The search for the best fly fishing lesson in NSW led Jess to Tom’s Outdoors and their Guided Fly Fishing Service. This is how it went.

 

We Are Explorers acknowledge that this adventure is located on the traditional Country of the Wiradjuri, Wolgalu and Ngunnawal people who have occupied and cared for the lands, waters, and their inhabitants for thousands of years. We pay our respects to them as the Traditional Custodians and recognise that sovereignty was never ceded.

 

I love the outdoors but I’ve always found waterways and the ocean quite unsettling. I’m not a big fan of fish in any sense. I don’t like seafood. I get seasick. The smell of fish is often enough to make me gag. Oh, and I’ve never had the slightest interest in fishing. On the face of it, fly fishing seems like the last hobby I should be engaging with.

But, when my partner recently reconsidered his vegetarian lifestyle on the basis that he’d never truly researched the alternatives, I realised that I too have been falling back on preconceived ideas when it comes to fishing. What if I was missing out on something great because I’d never truly considered it an option? I hadn’t tried to fish before, so how did I know I wouldn’t like it?

My goal when heading out on a guided fly fishing trip, was to see if I could turn my own preconceived idea on its head. Could someone who lived and breathed fishing make me love it too?

Casting Doubts Aside

Soon I found myself standing beside the Tumut River in NSW, watching Mickey Finn from Tom’s Outdoors launch a drift boat from the bank, wondering what the hell I was doing there. I had eight hours ahead of me – what if I hated this?

The first thing I learnt was that a drift boat is not like other boats. There’s no engine. Mickey was going to row this sleek sucker down the river on his own steam. As chief fisher for the day, my job was to sit or stand up front while he taught me the fly-fishing ropes, and rowed me to the best riffles. Introducing riffles: my new favourite word and water pattern.

Read more: Fishing Lingo Glossary

 

Comfiest boat I’ve ever been in

Reeling in Confidence

The first thing we did out on the water was learn to cast. Before the big day I’d Googled fly fishing casting to see how difficult this was likely to be. Cue video after video of elegantly looping line, sailing expertly across rivers to land precisely between two logs. My confidence promptly melted – it looked ridiculously difficult – so I was suitably nervous as Mickey passed me my rod.

Turns out, most of the theatrics from the videos I’d been watching are just that – theatrics. Sure, you can use big flicks to extend your line, but there are easier methods of achieving the same goal, including plain old buggering it up. With Mickey’s patient guidance I learnt how to pop, pause, and push my line across the river in a matter of minutes.

 

 

I also learnt not to waste a mistake if it lands your line in the right place anyway. The fish don’t know if you accidentally hit yourself in the face with the hook on the way through – ‘s’all good! While it takes time to develop a solid foundation of skills, I was genuinely surprised at how quickly I was legitimately fishing.

Caught One!

All too soon, my indicator (fishing lingo my dudes) jiggled, reflexes I didn’t know I had kicked in, and I was jerking my rod back to discover what it felt like to have a fish on the line. As I followed Mickey’s advice to gradually bring it closer to the boat, the panic began to set in. My internal freak-out was loud. What do I do with this? Ugh, will I have to touch it? What if I stab myself on the hook? Is the fish hurt?

But there was no time for panic – the fish was there now. I was the one with the rod and this was my catch. Fuelled by adrenaline I reeled it in, keeping the rod bent and the line taught. In what simultaneously felt like an instant and an hour, the Rainbow trout was flopping around in the net at my feet and my left hand was smarting from the thunderous high-five imparted by Mickey. I’d done it – I’d caught a fish!

 

Nothing but net! (That works for fishing too, right?)

What now?

As my heartbeat slowed back to normal, the internal monologue returned. Oh shit, now we’ve got to get the fish off the line. I’m going to have to touch it, aren’t I? Yes. It’s pretty impossible to catch and release a fish without touching it.

If I wanted, Mickey would have done all of that for me, but while I was loving the luxury of the whole experience, I wanted to learn all the nitty gritty intimidating bits as well. I was shown how to carefully remove the hook, how to keep fish calm, and how to handle them from catch to splash.

 

Despite many perfect kiss-the-fish moments, no fishes got kisses! (Maybe next time…)

 

I also learnt that fish feel slimy because their scales are covered in a protective slime coating. You need to have wet hands when you touch them or you risk removing or damaging this layer in the process. This leaves them more vulnerable to disease when they return to the water. Another cool tidbit? Each fish has unique patterns on their scales – pretty cool eh!

