FLY SELECTION

Choose wisely.

A subject very close to the heart of every fly fisherman: all those boxes jammed with fur and feather, most deemed indispensable, some close to sacred, and always a few secret weapons.

How the hell we all end up with so many different and varied patterns for fishing the same water is beyond me, yet every time you talk to another fisherman, you discover another selection. This never ruffles anyone’s feathers; everybody is entitled to their own choice. One of the most generous gestures in fly fishing is when someone offers you a different fly to try on your favourite water. Sometimes it simply slips to the bottom of the bag; yet others seem like a revelation… you gently roll it in your hand, you can feel the connection – this fly will catch a fish, as simple as that.

Selection in the early years is a pretty hit-and-miss affair. This stage is by far the largest mental hurdle: so many choices, so many sizes and always that niggling feeling that you may have got it wrong. Time and experience is supposed to cure all this, but I’m not so convinced. How many fisherman have been humbled by the ‘untouchables’ at Little Pine Lagoon in the highlands, or those insanely selective midge feeders at Huntsman Lake in the state’s north? Even on my beloved South Esk the fish have been known to display extreme indifference to all known choices and tactics, leaving you to drag your sorry self back to the car with all your wordly fishing theories left lying on the bank amongst the gorse bushes and sheep shit. Very sad indeed.

A subject very close to the heart of every fly fisherman…

There’s no doubt, though, that as time goes on an understanding starts to drift toward you and it all becomes a little clearer. All those crazy flies you bought in the beginning get shoved into a Tupperware container and stashed on a shelf in the shed; confidence begins to make its presence felt and time spent on the water starts to pay off. Now, let’s not be fooled here. We’re not talking about an epiphany or something as deep as that – this is more a subtle “that little 18 adams looks just like those small caddis on the North Esk today”. No, not an epiphany in sight; more of a gentle awakening as the connections between pattern, presentation and entomology starts to make sense.

As I started to thin out my fly box, a belief in presentation grew, the number of flies dropped and a sort of stubbornness crept in as my skill level increased. It seemed that it no longer mattered what was being put out there as long as it was ‘in the zone’.How long this continued for no longer matters. What is painful is looking back and seeing so many missed opportunities simply because the time was not taken to put ‘it’ together. There is no doubt that good presentation is a huge factor, and a good fisherman will do pretty well with half a dozen patterns – yet for an amateur (like I was at the time), all that casting practice in the park has to be backed up with the best fly choice they can make, simply to increase their chance of success.

Time spent on the water speeds up the learning process and no good fisherman ever stops learning. Marcus and I often discuss those early years and sometimes they seem a little raw. Yet take away all that stumbling around, pulling flies out of tree tops, insect netting, late-night reading – plus stalking the owner of the local fly shop – and what’s left? At the heart of good fly selection is observation, whether that be learning about your local area and what lives there, or simply seeing that what you are using is just not working. One of the most satisfying moments in fishing has to be running through a few selections on feeding fish and finally finding a pattern and size that works. You look back and wonder how you got to this point… then another fish rises and it no longer matters.

Gum beetles, ant falls, damsel flies, caddis, mayflies and so many more… perhaps it’s when we start to recognise different insects and understand some of their behaviour that we begin to move in contrasting directions. The presentationist starts buying advanced casting DVDs and taking lessons; the budding entomologist has to deal with a family that thinks he’s lost his mind (all the while studying anything he can get his hands on and wading streams with a seine net); the pattern guy spends all his spare cash on new tying materials, and freaking out his girlfriend on Sunday drives by stopping and collecting road-kill… and so on it goes. I’d like to think that I’m somewhere in the middle of all this, but when it gets down to it those old Mel Kreiger casting DVDs are still my bag.

My fly boxes did get very thin there for a while. Thankfully, they’ve grown back to a normal selection and a feeling of contentment runs through me when I open them: “Yep, that’s pretty much everything.” That moment of horror when I realise that those size 16 emergers are still sitting on the table at home, or that sinking feeling I get when watching a bay full of nymphing fish ignore all my dry choices because the box of wets is still in the car… sure, it still happens, but thankfully not very often. There’s a quote from John Gierach on our website that goes something like this: “Fish the wrong fly long enough and hard enough and it will probably become the right fly.”

I get the simplicity; it’s simply tough to get the time.

A good friend recently went to Dublin and my one request was for a certain salmon fly. When he came home and handed me the little white box from Rory’s Fly Shop, well… it was both exciting and a little nerve wracking. I’m pretty sure it was a hangover from when I was a kid, flicking through magazines and catalogues, dreaming of what could be. Tipping the salmon flies into my hand was quite surreal; they seemed to slide in slow motion from the box, the colours catching the light and the upturned eye of the hook looking like something from an age long gone. I gently rolled one around so that all of it was visible; it looked exactly as I expected, beautifully tied and with a kind of exotic Baz Luhrmann appeal. Looking pretty hard, the conclusion was finally made. Yep, reckon I could catch a fish on this. Simple as that.

Paul
#TheSeasonNeverEnds

NEW BOOTS

These bad boys have seen better days,

I’m just going to put it out there…

I love my wading boots. Battered, broken, resurrected, and nearly killed again; they’ve been with me now for so many years that we’re like old friends, both a little haggard, both definitely showing our age and – according to my beloved wife – both about due for replacement.

Most of the other fisherman I talk to about my boots don’t seem to feel the same way, and generally give me a ‘Are you out of your freaking mind?’kind of look. “What about a favourite rod?” they ask me. Sure, I love my rod – but take away the boots and I can’t bloody go anywhere.

