The Youth Academy

Fishing is often passed down through the generations. Children watch their fathers throwing a line; they have memories with Grandpa, reeling in their first big catch. But for me, a passion for fishing wasn’t necessarily passed on. It was always in my blood. My primary school years were spent growing up on the Coxs River near Lithgow. I’d walk up and down the river throwing small Celtas or pink Tassie Devils, trying to fool a trout. Every evening I’d cast my lures as the trout splashed about, hoping for success. My trout addiction only increased, and everywhere we went, I’d drag along my telescopic spin rod. Then, age 12, while on holidays in Victoria with my family, I met my first keen fly fisherman. He was Scottish and a friend of my grandfather’s. He knew I was interested in fishing and pulled out a photo of the biggest trout I’d ever seen: a seven-pound brown trout from the Ovens River. In awe, I asked him how he caught it. Opening his fly box, he showed me a small, simple, Sawyer Pheasant Tail nymph. The fascination of how such a small fly could catch such a large trout was all I needed. Ronny the Scotsman told me the basics of fly fishing and even showed me a few casts. I asked my parents for a fly rod that Christmas and taught myself to cast by watching — on repeat — the short VHS that came with the Shakespeare Starters kit. A year later I managed to land my first trout on fly. It was a 25 cm brown trout from the Macquarie River in Bathurst. I’d said goodbye to my spin rod and was well and truly hooked. For the next five years it wasn’t always easy finding comradery and support. Without social media, I struggled to find people my age who shared my passion. I eventually did meet some older men through the local fly club who were great role models but I didn’t have the networks that are available today. Born out of this experience, I decided to set up the Aussie Fly Fisher Youth Academy. Established two years ago, its purpose was to inspire and equip young fishers, building a positive culture and community. We invested in a couple of young fly fishermen in the Blue Mountains area, helping them to catch trout, carp, Murray cod and golden perch on fly. This was a hugely rewarding experience and these guys are still fly fishing obsessed. This past season we then raised the stakes. Hundreds of youths submitted their ‘fishing resume’ to be selected in the Academy. The winners would experience the trip of a lifetime with three guided days on mainland Australia and three days in backcountry New Zealand. Aussie Fly Fisher covered all flights, travel, guiding and accommodation and with thanks to our sponsors — Patagonia Australia, LOOP, Costa Sunglasses, Mayfly Tackle and RIO Products — the winners would also be given everything from waders to jackets, rods and reels, sunglasses, fly lines, flies and fly boxes — the total works. Once submissions had closed it felt like the entire under-18 of social media waited for the final Youth Academy post. Thomas Cramp (Australia) and Lucas O’Sullivan (New Zealand) were announced as the chosen winners. Neither Lucas nor Thomas had ever travelled across the Tasman before, and in October 2017, the adventure began. by Lucas O’Sullivan Before the winners of the AFF Youth Academy were announced, I’d spent hours looking at the Aussie Fly Fisher Facebook page. I couldn’t wait to see the final announcement. When the post finally came through, I couldn’t contain myself. It was the same feeling you get when you catch a PB. The time between the announcement and the day I flew out felt like a long wait, but I knew it would be worth it. Before I knew it I was at Sydney Airport with Josh and Thomas, in a country I’ve wanted to visit for a long time. After doing the mandatory trade of fishing stories, we discussed the plan for the trip. On our first day we wanted to catch as many fish as possible, and then the next day we would go trophy hunting. Before we’d even started fishing I was amazed at how different Australia is to New Zealand. The scenery is something special and the wildlife is amazing. Josh told us that the first river we’d be visiting was full — and I mean chock full — of wild rainbows. With a few pictures and videos to back him up, Thomas and I were pumped for the day ahead. To my amazement the stream had clearer water than a lot of the streams I fish in New Zealand. The river was like a small Otago backcountry stream, yet it was set in the middle of the Blue Mountains jungle. The first pool we arrived at held several rainbow trout and, to my surprise, of decent size! I always assumed the trout in Australia were food for our trout back home, but clearly I was wrong. Thomas had the first shot at some fish but they were playing hardball. Josh assured us that the further we went upstream, the easier it would get. On our way to the next pool we saw a wild turkey, a black snake and an amazing giant lizard — a goanna. I had the next shot at a fish, with seven or eight to choose from. I plonked a cast in the middle of them all and, before I knew it, saw my Royal Wulff shoot under the water. I was hooked up to my first Aussie rainbow trout! After a few jumps and runs, the fish bolted to the nearest undercut bank and popped the hook. I was disappointed but knew I’d get another chance. It was then Thomas’s turn and he delivered with a solid rainbow. It was at this point that I got to learn how to use a big fancy camera and earned the name ‘long lens Lucas’. After lunch we carried on upstream, catching fish as we went, with numerous double hook-ups to keep us entertained. Eventually we arrived at dry fly water. No more than a foot deep, the pool was half the size of my bedroom but it still held dozens of fish. Thomas caught the first fish on dry fly and I managed one as well. We were taking some pictures when a kangaroo decided to photobomb my shot. Kangaroos may be commonplace for Aussies but they were one of the highlights of my trip. This experience ended what was a totally epic and rewarding day and left me in awe as to what the next day would bring. On the second and final day we travelled three hours south to the Snowy Mountains — a total change of scenery. It had the same feel as Central Otago back home with barren tussock deserts. We were greeted at the river by large brown trout mooching in the shallow pools. They looked like sitters but I didn’t get the