Tasmania: Lessons with a fly fishing dynamo from Rainbow Lodge, Launceston

It's a busy morning for my brown trout. He's hunting bugs and frogs and other tasty treats. Winter hasn't long passed and even though he's swift and strong, he still has some condition to gain after the cold months and a hectic spawning season.

If he was reading the fisher warnings in the Daily Trout and the news was that it was just me coming to fish for him, he wouldn't be too worried. I love fishing, but I love it more for the places it takes me than for the fish I catch. Just ask my family; if they hear I'm going fishing, they don't reach straight for the lemons.

But if my trout knew I was riding alongside fishing guide James Sinnamon, he'd be shaking his tail fins and heading for the shelter of some sunken log way down the other end of the lake.

Sinnamon and I are bumping along in a 4WD, off the highway that runs through the higher heath-ey country on Tasmania's Central Plateau and into the forests, down a dirt road to Woods Lake, a couple of hours from Launceston.

He's decked out in his khakis, the subtle shades that blend in with the greens and greys of the trees and the lake. Sinnamon is just 22, but having been besotted by fly casting from the age of 10, he's already caught (and released) more fish than I ever will. And I have a few decades on him.

He probably has the perfect student job for a fly fisher – he guides for the fly fishing specialists, Rainbow Lodge, while studying at the Australian Maritime College in Launceston. "I came down here from Sydney to do a university degree, in marine sciences and fisheries management. I love it, you get to learn a lot about the fish, their behaviour, the environment and how the elements and the seasons affect them.

"I just love my fishing and there are so many opportunities here. It would literally take a lifetime to fish every bit of trout water there is here in Tassie."

We reach the lake, swing the 4WD around, sort out the gear (fishing and boating are a whole new world of gear), launch the boat and head across the water to a cove sheltered by trees, some of them studding the shoreline, some standing like ghosts in the water.

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Somewhere down there my trout is on the move, slicing through the murky water as he hunts for food. Instinct makes him suspicious of anything unusual but we have something he might not be able to resist.

Sinnamon sets up a rod for me, moving his fingers like a concert pianist as he ties the knots to make a leader on the end of the floating fly line and then ties the lures – two flies – to the leader.

His choice is a fly called a Woolly Bugger. I have a black one with a red bead and a green one with an orange bead. In Woods Lake, the fish like the orange bead, it's the local bead. "The water is usually quite dirty and the orange bead puts out a bright, sort of fluoro colour and they seem to like that," Sinnamon says.

The North Americans claim to have created the Woolly Bugger, but I can just see a couple of Tasmanian farmers, sitting around the shack fire, ruddy-faced, whisky in the glass, tying some experimental flies: "What are you calling that woolly bugger of a thing?" one of them asks.

They're wet flies, that means they sink, whereas dry flies float on the surface like an insect or hatching larvae, trapped by surface tension and waiting for the slurping death of a roaming fish. "This time of the year there's not a lot of insect activity," James says, "and most of it is sub-surface so there's a lot of frogs and a lot of native bait fish around. The fish tend to key on those high protein foods."

As the days get longer and warmer, the fishers will turn to dry flies. "You might get a day where one species of mayfly or something like that will hatch in the afternoon and it can really be exciting; the fish go along the surface mopping up the dry flies, you can see the fins as they go through the water like sharks."

We fish for about an hour and, with Sinnamon's guidance, I'm getting the hang of it – cast and retrieve, cast and retrieve. Fly fishing is pretty straightforward, but in the same way that oil painting on a canvas is pretty straightforward: anyone can do it, anyone can enjoy it, but it takes time, tuition and talent to really make the brush strokes matter.

I keep launching the line out into the water, wind behind me, sun sneaking a look through the clouds every once in a while and then ... wham! There's a hit and my rod is bending and my trout is on the run, trying to make good his escape.

"Strip, strip, strip," Sinnamon yells [he doesn't mean "get your jacket off Jim", he means "bring in the line"]. My fish heads to the right, makes an arc to the left and then tries to hide himself under the boat "if it wants to run, let it run but keep it tight ... now strip some more." Eventually, I strip off enough line for Sinnamon to reach out with the net and scoop the trout up and into the boat.

Free of the fly, I hold my sparkling brown trout for a few photos. We now know he's a "he" by the hook-shape of his bottom jaw. He's bigger than I expected, 55 centimetres and about 2.2 kilograms and, despite the muddy waters, he's shining with life. We check he's in good shape and back into the lake he goes, to wonder what on earth just happened. I catch a couple more as the day goes on, but none as big or exciting as the first.

We have a relaxed lunch on the lake and eventually make our way back to the ramp, spray in the face and satisfaction running deep. I'm heading to the bar to celebrate my catch, but Sinnamon is heading home for a few hours sleep.

Did I mention he was keen about his fishing? He'll have the alarm set for 2.30am when he'll meet a mate and head out into the more remote parts of the plateau for a 30-kilometre hike to the Western Lakes.

"We'll carry fly rods but we won't fish all that much. It's a sight fishing area so you usually walk quite a few kilometres before you spot a fish. When you do spot a fish, they're usually a good size, and they look amazing in the crystal-clear water."

I'll bet they do.

TRIP NOTES

Jim Darby was a guest of Rainbow Lodge and Tourism Tasmania.

MORE

traveller.com.au/tasmania

discovertasmania.com.au

FLY

All the major domestic airlines fly to Launceston, which offers the easiest access to the lakes of Tasmania's Central Plateau.

STAY

Relaxed, warm and welcoming, Blue Lake Lodge sits on the shores of Arthurs Lake, rooms from $290. A little more remote is Thousand Lakes Lodge, rooms from $305. See bluelakelodge.com.au and thousandlakeslodge.com.au

FISH

Guided fishing with Rainbow Lodge is $750 a day for a single angler, including gear, lunch, snacks and refreshments. See rainbowlodgetasmania.com.au

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