by Peter Hayes
Professional Tasmanian Trout guide, Peter Hayes takes a look at his work place. Let me tell you about trout fishing in the central Highlands as I know it.
Perhaps I can provide some insight into this fishery so that you can make better use of it when you next visit the area. You see, I live on the shores of Great Lake and work as a trout fishing guide. We provide the guiding services to both Great Lake Hotel and The Compleat Angler Lodge, as well as providing a camp out service into the more remote areas of Tasmania. From October through until the end of April we virtually work (with a couple of other guides) every day. As a result of fishing every day we gain an intimate knowledge into the area and we get to understand out quarry perhaps as well as humanly possible. We get to see the very best fishing on offer in the highlands as well as the very worst that it can dish up.
I have been able to fish in many countries around the world, some of them like New Zealand and North America are renowned as world class. Out Central Highlands offers a unique fishery - one you are not able to find elsewhere. I might consider it to be world class, but not many other visiting anglers see it from my perspective. Let me explain.
Our fish don't live in areas of breathtaking scenery, they aren't generally as plentiful as the silly North American Cutthroats, they are not as large as the Alaskan fish nor as suicidal as many of their New Zealand offspring. Unfortunately these are the criteria by which many of us measure a good fishery.
Here and now
In my world class fishery we have a modest amount of wild brown and rainbow trout. (As a matter of interest our clients fish averaged about 3 pounds last season and the largest fish was 9+ lb. The average catch per person per day for the entire season was just 2.4.) Our fish are wild and cunning, and for the average angler they are often very difficult if not impossible to catch. When you visit the area our landscape is harsh and much of it is tundra. The wind can howl for days on the end and it is always colder than you would like. Fellow anglers are few and far between most of the time. However, this is what I love about it. A pristine remote environment with clear and mostly shallow water. Super smart and aware wild trout that once hooked can take you to the backing in a single run. We have fantastic mayfly hatches and magical Polaroid fishing. The challenge of catching a tailing trout in only inches of water still makes my heart thump after 23 years of chasing them. The frustration of trying to catch midge feeding fish in the first hours of the day (sometimes so many fish that you don't know which one to cast to) is always forgotten after I catch the first one.
How you can catch more fish
We use Miena as the base for our business as we believe it is the centre point of a fantastic and diverse fishery. In very short travelling time we have access to a variety of fisheries, this is more important than many of you may realise. Of the hundreds of waters to fish in this area on any given day I would suggest that only half a dozen would be frequented by the better and more experienced fishermen and guides. As evidence of the importance of this I will relate a story that always amuses me.
Jim Allen is a great fisherman that fishes this area solidly for several months a year. His local knowledge is as good as it gets for the polaroid fishing lakes. Jim doesn't decide where to fish until 10 am on most mornings. He believes that if you make the decision prior to that, there is a bigger chance that you get it wrong. The wind direction and strength combined with colour cover are the major influences in his decision. The time of year and current angling pressures also influence him. At 9:30 am on most mornings when Jim is at his Great Lake shack there is always a number of visitors that drop in for a cup of coffee and ask the question "Where are you going today Jim?"
I guess the point is that visiting anglers need to ask questions. Talk to fishing guides, petrol station employees, hotel and ledge staff. It is imperative that you maximise your chances by fishing the most productive water at the right times.
A boat is a bonus
A boat can contribute enormously to your catch rate. That is not to say that all the fish are caught from the boat - far from it. Fish are mostly caught along the productive shorelines and weed beds. A boat provides us with the most efficient means of transport. If an area doesn't produce fish we can quickly be fishing alternative spots. Likewise if we catch several fish from one spot we can very quickly find other similar spots. On most of our larger lakes I would guess that less than 5% of the shore line would be accessible to non boating anglers. I know that you're missing out on some fantastic fishing. Midge fishing, mayfly fishing, wind lane fishing and drift spinning with out doubt offer the best fishing opportunities in terms of quality of fish available. We have clients that catch their bag (12) of fish in these circumstances. Non boating anglers just can't access these fish effectively. A 4WD can also be useful on some days. On those 10 or so days a year that are perfect for Lake Fergus I am glad that I own one.
Improve your fishing skills
I guess that's where guides like me come into the picture. I said earlier that the average angler finds it very difficult and sometimes impossible to catch fish. As guides our job is to turn average fishermen into super fishermen in just a few days. In most cases we achieve this and our clients leave us with skills that would have otherwise taken years to develop. I see so many anglers each year go away from the area bitterly disappointed - never to return. They were told it was the mecca. And it is, but it can be a very difficult place to catch fish.
For the polaroiding fly fishermen firstly you need extraordinary fish spotting skills. Probably only 1 in 20 fish that I see actually looks like a fish. More often it is the different colour on the bottom or movement that gives them away. I kid you not, this is a major skill. The number of clients that cannot see a fish that is under their rod tip would amaze you. Secondly, casting skills need to be well above average. You should practice casting just the leader into a stiff breeze with only one back cast. Very rarely in polaroid fishing do we want, or need to false cast. Unless the water is very calm most people have terrible trouble spotting rising fish. I probably see about 20 fish to every one that a client sees. In fact it gets embarrassing sometimes - people think I'm having a lend of them.
The best advice I can give you regarding spotting rising fish is this. Get used to looking at different ripple patterns in a wave. Try this. Next time things are quiet on the lake grab a handful of stones in differing sizes. Face away from the water and throw them over your shoulder. Wait a few seconds before turning around to spot them. Only practice can help you out with this skill. Make sure you do this in a good wave, anyone can spot fish in the calm.
Wind lane and midge fishing on the other hand requires good distance and accuracy casting skills. A friend of mine caught 36 fish in a morning last season. He can, with a single back cast, pick up 65 feet of fly line and shoot it straight in front of a fish at 90 feet. Can you?
Most people fail to capitalise on the good wind lane fishing, only because their casting lets them down. Average casters often fail to catch a single fish on these mornings although they may have cast to over 50 fish. May advice to you is get out and practice a long slow pick up with a solid left hand haul.
Lure fishermen usually have no trouble catching fish providing they use a boat. Shore based spin fishermen are at a great disadvantage with limited access to constant snagging of lures. Try a bit of drift spinning instead of trolling when you next fish. The bigger fish often live in areas where you cannot troll and the erratic retrieve that you can impart to your lure is much more likely to stir up a trout on a difficult day than a constant boat speed.
In closing let me just say that the Central Highlands is arguably Australia's best and most rewarding trout fishery. A little planning and practice will stand you in good stead. I hope you find it the mecca that is.