Back country browns
by Mark Woodfall
When the trout fishing season closes in Tasmania many anglers seem to suffer from an acute condition called "off season blues'. Fishing equipment is stored away and it is a time to reflect on the season gone. I seem to develop a hunger for fishing literature at this time of the year and spend many winter nights around the fire reading my favourite books. Also memories come flooding back of past angling episodes, some successful and some not so successful, but always rewarding.
One memorable occasion was on a recent summertime expedition into the remote Western Lakes area. I left my home town of Deloraine at about 4:30 am on a crisp January morning. My objective was to drive to Lake Ada in the Nineteen Lagoons area which provides the easiest access to the Western Lakes, from here on its one foot after the other. My destination was going to be Lake Pillans, a walk of about 3-4 hours duration with a fully laden pack. When venturing into this area, one must come fully equipped to expect the harshest conditions. Luckily for me on this trip, mother nature was at her brilliant best. I arrived at the Lake Ada Car Park just on sunrise and the glow on the horizon suggested it was going to be a perfect day. Access to Lake Pillans southern end is usually gained by following the Christy's Creek system from Lake Ada. One can also take advantage of the fly fishing along the way. I like to get to my destination as quickly as possible, before the sun gets too high and before the "snakes start to stir'.
I had been walking for approximately three hours and the morning was very warm and still. Passing one take I noticed there were a few trout rising, probably to Gum Beetles on Mayfly Duns.
As I was so close to "Pillans" I decided to make a base camp at this small unnamed lake. Once I pitched the tent, it was out with the trangia stove and into a meal of freeze dried pineapple chicken curry. It's amazing how good this food really tastes out in the bush.
I detected more rises and closer to shore as well, which suggested I should set up my four piece rod. When polaroiding the Western lakes there is only one fly I use and that being a 16 Red Tag, preferably a deer hair tie. I like deer hair because of its superb buoyancy and when a floatant is applied it is virtually unsinkable. With the glass like surface of the lake, I knew today was going to be hard going as fishing went.
These wild Brown Trout are extremely spooky in the calm conditions and the slightest movement or glint of a rod will send them scurrying. I had polaroided three large trout and unfortunately had spooked all of them. In one promising spot I saw a 2 kilo plus trout, but in my carelessness, a shadow from my fly rod sent it charging back to the middle of the lake. Soon after, another trout polaroided, but a poor back cast trieval of the fly, I found the brown had gone.
It is easy to become frustrated and disillusioned when fly fishing, but the determined angler will reap the rewards sooner or later. When visiting the Western Lakes, if you are lucky enough to catch a wild brown then this is a bonus, as I think the reason is to experience the solitude and magnificent scenery.
As the new day dawned, much the same as the first, it was time to go over to Lake Pillans for a look. The previous nights sleep, (or lack of it) had been interrupted by intruders in the form of Brush Tailed Possums and Tasmanian Devils. A packet of biscuits left out was the reason. Walking along the lake shore not far from camp, in a small shallow bay was a large brown sipping down small midges. It's amazing how a large fish makes a grown make shake at the knees. On closer inspection I could see it was a mate as the protruding lower jaw was clearly visible in the crystal water. He was cruising ever so slowly along the shore and careful approach would be needed. I positioned myself behind a large boulder just off the water and quickly cast out my fly.
The trout sensed the fly on the water and detoured off its intended path. After some examination and what I thought was going to be a refusal, the brown opened his white mouth and inhaled the Red Tag. When he turned his head I lifted my rod and was relieved to feel some resistance, unfortunately the trout wasn't and quickly charged out of the shallow bay and into the deep of the lake. It wasn't long before I was into the backing and I was starting to appreciate the value of my disc drag fly reel. With only a 1.8kg tippet, I had to be careful not to apply any undue force. I sensed he was starting to tire and I quickly regained my flyline.
That first long, hard electrifying run probably contributed to his downfall. Some side strain was needed to prevent him from parting company around a number of submerged boulders and overhanging bushes. Now close to hand I led the mighty fish to shore and gathered him on both hands. He was exhausted, (so was I) and the main priority was to revive him for release.
IT took several minutes to get him going but he soon erupted to life and slowly swam away. You get a special feeling inside when releasing these big trout, especially in wild, remote locations. I estimated his weight at 3-4 kilograms and was a beautiful golden colour with large black spots along his flanks.
I proceeded on to Lake Pillans and appreciated the panoramic views of the Western Lakes area. Also the "Walls of Jerusalem" is another outstanding feature which can be viewed from nearly all of the Western Lakes, quite often you come across magnificent stands of Pencil Pines, some being many hundreds of years old. This is one of the reasons I keep coming back, challenging fishing and beautiful country.
As the rest of the day progressed it was hard going as far as the fishing went, with the calm conditions and brilliant sunshine, many trout had retreated to the cooler depths of the lake. Long leaders and fine tippets are needed in these conditions and after some refusal, maybe a change in fly.
Further along the lake I detected a subtle rise near the shore. This trout was happily taking Gum Beetles drifting along in the slight breeze. After a careful approach and cautious cast the brown rose confidently and took my dry fly. The result was another terrific run and lovely hen fish of about 2 kilos.
One unfortunate thing when camping out in the "bush" is that the days go so quickly and before I knew it, this trip was over. I had accounted for several magnificent browns in the three days fishing. But it must be recognised that if you are lucky enough to catch a fish then this is an added bonus, as the real reason for venturing "out West" is for the solitude and wilderness experience.
Also of great concern is the walking brigade of anglers is more talk of introducing the walking permit system in the World Heritage areas of Tasmania. Hopefully legislation introduced could have anglers excused from paying a fee, with perhaps a slight increase in the angling licence to cover access into the World Heritage area.