Last week I had the privilege of attending one of the Fly Fishing Australia (FFA) corporate weekends in Tasmania, staying at Peter Hayes’ place and fishing the rivers. The weekends are a fundraiser for the FFA team members to help cover their costs when competing in the forthcoming world championships in the USA in August. For us amateurs, it gives us a weekend of guided fishing with Australia’s best anglers. Tasmania’s rivers are in spectacular condition having just had a freshen up after a long, dry spell.
On the Friday Phil Thomas and I fished the Meander in an inch or two of rain and strong winds. Really tough going – in fact at my very first attempt to get into the river I was swept into a chute and went for a bit of a swim! Phil caught two on the nymph and I got one on the dry. For the whole day I think we only saw 3 or 4 rise between us and in the fast flowing water only the extreme edges and pocket water was fishable. In the afternoon the wind really got savage and at the point when half a tree came down about 100 yards upstream in the gale, we decided that enough was enough and called it stumps. Struggling to get back onto the bank, I had my flies in the water downstream of me when I felt a fish grab the trailing nymph and if I had my net with me it would have been a second fish for the day, albeit a very dodgy catch! Christopher Bassano explained to me later why you should never try to lift a fish out of the water just holding the line. Lesson learned!
Saturday’s weather was completely different. A lovely sunny day with little or no wind, and I went to the Mersey with Chris Bassano. An amazing day’s fishing and a real privilege to have Chris one-on-one for the whole day. The water we fished was incredible; lots of fish and a variety of conditions. I ended up with 12 browns from 1 to 2½ pounds – all on the nymph, as the fish were mainly feeding subsurface after the rain. Less impressively I missed 24 according to my guide’s useful tallying system. I learned so much. Chris is an excellent guide and he really gets you to concentrate on casting and fishing all the good water methodically. He doesn’t let you get away with bad habits (which in my case was not waiting long enough on the back cast and not having good enough contact when the flies hit the water). A highlight was the last cast of the day. At the top of some rapids I hooked a lovely 2½ pound brown which took me 100 metres downstream in turbulent water. It was a great fish and landing it was a real achievement. Despite cold conditions up top, others on the trip enjoyed success on Penstock. The South Esk River also fished well.
On the Sunday I was lucky enough to fish with Jon Stagg on the St Patricks River. Another lovely autumn day with the river running with colour after the rain and full of hungry fish. One of the other guests, Rob, fished with FFA team member, Lubin on the St Pat’s and had a field day catching 16 on the nymph and dry. He had a smile from ear to ear when he returned to the car. Up until lunch I’d caught 7, all on the nymph, and in the two hours after lunch I added another 12 – half on the nymph and half on the dry. It was an absolutely magic afternoon and despite having had the kinks ironed out by Chris the previous day it was great having Jon Stagg there to remind me to allow more time on the back cast and hit the right spots so as not to miss any of the good water. A real highlight was after a long drift near an overhanging bank, having a lovely big brown audibly slurp down the dry right next to us. The fish in the St Pat’s were smaller than on the Mersey but still ranged from ¾ to 1½ pounds so lovely river fish with plenty of go in them. The others all fished the Mersey and also had a great time; everyone caught fish.
The FFA corporate weekends are an invaluable opportunity to fish some great locations with expert anglers at the top of their sport, and they do wonders for your casting and river fishing technique. If you’re interested in participating in the next one in NSW, contact the team manager Mischa Berndtsson on 0423 008 475. I have no doubt that the Australian team with Christopher Bassano, Jon Stagg and Joe Riley at the helm will do Australia proud in the USA and from all the guests on the FFA weekend, we wish them well.