Making the Taupo Fly-fishers' Club 1985

From John Parsons Book ‘The Fishing Years’, 2004

It must have puzzled a great many fishermen besides myself in the 1970s and 1980s that the Taupo or northern end of Lake Taupo and its many rivers and streams boasted no trout-fishers’ club. Anglers at the southern end of the lake had a club in Turangi, TALTAC – the Tongariro and Lake Taupo Anglers’ Club – which had been formed much earlier. Surely, in the larger township of Taupo, a club was needed to bring like-minded local trout-fishers together and at the same time host the many visitors from elsewhere in New Zealand and overseas who came fishing to Taupo and sought companionship and perhaps guidance while they were here? Quite so. And we did something about it. 

AROUND 1970 an upturned clinker-built dinghy often caught the eye of motorists about to cross one of the bridges between Turangi and Taupo. The name clearly printed in black the right way up for all to see read Ah-Sup. Our own club origins were not Chinese, but we knew ourselves in the early 1970s by a title phonetically indistinguishable from the name of that dinghy – the acronym of the Anglers’ Recreational, Social, and Educational Union of Practitioners. For all its fame as a trout-fishery, for all the men and women who lived there mainly for the fishing Taupo and could boast no group of anglers which frequently forgathered in the town. The old Taupo Rod and Gun Club was virtually defunct for want of members or motivation.

Then Bill MacBrayne had his grand idea. He talked it over with his boss at the time, Keith Draper. A keen fisherman called Gary Kemsley had recently come to Taupo to live. So had I. The four of us worked within a couple of hundred metres of one another, Bill as the fly-tying supervisor at Draper’s Trout Flies in Heuheu Street, Gary as a printer for the Taupo Times in the same street, and I at my fledgling Alpha Photography studio upstairs at the lake end of Tongariro Street. The group’s first meeting took place one Friday very quickly after knocking-off time at 5 pm. The venue – the old back bar of the Lake Hotel – had been chosen purely for reasons of convenience. No-one had to walk far to be quickly in conference.

Despite a great number of other people there that first Friday who didn’t want to know anything about fishing but who seemed more interested in downing quantities of liquor and talking rugby or other trivia, our angling group overcame its aversion to crowds that first Friday to such an extent that well before the following Friday it had decided to risk another meeting there, maybe even two.

About 25 meetings later the group had increased to some 20 enthusiasts. First-comers after the founding quartet were Peter Gould, David and Alan Mound, Peter Lawlor, Frank Reed, and occasionally Tom Fox and other folk from further afield.

At the distance in time it is difficult to establish the date of the original foursome’s first meeting. February or March, 1974, may be the closest we will ever get to it. An item in the August, 1976, newsletter of the well-established club that grew out of those informal early meetings refers to a time two and a half years previously when meetings first began.

Many members of those days will recall those Lake Hotel gatherings in the back bar – later to became the Rod and Reel Bar, probably in our honour – but the room was small, and our numbers were growing, and eventually we moved our base to the lounge of the Lake View Hotel-Motel [now, in 1993, Cutter’s Lake View Motor Inn] at the invitation of the proprietor, Dick Fraser, who always made us feel very much at home.

Probably, older members’ most enduring memory of those Friday evenings at the Lake View is of winter-time, because of logs blazing in the hearth, and the cheerful banter and companionship of members comfortably housed in a big half-circle of fireside chairs.

Later, when Graeme and Barry Wallace took over the business, they too made us very welcome. And they came up with a solution to a problem which confronted us on Friday nights.

What used to start off as a conversational gathering of trout-fishers lubricating angling theory and practice with ambrosial refreshments of several kinds, turned into a shouting match with all the other folk whose right to be there was at least the equal of our own. Reluctantly, we used to begin abandoning the Lake View lounge and its comfort and conviviality when the presence of other patrons bent on drinking and dancing grew too great. When the band started, we left.

Graeme and Barry were equal to the occasion. Within almost arm’s reach of the bar was an entrance to Graeme’s flat, and Graeme’s flat was generously turned over to us on Friday evenings. We made use of it for many months.

The Lake View’s games room, just across the way from the lounge, was also ours to use for our monthly management committee meetings. Members of the committee of those days will recall that the end of formal business on those occasions was the signal for the production of 20-cent pieces for hilarious late-night competitions at the pool-table.

When the Lake View changed hands again we found a new home at the Beachaven Motel, which had been newly taken over by our old friend Dick Fraser. But, like the patrons at most other Taupo venues on Friday nights, Beachaven’s revellers weren’t really interested in respecting our ‘calm, quiet recreation.’ Under-age drinkers grew more numerous. Suddenly, a well-informed club member – Mike Fletcher it was, editor of the Taupo Times – heard alarming news: the place would probably be raided the following Friday night. We prudently decided we wouldn’t be there.

