Tasmania’s Karen Brooks is a fly fishing guide who’s helped pioneer the growth of an entire tourism sector, and while she’s excited about seeing more female anglers on the water, she has a warning: the life of a guide is not an easy one.
WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHY JESS MCGLOTHLIN
The life of a fishing guide sounds idyllic. Days spent on the water, introducing guests to a sport you love and scouting out new stretches of water all in the name of business research.
KAREN SCOUTS THE HORIZON FOR HER FIRST CATCH OF THE DAY
But anyone who has made the decision to chase a life on the water knows all too well that the reality isn’t so simple. Fishing guides spend far more time walking riverside with clients than actually fishing. There’s a reason many burn out after several years and for those with the dedication to remain in the industry, the rewards are well worth the time and effort invested. Karen Brooks has explored several aspects of the industry, from owning and operating the famed Driftwater Lodge with her husband Peter for eight years, to angling in competitions around the world, becoming a certified casting instructor and working as a guide in Tasmania. It was Peter who first pulled Karen into the fly fishing realm 25 years ago.
“It wasn’t too long before I was hooked — with a love of the outdoors, hiking and horse riding, it was an easy transition to the world of fly fishing.”
“Our first weekend away together was a fishing trip to the Goulburn River in Victoria,” recalls Karen. “It wasn’t too long before I was hooked — with a love of the outdoors, hiking and horse riding, it was an easy transition to the world of fly fishing.” It was a transition that Karen leapt into wholeheartedly. In 2010, she and Peter then spent a year travelling the world, rods in hand. Much of the couple’s time was spent exploring North and South America. “Being away for a full year meant travelling on a budget; hiring a car and weaving our way south through Argentina, hugging the Andes and fishing all the majestic rivers we encountered throughout Patagonia,” says Karen.
After Patagonia they headed to North America, starting on the east coast and working their way through to Quebec and the storied Gaspe Peninsula. Next came Alaska and down through the Canadian Rockies into Montana. "Fly fishing takes you to the most beautiful places.”
KAREN BROOKS AND A GUEST PREPARE FOR A DAY OF FLY FISHING
KAREN TAKES HER GUESTS TO SOME OF THE BEST WATERWAYS IN TASMANIA
KAREN WAS INTRODUCED TO FLY FISHING BY HUSBAND PETER 25-YEARS AGO AND HAS NEVER LOOKED BACK
It was during their travels in Montana that Karen and Peter purchased two handmade wooden drift boats. Both were shipped back to Australia and used extensively in the couple’s guiding business, drifting Tasmania’s rivers. The couple also owned and ran Driftwater Lodge near Deloraine for eight years, an experience Karen recalls as “very rewarding.”
“Fly fishing takes you to the most beautiful places.”
“We hosted many people from all walks of life and from all corners of the world [at Driftwater], and were able to show them a little of what the Tasmanian fishery has to offer: wild brown trout in a truly wild environment,” she says. “After sharing experiences on the river, dining together and building relationships, our guests would leave as friends.” The couple recently sold Driftwater, and now Karen is focusing on her guiding business and resuming her competition fishing schedule. She also adds that while fly fishing is seeing more female Australian anglers join its ranks, female guides are still a rarity. “Overall, I do see a growth in women fly fishing – from my early days on the river when I would never see another female angler – to today where we see much greater participation.”
KAREN WITH A BROWN TROUT IN TASMANIA
KAREN IS ONE OF ONLY A HANDFUL OF FEMALE FLY FISHING GUIDES IN TASMANIA
While the numbers are steadily growing, there’s no question that being a guide is a life decision that’s best made with eyes wide open. It’s not an easy career, even for those at the top of their game. “Guiding is a very rewarding profession,” notes Karen. “It’s also hard work and long hours; it can be challenging and exhausting, but you’re working in the best office you could imagine. It’s easy to love what you do.” For women interested in a career as a guide, she advises being well-prepared to teach and instruct, and notes that becoming a certified casting instructor is a valuable step for teaching casting. But for Karen, there’s no better office than the rivers of Tasmania.
KAREN IN ONE OF HER HANDMADE WOODEN DRIFT BOATS
“Tasmania is a magical fishery,” she says. “You’re fishing for wild brown trout and rainbows in a truly wild environment. It’s a place where trout will freely rise to take a dry fly or willingly eat a well-presented nymph.”
“The Meander River is that very special place for me — from riffles, runs and pools in farmland areas, to pocket water tumbling through native untouched forest, and all with wild brown trout eager to rise and take dry flies. Though it’s not without its challenges, the Meander River draws me back again and again.”
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