More than just a fishing competition - it's an Institution
After the first successful release of trout in New Zealand to the Waitati Stream on 14 April 1869, the trout population steadily increased and ultimately on 8 October 1874 The Otago Acclimatisation Society moved to request that the Provincial Government declare the months of December, January and February an open season for river trout fishing.
An Order in council signed by Mr James Macandrew, then Superintendent of the Province of Otago, declaring the streams in which trout had been liberated in1869 and 1870 open for fishing with rod and line.
On the first day of the season on 1 December 1874, Mr A. C. Begg of Dunedin landed from The Water of Leith, the first trout to be caught on rod and line in New Zealand.
Trout Fishing in New Zealand was born but alas, so was poaching.
Poaching became so rife that in November1880 a group of gentlemen called a special meeting to form an angling club. The intentions were to act as lookouts for poachers while fishing in the streams of Otago. The meeting was rather boisterous and loud and was adjourned with nothing definite done towards it’s formation. On 24 August 1881, a well-attended meeting of gentlemen interested in angling met in “The Athenaeum” for the purpose of forming an angler’ club. Mr. W. McLean was elected chairman and a committee of ten appointed to take preliminary steps for the formation of The Otago Anglers’ Association. At a subsequent meeting on 9 September 1881, Mr Pringle Stoddart was elected the first President of The Association and Mr W. R. McKenzie as Secretary, and the annual subscription was fixed at 10/- per annum. The aims and objects of the club were spelt out in the rules:
"The encouragement of the art of angling, the fostering of friendship, and emulation amongst anglers by means of fishing competitions and otherwise, and the obtaining of useful information regarding the various streams in the district".
Competitions were the focal point of angling in the early years. These events were a means where by anglers from all over the province could meet and discuss their sport. It must be remembered that the sport was rather elitist considering the cost of a license, entry fees and the subscription cost to the angling club.
With the advent of such competitions, the idea of an elite competition was formed - A prize for the best fly-fisherman.
There is some conjecture as to the age of the Waipahi Gold Medal Competition. The first concepts of The Gold Medal are recorded in The Otago Anglers' Association's Minutes of August 1882 some eleven months after the Association's conception. It was moved that the Association request that the Acclimatisation Society grant a prize for fishing. The Secretary was to write on behalf of the president.
At the September meeting of the Otago Acclimatisation Society it was recorded:
“The Society considered a request from the president of The Otago Anglers' Association, Mr.P. F. Stoddart for a prize for fishing. Decided to grant same to the amount of £6-00 (Six Pounds)”
Decisions on these type of requests from The Otago Anglers' Association were invariably granted due to the fact most of the councilors of the society were also executive members of The Otago Anglers' Association.
A special meeting was called by the Otago Acclimatisation Society on 22 September 1882 to clarify the prize and it was recorded that:
“In connection with the prize voted at the last meeting to The Otago Anglers' Association it was explained that the Society in granting the prize reserved the right to prescribe the conditions to be observed in competing for it.”
The prize of £6-00 (Six Pounds) was converted into a Gold Medal to be fished for on The Lee Stream. Hence the first indication of a Gold Medal competition
The Otago Witness records on 30 April 1883 that “The Otago Acclimatisation Society Gold Medal for Fly Fishing on The Lee Stream was won by Mr Sam Thompson.
Due to the popularity of this event a further application to the Acclimatisation Society by The Otago Anglers' Association for another prize was recorded at the Society’s meeting on 10 December 1883.
“On application of The Otago Anglers' Association it was resolved to offer a smaller gold medal to be competed for, the conditions to be set at a later date.”
The conditions were set and the smaller gold medal was won as recorded in The Otago Witness of 7 March 1884:
“The Society Gold Medal for fly fishing on The Shag River was won by Mr. James Wilkie.”
The introduction of the second gold medal was seen by some to diminish the value of both competitions and a resolution by The Acclimatisation Society saw the two gold medals combined into one medal of a significantly higher value. The Idea was to make the competition the pinnacle of the angling season. Debate continued as to the venue and a resolution was passed that the competition venue would be central to all - The Waipahi River.
The minutes of The Society on 13 October 1884 record that:
“It was resolved to give The Gold Medal for the heaviest “basket” of trout caught with artificial fly on The Waipahi River in November between the hours of 8a.m. and 6p.m. All other conditions to be left with The Otago Anglers' Association to fix.”
At this time the competition was only open to Otago Anglers' Association members. In 1886 a resolution was passed to open the competition to all Otago licence holders.
These basic rules are still in place today – 125 years later!
Since its inception, The Waipahi Gold Medal has attracted some of the best fly fishers in the country and is considered to be the top fly fishing competition of the year with no little prestige attached to its winning.
In 1983 the competition was more keenly contested than any other year; it was the centenary of The Gold Medal. 51 anglers fished with a total of 76 fish being caught. The winner of the Centennial Gold Medal was Jim Hobson with Lin Foster and John Dean second and third respectively.
After the centennial the bag limit was reduced to five fish to induce a better quality of fish to be weighed in.
Records of past Medal winners are a bit hazy in the early years but in the later years The Gold Medal has been won by a variety of entrants, urban and rural. The rivalry between “Town and Country” is intense but the camaraderie is unparalleled.