Walking and Stalking
A first timer's impressions of Tasmania's Western Lakes with ABC Radio's Scott Levi.
So you think you're a dedicated fly fisher! Well try this quick quiz: Are you prepared to walk 1300 metres straight uphill with a 30 kilo pack, cross loose rock screes that can break an ankle with one false step and navigate across trackless wilderness?
Are you also prepared to bush bash through tiger snake invested scrub and swamps, eat dehydrated bushwalking food, suffer from hypothermia when it's 30 degrees plus down in the lowlands and, after all of that, stand a very good chance of not catching anything?
If you answer YES to all of these questions then you're ready to tackle the Western Lakes.
I can hear the tough Tasmanian veterans of this unique wilderness lake fishery chuckling into their beards but I found my excursion up the Western Tier one of the toughest things I have ever done.
The best thing you can do is team up with one of those veterans, as I did. Our trip leader, Brian Chambers, is addicted to the Western Lakes experience and like all great explorers was meticulous in his preparations, sending me a fool proof check list. The only trouble was this fool didn't bring a Gortex coat, gloves or beanie, as advised. While Launceston experienced the hottest temperatures on record, up on the Plateau, it was cold, wet and cloudy and, on one day, the mist didn't lift till after 2 pm.
Before the trip, I asked local Tasmanian, Mike Stevens, about fly selection and was heartened by his simple approach-apparently as prescribed by legendary Tasmanian guide, Noel Jetson. "For the big shore cruisers start with a size 12 Red Tag," he said. "If they refuse that, go to a size 14 Red Tag, if that's refused go to a size 16 Red Tag and if that's refused throw a rock at them!"
He was spot on. A great example of the pulling power of this simple little fly occurred when one of our trio, Mike Chambers, presented a Red Tag to a 4 lb fish cruising along a wind and wave washed rocky shore. The fish was searching for food washed into the rocks hard up against the bank and just before the trout arrived at the fly a wave snagged the Red Tag on a mossy rock. But that didn't stop the determined fish. It then did its best to bite the fly off the rock several times in about 20cm of water!
If there is one bit of advice I can give to people like me who are used to catching regular Australian stream sized fish on dry fly it is to SLOW DOWN THE STRIKE! If you tangle with a Western Lakes fish it is more than likely going to be one over 4 lb and big fish take longer to turn down with the fly. There is nothing as heart breaking as spotting a nice trout, making a perfect presentation with the right fly and then pulling it out of the fish's mouth by striking too early. Thank goodness it's a wilderness area because the expletives I let go when this happened on two occasions could have led to my arrest had anyone been within ear shot.
One of the highlights of the trip was a great example of perseverance. On our last day, with mist cutting visibility down to a watery window of five metres, Brian sat on a rock to lay in wait for a cruising fish. On a previous visit he had seen fish regularly swim past this outcrop.
We sat for fifteen minutes until a disappointed Brian hooked the fly in the rod's keeper ring and said: "Looks like he's not coming this time."
As if on cue, a big brown swam out of the mist and into view. With frantic, fumbling fingers, Brian unhooked the fly, a CDC Mayfly Emerger, and flicked the line a bare metre from the rod tip. The fish sidled over and the fly disappeared into its gaping mouth. My mouth was also agape as I helped Brian land the trophy fish which weighed at least six pounds. We immortalised the catch on camera and let him go.
As we packed the tents, the watery sun peeped through the clouds and the fish continued to feed on the mayfly duns. But now we could see them clearly in the water and not just their "rises".
What a revelation. No wonder we couldn't temp them fishing blind. They zigged and zagged just under the surface of the waves searching for duns. I was lucky enough to get my fly into the path of a feeder about 20 m out. He wolfed down the mayfly pattern and took off across the lake, cartwheeling like a marlin. After three spectacular leaps, he won his freedom. I had struck too quickly again! Mike Stevens reckons a Tasmanian fly fisher wouldn't have missed those fish. He reckons my fast city lifestyle was the curse.
After a week walking from lake to lake, probably fishing a dozen lakes and looking at a dozen more, we made our way back down. Two pieces of gear that were vital for the descent were retractable aluminium walking poles. Brian gave me his because I'm sure he didn't fancy carrying my 100 kilo carcase down the mountain. The poles saved me from tumbling on a number of occasions and are worth the investment.
Stopping for a dip in a tumbling, crystal clear, freezing cold stream was a highlight at the end of the trek and helped to take a bit of the swelling out of my knees.
It was tough going but, for me, the adventure of a lifetime and I would recommend the experience to anyone fit enough to make the trip.
If all of that seems too much like hard work then our next two days of fishing could be a much more enjoyable option for you.
We drove out to one of the local rivers. When we arrived we found the banks alive with grasshoppers. Every pool we fished had trout on the look out for these big, tasty, treats. We caught and released about 20 fish in a 500 metre stretch with the best a 45 cm brown around 2 lb.
It was easy cool, wet wading and an engrossing way to spend the day. The big fish had come out of their hidey holes to get on the "Hoppers" and they found a Nobby Hopper size 12 irresistible.
The next day we had some great sport for rising fish on the St Patrick's River and caught and released plenty of fat and feisty little browns. The Tasmanian rivers have to have the healthiest numbers of wild bred fish in the world.
Within an hours drive of Launceston we satisfied our need to catch fish after a week of hard stalking for a handful in the Western Lakes.
As Tasmanian Trout Guide Tony Ritchie writes in his book Finding Feeding Trout "Like gold, Trout may be where you find them and like gold they are to be treasured wherever that may be.