Thursday, March 31, 2011

Trip Report: Tasmania 2002

By Andrew Harris
Here is a reprint of an article I wrote for the Golden Gate Angling & Casting Club's newsletter during the last week of my stay in Tasmania. If you are thinking about fishing Tassie, I'd be glad to help you plan your trip.
I am now in the final week of my month-long stay in Tasmania, the island state just south of mainland Australia.  I decided to come here after talking to a friend and several fishing clients who had been here.  They told me how they had stalked large brown trout in shallow, crystal-clear lakes and streams.  Sight-fishing is my favorite aspect of fly fishing, so I was intrigued.

I arrived in Tasmania with a single major misconception: I imagined that it would be warm here.  After all, it is part of Australia, and February in the southern hemisphere should be the equivalent of August at home in California.  I pictured myself blissfully wet-wading in my shorts and t-shirt under a hot sun.  In three weeks I've only witnessed three days where I felt comfortable wearing shorts and a t-shirt.  Wet-wading is almost entirely out of the question.  Most days I'm wearing thermal underwear and pants underneath my waders, and I've frequently wished for an additional layer!

The weather is not necessarily cold, it's just extremely volatile.  I've seen everything between 90 degrees and calm to 40 degrees and 40 knot winds.  The wind here is a fact of life.  This is Gore-Tex "WindStopper" country.  Not only is the wind frequently strong, but the direction of the wind greatly affects fishing strategy.  Northerlies bring warm air off the mainland; southerlies bring freezing air up from Antarctica.  Much attention is paid to the weather forecasts.  It's a far cry from summer in Northern California, where some years it seems like we hardly see a cloud between June and October.

The ever-changing weather has brought a number of perfect polaroiding days.  "Polaroiding" is the Aussie word for sight-fishing.  Polaroiding heaven lies in the heart of Tasmania, in an area referred to as the "Western Lakes."  The area includes over 3,000 lakes, interconnected by small streams.  In the winter the lakes and streams rise and flow together, allowing the wild brown trout to distribute themselves thoroughly.  Most of the lakes are shallow; some have significant weed growth.  All of them have big fish.  The average brown out of the Western Lakes would be between two and three pounds (Aussies measure fish in pounds, not inches!).  My best so far is seven pounds, and I have sighted fish up to ten pounds.

The best part about polaroiding the Western Lakes: the fish prefer dry flies!  Their preference for dries probably stems from the prolific hatches of mayflies, caddis, midges, and the presence of many beetles, cicadas, and other terrestrials.  The mayflies are the big hatch, though.  They have a mayfly very similar to our callibaetis.  The Tasmanian version is slightly larger (commonly a size 12 or even 10), a little darker in color, and they look very fat and healthy, if you can imagine a fat and healthy mayfly!  The locals call them highland duns.  Fish call them lunch.  My best fly has been a Quiggly-style mayfly cripple, size 12, with black possum tail for the wing.

To get a mental image of the Western Lakes, think of the High Sierra above the treeline, but much flatter and with more soil and scrub.  Where we'd have marmots in California, Tasmania has wallabies.  Wallabies are small kangaroos.  There are also wombats and Tasmanian devils around.  I've seen a few dead devils alongside the road.  They look like a black, medium-sized dog/pig hybrid with bad teeth.  Walking through the scrub is very difficult.  There are few proper trails like we have at home.  There are many lakes that you can drive to, and thousands more within reach of a day hike or overnight trip.

The fishing is slow and deliberate.  On the deeper lakes you search the edges; on shallow lakes you can wade right out.  Keeping the sun to your back, you walk slowly, searching for any sign of a fish.  Much like stalking bonefish on the saltwater flats, many times the fish sees you first and spooks.  But then you see one in front of you, and the game begins.  You have to strike a delicate balance between casting so close that you spook the fish and casting so far away that the fish won't move to your fly.  If the fish refuses your fly it's often best to switch before casting again.  Sometimes a fish will seemingly entertain you for ten minutes or so even though he knows you're there and won't eat anything you throw at him!  But many times, once you've made the right cast with the right fly, the fish will rise slowly and confidently and take your fly.  If you don't jump the gun and set the hook too soon, you're hooked into a beautiful wild brown.  Most of them will jump several times and pull line off your reel.  They are amazingly strong.

Some of the fattest, most beautiful fish I’ve seen in Tasmania have come from the rivers.  Although the rivers generally have a low gradient here, many of them are quite large.  Most of them are weedy, clear, and relatively flat, much like our western spring creeks.  The Tasmanian browns have a quirky tendency to eat insects flying above the surface of the water.  There are copious dragonflies, damselflies, and mayfly spinners hovering over the water, and at times there are multiple fish launching out of the water after them.  It’s quite a sight to see a five pound brown launch himself three feet into the air and land six feet from where he started!

I arrived in Tasmania with high expectations, and the fishing here has met or exceeded all of them.  Don't come to Tasmania to catch a lot of trout.  Come here for a chance to spot and cast to a large, wild brown.  And for Pete's sake, bring some warm clothes!

1 comment:

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