Improvise and Adapt

Kiel recommends being willing – and able – to change plans if needed.

A huge part of any flyfishing trip, and sometimes the most exciting part, is the leadup. Anticipation of what’s to come: conditions, fish to be caught, and of course the gear that’s needed. The areas to be fished and the approach you’ll take to target the intended species.

For the fly tiers out there, many hours will be spent at the vice tying a variety of flies, some of which are unlikely to ever leave your fly box. But they still need to be tied, just in case.

The things we tell ourselves – some of it true, some of it stretching the truth…

“Yeah, I need two dozen Parachute Adams.”

“Yeah, I need to purchase that backup rod.”

“Yeah, I need a massive amount of tippet.”

“Yeah, I better grab a new pair of wading boots.”

Packing bags, making sure important stuff is easily accessible to make things simpler on the water. Months and months of preparation. But as we all know, sometimes trips don’t go to plan.

Hmmm, that wasn’t in the brochure!

I personally have dozens of ‘not to plan’ stories. Whether it be equipment malfunctions, bad weather, illness, forgotten gear, bags not making it to destinations, even an engine blowing up on a plane. (The comforting advice from flight attendant was, “We’re in God’s hands now.”) Just about anything can go wrong on these trips, and at times it will.

Here are a few stories of mishaps, misadventure and the unexpected – and how those issues were overcome to make the best of what we’d been dealt.

Tasmanian highlands

In the summer months over the past few years, I’ve been able to get my stillwater trout fix by travelling to Tasmania to fish the highland lakes around Miena. If you’ve ever fished this part of the world, you would know how the weather can change day to day, or sometimes hour by hour. Warm and sunny one moment, sideways rain or even snow the next. Even in January and February. One hundred km/h winds on Monday and a calm still morning on Tuesday.

Tasmania is definitely a place where you’ll need backup plans. Sometimes even no plans. To quote summer resident Jim Allen: “I don’t make plans before 10am”. This is because over all the years Jim has fished Tassie, he’s learnt to adapt to the conditions, and they can change in hours.

No backcountry polaroiding, but Plan B worked out fine.

I certainly go into these two week Tassie trips with an idea of what I’d like to do and where I’d like to fish, but this changes every day I’m there. So, let’s call it a loose plan. I sit at the fly tying table for months beforehand producing a variety of mayfly patterns – spinners, emergers and nymphs – in the hope of a hatch every day. But I’ve also learnt the hard way that I’ll need to tie some streamers for those days when the mayfly go missing.

This past February, I spent two weeks in the highlands with the Millbrook Lakes guide crew. Bit of R&R for everyone during our guiding downtime. Leading up to the trip, I’d been scouring maps of the Western Lakes, pinpointing spots I’d like to hike into and sight fish those big browns in shallow water. Turned out that for the entire time we were there, we didn’t have the sunny blue sky conditions needed to polaroid these waters. So, we all went to a backup plan each day. None of us wanted to waste time flogging a dead horse when we could so easily change plans and tactics. We couldn’t risk a whole day walking into the backcountry lakes when the weather wasn’t perfect for it.

And it worked. On calm mornings, we fished to midge feeders on the Great Lake. Temperature, cloud or clear doesn’t matter for these little Smarties for trout, but for dawn Great Lake midge action, you need little to no wind. An early alarm for getting up and checking the wind. If there’s even a slight breeze, option two… go back to bed. A chance to get that beauty sleep I know I need!

Now there’s a challenge! And note the difference between the forecast wind speed and the actual wind speed.

But of course wind can be good too. Mid to late mornings fishing wind-lanes. Finding lanes with food and fish, sighting and often catching.

On the overcast days, we often fished to mayfly feeders, chatting with other friends and acquaintances who had been out to help choose the best lakes for good hatches in this type of weather… and sharing our experiences in return. Gloomy, cloudy, and sometimes wet and windy conditions – the opposite of what was needed for Western Lakes polaroiding, but sometimes perfect for dun hatches. On the odd occasions we did get a sunny patch, we walked the banks sight fishing.

Meteorologists and their reports and apps can’t be totally relied upon. At the end of the day, they are doing their best to predict the future. So, if you travel to a lake for a dun hatch with cloudy conditions, and it seems like it’s going to be too sunny, or your cloud app is saying the clouds are burning up or moving away, please don’t be lazy. Leave. Go to a lake you know where you’ll be able to sight. Or which gets a great spinner hatch in bright conditions.

