Presented from Issue 100
How it was
Shore based angling
Over 20 years ago I was lucky enough to be taught to fish lakes like Arthurs by the great angler Shayne Murphy. One of the great lessons that I learnt from Murf was that in many cases you should simply use your boat to get to the best shore fishing locations quickly and efficiently. In those days we would pick the eyes out of the best locations then quickly move on to fresh and similar waters.
A few years later I started my guiding career and I bought a beautiful tri hull boat. For many years, just like Murf had taught me, I used this boat for transporting my clients to the best shore fishing locations for the weather and wind conditions. I well remember many times when my wading clients were ‘catching the clappers out of them’ as other anglers and guides drifted by flogging the water for little obvious results.
We thought they had it all wrong.
You see, brown trout (that we were predominately targeting) love edges, drop offs and structure. The generally shallow productive edges are often perfect for finding feeding fish and where there is one there can be many. The current and past wind direction and strength can lead you straight to the best fishing if you know what you are doing and are familiar with your water.
On that note, in the first year of guiding I prided myself on being able to catch clients a fish on their very first cast of the day. It wasn’t all that hard in lakes like Arthurs – it just required good knowledge of past wind conditions and shore angles and contours. I think I had 18 first cast fish for the season.
In those days most of the fly fishing community waded. Some had boats but they were all small dinghies and not particularly seaworthy. As an example I very rarely saw another fly angler on the Sand Lake side of Arthurs because their boats were not safe enough to navigate the Morass in heavy water.
Generally the trollers were the only guys that had boats over four metres. Some of the more notable fly fishers in the highlands had 10 foot Purdons and even the great visionary Jim Allen only had a 3.7 m Savage Jabaru that was little more than a duck punt. Now I think about it Murphy and I with 5 metre plus sport-fishing boats with electric motors were truly ahead of our time and leading the way – or where we ?
You might even catch more.....
How it is
I am not sure but I think it was a combination of getting lazy – no, not lazy but making life easier and more efficient that led me to include more and more, drift fishing into the guiding day.
Clients, or any angler that does not fish regularly, will stumble on uneven bottom and hook every obstacle within sight if shore based wade fishing. We lost many multi fly leader rigs in dead trees around the lake. Cameras were drowned with stumbles, fish were lost to submerged trees and rods broken. Furthermore there was only one of me to go round and I could not be by the side of both my clients when wade fishing. One angler thought he was being guided and the other rightly did not. Many opportunities were missed because I was not by the side of the second angler.
With time came frustration and it became obvious why the other good guides had their clients permanently in drifting boats. I was the only guide in the highlands needing constant therapy and the penny finally dropped.
Hayes Superdrogue Invention
In 1995 with the help of a couple of regular clients, Peter and John Austin, I developed and refined a seriously effective drogue. Until then drogues were conical wind sock type arrangements that did little to slow the drift of a fly fishing boat. They were hard work to pull in and there was no capacity to steer the drift.
The Hayes Superdrogue was a huge rectangular shape that worked just like an underwater sail. They have the capacity to slow your boat drift speed enormously as well as give the opportunity to steer the boat 10 or 15 degrees either side of the wind. This steering advantage is very helpful if you wish to parallel a shore or weed bed that is not exactly aligned with the wind direction.
Additionally, if you wish to motor to a new position the drogue can remain set and it does not resist the forward movement of the boat. Bringing the drogue inboard is simply a matter of reaching over and lifting it in. A far cry from heaving on the rope of the old style conical windsock full of water.
So, with my 5 metre boat my clients could not get further than 2.5 metres away from me. I made sure the boat never drifted closer than a cast length from any dead timber and life was grand. We still caught plenty of fish and everyone including my shrink was happy.
Electric motors – bring them on
In 1995 my sportfishing guiding boat had one of the first electric bow mounted motors fitted to it. This not only made fine tuning the drogue drift easier but it also meant that I could really chase sighted fish hard. We zoomed around the shallows of the highland lakes standing up high on the bow while we polaroided unaware cruisers. We charged after gently sipping wind lane feeders and ran down wave swimming sharks in the great lake. Nothing with fins was safe now and I feel that I had it all on my own for maybe five years or so.
