Wānaka Sun       

Fishing guide reinvents himself

Posted at 6:00am Thursday 01 Apr, 2021 | By Pat Deavoll editor@thewanakasun.co.nz

If anyone has been hit hard by the effects of Covid it's Wānaka hunting and fishing guides, who relied on overseas clients to maintain their businesses.

Fishing guide Matt Butler arrived in Wānaka from Cambridge six years ago to “really get into fishing.” Not long after arriving, he got work with Minaret Station as a fishing guide and soon moved out on his own. He has been an independent fishing guide for the last five years. That was until Covid struck.

“I had a livelihood that disappeared from under my feet. I lost 95 per cent of my business with Covid which was pretty indicative of what happened to the hunting and fishing guides in the district,” Butler said.

“I made a good livelihood up until Covid. I was guiding about 100 days a year charging $850 to $1000 a day. I only had to work for about six months of the year and then I would take the winter off and go overseas and fish and travel. Last year I was supposed to go to Cuba and Mexico for three months and fish but of course, that didn't happen.

“My clients were about 90 per cent Americans, 5 per cent Australians and the rest a mix from around the world. I only got about one Kiwi a year. I've only had five Kiwis this year so technically lost 95 per cent  of my clients.”

Fly fishing guiding is on par with hunting guiding, Butler says. Guide and clients go out and walk all day hunting for individual fish. They target them one on one. Butler did single days where he might go up the Makarora or do multiple day trips where he went down south with his clients and did a different river every day. It was very much an expedition, much like a hunting trip, he says.

“Come Covid, I had clients booked and as the season didn't finish until the end of May, I lost about 20 days in April. Luckily it happened at the end of the season whereas the hunting guys lost all their season because they were just starting. So I lost about 20 per cent of my days and then I got one round of the wage subsidy and that was it. I couldn't get another because I was in my offseason. I couldn't say I had lost income and that was annoying,” Butler says.

So what is Butler doing now, a year on from Covid? He has designed an outdoor “survival pack.”.  Where did this idea come from?

“I've always had to carry that stuff in my pack when I'm guiding,” he said.  “First aid kit, tools and a backup shelter just in case the shit hit the fan when I was out there. But honestly, I've never really taken what I should because it's just so cumbersome to pack it all. It's been a nightmare.

“So when lockdown happened I started to think how it could be done better. It was this time last year that I first drew down the idea and this past year I have been prototyping and testing it and getting it made. I have factories overseas in China and Thailand working on it and it's taken a year to get to this point.”

Butler developed an external case with four compartments – a tool kit, a first aid kit, a shelter and a water straw.  You can take out what you need when you need it, he says.

It's taken a lot of time to get the design right to make it all fit, look nice and be presentable, he says.

“I've had a graphic designer in Wanaka who has done all the branding work, and it's looking pretty good now.

“I'm targeting the mid-range outdoor enthusiast range- not the hardcore of course because they are all about reducing weight- so it's the mid-range to low range enthusiasts. The weekend warriors – hunting to fishing to tramping, even something you can keep in your car.

“The target market is the average outdoorsman who is not an ultra-high-end mountaineer. These are so professional in what they do they usually have everything sorted. Whereas most average people have a bit of an idea but they don't know what to take. Even though they know they should, they don't know what.”

Butler says he has even been thinking of targeting off-road motorcyclists or four-wheel drivers- just chuck it in and you've got everything you need to go.

The kit is launching on KickStarter in May. It cost a fair bit to make so I want to sell a few thousand to pay for the launch, Butler says.

“Fishing guiding? I've done five days over the summer- but the season is pretty much done now and it tapers off fast. I think I've retired from it now. It's going to take three or four years to come back and there are so many guys out there that have lost their work. If I can make this work for me I will just forward my fishing enquiries on to the other guides in Wānaka who are struggling.”

Read edition 1020 of the Wānaka Sun here.

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