As per the last few years, me and a few cobbers ventured into Tasmania’s Western Lakes for a couple of nights camping, hiking and fly fishing. Once again, the mission was planned well in advance and by the time Christmas had rolled around we were champing at the bit to get out there.
Destination this year was the Julian Lakes and Pillans Lake region – renowned for larger than average fish and a chance of securing a trophy among a myriad of headwaters lakes, tarns, lagoons and tantalising creek systems connecting some of them all the time and others only in really wet years. That’s the beauty of this place – You just never know what’s lurking out there.
The walk to our camp took closer to three hours than two but with many hours of daylight to take advantage of – we were not deterred. The tents were kind of flung into place and we sat down to have some lunch only then realising that we had set up camp in a dried up tarn. Nice and soft underneath but pretty soggy if any decent amount of rain was in order!
We pretty much inhaled our tucker and set off to explore some of the Upper Julians system and with a great deal of wind about and very little sun, I threw a few blind casts with a dry around a likely channel while attempting to polariod the edges. On my third cast I heard that familiar plop – A fish had eaten my dry so instinct kicked in and I’m connected. A lovely fish of around 3lb came to hand as a couple of Land Rover Defender’s looked on. See, many people walk out here but you can actually drive if you have a 4WD or ATV that’s up to the challenge, and believe you me – It’s bloody challenging!
It’s always great to get the monkey off your back so early into any mission, especially with my recent case of the ‘striking-too-earlies’. A couple more fish were spooked here and Andy experienced an early rejection before we all met up to have a yarn and hatch a plan. Me and ‘Dick Wigram’ (Rick) decided to continue on around the Upper Julians while Andy and Stevie had a look down below. Overall we found it pretty tough, with very few insects about and not quite enough sun to effectively sigh-fish but it wasn’t too long before Dick spotted one in a patch of sun that happily scoffed his ‘tag.
Sparked by success we hastily covered water during rare patches of light and covered likely bubble lines blowing off points. A couple of hours went by and we had barely spotted a thing. Dick found a small fish feeding on a patch of black spinner mayfly and covered it well, only to lose sight of his fly around a rock and missing the take. He felt the weight but the hook didn’t stick. I have that part on video somewhere and will see if I can track it down…
Further on we were both standing high on rocks to gain some polaroiding advantage when I heard something rise. I saw the rings bounce away from the bank and pin-pointed my quarry! This fish was feeding well on small tan-coloured moths and as I had drawn response from my home-tied parachute black spinner, I stuck with it. The fish came over and inspected it with its nose sitting directly underneath before rejecting my fly and continuing to feed on naturals. I was surprised to see this fish feeding happily away and quickly tied on a small sedge pattern, just for colour and convenience if anything. I threw it out again and the wind blew my tippet over a boulder but still in the fish’s path. I muttered to Dick ‘Tell me if he’s taken it’…. He quickly responded “I can’t see it’ before we both heard a greedy sluuurrrp and I lifted. The fish was taking line off the reel and out into the drop off when Dick yells ‘Yep he’s taken it!’. We laughed like little girls.
Despite fishing quite a massive area, we didn’t really have that much success. We did find another couple of fish (read: two) feeding on black spinners but they only hung about for a quick feed before moving on. We waited for 20 minutes but return they did not. In any case we caught up with the other lads who had barely seen a thing and certainly didn’t catch anything so we were pretty satisfied. Even more so when we arrived back at camp and hit the shiraz quicker than a Danny Green jab.
It was pretty relaxing with a bit of claret and taking in the surrounds while admiring the native scoparia in flower and listening to Andy’s fart from over the hill. That boy is as regular as a Metro bus.
The evening rise session was avoided as the wind was howling and finding sheltered coves seemed too problematic so we remained on the wine-bus. Similar story in the morning as Andy had a quick look prior to 5am and found plenty of wind and nothing showing. We scoffed some breakky and headed for a route around a system we planned to explore over towards Pillans. On the way we ran into a couple of lads that mentioned they had secured a couple of tailers early – Half their luck. We also happened across a couple of guys looking to fish the same system as us but after learning of our intentions, they simply said ‘yeah nah, we’ll just fish the next one over then’. Hell of a nice gesture.
