Published in the Financial Times – October 2005
Standing on the bank by the smooth dark water Jo Holmes took a long look and said: “A woolly bugger I think”. Clad in five layers of clothing, from cotton long johns to an oversize fleece, I wondered briefly if I should take this comment personally. But Holmes, a professional fishing guide had already produced a tiny fluffy speck from a small box. “Rabbit fur and a touch of colour. The perfect wet fly for a grey day”, he said.
It was a chill April afternoon in the Tasmanian Highlands, and we were just about to start fishing at the exclusive private London Lakes Lodge. The mocking calls of kookaburras punctuated my first clumsy casts, but Holmes was patience itself. “Flick the rod back, wait for a second, and then cast forward from the wrist”, he said, his hand gracefully outlining the tight curve of line. I knew that among the gaunt trunks of long drowned eucalyptus in the lake before us swam some of the finest wild brown trout in the world and as the shadows lengthened, so did my casts. But not even the circular ripple of a turning fish marred the burnished lake. “We had a cold snap last week which killed off all the insects,” said Holmes. “We’ll try tomorrow morning.”
Back at the Lodge, other fishermen, drinks in hand lolled comfortably in front of a blazing fire. Garry Yost, an Australian financier told me in great detail of his long struggle to land a two and a half kilo brown trout that morning and at supper that night, dining on best Tasmanian pork, Sydney banker Ken Musgrove demonstrated the darker side of fly-fishing. As Yost proudly displayed a tray of flies Musgrove lent casually across the table for the bottle of wine. Catching my eye he turned the sleeve of his sweater briefly to reveal two flies snagged by an invisible sleight of hand from the box. “Always wear wool” he said with a wink. “Perfect way for poaching the best of the opposition!”
Next morning at 6.30 we set off in a chill mist, startling wallabies which bounded off into the murk by the lake, which lay still and calm. I would have to leave at 11, and cast keenly for the first couple of hours to no avail whilst Musgrove, not far ahead, caught three fine browns within thirty minutes. At 9.30, as a wintry sun created a beautiful rainbow which spanned the gum trees, I followed Holmes’ tactful advice, and dropped my fly just by a sodden stump. There was the briefest flash of movement, and barrelling out of the water on its tail came a fine brown trout, shaking its head to rid itself of the fly. It fought hard for three minutes, and then I brought it into the shallows where Holmes expertly removed the hook. The 1 kilo fish was a magnificent blue bronze sprinkled with orange and khaki spots and merged imperceptibly into the freezing water when I released it back into the lake.
At the lodge, over a breakfast of whisky porridge we listened with amusement to Yost regaling new comers with an elaborate account of the tussle with his mighty fish, which had mysteriously gained a kilo overnight. Modestly I mentioned my own catch of the morning, which weighed I reckoned, at least three kilos, and then loaded my bags into the car.
My destination was the brand new Blue Lake Lodge on Arthur’s Lake 70 kilometres away which had opened only three months before. Next morning at 8.30 with lodge-owner Brett Wolf and Rod Sloane, editor of Australia’s fishing magazine, FlyLife, we sped across the ten kilometre long lake in a fast purpose built launch under a threatening sky. “This is the most prolific fly-fishing lake in Tasmania” said Sloane, as he expertly cast his fly far away from the boat. “In summer the water here is alive with fish”. From the flat deck we cast repeatedly into the still water as Wolf, who had spent every day of the past season on the lake, manoeuvred the boat to the most likely spots in the long lake. Just as I was admiring a brief ray of sun touching the top of the forest, he shouted “Lift!” Jolted from my reverie I looked down into the water where my woolly bugger had just been nuzzled by a very large brown trout, which turned with a derisory flip of its tail for the deep. “You’ve got to concentrate all the time ” said Wolf, a trifle reprovingly. It would be my only contact for the morning, and at lunch of restorative hot chicken sandwiches and a glass of wine by the fire at the lodge Sloane was pensive. “It’s the last day of the season today”, he said. “But with any luck there’ll be a late midge hatch this afternoon and we’ll get the dry flies out”.
That afternoon, a lone mayfly heralded some insect life, and for a couple of hours we fished with tiny dry flies. Sloane, who with each fluid cast practically emptied his reel of line had soon landed two fine browns, but I seemed to be forever fishing on the bad side of the boat. As the light began to fade Wolf, who never stopped scanning the water pointed suddenly to the circular ripple of a big rise just in amongst the eucalyptus trees. “Drop your fly right in it”, he whispered tersely. With an expertise which surprised us all, I cast the fly precisely into the bull’s-eye 15 metres away. Almost immediately the water erupted as a big brown trout came skating out of the water on its tail and then the reel screamed as the fish dived deep. I kept the head of the rod up, but suddenly felt the line go slack. “He’s swimming toward you” hissed Wolf. “Keep the line taut.” At the same moment, Sloane shouted “I’ve hooked up” and he too started to pull in line. Within five minutes we had both landed our fish, two 2 kilo females, their beautifully coloured rounded flanks indicating that both were full of roe. We quickly photographed our quarry, and then let them slide slowly back into the chill water.
“You see”, said Sloane, as we motored through the dusk back to the welcoming lights of the lodge. “This is what fishing as all about. One minute you’re convinced that you’ll never catch a fish again, and then…” he snapped his fingers and grinned. “You hook on and life is worth living after all.”
Nick Haslam travelled to the Northern Territories courtesy of Tailor Made Travel (Tel: +44 (0) 1386 712 050. Web site: www.tailor-made.co.uk). 7 nights full board at Blue Lake Lodge including guided daily fishing, tuition and all fishing equipment start at GBP 2,275. This includes international flights London-Hobart (via Los Angeles,
Auckland, and Melbourne) with Air New Zealand. London Lakes Fly Fishing Lodge costs 383 GBP per night full board with all equipment and guide supplied.
For further information on Tasmania go to: www.discovertasmania.com