An Interview with Peter Morse
I’ve been writing on fly fishing since the mid-80’s and then during the 90’s I had a very successful prime-time television series called Wildfish which ran for 26 episodes on a Tuesday evening at 8 pm. It wasn’t all fly fishing because we had to appeal to a general audience but I certainly battled to get as much fly in there as possible. The guy who made the series John Haenke is also a very keen fly fisherman and we still work together on the DVD magazine, a very successful quarterly publication with half a dozen fishing stories – one of the them fly fishing which I present.
I still currently do a lot of writing and photography, travel the country talking to clubs and conducting casting days and fishing seminars as well. In 2009 I achieved my Federation of Fly Fishers Master Instructor certification, something I’m very proud of because it’s a very tough exam that requires a broad and deep knowledge of the sport. Casting has always been something I’ve done just to get a result, this is forcing me to look at it in great detail and to appreciate the many complexities it brings and the problems it solves.
I’ve also written a few books, “Saltwater Fly Fishing Fundamentals” still sells very well, The Wildfish book was about the TV series and “A Few Great Flies …. And how to fish them” is my most recent book. I also have a DVD out that is instructional and called “Arbor to Fly”, it shows the connections and systems I use to put together a reel filled with backing all the way from the arbor through to the fly.
How did you get in to fly fishing?
My grandfather and my father were fly fisherman. My grandfather, Basil Morse, managed a hatchery that provided the fingerlings to stock many of the streams of NSW. He also provided the fingerlings that were used to stock the highland rivers of New Guinea and their descendants are still there. Sir Hudson Fysh, the founder of QANTAS was a keen fly fisherman and he provided the DC3 transport to ship those fingerlings up there. My dad was a keen fisherman as well, but I was born and raised in Fiji and of course saltwater fish at that stage didn’t know that they could be caught on fly tackle. My dad built boats for the family and most weekends were spent on the water out amongst the islands. We trolled heavy handlines for food but the sport was pretty good too. I have vivid memories of my younger sister Margaret having to be grabbed by dad as she was about to go overboard, in those days there were a lot of yellowfin tuna about and when these hit the lures we didn’t know much about “letting them run”. Mum had to apply a lot of cream to some pretty savage line burns. When my dad died in ’71 I inherited my grandfathers fly tackle, a Hardy Palakona rod and Hardy Perfect reel, and something just clicked. I taught myself how to cast but pretty quickly realized I could do better tackle wise and so bought a Hardy Jet rod and just went fishing. My first few years involved trout but then Gordon Dunlop became a great friend and he introduced me to the brave new world of saltwater fly fishing. That was in 1977 and I still remember my first fish. It was on New Years day and it was a yellowtail kingfish. They were schooled amongst a bunch of moored yachts and I hooked this thing with an audience of cheering drunks still partying hard from the night before. I was seriously hooked on swf .
Do you remember the first fish you caught?
It would have been on a heavy hand line on a lure trolled behind the boat but I don’t remember it. On fly it was a small trout in the Snowy Mountains. I’ll never forget it because on that day I had secretly watched a really fine fly fisherman go about his tasks. I had never seen another fly fisherman in action and this was a revelation and an inspiration. “So that’s how you do it”, it was a Eureka moment and was all I needed for a few lights to come on. There were not many fly fishermen about and I was new to Sydney and didn’t know anyone who fished. Being from the islands the mountains were unfamiliar territory but I loved it.
Are you a freshwater of saltwater man?
I deliberately don’t like to differentiate too much – its all fly-fishing and its all good. I find the whole concept of “game” and “coarse” fish to be strange – they’re all fish and they all eat a fly if you’re prepared to figure them out. I’ll try to catch anything anywhere on fly, I love my trout fishing and my carp fishing, we have some wonderful native freshwater fish that are very challenging and in the salt – well in two days time I’m off for 5 days of fly fishing for marlin, last night I was out chasing bass and in 3 weeks time I’ll be up in the high country of the Snowy mountains using 2 weight rods on tiny alpine meadow streams chasing little trout, from there I’m off to the Coral Sea for a week of photographing guys battling GIANT fish on fly rods, then its straight to Tasmania, for ten days, then Cape York for a week then Hervey bay in Queensland for a week of chasing tuna in the shallows, after that I’m in Western Australia for 2 weeks of saltwater fishing, I love the diversity of it, I love going from a 16 weight to a 2 weight, from catching a trout that would be too small to even use as a teaser for marlin to throwing flies for marlin that are far bigger than the little mountain trout I was so delighted to be catching. It’s all good, there’s no such thing as a bad fish or a bad day’s fishing. There’s tough days, better days, and GREAT days, but no bad days.
