A couple of days ago, my latest book arrived instore from the printers – a special moment after a process that began with a few keystrokes at my desk over a year ago.
The inspiration for ‘Flyfishing Western Victoria’ though, has been bubbling away in the back of my mind for a few years. The thing is, western Victoria is one of my favourite places to fish in the world. The area has provided some of my best flyfishing moments, and it’s taught me so much. And yet, among the many tales of victory in western Victoria that I get from successful flyfishing friends and acquaintances, I still receive letters, or comments on the FlyStream Forum, from anglers who seem defeated by it.
This is in contrast to feedback from those fishing north-east Victoria, the subject of my earlier ‘sister’ guidebook. Yes, they have their tough days (don’t we all!) but mostly, flyfishers in the north-east appear to do okay, and take the odd failure on the chin, so to speak.
Stream vs. Lake
The most obvious reason for the difference, is western Victoria is dominated by lake fishing, whereas north-east Victorian flyfishing is built around classic freestone streams – the latter type of fishery being the foundation of modern trout-on-fly. Yes, western Victoria has significant stream fishing, and the north-east has some significant lake fishing, well-covered in each book respectively. But there’s no getting away from the fact that lake fishing is the big deal in the west, and for many flyfishers, lake fishing is hard.
So, what could I do that would allow at least some of my ‘lake sceptic’ colleagues to share in this wonderful western Victorian fishery? Write a book of course!
Back to Basics
The first step (and a big one) was to offer some advice about what works – at least for me. I make the distinction because there are successful flyfishers who DON’T fish the western lakes the way I do, but of course I can only offer guidance around what works for me – I’ll leave it to others to describe what works for them.
Anyway, a big part of western lakes fishing success is around expectation, mindset and strategy. I never was much of a New Age guru, but I maybe drift close when explaining a couple of these concepts in the book. Basically, to catch western Victoria trout regularly, your head (and planning) both need to be in the right place before you even make your first cast.
Speaking of planning, for a usually laidback person, you’ll see in the book that I get quite obsessive about certain aspects of gear; and also the many things you need to consider in terms of expected conditions before you venture forth.
About the Individual Waters
It was really interesting endeavouring to apply objectivity to 60-odd lakes and streams which I’ve grown up fishing. John Gierach once made an observation along the lines that when someone’s describing a favourite water, they’re actually innocently describing their best-ever day there! Obviously, that isn’t going to work in a guidebook, any more than relying on the recollection of my worst ever day. So, I did two things to try to offer as balanced an account as possible.
First, I took the long view: how has water X performed over many years, up to and including right now? This way, a water’s overall assessment isn’t distorted by one bad (or one unusually good) season. Luckily, I have decades of cold hard diary notes to refer to, so I don’t fall into the trap of relying on an anglers’ notoriously unreliable memory (mine included).
Second, with each water, I imagine myself referring a first-time visiting angler from o/s or interstate to it. What would I likely tell them more often than not? I find this mindset is a great reality check when writing a guidebook, and stifles any inclination to espouse something like, ‘Lake Bolac is a fantastic fishery full of 3 kg rainbows!’
For each water, I start with a basic summary in the form of an assessment of reliability; and then separately list the best months to fish that water. In the book, I explain in detail how I come up with reliability ratings, so you’ll have to read it to understand where I’m coming from. As for best months, that’s more straightforward. I’m listing the months which are typically the best to visit a particular water. Of course, there will always be outliers in a particular year, but basically, I’m playing the averages and I think you’ll find this assessment to be a handy trip-planning tool. (We’ve included a table at the back of the book as a quick reference.)
Once on the water and fishing, what then? Here’s where I go into individual detail about things like, for example, wind directions to look for (or avoid), the value of a boat (or not); what to expect in terms of weed, water clarity, ease of access and casting, and so on. Then I offer information about what you might expect under the conditions when you’re visiting a given water: are there any hatches or trout feeding behaviours you might look out for if you’re there during weather A in month B?
I’m careful not to be too precisely prescriptive about flies and techniques: the natural variability of all the waters listed would make that downright dishonest. (We’re not talking about Montana!) However, for a given water, I’m likely to note if it’s, say, a good polaroiding option or not; whether blind fishing works there for me… or not, etc, etc. I’m also very happy to list flies that have a long history of working on a particular water under certain circumstances, although I rarely claim that this list is exclusive.
By the way, in these days of Google Earth and smartphones, the maps in the book are there to simply orientate the angler. You’ll get way more topographic detail online and for free than we could ever hope to provide even if the book was nothing but maps – so we didn’t try.
So there you have it. I just completed a reread of the actual book – a slightly nerve-wracking exercise for any author, to the point where I know a few writers who simply refuse to do it! In my case though, I’m pleased (and relieved) to say I feel I can stand by everything that’s in there: no oversights, no blushing at a bit of advice that I wish I could backpedal.
Now, I reiterate that this book is just my take on western Victoria, and no doubt some readers will disagree with some bits. Fair enough – that’s one of the wonderful things about flyfishing; the very fact it can’t be neatly compartmentalised into endless lists of hard facts… I reckon that’s a strength, not a weakness. It means that some 16 year old reading this may come up with a spot, or fly, or technique which works better than what I suggest – at least for them. Brilliant! I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Copies available here.