A big part of enjoying Tasmania’s wild trout fishery is having realistic expectations of your abilities – and of the fishery itself, writes Peter.
As a totally obsessed flyfisher who’s fished all over the globe for decades, I know the difference between really hard flyfishing and really easy flyfishing when I see it. Now, ‘it depends’, but as a generalisation, I can confidently state that Tasmania can be one of the most difficult fisheries in the world. If you can regularly catch trout in Tasmania, particularly our wild lake trout, then you would be able to hold your own on any trout fishery on the planet.
This fact is at the forefront of my mind at the moment, because I recently guided two very different anglers. In some ways they were similar, and yet they had quite different expectations, and quite different abilities.
These guys are probably like many of you reading this right now. They’ve each been flyfishing for about 10 years, although they can’t remember exactly when their last trip was. Even so, on the evening before our first day out, they told me they usually have one big trip away a year. They fished once several years ago with a guide in New Zealand, where they caught a few on the Mataura River. On another river without a name, one of them caught a monster which the guide said was 8 pounds. However, they can’t recall the fly or what the leader details were because, “The guide took care of that kind of stuff.”
They have been so looking forward to fishing in Tasmania where the hatches are prolific, and trout are large and wild. They’ve heard about polaroiding where you can wade and see all the fish swimming around you before you cast a dry fly to them. They definitely want to do that this week. They’ve read articles in the magazines about wind-lane fishing where you can catch 20 in a morning – also on dries – so they certainly want to try that on at least one day. Oh yes, the tailing fishing… we want to do that too, can we do that a few times? We hear the fish are really big and they swim in inches of water and fight like crazy.
Then I hear, “So, Peter, how many do you think we’ll catch tomorrow?” and the alarm bells start ringing.
Anyway, in an effort to help the occasional Tasmania visitor enjoy better outcomes when they do get the chance to fish here, I would like to introduce you to our two anglers in more detail.
Firstly, let me tell you a little about the personality of Mr Expectations. Oh, and by the way, his first name is High.
This guy fancies himself a little. I think that’s why flyfishing appeals to him in the first place. It’s the sort of pastime that sounds flash when you mention it at a dinner party or a work function. There’s a certain mystique about it and Expectations loves to let you know how complicated it all is. You could almost bet that the latest and greatest mobile phone comes out whenever the chance arises, and there will be photos of the trophies that were caught on previous trips.
Mr Expectations talks too much. He is a big noter and he lets other anglers around him know how good he is at catching lots of large fish. When I ask High when he last practiced his casting, he says he has not cast since his trip to New Zealand a year ago. High Expectations has been too busy at work and this was his last big trip. That’s why he’s researched on the internet and booked this week with me. I ask him why me and he says, “You must be good because the pictures of your clients with monster trophy trout on your website tell a thousand words.” This is clearly a mistake that guides the world over make. Maybe it’s me who’s the idiot here!
I’m starting to dislike this guy and I’m wondering if I will be able to find a big, dumb, easy fish for him so I can go home early tonight.
I am immediately impressed with the attitude of Mr Reality: he’s a glass half full kind of guy. From the questions he asks me, it’s clear he is forever the student – and, I suspect, not just on flyfishing matters.
When I write out his fishing licence, he tells me his first name is Stark. Stark says that flyfishing is something he wants to get better at. Despite taking it up many years ago, he admits he’s still really a novice. He has had some casting lessons and he practices as often as he can, because he knows it will make a big difference to his enjoyment of the sport and of course his success catching fish. This guy has an eye for what we are doing; he’s clearly an observer. He’s watching my every move and asking questions about why I do things a certain way. I click with this humble, intelligent guy and I really feel like I want to deliver today.
Back to High Expectations, and it’s obvious he’s been on a very good paddock lately. He tells me his work necessitates having long client lunches. High acknowledges he is somewhat overweight and does puff a bit these days, but he tells me he used to play rugby at university. Apparently, the glasses he wears are for distance and he assures me his close vision is superb. I ask if his polaroids are prescription and he says he can’t see the benefit of spending $700 on glasses he will use just once or twice a year… so no, they aren’t.
