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TROUT FISHING WITH MAURICE RODWAY - Weekly Column: October 25, 2002
Southland, New Zealand

Willow Trees

Willow trees are both a curse and a saviour for anglers, and others whose lives are effected by rivers. The crack willow is an introduced tree that grows aggressively and as such is an effective foil against excessive bank erosion. They also grow tall and  solid providing shelter from the wind and the sun.

These characteristics are desirable in moderate doses but willow trees eventually get too big. They dominate the riverscape. They must at some stage be cut back to let life and form back into the river. Willow roots enfold the bed of the river and their branches lock out the sun. Where this occurs in parts, perhaps up to a quarter of the river's banks and bed there are many benefits. Where the willow seizes more than this the good is lost.

There are many places in the region where willows need to be restrained. Unfortunately this control brings with it a rearrangement of the banks and a muddying of the water. Rivers crowded with willows have to be opened up with heavy machinery or sprays. Neither of these weapons live happily on the river's shore, which is a place where we like to walk and find peace and quietness. 

When such activities are going on it is better we are not there. Diggers and dirty water make anglers mad. Especially if they are encountered at the end of a long journey full of hope.

Fortunately there are other places for us to fish in and if anglers return after a week or two the river doesn't look too bad. Usually it is not until a growing season has passed that the scars are healed. Once this has happened access to the river is better and, depending on the type of stream, trout habitat is still there and so are the trout. Streams with rocky beds recover quickest, but gravel bed streams take longer.

Most of the willows of the upper Mataura were removed nearly 20 years ago, and there were raw banks there for several years afterwards. However, now anglers flock there and all agree it is a magnificent fishery. Conversely willow removal work on the Otapiri takes less than a season to recover.  

We still have many rivers where willows are not found and it is best that these are kept willow free. The upper Oreti and upper Mararoa, two of our finest rivers have been kept clear of this plant which is both an ally and an enemy. To retain their world class fisheries this state needs to remain.

Maurice Rodway
Southland, New Zealand                           E-mail:

Article © 2002 Maurice Rodway, All Rights Reserved.


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