Presented from Issue 97
Lake Mackintosh is your typical deep tannin stained West Coast Lake that was dammed in the 1980s to create the Mackintosh Power station. The lake has flooded up into native forest, limiting much of the shore access to the boat ramp area at the Mackintosh dam. To explore the full potential of this lake, you need a boat to access every corner. The lake is home to both brown and rainbow trout with it opening at the beginning of the brown trout season and finishing at the end of the rainbow trout season. The lake has a bag limit of 12 fish per person per day. To access the lake you need only drive to the town of Tullah via the Murchison highway and follow the signs.
Deep West Coast Lakes such as this can be quite daunting when it comes to fly fishing, but like many lakes that have been formed in deep mountainous valleys they can be home to some spectacular wind lane fishing. In a lake like this, wind lanes play a major role in accumulating insects that have either hatched or blown into the water. It is often said that if you find the food you will find fish and in deep lakes, such as this, wind lanes can narrow down your search for trout food considerably. Again, a boat can be an essential tool to find wind lanes that have gathered up enough food to bring trout to the surface to feed.
Wind lane fishing usually starts at dawn when there is just enough light to see the tiny midge that have hatched overnight and during the morning. More often than not, it is the sigh of rising fish in these wind lanes that will signal the presence of these tiny insects. Midge will also hatch late in the afternoon and into the night giving you yet another opportunity to find fish feeding at the surface. When it comes to deciding which flies to use, a small Chernobyl Ant is my first choice followed by a small size 14 green nymph. The Chernobyl is fished like any other dry fly. While the nymph is allowed to sink ahead of a feeding fish and then stripped back up in front of the fish, to mimic a nymph rising to the surface.
A Day Trip in May
Last year with the official brown trout season already closed for most lakes in Tasmania, Jim Schofield and I decided to see what Lake Mackintosh had to offer during the month of May. An early start is almost mandatory for Jim and I and today would be no exception. We left home in the early hours of the morning, with the hope of finding rising and tailing trout out in the middle of the lake at first light. When we arrived at the lake it was overcast and there was a light northerly wind blowing down the lake. The boat was launched and we began to scan the lake for wind lanes. A decision was made to make our way towards the northern end of the lake where the lake narrows and is full of freestanding dead trees. As the lake narrows the surrounding hills shelter the lake from the wind. With no wind the water here was flat calm. A light foam line had formed, snaking its way through the stand of dead trees silhouetted against the orange glow of the sunrise. Off in the distance we could see the gentle rise formations of fish feeding along this foam line. The sight of fish rising was all the encouragement we needed to stop the big motor and drop in the bow mounted Minn Kota electric outboard. Because this part of the lake was sheltered from the wind, the fish were feeding in both directions, unlike a true wind lane situation where they will usually feed into the wind.
These calm conditions required Jim and I to work as a team, with one of us on the Minn Kota and the other ready to make the cast. Jim started to pull line from his reel as I took control of the Minn Kota to position the boat to within an easy cast in front of the approaching fish. Jim had already tied on a small Chernobyl Ant, which is one of his favorite flies to use while fishing wind lanes. As we came within casting range, Jim fired out a cast ahead of the last rise. We both paused in anticipation to see if this fish would to be interested in something more substantial than the tiny midge it was feeding on. To our disappointment the fish boiled under his fly as it turned away and continued to feed on.
This fish looked like it could have been a small rainbow, small or not; any fish taken on a dry fly at this time of year was going to be a bonus. We quickly moved onto the next fish and Jim presented the small Chernobyl, yet again. This time, the fish rose up and took the fly. Jim lifted his rod to set the hook only to have his fly line come hurtling back towards him when the hook failed to connect. When this happens, sometimes a little bit of doubt can start to creep into your mind. Did I strike too soon or did the fish take and immediately reject the fly. I think it’s best not to think too hard about this and to continue fishing with confidence in yourself and the fly until an unfavorable trend starts to emerge.
Fish refuse or slash at flies for many reasons and I think presentation is one of the major factors to consider first. When it comes to timing the strike, if you think you were a little quick, just give the next fish a little more time before setting the hook. Besides, if you’re already on a run of missed strikes, you have nothing to lose.
