THE ROMANCE OF RIVERS

   Sun setting over the majestic South Esk river.

Sun setting over the majestic South Esk river.

People stand with hands thrust in jacket pockets, faces turned from the cutting wind, watching quietly as the water surges on, seemingly unending, brown and clotted as the flotsam of our modern world is dragged under. Currents swirl and suck while this beautiful, heaving mass rips apart the banks and riverbed that we hope can hold. Every time I watch this event the thought comes into my mind that this particular rain may have only weeks ago been flowing through Varanasi, carrying countless souls on their final journey down the Ganges, or simply evaporation from a Japanese Marble trout stream. Whichever it may be, the miracle and power of this is something to behold.

This same river that I wade in summer could not look more different, knee deep with endless beds of swaying weed, a gentle current always drawing back your flyline, fish happy enough to attack poor fly choices, and a landscape dry and blistered by the sun. The tall eucalypts seem to crackle in the heat, and light shafts pierce the foliage. All around, life seems to be operating in the extreme as bugs hatch and swallows hunt for takeaway, and gentle swirls in the current so soft they could have been done by a child carry a curled leaf or the occasional spent mayfly through the inspection path of a waiting fish. How could we not be enamoured?     

The intimacy of a safe haven, a link that runs so much deeper than a line of sight, rivers seem to carry the very essence of humanity. They transport the planet’s most precious resource, ebb and flow at their own whim, and although we sometimes try to steer them, success is generally short lived- they simply forge their own path. So much unharnessed power that has the ability to comfort, console and inspire. Limitless words pour forth in admiration yet we seem unable to protect them, to give them the love they so deserve. Tasmania is no different than anywhere else; a growing population, pollution and changes in farming practises keep applying distress, but thankfully the wonderful place where we live is capable of incredible things that offer hope for the future. I do not long for a time that has passed, for the headwaters and rivers that I fish are still some of the cleanest on Earth; it simply means that we have to work harder to protect them.

Fly fishing is a strangely wonderful life choice. It seems to take forever to learn the simplest of casts, and then one day you turn around and can’t even remember not knowing, as muscle memory and years of practice sink in. How good is it that these early years are mostly spent on rivers, so many days of quiet wandering helping us to subconsciously reconnect with the natural world as we push against the rivers current? Fancy new waders and an overstocked fly vest help to convince us in the early years that we are on the right path, though only time will correct this decision as simplicity and skill fuse.

Rivers always seem to wait for us. Thousands of years bare themselves before us as we move among the banks’ quiet sanctuary. It feels kind of surreal as the never-ending flow drifts past, weaving a kind of magic as most of the clutter of our lives are pulled from us, an unseen string drawing us closer, letting us grab and fumble with our own complex view of the world yet all the time showing us a simpler, more complete perspective. To be able to wade through these places, casting feather and fur copies of locally grown bugs, is to the fly fisherman possibly the most natural place in the world to be. All things need to be tempered, and perhaps that is why the modern fisherman is so aware of the balance of all of this. The world that is operating outside of the river is so broken and challenging that any time spent fishing is like a gift, a chance given to be a part of something that makes us whole, the fisherman we always dreamed of being.

A life can be spent here and it would not be wasted.

The fishing in those early years can have some very difficult periods. All the books and sweetly uttered words disappear as we struggle to connect the dots and make some sense of all that we have tried to learn. Branches and trees seem to be the most popular place for our flies to reside as bad casts and poor judgement leave us wondering what the hell we are doing here. Seeing a fish has not even moved onto the radar as moss covered rocks and tricky currents keep us struggling to stay upright, let alone look for a fish. The river takes all this in and yet shows us nothing. Time passes and a kind of intimacy grows as we explore and start to look past just the fishing, as birds, animals, trees and plants take a far more important part of our life as the landscape starts to open up. Cold, rain-driven days are spent huddled under stream side scrub as the dimpled surface sweeps on. A quietness has entered the equation, the ability to sit and just watch has settled upon us. Then, the serenity is shattered as a good fish surges upstream and, without a look sideways, we’re thrashing the water to foam and all good intentions drift off with the current. Ah the life of the beginner.

