While the Gore District certainly has its fair share of iconic large statues, one that can’t be missed is the large brown trout – all 1.5 tonnes and nine metres of it.
Considering Gore is the World Capital of Brown Trout Fishing it is only fitting this is the sight greeting visitors on their arrival into town.
Since its official unveiling by Sir Bob Jones on 18 February 1989, the trout has become one of New Zealand’s iconic statues and one of the most photographed features in Southland.
History in the making
How did a giant trout end up in the middle of Gore? The story goes a little something like this.
When the Gore Lions Club was looking for a 25th anniversary project, convenor David Ogg’s solution was to build the world’s largest brown trout. The waters of the Mataura River were well known as a trout fishing purist’s dream, so why not have a statue proclaiming Gore as the brown trout fishing capital of the world?
The late 1980s were tough times, when economically, families were struggling and pondering leaving the land they had worked for generations.
The giant trout was seen as a reminder for all of the natural assets the area offered, to be a catalyst for jobs and something for the town to celebrate.
The idea wasn’t an immediate hit, but once enough people were ‘hooked’, local fishing guide Bert Harvey went in search of the ideal specimen. He caught a dozen or so brown trout before landing the perfect catch. Photos and measurements were taken, then the fish was frozen, striking the pose of a trout leaping for mayfly.
Local artist Erroll Allison is credited as the man behind the fish, involved in every stage from designing the statue, moulding the original from the frozen trout, making the scale model, and adding the finishing touches.
To make the statue Errol and Barry Scott, of Scott Engineering, scaled up the model 20 times its original size. The body was cut into 15 segments, each containing an enlarged steel ring. The rings were then welded to one another with a whopping 1000 steel rods to make the profile of the trout.
Windbreak cloth and chicken mesh were applied before the frame was foam sprayed. Errol’s talents came to the fore once again as he carved and moulded the fish, ensuring the right curves for the body, before a fibreglass spray was used to toughen the exterior and create a base for the final colouring and painting.
Making an eye for the giant fish was also no easy task. Firstly, Errol was adamant the black of the fish’s eyes had to sit slightly off centre, as otherwise it would look lifeless.
The eyes were made by local plasterers A G Duncan. Each eye took six hours and would you believe a wok was used to create the right size and shape!
The battle for the world title
As locals celebrated the unveiling of the trout, Gore's claim as the World Capital of Brown Trout Fishing had started a fierce debate.
Passionate anglers from the Central North Island town of Turangi staunchly believed their town was in fact the brown trout fishing capital of the world. In a bid to prove Gore was once and for all the titleholder, a ‘fish-off’ was held.
The first leg of the fish-off involved four Gore anglers fishing the Mataura, under the scrutiny of their Turangi counterparts, for a day. The second leg saw Turangi’s anglers fish their rivers under the scrutiny of the Gore team.
The winner would be the team with the most fish.
After both legs, each team had caught 18 fish. The catch? All but one of the fish caught in Turangi were rainbow trout, while all caught in the Mataura were, in fact brown trout (as expected!).
The title has proudly remained Gore’s to this day.
Since it’s unveiling, the trout has had one short holiday. In 2005 it was taken down and given a spruce up to ensure its longevity. Sixteen years of bird droppings had scoured the laminated fibreglass and one eye was destroyed.
Love it or hate it, the giant brown trout is still going strong, alongside its counterparts, the giant guitar, the large Romney sheep and other statues that can be found in this great country town.