But where would we be? The grape-vine ran hot. Several members spent more time on the telephone for the club that week than for paltry monetary gain.

If not the next week, then very quickly afterwards, the club began a happy association with the Taupo Soccer Club, renting its premises on Friday nights just across the way from where our own clubrooms would stand on the AC Reserve in 1983.

It was a mutually beneficial arrangement. The soccer club wanted funds to one day build a new facility at Crown Road; and we sought a place (which needed to be a watering-place, of course) which at long last we could call our own on Friday nights.

Members’ wives surely noticed the newly-relaxed behaviour of their husbands from that first Friday at the news rooms? But they never acknowledged the change, possibly because the blessed absence of strangers, tumult, and ear-splitting music, kept us in conference a great deal longer than before.

Our tenancy of the soccer club’s rooms prepared us for the future ahead of us in our own premises. We based the plans of the Taupo Fly-fishers’ Club building on the proportions and features of the soccer rooms. Some day we too would relax in a large room with easy-chairs, a bar, storage space, pool tale, darts, and a notice board, surrounded by sporting treasures of various kinds.

Two features missing form the soccer rooms, though, would be embodied: the kind of open fire that means so much to anglers’ winter gatherings, and shelves to house a collection of angling books.

Way back in his time as president, Keith Draper had prepared the ground, so to speak, for our own clubhouse by writing to the Taupo Borough Council telling them of our long-term plans and requesting consideration for a site for a fly-fishers’ clubhouse on council land.

Later, during my own term as president, club members attended a special meeting to ratify a management committee decision to build, raising money by way of debentures in order to help finance a clubhouse on the AC Reserve, such building to be an ‘extension’ of the then Taupo Jaycees’ building, which at that stage had been temporarily shifted into position on the site.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Our first informal group of like-minded fly-fishers had to change. Some members were sorry to see it go. They had happy memories of the founding few; of a close-knit group which met socially once a week; of no constricting rules, fees, officers, or formal structure.

But there were things to do. As a properly constituted club we could help to influence the course of a fishery we cared so much about. Without organised, incorporated status, our voice would not be recognized. And we needed to set up machinery which would at least some day produce the wherewithal for a home of our own.

So, about the middle of 1975, we made it known that it was proposed to form a club of Taupo fly-fishers; and on August 21 a meeting of interested people was held in the games room of the Lake View Hotel-Motel. Nine anglers attended, and seven others sent their apologies. It wasn’t particularly auspicious start.

But the word spread. By March, 1976, we had 66 members. Six years later, in August 1982, with at least twice the 1976 membership, with a tidy sum in debentures set aside, and with other financial arrangements made, plans for a clubhouse on the AC Reserve were put into practice. Don Taylor started things off by marking out the ground.

Thereafter, a nucleus of builder-members and friends, helped by a variety of amateur builders, mixers of concrete, chippies, hammerhands, painters and decorators, worked and worked to make a dream come true.

That year an incredible variety of ideal building materials fell off the backs of Taupo trucks. It was also a vintage year for running unwanted goods and chattels to earth. Working-bees, co-operation, and help from all kinds of organisations and individuals, drove the project ahead. Several firms went out of their way to help. Only those members who were closest to the project knew the full extent of the help we received and the difficulties we overcame. They were to find out, once again, that despite the best will in the world, club working-bees tend to shrink and shrink until only hard-core enthusiasts are left, week after week. All members owe that dedicated team a debt that can never be repaid.

Fittingly, the rooms were officially opened at the end of a major week of celebrations held in Taupo, on behalf of the whole country, to mark the centenary of the introduction of rainbow trout into New Zealand.

It was a proud moment for the club when the then Minister of Internal Affairs, the Hon. R L G Talbot, on the morning of April 24, 1983 declared the clubhouse open. we forgave him his faux pas, his mention of the wrong Izaak, Izaak Newton….

One of the proudest people there among the 150 members and invited guests and their wives attending was our president at the time, Mike Fletcher, whose own contribution to the building project, both in terms of organisation and hard work only his wife and family knew everything about.

We built the place with deep affection, knowing what we wanted, and the members loved it for what it was. Never mind that while we laboured we sweated and cursed and found muscles we never knew we had. Never mind that many homes and gardens around Taupo fell into relative disrepair at that time.

Foundation members naturally shaped the character of the club. They were: Jack Bublitz, Simon Dickie, Keith Draper, Mike Fletcher, George Gatchell, Peter Gould, O S Hintz, Gary Kemsley, Don McLeod, Alan Mould, David Mould, and John Parsons.

