Walking the Western Lakes

by Jan Spencer

Often I am asked where my favourite spot is. Really, it's where I happen to be on the day.

Having fished a number of places in the world I know we are so lucky in Tasmania to have fishing that is so diverse. From small mountain streams to lowland rivers, and thousands of highland lakes. The remote lakes in Tasmania, commonly known as the Western Lakes, certainly hold a place in my heart. I am not sure why, as there are certainly places more civilised and a darned sight easier to get to.


It's the sheer remoteness of the place that draws me back year after year. The area is so unique with every type of lake fishing available. This area of our small State is remote and inhospitable and is no place for the unprepared.

A lot of magazines have articles painting pictures of romance and beauty. Well that may be on the very nice days, but mostly the bad weather will outweigh the good. To put it in a sentence - it's beautiful, barren, cold, hot, wet, snowing, dismal and often very rewarding - and all this can happen within a few hours. Often referred to as the "land of three thousand lakes" but I think there are a few more than that. Some lakes are quite large, measuring a few kilometres in length, to small tarns no bigger than an average farm dam. Most have fish in them as there are connecting waterways allowing fish to move from one to another. It always pays to look thoroughly at each water, as the one you bypass will hold the trophy trout. Some of these waters will have marshy shorelines and if the weather is overcast and raining (some wind will also help), the fish will work the shallow marshy edges, quite often visible to the angler. When trout are in this mode a small black fur fly or scud pattern fished insert will take its fair share of fish. Ninety per cent of the time the wind will be blowing, so if you can't handle a fly line in strong windy conditions learn to do so before going in to this country. If lucky enough to get some blue sky for polaroiding, the fishing can be like no other. To spot and place a dry fly to a cruising fish certainly gives an adrenalin rush. Polaroiding can be done with cloudy skies if you know how to use the light to your advantage, but this is much more difficult to master. Working with the sun on a good day is to have it shine over your shoulder. A good pair of Polaroid sunglasses is a must, and a wide brimmed hat.

Finding fish in very windy, cloudy weather can be difficult. Over hanging banks and rocky shores are always worth a look. These days are normally hard work, an exciter fly sometimes brings results. This type of fishing really doesn't do much for me but when a two man tent is home, one has to so something to fill in the day.

Good for piece rods now on the market are the way to go. If you have ever done any scrub bashing with a long rod tube in tow you will know the hassles it can cause. A small tube with a pack rod inside attached to the side of the pack makes life much easier. A 6 weight rod is ideal. I usually take two rods just in case of breakage.

My lines consist of two six weights floaters, one double taper - the other a weight forward. If I need to get flies down into the water I simply use a weighted fly. This will do the job nicely.

Leaders are always a great conversation topic. Some will say a really long leader is the go, but I like a leader around the 12 ft mark. I find if your casting and knowledge of presentation is of a high standard, it is not necessary to have really long leaders. The only time I would extend the length would be in very still conditions, but these times are quite rare.

The normal flies that most people carry are quite adequate such as black spinner, caddis patterns, red tags and dun patterns. Wet - small black fur fly, nymphs or various colours, small red and black matuka and woolly worms.

It's the dry fly that takes pride of place for me, as these wild fish will normally that a well-presented dry fly. My lightweight fly vest always goes on these pack trips loaded with only the very basic items. I find by using a vest I always know where everything is, such as tippet materials, leaders, fly boxes etc. Otherwise, these items seem to get scattered through clothing pockets and packs.

Waders are never taken, not only are they bulky, but also quite an extra weight to add to the already heavy pack. Most of the lakes are silty and my advise is "don't wade'. Always remember not to over pack fishing gear you have to carry, but also keep in mind you cant dash to the local tackle shop for something you may have left at home.

Backpacking equipment and clothing is another story. Always buy the very best your budget will allow as it's your life that is at risk.

There are hundreds to choose from. A tent must be strong in frame and material, while keeping the weight to a minimum. If the weather should turn bad, a tent must be able to withstand the test of strength, protection and stability, plus you must feel secure that you are safe from the elements.