My first few times attempting to hold each fish that I caught took a lot of attempts. Slime is slippery! But fear was quickly replaced by determination to master a new technique, and by the end of the day I was able to confidently handle even the slipperiest of fish.

 

Between me and the fish, I’m not sure who was more nervous! | @mickey.finn

Now We’re Flying

Over the course of the day, I caught a lot more Rainbow trout. So many that I lost count. This isn’t uncommon for the Tumut River. It’s fed from the water of nearby Blowering Dam, which is extremely deep and cold. Trout prefer lower temperatures and thanks to the fast flowing current collecting the frigid water from upstream, the Tumut is cold when surrounding rivers aren’t.

Mickey taught me how to read the water and identify places that would make a good home for trout. We even got out and tried some bank fishing, crouching among the grass in cow paddocks to spot fish lazily patrolling their shallow section of the river.

 

 

Why were we hiding? Because fish are wary of just about anything that isn’t potential food! On the drift boat we were able to cast a line far from the shadow of the boat but the difficulty level on the bank dramatically increased. I didn’t catch anything there but I did learn a lot about what goes on underneath the surface.

Hooked on the Scenery

Returning to the boat, I was struck by how scenic this region is. Picture vivid blues, vibrant greens, and light illuminating the riverbed beneath the water. Now forget it entirely because the photos and imagination are nothing in comparison to being there in person.

It’s beautiful.

Lunch was enjoyed floating down the river, watching curious cows on the banks, and even chatting to a farmer about his recent catch as we drifted by.

Read more: The Majesty of a Day Spent Fly Fishing in Kosci

 

Photo thanks to Tom’s Outdoors

Gotta Risk It for the Biscuit

As the hours ticked on (completely without my notice) I learned how to cast deliberately to reach particular spots. Sure, I hit more than a few trees in the process, but as Mickey was fond of saying, ‘You’ve gotta risk it for the biscuit’. And it paid off.

 

Mickey cheerfully untangling my line from yet another tree (honestly, the guy never stops smiling)

 

My biscuit of the day turned out to be a three-pound Brown trout, landed on a dry hopper right up against the bank. (Fishing lingo was positively rolling off my tongue by this point, and you better believe I leaned enthusiastically annoyingly far into it! Poor Mickey!) Battling that fish to get it into the boat was an unexpected workout.

As I held onto the rod with white knuckles, I told myself to channel my inner Rex Hunt (the legendary fishing icon of Australian TV in the 90s), and finally, finally, the trout was landed. Or boat-ed? I’m loving the new lingo but I’m definitely still muddling it up occasionally!

 

I was too excited about my Brown to get photos as he first landed in the boat, so here’s a Rainbow trout with the ‘hopper’ (grasshopper!) that caught it instead!

 

The grin on my face was uncontrollable as I confidently held out my fish for the photo to prove it happened. Already I knew that this would be going in a frame. In the digital era we live in, that’s a pretty big deal. A core life memory was just made and I knew in that moment that this wouldn’t be the last time that I went fishing.

 

What did I learn?

  • Getting out of my comfort zone and trying something I was pretty worried that I would hate, turned out really well. Fishing is so much fun!
  • Getting taught by an expert was a much more enjoyable process than confusing myself with lingo-heavy fishing magazines
  • Tom’s Outdoors has a Fly Fishing Youtube Channel with videos on just about everything I learnt on my drift boat lesson. Anyone can access and learn – no class required!
  • Now that I’ve got eight hours of high-quality practice under my belt, I’m very confident about heading out on my own (something I doubt I would have ever done without this lesson)
  • Mistakes are a given, but fly fishing is very forgiving
  • Trout tastes delicious! Mendrinas at Brooklyn restaurant in Tumut made sure my first experience eating trout was excellent, and I’ve heard that the team at the Tumut River Brewing Co. make a mean smoked trout pizza!
  • Fishing flies are like the adult version of a little girls DIY bracelet kit. There are so many colourful choices and a lot to learn about how to choose the right one for the fish you’re aiming to catch. The best ones are handmade and there are even classes out there to learn how to make them!

 

So pretty! My inner girly-girl was delighted by this | Photo thanks to Tom’s Outdoors

What’s next?

Now that I’m a savvy beginner fisher, I’m keen to get out there and practice my new skills. I’m definitely going to seek out a workshop to learn how to tie my own flies too.

Who’s with me?

The author was a guest for this article so that they could try all of the experiences for themself. Check out our Editorial Standards for more info on how we approach these partnerships.