Around a year ago, NZFN Editor Grant Dixon headed away to join a bunch of kids fishing on Kaipara Harbour.
These young anglers were from Parakai Primary School, a small school up near Helensville, and were 'graduates' of FANZ (Fishing Academy New Zealand), a concept implemented by one of its teachers, Cameron (Mr T) Tamatahi-Davies. FANZ is now into its second year and is proving a great success.
However, it wasn't always smooth sailing; with money being tight prior to its launch, Cameron needed help to make his idea a reality. Consequently, it was only when well-known Kiwi fishing-tackle manufacturer and distributor Composite Developments (CD Rods and Okuma) got on board that FANZ could get underway, thanks to sponsored clothing and the offer of very cheap fishing tackle.
Since that time, a dozen or so kids and Cameron have continued to voluntarily give up half an hour of their lunchtime each week to cover fishing-related topics, such as tying knots, making rigs, gutting fish and cooking the catch. In return, the 'graduates' are occasionally taken surfcasting and/or out on the Kaipara Harbour aboard the fishing party boat Serene for some practical experience.
While all this might not seem particularly momentous, I believe it is, being proof-positive that youngsters are keen to get into fishing, given half a chance. Sadly though, there are precious few people in a good position to do what Cameron has done, and even fewer with the inclination.
Out on the water
We boarded Serene at Shelly Beach Wharf. Built like a tank - albeit a very big, blue one - and with the west coast's harsh conditions etched throughout her length (despite her skipper John Freestone's extensive and continuing maintenance work), Serene's very much your typical 'party boat'. There are no thundering motors, nor any need to hang on tight - rather, Serene's steadily-chugging motors see her slipping through the water at a sedate pace that's perfect for getting your gear and bait ready, or simply yarning with your mates and enjoying the sights and sounds of the mighty Kaipara.
Along with excellent and very patient teacher, Cameron, and hugely experienced ex-commercial fisher turned charter skipper, John, we also had the services of two fantastic mums: Sharyon Hart and Julie Hampton.
These ladies are great examples of the community spirit so prevalent in the Parakai area. Quick to roll up their sleeves and get things done, such people are real assets to schools, communities and fishing trips alike.
Once we'd anchored up, it was fantastic to see these kids in action, baiting up, tying knots and operating their fishing tackle. I was impressed to note that there was only one overrun out of the 14 rigs that hit the water!
Better still, rods soon started loading up as some hard-fighting kahawai and the odd big gurnard found the kids' baits in the swiftly flowing current, resulting in some tough scraps and plenty of cheering.
And while we bigger folk did give a hand when necessary over the next few hours, most of the young anglers looked after themselves; it was great to see their confidence and competence grow throughout the session.
No doubt Cameron would have been very proud of his young charges and their new-found skills, especially as nearly all kept their lines in the water right to the end.
Perhaps best of all, despite our young anglers coming from a wide range of backgrounds and having very different personalities, fishing proved a great leveller, with everyone getting on famously throughout the long session. I can't remember the last time I saw so many truly happy grins and sparkling eyes on one boat.
Everyone left the boat in rainy darkness, chattering excitedly with their well-processed catch slung in bags over their backs, promising some good feeds in the near future. And isn't that what it's all about?
On a sombre note though, Cameron and his family have just headed off to Oman for at least two years, leaving what must be a gaping hole back at the school (with no disrespect intended to the teacher replacing him). People like Cameron only pop up rarely, but it is enthusiasm like his that can make such a big difference. Here at the magazine, we'd love to see more of this type of thing happening at other schools (nicely augmenting the very successful Hiwi the Kiwi programmes); that's how we can get young people interested in the outdoors and fishing, something that seems to be becoming a bigger and bigger challenge.
So good luck Cameron, but please come back - New Zealand is going to miss you!
Footnote: Good news! Apparently the owner of Kaipara Bait and Tackle, Jeremy Sutton, has expressed an interest in running a similar type of programme using his sources, so fingers crossed!
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