Boat or bank?

Years ago, a family friend Noel purchased a decrepit old boat which he painstakingly restored. Though unfamiliar with watercraft, Noel was an old-time farmer who could build or mend anything. While the final product might not have made it into the pages of a JV Marine catalogue, it had a solid, practical look.

There’s something ominously final about being 15 km from the ramp on a lake you can probably see from space!

When Noel excitedly invited me out onto Lake Dartmouth for its maiden voyage, I was secretly reluctant to pass up even a few hours of the great fishing I’d been enjoying on the nearby Mitta Mitta River. But recognising the significance of the occasion, I put on my best fake smile and agreed. I wasn’t expecting a fishing trip, more a short cruise in the new boat. But as we disappeared into Dartmouth’s vastness, Noel cheerfully delivered the news that he’d received ‘a red-hot tip’ about where the Maccas were biting… and it was a spot about 15 kilometres away. As we chugged along amidst two-stroke fumes, and the boat ramp vanished in the distance, I realised I hadn’t really thought this through. My fly rod was back at Mitta Caravan Park and I was effectively going to be trapped in a cramped, uncomfortable space for several hours, with very little to do. (And no, Noel didn’t catch any Maccas.)

This incident was the beginning of my uneasy relationship with boat fishing; the fundamental issue being that, unless you’re boating solo – which, as I don’t own a boat, is hardly ever – you are at least partly at the mercy of where your companions want to go, and crucially, for as long as they want to go. That’s opposed to fishing from the shore with a mate or two: providing you abide by some basic agreements around meet-up times and roughly who fishes where (both topics for another time) you are free to wait out a fish, or a spot (or not); or to double back; to skip a stretch; and so on.

There’s an appealing independence about wandering a lake on foot.

But time, and the fact that several of my closest fishing friends own nice flyfishing boats, have gradually overcome the Dartmouth memories. I now recognise that boat fishing can be quite fun, even exhilarating when it all comes together. And there’s nothing like watching helplessly from the shore as a good trout rises merrily a hundred metres out, to help you come around to boat fishing.

A good boat with a good operator is something of a magic carpet ride.

Perhaps the best feature of a good flyfishing boat and skipper, is an electric motor and its seamless remote controls. Chasing a fish in tens of metres of water, or polaroiding a remote shore, or searching the best edges while being out from them and casting in, are all strong points in favour of boat fishing. It also doesn’t hurt that good food, a drink and a comfortable seat on site are just an arm’s length away – and you don’t have to carry any of them!

On Bellfield the other day. This smelting rainbow was caught thanks largely due to Mark’s expert maneuvering of the boat.

In the last week or so, I’ve had some enjoyable boat sessions with JD on the waters around Inverloch, and with my brother Mark on the Grampians lakes. Both are very competent operators with ‘just right’ boats. Often, it almost feels like you’re willing the boat to a certain spot at a certain speed, but of course that’s just JD or Mark operating behind the scenes, so to speak. Bliss!

One from the bank for JD – even the best boat operators aren’t averse to a spot of fishing on foot.

Even on these successful boating days though, I still like to get out for a bit and fish on foot. You could argue that on both recent trips, there wasn’t much I could achieve fishing from the bank that couldn’t be achieved from a boat – in fact the reverse was probably true. Still, there’s something about bank and wade fishing that you can’t replicate in a boat. And perhaps I need to get out every so often, just to remind myself I’m not trapped in the middle of Lake Dartmouth.