I love my wading boots. Battered, broken, resurrected…

Funnily enough, the boots I’m talking about didn’t get off to a very welcome start. They came home in their Simms-branded box, wrapped in crisp white tissue paper, the packaging blazoned with ‘Bozeman, Montana’. The guy in the fly shop had been very helpful, and there’s no doubt they were the boots I wanted…

What did come as a surprise, however, was that on further inspection the boots turned out to have been made in China. Of course, I realise that Simms obviously moved a lot of product offshore years ago; it was simply that some small part of me still hoped that a gnarly old Montana fisherman in the Simms factory had cast his experienced eye over them – maybe even looked at them with a little wonder as he asked himself: “Who’ll buy these? Novice or dickhead?” So, I think I stewed over the Chinese connection for a while; an email may even have been sent following a couple of beers… Thankfully, I never received a reply.

Now, it always cheers me up when I look out of my back door and see my waders and jacket hanging there, my boots on the deck just below – waiting patiently for the next outing, and a constant reminder that good fishing is only twenty minutes away. I think back to how many places the boots and I have been together: wading up those tricky sections of the Meander with rocks the size of soccer balls (and just as slippery); climbing the steep gorge section of the St Pat’s, a place so old that the river has carved whirlpools through granite three or four feet thick, forcing the water to disappear underground; and the many days spent walking beside the South Esk looking for feeding fish, with the whole thing taking on the air of a Sunday stroll.

The first inkling that my beloved boots were on their way out was when I had to have them re-soled right before our last New Zealand trip… yet within the first two hours of the trip both soles were flapping around again like the tongue of a thirsty Labrador, and the rest of the day was spent simply trying to stay upright (no cleats + summer river beds = not so easy).

A quick visit to the hardware store the next morning resulted in some too-long screws (no cleats in Opotiki!); those screws, with the assistance of a borrowed De Walt cordless, then found themselves deep in the boots’ leather soles. For the next four days, it was a case of not only not slipping over, but also being constantly reminded of the screw length as they drove themselves into the bottom of my feet. It was like a beautiful relationship gone suddenly bad, and when I lamented this fact to the local lodge owner he cold-heartedly offered his rubbish bin as their last resting place. Declining, I packed them for the trip home, checked them through customs – and they’re safely sitting on the deck once more.

After a few days at home, it came time to head out again; I grabbed all my gear, including the boots, and off we went.

Pulling on my waders always brings with it a sense of expectation, another adventure, another chance to do battle… I draw the boots on. Lace them up. I feel the expectation rise: how will I go today? Red letter or skunked? It gets me every time.

Moving downstream, to cross that first barbed-wire fence, there’s a spring in my step – and we’re up and over without a thought. The world that I so love opens up in front of me, the river seems to slip through the landscape, its silken surface beckoning. Looking down at my old boots seems to only add to my excitement; we’ve done this so many times together that they seem to know exactly where I want to go.

A couple of quick steps, a jump over a small ditch and we’re off. Here we go again, my old friends.

Paul
#TheSeasonNeverEnds

IS FISHING ABOUT CATCHING FISH?

Marcus with a beautiful North Island New Zealand brownie.

Foam resembling a thousand drits of snow.Soundless, the peach and pear trees form their battalions of spring. With one jug of wine And a fishing line, On this earth how many are as happy as I? I dip the oar ­– in the spring winds the boat drifts like a leaf. A delicate hook on the end of a silk tassel, An island covered with flowers, A jugful of wine. Among the ten thousand waves I wander in freedom!
– ‘Fisherman’s Song’, Li Yu (937AD – 978AD)

It may appear to be a strange question to ask – yet so many people are saying “It doesn’t matter”, that I admit I’m a little unsure about the answer.

Maybe, for me, instinct kicks in? That head-shaking, line-tearing feeling on the end of my fly line is something that can’t be duplicated; knowing you’ve deceived a fish that has thousands of years of instinct on its side can do wonderful things to a person – your place in the order of things is correct, or simply that the right choices were made.

Of course, I love the other aspects that come with fishing: the wildlife, the scenery, the peace and solitude… All these are vital for making me a ‘fisherman’, and they form part of the experience. Yet at the core of it lies that little spark of instinct. Brighter in some, but still in all of us, as little or as much as we are willing or dare to use. You see it in good fisherman; they’re more aware, more in tune, always ready to change tactics or search out other places, looking all the time for feeding fish. And when they do see something, they slow down, move back into the shadows, becoming almost invisible as they become more hunter than fisherman.

At times I have to remember how fortunate I am to live where I do…

There are times when fishing with a friend that the streamside discussions and the general denigrating of your mate’s casting ability is enough – yet the moment a fish rises everything goes quiet, there’s a surge of anticipation, the game has changed. Time slows as we wait for a second rise, when he finally shows himself; we can see him through the surface film, riding the river’s steady current, moving gently left to right, rising and falling as he chooses… The line is drawn off, a fly gently cast forward; we both watch as if our lives depend on this success, not a word is spoken as the fly floats down, the current makes a grab and draws the little emerger along the silken surface. All in slow motion as spray fills the air and the line stops dead… Then he’s there – kicking and fighting, doing anything he can to be rid of this unknown force. Satisfaction, happiness, even a sense of contentment filters through.

Is this the primal need fulfilled? Perhaps – and when I try to narrow it down, it’s all pretty simple, really: I go fishing because I love catching fish.

At times I have to remember how fortunate I am to live where I do. Good fishing is only twenty minutes’ away and I can go two or three times a week – and no-one notices. Very fortunate, indeed. At the other end of the scale are friends who have to travel three to four hours to a stream or lake that they never really get to know. As anglers, it’s our purpose to work it all out; it’s just a little harder when you only get to see the water a couple of times a year. This situation possibly leads to a different style of angler, and a very different way of looking at the craft. They have so little time and so few opportunities that they have to cram it all in (it’s a bit like trying to fit a sleeping-bag back into its cover – it has to be rolled tighter than you thought, but eventually, through sheer will, you succeed). These anglers are so keen to learn, they read any book they can get their hands on, they’ve seen every DVD on the market, and their enthusiasm is unstoppable… yet the numbers of fish caught are few. Ask them if it’s all about catching fish and most times the answer is ‘no’. Talk to them about fishing as a way of life, and you will witness an enthusiasm that you may have long forgotten. They talk about patterns, tying flies, their next big adventure, the birds they saw, road kill… It’s all there. You can see a fire burning in them in and you know it’ll go on for as long as they draw breath. This is all about fishing, and it’s the same journey we’re all on.