Vice versa, you want sun but get cloud. Leave. Use your backup plan. A great thing about the highlands of Tassie is you’re never far from another lake and another opportunity. This last summer, I did hear reports from other flyfishers saying they struggled on certain lakes. Mid-conversation, I realised it was because they’d stuck it out on those lakes with the wrong conditions and techniques.

Thinking outside the square to find a rare patch of sheltered shore.

Flyfishing is about adapting. Whether that be using a sinking line, finding those wind-lanes, looking for a tree-lined shore and a beetle, ant or jassid fall, or moving lakes.

This past trip to Tasmania, I really did want to spend time polaroiding, but I mostly couldn’t due to the weather. Even so, we all bent rods by adapting to the conditions and having other plans up our sleeves.

New Zealand’s South Island

Flyfishing the South Island of New Zealand for trout can go much the same way. We all beg, pray or hope, whatever it may be, to allow the trout gods to give us light winds and sunny skies to sight fish the clear waters NZ is famous for. The summer backwater feeders, the willow grub munching trout on the lowland streams. Cicada feeders in the backcountry.

Months of prep. go into the dream trip you booked six months in advance, hired a car, booked accommodation, got your new fly-line. Then, the day you fly into Queenstown there’s 100mm of rain and the rivers blow out. What do you do?

Lakes can save a South Island trip when torrential rain strikes.

Fortunately, you’ve got your backup plan. You’ve packed a sink-tip line and some streamers so you can swing wets in the high water. And you’ve found lakes on maps that won’t be as affected by high rainfall. You’ve also talked to the local fly shop, and they’ve pointed you in the right direction to fish in these conditions. Don’t give up – and please pack clothes for all conditions, even waders for NZ in summer. You just may need them.

Cape York

Just recently I’ve returned from a trip up north of Weipa with Bargy and the crew from Fish’s Fly & Sportfishing. I’m a self-diagnosed permit nerd. And so are the guides, Mark and Kurt. So again, prior to the trip, I spent months at the vise, rolling out crab and shrimp patterns that might fool a permit.

I read, watched and studied what I needed to do and bring. Thought about the casts I’d be making and the wind I’d be facing. I also dreamt about the bright sunshine, cloudless skies and minimal swell.

Upon arrival in Weipa, we were greeted with the exact opposite weather we’d hoped for to chase permit. That’s all just part of the game. The guys knew we had to go to backup plans to catch fish. Up the rivers we went, away from the cloudy waters of the beach and large swell, instead chasing jacks and barramundi. We even caught diamond trevally on some of those floating crabs I’d tied for permit. Not a bad consolation prize.

Too much cloud for spotting permit, but still good fishing.

Big goldens cruising the river mouths. Tarpon and herring off the beach. A 10 minute boat ride offshore (away from the permit flats) to catch longtail tuna, mac tuna, and shots at cobia and big GTs.

I personally spent the afternoons walking the sandflats catching mud crabs for dinner. And I had a bloody blast. One of the best trips I’ve been on.

Plan B tasted delicious!

Luckily, I understood beforehand that there was a chance we’d not get the perfect weather, so I packed some sinking lines to dredge for reef dwellers. Tied 200 white Clousers to catch any species up that way. We spent the whole six days landing dozens of different species all day long. From a loose plan to a bloody good time. Adapting to the conditions and listening to the guides kept us very busy and entertained.

FLYSTREAM FACTS – Tips to help manage the unexpected

As well as having backup plans and a willingness to adapt, here are some practical tips to make sure you don’t lose a good day’s fishing to an unexpected hurdle:

 When travelling overseas or interstate, pack essentials in your carry-on luggage.

  • Medication, sunscreen and toiletries (subject to carry-on rules, and border control of destination country).
  • Wading boots.
  • Insurance details.

 When travelling anywhere, ask questions about required gear beforehand. Do your ‘all conditions’ research.

  • Tie wet flies to back up those dry flies.
  • Pack gear for inclement weather.
  • Take sinking lines – even if you’re not planning on using them.
  • Pack a spare rod and reel.

    Just as well I packed the gloves…

 If using a boat:

  • Take a spare battery for your electric motor or even for starting your engine.
  • Pack a jump starter.
  • Have backup fuel.
  • Carry spare lifejackets.

 Most of all, think outside the box – and have fun doing it!