Sleeping bags
A good sleeping bag can mean the difference between a good night's sleep and a bad one. Most people will find the cold nights very long if they are cold. For this country, and knowing what the weather can be like, I recommend a down filled bag with at least a 10 rating.

Sleeping Mats
Sleeping mats can add a whole lot more comfort and at least give some added insulation against the cold ground.

Cooking Equipment
Again there is a variety of cookers available such as gas, butane, metho and others. My personal  preference is the Trangia which runs on metho. The Trangia is a very compact unit with saucepans, frying pan, kettle and burner which all packs up into one small unit and is great for transporting in a pack.

Food is a personal preference thing. A bit of experimentation is needed here to suit the individual, so I suggest the back packing party try different things before venturing out. A typical day's meal for the Spencers is as follows:

Breakfast - 2 Weetbix and 1 muffin with jam

Lunch - Cheese and biscuits

Dinner - A meat freeze dried meal with added dried peas and pasta

Dessert - custard and dried fruit

Snacks - dried fruit and nuts, muesli bars and an odd chocolate bar thrown in here and there.

One complete set of clothing such as trousers, long sleeve thermal vest, thermal shirt and a Polatec pile jacket with a rating of 200 or more and warm socks.

Spare clothing: One complete set thermal underwear consisting of long and short sleeve vest, long johns, two pairs of underpants and two pairs of socks. The thermal underwear is used to sleep in and is used as spare clothes should the main set get wet. A good beanie and gloves are also essential items.

Good boots are a must. It's your feet that have got to carry all this equipment and if your feet give up, then you are in trouble so make them as comfortable as possible. The boots I wear are Goretex lined and are just superb.

Gaiters: These are not a necessity but certainly give protection against snakes and help keep socks clean and dry.

Wet Weather Clothing
Don't enter this country unless your wet weather coat and trousers are of good quality. There are a number of good brands of coats and pants to be had. The Goretex variety has served me well, although quite expensive. What's a few hundred dollars if it means your life.

Before buying a pack take a good long, hard look at the gear you will need to take as it is no good buying a pack that is too small to get all the gear in. The pack needs to be comfortable to wear, so ask your local dealer if you can try it on and pack some weight into it so you know just how the pack feels on your back. There needs to be plenty of adjustment harness so the pack, when adjusted properly, will feel good to wear. The fabric the pack is made of needs to be strong so it can take all the scrub-bashing and clambering over rocky terrain.

My own pack has two sections, a large area in the top and a smaller area at the bottom. I find this very serviceable as I can store all the things I use the most in the small bottom area which makes easy access and I don't have to pull everything from the large area to find what I am looking for. A pack liner helps to keep things dry and large heavy duty garbage bags will do.

Good first aid kit

Torch (spare batteries and bulb)


Maps and compass, well-defined maps are a must

Spare food - at least one extra day's rations for emergencies

Camera -the camera never lies and you will bring back many memories

Fuel - bottle of metho in a metal container, as plastic punctures too easily

Drinks - there is always plenty of water available and it is really nice to have a hot drink, so coffee and milk, or there are a number of instant chocolate drinks on the market where only boiling water need be added.

Plastic bags - supermarket bags are handy to put rubbish in, always bring it out with you as we must look after this country.

Small spade; these can be obtained in a plastic version at your local outdoor shop.

Rope - need only be a couple of metres of a fine nylon  variety, but can come in vary useful for all sorts of things.

Toiletries - personal choice, but remember not to take full bottle of anything. Empty pill bottles make good small containers.

Small towel and sunscreen

Eating - plate or bowl (plastic is lighter), knife, fork and spoon.

It is impossible to make a list which will suit everybody but I hope the above helps.

If you plan a trip into these areas and its your first, do some research on the area you intend to go to. Always leave a trip plan with someone so, if you don't turn up when planned, at least someone knows the area you are in. It's best not to go alone. I hope I haven't put you off too much. I love that country and know the moods. It can throw, so if you plan a trip, be careful and enjoy its magnificent beauty.

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