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Drifting Budget Style
  |  First Published: November 2011



Those who frequent Tasmania’s meadow streams, you may have seen the pro guides come floating by, often three to a boat with the guide coordinating a couple of clients, silent, smooth and with plenty of grace.

However, those comfy looking inflatable boats the guides cruise past in aren’t cheap! So how does the average punter, with no boat and a distinct lack of coin, hit this sort of fishing up? Povo-style of course!

Let’s face it – although many of us anglers would like a flash boat, the tournament boats are exy, the tinny can be pricey, and even a decent kayak with all the gear can be a solid outlay.

So what else is there? Welcome to the world of the HMAS MIDLANDS PROWLER – my answer to the problem of going afloat on the river.

For those who’ve read (or drooled) over editions of Greg French’s classic Tasmanian Trout Waters which has been recently reprinted there are a few pics of the master there fishing from a small grey inflatable boat. In fact you can buy these units pretty cheap, known as the humble Sevylor they are a sensational piece of fishing equipment.

I snapped mine up from the crew at Tamar Marine in Launceston, but have seen them in other stores as well. The boat itself was about $120, plus a set of extendable oars ($16) and a pump (double action, $12.95). SET!! With all this gear you’re away - for under $150 you’re no longer a land-based angler.

I later purchased an electric lilo blowin’ up pump (for under ten bucks) that plugs into the cigarette lighter in the car, which has been really handy when starting out your floating jaunt near the car.

Background – how did it come to this?

Glamorous, heck no, but fun, yes indeedy. Whilst having a couple of years off from the serious grind of a career a few years back, I managed to fit in a fair bit of fishing between the overseas missions.

I found myself doing a lot more up top, including fishing from motor boats of various sizes (thanks to some generous cobbers!) as well as plenty of backcountry walking, all of which was great. I also spent a pretty solid amount of time on some of the rivers. Much of it was the bank walking I had been into for a long time, and goodness knows how many time I had cursed the lack of access to the most appealing runs, the appalling lack of space for my woeful casting, and the poor angles I always seemed to have to work with when slipping in a cast to many of the fish I could spot. There had to be a better way!

Good cobber Singers and I did sneak around many spots in his small tinny, and his dad’s punt. But there were some spots that were still not easy to get into, and drifts were often tricky in the boats proper.

After watching a guide come past on the Macquarie River one time with clients, and seeing them casting to some great water that was just out of reach for me from the bank, I thought perhaps this could be a super option. With the encouragement of a mate on a particular hot day in summer several years back, thinking it would be a hoot if we got wet anyway, we set off on a journey that has opened my eyes for all sorts of water with a huge amount of fishing potential.

My boat of choice was christened that day on the Macquarie River by none other than regular trout guide Lane Olding, and henceforth the good ship became known as the HMAS Midlands Prowler.

We decided against a good smash of a champagne bottle on the front....

Where?

Lots of places have potential for the floater – particularly those places where conventional boats can’t get to, but also those that they can. The real advantage for lots of spots, particularly back country, is that you can carry the thing, even inflated if you need to for short stints. Mine is less than 4kg from memory, and can be folded down and strapped onto the top of the pack.

I’ve used it up at Lake Meston (scary deep clear water there and a five hour walk in), Pine Tier Lagoon, the Scamander River, Brumbies Creek top weir, the Macquarie, South Esk and Meander rivers, and managed to sneak it into several other spots that probably haven’t seen too many flies or lures.

It’s especially suitable on many of these rivers where there is limited scope for conventional boats, or where streamside vegetation or terrain makes access near on impossible. Willows, scrub, steep banks, deep water, and other hazards can often limit foot access and bank-based casting, but with the floater you can both avoid such problems and provide a totally alternative presentation.

And it can be particularly useful for accessing stretches where there might be issues with private property, nasty bovines or grumpy locals – regular contributor Brendan ‘Turry Beevor’ Turriff can tell you a good story or two on how to go about avoiding the highly strung locals!

Fishing?

For some reason, fish just don’t seem to spook as easily when you’re in the float boat. I can’t explain it exactly, but the number of times on pretty much every trip where we have drifted OVER fish before they’ve spooked is unbelievable. They’re also not scared to follow flies right up to the boat, have a sniff at you and turn away, only to follow again as soon as the fly drops back on their forehead, completely ambivalent to the fact you are trying to snare ‘em. Magic stuff! I never seem to be able to replicate such carefree behaviour from the trout when I am on the bank!

