On the Trail of the Trout
If you know where and when to go, Australia and New Zealand have some of the world’s finest fly-fishing spots
WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHY PHILIP WEIGALL
You could say that spring is when fly fishing wakes up. Not that it’s entirely dormant over winter — a few hardy anglers brave the snow and gales, and land some big fish too. However, most are content to stay indoors, perhaps winding pieces of fur and feather onto little hooks to imitate the bugs the trout will eat during the warmer months — the art of fly tying.
Tasmanian guide Greg from Greg Beecroft Guiding fits in the latter group. His base is on the southern edge of the highland forests, a two-hour drive north of Hobart. Come mid-August, when the trout season has opened, Beecroft will be out on nearby waters such as the famous Bronte Lagoon. “Tailers” are the highlight: big brown trout foraging for flushed bugs and grubs in mere centimetres of water. Beecroft describes stalking the lake margins, then presenting his fly bait to trout cruising in water so shallow that their tail tips are exposed.
“The cast has to be perfect,” he emphasises. “But when you get it right and the trout takes, there’s nothing like it.”
On the other side of Bass Strait, October is the height of spring. About an hour’s drive north-west of Melbourne, the grass is truly an emerald green, and the lakes and rivers are brimming. This month heralds the start of mayfly season, and at Millbrook Lakes private fishery, it’s a busy time.
Tailing Trout (Southern Tasmania, ex Hobart Airport) August to October Best places: Bronte Lagoon, Little Pine Lagoon, Lake Echo Best flies: Woolly Worm, Black Beetle, Stick Caddis
Mayfly Feeders (Central Victoria, ex Melbourne or Avalon airports) October to November Best places: Millbrook Lakes, Harcourt Reservoir, Newlyn Reservoir Best flies: Shaving Brush, Parachute Emerger, Possum Emerger
New Zealand Sight Fishing (South Island, ex Christchurch Airport) December to February Best places: Buller River & tributaries, Grey River & tributaries, Waiau River & tributaries Best flies: Parachute Adams, Deer Hair Cicada, Royal Wulff, Shaving Brush
River Dry Fly (Northern Tasmania, ex Launceston Airport) March to April Best places: St Patricks River, Liffey River, Meander River, North & South Esk Rivers Best flies: Parachute Dun, F Fly, Wee Creek Hopper
On a humid October day, I watch Millbrook’s Dash Laver, an energetic guide with an ever-present grin, as he delivers a Shaving Brush “fly” 20m across the breeze-rippled Bluegum Lake. The thumbnail-sized imitation alights like thistledown. It’s such a perfect copy of a real mayfly that even a swallow is confused, pecking it briefly off the water before realising its mistake. A few seconds later, a 3kg rainbow trout isn’t so lucky.
New Zealand is “just across the ditch” and putting friendly rivalry aside, its fly fishing is hard to beat. About 10 years ago, expat Aussie Felix Borenstein realised this, quit his life as an executive, and set up a fly-fishing lodge a few hours’ drive north of Christchurch. In the height of summer when the cicadas are chirping in the beech forest, there’s no better place than the mighty Buller and its tributaries for a fly fisher to be. The rivers around Borenstein’s Owen River Lodge are so clear that you can see the stones’ quartz lines 10m down. The big browns are as long as your arm and as alert as a cat at a police dog academy, but if you can drop your fly into the current without the fish detecting you, you win.
As autumn arrives, it’s time to go back to Tasmania and Launceston — some of the finest streams in north-east Tasmania are just an hour from the airport. These waters are at their best in March and April, and even if the trout aren’t as big as their New Zealand cousins, they’re much more abundant. County cricketer-turned-trout guide Christopher of Christopher Bassano Rainbow Lodge reminds me of a heron as he stalks among autumn colours, looking for a trout rising in a quiet bubble-line. Once winter arrives the streams will close to let the trout breed in peace. But Bassano is thinking only of the next trout. “Magic time of year, mate,” he murmurs, with one eye on the bubbling river.
And he’s right — though when you’re fly fishing, is there a time that isn’t magic?
Philip Weigall’s latest book Fishing Season is published by Exisle Publishing.
GREG BEECROFT GUIDING
Tel: +61 (3) 6289 1294
2054 Old Melbourne Rd, Millbrook, Victoria, tel: +61 (3) 5334 0404
OWEN RIVER LODGE
Owen Valley East Rd, Murchison Nelson, South Island, New Zealand, tel: +64 (3) 523 9075
CHRISTOPHER BASSANO RAINBOW LODGE
Tel: +61 (0) 428 376 484
Jetstar flies direct to Launceston, Hobart, Melbourne and Christchurch. JetSaver Light fares from AU$39 one way. Book online at Jetstar.com