For them trout fishing became more than a hobby, it turned into a way of life.
Through college they spent their summers working as trout guides in Italy and Alaska, and while the streams they fished were far away from their home waters, they still weren’t exotic enough for Kirkpatrick and Caldwell. They had their hearts set on the opposite end of the globe, New Zealand.
By their junior year a plan had developed. Kirkpatrick, a finance student, used his senior project to create an upstart production company called Gambit Stone.
Kirkpatrick and Caldwell used their savings to fund their three-month trip to New Zealand where they would make a documentary about extreme trout fishing. They left for their expedition in December 2009.
They took a creative approach to the film and the trip that is usually reserved for skiing or snowboarding films. If you watch their documentary, don’t expect to see long boring tutorials about how to tie a fly.
“Our trip can be described as Huckleberry Finn meets Warren Miller,” Kirkpatrick says.
To learn the necessary cinematography skills Kirkpatrick moved to New York city for two months and took as many film classes as he could. By the time he left for his trip he was a skilled behind the camera.
But when they finally got to New Zealand, the pair wasn’t greeted by a paradise where hungry trout hid behind every boulder. If fly fishing for trout in the U.S. is done by dedicated anglers, then fly fishing for trout in New Zealand is reserved for experts only.
While the country has plenty of pristine rivers and huge trout, the crystal clear water and low trout densities make the fishing tough enough to frustrate even the most disciplined fishermen.
Caldwell and Kirkpatrick used their first few weeks to buy an old van and adjust to the difficult fishing conditions. “When we got down there we bought a 1983 Toyota … the van was older than we were,” Kirkpatrick said.
Almost all of their time on the water consisted of sight fishing. They prowled the clear streams looking for big brown trout. When they spotted one, they would stalk up to it with all the care of a trophy whitetail hunter to make two or three delicate casts at the fish. If you couldn’t hook the fish by at least the third cast, it would spook and disappear for days, Caldwell says.
Because the fish were so spooky, Caldwell and Kirkpatrick had to make perfect casts and they spent many of their nights practicing. They were also forced to use leaders that sometimes measured 24 feet long.
They hiked about eight miles per day climbing up and down the rivers looking for fish. The trout are so spread out in New Zealand that on some days they would only make a handful of casts. “That country was made to hold big elusive brown trout,” Caldwell said.
But as the photos show, the trout were huge. The biggest fish they caught was a 14-pound brown Kirkpatrick landed. “My indicator went down and when I saw the fish turn I just started screaming like a little girl. I was so excited,” Kirkpatrick said.
Also, the views were incredible and fishing pressure was almost non-existent.
“You can walk 8 miles up the most pristine river in the country and not see another person,” Caldwell says.
“You don’t go to New Zealand to catch big numbers of trout, but when you do catch a fish, it means something,” Kirkpatrick said.
Besides making the fish spooky, the clear water made it difficult to tell how deep the fish were. Early on in the trip Caldwell and Kirkpatrick would greatly underestimate the depth of the rivers and had trouble fooling the trout.
Besides fishing, Kirkpatrick and Caldwell also attempted to climb Mount Aspiring, one of the tallest peaks in New Zealand.
They never made the summit because a nasty blizzard kept them from climbing any higher, but the climb, much like the rest of their trip, was more about the experience than the result.
Since they came back from New Zealand Kirkpatrick has been working on editing their film, which has been named “The Waters of the Greenstone.”
The project is almost complete and the DVD will be available in about three weeks. To pre-order a copy go to their website at Gambit Stone.
Two friends risk it all and head to New Zealand on a trout expedition for the ages. You’ve never seen fly fishing like this before.