Meanwhile, Stark was puffing a little when I arrived at the lodge to pick him up this morning. He said his stretches took him longer to do this morning after his regular walk. As he gets older, he sees his fitness level as being important, so he walks regularly and works on his core strength and balance as much as he can.
When I look at High Expectations’ gear, it’s the latest design and the best quality. The rod is worth more than $1000 and a super smooth, very expensive large arbour reel shines at the end of it. However, he has actually put the left-hand wind reel on right-handed, and he’s not yet worked out that he will therefore need to wind backwards. (Once or twice a year I will find an angler like High who has a weight-forward line on backwards and doesn’t know it.) I would almost bet that if High threaded his rod he would miss a runner, creating hours of frustrating fishing before he noticed the problem.
There are boxes of flies in a vest that looks like it’s never been out of the wardrobe. When I ask to look in the dry fly box, High can’t remember which pocket it’s in. After two attempts, I’ve been shown streamers that look like they’re meant for Patagonia and nymphs that look as if they won’t sink.
Stark has a more humble outfit to match his style. He has researched this sport a little by seeking out respected professionals and actually listening to them. I remember when Stark first emailed me and asked what rod would suit him best. I said ‘it depends’ and he might be wiser to spend less on the brand but own two different length rods – one for smaller creeks and one for bigger lakes and rivers.
I have no idea how Stark found out how to glue leaders into flylines, but his connection is perfect and get this… he has a tippet ring on the end of his leader. (I suspect many readers have no idea what a tippet ring is.) I asked what tippet was on the end and Stark replied that it could be fluorocarbon from when he was nymphing on the Mitta. He offered that he could easily replace it with copolymer if we intended to fish dries.
I asked Stark if he had polaroids and he showed me some amber ones. I checked them against mine by turning them through 90 degrees while looking through them and they totally blacked out, so they were good. Although I supply all the flies when I guide, I suggested Stark bring his so we could look at them at lunchtime, thinking I might be able to help him catch more fish when he isn’t being guided.
I ask High and Stark to cast in the lodge carpark before we head out to fish. I really need to do this with new clients especially, to understand what they are capable of – and therefore to match their skill level to the type of fishing that’s available on any given day.
High looks resplendent in his full-length Simms waders and gorgeous vest as he walks toward me. His bandana colour compliments his pastel shirt. He wears a Lefty Kreh-style hat that has no chin strap. Stark walks beside him without any waders or vest. He has a rod tube in one hand and a dry bag in the other. There is a wide-brimmed hat on his head, with a chin strap so it won’t blow off in the boat. (High thinks Stark doesn’t own any waders. What he doesn’t realise is that Stark asked me the previous evening if waders were needed? I said maybe not, but that I’d let him know in the morning.)
I ask the guys to cast at some rocks in the carpark and as I suspected, Stark handles the task quite well: into, with and across the wind. His line management skills are okay for a novice and he soon grasps the concept of casting over the opposite shoulder. A fast learner starts by being a good listener. Stark is good at casting quickly without false casts and he’s accurate at the 20 – 40 feet. He can also unroll a very narrow loop at 20 feet, which would be handy if we were going stream fishing. I congratulate Stark on how well he is going, given he only rang me a month earlier to enquire about what sort of casting drills he should practice before we went fishing.
High didn’t get any of what Stark and I were up to. He was too busy doing his hundredth false cast down the wind. He puffed out his chest as a tailing loop crashed to the ground some 70 feet away. He continued casting after that, not knowing that the whistling sound was coming from his hopelessly tangled leader. It was going to be a long day.
I won’t tell you where Stark, High and I ended up going and how we fished – that would be giving a little too much away! But these are some of the options I considered before I picked them up.
If it was a sunny summer’s day with a decent wind from the north, I could put the boat on Great Lake and look for ‘sharks’ – trout that show up like whopping big sharks in the waves. To be successful at sharking, you first need to have good balance in a wildly rocking boat. You also need good polaroiding skills, and you need a nice quick cast at moderate distances and at any wind angle – unfortunately I cannot make the fish appear downwind every time!
