8 Nov 2023

Dame Lynda Topp fronts new campaign to promote fly fishing

8:57 pm on 8 November 2023

The Rewild campaign aims to increase awareness about the conservation, food-gathering, mental health and wellbeing benefits of hunting and fishing experiences. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Dame Lynda Topp got into fishing late in the game - on her 50th birthday - and has been hooked ever since she caught her first trout in Murchison.

"For my birthday, friend of mine bought me a fly tying kit. I'd never been fishing," she said.

"I had a go at tying four of them. I've still got those four, the first ones I tied. They're really bad, really really bad."

Fish and Game has enlisted the help of the Kiwi comedy legend to encourage New Zealanders to get stuck into the outdoors.

The Rewild campaign aims to increase awareness about the conservation, food-gathering, mental health and wellbeing benefits of hunting and fishing experiences.

It was launched at Christchurch's Lake Rua on Wednesday by chief executive Corina Jordan and keen fly fisher Dame Lynda.

It was not until a few years after getting the kit that Dame Lynda took her first casting lesson while in the US.

"Then I came home, promptly forgot about it, and then probably about a year later, the casting instructor rang me and said, 'I'm coming to New Zealand with a whole lot of women from America. Can you organise a fly fishing trip?'

"Well I didn't know anything about it! So I had to thrust myself into how to organise a fly fishing trip - and it wasn't just an ordinary trip, they were coming for 31 days."

They began in Turangi, fished the Tongariro and went all the way down to Te Anau.

"It was in Murchison I caught my first trout, and I was hooked," she said.

Her best moment was the first fish she caught using a fly she had made - partly from her sister's hair.

"I used some of it as the indicator on top of the fly, because her hair was blonde, chemo blonde. Those things are special. The first fish that I caught with my fly had a little bit of Jools in it," Dame Lynda said.

Lynda Topp

Dame Lynda Topp. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Yet she claimed to have never tasted any of her catches.

"I practise catch and release, so all my trout go back into the river. I've never eaten a trout. It's become more and more about just getting out there and enjoying the outdoors.

"And it's become even more important since the breast cancer diagnosis [in 2020]. It just makes you forget about all those things. It makes you feel good when you're out standing in a river.

"It doesn't matter if you don't catch a fish."

Conservation went hand-in-hand with hunting and fishing, Dame Lynda said.

"It's about figuring out where to wade across the river, how clear the water is, is the water looking good - you start to become involved in your environment. That's one of the big things I love about it now.

"I've got two little granddaughters - two and five - and we need this to still be going in hundreds of years, when I'm gone."

Not only was it about protecting and improving natural environments, but also human connection, Jordan said.

Corina Jordan

Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

"Fishing and hunting are great for physical and mental wellbeing. You can't focus on problems when you are focused on a trout at the end of your line.

"They're also great ways to connect with whānau and friends, to teach children skills, instil a desire to protect the environment and help them learn independence."

Jordan encouraged people to get out and have a go, to reach out to a local outdoors or hunting group or Fish & Game if they were unsure where to start.

Dame Lynda also offered a few tips for landing a good catch.

"Technically, you've got to have a good cast. But patience and perseverance are also two skills that you need."

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