Ever since I have been reading about travelling the world to fish for trout, this place 'London Lakes' has intrigued me. It is an absolute Mecca for the serious trout angler and it exudes such history and can tell many tales!
I happened to be at London Lakes on the invitation of Tim Urbanc, who was one of the five anglers in the Australian Team when they came to fish the 2000 World Championships in the Bristol area. Tim is one of Jason Garrett's guides, though this year he has not had so much opportunity to work at the lodge due to his nursing commitments. I met up with Tim at Malcolm Crosse's sixtieth birthday bash, and it wasn't too long before he suggested that we spent a day fishing. He asked me if I had managed to fish either Samuel or Big Jim lakes and, of course as I hadn't, we arranged a date. Tim came up to the Highlands and we enjoyed a good meal and evening of fishing talk at Peter Hayes' house. Peter had left himself an 'office day' on the one that Tim and I were to fish, but needed little excuse to join us for the morning session on Samuel.
We set off from Miena and headed through Bronte. I enjoyed getting a different perspective on the fishing in the Highlands; recently I had been fishing a great deal with much less experienced anglers than Tim, and the drive of over an hour seemed to pass in minutes. On arriving at the lakes, we first went to see Jason and I was introduced to him. A hot coffee and the most amazing cake were soon sitting on the table as Tim, Peter and Jason caught up with each other's news. I was the outsider in much of the conversation, but just enjoyed sitting back soaking up the wonderful atmosphere of the place. Jason was pretty keen that Peter spent some time looking at the river that he was developing. This sounded pretty strange to my ears: how can you 'develop' a river?
We soon bade our farewells and went fishing. At the appointed spot there was a good dun hatch underway, but no trout activity on the surface. There was a steady wind and plenty of rain about. Peter and Tim worked to the right of where we accessed the lake, so I opted to head left. I had some chest waders on, but I decided to stay on the bank until I saw some movement. Within twenty minutes I saw a fish move. I was encouraged, but as it was fifty metres out I waited still. Another one moved in the same area and then yet another. This was my signal to get into the water and wade out. Tim and Peter were already way out from the bank, so I guessed that they too were seeing the odd fish. I made my way out slowly and was surprised by how firm the bottom of the lake was and also by how gently the water sloped away. I was soon just about within casting distance of the trout that I had seen, and although I saw no more, the amount of duns on the surface seemed to be increasing by the minute.
Soon the fish started moving in earnest! Great bulging wakes; slow sipping takes; occasional fish moving steadily upwind, some darting left to right. I covered several but had no hint of a response, so I stopped fishing and just watched. It seemed to me that most of the fish moving were what we call 'oncers', that is, fish that come up and take a fly off the surface once and then swim on for a long way before they think of feeding again. These fish are notoriously difficult to catch because you just cannot predict where they might, or even if, they will surface again. Then I noticed that there was the odd trout coming up repeatedly, so I watched to see if one of these would approach me. One fish did just this. It moved well to my left, but then just carried on feeding on everything that it could see in it's path. It was a bit far out, though I thought that I had managed to cover it a couple of times. However, when it passed, it turned round and started swimming towards me. I soon managed a very accurate cast, for it was getting closer and closer, and it couldn't resist my size twelve claret bits. A beautiful two pound rainbow spent the next couple of minutes trying its hardest to imitate one of the swallows that were gracefully taking duns from the surface. The fish certainly had some power and showed no sign of fatigue when I released it to grow bigger and provide someone else with sport.
Almost as soon as I caught this fish the rise seemed to end. I followed a couple that were heading off towards Peter who was fishing a couple of hundred metres away to my right, but they managed to keep well ahead of my pathetic efforts to catch up with them. Soon there was nothing showing on the surface and Tim had joined Peter for a chat. We all agreed that maybe it was time to stop for a bit of lunch. I had made a verbal arrangement with one or the guys who have bought into Jason's scheme: David Imber is a retired accountant, and he spends as much time as he possibly can in his lakeside property. I first met him at the Fly Tying Club meeting in Hobart, just a few days after I had arrived in Tasmania, but then met him again on Malcolm's birthday, when he offered that I should join him for lunch when Tim brought me over to fish.
