Most dedicated fly anglers would (or should) know who Brian O’Keefe is, if not for his earlier photographic and fly fishing exploits then through the stunning imagery presented to us in Catch Magazine.
I’ve never met Brian personally, but would love to, you see, Brian has spent a huge amount of time adventuring in New Zealand - And a fair amount almost right in my back yard, Wanaka and around Te Anau.
Not only has Brian seen more of New Zealand than most New Zealanders ever will, he did it at a time when the country really was the fly anglers Eldorado. The early 70’s. A time long before adventure tourism, any sort of angling pressure, before Didymo, intensified farming and yes, even before fly fishing became ‘cool’
The kicker in all this is that Brian walked from the Bay of Islands in the far north down to the south side of Stewart Island - literally from one end of the country to the other. Only a handful of people in the world would have accomplished that feat - and even fewer 45 years ago. As the crow flies New Zealand is about 1600kms long, however the actual distance traveled from the Bay of Islands right down to the south side of Stewart Island is probably more like 3,000km.
Recently we were corresponding and Brian shared the beginnings of a couple of yarns (stories) and slipped in a couple of photographs that are too good not to share.
So with Brian’s permission here they are. I’d like to see and hear more - how about you?
"I do not have any new glass rods, but I have two old Fenwicks, both over 40 years old, that I still like to fish with. My trout rod went to NZ with me in 1973. I walked from the Bay of Islands to the south side of Stewart Island. 11 months of tramping around, river to river. Too many adventures to mention. Best experience of my life.I lived on trout, back then to keep a trout every three days was not a big deal and there was so little angling pressure that I only saw one other angler and that was at Lake Taupo, the rest was just me and my Fenwick. I'll drop in a couple photos from that trip.
"NZ dinner for 3 days" Trout and trusty glass Fenwick
The brown trout hanging from a stick is the Hawea. Back then, I do not recall any 'town' at Albert Town?
The Hawea River. Circa 1973
The Clutha was very good to me. One day a spark from my campfire landed on my sleeping bag and started a smokey fire and I kept that sleeping bag for another year, all patched up with duct tape and missing a lot of feathers. While staying at the Wanaka Youth Hostel, the warden was busted for pot and since I was staying there a long time, they asked me to be the warden. No pay, but a free place to sleep after fishing all day. One day, I hiked to a spot on Lake Matukituki and caught a rainbow of about 24 inches. As it fought a bunch of eels started following it. Then they caught it and more eels latched on. Soon, it was a ball of eels and they got my trout. Nasty.
Brian O'Keefe in front of the Routeburn Valley Bus, 1973. Now a world famous sightseeing location, hiking, helicopters, Orcs and Hobbits.
I hope your summer is going well. My Canadian friends who are in NZ now (not sure where) are having a lot of rain. That leads me to another story about Sir Edmund Hillary and I surviving 22 inches of rain in 24 hours on the Hollyford track. I'll tell the rest of the story after I buy a few beers for you and your crew in Albert Town.Brian O