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Calm morning on Huntsman Lake - Fiona Doherty, Karen Brooks, Judy Cameron | Harris

Eight women converge in Tasmania to develop their fly fishing skills

Dawn breaks over the “classroom”: eight students and five tutors in three hand-crafted timber boats on Huntsman Lake, near Meander in northern Tasmania. Fringed by eucalypt forest, the sheltered lake feeds the trout-rich Meander River. Waders on and rods rigged, the students concentrate on pulling wet flies as the water gently laps their boats. The weather is ideal for fishing and the group is set for a day of intensive learning.

The eight students are keen fly anglers, and they’re all women. They’ve enrolled in a three-day Reel Girls workshop run by the irrepressible Karen Brooks, the workshop’s host and one of Australia’s few full-time female fishing guides. With her husband and fellow guide, Peter Brooks, she co-owns Driftwater, a boutique guiding and accommodation offering. She’s also a passionate advocate for growing the sport among women, which inspired Reel Girls. “I wanted to give women in particular the chance to develop their competition techniques in a relaxed environment, with help from the best in the sport,” she says.

Karen’s credentials are exceptional. With salt and freshwater experience across the world, she’s a member of the national team heading to the Commonwealth Fly Fishing Championships in New Zealand in March, and to the first Women’s World Fly Fishing Championships in Norway in July.

Jenny Singe with Tom Jarman providing insights | Harris

Karen and Peter are joined on the water by workshop tutors Tim Urbanc, Glenn Eggleton and Tom Jarman, all current or former Australian team members. Conditions on Huntsman Lake are ideal for the students to focus on pulling wet flies from boats, a skill that is often necessary in competition when the trout aren’t showing themselves. The lake is glassy this morning, but conditions get tougher as the temperature drops and wind increases. This is a perfect scenario for learning – students swap boats and tutors several times through the day, digging deep in their bags of tricks or adopting entirely unfamiliar styles at the suggestion of their tutors. “Tasmania offers a huge variety of fisheries and water types to test already skilled students,” says Karen. She grins: “Good anglers don’t want easy fishing.”

Around the table at Driftwater that night, conversation focuses on flies: McGoos and Shreks, Bitches and Buggers. Each has its special application: some imitative of aquatic creatures, others designed to attract trout. The most important thing about flies is how you fish them, understanding their design and also their limitations. Glenn and Tom recap the experiences of the day over dinner, answering questions and filling in gaps.

A beautiful brown trout from Hunstman Lake | Harris

The backstories of the women attending the workshop are as varied as they are intriguing. They’re a diverse group, and incredibly committed fly fishers. Marian, for example, grew up in a fly fishing family on chalk streams and salmon rivers in the UK. After spending many years in South Australia she moved to Victoria to be closer to more trout water and competitions.

Di and Fiona are keen Tasmanian bushwalkers who took up fly fishing to add a little extra to their outdoor experiences. “It’s now a full-blown addiction,” confesses Di. Next step is competitive fishing. One recently widowed student has returned to fly fishing as a therapy of sorts; another is aiming to out-fish her son.

Jane Forster is a keen national and global competitor with her partner (and workshop tutor) Glenn Eggleton. From their getaway on a lake in the central highlands, they fish regularly in Tasmania’s premier trout territory. Jane is keen to learn new techniques and gain a little edge for her competitive angling. And so is Kerryn, who took an early redundancy and retired so she could fish full-time.

Martin Droz demonstrating river craft to the attentive 'Reel Girls' | Harris

Meanwhile, Judy Cameron became a Certified Casting Instructor recently, a huge accomplishment, and enrolled in Reel Girls to improve her other fishing skills. “There’s not much use presenting the perfect cast to a fish without developing the other skills to deceive a wily trout,” she says. And then there’s Rebecca, a twentysomething barista and keen fly fisher from Canberra - so keen she stayed on for a week after Reel Girls to check out the rest of Tassie, posting daily images of her catches on Instagram. Her unbridled enthusiasm is contagious, starting with a high-five when she catches her first fish of the day on Huntsman Lake.

All the women have impressive ability: excellent casters, quick and attentive learners and open to new ideas. They’re among a surprisingly small number of Australian women who fly fish; participation rates here are far lower than in countries such as the UK and USA. Karen has difficulty nominating reasons why so few Australian women get involved – her focus is on encouraging and developing skills through initiatives such as Reel Girls.

Tom Jarman explaining the nuances of the Liffey River | Harris

They say if you want to be the best, you need to hang out with the best. So waiting for the group at breakfast on day two is former world champion Martin Drož, from the Czech Republic. Martin moved to Tasmania with his wife recently, drawn by the prospect of passing on his knowledge to the Australian fly fishing team and the chance to fish every day in the island’s pristine trout conditions.

Over tea and toast there’s much scribbling of notes and copying of diagrams as Martin and Tom run a session on European nymphing techniques and the finer points of gear and leader setups. European nymphing is a highly efficient technique; Martin and his fellow Czechs refined the practice to help them win 10 world championships in 39 years of competition history.

The workshop decamps to the Liffey River to put theory into practice. On the river at Oura Oura, in the shadow of towering Dry’s Bluff, Martin explains how to read the river and demonstrates a score of techniques and tactics. In a brief pause for lunch, Di slips away to the nearest pool and scores a healthy trout within a few casts. This spurs her fellow students into action in small groups, with tutors testing their new skills. Many of the women challenge themselves with styles of fishing they don’t normally employ. And there’s lot of peering into tutors’ fly boxes.

Di Richards successfully deceiving a Liffey brown trout | Harris

On the final day the class heads to the lake at Four Springs near Launceston, this time for a session on “plonking” and stillwater nymphing. A good number of fish are landed, though the real reward is the raft of skills learned and the glow of camaraderie.

The Reel Girls training has had real results. Kerryn, Di, Marian and Rebecca finished with distinction at a recent competition in Tasmania – and it was Rebecca’s first comp. Kerryn and Marian have also made the team for the Women’s World Championships next year.

The feedback from workshop students, meanwhile, is enthusiastic. They loved the chance to develop detailed knowledge and apply these new skills in practical settings. “The rivers and lakes are stunning and such a delight to fish,” Di says of her Tasmanian experience. And everyone appreciated the company of like-minded fly anglers. There was no boasting about sizes, numbers or distances. Reel girls don’t do that.

Jane Forster putting it all together on Hunstman Lake | Harris

Destination Details


The workshop costs $350 per person per day, including
expert tuition, shared accommodation, lunches and dinners.

Phone 0408 427 767

Useful Links


Brad Harris

Leighton Adem
FlyLife Magazine


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