The other day we were fishing the South Esk, wandering along the bank, quietly talking, letting it all wash over us, when we thought we could hear an old man whistling down by the river. It was an odd tune, with a haunting quality. As we came closer, a tiny bird flew out of the hawthorn and continued his beautiful song. That bird followed us for the rest of the evening rise – as content as we were to simply wander along – all the while serenading our every move.

It is in these small moments that fishing becomes about far more than fish. Yes, I love catching fish, but take away the less-tangible elements and you remove some of the purpose, leaving us as an empty cup. Hand-in-glove, the tangible cannot exist without the intangible.

We are fortunate to live where we do, where we are free to wander, enjoy and bow down to this amazing island; to share adventures with our friends, and to fish quietly on our own with nature all over us. So, to all our friends, this may be a good time to do what Marcus tells me all the time…

Go fishing, fill your journal, tie flies – the lawns can wait – chase giants, seek solitude, forge memories. But, most of all, go fishing!”

Paul
#TheSeasonNeverEnds

WHY?

Paul enjoying a stogey on the headwaters of the St Pats.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, people ask me all the time, why fly-fishing? And to be honest I can never really answer. Sure I have some quick garble of badly assembled one-liners that satisfy most people, but every now and again you meet someone who really wants to know. You give them the full blurb! A barage of words as thick as an evening Caddis hatch, only to surface and see their eyes glazing over as they head for the bar. Their wide eyes casting a glance back at you that scream “keep away from the freaky fly-fishing guy”. Sigh! How many times have I asked myself? Why? In the beginning a lot, however as the years roll on it no longer seems to matter. I’ve found my life turning away from what I believed was my calling and heading in a totally different direction. Fishing was taking hold in a way that I hadn’t expected, it was no longer just something I did, it was becoming who I was.

What I could do though was to simply get up and go fishing. So I did.

I’d read so many books and dreamt about fishing like the pros, oh to cast like Mel Krieger, fish like Rob Sloane, re-live the adventures of David Scholes or just to wax lyrical like John Gierach. But I couldn’t do any of those things, what I could do though was to simply get up and go fishing. So I did.

When I was on the water, nature turned up the volume and the river took me away, there was no critiscism, I was free to fish as well or as poorly as I could, being judged only by the curious Platypus across the bank. The fish certainly didn’t care, any crappy cast and they would turn down, a foot out of place and they were gone, all things that I could improve on, with time.

My initial years were fraught with disappointment and failure and I’m sure many others before me simply walked away, like anything though you try to make sense of it and keep going. The hardest thing to explain to any aspiring angler, including me, was, it’ll happen, you will start catching fish.You don’t see it coming though, everything will be normal, one day you’ll arrive at the river, ready yourself and amble down to the water. Find a good spot, slide down the bank and just watch. No going off half-cocked, no fumbling for flies, just watch. And, before you know it you’ll start to disappear into this beautiful world, leaving the fishermen you once were behind.

The only question I ask myself now, is why can’t I go fishing more often?

Paul
#TheSeasonNeverEnds

CARP

Twilight on the Murray River.

‘No; if it’s liars you are looking for don’t search the banks of a stream. Go to the golf links. Go, at once, to the golf links.’
— William Caine, Fish, Fishing, and Fisherman. (1927)

I know, I know. They are ugly, smell and taste like shit, and as far as the broader community goes they are simply a pest that, if caught, should be thrown onto the bank and with a certain amount of enthusiasm, stomped into the dirt. Their infamy was sealed after some rather poor judgement was displayed when bait fisherman in the 70’s started using them to try and catch cod and yellowbelly in the Murray. The population of those that – escaped, were released or avoided the cat bowl – exploded. I still remember the despairing look on my Uncle Geoff’s face as he pulled in carp after carp from his favourite bait fishing holes on rivers like the Edwards and the Murray.

I know, I know. They are ugly, smell and taste like shit!

I certainly have no pedigree when it comes to fishing. Most of what I did as a kid was after we had been out duck or quail shooting and I couldn’t sit around waiting for Dad and Uncle Geoff, as the position of the sun indicated it was beer o’clock. I took the old spinning rod, grabbed the box of insanely lurid spinners, (and the .22 in case a rabbit could be bagged) and headed off. A few redfin, the very occasional yellowbelly and of course lots of carp—what a crappy fish!

After my mother died my family made a kind of pact. They told me to get myself (and wife and daughter) to “the river” for Christmas, they’d all been going for over twenty years and it was high time we showed up. We did and it was fun: lots of laughs, plenty of great food and the Eski was never empty. All in all pretty cool. But there was one minor issue, a distinct lack of fishing. I always take a fly rod along just in case there's a chance to cast to a fish or simply practice in a nearby paddock. But there I was, standing in amongst the tall river gums staring down at a tailing carp. I could feel that inner churn in my gut as I watched him moving along the edge, doing that searching shovelling thing that has made them so notorious. I must have been desperately searching for a reason to just hunt down one of these fish when I remembered a recent episode of American Fly Fisherman and a gung-ho guide telling us that carp fishing was the fastest growing area of the sport in the States. Jesus, they will try and sell you anything these days.

I was lamenting on all of this and becoming a little down in the mouth when all of a sudden that other part of my brain (please don’t ask me to tell you which side! ) seemed to come alive. It was like an inner chant, ‘GO AND GET YOUR BLOODY ROD AND TRY TO CATCH THAT FISH! GO AND GET YOUR BLOODY ROD AND TRY TO CATCH THAT FISH!’ on and on it went until at last I gave in, and believe me once the choice had been made I was off. The rod was assembled, a box of wets was grabbed and back down to the treeline, he’s still there. Fortunately I had subconciously remembered the gung-ho guides fly choices. You know how it goes, you can’t remember your mother-in-law’s first name but sure as hell you can remember that 3lb rainbow you caught in New Zealand five years ago on an Iron Blue Dun, that’s just how it rolls.

