I always find the time leading up to Christmas gets a little too frantic, work’s busy, kids are busy, partners are busy, it all seems just a bit too consuming. The fishing at this time of year is some of the season’s best, good water flows, excellent hatches and lots of fat healthy fish. Getting on to the water is the real challenge, days of blue skies and soft fluffy clouds do their best to lure us from tasks that have to be done, a sort of resentment may even creep in as gentle breezes lift the greenery in passing waves and tug at some inner level of consciousness, urging us to down tools and follow this bidding call. A loss of confidence may even overtake us, as all around the word is passed of so many good fish, and for some it seems, endless summer days.
The fishing is late this year, the rain seems unending as we patiently wait for everything to steady. Muddy flows and high water persist, even the fish “up-top” are being less than co-operative as high water levels keep them out of the shallows. One of our favourite rivers in Northern Tasmania is the St Patricks, a beautiful small mountain stream that holds a large head of fish, the fishing here in early summer can be amazing, and what the fish lack in size they certainly make up for with enthusiasm. Today was a scorcher, all was quiet as I sat next to one of my favourite pools, the local platypus that lives in this section was busy enough, yet only the occasional fish rose as the heat drove them down, waiting for the cooler period of early evening. Some days, to sit beside a stream like this with no fishing rod or gear has a strange feeling of freedom, you simply relax and take it all in, let your mind wander along with the current, talk away to the small robin who seems to be eyeing off your lunch and stretch out on the bank with a certain sense of satisfaction.
The St Pats, as it is affecionatley known, can be fickle. We both learnt here and it has its tough days, fly selection was born on rivers like this, a minimal choice can get you through, yet a smaller size, a minor colour variation, even a reduction in tippet size may make the difference. The classic patterns do well; Elk hair, Adams, black spinner, pheasant tail nymph all work, just be prepared to run through a few changes. Possibly the best way to start if no fish are rising is with a double rig, bushy elk hair on the top and a bead head pheasant tail underneath, search through the faster water and some deeper runs, the fish are there, you just have to get the combination right.
This is one of the few local rivers that clear and drop quickly, around Christmas it’s a “go to” choice when the rain seems to hang on, flooding all the meadow streams for weeks on end. The fish don’t give themselves up easily, you still have to work at it, but some days it fishes well, tight casting, gentle pushes, even your crappy roll cast work, the #18 black spinner drifts along with the current, sitting happily on the surface as it moves gently into the window of a sighted fish. The take still comes as a surprise, how gently those bigger fish can sip, the fly disappearing with barely a ripple. River fish fight with intense energy, leaping, rolling, surging for the safety of sunken timber and deep water, all the time with us riding the roller coaster of excitement and dread as we attempt to gain some control and get him to the bank. This is wonderful fishing that anglers of all levels love, always something to learn, always a new fly to try, always another section to explore.
I think every angler has his own version of the perfect small stream, the St Pats is this for me, a gravel and sand bottom, endless sections of faster water, steadying pools, riffles and runs that the fish love nearly as much as the angler. Yet what is so special on small streams is their enveloping feel, you park and hike in, with every step the load seems lighter, the everyday world is left behind, the perfume of gum trees warmed through from the sun, ravens, finches, robins and kookaburras calling warnings or simply watching as you pass, and all the time the sound of moving water. The pace quickens as we approach, excitement always with us, expectations run high as we glimpse the water through the towering trees, we know these sections so well that we crawl to the edge and look up and down stream, the water shimmers and sparkles as it dances over rocks and logs, endless eddies and currents ready to trap or free our fly, bubble lines always showing the way. At last a single rise breaks the surface, all is well, all is as it should be.
Wading into mid stream you start working out line, the rod comes alive, it all feels right, comforting even, then he rises again. Cursing under your breath as the cast falls wide, the line drifts past and the current takes up pressure and starts to load the rod, holding for a moment until everything is drawn tight, a quick push and everything is up, the line rolls forward drawing the leader on, this is better. The little Adams lands five feet up from the fish, your whole body is rigid, eyes are rivited to the surface as instinct puts us on full alert, the line draws happily through your fingers, it’s easy enough to keep pace with the current and a quick mend keeps everything on its right path, nothing. This time there’s no running through, he’s sitting further forward than you thought, a minimal false cast and another chance, the little fly touches down, it seems to have barely moved when it’s quietly grabbed, the little 4 weight goes to work and he’s quickly worn down, colours flare under the surface, red spots, flashes of gold, as you gently ease him into a wetted hand.
The St Pats fishes on for miles like this, fishing pressure is reasonably low and permissible access is good. Whether you’re a beginner or no longer a beginner, this is an amazing stream, some days unbelievable, other days tough, but always a wonderful place to be. Old sections of giant forest gum, chocked corners of willow and blackberry, dream like runs flanked by open pasture. It’s all here, most of it wadeable, with vast areas protected from the wind and weather, December may not be the best of it, but there’s no doubt that it can be one of the most rewarding. Leave a break in the calendar, make the extra effort, justify it all by calling it an early Christmas present. Like the Tyenna in the South it may bring some of your happiest fishing days.
Happy New Year from everyone at Camden.