It’s interesting that we’ve reached 2017 and yet, fishing is still widely considered a predominantly male pastime. Here to change perceptions and encourage not just women, but burgeoning fly fishers of all kinds to give it a red-hot go and have fun in the process is wine writer, biologist and fly-fishing enthusiast, Charley May.
Awarded ‘Australia’s Best New Wine Writer’ in 2014, Charley May has now entered an entirely new sphere that focuses on her fly fishing expertise. Launching her new business, Charley May Fly Fishing, she offers fly-fishing fun no matter what your level of experience.
We spoke to Charley about her nearly 30 years of fly fishing, her tips on how to catch and cook trout and how she brings together her two passions: fly-fishing and wine.
ABOUT CHARLEY MAY
Why have you moved from the world of wine into fly-fishing?
I started working in the wine industry in 2010, so vino is a relatively new passion for me. However, I’ve been fly fishing since I was nine. Last year, a rough experience at work made me kind of fall out of love with wine and to heal, I turned to where I always go – the water. Whilst fishing on the Mitta Mitta I thought how I’d always taken friends out fly fishing as a side hustle and wondered: why not turn this skill into something more serious? I then mentioned my business idea to a couple of mentors and mates, and they gave me the confidence to give it a go. To celebrate the launch of Charley May Fly Fishing on 30 August, I cracked open a bottle of Bollinger and got my first booking enquiry a few hours later!
Do you think wine and fishing go together? How are you combining both of these passions?
In correct order, I think they go together like good Sauternes and Stilton! Most of the rivers I take people on are just a stone’s throw from some of my fave Victorian wine regions. The Stephenson River – a day trip from Melbourne – lies just beyond the Yarra Valley, so I’ll often pop into Oakridge, Giant Steps or Dominique Portet to pick up something cool for the esky at the end of the day. The Portet NV Sparkling Rosé is my springtime go-to – it’s pure glee in a glass. Further afield, I also fly guide up on the King River (hello, Italian varietals) and the Ovens River near Beechworth and Bright (Giaconda, Star Lane, Sorrenberg and Billy Button wines being regional standouts) so I’m spoilt for choice when it comes to riverside aperitivo! When I take people to my fishing nirvana near Angler’s Rest in the middle of nowhere, I usually pack a few special bottles because whether we catch fish or not, the beauty of the surrounds deserves a decent drop. Despite not working in wine anymore I’m still mad for it and love educating anyone willing to listen (and taste) on the subject.
ABOUT FLY-FISHING AND COOKING TROUT
What time of year is good to go fly fishing for trout?
The trout season in Victoria runs from Saturday 2 September 2017 to the Queen’s Birthday weekend in June 2018. Early in the season many rivers run high because of winter rain and snow melt from the mountains making fishing a bit tricky, especially for beginners. However, rivers usually settle down and start fishing sweet by the end of October – making it an awesome time to start fly-fishing. January and February can heat up, so I tend to head into cooler conditions in the High Country to get the best fishing. Personally, my all-time favourite time and place to fish are those balmy evenings in March on the Bundarra River, when the stream comes alive with insects and trout start going nuts. Last season I caught five decent-sized fish just before the sunset – it really was a magic moment.
Why is fly-fishing synonymous with trout?
Fly-fishing is an ancient form of angling that has been used to target trout for hundreds of years. Back in the Middle Ages people noticed that trout fed on insects living in the river, so they started making rudimentary equipment to imitate the bugs and catch fish. Over the years, advances in technology led to the development of much more sophisticated rods, casting techniques and an array of beautiful ‘fly patterns’ that are used to catch fish. To be honest, it’s always been a kind of esoteric, geeky pursuit because you can catch trout using lots of other easier angling techniques. However, when Brad Pitt hit the screen in 1992 as a rebellious fly fisher in Robert Redford’s A River Runs Through It he really raised the profile of fly fishing by making it look particularly beautiful.
What are your top tips for a fly-fishing beginner?
Turn off your phone, tune into the beauty of your surrounds, and be patient and kind to yourself. Fly-fishing isn’t easy but the best things never are. It requires focus and being present in the moment – the perfect nature therapy for the digitally distracted! By the end of the day I’ll have you casting and being able to read the water well. I can never guarantee a catch because Mother Nature doesn’t always play nicely. However, when everything you’ve learned comes together and a trout smashes your fly and takes off down the river at speed it’s pure magic. Beware, it can get addictive.
Once you’ve caught the trout, how do you prepare it for cooking?
I often release fish I catch if they’re undersize or too good to take out of the river (you’ve got to keep some prize fish in the water to breed after all). However, when I do take one, I knock it on the head with a priest (a specially designed tool to kill it quickly), gut it and put it in the esky to cook later.
What are your top tips for cooking trout?
While it’s quite a delicate fish, it’s pretty versatile and can be cooked in a number of ways. When I’m back in UK – where I’m from – I usually gut it, stuff it with fresh fennel (that’s often growing near the river) and lemon, and bake it. However, I also like it smoked or cured and served with crème fraîche and fresh horseradish on blinis.