The Best of Tasmania

Jack Kos samples Tasmania’s offerings

Most people didn’t get it. Why would you leave the world’s best trout fishing behind? Tasmania seemed a long way to go to catch fish half the size I can catch an hour from home in New Zealand. A few got it, though. They shared my desire for variety, for new and different experiences. To that end, I felt it important to go into this trip with an open mind. If we attempted to replicate the type of fishing we do in New Zealand, we were almost guaranteed to be disappointed, but if we sought out what made Tasmania special, then I was sure we’d find it. We had no set plans, no set agenda. We had a location to base ourselves from and we had a certain willingness to learn and to explore. My companion for this trip was my father, Stephen. In my early days of fly fishing it was the norm to fish with him, but once I moved to a new city to study, we were lucky to steal a few days a season. So this trip was somewhat of a reversion to the days of old, and one I was very much looking forward to for reasons beyond fishing. Fishing with Dad is not without its benefits either, as accommodation, food and drink reach higher standards than a mere student budget can reach. Flying in to Hobart, we briefly diverted via Evandale for some much needed rest before driving through Launceston — whilst musing why we didn’t simply fly in to Launceston — and on to Deloraine. Our hosts at Driftwater Lodge, Peter and Karen Brooks, left simple instructions for us to follow until their return from guiding: “Make yourself at home.” I’m pleased to report we did just that, cracking into some local brews from the likes of Little Rivers and Morrison Brewery whilst tuning our casting on the lawn. Upon their return Karen completed what would come to be a daily miracle, whipping up a gourmet meal in no time after a full day on the river. Conversation flowed amongst hosts and guests alike in a way it only can when all are united by the same passion. THE LAKES It’s a virtual guarantee when you plan a trip that you’re going to get whatever weather you don’t want. Thus it came as a surprise when Peter said, “Weather looks great tomorrow. I think we’ll head up top.” I’m sure many can relate to the fitful sleep excitement tends to create, and the coffees this necessitates the next morning. Three long blacks under my belt and we hit the road, winding up from Deloraine past Pine Lake at 1210 m and on to the Nineteen Lagoons. After a further coffee at the carpark we began the walk in to the lake. Here we whiled away a very pleasant afternoon casting to sighted browns in the 1–3 lb range that were more than willing to inspect a dry but slightly more reluctant to actually commit to eating it. Still, a fish to the bank a minute after finishing a smoked salmon and caper sandwich makes for a good day in my books. The following days saw us travelling to some well-known lakes that fall into a category Tasmanian’s refer to as ‘Mayfly Lakes’. This didn’t entirely make sense to me, as the majority of fish I caught in ‘non-mayfly lakes’ ate a mayfly too. However, these lakes all shared strong weed beds and a veritable proliferation of mayflies from 10 a.m. through 4 p.m. — they were true, hatch-driven fisheries. The upside to this is that there was little incentive in getting up any earlier than 8, which Dad and I both appreciated. At Penstock Lagoon I caught a wonderfully bronze brown trout within a few casts, before putting the rod away and getting the camera out to document the swarms of mayflies. Quite what the resident Aussie anglers must have thought of this mad Kiwi, chasing mayflies around the lake with his rod and reel tucked down his waders, I’ll never know. While I was waist deep with a camera inches from the surface of the water, Dad hooked and swiftly landed a good brown caught on a Highland Dun — as in New Zealand, Tasmania has a unique culture of flies that have evolved, or not evolved at all, from the dawn of their fishery. The one factor that can’t be underestimated in a highland fishery is the changeability of the weather. With one cold snap we went from high-20s one day to 4 degrees of driving wind and rain the next. Dad didn’t last long on the water that day, and when I joined him about three minutes later (hard men, these Kiwis) I found him tucking into a restorative tot of Laphroaig. Tough times. Still, one day lost to weather on a ten-day trip is a good result. Demonstrating true foolhardiness, I woke at dawn next morning and hit the shores of Great Lake