Slowly skill starts to build, and along with that our catch rate starts to increase. It sometimes still surprises us as the fly is quietly sucked down and instinct makes us strike before our brain has even engaged. That sudden weight never loses its thrill as the battle begins, all this with a backdrop that makes you feel that this is your river, a special place that may have showed you nothing until you opened your arms first. The South Esk in the North of Tasmania is this for me, a place so beautiful that it can still make me catch my breath as each turn reveals another aspect and the hope of spotting another fish. So many friendships have been formed as permission for access introduces us to people who make their life on the banks of these rivers, some happy, some not, that’s just the way the river rolls. People tell me that the dying talk of few things; family, home and the land they come from. The rivers and landscape of Tasmania have become that for me, children born here, a life of toil and love have confirmed all of this and makes me sure that this is true: you may not have been born here, yet you choose to die here. Perhaps that is the essence of home.

Rivers change us, help to make us look at the world anew, see things a little bit brighter, a little more possible. Unlike a lot of other things in life, most are not going anywhere; if we show them a little love, perhaps they can last forever. The big sky country of the Western Lakes seems so far from here, a world away yet still only two hours by car. I think of lakes like Kay and Botsford so often, yet the rivers seem to call me on, like memories of a first kiss, a feeling forever sought. Early days on the South Esk are punctuated by small moments; finally succumbing to words of wisdom and tying on a size 16 black spinner, a longish cast onto a smooth tongue of current and a huge change in confidence as the fly touched the surface and was gone, another five minutes and three more fish, my best day so far and a warmth inside that hasn’t faded. Lunch on the bank, leftovers generally tasting sweet and luscious as the river weaves its mood through everything, feet dangling in the water as knots are retied, flies ginked and we make ready for another session. A small goshawk watches with his steady gaze as we make our way up river, generally alone yet never lonely, enveloped in a world that completes us, a romance that will hopefully never end.

Paul
#TheSeasonNeverEnds

FAVOURITE WATERS

TASMANIA – THE ANGLERS’ PARADISE
In 68 km² there's over 3,000 fishable lakes and rivers, not a bad ratio for a tiny little island at the end of the world. Tasmania is home to some of the best fly-fishing on the planet—we truly are spoilt for choice! Here's a few of my favourites…

PENSTOCK LAGOON
Penstock is an intimate fly-only water nestled amongst tree lined banks in the central highlands of Tasmania. As far as lakes go, it’s more of a penny than a pound, this only seems to concentrate its quantity of bugs, fish and beauty. A dun hatch on Penstock can last for, what seems, an eternity, and casting to feisty rainbows sipping down Mayflies as they drift like tiny sail boats is nothing short of bliss.

Penstock doesn’t give up fish easily, she’s a fickle mistress. That being said spend some time on her banks, get to know her and I promise you’ll fall for her as quick as I did. It’s odd to refer to a lagoon as a person, in this case I’ll make an exception, given that one small bay is called The lady’s walk it seems appropriate. A word of warning though, when the Mayflies are up, you will never want to leave.

BRONTE LAGOON
The grassy shores of Bronte are home to some of the best tailer fishing in Tasmania. When you rise to a dawn patrol and luck upon the fish in amongst the shallows, it’s simple unbelievable. At any given point you can be staring at a dozen foraging trout, heads down and fins carelessly breaking the water’s surface – all within a five metre radius. If you see the slightest disturbance on the water, make a cast, it’s more than likely a fish.

Bronte’s shores swell with Spring rain early in the season and flood fishing can be extremely productive. An infinite supply of earthworms are flushed out of the ground and become tasty morsels for hungry trout looking to gain weight after a long and cold winter. Putting up with the schizophrenic weather patterns makes it all the worth while when you grass a brownie bulging with terrestrial treats.

Oh and the dry fly fishing, let’s just say it’s superb!

