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