Presented from Issue 100
For adventurous trout anglers springtime and early summer is the time to start thinking about heading out to the area officially known as the Central Plateau Conservation Area or simply to most of us as the Western Lakes.
This area boasts world class angling opportunities in rugged wilderness setting. For many fishermen their sole exposure to the western lakes region is the pocket of waters in the eastern edge of the CPCA known as the “19 Lagoons”. While these lakes and lagoons always provide reliable fishing opportunities, in this modern age it is hard to get a water or even a short section of shoreline to yourself particularly if you are restricted to weekend trips. For those of us seeking solitude and also adventure, venturing further out into the wilderness is a must.
Simon Tueon (Chewy) and I recently shared one such adventure in to this magnificent wilderness fishery. Here is our story….
The headlights of Simon’s vehicle burned strongly in my driveway at 4:00am on the Saturday morning. After quickly loading up my gear that had been carefully packed the night before into the back of the wagon, we set off on the 2 hour drive up onto the plateau. The drive up was as always a chat fest full of memories and highlights of previous trips and of course prospects for this current adventure.
A momentary side track for us was the sight of the Meander River at Deloraine absolutely covered in rings caused by trout rising to undoubtedly a huge fall of caenid mayflies. There was a “will we or won’t we” discussion right there but the decision was made to push on up the mountains so that we could get a reasonably early start on the long walk required to get our first target water, one of the myriad of lagoons surrounding the Julian Lakes system lying north west of Lake Augusta.
After the usual dodging of the seemingly suicidal wallabies and other assorted Tassie wildlife for an hour or so on the climb up the mountain we found ourselves parked on the banks of the James River at the crossing on the dry bed of Lake Augusta. This was a chance to stretch our legs and also check the river level to ensure it was safe to cross. After confirming that it was indeed safe Simon pushed the Toyota into the stream bed and then up and out the other side to begin the bone jarring 12km drive to what was to be a base camp for this trip on the lower
This was my first trip out to this particular part of the Western Lakes and after hearing stories for years about the condition of this track I certainly now concur that this is not a journey for the faint hearted. If it wasn’t for the “ton” of gear and supplies that was sitting in the back of Simon’s 4WD wagon that would have had to been carried I would say that it might be actually quicker to walk.
After being bumped and bounced from pillar to post for the better part of 2 1/2 hours we were finally able to park at an idyllic little campsite just off the main track right on the shore of the Lower Julian lake. Incredibly it also looked as if we had the place to ourselves, for the time being at least.
Simon and I quickly set up camp, knowing that it would be hours later, if not completely dark before we would get back to the camp. Once setup some decisions had to be made. The Julian Lakes sit smack bang central in an area absolutely smothered in potential trout holding water. Simon and I had to decide whether to chase average sized trout in some of the in stream lakes and lagoons or to forsake numbers for a chance at trophy fish in the myriad of surrounding headwater or seasonally isolated tarns. As the day was windy and overcast and we were getting a late start we opted to look for mayfly dun feeders on the in stream lagoons and leave the trophy waters for tomorrow in the hope that clearer skies would prevail.
Main Stream Explorations
Rods were rigged up and flies chosen, initially deciding to go with large terrestrial patterns, namely Bruisers Bugs, as there was no initial mayfly activity evident. Only a very short distance from camp the first trout were spotted, no pun intended, cruising in shallow water a few metres from the edge. Carefully placed casts resulted in our first two trout of the trip, a pair of beautifully marked fat little browns around the kilogram or old fashioned 2lb mark in weight that had no hesitation in sucking down the foam, fur and feathered creations. What a start!!
No further action was experienced on the ‘home’ lake apart from a couple of fish that were spooked from the edge by my not so stealthy approach. We decided at that point to walk over the bank to a lagoon that Simon had experienced some good fishing on a previous trip that he had out to this area. The hour long hike to this lake was relatively uneventful apart from a ‘slight’ diversion that occurred when we happened on an almost hidden creek system that had a small lagoon at its head. I initially wrote this off as a waste of time and headed off to the targeted lake that could be seen shimmering off in the distance. Simon was not so convinced and decided to check the tiny lagoon out. I was more than a half way down the bank when a yell from Simon gained my attention. Broken words along the lines of ‘big fish’ were carried down to me on the breeze.
