Melaleuca Media
Learning to be a reel woman (Canberra Times)

It is a way to spend a day of quiet contemplation in a beautiful place. I have stood in streams under mountains with twisted white snow gums lining the banks, walked through green and black forests or over purple and yellow heathlands. This day I saw dugong, turtles, clouds of squid scudding through clear water and chased tuna leaping around the boat in a white boil. And I saw dolphins jumping with a backdrop of the white sand slashed background of Fraser Island.

“Was it your father that taught you how to fish?” The lawyer and the fishing guide were at the other end of the boat obviously puzzling at my enthusiasm.

“No. My mother.”

Mum had taught me to fish, but with a handline and she was a whiz with that. That day though, was the first time I had tried fly fishing.

This was a year ago, and I remember standing high up on a metal framed platform at the front of the boat, a little like the Titanic scene. Instead of Kate Winslet's sublime evening dress I was wearing a green, multi pocketed fishing vest, and instead of a large bauble round my neck, my accessory was a fly fishing rod.

But as I leaned over the bow, arms spread as we skipped through the waves, I am sure the feeling of freedom, anticipation and adventure were probably similar.

I was learning with guide Sid Boshammer of Hervey Bay Fraser Island Guided Fishing. Sid is a big man with a gentle manner and gentle voice. He put together my line, and showed me how to cast it. Casting is the tricky bit with fly fishing. I am not bad with a rod, and do well with a handline. Fly lines are different, there is a lot to remember when you are learning to cast a line with no sinker capped by a fly with no weight.

Sid could swish the line powerfully and poetically, on the final cast laying it out horizontal, straight and flat. Mine went wildly back, forth then out, finally collapsing vertically in a puddle of line that no self respecting fish would touch.

Despite seeing the big fish, tails poking in the air as they hunted for yabbies, the windy conditions and my absolute incompetence meant I didn't catch any. The lawyer, the other fly fisher on board caught a 9 kilo golden trevally.

When I took up fly fishing I knew no-one who did it, and had seen none of the celebrated fishing shows on television. But as a keen angler, I had seen the odd person rhythmically casting a flyline in rivers and lakes and thought it looked like a calming and challenging way to spend time.

Fly fishing is a disease, say some practioners. It becomes an obsession say others. More like possession say more. You are either into it, or you aren't and if you are, there is no escape, darkly predicted the lawyer when I took it up.

I understood very little of the first fly fishing literature I read but persisted with books, talking to people at fishing stores, taking a fly tying course and a fly casting lesson. I used the excuse of fly fishing to go to some spectacular places where I swore as I tangled my line around rocks, around reeds and around any vegetation within cooee of the bank.

I went to Tasmania flyfishing for trout and met others on the banks of rivers and lakes. All were happy to wander over and offer a bit of help.

“You need to touch the water just as an insect would, with the lightness of a fairy's kiss” said the fly fishers. I sighed repeatedly as my line slammed down, the reverberations bobbing my fly up and down in the top layer of water. Don't fairy's wear gumboots sometimes?

But as I read up on the technique and practised I slowly got the idea. I went fishing again with Sid. This time on a lake under a searing red sunset I caught a two kilo bass. Breaking the drought helped considerably.

A birthday trip from my husband was three days of trout fishing in New England. My line got flatter, my casting loops better and sometimes, just sometimes you would swear a fairy had puckered her lips to the water as my fly barely touched. The fish were rising, sometimes arcing above the water as they caught insects zooming low. I was in a dilemma pondering the wiseness of standing holding a large pole in the air as lightning storms swirled overhead. Compromising, I caught several trout then beat a hasty retreat to my cabin.

Now it was a year since Sid had put my line together for the first time, and we were heading out on his boat for a day of salt water fly fishing. I had stayed up late the night before making flies which looked like baitfish, including some flashes of colour and silver on his suggestion.

Sid had predicted this day would be the best fishing opportunity for some time. Winds had died down, the time of the moon and the tides were right and for the sake of testing the accuracy of his predictions I was prepared to spend a day with him in the bay adjacent to the world heritage listed Fraser Island. Its tough but someone has to do it for the readers.

Mum, visiting from her home base of Tasmania was coming along for the ride. As the boat headed into the bay at dawn, I peered into the steel blue water wondering if I would catch anything this time.

Sid was quietly confident. Around the top of one island Sid pointed out some fish swirls, noting they looked like nice sized trevally. My casts were wild and disappointing. The fish moved on and so did we to another part of the bay.

This time my casts were much better, Sid explained how to retrieve the mock baitfish in a way that looked natural and bingo, I caught a silver dart.

I caught four more fish that day, voraciously attacking my fly when I got lucky.

But fly fishing is more than just catching fish.

It is a way to spend a day of quiet contemplation in a beautiful place. I have stood in streams under mountains with twisted white snow gums lining the banks, walked through green and black forests or over purple and yellow heathlands. This day I saw dugong, turtles, clouds of squid scudding through clear water and chased tuna leaping around the boat in a white boil. And I saw dolphins jumping with a backdrop of the white sand slashed background of Fraser Island.

Sid a former commercial fisherman now eco tourism convert, taught me as much about the mysteries of the water as he did about the mysteries of catching fish with flies. And he seemed to be as pleased as I was with each catch.

Mum was pleased too. Probably because she caught more fish than I did.

But she used a hand line.