It suddenly dawned on me, that while I have basically whored a couple (of hundred) images around the internet, I’m yet to share my story here on the biggest, wildest and most badass brown trout that I’ve ever had the pleasure of tangling with…
In fact, the whole story starts on the internet. Well, social media at least. Having a presence in the online world for me, means that not only do I get to share my passion and images with people all over the world, I’m also exposed to different species, foreign methods, intriguing cultures and I’m able to live my angling life vicariously through so many inspirational anglers, via their words and images.
Closer to home, I began exchanging ‘likes’ and conversations through Instagram with like-minded angler Joshua Hutchins from Sydney, NSW. He runs a guiding operation there, aptly titled Aussie Fly Fisher. Josh seemed dead-keen on coming down to Tassie, specifically to explore the Western Lakes, seemingly intrigued by the the images I’d posted and the unique experience on offer.
Having met up with quite a number of randoms through guiding or general ‘hook-ups’, I wasn’t deterred at all at the prospect of meeting up for a mission. You do get a feel for good vibes with potential crew and after exchanging emails and phone calls, the date was set well in advance – I would be meeting up with Aussie Fly Fisher for the Australia Day long-weekend. So wildly appropriate!
Josh had roused his cobbers; Dan Mylonas and Aemon Beech to not only experience the journey, but also capture a few moments along the way – their photography and digitally-diverse backgrounds providing a perfect platform. I too, had dragged along mate and the only other Taswegian, Richard ‘Baldy’ Hall along for the ride.
When it was floated that Baldy may be taking along his ATV to allow for an early and convenient exit, the film crew didn’t hesitate loading him up with gear while we all hoofed the three-and-a-half hour journey into our base camp at the Julian Lakes. The walk itself is rather uninspiring, with the first couple of kilometres passing over a dry lake bed. If you envisage the surface of Mars, it probably looks like this. The remainder of the walk twists and turns around a couple of hills and on the fringe of seasonal lagoons, all the while traversing an old vehicular track – the only track still open to 4WD that can take you well into the Western Lakes, but only the brave dare to accept the challenge, with many claiming it’s almost quicker to walk.
Once there however, the environment is far from uninspiring. Literally, thousands of lakes, lagoons, tarns, ponds and gutter connections are scattered amongst a mixture of alpine heath, flowering scoparia, cushion plants and mountain rocket, which cover the rolling hills. Pockets of gnarled gum trees and ancient pencil pines stand out against the, rather open landscape. The area is part of the larger Central Plateau Conservation Area, covering 92,000 hectares. It’s adjacent to the Walls of Jerusalem National Park, which is World Heritage Listed – the further you go the more wild and unique this place becomes.
The attraction to the angler is pure, wild trout. Brown trout have self-seeded much of the region after first being introduced into Great Lake in 1870 and further over in Lake Mackenzie in 1895. While some unsanctioned stockings have occurred in isolated pockets, what remains are some of the purest strains of brown trout left in the world, being the progeny of the fish first introduced into Tasmania in 1864. Much of the water here is between 1100 – 1300m above sea level, meaning it’s very much in an alpine environment. Snow can happen at any time, fog can close in unannounced and winds can be brutal and unpredictable. The waters are mostly shallow, enabling a sight-fishing paradise and when the area fills with water over the typical wet winters, trout can almost migrate anywhere, providing gutter connections aren’t too steep. The trout can get big, with the largest trout known to have been captured out here weighing seventeen pounds. For the most part, trout average 2-4lb and 5-8lb fish are not uncommon in suitable waters. Mayfly and caddis hatches are brilliant in lakes with suitable weed-beds and terrestrial insects include gum beetles, grasshoppers, giant Tasmanian stonefly and mountain katydid. Native galaxias, snails, stick-caddis, scud, frogs and tadpoles also round out the main menu, with mayfly being the main attraction in the summer months.
We knew we were in for some blustery and cool conditions, but there was a little weather window that was expected in our two-night / three-day mission. Dropping the packs at our destination, we wasted no time in setting up the explore the immediate surrounds. It was fully overcast, with a fresh breeze – not ideal for fishing out here, but still nice to explore. Searching likely foam lines and prospecting pockets yielded zero results, though we did spook a couple along the banks.
A blustery and cloudy evening continued as we digested our simplistic dinners, followed by some cheese, biccies and salami, with a few red wines to wash it all down. A few stars began to reveal themselves amongst the thick cloud, hinting at what was to come.
We awoke before sun-up, with minimal cloud in the sky. Things only got better as I headed for the lake to grab some water for the Jetboil, only marginally dampened by the strongest and blackest coffee Aemon had ever put his lips to. Amongst a cacophony of coffee coughs, I hear Josh yell out “this is the day Beevor”, presumably referring to the magnificent conditions.
