There’s something about the highlands

I try to make it to the Tasmanian highlands at least once a year. Somehow, I’ve continued to pull that off right through the pandemic – including the week just gone.

It would have hurt to miss my annual pilgrimage, yet exactly why it would hurt, is harder to explain. If ever there was a destination which is not entirely about the actual fish-catching, the highlands is it. Yes, the fishing can be very good and occasionally, spectacular. However the reality is, it takes a few things to line up for that to happen.   

‘What fly do you reckon?’ Setting up for the walk in to Lake Kay.

To the non-fishing stuff first, and I think Miena may just be Australia’s flyfishing capitol. I would comfortably claim that every trip to the servo or general store sees me bumping into a flyfisher I know. And in the relatively short time I was there last week, invitations to dinner, morning coffee or evening drinks easily outnumbered my ability to attend by about three to one. Same for my companions this trip, Kiel and Mark. Keep in mind that I hadn’t advertised this trip to anyone, and (in contrast to everyday life) there wasn’t a single invitation I didn’t regret turning down.

Looking for Great Lake wind-lanes from the cabin veranda.

I love my fishing, but there’s something about a social gathering in the Tasmanian highlands which makes me seriously consider cutting the evening rise short, or missing the dawn patrol. Gather a group of people who are devoted to fishing the thousand-plus local lakes (in itself an acquired taste), and whether that company consists of acquaintances or long-time friends, the hours fly by. This trip, Jim Allen told of revealing to the Tasmanian Museum thought-to-be extinct invertebrates from the stomachs of trout, Haysie showed me his very own highland gin distillery* and a 120 year old tracing of a giant Great Lake trout, while Morsie described plans for a trip to an almost-forgotten water once known for its trophies. The list goes on, but put it this way: how often in life can you utter the words, “The dun hatch didn’t happen where I was” to a full table or living room, and be met by universal sighs of sympathy?

Dinner at Peter Hayes’ place reveals a trace of a Great Lake trout of almost 20lb – from 1901!

Meanwhile, the flora and fauna of the highlands continues to be spectacular. This trip, I saw a Tasmanian devil, platypus, a pair of fallow deer with antlers broader than my arm-span, a veritable plague of echidnas, some fat but otherwise inoffensive tiger snakes (except for the one which invited itself into friend Slim’s shack), and of course every conceivable shape and size of hopping marsupial.   

Local wildlife.

As you might have guessed by now, the fishing itself was challenging. Mark and I are four decades into our Tassie trips, and Kiel is doing his best to catch up! Forty years provides plenty of chances for a highlight reel, so the bar is high. We do our best to sight-fish, and with dry flies. This isn’t snobbery, but perhaps more an attempt to replicate past glories. We know it, and recognise that our reluctance to pull wet flies (which we cheerfully do elsewhere) costs us trout.

Into a big one at Penstock.

Still, we polaroided and caught trout in the Western Lakes, fished evening rises, chased smelters, had at least some dun action, and experienced a stunning dawn on Great Lake midge feeders (or at least Mark and Kiel did while I slept in.) And yes, we did pull wets occasionally and caught fish doing it. Like I said, I don’t know quite where that reticence to ditch the dry originates, it’s just something about the highlands.            

*The gin is superb by the way.