The herd mentality – pastel Columbia shirts, easy finance, the Hornet and Minn Kota hatch
I am not quite sure how it happened but it did. I guess it was natural evolution in addition to a few coincidences.
Finance became easier to obtain, Quintrex designed the enormously popular, and not necessarily so suitable, Hornet series of boats, my drogues were commercially available and guides became a dime a dozen. Articles appeared on all manner of boat fishing techniques and competition fishing hit full swing in Australia.
Friend John Philbrick noted somewhat cynically that every morning in the highlands there was a pastel coloured Columbia shirt hatch outside the store in Miena. This would be shortly followed by a Quintrex Hornet hatch on Little Pine Lagoon. Sadly, John is partly right.
I am not for one moment saying there is a problem with any of the above - as anglers we can do whatever we like. What I do see a problem with is if we all do the same thing, on the same waters, day after day, and it is not appropriate.
I almost wish I did not design the large rectangular style of drogue. Putting these drogues in the hands of anglers that do not think for themselves is a bad thing. As an example many anglers automatically throw out the drogue the second the boat stops. Boat anglers really should give consideration to the wind strength, drift speed and fishing technique before automatically setting the drogue.
How it should probably be
My Crystal Ball
These are some of the fishing issues that concern me and I believe as time goes on will become more of a problem.
Wading in fragile environments is a worry to me. I am thinking of some of the western lakes in particular. As an example whenever I wade in First Lagoon I feel guilty as my foot pushes that beautiful weed six inches beneath the silt with each step.
If I had my way it would be mandatory to wear some sort of wading snow shoe in those waters. I have done this and you do not sink a millimetre and the polaroiding visibility is sensational due to the increased height.
For what it is worth I feel that small rowed pontoon boats would be better for these environments than wading.
Let’s discuss boat speed and the effect on fish behaviour. If there was just one boat on Penstock Lagoon then there would not be any great issue with it tearing around at high speed to the next drift fishing location. If there are 20 boats doing the same thing then I think I can get you to agree that this is not a good practice. I believe constant and fast boat movement does effect fish behaviour. This is why some 10 years ago I mooted a 5 knot speed limit on the Cowpaddock, Penstock and Little Pine Lagoon.
There was great grief at the time but these days everyone agrees that this has been a good and needed change to the regulations. To my mind it goes without saying that if some of these waterways were to become electric motor only (quieter and slower movements) then we would have a better fishing experience with improved catch rates. I believe that one of the greatest obstacles to the support of electric motor only is that most of the Columbia wearing pastel shirt boys have invested heavily in the larger sport-fishing boats that are too wind effected to be practical fishing vessels in these waters.
If only we all lived in the bygone days of the Purdon everyone would be more than happy to fish with an electric motor and a good anchor.
Let’s now look at the effect of the use of the rectangular drogue on a small water like Penstock Lagoon. I read a study on Shannon lagoon some years ago and recall that the average wind strength on the lagoon was 15 knots. Unlike Little Pine and Shannon the Penstock is well protected on all sides with trees. The fishing is good and in a big wind it is one of the few highland fly fishing waters that you can fish with safety and a little comfort. As a consequence it gets a hammering on windy days in the mayfly season.
Penstock more or less runs north south and our prevailing winds are westerly. Guess how it gets fished on these days? Anglers motor out of the canal at the North end and motor down the west side to a spot they want to start drifting in the lee of that shore. They then throw out their drogue and fish the drift across the lake. When they run out of water or they feel they are not in a good spot they motor upwind to a new location against the west bank and repeat the process. Guess where the wading shore anglers are fishing? You got it - the sheltered west bank. People are starting to get grumpy as boats are supposed to be 100 metres from shore anglers, unless they are secrely moored. On a busy day there could be more than 20 boats doing this.
I am not much of a mathematician but how about this.
