My friend is a fly fishing magician. His magic qualities refer not so much to his ability to coax fish onto his fly, but rather his uncanny ability to make himself invisible for a 10-day chunk of February each year.
Magic man annually disappears from Victoria into the Tasmanian highlands on a fly fishing expedition. He and another fella load up a 4WD, roll onto the Spirit of Tasmania in Melbourne and then, after they land in Tassie, nobody, including their respective wives and children, hears from them again until they’ve finished fishing 14,400 minutes (240 hours) later.
I’m not a fly fisherman, but I decide to go along for a few days and check out this marathon magic act. Not surprisingly there isn’t any room for me in the four-door ute. It fairly bulges with every single piece of fly fishing kit invented in the last million or so years, as well as non essential items like food and bedding.
I fly. From Melbourne to Launceston. Somewhat incredibly I sit in front of another member of the world’s most passionate fly fisherman’s club. He speaks of flies and fishing to the person beside him for almost every second of the flight. If by some chance we plonk into Bass Strait this fella will reach for his fly rod instead of his life jacket and take advantage of the unscheduled stop to test his skills at casting while treading water.
I want to sleep on the 7am hop through the clouds but cannot. I am enthralled by this conversation though I’m not even part of it. “New Zealand has the best river fly fishing in the world,” this bloke says. Then he chases the pronouncement with another of equal mightiness; “Tasmania has the best still-water fly fishing in the world”.
When we land at Launceston, I feel compelled to introduce myself. Our coming together seems too preposterous not to – I’m a regular flyer across Bass Strait and have never once heard a fishing conversation. David is as warm as an old friend, tells me about his unofficial angling club based in inner-city Melbourne and then produces a DVD of fly fishing expeditions in Scotland, New Zealand and Tassie. ‘Let me know what you think of it,” he says. “But I’ll need it back.” He writes his name and address in my book and we part after one of those delightful five-minute chance encounters that are a part of travel.
I find the hire car (if you’re one of the poor sods who has to regularly put up with Sydney airport you’ll sing as you skip through pocket-size Launceston airport to the hire cars, parked deliciously barely metres from the luggage carousel), begin a drive to fly fishing guide Gary Frances’ home where I will meet my friend and his mate.
For most of the 40-minute drive I am consumed by a keen sense of anticipation. But there is room to be equally flummoxed and thrilled by the airplane fisherman’s trust and passion.
I meet fishing guide Gary France from Trout Territory at his home near Cressy. The magician, Anthony North, and his buddy, Chris Redfern, are drinking coffee with France and his charming wife Fiona.
Each year Anthony and Chris spend the first day of their trip with France. They learn what fishing action is going on in the highlands and refine their casts with Frances’ deft help. “This ten days keeps me sane all year,” notes Chris cheerily within minutes of our meeting.
Fly fishing with France might keep a whole lot of others sane too. He has clients from Korea, the UK, the USA and Patagonia. Some 30 per cent of France’s clients are internationals. “Where ever there is a trout culture around the world the word spreads,” France says. He’s not playing up his guiding skills or what proves to be an extraordinary knowledge of fish and entomology but rather he appears to be corroborating some of the claims on the plane in regard to Tassie’s status in the fly fishing world.
France guides us first to Tods Corner of Great Lake. He launches his boat and within minutes of putting in, the lines have been cast. Soon the patient France is offering advice on casting and all manner of tips, insights you are just never going to get from bar talk at the Great Lake Hotel.
The amiable France spends much of this day keenly watching the water, looking for a “seething chironomid mass” or the shuck of a mayfly nymph. Chironomids (these I learn are flies that look like mosquitoes but don’t sting: good guys really), nymphs and jassids, three of the most mouth watering items on a trout menu. “Brown trout are opportunistic feeders,” says France. “My job is to find the fish and look after the safety aspects.” The fish will most likely be a trout with a golden brown colour. According to France, Tassie brown trout out number rainbow trout 100 to one in most of the island’s inland waters.
