Building the Stoke in New Zealand – an Interview with Guide Alex Waller

When I moved to New Zealand about two years ago my first google search for fly fishing led me to the YouTube page #trippinontrout. The dude whose face I saw looking back at me was Alex Waller. “Friends, buddies…pals,” his videos began. The footage of him slayin’ it and catching browns and rainbows was enough to make me plan my weekends around rivers. I had become obsessed again. I knew nothing about fly fishing so I googled, watched his vids on setting up rigs, tying your own leaders, handling fish. I didn’t understand most of it yet, but one has to begin somewhere.

Recently, I traveled to the center of New Zealand’s North Island to take photos of how he fishes the iconic Tongariro River. It suddenly dawned on me why I began being an observer of my own adventures. I had missed the stoke that a climbing, running, and now, a fly fishing buddy brings. Someone who is amped: amped because it’s bloody cold and you are freezing your ass off but despite that, you are still out there, someone who is amped you are pushing your limits physically and mentally, that the nymph rig you set up eventually worked, amped that you got that fish or amped that you missed ten but you are trying again. Amped that you caught a sweet rainbow and even more amped that you released it. Someone who means it when they fist bump you. Someone who is stoked; stoked on their own, who is stoked with you and stoked for you, and stoked to pull a mission into the rivers and mountains whenever they can. My stoke is back thanks to Alex.

I sat down with Alex for what the Kiwi’s call a ‘yarn’.

Photo: Gerhard Uys

Gerhard: Who is Alex Waller?

Alex: I’m nobody. I’m a trout bum. I’m a fly fishing bum. All I want to do is fish.

Photo: Gerhard Uys

Gerhard: Why fly fishing?

Alex: Mmmmm, with fly fishing you make fishing as difficult as you can for yourself. I really like that. And then there’s the sight fishing element which is often there. It’s a challenge. I am originally from the UK. From about the age of six I was catching baitfish. When I was eleven my granddads’ friend took him to a local reservoir to fly fish, and he came back psyched. We went to a local store, bought a rod, and basically figured it out ourselves. We fished small lakes and reservoirs. In those days only the affluent had access to rivers which was mostly on private land. We fished for stocked fish. You’d go to a vending machine with a hand full of coins and buy a ticket to catch four or six fish. When you caught your limit you had to go home or buy another ticket as there was no catch-and-release. You had to kill all the fish. This influenced how I see catch and release in a major way. I have no problem with someone taking fish from rivers where it is sustainable, but there is no justification for taking trout from backcountry rivers in the New Zealand North Island, the ecosystems are just too sensitive. When I was last in the UK the stocked vibe was still huge. You can go to trophy lakes and pay 50 pounds for a trout weighing 15 pounds.

Photo: Gerhard Uys

Gerhard: You moved to New Zealand early 2000’s?

Alex: I didn’t know how to fish a river until 2003 when I tried it in New Zealand. I was a skydiver at that stage and took people for tandem jumps at the Taupo dropzone. A glorified meat wagon! When I caught my first trout in a river I didn’t have a clue what I had done to get the eat. I would go and ask people for advice. But mostly I would just stand back and watch people and see what they did and then go and spend time on the water. I am out on the water a lot now. If I am not guiding I spend a day fishing for myself at least once a week.

Photo: Gerhard Uys

Gerhard: How did you become a full-time guide?

Alex: When I stopped skydiving I realized everything I learned had zero transferable skills into the ‘real’ world. But I was lucky as I owed Matt Pate from the local fly shop Taupo Rod and Tackle money. He would phone me when people needed a guide and that way I could pay off my bills. But what happened is I ended up just spending the money at the shop again! I still owe him money! I am now a full-time guide with winter personal training taking a backseat to guiding. I used to get old blokes from the USA and England and Australia, but it seems with the YouTube channel I am getting more and more younger guys in their late 30’s or early forties who have saved up and want to come fish for a month. The younger guys have a cool energy and vibe.

Gerhard:  Is there one fish you won’t forget?

Alex: There is a big King Fish I caught with Paul Mills from “revoflyfish a few years ago (He had started a King Fish tagging program in New Zealand). We had a good day fishing but then I caught a 20kg (44 pound) King Fish.

Photo by Paul Mills @revoflyfish

Gerhard: How did you get started on the Trippin on Trout channel?

Alex: I began in about early 2019 with just a GoPro. I was doing a lot of filming for my buddy Gareth Bailes who runs the channel TrounthuntingNZ. We fished together for like 8 years before he began making videos. I grabbed a camera and filmed for him. I then bought a camera to shoot stills. From the skydiving days, I always enjoyed the editing process, which we did a lot of for clients. I began my channel and put it out there and didn’t think anyone would watch it. I still wonder if people will watch something every time I post a new video.

I use Olympus mirrorless EM5 markII, two GoPros and a drone. I spend most of the time fishing and the GoPro helps as you can fish and all the action is captured. As far as B roll goes I am very lazy. Depending on day and mood it can go from none to a lot. The drone stays in my backpack a lot. I have an external mic on top of the camera and it works for what I do. And then I use a lapel mic indoors.

Gerhard: What keeps you motivated to do videos?

Alex: I enjoy it, the editing process, and the videos. Sometimes it’s a chore. Especially on late nights when you haven’t started and you have to post in a few days but you guided all day and you need to guide the next day, then I’m not motivated. But I made a decision to post once a week so I have to try it.

Photo by Eugene Pawlowski @genefly80

Gerhard: Can you tell us about guiding in Bolivia?

Alex: The fishing was awesome and Bolivia was cool, the best part about guiding there was the friendships I made with the local Tsimane guys. That was the best, those guys are awesome, and I miss them every day. Hahaha, at least in New Zealand there aren’t as many things trying to kill you in the wild. And man, Dorado are badass, they are swimming dinosaurs, they are clever, aggressive, arrogant, explosive, the eats are out of this world, they jump and they are super cool to look at.

Photo: Gerhard Uys

Gerhard: Where should one go fishing in New Zealand?

Alex: You have to make it to the South Island ‘cause it’s epic, but you cannot give the North Island a miss. Taupo in the North is cool because it’s the hub of fly fishing in the North Island. If you are there to fish and haven’t fished in NZ before you have to get a guide, because it’s different fishing here than anywhere else in the world. Don’t try and spread yourself too thin and visit too many places, otherwise, you won’t actually see anything. Go to fewer places and spend as much time there as possible.

Be sure to check out Gerhard Uys on Instagram @lets_hope_the_weather_holds and follow along with Alex on his YouTube channel here.

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