In 15 knots it takes 1 minutes to drift 5 metres. That’s 300m/hr. Over a 6 hour day that is 1800 metres. Your drogue is 4 metres wide so you have dragged 7200 sq metres of water.
There are 20 boats doing this so combined you have dragged 144 000 sq metres of water. If the bottom of your drogue is close to the bottom or dragging weed then you are stirring up silt and the aquatic life. You are certainly scaring the clappers out of any trout within that area.
Furthermore you have probably motored back upwind to start a new drift at least 10 times making a total of 200 boat movements across the lagoon for the fleet. Chances are you have given the shits to shore anglers half of those times which is 100 times in total.
Oh…. And one more gripe. If the two anglers want to stand up high on casting platforms fore and aft and have plenty of false casts between deliveries then I can assure you that you are scaring a lot of fish away because you are ugly, non thinking anglers. Haven’t you ever wondered why all the world’s loch style anglers sit down?
Do you get it ? Even if I am half wrong – I still have a valid point.
As already mentioned I almost wish I did not design the large rectangular style of drogue. They should probably be used a lot less. Especially on small waters.
Think about the environment, other anglers and the mental health of fish before you begin to fish. Consider using your anchor - or do what I have done and buy a pole. The one I have is fibreglass and can be pushed into the soft bottom and make a perfect tie-up point. They bend rather than pull out and do no damage at all. They don’t pull up weed or mud. Even a dogwood or ti-tree pole works well.
A lesson from the past
I consider myself to be lucky to be the owner of Malcolm Gillies home made ply dinghy. Malcolm made this in the 1950s for use on the Penstock and Little Pine Lagoon. Malcolm was a great and visionary angler. You might do yourself a favour and research a little about him. Sadly, or maybe gladly, he has moved on to fish better waters without the effects siltation, insecticides, fertilisers, willow infestation and overfishing. If I could ask him I bet you my house that Malcolm caught heaps of fish from that simple little wooden boat.
I know for a fact that he lovingly rowed it (electrics were not dreamt of) and that he never drifted and fished but instead anchored and fished quietly around the boat. Malcolm also had the benefit of a quiet wooden boat rather than the drum effect of a modern tin dish.
These days I prefer to use my 14 foot fibreglass row boat for guiding. Just like Malcolm did all those years ago I am content to fish closer to the put in point. I am not worried about missing out on something as I watch pastel Columbia shirt wearing anglers tear past with big motors, big boats, high decks, rectangular superdrogues and powerful electrics. I have great confidence in knowing that the grass is not always greener further afield.
We travel quietly and gently. We learn much on the slow and careful journey. We chat easily to one another as the oars dip rhythmically into the clear waters. We notice rises and sipping sounds and it is funny how the fish swim so close to us if we stay seated. In fact on two occasions last season cruising, sipping, dun feeders bumped into my oars in just a foot of water and I felt the bump in my hands at the other end of the oar.
We impact little on wading shore based anglers and we easily anchor and wade fish if we feel it is better.
There is nothing to foul the water, scare the fish or stir the bottom. When we are anchored we stay perfectly in touch with our flies and unlike the fast drifting loch style guys we seldom miss a take. With minimal impact we work every inch of the surrounding water with great care and diligence before moving on. Then it might be just ten or twenty metres before we stop again. And should you find a nice pod of fish you won’t drift over or past them disturbing them as you go. There is a chance you will catch a few from one spot.
Fishing within close proximity of the shore is often much more comfortable than working the wind blown bays and we develop a much more intimate relationship with the environment.
Finally, the very wonderful John Brookes once taught me something that perhaps I already knew but was not aware of.
“Peter, many fish are caught from a drifting boat and when you think back it is hard to remember any stand out catches. Ah.. but remember those you catch while wading. You got to know many of them intimately before you cast to them. You remember their beat, you remember the take and you remember the great fights”.
I think the same can be said for fishing from a stationary boat.
Peter Hayes is a fly fishing guide and casting instructor in Tasmania. Visit www.peterhayesflyfishing.com to learn more.