The Trout Diaries is Derek Grzelewski’s first solo book. It is a simple concept. Join Derek, a self-confessed ‘trout bohemian’, as he travels New Zealand in his 4x4 camper with his faithful Airedale dog. Having already published several stories from Derek’s road trips, I thought I knew what to expect and could flick through the book to write a quick review. How wrong I was. I couldn’t put it down.
I really didn’t expect to have my heartstrings pulled, and knotted; to learn so much about New Zealand and its trout waters, and to meet so many fascinating characters along the way, mostly fly-fishing gypsies like the author. The book really does uphold the ‘get up and live’ edict inspired by a fellow traveller, diagnosed with a terminal illness, who chooses to fish out the season until his life ends.
If you think you don’t need to buy the book because you’ve read some of these stories in FlyLife (about Reefton, La Fontaine spring creek, the Rangitikei, Lake Otamangakau, and Haast, for instance), then think again. The book adds all the missing threads and connections that the magazine articles leave behind.
The Trout Diaries delivers a strong message about treading softly and caring—really caring—for rivers. It gives rich descriptions of the landscapes, the countryside, with explanations of settlement and history. But mostly it’s about people (dogs included)—the characters Derek befriends along the way. Seagull the ever-hungry farm boy from the Catlins; Grandpa Trout, the expert from France; Inky the stonefly expert; Gazza the outdoorsman; Smiley the Wyoming guide; and Henry Spencer, the inspiration for the book.
Others we have already met in FlyLife—Johnny Groome of Arnold River fame (he also illustrates the book), Marc Petitjean the CDC guru, and Michel Dedual the Taupo fisheries man. Among Derek’s ragtag regular fishing mates we meet local guides and former clients, now friends, from his tortured days as a fishing guide. Through these characters, other fishing stories are woven into the narrative: some shared, some borrowed. It adds a depth that I hadn’t expected.
My favourite month is April, my favourite story about a fishless day on the Moeraki, north of Haast; my favourite character an Austrian genius inspired by observations of trout in water. The trophies Derek gathers along the way are not mere fish but ‘sensory snapshots.’
Here is a sample of Derek’s thinking: 'In fly-fishing there are very few short cuts worth taking, and the beauty of our quest is that there are no lasting formulas, and all patterns eventually fall apart to be replaced by new ones, equally transient. All the science in the world cannot model the next day’s fishing or assure that the magic we seek will happen, for that comes in its own time, and all we can do is to be there, prepared, ready to receive it.’
If you are approaching retirement and wondering how to cope, if your health is poor and you need inspiration, if you are unemployed or down on your luck, if your wife has just left and a dog is your best friend, then have a good lie down and read this book.
The Trout Diaries will surely be a New Zealand fishing classic, if not an international one. And you don’t have to have fished NZ waters to enjoy it and appreciate its sentiments.
If I have read a better fishing book, I can’t remember it.
$39.95. Available from flylife.com.au or phone 0400 600 266