Wilderness Therapy

Benjamin Kerthe values time spent in Tasmania

I come from France and I’m 25 years old. Most of my friends are settling down, starting promising careers, buying houses and talking about marriage and children. But after a Master Degree in Ecology and Environment Biosciences, a couple of research projects on heavy-metal contamination in freshwater ecosystems and four months teaching physics and chemistry in high school, I didn’t feel I was where I belonged. Fly fishing for trout started to get my attention as soon as I had my first car. Living close to the Pyrenees, I was just a one-and-a-half hour drive from some of the most beautiful rivers in the world, including the best zebra trout fisheries. I also quickly started to explore the waters in the Basque country as well as all the famous trout waters in eastern France, especially those in the Department of Jura, and throughout the Alps. Even so, I was desperate to discover what the rest of the world had to offer. With the constant progress of human development and its impact on pretty much everything natural, I felt it was now or never. So in March 2017, I bought a one-way ticket to Australia. FIRST YEAR During my first year on the mainland, I worked mainly in agriculture. I also built houses, worked in a giant solar-panel farm, and helped out in a rubbish-recycling factory. Surprisingly, those jobs paid more than I was earning in France. By December 2017 I had enough money to visit Tasmania. I figured that if I could find some extra work in the cherry or apple orchards, I should be able to stay for the best part of the trout season, until late March. As soon as I was out of the ferry, in my old ‘house on wheels’, I drove to Launceston and visited the Essential Flyfisher. I had been able to browse Trout Waters of Tasmania by Greg French but didn’t have a hard copy. I introduced myself to Jules Stevens in the shop and asked about the Western Lakes. She said she knew a young guide, James, who would be pleased to take me out for free during his days off. A couple of text messages and several days later, I went to James’s place to plan a three-day trip out West. And those three days with him ended up being the best thing that a newcomer could hope for. COMPARISONS The Western Lakes were a revelation to me. We caught some very nice fish, especially James, and I learned most of the basics I needed to be able to go back on my own. I fell in love with the area, probably like most of you who have been lucky enough to get there. The atmosphere is so special: remoteness, wilderness, solitude and, above all, those big trout living in almost every single piece of water. Heaven? Probably. Back home in the Pyrenees, the mountain lakes are between 1500 and 2500 metres above sea level, and the effort to reach them is physically more demanding. But they are very poor ecosystems with a low amount of food. The surface is frozen anywhere from four to eight months per year, which makes a 40 cm trout a very old fish. In the highest lakes you can find plenty of brook trout, and they will eat anything hairy on a hook dragged in the waves. Quite unlike Tasmanian brown trout. On the other hand, there are some similarities in the way you approach them, like aiming for the bank that is hit by the wind and looking for small irregularities and cavities along the edges. And polaroiding. COMPANIONSHIP After a month of fishing I went back to work in a cherry orchard and met Anne, who also happened to be French. We worked for three weeks and were due to come back three weeks later for the apple picking. During those weeks of holidays, we went all around the island. I loved every part of it but, I am forced to admit, we mostly went where I could find trout. Twice I took Anne into the Western Lakes. I guess it was a sort of test. It was something completely new for her but she loved it. She didn’t know much about fly fishing but proved herself to be a very good spotter! Anne would not follow me for 30 km chasing trout every day, but she likes drawing, painting and reading and could keep herself busy without getting bored. Finding a good balance in a relationship has always been a problem for me — fishing time being the usual source of arguments — but it looks sorted now (touch wood). It’s a funny thing when you think about it, being 17,000 km away from home and hooking up with another Frenchy. BACK ON THE MAINLAND When temperatures started to drop seriously in Tassie, we decided to go back to explore the mainland. It took us a lot of hard work – saving money and replacing the car – before we could finally hit the road again. We drove across the Savannah Way (between Cairns and Darwin with 1000 km of rough tracks), helped in a cattle station in the Kimberleys for a few weeks and then drove the legendary Gibb River Road and down the fantastic west coast. The variety of landscapes and magnificence of the country was well worth all the effort. Anne wanted to fly home in December to see her family and spend Christmas with them. I chose to spend another month in Tassie. A very good fishing friend from France, Simon, would join me for two weeks. TASMANIA REVISITED I returned to Tasmania in early December 2018. The four hour’s sleep on the ferry didn’t help to clear the mind – I was tired and buzzing with nostalgia and excitement when I picked up Simon at Launceston’s