Begrudgingly I backtracked the half kilometre or so up the bank but thankfully I did as I got to witness Simon putting the finishing touches to a battle with a sensational brown that would have been around the 4lb mark. This trout had sucked down the bug in no uncertain terms and fought a great battle as much in the air as in the water before tiring and succumbing to the landing net. Simon was understandingly chuffed with this capture, just as much by the hunch that paid off as with the size of the beautiful brown trout.
Thinking that this great trout was all that this tiny water had to give up we were preparing to head to the water beckoning in the distance when a loud “clop” was heard emanating from a small opening in an area of the lagoon covered in pin rushes. By gaining a higher vantage point yet another good sized brown was found cruising around in a small pool among the rushes. This time it was my turn and a quick cast that landed the fly near the fish was quickly set upon. Unfortunately my strike only resulted in a fly less leader sailing back over my head. After some good natured ribbing from Chewy we then set off to check out the remainder of the lagoon on the off chance there were even more fish present. To cut a long story short by the time the ripples had settled on the lagoon two more magnificent browns had fallen for the large terrestrial flies presented to them, with Simon’s second fish probably even a little larger than his first. The lesson learned from this was not to pass even the smallest of ponds out here without a thorough examination.
It was now time to head down to the main body of water. As soon we reached this water feeding trout were visible in the shallow margins. These fish were showing tips of fins and sometimes subtle rises. The terrestrial patterns that had been successful so far were however scorned by the feeding browns. The fly was presented to trout after trout with cursory examinations as close as we were able to get a take. It never ceases to amaze me out here how the fly preferences change so markedly from water to water and even by the hour. Simon and I both now changed to mayfly emerger type fly patterns and began to have a little success.
The remainder of the afternoon was spent circumnavigating the lake a couple of times. Whenever we found a stretch of shoreline that had the breeze and ripples running more or less parallel we were able to reliably find good numbers of feeding trout. The located trout were cruising quite quickly obviously feeding mainly on mayfly nymphs that were migrating to shore to begin their hatching phase. More often than not a well placed cast to these fish would result in a solid take on the dry fly. Simon and I would take in turns spotting and casting at these cruising browns. We were lucky enough to be able to wade polaroid the shallows with broken periods of full sun giving enough light to be able to utilise this method with some degree of success.
The size of the trout encountered in this water was typical of lakes and lagoons throughout the western lakes area that have access to reasonably reliable spawning areas. The fish would average around the kilogram with the occasional larger one half as big again to be seen and hopefully caught.
As is often the case out here, time got away from us and faced with a lengthy hike back to base in the fading evening light we decided to leave the still actively feeding trout to their own devices.
Back at camp a well earned meal was cooked up and devoured and then we settled back to discuss the wonderful days fishing that had just been experienced and to also decide on a suitable direction to head tomorrow. A heavy frost on the ground at 11pm and a clear starry sky promised good conditions to be able to polaroid some headwater tarns in the search for a trophy sized fish tomorrow.
The Search Begins
Unfortunately when the usual highland chorus of black jays woke me at dawn I rolled back the cover from my swag to find a once again heavily overcast sky. This would make targeting the bigger trout a difficult task as it is vital out here to be able to spot the trout first before making your cast. There is just too much water between the big guys to make blind searching a viable proposition.
A quick conference was had with Simon about whether we forge ahead with our plan or just go back to the water fished the day before to once again target the smaller mayfly feeders.Finally we decided to take a chance on the trophy loop. The bent rods from yesterday in a way made this decision easier as both of us did not now feel the need to catch lots of trout, just one large fish between us would make it a perfect trip.
Carefully studying 1:25 000 maps of the surrounding area we picked out a good sized loop to follow for the days exploration. This journey would take us a full day to traverse and also as an added bonus no backtracking would be required. New waters would be able to be covered for the entire day with rarely more than a few hundred metres between them.
A few averaged sized browns were encountered early on in the bodies of water closer to the main lakes cruising in close to the rocky shores so typical of this area. Once again the Bruisers Bugs were successful in enticing these fish to look up. These smaller trout were welcome diversions but the main objective for the day was to find a large fish or two.
As the morning wore on the polaroiding conditions became very difficult with only fleeting periods of sun opening the water up to a degree. Whenever these periods occurred we would cover as much water as possible in the hope of spotting a monster brown cruising his domain. Unfortunately as the hours passed this did not occur. Tarn after tarn was inspected without success. I did have one chance where I was standing on a large rock on the edge of a tiny lagoon, trying to get as much elevation as possible to open up the water when a trout in the 5 to 7 pound class slid out from under the rock I was standing on and spooked off out into the gloomy water. The ability to maintain concentration is paramount out here!!