Of all the places you’ve fished, is there one that stands out most?
I have a few really favoured locations and these have to be tied in with species. I wouldn’t like to separate them. Cape York in far north Queensland, especially the west coast of the cape is quite phenomenal. This a place where you can catch 50 species in a week. Its sheltered from the trade winds, has a huge diversity of habitats and there ‘s a really good guiding operation in the area. I worked up there for a time and make sure I get back there at least once a year. The Northern Territory is also phenomenal, the numbers of fish and the fly fishing opportunities in both fresh and saltwater are just vast. Its hot, its dusty at times, its often very challenging and confronting but the fish are just magnificent, especially the barramundi. These are a GREAT fish and when I’ve sifted through all the pluses and minuses, all the emotions and feelings that days spent on the water generate, these are my favourite. A hit from a barramundi is like a hammer blow, they live in a wide range of habitats, they grow bloody big, they jump and are just a beautiful fish. If there’s a down side to them, they can be very moody and they don’t eat surface flies often enough. I host an annual trip to the Arnhemland Barramundi and Nature Lodge (check trips) every year.
Bonefish are also a wonderful fish. The Pacific Ocean is not blessed with huge areas of flats like the Caribbean but in a few locations there is some great fishing. Christmas Island has prodigious numbers but New Caledonia has big fish and reasonable numbers. I really like the challenge of the conditions in New Cal, its tough but the rewards are outstanding, it is certainly a favourite. If I had ONE day left to fish it would be spent on the New Caledonian bonefish flats on a big spring tide with an 11 am low in September. I reckon you could bury me a very happy man after that.
For trout we are very fortunate to have New Zealand as a neighbour, its only 31/2 hours away, I have some great friends there and its just a very beautiful place with some really unbelievably good fishing – mind you there’s an awful lot of the world I haven’t fished but I think NZed would take some beating.
If you had just one week left on the earth to fish, what would your itinerary be?
This is tough because assuming you have an unlimited budget would you go to places you haven’t been to before but have heard about, or would you re-visit favourites. I wouldn’t want to spend too much time traveling but there’s a couple of rivers in New Zealand I would a make a bee-line for, then I’d get up to the top end of Grand Terre in New Caledonia, catch a ride on a boat across to the St. Phalle flats, then finish it off at Naval Landing creek in Arnhemland after stopping in Weipa for a few days.
Are there any species that are close to your heart, and why?
Touched on that with barra. Bonefish are very special as are the tuna family. Tuna can be very difficult and they can be very dumb but you’ll always get a fight out of one to the very last. You need to have your very best game in place with great knots and great casting and you really need to know how to use a rod to its very best or all kinds of things are going to break and it won’t be the fish.
Aside from fly fishing, what other interest do you have?
Photography, but fly fishing consumes a good deal of my time, whether its tying, casting, reading or just work…… I teach a fly casting a good deal, I’m a member of Team Sage and am involved with a tackle company here in Australia (JM Gillies, who amongst other things are the Sage agents) so life is pretty filled up with fly fishing. I do love going hunting with my sons when we can get out together. We chase goats in the mountains, and foxes, feral cats, rabbits. There’s deer where we hunt but we haven’t come across them yet. I love to cook and I love good food – my partner Monique is French, her former husband is a chef, her sister is a great chef now retired in France, my younger son Lloyd is a chef in London and Monique’s son James is a winemaker. My oldest son Rory former military (he’s the hunter) and his wife Elsa was also a chef so we have this foodie line running right through our families. I love nothing better than barbequed wild goat kid and Monique cooks an incredible wild rabbit casserole she learned how to make from her grandmother, so yep we love our tucker and don’t mind washing it down with a fine wine or two.
How many days a year do you manage to fish?
Slowing down a bit these days, back to about 150.
Complete this sentence – “Fishing in Australia is better than fishing in New Zealand because…”
of the diversity of species and habitats we have. Our coastline ranges from tropical to 40 degrees south and that’s a lot of water. Tasmania has some great trout fishing, in specific ways, such as lake fishing it certainly matches New Zealand’s but we completely blow them out of the water when it comes to the salt. Our native freshwater fish are also great fish but can be really moody bastards……