Years ago, I was fishing Somerset Dam in Queensland as a guest of John, a talented local flyfisher. Somerset is one of those lakes which looks somewhat like an Eildon or Tullaroop to a southerner like me: quite large, moderately clear, and with its many arms and inlets surrounded by partly-cleared hills. John was an acknowledged expert on Somerset’s bass, and it was exciting to board his boat and head out on an unknown water, chasing an unfamiliar species. As is always the case in these situations, I had no firm expectations, and quite enjoyed the idea that my opportunities were largely in the hands of someone else. (Although what I did with those opportunities would, quite rightly, be up to me.)  

While my host was sensibly restrained about promising too much, he couldn’t help but slip in lines like, ‘The bass here are pretty big, up to 4 pounds,’ and ‘They fight really hard, so be careful if you hook one.’ I, of course, heard ‘if’ as ‘when’.

One of the good things about being a trout guide, is our target species is nearly always catchable. That is, it is usually possible to persuade at least some trout to eat a fly. Their enthusiasm certainly varies, but days when they are completely shut down are rare. Not so with many native species, as I’ve come to realise. At the wrong time, fish like Murray cod, barra, golden perch and others can have the best fly twitched right past their face, and they’ll behave as if it’s not even there.

And on Somerset, it gradually became apparent that it was the wrong day. I can’t recall whether the lack of bass activity was put down to an unfavourable barometer, moon phase, temperature or some other mysterious force, but as we worked our way through a steadily diminishing range of John’s favourite spots, not a single bass was hooked.

A bit later, the sounder ‘blacked out’ over a school of bass 20 feet under the boat, which John estimated to contain literally thousands of fish. Fortunately, John had the sinking lines to effectively fish at that depth. With shaking hands, I cast out, counted down, and began pulling a Vampire fly through the vast school, bracing for the wrenching take of a big bass. But repeated casts from both of us brought no response. John shook his head and commented that the bass must have been literally parting like a Tour de France crowd to let the flies through.

Later in the day in another bay, I may have had a hit, and John eventually landed two superbly conditioned bass of 3 and 4 pounds. Having finally seen a couple of real live impoundment bass, and having witnessed their incredible fight, I fished with extra enthusiasm. But the next few hours were uneventful, and the light ran out at about the same time as our endurance.

I’m still at the point where every bass is precious!

After a session like that, the idea of successfully landing very large numbers of fish holds plenty of appeal, and it begs the question, how much is enough? In my case, it can be quite a lot! On a recent trip to the Glenelg River, JD and I stumbled upon a small bay which must have held a ridiculous number of estuary perch. For 90 minutes, it was virtually a hit a cast, and although our hook-up rate was considerably less, we both brought more EPs to the net than we could easily count. EPs and bass are closely related, and perhaps my need for ‘just one more cast’, long after I’d landed more EPs than I could reasonably hope for, was distantly linked to that Somerset experience so many years ago.  

How much is enough, may also be linked to the species in question. Fish like EPs can be prolific fly takers when you find them, and/ or they’re in the mood to eat. But they can also go missing, to the point where you start to wonder if there are any present at all. When they’re on, there’s a sense of making the most of it, because who knows when the next opportunity will come along? 

Making the most of switched-on EPs on the Glenelg.

Late last summer, I was fishing one of the many streams tumbling down out the mountains around Eildon. I would rarely set foot on an estuary while confidently predicting (even to myself) that I was about to catch a lot of bream, bass or estuary perch. But on a mountain fastwater on a warm day, I’m pretty sure I’m going to catch some trout. This day, even by the high standards of mountain stream fishing in summer, the action was superb. A mix of browns and rainbows were eating dries (in this case a small Royal Wulff) in most of the spots where you would expect them to be. They weren’t tiddlers either, ranging from about 11 to 15 inches.

Then I came to a pool which was the largest I’d encountered – a real pool-of-the-day candidate. On a stream where a lot of fishing wasn’t much further away than the rod tip, on this pool, it would have required my longest cast to reach from the tail-out to the top (an academic proposition, because it would have been madness to make that cast in terms of drifts and lining fish). The pool was also quite deep, because even with a metre of visibility through the tannin-stained water, there were parts where I couldn’t see the bottom.

Sometimes pools like this can be a disappointment, one theory being that they’re dominated by one or two outsized trout (good), but if you miss or even unknowingly spook one, that’s it for the pool (bad).

No such issues with this piece of water. When I crouched beside a tree-fern on the left side of the tail-out, I had a rise and a miss first cast, then caught the same fish next try. Sensing this might be a pool which lived up to its appearance, I moved up slowly and carefully. I resisted the temptation to go straight for the bubble-line, and instead covered all the edges, boulders, logs and mini backwaters first.

Everywhere there could have been a trout, there was. And they must have been very switched on, even by trout standards, because missing a strike or hooking and landing one, did not rule out a rise from another fish in the same spot if I put the fly back there.

A mountain stream on a day when I caught enough.

On days when I land a few fish, I can tell you exactly how many I caught, but on those happy occasions when numerous fish are brought to hand, I can lose track somewhat. I need to stop and count on my fingers, or compare notes with my fishing companion, to get something like an accurate total. Even then, I couldn’t swear before a judge that I’d landed precisely X number of fish. (Incidentally, I only count at all so I can keep a reasonable record for my diary. While that diary is an account of all sorts of information that isn’t numerical – like big fish lost, for example – for cold-blooded comparisons at some point in the future, it’s hard to beat how many fish were caught, and what size.)    

As I fished up this pool, I might have realised that this was to be no ordinary experience. And so, I kept track of each trout landed. At 6, and with at least a third of the pool still to go, you can imagine what I was thinking. As number 8, a solid brown, slipped into the net, the artificial goal was in plain sight. Oddly, number 9 took a few drifts through what I would have thought was the prime part of the bubble-line, just where the current from the cascade at the head smoothed somewhat. Maybe the trout were finally alert to the fact that something up to no good was lurking nearby? Then number 10, a fat little rainbow, took the Wulff virtually in the whitewater beneath the cascade.

And then I stopped. The stream ahead looked as beguiling as ever, and was that the tail of another decent pool I could see, right where the creek turned out of sight? Then I realised, to my mild surprise, that I didn’t need to fish anymore. At least on this water, whatever enough is, I’d caught it. There were plenty more fishable hours left in the day, but I’d save those for somewhere else. I turned around and began to follow the game trail back to the little clearing where my car awaited.         

Philip Weigall