Bob McKinley reacquaints Rob Sloane with Tooms Lake in Tasmanias eastern highlands.

Bob McKinleyWhen Hobart based fishing guide Bob McKinley took pity on the hardworking FlyLife staff and invited Ian Ainslie and myself for a day’s fishing at Tooms Lake we readily accepted. It was early November and magazine deadlines had kept us office bound for several weeks. We were in need of a break and Tooms, although only an hour’s drive from FlyLife HQ in Richmond was unfamiliar water to us. I had fished it but in the dim distant past.

In recent years Tooms has gained quite a reputation as an early season venue with excellent mayfly hatches kicking in as much as two months before the highland duns really get going. As we soon discovered, Tooms Lakes weedy fringes offer just about every other dietary option as well; a real trout-food chowder, with abundant native galaxiid fish on top of the menu.

Bob picked us up from the office at 7:30 a.m. as arranged. Most of his clients are Hobart-based visitors and Tooms is an ideal day-fishing venue. It is a pleasant drive through the Midlands, then veering east through some fine-wool country and forested hinterland. Its an ideal tour which can take in several historic villages on Tasmanias Heritage Highway if you are that way inclined. Likewise, the evening drive back can be a real animal safari with all manner of local wildlife on show — things that tourists marvel at but locals curse for being on the road.


Bob fishes Tooms from the start of the season in August until about mid-December, then switches to the more popular waters such as Penstock and Arthurs when the Central Highlands hatches start to fire. Then its back to Tooms from late February until seasons close at the end of April. While other guides are battling the elements or rescheduling clients in the highlands early and late in the season, Bob is further east at Tooms or nearby Lake Leake, or he’s fishing the southern estuaries for Atlantic salmon, sea-run trout and bream.

Fat little brownie

As Bob said, he would never guarantee a fish, especially with so many clients having virtually no fly fishing experience, but Tooms delivers as close as you will get to a guarantee.

So much for the talk. After a real coffee in some novel plunger cups and an egg and bacon roll fresh from the posh end of Hobart, we slipped the boat off the trailer and were soon afloat. First impressions were of a lake much bigger than expected with unspoilt forest-clad shorelines marshy edges and enough sheltered shores to escape any wind direction.


Bobs recommendation was to use one of his home-tied green fur flies fished on a floating line. Basically a thin fur strip ribbed Yeti style’ along the hook shank and tied to imitate the local galaxia which are small, green and lively at this time of year. As we soon found out Bobs green wet imitated just about every other form of trout-food in the lake as well — midges caenids shrimps snails caddis duns spinners tadpoles the lot

While Ian muttered things about putting on a little black dry fly and only casting at rising fish I went for the local recommendation — when in Rome . . .

With the electric motor down we were soon gliding over some luxuriant weedy flats polaroiding the margins and I was up front casting into any open patches and targeting any obvious structure. Fallen logs and limbs lying across the shallows formed breaks in the dense weed and Bob said these were deadly places for trout to ambush galaxia. He encouraged me to speed up my retrieve and to raise the rod to lift and fish the fly right to the surface each time before recasting. Fish often follow he said, and grab the fly at the last moment as it lifts.

Bang He was right. A healthy looking fish had nailed the fly was on and thrashing then gone just as quickly having taken the line under the end of a nearby log. Moments later it was wham bam thank you maam, and an-other lively trout had buried in the weed. On and gone.

Ian muttered something about trying one of those green wet things and soon had the first fish in the boat, and a second smaller one soon after. Ian declared the second fish a GP ( guides pounder ) and we debated whether it should count. Bob said he definitely wouldnt count it and I had to agree.

So far we hadnt ventured far from the launching ramp so we opted for a boat ride to explore the far end of the lake. After Ian wrestled another nice brownie from one of Bobs pet logs I was beginning to think that he really should have stayed at the office and manned the phone.

Polaroiding weedy shallowsWith the prospect of wading the edges and polaroiding fish at their ambush posts we pulled the boat up and went ashore. The wading was surprisingly firm and visibility good despite the strengthening breeze and intermittent cloud. Although slightly soupy out deep, the water was nice and clear around the edges.

