Paulette Whit­ney on trout fish­ing in Tasmania.

Trout fish­ing in Tasmania is far more than a hobby, it’s re­li­gion, writes PAULETTE WHIT­NEY.

Gourmet Traveller (Australia) - - Contents -

You can’t just show up and catch a fish – not if you want to be a proper fish­er­man. No, to be a real trout fisher here is nigh on re­li­gious.

Dawn is yet to break when Mum wakes us. We gather around mugs of Milo in the kitchen while she cuts us pip­ing-hot pieces of egg-and-ba­con pie to eat in the car. We’ve slept in our clothes so we can grab the dog with­out wast­ing a mo­ment and head out as only the faintest glow bright­ens the hori­zon.

Trout fish­ing in Tasmania isn’t a hobby you un­der­take lightly. You can’t just show up and catch a fish – not if you want to be a proper fish­er­man. No, to be a real trout fisher here is nigh on re­li­gious. It re­quires a zeal­ous de­vo­tion to ob­scure lakes, an un­der­stand­ing of when weather con­di­tions are per­fect for the hatch of a par­tic­u­lar species of fly that you’ve caught, pre­served and spent the off-sea­son mak­ing fac­sim­i­les of with seal fur, silk and feath­ers plucked from a pheas­ant hackle and ty­ing them onto tiny hooks, so that when those ex­act weather con­di­tions arise again you can drag your fam­ily out of bed be­fore dawn to fol­low you in pur­suit of slimy, glim­mer­ing prizes.

When my sis­ters and I squeeze into the back of the Kingswood, pro­tect­ing our warm pie from the hun­gry gi­gan­tic ridge­back-cross mon­grel, we’re sit­ting six inches above the seat on piles of blan­kets and games smug­gled into the car the night be­fore, un­be­known to our step­dad who thinks any avail­able car space should be de­voted to waders, net and fly rod.

Be­cause we’ve done this be­fore. We know what’s com­ing.

Our des­ti­na­tion is a tin shack on the shore of Lake Sorell. Our friend ar­rived the night be­fore, and as we ar­rive it looks a ro­man­tic idyll – chim­ney smoke min­gling with mist on the lake – but leav­ing the car, the cold hits us, and we pull our beanies over our ears.

Mum has a lake­side fire lit and a billy on the in­stant she alights, and, af­ter a quick cuppa, the men are off, dis­pers­ing along the shore. Flick­ing lines slice the still air. Their click­ing reels let out line, and re­trieve it in slow, jerky move­ments, at­tempt­ing to mimic the death throes of what­ever species of in­sect they’ve con­jured from fur and feather.

My mum, sis­ters and I have a more re­laxed way of fish­ing, thread­ing tiny sinkers onto our lines, and winc­ing as we pierce worms with our hooks, be­fore cast­ing into the wa­ter. Our hands free, we make a nest of our blan­kets near the fire and get set for a round of Uno, but my sis­ter’s line be­gins to move. She creeps to her rod, watch­ing the line run to be sure the fish has taken the bait, be­fore she quickly yanks her rod to the sky, set­ting the hook. She winds, low­er­ing the tip as she takes up line, then pulling up on the rod to drag the ill-fated fish to­ward her. Wind, lift, re­peat, un­til the fish is shal­low enough to slip a net un­der. My sis­ter is burst­ing with pride: first fish of the day.

And so it con­tin­ues. Just as we set­tle into a game or a snack, some­body gets a fish on. Not all strikes are suc­cess­ful, but by lunchtime there are half a dozen brown trout scaled, gilled and gut­ted and hang­ing in the fish safe. Mum stokes the fire, dredges two of the smaller fish in salt and flour, stuff­ing slices of le­mon in their bel­lies, and fries them in but­ter.

Sum­moned by the scent of fried fish, the men re­turn, each bear­ing an empty fish­ing bag. We show them our glistening prizes and pop more on to cook for their lunch, de­spite them seek­ing to di­min­ish our vic­tory by de­rid­ing the taste of our worm-caught fish. Ap­par­ently our worm-eat­ing fish fed from the lake bot­tom and have flesh in­fe­rior to their fly-caught brethren, but we know bet­ter.

An ac­tual fish, in a fry­ing pan, is a whole lot bet­ter than the myth­i­cal ones-that-got-away the men are speak­ing of, still out there in the lake feast­ing upon flies made of in­sect flesh, not of feather and fur with sharp­ened hooks lurk­ing in­side.

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