searching for the Tasmanian tradition of tailing trout. Dad wisely stayed in bed. When the car’s temperature gauge registered 2 degrees I was somewhat relieved to have brought my puffer jacket. An uneventful hour followed, with my half-sleep broken only by one arrogant trout rising to a natural within a foot of my dry. I had wound in my gear and was dragging my feet through deep, sticky mud when I saw it: a tail waggling brazenly above the water. As my Woolly Bugger hit the zone I could feel my excitement peaking. There’s something immensely charged about an encounter this close-range and this visual. The bow wave was immediate, and tension followed suit. It wasn’t a big fish, the fight was routine, and yet it had given me an intensity of experience of a fish three times its size. THE RIVERS Driftwater’s name offers a hint to Peter and Karen’s pride and joy: a pair of breathtaking Montana Boatbuilders driftboats that they shipped back from Montana. The plan made itself, and we launched the boats at Cressy on the Macquarie River. Almost immediately we were presenting to rising fish, and yet this day began to take on a slightly challenging pattern for me: get a take, miss a take. Dad, to add fuel to the fire, managed to maintain a perfect record of takes to fish landed. This was all well and good when the fish were under 2 lb, but when Dad landed a cracking brown that was undoubtedly his fish of the trip, the need to catch a fish started to creep into my fishing. That Karen and I spent an hour intensely stalking and presenting to brown trout that morphed in to tench, and tench impervious to my flies at that, simply compounded things. It wasn’t until I completely zoned out and didn’t register a take, but for Karen shouting out “Strike”, that I troubled the scorer. It was a fit fish, neither big nor small, but it was an extremely welcome fish. By the time we reached Longford the sun was low in the sky and a certain thirst had built within us. The evening took its usual form. Fine food, fine beers and a full night’s sleep. The most simple and pure day’s fishing came when we weren’t intending to fish at all. We had a trip to the St John Craft Beer Bar in Launceston planned for that evening, but when you’ve travelled this far it’d be rude not to steal a few hours fishing when you can. On Peter and Karen’s advice we headed off to the aptly named Meander River and, taking a side each, commenced to work the small pockets and runs permeating the broken water. It wasn’t long before my #12 parachute Royal Wulff was plucked from its drift by a spirited brown. This set the tone, and in every good piece of edge-water we pulled a vividly red spotted brown. Had we thoroughly nymphed the runs I’m certain we’d have caught more, and probably many more, but that wasn’t the point: it was simply so enjoyable to watch these small brown trout slash at big terrestrial dries. None of the fish exceeded a pound, most weren’t half that, but again that just wasn’t the point. It was a contented pair that tucked into a pint or three that night. THE HILLS At the end of our week we were feeling like we’d seen a broad range of the fishing that Tasmania has to offer, from small high-country tarns to shallow weedy lakes, from broad meadow streams to small pocket-water rivers. Yet there was one thing we hadn’t done yet, and that was really walk. Before the trip I’d been in communication with a Tasmanian by the name of Simon Taylor. After a quick check of the weather we settled on the last day of our trip to walk in to a remote chain of lakes. The start was so early I didn’t even dare crank up the espresso machine for fear of waking Driftwater’s other guests, and to my chagrin had to settle for instant coffee. After a short drive we met up with Simon and proceeded in convoy up to the trailhead where we were joined by Simon’s friend Bruce, a local farmer, whose robust vocabulary made an immediate impression. The two-hour walk traversed rolling moors coated in sun-hardened moss and sparse thickets of trees, before cresting a rise and opening onto a chain of clear lakes set in a series of depressions. On reaching the first lake we split, with Dad and Bruce heading counter-clockwise and Simon and I heading clockwise. While we were fishing I queried Simon on his loch-style set-up and discovered he had a serious competition fly-fishing background. As we continued wading the edge of the lake it became apparent that I was fishing with an angler extremely proficient in highly technical competition tactics, but whose true