They were the founding twelve of the listed March, 1976, tally of 66 members.

A constitution was put together which, apart from a much later name-change, remains substantially the same today.

Bearing in mind the age and angling experience of the majority, it was not surprising that membership should be thrown open only to men and women over the age of 18; that only someone already known to at least one member should be eligible to join; that we wanted fishing talk and conviviality, not angling politics; that a book of merit fish would be kept rather than a record of competitions and trophies.

The club did not want to become notably exclusive – but at the same time it refused to throw membership open to all and sundry. Even when finances took on a decidedly sickly took at the height of building, the management committee resisted a suggestion to flood scores of North Island tackle-shops with membership application forms. At that juncture, however in the interests of raising money, the club’s newsletter was turned into a revenue0earner. Formerly distributed only to members and a few angling clubs, it suddenly became, by way of advertising receipts and a far wider distribution, a magazine in its own right, of significant value to the club.

Putting a club magazine together is invariably a thankless task for the man responsible. There’s hardly ever enough copy, and when contributions finally get squeezed out of members they’re invariably late. So, all praise to our own editors from the first issue, in April, 1976, onwards, and to the few contributors of the early days who kept the magazine going.

history and atmosphere have always appealed to angling clubs having their own premises. Taupo Fly-fishers’ was no exception. Over the years it received a variety of gifts of tackle, and of painting and photographs, which helped make the clubrooms a real joy for anglers conscious of Taupo’s history and fishing-waters.

One gift having nothing to do with trout-fishing left us speechless with disbelief. But the pool table was very real, as many members know. It was presented by John-Michael Davis, whom the club can never thank enough. Several members will remember their working-bee one day to shift the brand-new table from an upstairs room in John-Michael’s home (after George Gatchell had sawn the slate in half for the transfer), and taking it round to Roy Gault’s home for storage until installation in our clubrooms.

Perhaps it was only natural that the group which founded the club should have envisaged a membership of practising trout-fishers of adult or near-adult age. No provision was made for junior membership. However, through the efforts of members who were college teachers, groups of aspiring anglers from Taupo colleges were taken out on a few occasions under the auspices of the club. Then, under the enthusiastic direction of Max Gibbs, a junior chapter of the club was formed in 1983 which began to look after the interest of many your anglers.

In the beginning years, the club wanted nothing to do with the politics of angling. Members’ meetings were social gatherings, concerned largely, as one member put it, with drinking beer and swapping lies. But isolation from politics could not last. As a legally constituted incorporation devoted to trout-fishing, the club was welcomed into early membership of the Federation of Lake Taupo Angling, Shooting and Boating Clubs, which quickly proved to the club that angling problems and issues existed, and had to be faced.

So for many years the club was represented at Federation (later the Taupo Ward of the Central North Island Wildlife Conservancy Council) meetings, where the good of the fishery as a whole was our delegates’ sole concern.

Between 1983 and 1985 many members other than the club’s official delegates were drawn into the politics of angling. The highly controversial Glo-Bug trout fly, and other issues, tended to dominate conversation on Friday nights at the club – to the detriment, many believed of the club’s continued well-being. Certainly, it was felt that a return should be made to the convivial conversations of earlier times. Perhaps, as in most men’s clubs of repute, talk of women, religion, and politics should be forbidden, especially politics. Such a rule would not have changed our philosophy, only confined discussion on important political issues to formal committee meetings.

The club’s concern with angling politics was hardly surprising. It held a social meeting every week and a management committee meeting every month. Because local members were responsible, caring, and practical fly-fishers, closely associated with the officers of the then Wildlife Service, and at once award of problems and changes, their concerns were quickly expressed and discussed.

The ten years following the opening of the clubrooms were to see no lessening of members’ concerns, or the frequency with which the club discussed and assisted the management of the fishery – and still met happily once a week to exchange fishing theory and practice, and matters of lesser import, over a convivial drink.

At its annual general meeting in 1990 the club changed it name. Members voted overwhelmingly that the Taupo Fly-fishers’ Club (Inc.) should become the Taupo Fishing Club (Inc.) and open membership to all sport-fishing enthusiasts – deep-sea anglers included. Supporters of the change had argued that Taupo commercial-boat skippers and the hundreds of small-boat owners who harled and trolled would be much more ready to join the club if it shed its elitist fly-fishing-only image. Opponents, including me, suggested that all the club needed to do to solve any such problem, fishers’ Club. But a majority of members, many with enthusiasm for sea-fishing, decided otherwise, and the Taupo Fly-fishers’ Club became no more, fifteen years after its formation in 1975.