Happy Days on Great Lake - Fly Fishing in the WavesJim Allen
It is now well over a decade since Peter Wilson of the Great Lake Hotel, now the Central Highlands Lodge discovered the ‘glowing sharks’ in the late afternoon on the Great Lake while he took some time off from pub duties. Today a dedicated band of fly fishers watch the sky carefully every morning in the highlands hoping for a stiff northerly breeze and a cobalt blue sky.
Why Great Lake?
The Tasmanian lakes that are ideal for this fishing in the waves are the crystal clear and nearly blue water lakes like Lake St Clair, Dee Lagoon, Lake Echo and Great Lake and on the mainland some of the lakes in the Snowy Mountains like Eucumbene.
Water like Arthurs Lake and Bronte are more difficult but not impossible, because the water is clear but with an olive colour tinge. The real excitement is the sighting of the trout and casting with accurate presentations in the wind and the waves. The actual catching and landing of them is nearly secondary. On a perfect day a dozen trout to the boat would not be anything else but normal.
The northerly breeze usually brings with it a warm day for gum beetles, ants and any other terrestrial insect to hatch and a bright cobalt blue sky is essential. The biggest danger is the dreaded whispy cirrus clouds that often makes from the west heralding the next southerly change. These clouds make sight fishing so much more difficult and most times impossible leaving the only alternative for the boat angler to drift a shore with a large Chernobyl Ant (nicknamed a thong on some boats!) as an attractor and a smaller beetle or hopper pattern a metre behind.
But when the weather is perfect there is much excitement and expectation over coffee in the morning in highland shacks with anxious faces peering to the sky every few minutes, waiting for the sun to lift high enough for polaroiding.
The tackle required is a 9 foot stiffish rod for a six to eight weight line to cast in the breeze accurately and a weight forward line perhaps even a size heavier than that recommended by the rod maker to punch the line out fast. Leaders longer than 3 metres will cause problems and a 2 to 3 kg breaking strain point will be perfect in most circumstances.
The barra style boats with flat bottoms are best with a casting platform up front. I use a 4.35 metre Quintrex Hornet and it is perfect. Not too big and high out of the water for trout to see and yet not too small to get home reasonably dry in a breeze. I try to be careful and not get caught in a big wind at the wrong end of the lake. Each year there are boating accidents in the highlands and it is important to use some common sense. After all, we all need to live on… if only to fish another day.
Flies often don’t matter by comparison to accurate presentation, but a Gibson’s foam gum beetle has no equal. One mate of mine swears by a largish Royal Wulff because he can see it easily. I like my beetles a little bigger than lifelike—and at Great Lake the fish seems to like bigger flies too. In an earlier article I recommended John Fox’s Battleship which really is an overgrown Red Tag. I use a single fly because if you present it in front of a trout they will see it from three metres away. Some anglers use two or three flies and I don’t think it matters much, only sometimes speed is often of the essence and the more flies, the more tangles, particularly when landing a trout!!
This form of fly fishing is very visual and it is extremely important you can see your fly. Dark flies are harder to see than lighter coloured hackle flies as there is little reflection. Hopper patterns are also excellent and it is amazing how many hoppers you will find in the stomach contents if you keep a couple for eating.
Many anglers cruise just using their electric motors going across and parallel with the waves searching for the trout that are up in the waves. I still use my otboard motor as my 50hp Honda can go very slowly and quietly, particularly if I aim it slightly into the waves. The important point to make is to use the sun and obtain the best vision you can and this angle of cruising can sometimes be altered because of a channel of cirrus cloud or angle of light at different times of the day.
On my boat we fish as a team with one angler up the front ‘on point’ with line laid out in the boat or over the side for a super fast presentation. The boat driver and angler on my boat usually compete with each other as to who sees a fish first. Angle of light can change dramatically through the day and it is important all on the boat are hawk eyed. I’m often amazed how the team member at the back of the boat sees a fish when it has been missed by the angler standing up front of the boat on point. I often wonder at how many fish are not seen at all!! We change anglers on catching a fish and depending how many fish are up we have two or three presentations and your off point and back driving the boat…so through a good day both anglers get a few casts at fish.
On sighting a fish the driver pulls the boat out of gear and glides to the fish or reverses quietly to stop the forward motion. Any revving of the motor will likely spook most fish. The aim is to sight a fish at a reasonable distance from the boat!! Too close usually means a spooked fish but occasionally you will be surprised how close you can creep up on a fish particularly if it is looking away.
As far as the fish are concerned the time of day does not seem to matter. If there has been an early morning midge hatch the fish are ‘up’ from first light but in general terms the warmer part of the day seems to me to be the most successful and of course the light for polaroiding is best from about 11am to 4 pm. The vision is also helped by the increasing breeze from the north. Large beetle falls can be frustrating because the fish fill up quickly on a good fall and go down I suspect with a belly ache but it seems to me there will always be an odd fish up in the waves late.
The fish are often in patches and it is quite important to hang around an area where you’ve seen a fish or two and quite often we will stop and drift down a foam lane, particularly if we’ve seen a fish in it! Foam lanes to are really another form of wind lane and often have food in them. Both rainbows and browns will come up and it always amazes me that on some days mostly rainbows are on the surface and other days mostly browns. I’ve yet to discover why… but that all part of the magic.
Learn to cast
Fast accurate casting is important and often I find myself frustrated screaming at a fellow angler that they don’t eat the bloody fly with their tail. (They usually are still happy to have a beer with me at the pub afterwards because the fishing as been so exciting!). In wind the fly most times will fall back, even in the hands of a good caster and it is important to lead the fish so the fly lands in front so the trout can see it. It really is the fundamental point for successful fishing in the waves…. that is I repeat…. to put the fly in front of the fish. Sounds simple but it’s not always that easy! It is so easy to learn to cast well these days. Peter Hayes is a fantastic casting teacher - get a lesson.
Some days are diamonds and some days the fish are spooky and difficult. I think this has much to do with how hungry the fish are! After a long spell of cold, cloudy weather, the first perfect day usually provides the best fishing. Sometimes the fish are in pods another day they are singles or alone. Each day is a little different and it is important to use every sense you have to make the best of the conditions.
In recent years the Great Lake has been very low and the weed beds or shrimp beds have redeveloped with the sunlight over many acres of shallow water. The fish have picked up in condition and some superb trout have been taken. However this year after heavy winter rains the lakes will be deeper and the weed beds may die back because of lack of photosynthesis and if there is not a lot of hot days I suspect the trout will go back in condition as they will rely on terrestrial food rather than the shrimp beds that developed over the past few years.
But they will still be good fish to catch. I’m sure it will be an interesting summer.
In the great wide world of fishing with a fly rod, fishing in the waves is another arrow to add to the quiver of things to do and certainly worth consideration if you have the use of a boat.
Jim has been for a long time been a very casual contributor to this magazine. He is the founder of the Compleat Angler group and at one stage owned Bridges Bros in Hobart and what is now known as the Great Lake Hotel. He has fly fished the world for permit, bonefish, salmon, and steelhead and for most of the legendary species of sportfish and today is still the proprietor of the Compleat Flyfisher in Melbourne as a retirement interest!! He informs the editor he is happier trouting in Tasmania through the summer than anywhere else in the world!!