In a complete contrast to the day prior, we headed off the round the lake a follow a system of lagoons, tarns and gutter connections. As the sun continued to rise, the water gradually became an aquarium, aided by the use of our polarised sunglasses, we were able to see so much, compared to so little yesterday. Not far up we spotted the first fish, with Josh in prime range to get a cast in. It was good and the three-pound brownie snuck over and accepted his black spinner without hesitation. We were all there to raise our arms and offer our cheers, but the fish soon pulled free. Still, a great start as the sun was still relatively low, signalling a long day ahead.
Soon we hit some larger lakes and decided to split up to cover them efficiently, with me and Baldy heading around one side, the other lads pushed-on opposite. Unaware of what was happening on their side, we found it rather uneventful, with limited insect activity on the edges, therefore no real incentive for the fish to be present. We ended up covering quite a bit of water before thinking “where the heck are the other fellas? I’m pretty sure I gave Josh that spare map..!”. Eventually, I finally found a cruiser sitting a bit deeper than expected and it came up from around five foot of water to take the dry – on the board!
We found a couple more over a pretty lengthy period and loitered on the other bank to wait for the lads. I raced up to a hill to find them quite a distance away, but heading in our direction so I sat tight while Baldy rounded a whole lake without seeing a single thing. Once we hooked up again, the crew were frothing – recounting stories of the four or five fish landed and that number again missed, dropped or spooked. Sometimes it’s greener on the other side, other times it’s just darn fishier!
Spurred on by their success, I made a decision to divert to another water. The fresh footprints ahead of us us told me at least two people had been fishing in front of us most of the way, and I’m not that keen on fishing dirty water. It also explained the lack of fish! On the walk to new water, I was a little coy. Josh could sense that and sniffed a little further by chipping in “Is this where you got that big fish last year?”, referring to a beautiful 7-8lb female the season prior. “Maybe” I scoffed.
With Josh and I leading the pack, I was re-telling the tale of my last big fish here while tramping down to the lake. As soon as I had vision into the water, I saw a fish and hastily noted to Josh – “Oh, there’s one right there, do you mind if I cast?”. “No mate, you go for it” he said, while I had already taken my fly off the guide and was into my third false cast. The fish was sitting doggo in the shallows, side-on to us and my cast landed around six foot in front. “Too far” I thought to myself before Josh chimed in a few seconds later – “He’s seen it”. Casually, the fish glided over toward my fly – that was when I really noticed that the fish was a beauty. It’s giant mouth opened up and slowly clomped-down on my home-tied black spinner, the sound of the take echoed against the shore before I waited, then lifted….. “Big fish, Big fish!!” Josh yelled as I came up tight and the fish slashed on the surface, before darting away over a drop-off. The other guys now running to us. What followed was surely the most tense fight I ever recall, as the beast came near and far on many occasions, my Drennan five-pound tippet working its hardest. Several times, the fish neared shallow rocks as I cringed, wondering if my polaroids were fogging up from sweat or tears. Now, my five-weight Sage ZXL was working hard, handling each desperate lunge while Josh, almost as tense as me now was doing his best with the net, a couple of near-misses attracting ‘oohs and aahs’ from us all. Finally, it hit the net – and my eyes were popping right out of my head. There lay, the most amazing brown trout I have ever seen! Full-finned, covered in spots and thickness running the entire length of its copper and gold tones. We were all in awe as Josh hoisted the weigh-net into the air – “ten and a half pounds, that right there is a trophy fish brother!!”. Somehow, all I could muster was “Yeeeeaaah, stick that in your top pocket!!”. For the record, I don’t exactly understand the phrase myself, but I muttered it and it stuck!
Three photographers surrounded me – a real papparazzi affair while Baldy, loitered behind with his iPhone, still shaking his head. I lifted the beast out of the net a few times over a number of minutes, ensuring this fish was fit enough for release. It barely lasted a second or two in my hands before strongly swimming away with the same energy it came to me with.
We ended up fishing our way back to camp, with little real success despite seeing a few fish. Baldy headed off on his ATV – that’s when we realised we had quite a bit of gear to hike out the following day! That night we (mostly me) celebrated with a few red wines at camp before the weather caved in again the following day. The wind was back in a big way, leaving us to explore some water close to camp. I briefly hooked one while prospecting a wind lane with a Bruiser’s Bug before we hung our flies on the guides for the last time. In reality our weather window had come and gone.
Looking back, I truly struggle to comprehend how so many elements came together to make it all happen, in an area filled with significant complexities. It is probably very cliché – but we were certainly in the right place at the right time, helped along by the right crew and the right frame of mind. Josh was right, this was the day. This, was the fish of a lifetime.
Thanks to Josh, Dan and Aemon for some of these images.