To find decent shark fishing, you need long periods when there is food on the surface. Therefore, early in the season it’s unlikely to happen and it can taper off late in the season too. A good day might yield the average visiting angler two fish. I know a highly skilled local who specialises in this type of fishing and his all-time daily record is 38 trout landed.
This type of fishing is not really an option early in the season or if the day is cloudy or windless. However, on a bright sunny day in the summer months, I could think of nothing better than to go wade polaroiding. This would involve walking across reasonably flat ground for 30 minutes or more, and then wading a very boggy lake bed. As a result, it can prove quite a tiring way to fish, and so unless the angler has good fitness and mobility, we can’t do this.
In any case, if you have trouble seeing the fish, and many anglers do, then the chances of success are really limited anyway. Also, if you have difficulty casting short distances accurately either into or across the wind, it’s unlikely you will catch many. A reasonable wade polaroiding expectation would be a fish per day for a visiting angler and the average size might be something in the order of 2½ pounds. However, a client once caught 24 in a day, and another client once caught a fish well in excess of 10 pounds – and on a dry.
If it was a calm morning and the early season water levels were suitable, we might have the opportunity to chase tailing fish in the shallow margins of the lakes. This is some of the most exciting trout fishing you will ever do. A dead calm morning is necessary and high water levels are preferable. It helps if you can cast well from a kneeling position – too many fish get spooked if you can’t. If you have 4 weight instead of a 7 weight, you are more likely to catch fish. If you can cast very gently with a long leader you will do well. You need a high level of accuracy too.
I hate to say it, but the average visiting angler is not likely to be successful at this type of fishing. The chances of getting the right conditions aren’t great and the skill level required is mostly beyond the typical flyfisher.
Early morning wind-lanes
For the best of this, we need very calm mornings following a night of midge hatchings. No one can guarantee this – ever. A visiting angler may never see it in years of coming to Tasmania. Local anglers get a dozen or so mornings a season at best. Long casts are paramount, accuracy is important, and the ability to turn over a long leader is essential. And although I think the rises are easy to see, many anglers find it difficult to spot them.
I remember a morning at Lake Burbury when my clients had 7 takes for 2 fish. I thought this was pretty good fishing. The same morning, a world-class local angler who specialises in wind-lane fishing, caught 57 trout!
If you have felt soles and maybe a wading staff, you’ll be more comfortable and feel safer on the creeks. If your rod is shorter and lighter in weight, you are likely to be able to make more casts to fish than if you have a longer rod. If you can unroll narrow loops and you are good at backhand and forehand roll casts and bow-and-arrow casts, you are probably in for an awesome day on the small creeks. You might even catch a cricket score of brightly spotted little fish that rise eagerly to your dry fly. However, spend your day stuck up trees or stumbling through the pools, and you could quite easily get skunked.
Some of these rivers are difficult to wade and some are very overgrown with willows, making the casting difficult. Some rivers tend to fish well early and late in the season. ‘It depends’ so much on what is happening but you can expect the average angler to often have modest success on this sort of water if it is not too overgrown.
The Bottom Line
Where does all this leave High Expectations and Stark Reality? I’ll tell you what, the old adage that 90% of the fish are caught by 10% of the fishers is true. I actually think that 10% of anglers have 90% of the skills and if you are more skilled, you are likely to be able to make a better job of any given situation.
The fact is that wild Tasmanian brown trout are difficult to catch. Like any wild animal, they are acutely aware of their environment and easily spooked. Our rivers are often heavily willow-lined. Our lakes see an average wind strength of 15 knots. The wading in the rivers is often tricky and difficult and if you are not fit and nimble, it can be a nightmare. The wading in lakes is often heavy going.
Last but not least, much of the iconic Tasmanian trout fishing is based on lakes. Trout rarely sit still and if it takes a couple of false casts to deliver the fly, you have probably just cast to a spot where the fish isn’t.
Come to Tasmania for as long a period as you can afford to, and as often as you can. Your opportunities can be directly related to the weather, and time spent in Tasmania simply increases your chances of striking the right conditions. Finally, don’t have too High Expectations and remember the Stark Reality of the actual fishing on offer here. Tasmanian fishing may be challenging, but in my opinion, it’s also amongst the best in the world.