This is summer in Australia. I was really worried in advance of coming that I would need to pack plenty of sun cream and keep myself covered up all of the time. The second part of my concerns has materialised, but only in the form of keeping warm. Two Tuesdays ago, the temperature here was the coldest December day ever recorded in Tasmania. In the Highlands where I am based, it snowed throughout the day, although the ground temperature was too warm to allow the snow to settle. All day long I thought about fishing, but the log fire was far more compelling. Malcolm and I braved an hour and, although we caught no fish, we both had the occasional take from trout. One of the anglers local to Penstock, Robert Browning, had one of his best days of the season during the snow! The weather people are predicting a snowfall on Christmas Day, so I may be able to report about fishing on a white Christmas!
Don't come over here expecting a blazing hot Australian summer. In the Highlands, where it is over 1000 metres above sea level, the climate is Alpine and trips out in boats, or into the bush, should be planned carefully with full attention paid to ensuring you have the equipment to deal with the worst of conditions. However, I am pleased to say that in the past week the weather has warmed up to the extent that I have been able to fish in shirtsleeves on my last couple of trips.
I talked before about the courses that I had been brought out here to run. Since operating these days I have been asked by several of the anglers who attended if I could take them out and spend a bit more time going through the various techniques which I covered. It has been really good to have such willing pupils and I have enjoyed some great days. Most trips involve a lunch break on one of the islands, where the firewood is gathered and steak is produced from the "esky" - we call them cool-boxes! The locally brewed Tasmanian beer is either Boags or Cascade and a "stubbie" of one of these is produced whilst the steak is sizzling. Often there is a bottle of Tasmanian red wine to go with the steak: I must say this state has some splendid reds! Finally, a slab of fruitcake seems to be a standard end to any break from the water. I really believe that this is the way to spend a day out fishing.
We English usually tend to fish all day long, and we rarely take more than a sandwich or a roll with us. When John Horsey and I fished a lot of days together we used to take turns in making some chicken tikka, and we always took a bottle or two of wine, but we rarely diverted from our fishing. Sometimes the sight of a rising trout would mean that lunch-break was over and fishing was back on top of the agenda. Part of the reason for our hard efforts on trips has to be the expense of the day out. We are paying towards £30 a day for most of our UK reservoir fishing. Here there is no expense apart from the fuel for the boat. Almost all of the anglers have their own boats and they take turns in who will be the 'skipper' for the outing.
Friday last I had a lovely day. Peter Hayes asked me if I would fish with a couple of his good friends so that I could demonstrate how the 'pommie dries' work. We fished at Arthur's Lake and Tasmanian publisher and editor of Tasmanian Fishing News, Mike Stevens, took his fabulous Quintex afloat. On the trip with us were Mike's son Hamish and one of Peter's guides, Andrew Harker. Andrew specialises in river trips where clients are taken down the water on a raft and given the opportunity to cover rising fish. Andrew has spent many years on the lakes, but isn't convinced by the three flies method.
Friday was looking good for a dun hatch as it was overcast and not as cold as it had been recently. We launched at the Pumphouse ramp and set off round the lake. We stopped first at a reef and pretty soon Andrew had the first fish, but before I could take a photograph of it Hamish, after unhooking it, let it slip back into the water! Hamish then caught a near three pound brown trout. The day was certainly shaping up well. In the next spot, Stumps Bay, I caught a couple of small fish and then the lake went calm: a most unusual thing over here! We moved from Stumps to Flemming's Bay, a trip of about five miles, which took less than ten minutes due to Mike having a ninety-horse power, four-stroke engine. I caught a trout and we all rose several without hooking any more, so it was decided that lunch was just about appropriate.
The usual feast was prepared: just look at the attached photograph to see what style these fishermen here have! We sorted out many of the world's problems and decided to go back afloat. Jones' Bay was next and here there were a lot of trout feeding on the good dun hatch. The fish were not easy though and, after two drifts through the bay, only Mike had caught one and the activity stopped.
We went round to the area where we had arranged to meet with Malcolm Crosse, as he was to take me home, and so that Mike or Andrew didn't have to drive the opposite way to their route back off the mountain. Malcolm had with him an American visitor who had booked a day's guiding through Tasmania's Premier Guides. I fished for an hour or so with Malcolm and Richard and we boated four trout to add to the seven that Richard had caught through the day. All fish were returned and Richard was staggered by the number of anglers that he saw kill fish during the day. Americans are well up with catch and release policies! Malcolm reported that where he took Richard trout had been moving to the duns just about all day long and he suggested that we would have had a really fantastic day had we opted for that area. Oh well, wrong venue again! But I did enjoy my day with Mike who is one of the state's most enthusiastic anglers and who puts a lot back into it for others, especially youngsters.
I next spent a few days in the company of Stephen and Alf, two financial planners who had taken a shack in Miena for a week. We fished on Little Pine Lagoon, a water that is legendary in Australia. On the way there, Alf told me that he had always struggled on this venue and most people thought that it was one of the most difficult in Tasmania. We went over nymphing tactics to start with and then, when the fish started rising to the duns, we started dry fly fishing. I demonstrated the technique and passed my rod to Alf to have a go. He had been so busy videoing the session that he hadn't set his rod up. After about ten casts Alf caught a trout and was delighted. He went on to take another two, whilst Stephen had a quiet day with just one fish. I was rather more fortunate and managed six or seven fish.
I had one memorable brown trout that was feeding a long way downwind. I just about got a fly over the fish and after an interminable wait it sipped my emerger down. As I struck into it, the fish came leaping towards me and it was as much as I could do to keep up. Alf and Stephen thought that I was bullying it and forcing it to jump, but I assured them that I am reasonably gentle with playing my fish.
I have found over here that the brown trout really love to get their heads down into the weedbeds on the bottom and if you don't "show them the butt" you will lose far too many fish. The Orvis Trident rod that Richard Banbury let me borrow for this trip is proving to be fantastic. It will cast a lovely long line if required, works very well at short range and takes a good curve when playing a fish. It is a six weight in the mid flex range, has four sections and I would recommend it highly to anyone thinking of setting off on a trip that involves any walking in the bush.
Stephen and Alf were delighted with their day. They went back to the lagoon on the next and fished both nymph and dries and managed a very creditable fourteen fish. Stephen got over his problems of the previous day by using the correct line for the rating of the rod; he had mistakenly set up his five-weight rod with a seven-weight line!
Next, we had a dawn start on Bronte Lagoon. This entailed a call at four fifteen, a fifty-minute drive and setting up in the near dark. The morning was absolutely magical. The mist hung over the water and the sun tried its best to evaporate it! The tailing trout didn't show, mostly due to the fact that the level of the lake is up by about a foot, so even if there was some feeding going on you would struggle to see any tails. However, after about an hour and a half of walking we found a small bay with a few fish rising occasionally. I slowly got into position and covered one that was working up a drainage channel. It took the fly after about twenty seconds, but it rushed so quickly into the weed at the side that there was only ever going to be one winner!
Ten minutes later I had another chance. This time I kept the pressure on the fish that I hooked and soon landed a beautifully marked brown trout. Within a couple of minutes the wind rose and not another sign of a trout could be seen. We headed off for some much needed breakfast.
I have a few things planned for next week: a river trip, a visit to Jason Garret's London Lakes Lodge, reputed to be one of the world's top fishing venues, and a couple more early morning 'tailer' sessions.