Bob and I teamed up for the shore patrol and nailed a fish almost straight away. The trick was to cast short and accurately, then lift the rod to draw the fly across narrow gaps in the weed. The highlight was polaroiding a nice brownie in the extreme shallows — just as Bob had promised — as it cruised around looking for emergers. My cast fell short but the fish turned around in time to chase the fly on the quick lift and draw, grabbing it at the very last moment virtually off the surface in a gulping rise. That was close enough to dry fly fishing for me. The green wet-fly was now a dry green emerger as well.

By the time the heavily laden picnic basket was out for lunch and we had rendezvoused with Ian, I had landed five very respectable trout was talking again and feeling like demolishing that cold salad smorgasbord and draining another one of those quirky plunger cups.

The expected dun hatch didnt really eventuate. Thats no surprise to anyone who has had anything to do with me and duns yesterday and tomorrow are sure to produce great hatches wherever I go . However, the odd fish soon started rising and red spinners ( more a burnt to bright orange ) were on the wing whenever the wind lulled. Now the fishing was bound to get technical, but did Ian reach for his box of dries ? No. He continued to deliver that reliable green wet and chuckled that these were the dumbest trout he had ever seen. After some debate we agreed that aggressive would be a much kinder word to use.

Out of the boatAggression was clearly shown by several fish that made repeated attempts to grab the fly before taking savagely on the second or third re - cast. But most aggressive of all was one wed seen rise and then polaroided quite close to the boat. It chased Ians fly and missed it rose to take a natural missed the wet fly on the second attempt, then grabbed hold of a bright orange gum leaf and gave it a good shake before rushing on to my fly and grabbing that All this in clear view, only a couple of rod lengths from the boat, the three of us laughing and cheering it on. Grabbing the leaf was the strange bit — rather like biting something out of sheer frustration, or head butting a wall. It really was one angry little trout.

The Tooms fish were mainly small browns, from GPs to two-pounders, with a few stockie rainbows thrown in, but Bob assured us that there were bigger ones about, to four pounds or so. This is no surprise judging by the schools of bait-fish we saw. Considering the rich food supply and relatively small size of the trout there must surely be a hell of a lot of fish in that lake. Hence its reliability. But Bob was not complaining. As he pointed out, every guide needs a sure thing where even the most basic presentation skills stand a good chance. Ian confirmed this by hooking a fish as he attended to some distraction having let his fly trail under the stern of the boat! You cant count that ! was the call.

In the end it mattered not because we had all lost count by the end of the day. The final tally must have been twenty or more fish, and that on an iffy sort of a day weather-wise. According to Bob the wind, which was very gusty at times, was out of the wrong quarter and the hatch was well below par. Imagine finding yourself at Tooms on a good day !

McKinley's Galaxia
(Bob's Green Wet)
McKinley's Galaxia
HOOK: Kamasan B830 long shank #6
THREAD: Olive green UNI-
thread 6/0
BODY: BMS Blend olive dubbing
TAIL & WING: Thin olive zonker strip tied in Yeti style
RIB: Gold round tinsel or wire

By five or so we were off the water sipping a cold beer and watching some trollers clean two bags of fish which looked more like sacks full of potatoes. I hate to think how many theyd caught — they must have been trolling little green wets.

On the way back to town Bob told us that he often has clients book one day, then ask to do it all over again the next day, and the day after . I looked at Ian  he looked at me, and we both nodded in agreement. If I hadnt been going to Melbourne the next day we would happily have volunteered for a repeat performance.

If you find yourself in Hobart, particularly early or late in the season when the Central Highlands can be very hit and miss, give Bob McKinley a call and ask to give Tooms Lake a go. If you cant afford a guide and dont have a boat Tooms is still worth a look — there are plenty of fishable shores in both directions within easy walking distance from the launching ramp.

An ulterior motive was to check out the plastic boat that Bob McKinley had been telling us about for the past year, and I must say it performed creditably. A little heavier than aluminium, the 4.1m Polycraft was well behaved under power, scooted through the extreme shallows on the electric motor, sat firmly in the water and drifted very nicely too. Most importantly it was a very quiet boat — no clunking, clanging or wave slopping — and this may well have played a roll in the fish’ willingness to feed and take flies within close range. The moulded plastic construction makes it virtually indestructible and the open configuration provides plenty of floor space to comfortably fish two. This is a cheaper alternative which may be well worth considering if you are looking for a robust and practical boat for inland waters and estuary fishing.