Fortunately out in the western lakes wilderness there are many other sidelights to the days sport. On some days you can get so engrossed in the fishing that you can miss some of the other things that make this area so special. The wildlife that abounds in the harsh landscape is amazing, by taking the time to observe I began to notice mobs of wallabies feeding undisturbed on the grassy flats and pair of majestic wedgetails circling on the currents. The more immediate landscape had various species of reptiles in abundance, ranging from perfectly camouflaged Mountain Dragons basking on their favourite rocks and skinks darting around amongst the vegetation, on to the sinister lookingtiger snakes hunting for their next meal. Another discovery was the rather comical looking Mountain Katydid’s. These unusual insects were abundant on the scrubby banks encircling the tarns that we fished on this trip.
It was quite late in the day and the planned loop almost completed without a real chance at an outsized fish when we happened upon a narrow lagoon. Simon and I decided to explore a bank each to make the most of the fading light. I had searched my way down most of my allotted shoreline when I noticed a dark shape sitting in deep water off some large rocks on the lagoons edge. As I crept my way closer the first abstract shape materialised into a magnificent brown trout probably in the vicinity of the 7 to 8lb mark. The fish was creeping along the silty bottom obviously in feeding mode. Quickly getting into position I put out a cast that landed the red bug a few metres ahead. The trout sensed the flys arrival on the water and immediately cruised to the surface and it engulfed it. Waiting a short period for him to turn back down I lifted and felt momentary weight on the rod before the despairing feeling of nothing. Incredibly for the third time on this trip alone I had left the fly in a fish on the strike. Certainly not something that you want to make a habit of out here where sometimes the chances are few and far between.
I had barely enough time to contemplate my “misfortune” when a shout from the other side of the lagoon brought me back to my senses. Simon had spotted a cruising brown of his own to target. As I was unsighted from my location he gave me a running commentary of its whereabouts as he got into position to make a cast. I watched as a longcast was made out into the rippled lagoon. Shortly after the fly hit the water a large snout appeared over it. Simon timed his strike perfectly and a very good sized trout became airborne before beginning a dogged struggle.
Simon battled this fish with aplomb and was soon able to slide the net under a beautiful golden coloured 5lb brown in perfect condition, not quite a trophy fish in the truest sense but his biggest trout to date on the flyrod and a well earned reward after a tough days fishing.
The remainder of the hike was uneventful and we soon arrived back at base camp, reluctantly packed up the gear and readied ourselves for the 12km of pain to come.
Trips like the one described above that Simon and I shared are easily attainable by any angler with average fitness levels and a keen sense of adventure. Heading out into the virtually trackless wilderness is a thrill shared by many every season.
Never head out here though expecting large bags of trout, on some days just having a once chance at a large wild brown is as close as you get, some days there are feeding trout around every corner.
Anglers venturing into the CPCA should always be well prepared. Detailed area maps are a must as is a good quality GPS and/or compass. Lightweight clothing that takes in all weather conditions is also a necessity as conditions can change very, very quickly. Warm days can turn frigid within a short period of time leaving the unprepared in great danger.
Good quality camping gear is also a must for overnight stays. Highland gales, possible at any time in this area will very quickly find weak spots in fragile equipment. Also remember that the CPCA is a fuel stove only area so lightweight packable cookers are invaluable.
Fishing gear requirements will be 4 piece fly rods in the 4 to 7 weight range with WF flylines and 4 to 6 lb tapered leaders.
Suitable flies for the western lakes are all the usual suspects with a good range mayfly patterns, large terrestrials and of course the humble Tasmanian favourite the Red Tag required in dry flys. Wet fly selections should include variants of Fur Flys, Montana Nymphs and Woolley Buggers, especially in springtime when the frogs are about.
As described in the text above the western lakes contain a myriad of choices in regard to trout waters. Lakes and lagoons that have access to good spawning facilities generally contain large numbers of smaller trout and lakes that are at the head of intermittent creek systems can potentially hold just one or two trophy sized fish or none of course. The fun is in the exploration and finding these waters for yourself.
One final hint for anglers venturing out here, do some casting practice in the wind. The ability to cast in these conditions can quite often make or break your day in the western lakes.