World Fly Fishing Championships in Tasmania 2019: Session 1 on Woods Lake

A lot of you have been asking if I would be posting about my sessions in the World Fly Fishing Championships this year. I’m finally getting a chance to get started now that the Christmas rush is over and Connor is back in the shop. Of course, the fly fishing show season is about to start so I may not be able to finish writing about all my sessions soon but I’ll get to them as quickly as I can. In this post I’ll take you through my first session on Woods Lake but first I’ll share some quick background.

The championships were held in Launceston, Tasmania December 2nd-6th. Launceston was a beautiful small city on the northern coast of Tasmania and was a really nice place to spend a few days, although most of our time there was spent at the fly-tying vise in our hotel rooms. Our team consisted of Josh Graffam, Lance Egan, Pat Weiss, Russ Miller, Michael Bradley, and myself as anglers with Bret Bishop as captain and Jerry Arnold as team manager.

The championship venues were all a fairly long distance from Launceston and the organizers wanted to capitalize on fishing times when hatches were likely to come off on each of the venues that would provide rising fish for anglers to target. As a result, the championship was stretched over five days with one session each day instead of the usual three days with two sessions on the first two days. Instead of heavy hatches and rising fish, the championship was dominated by 5 straight days of sustained winds in the 25-45 mile per hour range with gusts into the 50s and higher on Little Pine Lagoon and Woods Lake.

Speaking of the venues, they consisted of two rivers (the Meander and Mersey) which drain the central highlands and flow to the northern coast of Tasmania. The other three venues were lakes (actually reservoirs) in the central highlands of the island. Penstock Lagoon was the smallest and shallowest of the three with an average depth around three feet. Little Pine Lagoon was intermediate in terms of size and depth and Woods Lake was the largest and deepest of the three lakes.

We only had four days of practice before the championship and none of the championship venues were available to practice on. Consequently, we tried to get comfortable with the fishing in the area, but we mainly had to rely on advice and fly patterns from our guide Max Vereshaka who has represented Australia in prior world championships.

Session 1 Woods Lake

My first session was on Woods Lake. It likely gets its name from the submerged dead trees which rim much of the shoreline. This lake was supposed to produce the highest numbers of fish of the three lakes as it has the densest population of fish. Interestingly, a lot of smaller fish around to got along with the large fish. Most folks we talked to were expecting sessions to be won with over 20 fish. With the unexpected weather, that didn’t end up being the case.

When we arrived, the weather wasn’t as bad as I feared it would be before the session. Intermittent waves of clouds were followed by occasional patches of blue sky. However, as would be the case in most of the sessions, just as we started fishing the wind really picked up and squalls of hail and snow occasionally passed through bringing intense gusts along with them.

Our guide Max had recommended the shallow bay near where the inlet was (letter A on the map). This was an area with weed beds where the famous “duns” would be if a hatch materialized. The boats were anchored in this bay though and when the session started eight of the 12 boats started in this immediate area. Apparently, they all knew where the honey hole was supposed to be as well.

Our strategy on Woods was to pull a mix of three small wooly bugger/leech style flies on intermediate to type 5 lines depending on the depth of the area we were fishing. If duns started hatching and fish started rising, then we would swap to a floating line with three unweighted brown mayfly nymphs or switch to a bob fly or dries if the fish really got going.

I started the session with a type 3 and buggers. Thirty seconds before the session started there was a dun on the water in front of me which disappeared in a splashy rise. I made a cast as soon as the horn blew and covered it. Two strips into my retrieve I hooked and landed my first trout of the session on my top dropper, which was a flashy gold bugger. It brought some immediate confidence that we were in the right area doing the right thing. That confidence would prove to be a built false as the session progressed.

Several minutes after me, my boat partner Tomas Adam (former world champion from the Czech Republic) was into his first fish as well. Shortly after I broke off a fish mid-way through the retrieve. Even with 2x tippet the hits were hard enough that if they came just as I made a fast strip it was easy for it to end badly. Tomas then landed another fish as well. And then the fishing went dead. Nothing happened as we continued to drift in the same general area for the next 45 minutes.

Apparently the other boats weren’t having any better success though as they all vacated the area within a half an hour of the session start. Most of them went around a point of trees to our left and started drifting the wooded shoreline around area B on the map. I was in control of the boat during the first half of the session and I decided to stay put hoping that the fishing would improve since the fish would have a chance to settle a bit after the other boats left. Wild brown trout aren’t known for liking it when an armada drifts and fishes over them.

