Out West

Thomas Cramp comes to terms with Tasmania’s Western Lakes

It’s 2:30 in the morning and my wake-up alarm has finally sounded. On days like this I need an alarm about as much as a fish needs a bicycle — I’ve already been awake for hours. I jump out of bed with ease, slip on the clothes I’d laid out the night before, and take a quick glance out the window to confirm the weatherman’s prediction of clear skies. I’m giddy with excitement; it feels like Christmas morning. Today, I’m heading ‘out west’. As the jewel in the crown of Tasmania’s trout fishery, the Western Lakes (colloquially known as ‘out west’ or ‘up top’) needs no introduction. Regardless of the length of my trips into this beautiful part of the world, I’m constantly left with the feeling that my time spent there was not long enough. The insatiable desire to return to this area is a common thread among anglers, bushwalkers and wilderness buffs alike. The specifics of what it is that continues to draw us back are different for each individual, with our own experiences, worldviews and personalities shaping the way we see and interact with this undeniably special place. Of course, from a fly fisher’s perspective, the quality of the fishery alone is enough to make anyone want to return. For me at least, the highly visual aspect of fishing out west is a significant part of what makes it such an addictive, all-consuming pursuit. Thanks to their often crystal-clear waters, prolific weed beds, extensive marsh systems and varied shorelines, sight fishing is always an option when fishing these lakes. Even during periods of inclement weather, typically thought of as unsuitable for traditional polaroiding, there are still strategies that make sight fishing effective in this environment. But for me personally, the allure of this place goes far beyond the quality of the fishing. The wild landscape offers a reprieve from my exceedingly organised life, and provides freedom to create an adventure limited only by where my imagination can take me. Many hours of my life have been spent poring over maps of this area, planning and scheming future missions, a process I enjoy almost as much as actually going! The increasing rarity of such wild places is, I suspect, a reason why so many people are continually drawn back to this ancient region. I often go alone when fishing out west. Admittedly, this is usually due to the impulsive nature of my ‘planning’ (if you could call it that!). I’m also fortunate to live near multiple access points to the plateau. This, coupled with the fact that I’m currently an online university student, allows me more opportunity than most to go on these last-minute expeditions. Rest assured, I make the most of every opportunity! Since taking up fly fishing, these solo jaunts have quickly become a staple part of my life. Each trip is an opportunity for me to recharge, reconnect and reflect — or the three r’s, as I like to call them. In an increasingly busy and distracted world, the value of a place that enables you to do these things cannot be overstated. As much as I love and value my alone time in the Western Lakes, there is just something special about sharing the experience with good mates and like-minded people. Whether it be the pure delight of your mate’s long-awaited trophy catch or jointly bearing the weight of a tough, fishless day, to share these things out west is to create a lasting bond. I know it’s been said before, but one of the things I love most about fly fishing is its ability to connect people and to act as a catalyst for genuine and lasting friendships. Although I’ve only been fishing the Western Lakes for relatively very few years, I already feel as though I have a lifetime worth of memories thanks to some unforgettable days with good mates. One day in particular that comes to mind was a spontaneous trip with fellow Western Lakes tragic James Sinnamon. Both loving a good stretch of the legs, and with the forecast looking promising, we decided (last-minute of course) that we’d do a round trip into a remote system of lakes for the day. Although the usual sense of anticipation was undeniably present, I don’t think either of us had any particularly great expectations for the day. After all, it was relatively early in the season (October) and ideally it could have been a few degrees warmer. Our walk to the first fishable water of the day didn’t take long, and by first light we found ourselves standing on the shore of a lake perfectly suited for spotting tailing trout. We had both fished this lake before and were well aware that the big resident browns couldn’t resist getting right up into the shallows of this particular bay. Right on cue, the whole back and tail of a respectable trout was spotted protruding from the water. This is a sight that can make even the most experienced anglers weak at the knees! With shaking hands from the sudden rush of adrenaline, I unhooked my Fur Fly and clumsily delivered it to within a couple of metres of the fish. The fly hitting the water triggered an immediate reaction. Thankfully the bow wave was in the direction of my fly, and without hesitation it was inhaled. Before long I had a beautiful trout of just over 4 lb safely in the net. Sporting childlike grins, James and I just looked at each other and laughed — this is what it’s all about! When fishing the Western Lakes (or anywhere in fact) I like to