UNTIL recently, nymphs, woolly buggers, 007, humpy, Royal Wulffs and klinkhammers meant little to me. Characters from James Bond films, perhaps? Not even close.
They are the idiosyncratic names of fly-fishing lures – an imitation of what nature provides as a food source for fish, and an essential part in the art of fly-fishing. I was introduced to them on the manicured lawns of the Josef Chromy Wine Estate, near Launceston in Tasmania, the Australian island state being a haven for fishing and considered to have the purest strain of wild brown trout in the world.Australian Sir James Arndell Youl first introduced wild trout from the UK into Tasmania’s crystalline streams in 1864, transporting 50,000 live trout and salmon eggs by ingeniously packing them in moss and ice vaults. Only 300 eggs survived the three-month sea voyage, but within a few years, they flourished. Now, approximately 95 per cent of Tasmania’s rivers and streams are full of wild fish, with the best time to catch them between September and May, when they are biting fearlessly. The rivers have not been stocked for generations and this year, Tasmania is celebrating this historical anniversary.
Simone Hackett – Australia’s leading female fly-fisher – is determined to get more women into waders and on to the riverbanks through her women’s fly-fishing trips and tuition. My fishing knowledge mostly involved spotting enthusiastic anglers on folding chairs around London’s grimy fishing ponds, with a rod in one hand and a smouldering roll-up burning down to the knuckle in the other, but Hackett taught me how to load the rod with the reel and fly, and cast. Surrounded by golden vineyards, we did some basic casting on a private pond, because for beginners it is easier to learn on still water.
Armed with my new skills, I drove nearly two hours south to the town of Ross and the fortified Georgian colonial homestead of Somercotes, which was first settled in 1823. Here I joined Roger Butler, who owns and operates Red Tag Trout Tours, and is one of Australia’s leading male fly fishing teachers with 45 years’ experience.
We spent the day at Currawong Lakes, a 3,000-acre private wild trout fly-fishing retreat, tucked away in Tasmania’s East Coast Highlands and just 20 miles from Somercotes. Currawong is comprised of ancient native forest, with three large lakes teeming with trophy-size rainbow and brown trout, as well as plenty of essential insect life. The setting is tranquil; all you hear is the wind in the trees and the ripples on the water.
In chest-high waders I followed Butler into a lake, pushing through reeds and weeds to reach a deep spot where he encouraged me to cast my line and fly out onto the water.
“Too far back, try again, too far back, try again, more strength in the back flick,” he repeated, as I stood drenched, hooking reeds (and myself at one point). I cast my line yet again and then heard a booming, “Yes! That’s brilliant!” Thrilled and encouraged, I then produced one after another good casts. What I hadn’t yet learnt was how to retrieve the fish that had just taken my fly and was pulling on my line. I fumbled until the fish jumped out of the water and looked me in the eye, spat out the fly and was gone.
We returned to the warmth of the Somercotes cottages, where Roger taught me fly-tying, the fiddly art of making my own flies. An artificial fly, or fly lure, is made from natural materials such as feathers and fur, and bound to a hook with silk and nylon thread. Huddled over a small vice-like contraption, I tried to wind fine pieces of silk around fiddly bits of old peacock feather to create an imitation blue damsel dragonfly. Although slightly distressed-looking, my blue damsel was beautiful, but Roger said it was too big and would scare the fish.
As we made flies, Roger told me about fishing with Billy Connolly. “Billy is a very keen fly-fisherman. He flew down from Brisbane to perform in Hobart and wanted to take a fishing break. He amazed himself, and me, by catching the same wild brown trout twice in one day. We know this because the fish bit off Billy’s tie and line and swam away with it. A few hours later, he caught it again. When I netted the fish, I noticed Billy’s pink fly on its jaw. We removed the fly and it now travels the world in Billy’s hat,” he said.
The following day, we set off early and drove along a rugged track until we reached a spellbinding landscape, where a narrow stream meandered its way through a lush sheep meadow. All I could hear was the trickling stream, insects and bird calls. Butler taught me about reading the water, about “drag” and casting on moving water, where to position myself, and how to retrieve a fish. I pulled my line with short, sharp movements, making the fly twitch like a real bug on the water, but to no avail. Butler, however, caught a brown trout, and after telling it how lovely it was, released it back into the wild.
I was becoming hooked on this tranquil and soul-reviving sport, and pristine Tasmania was the perfect place to relax. Although fishless, I had come to understand the connection between fly-fishing and nature: it’s about you, the environment and the wild fish. And you don’t always win.
RiverFly Tasmania Fly Fishing Packages, Simone and Daniel Hackett (+61 (03) 6334 8386, www.riverfly.com.au); Red Tag Trout Tours, Roger Butler. A full day of fishing (approx 13 hours) for one person costs £350 and includes transfer/pick-ups, food, fishing licence, morning tea, fishing clothing, rods and more (www.redtagtrout.com).
Somercotes Historical Homestead (www.somercotes.com); Currawong Lakes Fly Fishing Retreat (www.currawonglakes.com.au); Josef Chromy Wine Estate (www.josefchromy.com.au); Trout Guides Tasmania (www.troutguidestasmania.com.au)
Tasmanian Odyssey Fly Fishing Packages (01534 735449, www.tasmanianodyssey.com); fly fishing holidays to Tasmania as well as tuition and full-day fishing trips or longer as part of a self-drive holiday. A week’s self-drive in Tasmania including accommodation in B&Bs and car hire, from £650 per person. Expect to pay from £400pp per day for guided fly-fishing, or £225pp for two travelling together. Book a dedicated fully-guided fly-fishing tour with one of Tasmania’s expert guides (such as Dan and Simone Hackett of RiverFly or Roger Butler of Red Tag Tours, from approx £1,100pp based on two sharing including tuition, private transport, three nights’ accommodation, equipment and most meals.
Virgin Australia operates direct flights from Sydney and Melbourne to Launceston and Hobart, £53 (AU$95) one way (baggage not included) or £60 (AU$109) one way (baggage included), return from approx £100 (AU$190) (www.virginaustralia.com).
For the independent traveller: Flights to Australia and Tasmania: Etihad Airways offers daily connections from Glasgow to Melbourne in conjunction with codeshare partner Flybe. Return economy class fares start at £874 for low season travel (www.etihad.com).
Tourism Australia (www.australia.com); Tourism Tasmania (www.discovertasmania.com.au); Trout Guides Tasmania (www.troutguidestasmania.com.au).