We reset several drifts in the area trying to cover some different depths and proximity to the shoreline. The drifts were unpredictable though because the wind direction was constantly swirling and swinging the boat back and forth. As we drifted back toward the shoreline I hooked a large 20”+ brown that jumped twice. Unfortunately, on the second jump it spit the hook. A little while later I landed another medium size brown and Tomas landed a fish around 18”.

At this point we’d fished the bay around letter A for around an hour and 45 minutes. Though I had missed a few more takes the fishing hadn’t picked up much since the other boats left. In addition, the repeated storm squalls seemed to have killed what little dun hatch there had been at the beginning of the session. I decided to make a move to another backup area which Max had shown us when we scouted the lake (letter C on the map). I hadn’t seen any boats head for this area so I hoped we would have it to ourselves and we did to begin at least.

The bay we moved into had some beds of strap weed along the left bank and a line of trees perpendicular to the shore on the right side. When we motored into the area my point fly was dangling in the water and a small brown trout ate it just as we were setting the drogue. The fish didn’t count since we were trolling when I hooked it, but it gave me confidence that we were in the right area. Unfortunately, another boat rounded the corner just after we set our first drift and they started motoring in front of us which cut off our drift.

Sadly, I didn’t hook a fish before the halfway point when Tomas gained control of the boat. He had us stay in the general area, but he had the controller focus our drifts shallower, as I probably would have done if I were in his same boat position. I was in the stern of the boat which was facing to the bank during this time. Our drifts were shallow enough that my half of the boat was in the strap weed and I sometimes had to wait a few minutes before there was another pocket in the weeds I could cast to. Tomas did land one more fish just along the edge of the strap weed but the pot full of small brown trout we hoped to find here never materialized.

A third boat had also joined us in the bay and Tomas and I both felt it was time to move with under an hour left. I pointed to a rocky bank down the right side of the bay and suggested we go there. It was similar to the type of habitat our team had success fishing when we practiced on Arthur’s Lake. Tomas agreed and we made the move. Given the steeper drop off in this area, I switched to a type 5 line on our way over to try and get my flies a little deeper, especially since I would be on the deeper end of the boat. 

Lance Egan with a nice Arthur's Lake brown trout during practice just before an approaching storm front. 

As soon as we started our first drift, after the move, I hooked a fish on the first cast. The next 15 minutes were the fastest fishing of the day with both Tomas and I landing several fish. However, the problem, for me at least, was that Tomas was on the bow side of the boat that was closest to the bank. All of the fish we were hooking were within 3-10 feet of the bank. As a result, when we set up a new drift Tomas was able to make repeated casts into this zone and he caught fish quickly as a result. I usually only was able to make one or two casts toward the bank before the angle I needed to make the cast was out of bounds and into Tomas’ half of the boat.

Given my position in the boat I was still able to land three more fish from this area and I dropped another small fish at distance that would have measured. This gave me a total of five fish in the session. Unfortunately, several of my fish were small and I was beaten by quite a few other anglers who had four or five fish but enough larger fish that their point totals were higher than mine. I ended up a mediocre 11th place. Tomas landed six more from this area to end the session with nine fish and a session win.

My fish total for the session certainly wasn’t what I was hoping for. That being the case, I felt like I fished the session decently well overall. I did drop a couple of fish and break off another, but I was getting more interest to my flies than Tomas through the first ¾ of the session and I had avoided tangles despite the horrid wind. The other silver lining was that the bank we ended on became an important zone for our team in later sessions.

One thing I wish I would have done was count down my flies more while we were fishing the bank where we ended. While most of the fish were tight to the bank there, my teammate Josh Graffam was able to find some larger fish off the bank by counting down his flies before his retrieve. I didn’t count to much more than 10 during my session because our drifts were so fast that I felt like there wasn’t much retrieve left but if I’d been a bit more patient I may have been able to get an extra fish or two that would have made a big difference.

Our first session was a bit of a roller coaster for the team, much like the rest of the championship. Russ had a tough first session on Penstock and I had a mediocre finish while Josh, Pat, and Lance all started with finishes in the top five in their groups. This put us in 6th place as a team with four more sessions to go.