David has built the most amazing 'shack' that I think I saw in Tasmania. The image one has when the word 'shack' is used is somewhat interesting. The place that David has is about as far removed from what most of us in Britain would consider a shack to be as is possible. I am certain that my photographs do not do the place justice! David is a very keen fly tier. Since he took up the sport of trout fishing he admits that he has probably gained more enjoyment from the tying of flies than from the fishing side of things. David also collects flies and has methodically gone about getting as many London Lakes visitors as possible to submit some of theirs to his collection. I shall be sending off my additions to him very soon. David has the flies displayed in an interesting hexagonal-shaped coffee table which has removable compartments. So successful has been his collection that he now has many spare sections already full with catalogued flies!
A fabulous lunch of smoked trout and some excellent Sauvignon Blanc (interestingly, David loves his Sauvignon Blanc at room temperature) followed the compulsory tour of David's amazing garden (his other hobby!) Tim and I were just thinking of getting back to the fishing when Jason Garrett came in. He wanted to have a word with me. Apparently he had signed up for one of the courses that I had run, but, due to the death of a friend, he had been unable to attend. He wondered if I could spare an hour or so to go through some of the course contents with him? With my time in Tasmania running out rapidly I was almost embarrassed because I had verbally committed myself to one or two other trips. However, I realised that on the Friday following I would be close to London Lakes and, therefore, could pop in for a couple of hours. Maybe I could even get to have another go at fishing one of his lakes? So, with a time arranged for Friday, Tim and I set back to some fishing.
Very little was showing on the surface, but David's neighbour assured us that in the previous hour there had been the best rise that he had seen all season! To think that Tim and I were looking round a flower garden! Tim plugged away with his team of nymphs and soon was getting takes regularly. They were difficult to hit and, although he eventually caught three fish, he may have had many more than that judging by the number of strikes he made. I stuck it out with dries, but had to concede after Tim landed his second. I managed to get a few takes, but only hooked one fish which shook the hook before I landed it. Several times as I retrieved I felt the flies hook into weed and, as I lifted the rod to clear my flies, the 'weed' swam off. Tim told me later that on these fish, with so much natural food in the water, takes tend to be very soft: so you should strike at even the faintest hint of a fish. Wise after the event again!
I returned to London Lakes on the appointed day and spent several hours talking to Jason Garrett. On my trip to Tasmania I met a wealth of lovely people, but I don't think I met anyone with quite so much humility as Jason. This man has created a trout fishing heaven. It is respected throughout the world, yet he was just so enthusiastic to hear about the ways that we nymph-fish, and the latest developments with our 'Pommie Dries'. We talked flies, and leaders and materials and we could have gone on for days. Jason offered that I stay at the lodge for a night or two, but I just didn't have any time left - if only I had managed to meet up with him earlier! Strange that I didn't really, because Malcolm Crosse is a good friend of Jason and he actually mentioned a few times about popping over to see him.
Jason bought the five thousand acre property and developed it in many ways. First he sold off 'blocks' as building plots in Tasmania are called. He developed the two lakes, Big Jim and Samuel, and built the lodge itself. On the other side of the state road is a smaller lake that I have mentioned in previous articles: Highland Water. This too is owned by Jason, and he subdivided plots on the banks of this lake. I mentioned earlier in my articles from Tasmania about a far thinking owner who is tagging trout to keep a watch on their development and progress in a lake: unknown to me at the time, it was Jason that I was writing about!
We went to see the river that Jason is building. I do mean building, strange as it may seem. From the top lake on his property, Big Jim, to the bottom lake, Highland Water, there is a considerable flow of water. Jason has decided that he should utilise this amenity, by channelling it and making a series of pools connected by interesting rivers. The valley is a couple of kilometres wide and several kilometres long, and with the way Jason has planned to run the river backwards and forwards across the valley, the project will take many years to finish, but I was both honoured and delighted that he took the time to take me to see the work that he has completed already. There were even trout in some of the stretches of river. I realised as I spoke with Jason on the banks of 'this' one, that I was talking to a really great man. With his foresight fisheries throughout the world could be so much better!
I met many anglers in Tasmania that were extremely worried about how their fisheries are being run. Too many anglers, too many boats, too much fish kill, not enough stocking, not enough research, the list goes on. Well, all I can say to anyone who has doubts about how the fisheries are being run is to look at the model that is being provided by Jason Garrett. I know that he has less pressure on his waters than there is on public fisheries, but that misses the point. At Jason's London Lakes you can see fish and fishing that is the envy of the world. Surely that speaks volumes for this man and his ways.
Check him out at londonlakes.com.au Why not treat yourself to a few days in trout fishing heaven! I will one day - in the meantime it is back to sorting out our season to come in Britain. I'm off to see Bob Handford at Chew Valley this afternoon and catch up with developments there.
Tight lines and a belated Happy New Year,