Tasmania is home to some of the best fly-fishing on the planet…

LONDON LAKES
The term champagne fly fishing, must have been first spoken at London Lakes. Lake Big Jim and Samuel are the Dom Perignon and Cristal of fly fishing waters in Tasmania, if not Australia. The mayfly hatches are second to none, just ask Greg Beecroft,  once you’ve lucked upon a swarm of these mini-beasts taking to the wing your heart will explode through your chest and you will never be the same again.

Some may say “it doesn’t count, it’s a private water, you’ll only catch stockies” Nah I say! it’s a self sustaining population of brownies and bo’s that suffer very little fishing pressure and grow fatter yearly from a majority catch and release program maintained by the guides. The added bonus of spending a day on either of these magnificent lakes, is the piece and quiet, there’s never a lot of people and wildlife everywhere. Simply put, this is highland heaven!

SOUTH ESK RIVER
If the St Pats was your first kiss then the South Esk River will be your first love. The South Esk begins at Mathinna and wonders her way through the grassy plains of the north eastern quarter of Tasmania, eventually meeting the sea at Launceston. This river is pure romance, she’s elegant, challenging and most of all beautiful. You have to treat her exactly as she expects to be treated.

She has many faces, from old-english broad waters, intimate willow lined runs, to high hopper-banks to die for! One look and you’ll fall in love, one cast and you’ll be hooked, one day and she’ll break your heart. You will however, like a love struck teenager, never tire of her attractions.

NORTH ESK RIVER
We spent many nights under the shadow of Ben Lomond casting flies to sparkling mountain trout. Those were the early days, our flies were too big, our casts too short and our bags empty. I fished with a broken rod for the first season, held together by gaffer tape at the ferrule. Paul's holy waders would fill up with water as we both stood puzzled by these rising fish and perplexed why we couldn't catch them. We've learnt a lot since those days, one thing that hasn't changed though is our enthusiasm for fly fishing.

The North Esk is a challenging river, we often talk about the early days and how landing a fish there was worth three anywhere else. It falls from the mountains winding it's way through bushland and pristine farming country. With some of the most picturesque runs and glides to be found anywhere in Tasmania. In places the North Esk is a true meadow stream and it holds some seriously large trout for it's size. A four pound brown taken on a size 18 nymph is not uncommon occurrence and when you have one safely in the net a high-five is the only way to celebrate.

ST PATRICKS RIVER
The St Patricks River or the St Pats as it’s known locally is a sparkling mountain fed stream. It’s a special place for us, it’s the river where we first learnt to cast a fly, and over many seasons of practice, frustration and delight, the charm of fly-fishing took hold. Its headwaters flow down through a area called “The Camden”, a plateau set under the climbing peaks of Mt Barrow in the North East of Tasmania and as you would suspect we named our business after this beautiful place.

It’s a stream that we love and often return to, it’s mystic matched only by it’s beauty. There is never a day on the St Pats that is easy fishing, its tight turns and bubbling runs keep you guessing, and just when you think you’ve figured it out, it changes again. This is its greatest appeal, and sometimes frustration, a stream that seems to evolve over time along with your fishing ability.

TYENNA RIVER
A summers day spent flicking a dry on the Tyenna is like no other, the water sparkles under the southern sun. We often talk about the light in Tasmania, its unique colour and the way it glows in the evening. In the Summer months that light smothers the hills of Westerway and surrounds, transforming the water into caramel and making the trout glow like speckled gold ingots.

The Tyenna is nothing short of addictive and once you’ve had a taste you’ll never want to give it up. Fishing a Caddis hatch on dusk is as close to heaven as it gets. It’s a river best described as unexpected, there’s fish where there shouldn’t be, no fish where there should be and the places you’re least likely to cast are exactly the places you should. Time spent on the Tyenna is always time well spent.

MACQUARIE RIVER
The Macquarie, the grand old dame of Tasmanian rivers. This majestic waterway encapsulates all that is required for first class fly-fishing. Plentiful amounts of cold water, above average size fish and views that belong on postcards. This being said she does not give up her fish easily, you’ll have to work hard here, harder than most in fact but hell it’s worth it. This river was beloved by the legendary David Scholes and is just as tantalising as his sparkling words describe.