airport. I am used to driving very old vehicles, and I found the rental car – a brand new Land Rover Discovery – a little embarrassing. Especially after driving through a few wallabies (unintentionally, I stress for our vegan friends) and having a flat tyre on a gravel road the day before giving it back. Anyway, contrary to the Stones’ song that was playing loud in the car, time was not on our side. We could expect a short slot of three sunny days over the Plateau before a long period of rain. Simon loved the Western Lakes as much as I did. There is nothing like this anywhere else – untouched places where you don’t see anybody once you are a few kilometres away from the carpark. But the trip wasn’t as rewarding as expected so we headed for the southern rivers to find good weather. The Tyenna River had been really productive for me, and Euro-nymphing enabled us to catch fish all day in every stretch of fast-running water. But it was not really what we were after. Polaroiding and dry-fly fishing were the priority. Eventually we found a couple of sections with regular hatches of mayflies during the day. We also fished the Styx, Florentine and Derwent. We caught brown trout in all of them, including a nice bunch of fish weighing 3–6 lb. BACK TO THE PLATEAU A few days before Simon’s return flight to France, a weather window opened and we had a last opportunity to fish in the Western Lakes. After just a couple of kilometres walk, we set up our base camp and went fishing for the rest of the day. We saw a couple of trout roaming around the edges but they did not seem to be very keen to eat from the surface. The visibility being quite poor, a lightly weighted nymph was not the best call either. Late in the afternoon we ended up sitting on a big rock, rolling a ciggie each and waiting for a fish on the cruise. Simon had left his fly, a brown dun, on the surface just three metres in front of us. We were talking and having a look in our fly boxes when we heard a clop. It was on Simon’s fly, and despite a five-second delay, when he pulled his line the trout was still on. But in all that mess he didn’t notice his fly line tangled around his reel – the trout took off and the tippet snapped. Still, in spite of the tragic end, it was the best action of the entire journey. It was now time to head back to camp, under a shower of mixed rain and hail. We reached the campsite and were looking forward to eating something warm and hearty. Instead we found a mess — plastic bags spread everywhere. Although I had hidden everything under the tent’s awning, all our food had been opened and eaten. Since devils are supposed to be nocturnal, we guessed that the culprit was probably a bird, perhaps a currawong or raven. We were left with only one option – pack up and go back to the car. Back at the parking lot we encountered two fishermen packing up their gear. We had a good chat with them and while the conversation was progressing, I thought I recognised one of them. I oriented the conversation towards helicopters and luxury huts in the Walls of Jerusalem National Park, and my gut feeling was correct — I had just met Greg French. As a nature-writing enthusiast, I could not have been happier. Fate, destiny, luck — call it what you want — but from this day on, my travelling life took a new direction. FISHING ALONE We finished Simon’s trip on the northern rivers. But I had another 10 days up my sleeve. I was a little bit nervous to go out too far on the Plateau by myself – a few minutes of negligence and you can be bitten by a snake or twist an ankle between two rocks – but danger is part of the adventure, I suppose. Anyway, spending Christmas away from the crowds was absolutely necessary and there is no better place than the Western Lakes for that. I find wallabies, wombats, platypus, echidnas and inevitably trout much better company than many humans. It is very hard to comprehend that we are so close to opening the gates in one of the last pristine parts of the world. Walking alone on the Plateau for all those hours, I started to imagine luxury cabins around every single lake. Those deep thoughts made me miss a couple of trout, realising a few seconds too late that they were just here, under my feet, slowly cruising the edge. Those solo trips reminded me of the famous quote from Christopher McCandless: ‘Happiness is only real when shared.’ I really appreciate sharing special moments with people I love. On the other hand, being out there by myself pushed me into deep thinking and made me contemplate all that surrounded me. Starting with the wildflowers, sporting their best colours; the countless wallabies, many running away; all those insects, unexposed to intensive agriculture and other chemicals, dancing on the surface. And last but not least, those wild trout cruising nonchalantly, looking for any source of food they can find. Fish activity was pretty good during all my Western Lakes trips but my catch rate was quite low, something around one fish for six chances. But Greg French assured me that this area is one of the most difficult trout fishing destinations in the world, which helped me to not be too hard on myself. Tasmania will be in my memory forever and I have already decided to make this island my ‘Santiago de Compostella’ and organise a pilgrimage every year.

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