So much has happened in a short time that I am struggling to keep up with things. Everything is just so new and exciting! Last weekend Peter Hayes, the brains behind the company called "Tasmania's Premier Trout Guides", invited me to go with him to Ballarat, a town about an hour north of Melbourne, as he was running a course to teach advanced fly fishing skills. He figured that some input from a "Pommie" guide might well provide a different approach that would help his clients.
We sailed on the "Spirit of Tasmania" on Thursday night, having rushed to make the ferry-boarding deadline, as we had been fishing through the day. I expected the crossing to be a few hours, so I was pretty surprised to find that it was an overnight trip that meant we needed cabins. The Bass Straight is a rough bit of water at the best of times and Peter told me of many occasions when he has been surrounded by fellow travellers who have been rather ill. Fortunately for me the crossing was good!
In Ballarat the course kicked into action on Friday morning as soon as we arrived. The introductions were made, the expectations of the attendees were assessed and our aims were given out. A fairly lengthy "classroom" session was then held, followed by morning tea. The first fishing session then followed.
The fishery that the course was held at is one known as Millbrook Lakes Lodge and it is the brainchild of Mark Weigall. Mark saw a gap in the trout fishing market in Victoria and he went about negotiating with farmers in his area to purchase the fishing rights for a number of farm dams. These dams (in Britain we would probably call them reservoirs) are used to hold water so that the crops can be irrigated during the dry season. In many cases the dams that we fished were built many years ago when the potato crop of Victoria was much more valuable than it is today, and the dams have fallen into disuse. However, many of them were stocked with fingerling trout and others had trout arrive in them via the small streams that feed them. Whichever way they arrived, I can vouch for the fact that there are some magnificent specimens in the lakes that Mark uses.
Helping out on the course was trout guide and writer Philip Weigall, Mark's brother. Philip has published several books about fishing in Australian and New Zealand waters and he has many interesting ideas and ways with his angling. I have to say that visiting the fishery was both refreshing and eye opening. Some of the dams that we fished were as small as six acres, but others went into the hundreds; all contained very clean water, abundant fly life and trout that were in pristine condition. The other side of the coin was that the fish had seen the odd fly or two and were not as easy to catch as I imagined that they might be!
The whole idea behind the four-day course though, was not to catch loads of trout, but to develop techniques that would possibly enable the anglers to go away and work things out on their own waters. There was a genuine interest in the nymph fishing methods that we employ in the U.K. and I was asked to spend a considerable time going through our slow nymphing techniques.
Our first session out on the lakes left me at a magical spot where there was a good dun hatch, and looking after two anglers: Dennis and Col, I started working with Dennis and instructed him on how to fish his nymphs whilst watching his loop of line below the rod tip for an indication of a bite. I was delighted that after no more than ten minutes, Dennis saw a lift of the line and struck into a lovely young rainbow, which he successfully played to the net before releasing. Not ten minutes later he hooked and landed another, this time a somewhat larger fish. The method was firmly ingrained in his mind!
Philip Weigall came round and took Col out in the boat, so I left Dennis and wandered off to work with one of the other anglers, a vet from Melbourne called Ray. Ray had seen a couple of fish and actually missed one that came to his fly, but after another twenty minutes he managed to successfully hook, play and land a lovely rainbow trout.
We would have fished for a bit longer, especially as the trout were really moving to the duns, but the rain gradually increased in its power and we were all getting a good soaking. So much for Australia in summer! We all retreated to the lodge and started working on the next section of the course.
The following day one of the highlights for me was the arrival of the local golf professional who had been hired by Mark to video all of the anglers casting, and play the recording through a rather smart computer programme that enabled the casting style and technique to be analysed. These guys really go in for a slick approach to their fishing and their instructional methods.
River techniques were covered on the third morning, though practical sessions on this fishing were not possible. Mark and Philip do run camps away on the Swampy river and I had the chance to go on one of their forthcoming trips, but due to other commitments, I had to refuse Mark's kind offer. Mark is presently building an impressive shack on the Swampy river and that will enable him to hold courses that will teach all the necessary river fishing skills in the comfort that we had at the Millbrook lodge.
Another highlight for me was to meet one of Australia's top fly tiers, a real character called Dave Dodds. Dave is one of the guides who works from Millbrook and he readily gave his time in the evening and final morning to demonstrate some of the flies that anglers should tie if they are to fish the venue. I had been looking forward to finding out how the "shaving-brush" emerger is tied, and Dave explained it carefully to me. Dave also has a great "no-post" parachute hackled emerger that he swears by when the fish are on the duns.
We looked at some of our British styles for coping with midge feeders. In the evenings we all tried to catch the fish using the styles that were taught. Unfortunately the nights were cold and rarely did fish move in any great number and we ended up hoping that some "mud-eye" feeders would put in an appearance. Mud-eyes are what we call dragon fly larvae and the trout go for them big time here in Australia. I will spend some time next week talking about the fodder that the trout target over here, for the waters are all really rich in aquatic life.
I learned a lot about fishing instruction last weekend. I was very surprised that anglers would so confidently put themselves in the hands of relative strangers with such openness. The cabin type accommodation seems just the ticket for a long weekend course like this one and the camaraderie that existed at the end of the four days was magic. The food was superb too and if I carry on like this I will have to get my trainers out for some running in the evenings.
I have found that the generosity and helpfulness of Australian anglers is second to none, and I am really looking forward to a couple of weeks just driving around the state and fishing different spots. I have already made so many contacts that I feel that I can go almost anywhere in the state.
I start the courses that I came out to run next weekend, so I will report on the first one of those, amongst other things, next article.
Tight lines for now,