loves were these remote waters and cruising browns. It wasn’t long before Simon’s body- language changed and I saw him drop a cast in short. I caught sight of his flies just in time to watch a golden head break the surface and eat his Bob’s Bits (a fly, not a euphemism). Before long Simon had secured the fish and we were on the board. Dad missed a take shortly thereafter, but it was clear that the lake wasn’t firing. The dry hot weather we had enjoyed was part of a wider pattern that had brought about significant drought. In a couple of instances we had noted exposed shores on lakes, and dry riverbeds, but on circumnavigating the second lake in the chain the full impact became apparent. One arm of the lake, over a square kilometre in area, was a barren mess with silt barely a foot below the surface.Almost immediately upon reaching a section deeper than a foot Simon spotted a cruising brown, and after refusing my flies twice and heading off to the depths at pace it had a last minute change of heart and scoffed a hastily presented Black Spinner. It was a golden fish, perfectly suited to the yellow sands of the lakebed. After a quick lunch, where we discovered that Bruce and Dad had fared much better, with three fish to the bank, the plan was made to head for deeper water. A quick hike saw us at yet another lake, with a shelf of sub-surface rocks six feet out, dropping off to blue depths. We began casting out over the shelf with a large black cricket pattern and small mayfly combination, leap frogging each other as we circled the lake. I heard Simon mutter something just in time to scan the water and watch as a brown log, hovering centimetres below the surface, cruised over to his cricket and ate. The silence that followed as his flies sailed back, unimpeded in their flight, was palpable. Bugger. It was with a renewed vigour that we recommenced searching the lake, and only a few minutes later the process was repeated with me at the crease. I waited, hearing Simon’s words going through my head — “They take so slow in this damn lake”— and then lifted. Immediate, positive tension as the fish surged for the depths. With such clean surrounds to fight the fish it was simply a case of patient pressure before we had the trout in the net. It was perfect. Fin perfect. Spot perfect. Glowing gold in the afternoon sun it could have weighed 2 lb or 8 lb; my enjoyment would have been the same. It proved to be the last rise of the day and, but for a couple of quick casts in the lakes en route, we began the trek to the trucks. Painfully close to the halfway point, Dad uttered words no angler wants to hear: “Jack, where’s your rod?” A quick detour revealed it about two minutes from the lake: a relief, but one that made the trek out slightly less leisurely. However, the prospect of cold beer sitting in Simon’s esky propelled us forwards. The first sip of cold amber washed all the sweat and exhaustion away. A few flies and stories were swapped before the allure of food grew too much, and we each set off for home. For us, this meant Driftwater again, where even our late arrival couldn’t stymie Karen’s ability to keep her guests fed and watered. VARIETY With a brief stop at a distillery along the way, we headed back to Hobart. Dad was to fly out the next morning and I was to begin my week of research in the Tasmanian archives (the real purpose of my visit), which was only interrupted by an afternoon on an urban creek in Hobart with FlyLife photographer Brad Harris. The trip had offered a remarkable variety of angling, from small streams to weedy lakes to broad tailwaters and high alpine tarns. Each had their own appeal, and whilst we never encountered a day when the fishing was truly on fire, we managed to tempt at least a few fish in each locale. Perhaps the greatest treat for a couple of Kiwis, however, was the willingness of fish to rise. Over the course of the trip I caught one fish on a nymph, one on a Woolly Bugger, and the remainder on dries, whilst Dad maintained his purity and had a perfect record with the dry. This was genuine dry-fly fishing of the sort that only occurs in New Zealand for a brief period during terrestrial season or in the few hatch-driven fisheries. I’m far from a purist, but if I had to choose there’s no doubt which method reigns supreme, which method I crave. And the free-rising golden flanked brown trout of Tasmania sated that craving and then some. See page 97 (Short Casts) for a postscript on fishing Brad’s Creek.

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