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Hooked on Abroad

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Fishing is a perplexing hobby. It requires hours of patience, often ends in failure and even when successful, offers only a few short seconds of action. Yet, it is a pursuit that I have truly grown to love. I find the act of fishing fulfilling for two main reasons: it provides a strong connection with nature and it gives me time alone, to think and to reflect. Motivated by these forms of fulfillment and drooling over the thought of New Zealand’s monster trout, I chose to pursue my hobby while abroad, a decision which has left me with unforgettable experiences that I could not have had otherwise. In order to be a successful fisherman understanding the local environment is a must. The technical fishing skills that I had developed over the past few years, fishing the beaches of Hawaii and the rivers and lakes of Pennsylvania, meant little in New Zealand until I had a better understanding of the aquatic ecosystems of my new home. So I did my homework. I read up on Trout, Perch and Salmon and how to find them in the South Island’s rivers, lakes and estuaries. I watched videos on Mackerel, Kingfish and Kahawaii, quickly coming to understand that weather, tides and the season would play a large role in my ability to catch these marine fish. I searched for blogs, newspaper articles, brochures and fishing guides, any form of media that could help me to understand the New Zealand fishing scene was found, and I devoured them all. It wasn’t until I had done this initial research that I even considered buying the necessary equipment.

I have almost as much fun exploring tackle shops as I do actually fishing, and in New Zealand the shops offered more than just gear, they offered information. As an international student it’s actually quite difficult to meet locals, especially ones that aren’t attending university and its even harder to find locals who are willing to tell international students where the fish are and how to catch them. Luckily for me I managed to find a store manager who was kind enough to share with me his favorite lures and even threw me a few hints as to where to cast them. Aside from the information he’d provided, it was also very fulfilling to have an in depth conversation with a local who lived and worked in the area where I was attending school. 

However, despite the small hints I got, the only real way for me to find any decent fishing ground was with the help of google maps and a willingness for adventure. I’d find a promising part of the river on google maps, hop in the car and find out what it really looked like. The thing about Google maps is that despite its incredibly accurate depiction of places in relation to one another, there is no real way to get a sense for a place’s beauty or power through an electronic map. While pursuing fish, I ended up in some of the most breathtaking places I have seen while abroad. Hidden estuaries filled with seabirds, the water and sky coated with their black and white wings, bones of their prey and kin littering the grass covered banks. Thin crystal clear creeks that slice through reeds and marsh weed, hemmed in by walls of mud, and defended by black swans and fantails. Small hidden lakes, with sprawling lawns, shaded by native trees, the tea colored water contrasted sharply by the purple hued brambles of the neighboring blackberry bushes. This was the type of natural beauty that met me on every fishing trip. And don’t even get me started on the fish themselves, the fish in New Zealand are unbelievably gorgeous creatures

It took me three weeks to land my first fish. Three weeks of exploring multiple bodies of water and spending hours on the banks of rivers, lakes, harbours and creeks. I had begun to lose faith in my ability and my tactics when I finally hooked up with a beautiful Redfin Perch. Reinvigorated by my success, I pushed on and was able to meet my ultimate goal five days later, when a stunning rainbow trout hit my inline spinner at Sullivan’s Dam. The fish struck my lure with such ferocity that it took me a second to realize that all my hard work was about to pay off. As my drag screamed and the fish ran with my line, I took a deep breath, steadied my hands, and set the hook hard, stepping back up the bank to ensure I had the trout pinned. The fight that ensued lasted no more than 30 seconds, but it was beyond invigorating. The fish put on an absolute show, its rainbow scales flashing as it lept from the water, sending droplets flying in every direction and setting my heart racing. Then, just like that, I landed it and my very first New Zealand Trout was in my hands. Though the aim of fishing is to land fish, catching my personal best Rainbow Trout here in New Zealand is not why I am so thankful for my decision to pursue my hobby whilst abroad. Rather, my gratitude stems from fishings ability to expand my abroad experience in numerous ways. It has forced me to know the native ecosystems, it has helped me meet locals, and because of this hobby I have had the privilege of stumbling upon breathtaking spots, far from the usual tourist destinations. Fishing has undoubtedly been a catalyst for learning and adventure while abroad, and for that I am extremely grateful because that is what study abroad is all about.
Liam Chan Hodges studied abroad with IFSA at the University of Otago in Spring 2018. He is an International Correspondent for IFSA through the Work-To-Study Program.