Fair and fierce in the Tasmanian highlands

“Should’ve been ‘ere last week!” If Mark and I heard that one more time, we agreed one of us would distract the culprit, while the other sprayed Aeroguard in all his fly boxes.

Of course, the hard part was, the many people who offered us this useless piece of information were right – at least initially. Unlike mainland trout fisheries, Tasmania – and especially its Central Plateau where we were fishing – experiences a maritime climate. In between summer weather than can be beguilingly mild or even shirtsleeve warm, the conditions can suddenly turn to biting gale-force winds and snow; which just happened to fall early on the very morning of our arrival. It seemed surreal to pack GoreTex, gloves and thermals in sunny Victoria; then eminently sensible when we arrived at our temporary home in Miena to find the thermometer reading just 6 degrees.

Penstock Lagoon in a 60km/h wind. Should’ve been ‘ere last week!

One thing Mark and I have learned over nearly 40 years of Tasmania visits is, unlike the locals, we have to fish to the conditions. They can choose to wait for better weather (as no doubt we would if given the choice) but with a mere five days to fish, we weren’t about to sit in front of the fire sipping tea while the storm raged.

Great Lake is great under blue skies, yet it also produces in grim weather.

Mark has a special place in his fishing heart for Great Lake, and I’m not far behind. So, first stop was this vast, superficially barren but always clear lake. Part of the selling point was that we could find sheltered bays (sheltered being a relative term in westerlies averaging 50 km/h) not far from the shack – so tactical retreat and regrouping would be practical. More importantly, Mark and I were confident that decent Great Lake trout would be in close to shore and catchable – and confidence is simply an essential starting point if you’re to have any chance of catching fish in woeful conditions.

Great Lake browns are invariably solid, strong fish this season – a just reward for fishing in trying conditions.

And it worked. Over the next few days, Great Lake was our saviour. While we would have preferred to polaroid with dry flies, we had no trouble hungrily fishing darker, medium-sized wets like Yetis and Woolly Buggers. It wasn’t really sight fishing; and yet, despite regularly encountering surf (which, I reflected, was about the same height as what my boys were boogie-boarding at Anglesea two weeks earlier) we did see the odd fish smelting, tailing and even rising. In fact Mark actually caught one nice brown on a dry!

Excellent nymph fishing at Little Pine as the bad weather started to ease. 

Eventually the weather began to settle. At first, the only appreciable difference was the wind speed halving… but what a difference! Other lakes opened up. Now, sheltered shores were genuinely sheltered, and even on exposed water, the wind and ripple were manageable; even advantageous. A wonderful session nymphing at Little Pine saw us hook ten fish in a couple of hours, many of which were just metres from the bank. We suspected that the breeze and full cloud there only helped our cause.

A jassid jam at Penstock.

Another developing highlight was jassids. Their rumoured presence suddenly translated into a full-blown event at Penstock, where the little red & black leaf hoppers rode the gentle ripple in their thousands. The jassids provided exacting (and sometimes exasperating) fishing. But for Mark and I, this was still Tasmania at its best.

Mark with a Penstock jassid feeder.

And finally, the sun came out. Our fair-weather friend John joined us, and when the cloud burned off to a total blue-sky day, we wasted no time in heading for the Nineteen Lagoons. Here was more of that magical fishing that brings us back to Tasmania year after year – and the thought of which sustains us on the tough days. Wading the endless flats, we caught several good browns; mixing polaroiding with covering rises. Incidentally, the Claret Carrot was brilliant, out-fishing a couple of normally reliable dun and spinner options.

Lake Augusta under the sort of conditions that make Tasmania so addictive.

We departed on Tuesday under another day of perfect blue skies and warm, gentle breezes. We stopped briefly at Penstock and Great Lake before driving down off the mountain. I tried hard to remind myself of the brutal weather only a few days earlier, but it was no consolation. Gum beetles buzzed past, spinners hovered on sheltered shores, and that’s what I’ll be thinking of next time Tasmania lures me back.