Maybe this next part is what I so love about fly-fishing. The watching, the working out, the tactics you intend to use. It no longer matters that this is a crappy carp, I want to catch this fish on a fly. First choice was a natural fur fly, (remember the guide), these were short casts, there was no spooking these fish. I tried everything, short casts, long casts, slow retrieves, fast retrieves, all the tricks I could muster and not even a look at the fly until he eventually swam out and over the drop-off. Sitting down on the bank I started to ponder on my fly choice and the only thing that seemed an option was to put on something black and be a bit more aggressive looking. The next fish came along just as I finished tying on a black Woolly Worm. This time the fly was cast up 12 inches in front of the fish and drawn across and past him. That fish lunged at the fly just as any half decent predator should. The mold was set and that’s how it fell, close, intimate, tight tussels with this surprisingly fun to catch pest.

It feels strange in some ways being here. I look at my fishing youth and compare it to someone like Scholes who fished all those wonderful rivers of country Victoria, catching his bag of speckled trout and telling tales of wonderous scenery and red letter days. Mine was growing up with my Mum’s best friend Aunty Ruth in Bendigo, fishing farm dams, catching yabbies, redfin on a speckled spinner and after it all letting me drive out to the main road in her red and white EK Holden. These memories have become very treasured as life moves on. When I read Scholes’ words I know he had something very special, and in comparison mine may seem mundane. But would I change anything? Not a damn thing.

Paul
#TheSeasonNeverEnds

SUMMER DAYS

Sunny afternoon on the Tyenna River.

‘Rivers, and the relationship men have established with them, have lain at the heart of the human adventure through all the centuries.’
— Robert Brittain, Rivers and man

You get up at about 8am, wander into the kitchen and head straight for the coffee machine, smiling quietly to yourself while looking out the window at what is a beautiful warm summer morning, every plant in the garden has insects hovering around and the grass has grown an inch overnight. The phone rings, a few words are exchanged, “I’m going fishing at about 9, do you need me to do anything?” “No we’re ok,” the phone call is resumed, plans are made and there is still time for another coffee, bloody hell I love summer!

There is no doubt that winter in Tasmania can be long and harsh, but when the warm weather arrives a huge change takes place with most people, an air of possibility sneaks in and you seem to be able to deal with life in a much simpler and more optimistic way. For me these feelings move directly to fishing as the hard, cold days of late winter are left behind. Some people love the early season and I won’t deny that fishing to tailers is something remarkable, but to me, when I’m skirting through the trees along the banks of the South Esk trying to find those afternoon spinner feeders, this is when fly-fishing comes into its own.

There is no doubt that winter in Tasmania can be long and harsh…

The fish themselves seem to take on the same air of optimism as they sip, slash and launch at any unsuspecting insect or well presented fly, you still work for every fish though that’s just how it is. This is also the time when you bump into more soft plastic and spin fisherman, it’s not that I don’t appreciate their choice, it just seems a little odd when you see selective feeders bombarded by lures the size of house bricks, you smile say hello and walk the extra ½ kilometre upstream.

It all just feels so comfortable; T-shirt, bag, hat, rod and waders… that’s it, into the car and off you go. Sometimes the only decision you have to make is where are you going to go? When you get to your chosen destination though the trees seem to sway gently to acknowledge you’re arrival, you can’t see the river but you can hear the pocket water from the fence, and as you move under the branches the birds are squabbling above you and every now and again you see a Swallow rise above the bank snatching a few unlucky insects from the water. As you peer through the trees and see a small fish sitting up on the left, another 20 metres further up is sipping very gently from the surface, “he’s definitely a better fish”, you confirm, then move up the tree line and without realising start to disappear from the outside world… now it’s just you and the fish.

Summer is the time in Tasmania when I just don’t want to be anywhere else, the fishing is relaxed and it feels so luxurious to stretch out on the bank and have lunch while watching the water slip by and the insects and wildlife go about their business. You move on upstream and the fish continue to cooperate, sometimes you just draw it all in and find yourself thinking of the very simple way that you live in this world and how lucky you are to live here. The sun starts to dip and you turn for home, those two small fish tucked in the bag will go well in the smoker and the thought of an icy cold beer puts a little spring in your step.

As you head towards the car and turn to take one last look, your gaze is drawn to the closest bank where a sip breaks the still surface, the tiny rings catching the last rays of the afternoon sun. Smiling you tip your hat and turn… enough now, lets go home.

Paul
#TheSeasonNeverEnds

MAYFLY FISHING

Think he'll have a toothache.

‘See! See! Someone behind me exclaimed. I turned, and there in his shirt sleeves, was the Landlord of the little inn at which I was staying. With outstretched arm he was pointing at something in the blue air athwart the copse bordering the water, and his eyes were gleaming with some hidden joy. It was the first Mayfly of the year that had moved him.’
— W. Earl Hodgson, Trout Fishing

We’ve waited all Winter and our first trips have been pretty poor (one could say abysmal even) we were both beginning to wonder if it will ever happen. But there we are, kneeling in the tall bank-side grass watching a small hatch of black Mayflies. It’s mesmerising the way they lift, tilt, then drop back, all to be repeated again and again. They love those little quiet corners where the wind leaves them in peace to go about their buggy-business. The sun cuts through the cloud, flicking little shafts of light through the trees giving the scene a sense of infinite possibilities, the Mayflies seem to bask in the warmth and freedom of their new lives above the surface and continue to flutter and dip, gathering momentum as they dance towards an inevitable end.

The sheer enjoyment of Mayfly fishing makes you feel that life is so bloody good!