Not long after fishing our new water, Stevie had spotted one and as can happen so often in the Western Lakes, his fly line became acquainted with the native heath in the heat of the moment. By the time he untangled his birds nest the fish had moved on. I spotted a great fish of 4-5lb cruising around an outflow creek but spooked it trying to re-cast. This gave us some inspiration.
We worked our way up this system fishing the larger lakes and lagoons trying to spot in between sun spots and having the odd blind cast. Stevie had a BIG fish come up and eat his ‘tag over a deep drop off but caught him a little unawares and missed the take. Dick reckoned it was a leviathan. I called Dick a puller.
The typical stories played out over the next couple of hours with a couple of missed opportunities and at least one bust off before Dick finally managed to prove that we were not just here for shits and giggles and reclaimed an element of style. It must have been something to do with his Dr Harry hat. The landing however, was not so stylish.
Lunch time signaled departure time for both Stevie and Dick who had appointments back in the concrete jungle but me and Andy were only just getting fired up. Almost immediately after they left, the sun came out for longer and eventually, turned into a blue-sky day. Finally, it felt like we could see, like someone had taken off a blindfold. By this stage we were fishing well into headwater territory, not knowing if any fish were even up this high or if the blue blotches on our maps even had water in them.
We rounded the last few lagoons and you could almost polaroid their entirety. Nothing was spotted. In fact, they seemed too shallow to hold fish. The next one over had a slightly deeper channel running through it and seemed fishier. I’m not sure how I came to be working the side I was, I suppose we just kept heading up the same sides as the previous lagoons. It could well have been Andy in my shoes…
We joke about them all the time but I finally spotted one: a ‘Fence-Post’. A fish that looked pretty big in the water and almost made me shit right there in my underpants. It was sitting up against the bank cruising ever so slowly. Somehow it hadn’t seen me. I knew of its rough whereabouts and poked my eyes above the heath to gauge its intention. It started to swim up the bank some more…. There was now a boulder in front of me and we were both obscured from each other so I set a trap in the form of a black spinner. This beast of a fish casually nosed up to my fly and…. sipped. The pause at this time felt like an eternity. BANG! He’s got it and I’ve got him!
I immediately hooted to Andy who raised an arm as if to say ‘Good one mate’. I hooted with more emphasis and he stopped walking and looked up. ‘I’m gonna need your help landing this one mate’ I yelled as the fish was taking me into my backing. What a feeling that was!! Yapper could sense my excitement by now and was racing around the lake to my aid.
Tense moments followed as the fish neared numerous times before retreating to the safety of deeper water. At one point the fish took my line under a rock and we both thought the worst. Thankfully, he came out and we battled it out until Andy jumped in the drink to lay him on the bank. There it was, the biggest trout I have ever caught on fly!!
Needless to say I was absolutely stoked. Yarns and high-fives continued until we cross-country hiked back to the larger system to fish our way back to camp. The tough times continued for Andy with a couple of ‘fish behaving badly’ refusing to cooperate and another fish taking his fly but not sticking. Despite his hard luck he was as upbeat as ever, keen to relive our team effort.
‘Here he comes….’
‘There he goes….’
We made a bee-line for camp after a big day and quickly made a dent in the remaining shiraz and port which was clearly not enough for a celebration. As we headed off for the evening fish we ran into the same sherpa-clad lad we had seen earlier in the day fishing the next system over. He invited us down for beers, intrigued about our level of success. This is where we met Tim and Snorkel. A mis-matched pair of loose units in their own rights, loving their mission and enjoying the ride and telling yarns from all over. This was a blast and if it wasn’t for our lack of contribution to the beer stash we would have stayed for a dozen more. Thanks fellas – We appreciated the tins and stories, well played!
Once again we awoke to wind but this time it was gale force! We packed up shop and headed over to Tim and Snorkel’s camp to say catchya but they were already off, inspired by our photos of the fence post. We rounded some of the Lower Julians system without spotting a thing, then checked out a trophy water on the way out which was also fruitless. My boots were eating deep into my flesh by this stage and the thought of wearing my crocs on the walk out actually seemed like a good idea. I slipped them on and it was like sliding into silk slippers with a naked lady massaging my shoulders, I was in heaven! 12 kms in crocs was much better than performing the Turry Two-Step all the way back. I must get new boots otherwise, Everyday I’m shufflin’.
Until next time Western Lakes!