When I’m staying at John’s shack and drifting off to sleep after a long but probably engrossing day on the lakes of Tasmania’s Central Plateau, the last thing I usually hear is the hiss of Great Lake; the sound of almost permanent waves rippling on the barren silt and rock shore a few hundred metres away. The hiss is also often the first thing I hear as I stir in a warm bunk at dawn. It’s odd, because the shack is built in a hollow on the eastern side of a high ridge and it is often sheltered from the wind that ruffles the lake. Motionless branches, yet wind-driven waves so close.
However, on those rare occasions when the lake is silent at daybreak, it means calm water and midges, and good-sized browns and rainbows sipping in the dimly-lit slicks. In this case, Jim, just up the road, will have already launched his boat in anticipation, beginning the hunt in semi-darkness. And if I haven’t already heard my brother’s 6 foot 5 inches trying to sneak around the shack and out onto the veranda, I will soon. Mark is an early riser by nature and if he’s ever missed a midge hatch while we’re staying at the shack, I don’t know about it. Unlike Jim, Mark likes to walk to the lake and wade out to the risers. Certainly, some will be beyond even his big cast, but there will be enough that can be covered on foot.
When I hear the first dull footsteps and maybe the sound of the kettle, I’ll think about joining Mark on the lake. But mostly I’ll drift off again, to no doubt be told of the superb action I’ve missed when I’m having breakfast and Mark returns. When he reports on the amazing midge fishing (it’s always extra amazing when you’re not there), I may feel just a twinge of guilt for not going, although it will quickly be replaced by the knowledge that the days are long in summer in Tassie, and there will be many more hours of chances.
But now I’m side-tracked by the fishing and I have to pull back to continue talking about the shack. It’s small, but it’s solid and most importantly, snug. Even in summer, we often get a snowfall or a frost, so a warm, weatherproof retreat is invaluable. While I can easily get immersed in the raw beauty of fishing a highland lake in a blizzard, stepping out of a dripping jacket and waders, and into the shelter of the shack, has its own charm. It is time to have a seat, a hot drink and a snack while the local fallow deer and the wallabies, seemingly immune to the weather, graze outside.
I go to Tassie to fish, but really bad weather delaying a start, or an early finish after a brilliant day of fishing (two polar ends of the spectrum), might see the shack as a social hub for an hour or so. One of the charms of the shack is its proximity to many friends who have also fallen for the delights of shack life (some lucky ones for weeks or even months on end) and who are only a short walk away through the tussocks and gnarled gums. We visit them or they visit us and there is plenty of dissection of recent sessions on the water, and even more talk about what lies in store. The past is certainty, but the future is possibility!
I’ve never been much of a communal fisher, usually preferring the company of one or two like-minded (read keen) anglers, over what John Gierach describes as ‘a committee’. However, shack life gives me a glimpse of the appeal of this more social way of fishing. With no conscious effort, the shack community is exactly that. Break a rod, ding a reel or spring a wader leak, and your many neighbours will leap to mend or replace the item. It goes without saying that you will always walk in the door to a cuppa or something more convivial; depending on the time of day. But I’ve also learnt not to be surprised by the impromptu offer of a meal.
As I write, the shack is sitting there empty and perhaps just a touch lonely to look at. Yet by tomorrow night, the stove will be lit, the lights will be on, and hopefully the first of many fishing stories will be being told.