It seems that we are not alone in watching them as a small brown is now kicking up off the edge and grabbing any individual that drops too low. I see Marcus eyeing him, trying to fall into his rhythm and get the timing right. With a slight turn I see him adjust then quickly work out the fly. It’s a good cast, it just seems to roll out so gently, the leader unfurls and the little black spinner seems to kiss the surface, he throws a quick mend and the fly settles into a steady drift, just as I think he’s about to recast, the fish makes a lunge then tries to head back to the safety of the weed, as soon as he feels the pressure of the line he kicks to the surface, tossing his head and rolling with all his strength. Marcus puts the wood to him and is pretty soon lifting him from the water, gently removing the hook he drops him back to the surface, and with a quick kick he’s gone. I look at Marcus and we both start laughing, the sheer enjoyment of Mayfly fishing makes you feel that life is so bloody good!

On the drive out earlier in the day the wind had been blowing all over the shop and the clouds were trying their best to keep any warmth out of the air. We visited the owners and stayed far to long, when you stand in the kitchen of those old homesteads you feel as if time has stood still, you know that the same scene in front of us is one which has been going on for over 150 years. As we spoke about all the food they where preparing for the big party later in the day – smoked hams, onion tarts, bread from a the old woodfired oven in the kitchen – it made me ponder. A great deal of enjoyment that comes with fly-fishing is the wonderful relationships that develop with all the people that you meet and all the unusual situations you find ourselves in, fishing is a great leveller, and the time spent with great people only serves to enrich the experience.

We said our goodbyes and headed off downstream, the wind trying to send us home, Marcus had his new 4 weight and was not leaving until he’d nailed a fish. I had seen that look before and knew there was no way that he was going to give in. We walked for a kilometre down to a larger pool section but the wind had whipped it to foam, this was not going to be easy. Fortunatley the wind was behind us and he started flicking a Fast Water Dun onto the obvious bubble line, trying to draw up a fish. On and on we walked with no success, the wind kept pushing and the cloud seemed to be intensifying, I’d had doubts but it seemed that it was all about to come to an end. Marcus looked over with less than a smile and asked ‘what do you want to do?’, I could see that he was willing to leave but that he really wanted to continue, ‘ok’ I said, ‘lets change tactics, tie on a black spinner and lets start hunting for some softer sections, we may find something if we can get out of this shitty wind.

Heading straight for a high bank further upstream, we bypassed some beautiful pieces of water but the wind had made them unproductive. We cut through the trees and all of a sudden seemed to enter a different world, the treetops far above us were blowing apart, but down near the rivers edge it was warmer and the sun was starting to edge through. A tall grass section between the trees and the bank gave us the perfect view of a fifty metre pool in front of us. At the top of the run a huge Willow dangled its lower branches in the river, rising and falling with the push of the current, animating the scene with an eerie sense of speculation. Almost immediatley a fish rose ten metres up and Marcus was down the bank and casting, I think I was as excited as he was when the fish gulped down the fly. Edging him in quietly, another fish started feeding in almost the same spot, he quickly released the first fish and moved onto the second, another quick flick and he’s on.

We fished on like this for the next couple of hours and managed to grab a few more, we kept to our plan and just kept searching out those softer sections which early season mayflies seem to love so much. We made it back to the car and started eating our very late lunch, how good is it to just stand there in your waders washing down your very tasty sandwich with an icy cold beer? Already reliving those wonderful moments that only Mayflies can give. As we drove past the farmhouse we could here the music drifting across the paddocks like a Summer festive. The drive home was quiet as we both just relaxed into our individual thoughts and let our minds replay the day. The easy silence broken by Marcus asking, ‘do you want to fish Penstock in the boat next weekend? Pete told me that the fish are up taking Mayflies already’. I run this question over in my mind and honestly contemplate my answer, ‘they really love that Possum Emerger don’t they?’, I say. He smiles and settles back in his seat and we both start to think of those amazing days at Penstock in Seasons past, just drifting down the middle with duns popping up all around and the fish being as co-operative as they can be…

So, as Spring rolls on those wonderful words of David Scholes’ come back to us… The Mayflies are up!

Paul
#TheSeasonNeverEnds

A MUSEUM PIECE

 Clarendon House overlooking the South Esk at Evandale.

Given that I know of a few fly fishermen who aren’t getting any younger – some would say we are earning the label of “museum pieces” – it’s great to hear that one of Tasmania’s famous old houses, Clarendon in the north of state, is to become the home of the Australian Fly Fishing Museum.

For anyone with the vaguest interest in how our beloved indulgence evolved, it is to be hoped that Clarendon will become the repository for all things fly-fishing related – from old style flies, silk lines and split cane rods to the fishing log books of the famous fisherman who waded our rivers and lakes.

For anyone with the vaguest interest in how our beloved indulgence evolved…

Writing in a recent issue of the National Trust’s news magazine, community heritage officer Matt Smithies, says that curator Rhonda Hamilton has started research on “what is going to be an international standard exhibition, including static and interactive displays.”

For those museum visitors unfamiliar with the arcane pursuit of fly fishing, experienced anglers and fly tiers will be on hand to guide visitors in both tying a fly and casting one or two into the waters of the South Esk on whose banks Clarendon is located.

The museum will be housed in Clarendon’s Shepherd’s Cottage, which has recently been the subject of significant conservation work. The project to get the museum up and running was driven by a steering committee which included fishing identity Rex Hunt, as well as representatives from New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania.

The National Trust (Tasmania) chapter says the museum will focus on the period from the 1930s to the 1960s, considered by many as the golden age of trout fishing, particularly in Tasmania with events such as the Shannon Rise which attracted fly fishing types from around the world.

Clarendon was built in 1838 by James Cox who is described as an inspirational visionary whose agricultural enterprises prospered at a time when northern Tasmania was the food bowl for Australia, exporting vast quantities of grain to NSW as well as to India, Mauritius and the Cape Colony. Cox was also a pioneer in the fine wool industry in Tasmania, had a keen interest in rare breed poultry and took an active role in the introduction of brown trout.

It is reported that in 1867 Cox acquired some 200 to 300 trout ova which were placed in northern Tasmania’s first purpose built holding ponds and hatching boxes.

