Some things I learnt in 2015

At the risk of sounding a bit New Age, the graph of a lifetime flyfishing journey would look like the ascent of a mountainside at first – maybe even a cliff! This would be followed by a gentler if almost infinite incline, interspersed by the occasional sharp step up and (hopefully) even rarer step down.

In flyfishing, the learning is never-ending. Mostly we move up and even the odd backward step usually carries its own lesson, to be applied for the better next time. Sitting here between fishing trips, I’m musing about a few of the things 2015 taught me, or at least reinforced. 

A little exploring can create big opportunities, and Tasmania is larger than we think.

It didn’t take long for things to kick off with an early January trip to southern Tasmania with Andrew Marsic. There were two related lessons here. The first was, no matter how familiar you think you are with an area, still be prepared to explore new water nearby – there’s usually somewhere you haven’t been yet that’s worth knowing about.

New water, Mt Field National Park

Worth a few hours of exploring: new water, Mt Field National Park.

The second lesson was, never underestimate the sheer number of fishing destinations in Tasmania – the popular lakes of the highlands and the streams of the Midlands are literally the tip of the iceberg. (See Southern Tasmania in issue 6 and Adapting for Tassie Success in issue 9.)

If a good angler has worked out the trout, don’t waste too much time trying for something better.

The next lesson came at Lake Eucumbene in April with Steve Dunn. Over the weeks prior to my arrival, Steve had been catching some stonking browns. His technique was pretty simple – deep, slow retrieve near the bottom with a rather flashy Woolly Bugger.

Winners are grinners. Steve inches his flashy Woolly Bugger across a deep drop-off.

Winners are grinners. Steve inches his flashy Woolly Bugger across a deep drop-off.

Although Steve gently insisted this had proved the best approach, as soon as I saw fish were regularly breaking the surface, I fished a floating line and concentrated on covering any disturbances quickly. For good measure I went for a smaller, subtler Woolly Bugger – these were wise old browns after all.

Throughout our many hours on the lake, Steve consistently out-fished me three or four to one while I tried ever more frantically to come up with a better method to catch the trout that periodically rolled or swirled around us. Even when I relented and tried Steve’s way, I couldn’t focus and settle in. The thought that I should try something else kept spinning around in my head like a bad song.

With proof like that, I should've immediately copied Steve like a parrot.

With proof like that, I should’ve immediately copied Steve like a parrot.

If I’m honest, I’ve had much the same experience in Tasmania with Christopher Bassano, in NZ with Craig Simpson and on the upper Murray with Mark. New Year’s resolution: if the local experts are catching plenty, don’t muck around: copy them shamelessly.

Big flies can work when little ones won’t.

It was Peter Hayes who first crystallised this one for me many years ago. Conventional wisdom suggests that difficult trout – such as spooky trout in bright, clear water – can only be defeated by fishing progressively tinier flies on finer tippet. This may be true some of the time; even most of the time. But often enough to matter, the exact opposite applies.

During a day on the Swampy Plain River just after Christmas, I was disappointed to find the water much lower than I like, and almost painfully clear. Under a blindingly bright blue sky I was seeing trout alright, but many were fleeing when I was still 20 metres downstream! By trying not to breathe to loudly and fishing on my hands and knees, I eventually covered a couple of trout with dainty spinners and then when that didn’t work, little unweighted nymphs. Not so much as a look.

After several fly changes, a size 10 Royal Stimulator caught my eye. What did I have to lose? Swapping 4 lb tippet for 8, I tied it on and crept along the bank looking for the next trout. I soon caught two nice ones and missed another. But the standout was a 2 footer I spotted from miles away cruising down the bank towards me just after I’d made a modest cast. With no cover, I could only freeze and watch helplessly as the big brown came ever closer. Meanwhile, my leader caught on a barely exposed rock and with so little current, the big Stimi just hung in the water a few inches behind it.

One of several on a big bright fly on a big bright day.

One of several on a big bright fly on a big bright day.

By now I could see that, to my amazement, the trout was periodically opening its mouth to feed, although it passed an arm’s length from my fly without noticing it. The trout kept coming down until it was right beside me. Surely it would see me as a peculiar shape silhouetted on the crest of the bare rocky bank? But no, it turned and very casually began to feed its way back up the bank. A metre from the stationary Stimulator, the trout saw it and moved slowly towards it. A centimetre from the fly, it stopped and quietly and deliberately sucked it in. When I eventually landed what would turn out to be the best fish of the trip, the Stimulator was almost at the back of its throat.