Jim reflects on favourite waters.
I really don’t know what it is about flyfishers. I’ve written before that I think our pastime is more about the hope and anticipation than it is about the reality. In most other sports, it’s only about results. Not so with flyfishing.
If one can obtain a copy of Stephen Leacock’s ‘My Fishpond’, it brings a fuller understanding of why we go flyfishing. This piece was originally published in the USA in the 1930s, but in 1949, Theo Brunn, then president of the Victorian Fly fishers Association, had it printed as a small booklet, renamed it as ‘The Best Fishing Story I Know’ by Stephen Laycock (?) and distributed it to members of the VFFA. David Grisold, in his term as president, repeated with another print, this time by Mike Stevens and this later edition was presented to members at the 75th anniversary dinner of the Association, in 2010.
I’m not going to go into great detail about this superbly-written piece of prose and its hidden meanings, but I hope I kindle interest among readers in discovering a copy and then treasuring it. The little booklet is really about an affinity with a favourite water. Whilst we travel far and wide to enjoy our pursuit, it is sometimes the familiarity that comes with going back to a water time after time, which proves very special.
One of my very favourite waters is Lake Botsford in the Nineteen Lagoons area of Tasmania’s Central Highlands. One memorable early visit to the lake was in the company of the late Noel Jetson, John Hayes and Richard Shubart. The latter two managed our tackle stores way back in the 1970s and had joined me to take a post-Christmas break. If my memory serves me correctly, it was New Year’s Day in 1979. It dawned calm and clear and, somewhat unusually for Tasmania, stayed that way. We had planned to head over to the Little Pine River above Lake Kay and on to lakes Flora and O’Dells.
In those days, there was a rough old jeep track that headed south-westwards from the south-eastern end of Botsford, down to the edge of Lake Baillie, on to a very marshy and hair-raising Little Pine River crossing, and then continued to the bottom end of O’Dells and eventually to an old tin shack on Flora. A three cylinder, two stroke Suzuki, nicknamed ‘The Butterbox’ could handle the swamps easily, as those who owned one would testify. (These old jeep tracks out west have rightly been closed for some decades.)
We paused to look at Botsford on the way and noticed every fish in the lake was rising in the oily-calm water. Noel, our guide for the day, exclaimed, “You never leave rising fish!” so we hurriedly unpacked and threw our gear together. It wasn’t long before the first of some thirteen trout came to the net. The fish were rising to a prolific black spinner hatch and the Noel’s copy of Wigram’s Black Spinner worked perfectly. He had plenty of these flies and gently teased us that they were treble the price out there! (Which, of course they weren’t when we came to pay for the half dozen each of us took from his copious fly box!)
Since then, I’ve never seen a major hatch of mayfly spinners on Botsford. It was one of ‘those days’ that last in the memory bank forever. In fact, Noel wrote an article in a popular fishing magazine of the era, The Australian Angler, titled, ‘You Never Leave a Rising Trout’. As I write this, I remember the eagerness of the trout rising confidently to the fly. Head and tailing fish everywhere in the oily water, sipping both the genuine and artificial with a conviction one seldom sees.
Well, I’ve been back to Botsford hundreds of times since and had some remarkable fishing there. In the early 1980s we picked up hessian fish-bags full of cans whilst wading the flats. They had been thrown into the water by shore anglers over decades and we built a small pyramid of them in the carpark at the western end for all to see. Times change and no one fishes Botsford these days with wattle grubs, illegal setlines and lures. Meanwhile, the Green movement has made us all much more aware of our environment and one would struggle to find an old bottle or can in the lake today, thank goodness.
I remember one breezy day in the 1980s. I was fishing in autumn with an old friend who has since passed away far too early, Peter Morton. ‘Mort the Sport’ was struggling, while I had discovered that some fish were lying along the few rocks in the lake. After a while, Mort waded over and joined me, grizzling about how the lake was milky from recent gales. He hadn’t seen a trout, yet he’d seen my rod bent a few times? I explained that all one had to do was dap a Woolly Worm down alongside a rock in the gloomy water, and presto, more often than not, a shape would appear. One guessed the strike in the milk and most times, ended up attached to a surprised and angry fish! Well, from then on, Mort caught fish too and we ended up having quite a good day.
On other occasions in the early days of polaroiding in the wind, we caught big bags of trout on the Red Tag. Then in later years, the fish became wary of the dry fly and Philbricks Nymph came to the fore. Much of Botsford is relatively shallow, quite sandy and excellent for polaroiding in a moderate breeze. The secret was (and still is) to unselfishly zig zag with the wind and sun behind, leaving water for other anglers, and make one’s way down the lake just ahead of the silt raised by wading. The other trick continues to be timing the strike. The trout cruise head down, looking for isopods or tiny bivalves. They accelerate on discovering a well-presented sunken nymph. As the fish slow, one has to have the confidence to guess the strike. As a general observation, the trout today are more cautious because of the increased fishing pressure on the lake.
Another time, after a gem of a day, Peter Hayes turned up and berated me for killing so many fish. I retorted that they were heading to Ranicar’s Tasmanian Smokehouse and then I was returning to the mainland with them. However looking back, I don’t blame Peter; he was right. Fishing the Western Lakes on bright breezy days was rapidly becoming popular, and even back then it was time to start returning Botsford trout to the water unharmed. (Today I’m still happy to take fish for the table in waters which have sustainable populations, and I now take great pride and pleasure in smoking my own trout; an art and subject I’ll leave for another time. But not from Botsford, nor many of its neighbouring waters.)
The regulations in those days were a bag limit of twelve. Today the limit is zero to two fish over much the Nineteen Lagoons area, and even where it’s allowed, I would be reluctant to kill fish in these waters which are subject to considerable angling pressure. Some waters like Botsford and nearby Rocky Lagoon now need to be stocked annually.
I love Botsford. I’ve had some wonderful days out there. It is, as those who live in Montana would say, ‘big sky country’. Today, one can still sit along the shore on the rocks and see a fish cruise by, or wade the shallows – particularly in the late afternoon when the fishing pressure is less.
A certain intimacy develops when one has many visits. The different wading in different light – full sunshine or beneath rolling thunderclouds; calm bright days or hazy, windy days with cirrus developing from the west. All add to the makeup of special times that become so memorable. In spring, there are a couple of lagoons that fill up in the south-western corner of the lake. On dark cloudy days, trout will move in and tail in the shallows. One has to sit tight and wait, but patience is usually rewarded!
Over a flyfisher’s life, I doubt for any of us there are more than a couple of these special, intimate waters. For David Scholes I suspect it was the Macquarie and the Break O’Day in the midlands of Tasmania. He wrote books about both. For me, it’s the Goulburn River in Victoria from Thornton down to The Breakaway; and certainly my favourite lake in Tasmania is Botsford.