Date: 06 December 2018
In February 1967 Jim and Megan Harvey along with their good friend John Cullwick, organised a week-long camping and fishing trip to Boat Harbour on Lake Taupō. They didn’t know then, but they were starting an annual tradition that would continue for five decades. Log-books, catch returns and photographs provide an extraordinary insight into this 50-year journey.
Starting from the main wharf, the first trip involved a rough crossing to Boat Harbour in a 20-foot launch named Korora. Jim Harvey who was instrumental in organising the trips has a vivid memory of the gear and supplies loaded onto the boat for that first adventure. Along with full fuel tanks they had a 12-gallon fuel drum on the back seat, a 4-gallon drum of white spirit, Coleman store, a fish safe, tent and all the bedding and equipment needed for a week of camping by the lake.
A 9’ x 9’ scout tent served them well in the early days, but this progressed to a larger three room tent complete with 12-volt lighting, dining table, chairs, two gas stoves and small BBQ. “An independent home away from home… carpet on the floor and all”, said Jim.
The original base camp at Boat Harbour was chosen due to its proximity to both the Kawakawa River and the Waihora River – allowing the crew to fish these highly productive river mouths and easily return to camp for the night. Over the years, other people got involved and formed a dedicated group of likeminded fishing and camping friends who shared a sense of fun and adventure. As Jim says, “We simply loved what we were doing.” With numbers growing, 1982 saw the group move basecamp to Waihaha. Jim made arrangements with Waihaha Māori Land Trust for the party to camp close to the lakeshore, and this idyllic setting remained the base for future trips.
Boats were an integral part of the experience, not just to ferry gear to the campsite but also to give anglers access to remote beaches and river mouths. In 1991 John Sorensen saved the trip by offering the use of his boat ‘Viking II’ following the sale of Jim’s boat. John soon decided to sample the camping and fishing experience for himself. He was soon hooked and continued to attend whenever he could.
While the camping and comradery was great fun, it was the fishing that drew the group to Lake Taupō. Catch returns confirm that over the years the group landed 2,590 trout. Some wonderful browns and rainbows were amongst them including a 10lb fish caught by John Cullwick, which now adorns the wall of his cottage. David Renton caught a fine 9lb specimen, while Jim had a couple of fish just shy of the 9lb mark and his wife Megan’s best was a beautiful 8.5lb rainbow.
From a quality perspective 1984 was a red-letter year. The heaviest trout topped 10lb and there were more in the 6lb to 7lb range than any other year. In terms of pure numbers, the most successful year was 2011, where 122 fish were caught, while the worst was 2004.
There were many angling highlights such as the occasion a couple of adventurous crew members wanted an early start, so elected to spend the night camped under polythene in the ferns beside a river mouth. The plan worked. They arrived back at the main camp with a box full of trout, which included a bag-limit - 20 in those days!
John Renton and Mark Morgan joined the crew in 2011. The new guys were an instant hit, not just because they were good blokes, but because they caught loads of trout. On their first trip they made a major contribution to the record 122 trout landed that year. The reduced limit of three trout per angler, resulted in a third of those fish being released to fight another day.
Trout were never wasted. Those that weren’t smoked, grilled over an open fire or cooked with a tasty sauce, were ‘bottled’. Jim says they were introduced to the bottling process on the very first trip. Trout are filleted and packed into jars along with one teaspoon of vinegar and the same quantity of plain salt, all closed under Agee seals. The jars are then cooked in a pressure cooker at 17psi for 90 minutes. The process cooks the trout perfectly with the added benefit of softening all the bones.
Having the ladies involved was great. Megan did most to represent women by notching up 32 trips. Not only is she a keen trout angler but she’s a dab hand with a paintbrush and produced many beautiful watercolour landscape paintings while sitting by the lake.
Jim says much has changed over the years but thankfully the appeal of the Western Bays continues. The scenery when viewed from the lake appears remarkably unspoiled. The marina at Kinlock was developed around the same time as the trips began and its growth has made the Western Bays more accessible, resulting in a predictable increase in boat traffic. That said, during autumn when the fishing trips take place, it is still easy to find an isolated spot to cast a fly.
Some changes are not quite as rosy. According to Jim there has been a dramatic decline in the green beetle population since the 60’s and 70’s. The crew used to regularly encounter ankle-deep rafts of the bright green insects washed up the length of beaches. During these periods the trout would switch from smelt and focus on these easy pickings, making for some exciting fishing.
The fishing may have gone through peaks and troughs, but trout continue to come to the net with satisfying regularity, and Jim confirms their flavor irrespective of cooking method continues to be outstanding.
Last year saw the 14 members of the fondly named ‘Harvey Fly’ crew gather together to celebrate 50 consecutive years of camping and fishing. The three originators, who started out aged 25, were toasting five decades of fishing adventure at the stately age of 75.