On the next fish, Jim’s luck was about to change, as his perseverance was rewarded with a solid hook up. These small rainbows were fat and strong and put up a great fight for their size, which made targeting these fish, a lot of fun. With Jim’s fish safely in the net it was now my turn to have a cast and like Jim I was also using a small size 10 Chernobyl type fly in one of my favorite colour combination of orange and black. Jim had already located the next fish and was already moving the boat into position to give me the best possible presentation with the fish moving towards the boat.
In these calm conditions the midge on the water are often spread out over a large area and the fish will often change direction to find the largest concentration of midge. This can make it quite challenging to present a fly ahead of the fish. Cast too close and you can put a fish down, lead the fish by too much and it may change direction missing your fly altogether. This was exactly what this fish was doing to me. I had several casts but each one failed to find the right path. The fish eventually spooked on a cast that landed too close. Jim turned the boat towards the next fish that was rising steadily and the game continued.
Perseverance paid off for me also, as this next fish had no hesitation in taking my fly. I lifted, and the line came up tight against a fish that immediately charged down into the depths of the lake. I could see the fly line starting to arch up out of the depths towards the surface. I didn’t have to wait long to see if this fish was a brown or a rainbow as it jumped clear of the water showing of its pink band down the length of its body. It soon tired and was led into the net. Jim and I continued to swap roles until the fish finally stopped feeding.
Late Season Wet Fly Fishing
When the excitement of wind lane fishing has finished or is non-existent. These big tannin stained lakes may not feel like they have much to offer the fly fisher, but there are options to sight fish and to search out fish holding structure with a wet fly. You only need to think about the limitations associated with fly fishing, such as only having a floating line for example, to guide you to likely areas on the lake that you can fish with the depth of your leader. When you think about it, many shorelines in a lake such as this have at least one or two meters of shallow water close in against the shore that could be fished with a conventional floating line. Which can give you plenty of opportunities to polaroid these edges or to search any likely fish holding structures such as submerged trees and the edge of the deep drop-offs with a wet fly. Obviously, at this time of year, brown trout are going to be congregating in the bays around the river mouths. With this in mind, Jim and I continued north to fish amongst the standing and fallen timber in the shallower bays around the rivers entering the lake. By now, the sun was polaroid these bays for fish and fish holding structure. The water depth ranged from between one and three metres. For that reason, I had changed my fly line to a clear intermediate sinking line, while
Jim continued to use his floating line. We both reverted back to our early-season wet flies, with the ever reliable Woolly Bugger and fur flies being tied onto our leaders. Jim positioned the boat up wind to start the drift. The Minn Kota was once again lowered into the water, in readiness to navigate the boat around the many submerged logs and standing trees that were in our path. On our drift, we covered any likely fish holding structure, while changing our retrieves from a slow figure eight to a fast strip in an attempt to get some sort of response. I had a fish follow my black Woolly Bugger right to the boat during a slow retrieve but refused to eat. Soon after, another fish did exactly the same thing. I decided to start the next retrieve slow and gradually increase the speed as the fly neared the boat. Several probing casts later I had a fish hot on the tail of my fly, as I steadily increased the speed of my retrieve. With the fish only a few centimetres away from the fly, I stopped the fly dead in its tracks, hoping to force this fish into making a instinctive decision to eat the fly. Within a split second the fly had disappeared into its mouth.
This is always amazing to see, as a blind searching cast suddenly changing into a sight fishing situation at close range. As the its mouth closed over the fly, I immediately set the hook into a brown trout of around two pounds. We fished on, taking two more browns in the same way, along with several grabs that didn’t connect. Before we called it a day, I tied on a weighted Woolly Bugger and sank it down into the old riverbed, out in the middle of the bay. I had a grab and then a solid hook up followed until the fight was cut short when the hook pulled free. With the day almost gone, we decided to call it a day while there was still enough light to find our way back to the boat ramp.
For me, Lake Mackintosh has left me wanting more, with the exciting potential of landing a really good rainbow out in those wind lanes and the very real possibility of catching a brown trout over six pounds will certainly bring me back for another look.