A belated thank you James!

Now here’s where visitors to Camden Fishing can lend a hand!

Curator Rhonda Hamilton is seeking the donation of objects to help enrich the collection which will represent Australia’s extraordinary fishing heritage.

Anyone owning fly fishing objects who may be considering entrusting them to an organisation dedicated to increasing the public’s awareness of Australia’s angling history should contact the Tasmania branch of the National Trust on 03 6344 6233 or email admin@nationaltrusttas.org.au

The museum, which received funding of $25,000, is scheduled to open by May 2013.

Meanwhile I’ll keep searching the grey hair and lined faces of a few fellas I know to see who might be better stored in a museum than wading Little Pine in a howling gale.

Mike
#TheSeasonNeverEnds

HOW DOES BEING AN ANGLER CHANGE ME?

Paul with The Mayfly looking over Brumbys Creek.

I often wonder what my world would look like if I hadn’t taken up fly fishing and become an angler. I seem to have found the ability to accept that this is how it’s meant to be. Fishing is now so much a part ofmy life that it seems impossible to be anything else, and the decisions that we make are based around the consequences that it will have (good and bad) on time spent on the water.

At times I feel that I have lost some of my finer social skills and that I spend to much time on my own, and there can be moments when I may be a little less tolerant of people that don’t fish than I should be. The upside? I feel part of the natural world, the more I fish the more reconnected I become, time spent on the water seems to heighten all my senses, helps me to see and hear at a different level, and hopefully helps me become the person that I have always wanted to be. Does this make me a better fisherman? I don’t know, but I have no doubt it has made me a better person.

It was only the other day that my wife rang me to let me know that a massive hatch was on in the small rural town that she works in, and all these bugs had drifted up from the river.  It came to me then that Alice long ago had simply accepted it, and that life for us would be a different path, our friends are the same and we have all managed to make a life doing what we love, if this is how its going to be, then on we go. I sometimes wonder if a person could ever turn back or walk away from this life, who knows the answer, but I hope this is something that I never have to confront.

…My wife rang me to let me know that a massive hatch was on in the small rural town that she works in.

These things always lead to far more questions than answers but that if nothing else may be the true essence of fly fishing, the eternal search for answers to questions that to most people never need to be asked but to you and I form the fundamental building blocks in what will be a life long passion. The desire to learn from others in any form grabs us all, whether it be a book, a friends quiet advice, fishing the stream that you love, or sitting with friends having a beer, it doesn’t matter, they all form part of this wonderful journey that we are on.

I am older and recognise my place in the world, and to be honest, sometimes I can approach my fishing with the look of someone in a hurry, these moments are rare, but when they do come upon me I seem to be able to look at them with some small sense of worth, of course I know nothing, but I know more than I did at the beginning. And on that rare day when things all fall your way and the fish that you have been watching through the long summer grass has kept feeding while you slide down the bank, and you cast up a small black spinner that you tied on that horrible night in the middle of winter, you see him take it as though it where a gift from heaven, and as you head back, you stop and celebrate with a handful of streamside blackberries still warm from the afternoon sun.

Winters in Tasmania can be cold and to the uninitiated there may seem a bleakness to the whole affair, this is just not the case, behind so many doors are families, friends, individuals and fishing mates, laughing, telling stories, tying flies and gearing up for the season to come. In these moments you are free to talk, think, read and dream as only an angler can, and to discuss with your partner, your kids and your mates all that can be achieved and all that can be enjoyedas we head on our path to be the best fisherman that we were destined to be.

Paul
#TheSeasonNeverEnds

DECEPTION

Are they splashing birds or rising fish over there? Turns out they were fish.

I think it’s when I look back over the season that I notice it the most. When we’re all inside, the heater is on and we are all just doing our own thing. My mind seems to wander so easily to that point. I sometimes wonder if it should be different, I think for a moment, no, this is definitley right.

You never tire of it, there is never a time when you feel that it is any less. That moment when you cast to a sighted fish and you see him adjust and then rise slowly, the world around you seems to draw in its collective breath as you allow all of your everyday life to be put on hold.  You watch him decide. Will he? How many times have I heard myself under my breath saying “take it, take it”, then you see it, the nose breaks the surface and he quietly sucks down your fly.

So much has been written about fishing with the dry fly. My shelves (probably like your own), are scattered with books about this one subject, and to be honest, I understand why. How many times has an ordinairy day been changed by that one fish who chose to leap onto that small emerger with such gusto, leaving you are so taken aback that you nearly forget to lift? And after those few exciting moments you stand in the stream as a changed angler, a surge of confidence runs through you, all negative thoughts are forgotten and you look at the water ahead of you with fresh eyes, is that a fish working under that far bank?

Deception by its very nature has a changing face, and I am yet to find a fisherman who doesn’t love that moment.

Deception by its very nature has a changing face, and I am yet to find a fisherman who doesn’t love that moment. All this goes well until somebody says “yeah I do love the dry, but the nymph is so primal”. There is no doubt that nymph fishing is a wonderous element, watching anybody good is like watching (as John Gierach says)

‘a moment of zen’. The guy fishing the grasshopper indicator with a stick caddis dangling 500mm below is so animated in his love of this technique that you can’t keep him down, and anybody that has been to New Zealand can never forget watching that yarn indicator moving down the bubble line in water clearer than a Hilton martini, sometimes the fish touch so gently you feel as though you’ve dreamt it, then reality strikes and you realise that he’s there.

 I think my lack of skill with the wet is more about choice than anything, I just don’t choose to fish it that often, somehow I just keep looking for fish, hoping that eventually you will find one. Sight fishing with a wet, now that’s another story, you cast out, straight away all your senses kick in. Last summer I fished an amazing caddis hatch, the air was filled with them, I tried what seemed like every dry in the box, and guess what, all they wanted was a black fur fly. You seethe bulge and you cast ahead, as the fly hits the water a few numbers are mumbled as you count it down, that’s enough,  give it a twitch, all this is being played out between the rod tip and your fingers, your heart is beating so loudly you swear you can hear it and your eyes are starting to water as you watch the leader looking for a sign.

