Blake Mycoskie is an avid fly fisherman, philanthropist and the founder of Toms Shoes, which donates one pair of shoes to someone in need for every pair it sells. Earlier this year, Mycoskie and his fly-fishing wife, Heather, fished out of the Poronui Ranch on New Zealand’s North Island, along with noted angling photographer R. Valentine Atkinson, who took the photos shown here.
The full story of their trip appears in the Summer issue of Anglers Journal. These excerpts are in Blake’s words with the exception of the section in which Heather describes her big rainbow.
New Zealand was a lot more rugged than we expected. We hiked through gorges and passes, and there were moments when it was almost full-on rock climbing, which was a great part of the adventure.
The fishing is tough. You’re not going to go out and have 20-fish days. You catch two or three great fish in a day, and you’re super-happy. That makes it special. You’re taking turns going after a fish. It’s all sight casting, and they’re all bigger fish than you’ve ever caught in your life. You get literally one, maybe two casts at a fish, and that was it. That made it really hard when you had one on and ended up losing it, which happens a lot, too, because of the rocks and boulders and all the stuff they can take you around running down the river. So when you actually got one in the net, it was a real celebration.
The one fish I really wanted to catch was in one of those dead-calm pools, which were almost impossible to catch. The water was barely moving. It was gin-clear. They saw you; you saw them. You just never had a chance. There were two of them in this pool. And the nice thing was they were feeding and facing upstream. The guide said, “You have to make a perfect cast.” And it’s either going to hit or it’s going to spook. And the fish just came up super-slow — big rainbow — and just gulped it. I set the hook, and the fish went crazy, shooting off in all directions and jumping like crazy. That was the fish I was most proud of, and it was definitely the most technical fish I’ve ever caught. You got one cast.
It was the biggest trout I ever caught. I remember exactly how it happened, where we were standing, the setting, the trees. The fish was in a riffle behind a small boulder. It happened quickly. I cast, set the hook, and the fish immediately ran downriver fairly fast. And I had to walk and run after it, and the guide was holding on to me so that I wouldn’t fall. I finally got the fish to a place where the river leveled out and wasn’t running as fast. And I was able to fight and play him before I brought him in. It was exhilarating. It was a 5-pound rainbow [maybe 6 pounds]. It was the first fish that I hooked [in New Zealand] and landed. Amazing.
We get to go to some amazing places, and we’ve caught some amazing fish, but as my dad always says, it’s the journey, not the destination, that makes life great.
And I think the same thing applies to fishing. It’s not holding up a 5-pound rainbow in New Zealand that I remember most from that trip. It’s climbing the boulders and having the helicopter land in a tiny ravine and having a lunch with my wife on the river and talking about how lucky we are to have a healthy son. Those are the memories I have more than the pictures with big fish. I’ve really begun to see how fly-fishing over the last 20 years has helped me be more present in my family, my work and more mindful in my life.
It’s like Heather says, fly-fishing provides that meditative, single-point concentration that a lot of Eastern philosophies talk about. Almost like a Zen feeling. But it also gives you a great backdrop to have casual conversations with friends, partners or spouses about a lot of things in life that sometimes you don’t take the time to appreciate. There’s no technology interrupting you, no one calling, no one e-mailing. Fly-fishing gives us the time to appreciate one another and our lives.