result I was looking for, with fish instantly spooking into the safety of deeper water. It felt as though no matter what I did I couldn’t get a fish to eat, and when a fish did eat, it wouldn’t work out. Thomas, however, managed to connect with a beauty of a brown trout and when the net sank around his fish I felt as though the task was complete. Deep down of course I was still hurting, as I had gone all day without a fish. It wasn’t until the last few pools when the tables started to turn. I had hooked up to a trout almost simultaneously with Thomas, but he’d landed one already so I had priority. I was instantly amazed by the power of these fish, and the aerial displays were epic. There were a few tense moments when the fish dug its head into the thick weed bed but the stress vanished when I finally landed it. Although it wasn’t a huge fish, I was still stoked, as it was my first Aussie brown trout. It felt great to let it swim away. I then had the crazy idea of tying on a mouse fly, almost making myself look stupid. But to everyone’s surprise, the fish were loving it, although they wouldn’t connect. This was a great way to wrap up what was an awesome few days in a completely foreign environment with some great people. I simply couldn’t thank Josh enough for the amazing few days. by Thomas Cramp If winning a whole host of fly fishing goodies and a guided trip to the mainland of Australia wasn’t enough, how about a free trip to New Zealand? Ideal. My first few hours in NZ, however, didn’t go as expected. Whether it was because of the excitement from finally crossing the ditch, fatigue after my late-night flight or a mixture of the two, my first mistake was essentially telling New Zealand border security that I was a criminal. After accidentally pressing ‘yes’ on the self-serve passport kiosk to having been imprisoned for over 12 months, I immediately had visions of being swamped by security officers and cross-examined in a small claustrophobic room. Fortunately, after a quick visit to the help desk and an understanding nod when I explained I was from Tasmania, I was able to continue on to my second mistake of the night. I’d heard a lot about the strict NZ quarantine laws and had prepared accordingly by obsessively cleaning my gear. After finally being called over by the grumpiest looking of the three quarantine officers, I was already concerned about how things might go. I was confused to say the least, but then she immediately asked to see my “tin”. After I politely explained that I didn’t have a tin with me, she clarified by saying that she actually wanted to see my “tint”. Still very much confused and not yet able to understand her thick Kiwi accent, the puzzled look on my face must have prompted the unimpressed quarantine officer to repeat herself for the third time, “Give me your TENT!” I laughed at what I thought was a humorous series of events, and apologised profusely for the misunderstanding. Unfortunately, she didn’t accept my apology and after bluntly explaining that a bit of respect would go a long way, she proceeded to do a whole search of my two carefully packed bags. After thirty minutes of watching a grumpy woman throw my undies out onto the desk, I was finally allowed to walk free. Welcome to New Zealand. A far friendlier welcome came early the next day, when, on route to our destination, Matt Jones, our Kiwi guide, pulled over for everyone to stretch their legs. Of course, we all poked our heads out over the nearby cliff to get a look at the crystal-clear spring creek. Impossible to miss, a 5 lb brown trout was working his beat, confidently sipping dries off the surface. Welcome to New Zealand — take two! We pressed on to our fishing spot, where after a dramatic fight amongst the sticks, I landed my first NZ trout — a gnarly looking 4 lb rainbow from a fast-flowing spring creek. Watching Lucas get into some solid browns and soaking-in all the valuable advice from Matt and Josh resulted in an epic first day of fishing. The next few days only got better, with more picturesque locations and even bigger fish. I had to keep pinching myself, finding it hard to believe I was fishing in NZ’s iconic backcountry. Typical shingle-bottomed, gin clear rivers set in dramatic valleys with mountainous backdrops — paradise. It felt like the presence of trout was only an added bonus! I had my shots at potential trophy trout, hooking into two very solid browns, but unfortunately dropping both. Landing multiple consolation fish and watching Lucas reign-in his backcountry PB at least partially made up for my previous heartbreaks. Being the patriotic Tasmanian that I am, part of me didn’t want the fishing in NZ to be too good, for fear of it outclassing what I had on offer at home. In the lead up to the trip, I talked to several Tasmanian anglers who all said the fishing in New Zealand wasn’t necessarily better than that in Tassie — just different. And that’s exactly what it was. The first thing I noticed was the difference between spotting fish in turbulent, fast-flowing water, as opposed to spotting them in ripples and waves like on my beloved Western Lakes. By no means am I a dry-fly purist but I certainly favour dries, so casting heavy tungsten-nymph rigs was also a new and humbling experience. The size and quality of the river fish was also impressive and something I’d only encountered in lakes back home. All in all, it was an incredible trip full of new and exciting experiences providing memories that will last a lifetime. A personal highlight was getting to know all the awesome guys who were involved with the trip, learning from them and forming great new friendships. The AFF Youth Academy is here to stay as an annual event. This season we’ll be taking on four young anglers: two from NZ and two from Australia. For full details and to complete the application visit aussieflyfisher.com — perhaps there is a young angler you know that might like to apply. Once again, a huge thanks to our generous sponsors of the program. And a special mention to Farm Club Australia for complimentary accommodation, as well as Matt Jones for guiding the boys in New Zealand. Our young anglers Tom and Lucas were given a lot through this Academy and it came with only one catch — to pass on what they’ve learnt. And so the investment of Ronny the Scotsman continues to be passed on.

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