Nothing.  No swirl, no bulge, nothing.  Will I lift and recast?  No. Wait. Give it another gentle twitch, wait, and then it goes, no fuss, no antics. Just a simple drawing down of the line, and for that millisecond your mind yells “decieved!”

I push back in my favorite chair and the moments in my mind start to slow, a voice is calling and I move myself back to the now. David Scholes once wrote a small entry on hunting, and he lamented that he could release a fish after a titanic struggle and perhaps catch that same fish later in the season, but a bird shot on the wing was an affair destined to only happen once. Those visions of fishing that I love so dearly, I know instinctivley will be with me forever, and perhaps for both the trout and myself, we will meet again to play this wonderful game.

Paul
#TheSeasonNeverEnds

THE FISH SILLIES

Tim with a bad case of the fish sillies on the St Pats.

It doesn't discriminate, it can strike while you're driving to your favourite piece of water, while you're attempting to tie on a size 22 nymph that's practically impossible to see because your glasses are resting on the mantle piece at home, and it will most certainly grab hold as you spot your first rise. At times it will come over you all of a sudden, when you have been casting beautifully all day, grassing a few fish and feeling confident in your own abilities or as you first walk down to the river bank eager for your first cast.

You work some line out not paying attention to the surroundings, and ‘CRACK’, your fly is now firmly embedded in the highest willow branch behind you and the next thing you know there's a pile of tangled leader at your feet.

As you lean down to untangle the tangle, thinking about which box has the right replacement fly, you glance up to check if the fish is still there. It is. “You're still in with a chance” you say to yourself. Don't stuff it up, you can tie on a fly in record time and be netting that fish before you know it. You unzip your chest pack so fast that both fly boxes fall out into the current, SHIT!

FUUUCCCKKKK!, you scream at the top of your lungs!

You drop your rod to gain the use of both hands, SPLASH! Damn that was loud, the leader in your mouth has now embedded itself in the gap of your teeth and is now distorting your face as the current pulls the line and your rod downstream. ARRRGH! You scoop one box up and notice the other wasn't closed properly, NOOOO! there is now a motley crue of sparkling dry flies happily dancing down stream, BUGGER IT! You yell, your inner monologue now firmly switching to outer. As your fingers dart across the water like a chicken pecking wheat, your heart pumps like a petrol bowser as the fish hits three pounds in your mind, yep… it's definitely a three pounder, maybe… four?

You retrieve the remaining dry flies off the surface as the escapees are off on a river holiday never to return, you hadn't noticed the chewing gum in your mouth has now acquainted itself with the leader stuck between your teeth and your polaroids that cost you the earth on eBay, are sliding down your nose, you stumble to free your hands in time to aid the situation. PLOP! your glasses hit the water at the same time as WHACK! you punch yourself in the face trying to stop them. AAUUWWWW! You scream, your eyes are watering as you step backwards in pain.

An optimistic look up the river confirms that the bloody fish is still there! You try and move forward to steady yourself, holding your nose, spitting out your chewing gum and now realising your wading boot is firmly stuck in the mud and cow shit on the river bank, you heave forward to try and release it, SQUELCH! goes your foot as it's sucked out of your wading boot, WHOOSH-GALOP-SPLASH! goes your heaving body as it hits the water, CRUNCH! go the sunglasses lying under you on the river bed…

FUUUCCCKKKK!, you scream at the top of your lungs!

You shoot back up like an inflatable punching bag, your waders filled with water, you are now officially part of the river. There are nymphs swimming around your socks, stick caddis in your pockets and something that feels like a baby eel crawling around your undies. URRGGHH!

There's no sulking, it's cup-of-cement time, and besides this fish has tipped the mental scales at six pounds now! You steady your soggy-self and aim a glance up stream, it doesn't seem possible after all that racket but that fish is still rising, perhaps he's deaf, or stupid, or perhaps he's throwing out a challenge? I know you so-called-anglers, bring it on! Just you try and catch me he says. Of course any fish would struggle to get these words out through their gills, even if they could talk, but he's thinking it for sure.

A quick leader change, a fresh fly – your favourite emerger – and you are back in the game! A few too many eager false casts and a TWANG!, familiar only to those who have experienced it before, echoes across the water. Your leader is loaded with a projectile of fiberglass hurtling towards the fish like a spear. PLUNK!… There goes your rod tip into the drink along with any hope of catching the fish.

There are no more words left!

Fat trout gorge on mice once in a blue moon and no one knows how or why, but it happens and believe me rod tips break in the same way.

…It’s over, time to go home and sulk!

As you pull your sad self up the riverbank, a little SLURP! bounces off the water, you look back to see the prize trout turning up his fin mockingly as he rises again to a Mayfly, ‘speckled bastard’ you think as you trip over a rock and launch yourself head first into a bramble of blackberries.

ARRRRGGGGGHHHHHH!!!

Yes, The Fish Sillies are a serious condition that can strike an angler at any time. It’s a debilitating condition without boundaries that can leave its victims in a heap on the bank, questioning their abilities and, at times, their own existence.

Marcus
#TheSeasonNeverEnds

THE RIVER OF MY LIFE

Paul casting to an early morning rise on the upper South Esk.

I am sure every angler has one, it is that river or stream that they feel is a part of them.

I am sure every angler has one, it is that river or stream that they feel is a part of them, the one that when they climb the bank or push through the blackberries or slide down over the soft slippery stones and get their first look at the water they know that right here and now this is where they belong.

I have a river like this, I don’t really know how it happens, it must simply be getting to know your way around and understanding the changing nature of its seasonal faces, understanding the lies that the fish prefer, getting used to its easy feel.

But then the questions come;

Why was I drawn back to this river again and again? How was it that in all discussions I was having with fishing friends this was the one place I kept talking about? And why was it that whenever I had a spare moment to think about fishing or even simply look at the weather, this river was always the one that I wanted to be near?

