Summer mayfly fishing in the Highlands

Jim Allen inspects one of his favourite Mayfly patterns - an emerging dun

Jim Allen, owner of the Compleat Angler chain of stories, is one of Australia's keenest anglers. Jim leaves Victoria every November and spends several months each year at his shack on Great Lake. Jim is a common sight all over the highlands in his little white Suzuki or fishing madly, either from the shore or his Savage Jabiru tinny. Fly fishing during the mayfly "˜Dun"hatches are one of his favourite times and in a recent interview with Mike Stevens he reveals some of his secrets.


Q: Tell us about mayfly fishing and why you like it so much?

A: Mike, I guess mayfly fishing in Tasmania is recognised as the pinnacle of the fishing for Victorian anglers that come over. The wet season over the 1996 Winter/Spring resulted in a terrific spinner hatches in the lowlands on the Macquarie and Break O"Day Rivers. I recently saw a photo of John Fox with two superb fish from the Break O"Day River and I think this is indicative of what will happen if we continue to get good Winter/Spring rains. The Mayfly hatches in the Highlands start on the lower lakes such as Sorell, Lagoon of Islands and Penstock although all these are only shadows of their former selves.

By mid-November the first hatches appear on Arthurs Lake and by the last week of November to early December the hatches start on Little Pine Lagoon and by Christmas the Western Lake's hatches start. By early January these are at their peak.

Q: Have these time periods changed over the last few years?

A: No, I don't think so, although last year they were a couple of weeks late.

Q: What are the ideal weather conditions?

A: The weather conditions I like are a little bit different for all the lakes. I like calm - slightly hazy days out in the Western lakes and when the Black Spinners get going on places like Lake Botsford some days can be just sensational. Fishing a dun hatch is best on "˜grey sky"day and of course the very best fishing, on say Little Pine Lagoon, is on one of those warm sultry overcast days with a breeze from the East.

On these days the hatch can get under way around noon to one o'clock and go in waves - right through until 6 pm. The hatch can appear to peter around 3 pm and a lot of anglers leave. Then another great wave of duns will hatch at 4 o'clock and drift across the lake causing another flurry of activity. Trout guide, Bill Beck uses a lovely term for these feeding trout - describing them as "˜gobbling"down the duns. It is the best description I have ever heard.

Q: Are they easy to catch in these conditions?

A: No they aren't. It is the most difficult fishing with fish feeding in pods of 6 to 15 or so. The problem is that with so many naturals on the water it is a bit of a Tatts lotto draw whether your fly or one of the naturals gets eaten. I have a little bit of a trick here I use. Firstly get your fly in the track of feeding fish and then give it a little bit of a move - it increases your chances considerably. I've also used this technique effectively in Arthurs Lake in the Cowpaddock area when the fish are on the duns.

Q: Which is the pick of the waters for this type of fishing?

A: Either Arthurs or Little Pine are very similar and I often agonise as to where I will go. This scales mostly tip in the favour of Little Pine - but after, when you are talking to other anglers you will find it was pretty much the same at both places. So either places can be great and it is unusual for one to be great and the other poor.

I remember back 5 or 6 years when, in mid-November, the hatches at Lake Sorell were just sensational. As I look in my diary it confirms that we had days when Harry Hearn and myself had fishing that would be the envy of anyone, anywhere in the world.

It is very disappointing to see the water quality decline there - and along with other waters such as Penstock. One would hope that the Inland Fisheries Commission will try and do some research to find out what makes these lakes turn around so much. It is disappointing to see the fish go "˜off"in condition when it has been so good. Going back to Arthurs Lake though - I fish it on a wind basis only. As I only use a small boat if it is too windy I fish elsewhere or in the Cow paddock or Jonah Bay area.

In northerly or South Westerly you can hug the shore and fish safely. In a high pressure weather system with a dying Southerly and when the Northerlies aren't due for a day or two I take off from the dam wall and head up into the Sand Lake. In the early part of the season I like the rocky areas where there is caddis and water snails and later in the season I like the weedy areas where the mayflies and feeding fish are such as The Morass.

Favourite spot in Arthurs is probably the Cow paddock. I must emphasis safety though on Arthurs Lake. It is a big lake and people are often drowned. Don't try to make it home through big seas late in the afternoon. Take a box of matches with you, a couple of bars of chocolate and if it is too rough camp the night beside a big fire. An alive angler is a better angler.

Q: What flies do you use?

A: Absolute musts are an emerger nymph and a Black Spinner. The emerger is tied without gold ribbing, dubbed in a chocolate brown colour imitating the natural as much as possible. Sizes range from size 16 to 10s. The Black Spinner is for calmer feeding fish and for later in the day when fish are "˜on"the spinner stage of the hatch.

Also, when I get really frustrated with fish I'll change over to a march Brown or Hardy's Favourite. I tend to prefer the Hardy's Favourite as it is darker and I like one with a dark chocolate hackle tied behind the Grouse hackle. In the 15 knot breezes often encountered when the duns are "˜up"the extra hackle will help float the fly a little better. The other important thing here is that it also makes it easier to see.

Q: How do you fish it?

A: The secret of good "˜dun"fishing is to fish your fly with a natural drift. When fishing from the shore that means fishing side on or into the breeze. It is a waster of time fishing with the wind behind you because your fly drags and it looks unnatural.

Fish with the breeze coming from your left if you are right handed and from your right if you are left handed and let the fly drift with the breeze. Out of a boat is easier as you just fish in the direction the boat is drifting. A drogue is handy to slow you down. Even though I usually fish out of a boat I will often go in to shore and fish from there. I rarely fish from an anchored boat.

What is absolutely essential though is fast accurate casting. There is no substitute for this. If you can't cast both accurately and fast you are at a huge handicap. That means both into across and with the breeze.

The most important thing is not to fly, but presentation, presentation, presentation - I can't emphasis this enough, Go to a casting clinic and improve your casting and it will pay off. I don't think the fly is as important as most anglers think. Fast accurate casting is the singularly most important thing in fly fishing.

Q: You emphasis that presentation is important and I know you use a knotted leader system, would you like to share it with us?

A: Certainly Mike, This is really a whole article itself but I'll give you the basics. Perhaps you can run a story on leaders later. Charles Ritz wrote "˜ A Fly Fishers Life"in 1959 and I believe it is still the most important work on fly casting and leaders ever published. The leaders I use are all had tied to the "˜Ritz perfect precision parabolic leader"formulae.

I like Water Queen as the leader material, but it is very hard to get these days. Maxima is a great substitute. Generally I use a 9'6'"leader for lake work but on still days I increase the length of the tippet. Tippet material can be any of the good copolymer brand tippet materials. On bright days I have found the flouro carbon days the ordinary co-polymer materials are better. These hand built leaders assist me to put in fast, accurate casts, and as I said before this is paramount to success.

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