After nearly 40 years doing this, Mark and I agree you need a week in the highlands to stand a good chance of at least some decent weather. We’ve also concluded that one great day can make a trip, and earn forgiveness for the tough days.
And that’s how it played out this week. Mark had already been there for the previous week when Kiel and I arrived, and although he had stories of amazing fishing, no amount of forecast shopping could avoid what the immediate future held for us. A powerful cold front was due to slam into Tasmania on Monday evening, bringing gales and then snow.
Monday dawned cold, grey and windy – but not unfishable, so we joined FlyStream columnist Craig Coltman and headed to Bronte Lagoon. Bronte produced a few fish and few duns, including one big memorable brown which shadowed my ‘dibbled’ Claret Dabbler for about 5 metres.
Then, with the mountains to the west darkened by ominous clouds, we took a chance on beating the weather, and headed east to Penstock and hopefully a late dun hatch.
We got lucky: we arrived at 2.30pm to find the wind merely strong. There were very few boats out (thanks no doubt to the ugly forecast) and according to Wally, who we passed heading up the lake, a light dun hatch had just started and he’d already caught several, including on nymphs before the hatch. Now that’s what you want to hear!
Despite an ever-increasing wind, ‘we’ landed 5 good trout: I persisted with dries, while Craig did better with nymphs and the Dabbler. A highlight was a rainbow/ brown double hook-up.
By the time the hatch faded late afternoon, the wind was showering the boat ramp with leaves and twigs, and the trees were swaying ominously. Fifteen minutes later, we passed a white Great Lake, its normally blue surface ripped to shreds by the howling gale. Later that evening, the wind reached 100 km/h and stayed close to that strength for many hours. Our shack at Miena rocked and shuddered, but held together.
With the wind came numbing cold and by the time dawn arrived on Tuesday, light snow was drifting down outside the shack window. Slowly, the wind eased, the sky lightened and by the time we arrived at Pine Tier Lagoon mid-morning, the horrible weather was a fading memory. How quickly things can change in the highlands. It was bliss to fish dries, nymphs and – yep – the Claret Dabbler again, which was fast becoming the fly of the trip. Pine Tier fish aren’t renowned for size, but it was blissful to enjoy light breezes and the end of crippling chill. And every so often, we did hook a good fish among the littlies.
Wednesday arrived with a sky as blue as it gets. The decision was unanimous: this was a Western Lakes day. Less than 48 hours after snow and gales, we were wading through sunlit shallows in shirtsleeves, casting black spinner patterns to cruising browns. Watching a 2 foot trout appear from nowhere, then change direction to inhale your (hopefully) well-presented dry, can make a whole day. When it happens time after time, as it did on Wednesday, you have to pinch yourself that it’s really happening.
By 3pm, we already knew this was shaping up as the day, the one we’ll talk about years from now, when the blizzards and freezing fingers are long forgotten.
With the standard set so high, it was going to be hard to beat Wednesday. We gave it a nudge at Lake St Clair on Thursday, casting mayfly patterns, Gum Beetles and Claret Carrots to erratic risers and polaroided trout. The setting was as stunning as always, though we never threatened to equal the sublime fishing of the previous day.
Then, too soon as always, it was the last day (yesterday). A late flight home gave us time for a final fish at Gunns and Little lakes – sort of on the way to the airport… or at least not in the opposite direction. It was weird weather; not quite cloudy enough for a good dun hatch; not quite warm and calm enough for spinners. Both tried, and both got eaten, but after an encouraging number of rises on arrival, and a few nice fish caught early, the action faded away. The cIoud kept promising to thicken, and if we hadn’t had a plane to catch, we would have happily stayed. Mark missed a rise on the last cast, and it was almost a case of ‘don’t look back’ as we bounced out on the appalling track.
It was Kiel’s first trip to the Tassie highlands, and while you always want a mate to see ‘your’ spot at its best, Mark and I agree he got a pretty honest example of what the place is about: from a potential trip-wrecking storm on Monday night, to the dream day on Wednesday, and everything in between. I think it was at the airport that Kiel mentioned how he would always remember the polaroiding, and I said, “Yes, but don’t forget the snow.”