Tasmanian Dragons by Night
This is a story from our forthcoming book four in the “Fly Fishing” series. The title of the book is The Angler as Predator, and the story is from the chapter on fishing at night.
Jason and I had been invited by the Tasmanian Tourist Board to spend a couple of weeks exploring the fishing there, and then to write a critique of the island’s potential as a fly fishing destination. We stayed with Jason Garrett at his London Lakes Lodge, and fished throughout the lakes district. The fishing was stunning, and Jason’s Lodge a most hospitable and relaxing venue.
A week or so into the trip, he asked if we wanted to do some night fishing for browns. Of course we did. I love night fishing because it extends the number of hours I can fish each day, but more I love it because it is so very interesting and exciting.
“We’ll go on the new moon if there’s plenty of cloud,,” Jason G. told us. “The big ones will be moving about fearlessly, and we should have a good chance at them.” So it was decided, so it was that we did.
It was the time of the dragons; that is, dragonflies. We saw the freshly castoff husks of the huge nymphs every morning, stuck on the bark of the gum trees, where the emerging adults had left them the night before. And having fished dragonfly and damselfly hatches for many years, we were more than eager to give it a try. But we had no specific imitations to match these behemoths of the insect world. No matter. We knew their behavior, and we knew exactly what we could substitute to ape the big nymphs.
Dragonfly nymphs have rectal gills, and suck water in and squirt it out to breathe. Squirting it out rapidly turns them into miniature jet boats, and during their shoreward migration, they pulse along just under the surface, creating a very nice “V” wake in the film.
On the appointed night, we crept slowly to the lake and inched along the shoreline, listening carefully. Now, let me make a note here about Tasmanian snakes. There are only three species, but all are deadly poisonous. So part of our creeping was to avoid making noise that could spook a near-shore brown, and part of it was to keep from stepping on a viper that clearly carried a sign that read “Don’t tread on me.” We poked the ground in front of us carefully, and a bit nervously with the long stick that we each carried.
Personally, I was getting a bit tired of messing about with the stick. I’d been slapping grasses, whipping it around in debris piles, and generally being obnoxious with it—like some magic wand that would ward of tiger snakes and the other two of its ilk—and not once had I seen even a flash of one of these critters. I started to think that the stick was for the amusement of our hosts, as they watched the uninitiated northlanders feel about like members of a sightless colony of boobies. “But, better safe that sorry,” I kept telling myself. “So what if I do look like a tourist, I am a tourist.” So I kept my stick, and kept poking it along ahead of me, feeling my way through the tangle of venomous reptiles.
We’d rigged up with floating lines and big, size 6, black Muddlers with large heads. We gave them a good bath in fly floatant so they would ride along in the film and make a good firm wake when stripped at moderate speed. Suddenly, out there in the inky black, a fish broke the surface with a decidedly positive rise. I heard Jason’s rod sweep back and them the line shoot as he came forward and stopped at the end of the stroke. I stood silently, totally transfixed by the quiet. A Tasmanian Devil screeched off in the distance at almost the same time that I heard the line being snatched off the surface as the hook dug in. The fish jumped, and we could tell it was a good one.
Stick forgotten, caution thrown to the wind, I moved off briskly in Jason’s direction. It was almost certainly a fish in the two-foot class, and I wanted to be there to help him land it in the dark. That’s when it happened. There was a sharp slap to the back of my left calf, and I felt the pain as the fangs dug in. If you don’t believe that Peter walked on the water to meet Jesus, let me tell you right now that you can, in fact, walk on water for about 30 feet before you begin to sink—at least if you get an instantaneous and very high-velocity start.
I got the light on, to the shouts of the guides to “Shut off the #&@*%# torch,” and discovered a stick with a sharp, pointed end that had flipped up and caught in my waders. There was an instantaneous and very much appreciated flood of relief that swept over me. I was now a solidly repentant believer, and I kept tightly ahold of my precious stick for the remainder of the journey.