Don’t get me wrong - there is no shortage of wonderful places to fish on this island that I call home.  There is the beautiful bubbling St Patricks river, a wonderful tight mountain stream offering the angler endless challenges, the Macquarie, a classic Tasmanian meadow stream, immortalised by the likes of the great David Scholes and Tony Ritchie with stories of red spinner hatches unlike any we had ever seen, and the North Esk river which seems to take the best ofboth of these and roll them into one, and of course the Meander which still remains an under-fished gem.

I’ve asked myself this question many times, and yet I still come back to my river, the beautiful South Esk. When I first started fishing this river I had heard that mining further upstream had ruined the weed, resulting in a diminished food supply and that the fishing had become very poor. I’d also heard that so much water had been drawn off that fish kills where common. Let’s just say that in general nobody was very upbeat about this river.

It may not come as much of a surprise to most of you that this just wasn’t true. The river that I stood looking at was as beautiful as any I had ever seen.  When I climbed down and looked upstream what I saw was a broad river with a wonderful steady flow and an abundance of the usual riffles, runs and pools that every angler hopes for.

But I have to tell you what had me most excited was the weed. You know the type. The long green stuff hanging just under the surface, swaying so seductively with the current that it nearly looks like an Hermès scarf, the long strands like you find in every fish tank that always seem to tangle with your dragging fly line.

You see all of this and then it happens.  You’re a little unsure at first and then you see it again, there’s a little brown working up the left bank in the slacker water taking a few spinners as he goes and you know: This is it.

I have read stories of men that loved to fish who went to war and experienced terrible things and one of the things that kept them alive was the thought that they would return to their loved ones and to the rivers that they had fished as both child and adult.

It’s not the same for us today, but when you stand in your stream feeling the push of the current against your waders, watching the gentle sway of the weed you have a sense of self that you can find only on a river.

Every angler loves discovering new water.  It doesn’t matter how you chance upon it - if a friend has showed you or you’ve done some searching and found a wonderful piece of river you’ve never fished before.  In spite of the why and the wherefor, there is one very important thing to remember. When you wade in and you are about to make that first wonderful cast, think of the other anglers who may consider where you are fishing as the river of their life, and offer the respect that you’d hope they would offer you.

Paul
#TheSeasonNeverEnds

IT’S ALL ON THE DAY

Bend it like Beckham.

I parked the car with no real expectations, driving out the wind had been pushing quite hard and the temperature had been struggling to climb past 20 degs. I climbed out of the car and started to get organised, the moment I moved into the sun the day seemed to change. The place I had chosen to fish has a  double story Georgian homestead that sits about 100 metres from the river and as I came round the back of the house I stopped dead. Behind the house and riding just out of the wind were hundreds of dragonflies, I had never seen so many together, the light just seemed to crackle and sparkle as they danced in time to the rise and fall of the breeze.

It was only now that I remembered Martin’s words, “ Just remember to look out for those dragonfly feeders and if you find them, tie on something big”. As I approached the river you could hear it before even seeing, the fish where going crazy, all up and down the river they were leaping, slashing and lunging at anything that came near.

The way that I fish means that I just don’t carry those big attractor patterns and sure enough as I fumbled through my fly box all I had that seemed big enough was a hopper pattern. After dropping it several times in my excitement I tied it on and moved up to the first fish that was working.

It’s at that moment doubt enters your mind but just as quickly you brush it aside…

I worked out some line and made a reasonable cast, wait… nothing. I cast again, same result, nothing. It's at that moment doubt enters your mind but just as quickly you brush it aside, another fish was working a little further up so I moved up and made another cast, same result, Nothing.

This is the point when you have to decide, will I stick with this fly or will I do as every author of every single book that I have ever read advises, think about it and work it out for yourself. This is also the point when you wish Lefty Kreh was your fishing partner  and he would simply callout “ Hey Paul! tie on one of my never fail patterns which I have here in my hand and you cant miss”.

Holy shit, can I make it any more complex ? my wife tells all her friends that fishing for me is like yoga, maybe it is, but right now it feels more like a grudge match than yoga.

All I can do is break it down to a simple choice, what is the most common food I have seen these fish taking all summer, answer? Mayflies.

I tie on a #14 black spinner and move off downstream, quickly I see another fish working in mid current, I make a cast and it seems short, pulling off a bit more line I give it a push and send it a couple of metres further on, wait… did I do the right thing? The fly disappeares in a splash and everything changes, I desperately try to haul in the slack line but the fish is too quick and with a frantic leap and a kick he’s gone.

Anybody who has seen trout feeding on dragonflies will know how aggressive they are, so when I saw some gentler rings coming off the bank downstream I knew I had a chance. I made my way down and as I came closer dropped to my knees and slid down the bank. He was still there, mooching around tight to the overhanging bushes, he must have seen something because quickly he moves out into the open current and with a mighty heave launches himself at his foe.

This is the moment you know right down to the core of your being that you where destined to be a fly fisherman, you are crouched low on the bank peering through the dry summer grass looking at a fish that is a foot out of the water, mouth agape, water dripping from his sides engulfing what appears to be a most unfortunate dragonfly.

Without thinking I unhooked the fly and with what seemed more like a flick than a cast sent the little black spinner forward, I don’t know why but some days things just work out, watching the leader roll out and seeing the fly quietly land I knew it was good.

That fish took the fly as gentle as a lamb but I knew it was him as soon as the hook was set.

That fish was my best on that stretch of river for the whole season and yes, the rest of the afternoon was wonderful. As soon as the sun went from the water the fishing just shut down. As I walked back towards the car I thought of how many days I had fished this place and how the fishing was never the same. Some days like today are beyondcompare and other days if you land a fish you are ecstatic. As an old fishing friend once said to me, you have to keep going and persisting because fishing is all about “on the day”.

Paul
#TheSeasonNeverEnds