Casting is much improved as well – under scrub, overhanging limbs, etc. – you’re usually in the centre of the stream casting back towards the bank, timber or other features, and casting often enough downstream that you rarely have bank-side obstructions behind you. It’s damn handy, particularly if you’re a peanut of a caster like me!

Best of all though, with this type of presentation you get some epic drifts of your flies, particularly the dries. Most of the time, you are travelling with the current at the same speed (boat and fly). Often in some of the pools with consistent flows you can drift along for ages without a recast other than for a specific rise spotted and duly cast to.

But if after all this you prefer to get a cast in from the bank, of see a particular fish working you can’t get to easily with a frontal approach, simply slip quietly around the fish as far away as you can, and approach from behind (if you can paddle back up to it easily) or jump out and fish from the bank the same as you normally would – no problems!

The different cast angle also opens up the options to fish to various otherwise unfishable snags, and often tease fish out. It’s a cliché, but sometimes it feels like you’re fishing the snags for barramundi. Casting right into the undercut banks is also something I have really enjoyed from the floater, and with success here it has also improved my understanding and fishing of the undercut banks, potholes, drop offs and other fish-holding locations out in the Western Lakes when fishing from the shore. A Wigram’s Robin is my go to fly here, in both circumstances.

Drawbacks?

All this magic action – is there anything counting against just loafing around and floating these waters?

Well yes. Like anything there are some trade-offs. It certainly ain’t all beer and skittles – old mate Turry Beevor has some serious knock knees from a freak front-seat incident involving a shallow set of rapids which I neglected to mention he should prepare for...

A few other issues to consider include:

You can get wet, particularly if you get in and out a few times. Several times I have ended up spotting a particular working fish and jumping in to wade to get a particular cast to it anyway though, and wet wading is the go. Thermals are definitely worthwhile for the bottom half.

Waders are a big no-no.

Space in the boat can be limited, so bare bones on the gear front. You have to be careful with rods (especially tips) both in and out of the boat as well. Rocks, sticks, vegetation, or even sitting on a rod can all lead to tragedy!

Long floats can be hard work on your body at times, depending on your seating arrangement in the boat.

Rubber boats and hooks don’t always mix well, so pays to be careful – particularly if you are a lure bandit and you get a nasty bout of treble trouble.

It can be tough paddling against strong current flows or wind, they do tend to catch the breeze a bit and aren’t that efficient to paddle – hence the joy of floating downstream or downwind!

Safety can be a concern – know the stream, use the appropriate safety gear, and make sure you leave plans with someone of where you’re off to.

Always wear a PDF – I shouldn’t have to say this, but there we go, I just did.

Suggested locations?

There’s going to be so many spots you could get yourself into, but a few to consider could include:

The meadow streams, particularly the middle reaches of the South Esk River, the Meander River (below Barretts Bridge), and definitely the Macquarie (with care in the tailrace sections).

The Scamander River, in the upper reaches or the lower reaches in fair weather

The upper Swan River, and other surrounding small waters (again in fair weather)

Smaller highland waters such as Penstock and Pine Tier Lagoon

Small, unexplored, estuaries - there are some killer spots in the north and north-east 

The backcountry – Western Lakes G’DAY!

Accessories?

Not really, don’t forget to wear the PFD or life jacket though. You can ‘accessorise’ with all sorts of items for many of the boats though, including with electric or even small petrol motors, protective external covers, floors, seat cushions, tow/carry ropes, etc. Yet another accessory sport!

A note on safety

Although it’s sensational fun, like anything, it pays to be safety conscious. Some rivers are unsuitable to be rafted, and particularly if you’re not a confident swimmer you should walk the bank before leaping in without knowing what’s ahead. Streams like the North Esk in places, the Macquarie, South Esk or Meander in higher flows, any stream in flood, or the open water of the lakes/estuaries in strong winds can be particularly dangerous if you’re not on your game.

A decent life jacket is critical, and with the modern yokes you won’t even know it’s on. Don’t forget to take the mobile phone in a waterproof bag (which you’ll need for your keys and camera anyway) and always advise someone of where you are going and for how long.

Worth noting is that it often takes a LOT longer than what you think to travel on these rivers as you move slowly and they do wind about on themselves – for example they don’t call it the MEANDER for nothing. I have often guessed a trip time and then realized after that it took twice or even three times as long as I expected!

Is it pretty simple to get started and easy on the pocket? YES

Will you explore new and possibly uncharted waters, which see limited angling pressure, have the potential for better fish, and hold some amazing scenery? YES

Is it the Gragan’s Mum of fishing experiences? YES

So – do yourself a favour – get out there and snatch a float boat, you’ll be stoked on it!

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