Right Place Right Time

As my wife will attest, I typically sleep like a log. Perhaps a gnarled, rumbling old-growth log, but that is beside the point. You can bet that the night before a mission into the wilderness will inevitably result in restlessness, excitability and a distinct lack of sleep. Such was the case with a recent sojourn. However, this story starts some time ago, when I ventured into a region within Tasmania’s Western Lakes wilderness with my good mate Andy Howell. This particular mission consisted of uncharted waters for us both; a desire that is deeply engrained within us to explore new water each season. After quickly exiting our convenient campsite in the Nineteen Lagoons, we set off for a big day-trip with expectations of wild browns cruising silt flats and eager to suck a dry fly off the top. Imagine our disappointment when kilometre after kilometre revealed an endless fishbowl environment, with a surprising lack of actual fish. We had pretty good visibility all day, so each footstep came with plenty of anticipation, but that eventually dried up. After covering around 30 kilometres that day, we saw one single fish. That particular fish came up and ate the dry fly, then proceeded to bury me in a deep undercut. Hardly reward for effort! Much is written about the Western Lakes, though I can confirm that not all days are filled with fish-slaying action. The area can be utterly brutal, and even when you manage to see a few fish, every single element is against you. Sometimes, simply coming away with a single fish to the bank gives you a sense of great relief, where one fish is overwhelmingly better than none. So should we write this water off our list? Fast-forward a couple of years and the opportunity arose to spend some time ‘out West’ with fellow wilderness enthusiast Mitchell Crowden. When tossing up ideas, I offered the suggestion of getting back to Spot X in a last-ditch effort to let the region shine. After all, fish just had to be there! A few hours of sleeplessness saw me leaving home at stupid o’clock to allow for an early departure. With packs on our backs we left the car by head-torch at 4:30, bound for the unknown. The forecast was hot and bright and an early fog didn’t deter our enthusiasm, as it often burns off quickly when the sun gets going. With heavy fog still present as we rounded our first water some hours later, I was surprised at the lack of tails breaking the surface. Was this going to be a repeat performance? Soon after, we arrived at our target destination with the sun beginning to break through, and the first bay revealed not one but three brown trout on the move. Hastily we threw the Fur Flies we had tied on in case of tailing trout — but they were ignored. That didn’t really matter — we saw fish, and had a couple of days of experimentation ahead of us. While trying out various combinations of black spinner patterns, parachute duns with nymph droppers, and the odd Red Tag, we continued around each bay and it wasn’t long before a fish accepted a dry and we were into our first tussle for the mission. It’s hard to describe the feeling of that first fish, though it is bound to lie somewhere between elation and relaxation. This moment was to set a common trend for the day, and after sorting a couple more feisty browns out we were both on the board and soon found a spot to pitch the tents. While that first fish brings a huge sense of relief, removing the pack takes an undeniable weight off the shoulders. Minimal care was taken in setting up camp as we were far too keen to keep exploring the immediate surrounds and beyond. While briefly lost amongst a chorus of frogs, I could faintly hear Mitchell. I’m not sure what he said, but his body language suggested he was eyeing one off. An impressive snout broke the surface confirming the fact, and we were soon gazing in awe of the condition on this genuine four-pounder. As he prepared for a quick grip-and-grin, cramp set in, and we (me) spent a few moments in complete hysterics. Just as he was releasing this one (whilst grimacing), another came swimming into the tiny cove, sipping off the top as it made its way towards us. I popped a wayward cast a few feet to the side of this fish and it raced over swiftly and engulfed the fly without stopping. We hadn’t even moved and yet we were on again. High-fives and knuckle-bumps were justified as we were already having the time of our lives and it was barely past morning smoko! Of course, while we landed the odd fish, some hooks were pulled, a few fish were busted off and we missed a good number. Such is the challenge out here. We also encountered plenty that refused to take, despite a decent inspection. One such fish came to look at my dry, only to turn away at the last moment. It doesn’t always entice them, but I gave the dry a few subtle twitches and the fish came back over to gobble it down. It was one of the most gorgeous wild brown trout I’ve ever encountered out here. Wonderfully golden, fit and loaded with spots, including a smattering of bright red — something you don’t see too much out West on the bigger fish. The action continued for much of the day until the clouds rolled in mid-afternoon, reminding us how crucial the sun was to our success. Each time a big cloud concealed the sun we took time out to load up on scroggin rather than spook fish we couldn’t see. Subsequently, each time it came back out we saw fish cruising. We eased into the evening with a camp-cooked spaghetti all’amatriciana — lovingly prepared with all the trimmings by Mitchell — while enjoying the sunset from our alpine beach. This left me questioning why I had decided to leave the red wine in the car this time. Aside from the mozzies, a huge tail breaking the surface in front of us only briefly interrupted the moment. For the record, we didn’t catch it! Day two began with the song of the currawong, interspersed with a cacophony of clanging from the dual preparation of coffee. Plenty of coffee. Satisfied, we checked the tippets on our 16-foot leaders and refloated our dry flies. Another crucial step was to apply ample sunscreen. Apart from the odd pencil pine or King Billy pine, there is next to no shade out here for the entire day. Our plan was to venture further afield, in the hope of larger fish. After a bit of huffing and puffing we were soon into our first headwater and despite plenty of sun, nothing was to be seen. With time up our sleeves we got ourselves to a high vantage point and played the waiting game, hoping the fish might come out from the depths and swim past. This can sometimes pay off, but sadly not this time. We did make the discovery of a graball net stashed in a rock crevice, raising some concern but also raising plenty of questions as to the possible motive in this harsh and challenging environment. Headwaters were not providing the action we came for, and with the sun blazing away high in the sky we made the call to get back to the reliable options. Like clockwork, the fish just kept on appearing around each corner and over each fishy-looking flat. Despite the mild conditions there was not a mayfly to be seen, and the very few fish that were rising appeared to be taking the odd gum beetle falling onto the water. Rather than lying doggo, fish were certainly on the move and on the lookout for food. Despite our conversion rates being much lower than you would expect, we stuck with our single dries. After all, there’s nothing more heart stopping than watching a beautiful big brown nose up to your dry. All good things must come to an end and the time eventually came to pack up and prepare for the hike back. In retrospect, we had retraced old footsteps under similar conditions but with very different results, with the latter probably being one of the most enjoyable times we’ve experienced in the Western Lakes. With a hint of premeditated weather scrutiny and a pinch of good luck, sometimes it also helps to be in the right place at the right time.

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