Tai-chi in waders (or What happens when you take Oscar Wilde fishing)

Courtesy – Tourism Tasmania

I have never had the patience nor inclination to stand by a silent water all day, watching my line float impotently on the surface.

So when my stepfather asked me to go on a fly-fishing expedition to the lakes of Tasmania’s Central Highlands, I packed a good book.

We wound our way out of the valley of the Derwent River – itself an eminent trout fishery. Within a couple of hours we had made our camp by Bronte Lagoon. One of the best things about self-drive holidays in Tasmania is that you can pretty much pull up anywhere and pitch a tent. With a little bit of creativity and adventure you can generally find a quiet and beautiful place to toast a marshmallow.

So it was that we settled in for the night beside Bronte – so close to the water that I began making silent plans to fish the next day from the comfort of my tent. Especially when I was told that we were going to be up at 5am to “fish the tailing”.

During the wet spring months, as the winter snows melt, Tasmania’s lakes flood. This creates uniquely perfect conditions for the fabled ‘tailing’. Trout will almost beach themselves as they patrol the recently inundated shallows for food – their backs and tails visibly rising out of the water. This is renowned as one of the most thrilling of all fishing experiences. “Sounds like a riot”, I said through a particularly forced grin.

The next morning I climbed into my waders and grumbled down to water’s edge. As is usual when this fishing philistine goes angling, it didn’t take much time for me to lose patience. The ill-fitting waders, frigid water and tangled line all added up to one thing: The Picture of Dorian Gray was getting a good workout.

After what my companions termed an ‘interesting’ (read unsuccessful) fish we decamped to nearby Lake St Clair Lagoon. On the way we stopped at the Derwent Bridge Hotel – the pub in the middle of nowhere that serves as good a steak as you will get anywhere. After lunch – we optimistically declined to sample their trout – we again clad ourselves in our fashionable rubber overalls.

A mist rolled in from the surrounding mountain peaks. My companions got very excited. Overcast conditions mean that the sun-shy trout emerge from the weeds. It was time to catch some dinner.

We made our way around the lagoon, fishing as we went. Being slightly less than a black-belt in the complex art of casting a fly, I found it very difficult to land the fly and line on the water with anything but the grace of a duck. The havoc I created was soon annoying my stepdad enough for him to give me a lesson. Stiff wrist. Let the line do the work. Don’t muscle it. Focus.

Slowly I gave in to the rhythm. They say that the human enjoyment of music comes from the mind’s delight in counting, the enumeration of the beat. I was slowly hypnotised by the furry little Mesmer at my line’s end.

All else was drowned in silence. I looked to my left and saw my stepdad surrounded by grey water. Above him the snowy peak of Mount Olympus showed through the mist. He was immobile, but for the metronome of his right arm – his curling line momentarily framing him, before whipping out its silent momentum – a picture of concentration.

In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Dorian’s own physical beauty is the means by which he justifies his lazy and immoral life. Fly-fishing promotes a different kind of beauty – a beauty earned through discipline and control. It is tai chi in waders, standing beneath mountains.

Tasmanian guru, Chris Bassano, puts it like this: “Everything that we do, we try and do as well as we can and so you are constantly trying to learn it all and find it all out. I suppose, like everything in life, the more you find out, the more you realise you don’t know. So it is sort of like chasing the Holy Grail that you’ll never reach. But you still try. Everything that is good in life seems to be encompassed in fly-fishing.”

So did we catch any fish? Does it really matter?

Published in Tasmania Enjoy Magazine – June 2012

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