France also does a fine job of feeding us and providing coffee and cold drinks and some source of comfort. “It’s good sport even if you don’t catch them because you can see them [the fish], hunt them,” the hard working France observes. Then he makes me wishful. “You’re allowed to keep 12 fish a day,” he says. “That’s an exceptional day for anybody,” France says. “”The average is one fish a day [France’s clients often exceed this].” I am yet to catch a fish but take comfort in knowing I am just one away from normal.
I am getting into this fishing caper but I’m just as keen on the solitude. There were other cars and trailers at the boat ramp but I haven’t seen another boat except for one. If I had to guess I’d say it would take me a year to swim to it; Great Lake indeed.
We part company with France late afternoon. But not before he whispers that loads of his clients stay in nearby country estates and lodges, from luxe accommodation to cabins with bunk beds, at Bothwell, Evandale, Derwent Bridge, Bronte Park, Bradys Lakes, Miena and Tarraleah. In case you missed my point, there is no shortage of places to stay in and about the highlands, places where open fires, whisky and gourmet food can fuel evening tales.
We find a cleared patch of dirt by Penstock Lagoon. Meanwhile, darkness is riding a fast horse. Somehow though this practised duo pitches a tent (for moi), roll out their swags, put on a stew and crack beers before it races up to us.
While we wait for the stew to cook Chris and Anthony tell me stories of their magical expeditions. This is their sixth Tassie trip. They tell me that even if they can catch six fish a day they’ll keep only one. “Usually one around 2lbs that fits snugly in the smoker,” Anthony says. The smoker travels with them every year.
I learn that each day the two men invariably fish until dark. But as passionate as they are about their craft, their art, these trips aren’t all about fishing. “One night the trip back to the campsite that had taken 30 minutes in the day turned into a slow 1.5-hour drive,” says Anthony. “It was as though all the wildlife had been let out of a zoo. Quolls, possums, every kind of wallaby and even Tasmanian devils were on the road.” Encounters with the indigenous wildlife feature in many of their Tassie tales.
The next day around mid morning on the River Derwent near the Lake St Clair my fishing line is a confusion knots. They are written in a code that is impossible to decipher.
The scrambled line is a little familiar but this is the first time I’ve put on waterproof waders. The dazzlingly professional fishing attire isn’t much use in helping unravel the line. But it does help to make this fishless morning uncannily enjoyable.
The river is running at a leisurely and perfectly soothing pace. The day’s warm. Walking along a bank of the river, the waders conspire to make it considerably warmer.
I leave the knotted line on the sandbank, walk into the water until it swirls around my waist. I can feel the current, the pulse of the river. I soak up its cool and the sub-surface viewing. Polaroid glasses allow me to see into the water.
I know there is brown trout in this river because I occasionally watch them as well as small schools of dashing fingerlings. And rocks, lichens with the most beautiful shade of green I’ve ever seen, red plant life, fallen logs; a perfectly landscaped river world.
I’m not going to catch a trout. I’ve known this since I first picked up this fly fishing rod barely 30 minutes ago. But the empty fish bag and the knots don’t matter a jot. Once I become accustomed to the fact my waders aren’t going to leak, I feel part of the river, its colours, its life.
As soon as I can draw myself away from this show I’m going to find out from Anthony what I need to do to become a magician.
Guides and Lodges
Gary France (www.troutterritory.com.au) is accredited with the Trout Guides and Lodges Tasmania Incorporated (TGALT). There are 14 accredited guides at TGALT who’ll happily introduce novices to this remarkable world and in the case of practised but lapsed fishers, iron out cast kinks and provide them with intelligence on the lakes.
The brown trout season runs from August to April. The rainbow trout season runs from October to May. There are some eight trout waters open all year round. A license is required to fish all Tasmanian inland waters. Many guides act as agents for the Inland Fisheries Service and can also organise licences. A 48 hour licence (for one rod) costs $19.50. A seven day licence costs $33. A full season licence costs $65. Children under 14 do not need a licence
Editor’s Note: The information was correct when published in 2010. Prices and information may have changed.