Marcus
#TheSeasonNeverEnds

TOWN FISHING

Simon playing a lovely Tyenna trout.

It bubbles… it tumbles… it rolls. Each little corner, the long enticing straights, at every turn, it seems to call to you, its voice tinkling one moment then gurgling and gushing the next, the water drawing you forever forward. The fish love this world as much as the angler, feisty and abandoned one minute, spooky and selective the next. The heat of the day drives them on as your fly choice brings another dimpling rise. Somewhere in the distance I hear a voice calling and it funnels down the tree lined banks and snaps me out of my meditation, I look around I see Simon on the bank pointing upstream, it quickly becomes obvious that the time has come for a coffee at the café that sits right on the river — this could only happen here.

…your very own Hog Johnson lives here.

Of all the rivers I have fished this one offers the most contradictions, so accessible, so pretty, so many fish and yet it sits right smack bang in the middle of a small country town. And make no mistake I mean right in the middle. You pull into the local service station, fill up with gas then walk a few steps to the river to see whether the fish are rising. The people are friendly and are quick to ask if your fishy pursuits have been successful, and offer condolences if not. It’s as simple as pulling the car to the side of the road, gearing up and wandering past the local B&B down to the water. A move through the trees and the cars and shops are dreamily left behind as the river goes to work on all your senses, beautiful dappled light, endless bubble lines and a quietness only broken by the occasional bird call and fruit pickers playing guitars on the grass.

The farmers in this part of the world are generous enough to work with Anglers Alliance to provide various access points, opening up large sections of river through private property. Make no mistake, the regulars here are aware of the situation and will tolerate no nonsense from the uninitiated. At the main access point, near the bridge, a journal has been placed in a folder asking anglers to record their days fishing, this is a pretty amazing read and I would suggest you take a look. There is a particular local gent in there that I would be very keen to fish with. This is one of those rivers that is so picture perfect, and it feels very luxurious when you are wandering through fields of raspberry canes occasionally stopping for a chat with the farm hands whilst keeping one eye firmly glued to the river… yes, very nice indeed.

To be truthful the first few times I was taken here it seemed a little weird, everyone telling me how good the fishing was and yet there we were in the middle of town, wading up behind country houses and the local shop casting to rising browns. It certainly made me smile though after Marcus released a fish and the owner of the overlooking house came out for a chat, they quickly fell into a discussion on the merits of soil types for potatoes and other matters of a vegetable kind. When he chose to wander back inside Marcus bade him farewell, re-ginked his fly and moved on, now that’s what I call a good relationship with the locals.

There is something going on here and I just can’t quite put my finger on it, but if someone said that it was slightly addictive I would have to drop my head a little and with some kind of rough smile, say yes it is. Fishing the lakes in high summer offers some pretty tough challenges but that is when this water comes alive, low flows and warm days only bring bigger hatches and better fishing. People speak of matching the hatch; to be honest there is just so much fly life on the water it’s difficult to choose. Caddis, tiny black mayflies, beetles, dragonflies, damselflies, they’re all here swarming, dancing and fighting for space to perform their miniature routines. Natures display is a entomological sympathy and the trout miss none of it.

There is one last point to this story that I promise I am telling just to you. HE IS HERE! You know the one, spoken of in hushed tones at the local pub, the occasional photo surfacing from an angler’s red-letter day. We don’t know whether they are fugitives from the fish farm or simply a product of the masses of insects who call the river home. MAKE NO MISTAKE lurking in a deep dark pool, lying under an undercut or ogling a caddis from the safety of a log, your very own Hog Johnson lives here. Don’t worry though, the locals will be only to happy to tell you exactly where, and I am sure that one of the specialist guides will put you right, hopefully. So search this river out, fish it, love it, respect it, and most of all enjoy it!

Paul
#TheSeasonNeverEnds