keep things as simple as possible, particularly when it comes to fly choice. Aside from the odd picky fish or exceptional circumstance, I could probably count on one hand the number of patterns I use in a whole season. Along with any parachute-style dun, the Fur Fly is the pattern most securely established in my fly box, particularly during frog season (see FL#104). Whether casting to fish spotted in the shallows or simply prospecting likely shorelines, the Fur Fly is the perfect no-fuss, do-it-all fly. An epiphany for me in terms of increasing my success rate with the Fur Fly was realising the importance of presenting the fly on the shore side of the fish. When delivered to foraging trout in the shallows, I can only speculate that this more accurately imitates a frog naturally jumping in from the shore, as opposed to spontaneously dropping from the sky into the deeper water. Whatever the reason, since employing this strategy my success rate with this already deadly fly has increased significantly. Since James and I had experienced such early success in the day, we decided to press on to more remote lakes while giving the sun a chance to get a little higher in the sky, thereby improving polaroiding conditions. By the time we reached the next lake the sun was high enough to allow decent visibility, so we proceeded with care, constantly scanning the water for movement, fish-shaped shadows and flashes of colour. Neither of us could have expected or been prepared for the following 6 to 7 hours of action. Nearly every bay and short stretch of shoreline held multiple trout, with every fish that we covered readily accepting a dry fly. Red Tags, parachute-style duns, black spinners — it didn’t matter, the fish were hungry! We literally lost count of the beautifully conditioned trout that came to hand, all in the 3–5 lb range. In a place where you’re usually counting chances or fish spotted, it was a surreal experience for us both to land so many great fish. Knowing that we’d just been a part of something very special, the long walk back to the car was filled with enthusiastic retellings of memorable catches, interspersed with periods of reflective silence. Although they’ve been few and far between, I’ve found that these uber-successful days out west are fantastic opportunities to observe and note things that are usually overlooked on a normal day when fewer fish are caught. During a typical trip out west, the moments following a fish being spotted are often clouded by a rush of adrenaline or at least some sense of urgency, so the opportunity to closely observe the nuances of fish behaviour is often lost in the rush to simply get the fish on the board. In contrast, when the perceived pressure of making every chance count is removed by having already caught a good number, I’ve found that I’m willing to slow down and observe more closely, at the risk of potentially missing my chance at another fish. During these times I’ve come to realise the tactical benefit of doing just that — slowing down and actually observing the fish’s behaviour before making a decision on how to approach and present the fly. It is true that more often than not in the Western Lakes it is absolutely vital to get your fly out onto the water and in front of the fish as quickly as possible. The trout are regularly ‘on the cruise’ and will quickly move out of sight or beyond casting distance if you’re not fast enough. It is also true, however, that many of the trout spotted are either slowly working a beat up and down a shoreline or around a small bay, or indeed lying completely still in the shallows waiting to ambush their prey. Upon reflection, I’ve realised that on many occasions when I’ve clumsily spooked a fish after rushing to get my fly on the water, I could have actually slowed down and presented my fly more carefully. Although I certainly don’t always manage to do this in the heat of the moment, whenever I do, I feel as though my chances of catching the fish are greatly improved. It often gives me that extra moment to solve the puzzle of each fish, allowing me to set the trap more thoughtfully, as opposed to just blasting out a Hail Mary cast. This process, by extension, helps me to improve my skills even more with every fish encounter. By all accounts the Western Lakes is a difficult fishery, with every fish being earned and never guaranteed. Sometimes though, the stars align and we are blessed with the odd red-letter day when everything just seems to fall into place. We are all continually drawn back to the shores of these lakes with the eternal optimism that maybe this time it will happen for us! But of course, if it were that easy all the time, the Western Lakes would undoubtedly lose their attraction. The rewarding nature of a difficult fishery such as this is something we must all learn to value. These places force innovation and demand only our best, ultimately making us better anglers. Knowing that I always have the opportunity to learn something new when fishing out west is a major aspect of what continually draws me back. My desire to improve and refine my craft is heightened by the challenging nature of this harsh environment. I am of the opinion that if you return from a trip out west having not learnt something new (about fishing or about yourself), then I’m afraid you’ve missed the point.

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