Lake Burbury - The Jewel of the West Coast
by Peter Hayes
Tasmanian Professional Trout Guide Peter Hayes, shares some Lake Burbury secrets.
Located on the West coast of Tasmania just 20 minutes south of Queenstown - is Lake Burbury. The lake is just six years old and like so many new lakes, the fishing can be fantastic.
Nestled in a web of flooded valleys and guarded by towering mountains Burbury is one of those special places that you can instantly picture in your mind once you have been there, experienced the breathtaking scenery and magnificent fishing.
Memories and images come to mind of many great trips to this remarkable fishery. The best thing about these memories is that they are from last season, not from years gone by and I know there will be many outstanding days this season. I recall many mornings where the wind lanes were so special that they must surely have been made in heaven the night before. Countless bright sunny days where at the right time of year damsel flies seemed to dare the fish to eat them as they manoeuvred teasingly above the surface. Evenings in remote bays where, as the shadows and mountains merged to meet the darkness of the night, you were lucky enough to see the silhouette of a good brown trout porpoise through the mirror smooth surface to engulf your floating mudeye.
All of this makes Burbury one of the most visual fisheries that I have ever experienced and a place that is foremost in my fishing memory. Unfortunately, like all fishing, it's not always easy. Firstly, access is restricted to the boat ramps, the points where the old highway enters the lake and the causeway where the new highway separates the North and South Lakes. Impenetrable, thick, tea-tree scrub combined with steep banks make it impossible for the shore bound angler to venture far from these points. The geographic nature of the lakes lends itself ideally to the use of a small boat and this is all that is required to explore the remarkable wilderness. A boat also provides the additional benefit of increasing your catch rate because I can assure you, it is easier to reel trout out away from the drowned tea-tree forest than it is to reel them through it!
Apart from your mobility on this lake the other major factors are weather and time of year. West and south west Tasmania are renowned for poor weather and it can be absolutely miserable (remember, there is not much between you and the south pole). Whilst fishing with a guide, I doubt that it would be possible to be "skunked" on Burbury at any time. However, I know that carefully choosing the right day to fish here can make a difference of perhaps 6 fish per angler. To this end I endeavour to only fish the lake after Christmas and only when a high pressure system is smack bang over the west coast. (This is the best advice that I can give you. If you get this part terribly wrong, you might as well be on mars.)
Wind Lanes and mostly Rainbows
Lake Burbury has surely got to be home of wind lane fishing in this country. Three or four ingredients for superb wind lane fishing are at Burbury. Firstly, the geography of the lake being generally long and thin with many islands, is ideal for the formation of wind lanes. Secondly, the surface food is at times abundant to say the least and I'm sure that the chironomid hatches would be as good as Eucumbene in its hey day or possible better.
Thirdly, there is an enormous population of 1.2 to 1.5 kilogram rainbow trout that seem to revel in this type of feeding. Finally, to capitalise on this, we need to be fly fishermen and have plenty of ability and some luck. If you have great boat handling skills, can deliver quickly with no more than two false casts, and are able to turn over a fine 16 ft leader with dinner place accuracy at 70 ft, you will have a ball. If you can't do any of these things you should get out and practice, because you are missing out on a very special experience. It's not uncommon to cast to 50 or more fish in a short session of wind landing at Burbury.
More often than not it does not matter what flies are tied on, but it is vitally important that they are presented in the trout's feeding window (and this is dinner plate sized). I've not yet seen one of these trout come sideways or swim backwards to take a fly! So, if the fly does not land in the right spot, immediately recast it without a false cast. Being good at this "pick up and deliver" casting is really the key to fishing. Practice it. Learn to do a long slow pick up that does not spook fish and learn a long line hand haul on the back cast. We also nearly always fish two flies. This gives us twice the chance of landing one of them into the trouts field of vision. If you troll or spin fish, life can be difficult at this time of the morning and a warm bed may be better value.
If you are mad keen and can't help yourself, don't troll aimlessly from fish to fish, complaining about how hard they are to catch. Flat water, trolling boats and out boards at this time are a bad combination that does nothing to improve your chances. Instead, try this: drift quietly in the lane and be patient enough to let the fish come to you. As the opportunities arise try throwing a revolving blade lure across the bow of a feeding fish. Sometimes, I believe the close vibration is enough to break the feeding pattern and provoke an attack.
Heat, Sun and Damsels
The hot and sunny days of January and February provide some fascinating and exciting fly fishing. The damselflies are the main diet for trout on these days. Blue in colour with transparent wings, when viewed from below, they must blend beautifully with the sky. How a trout can judge and intercept point allowing for their speed, unpredictable flight path and refraction is beyond my understanding. I've spent hours watching, intrigued by their uncanny ability, not their luck. Often, fish feeding in this manner are notoriously hard to catch. Fortunately not so on this lake. The best approach is to seek out the pockets of drowned tea-tree and look for jumping fish. These fish seem to be territorial and ten minutes casting around the area will nearly always result in a take. Don't be surprised if you cast to one of these fish and it actually jumps out of the water to take your fly before it lands (this happened twice last season). A floating mudeye or quickly stripped Alexandra is all that is needed on a 10 lb tippet. Again two different flies are better than one. Another hint is to leave your fly trailing behind the boat when moving from one fish to another. You would be surprised at how often fish are caught like this. I think it's the constant movement and speed that is attractive to them.
I can't imagine an easier or more fulfilling method of catching trout than to walk quietly along the bank of an unexplored island or twilight, searching the likely pockets and bays with a couple of floating mudeyes. This is as good as it gets.
If I am lucky enough to be fishing when I'm 90 I will still have smile on my face as I cast my mudeye to a rising trout at this time of day. A properly swum floating mudeye is one of the deadliest flies that I know. Always lead the fish by a few feet and fish the fly slowly. A slight lift of the rod tip to impart a tiny wake after 4 or 5 slow figure eights is the ticket. Strike as slowly as you can, or preferably not at all. Mostly, fish are self hooked if the line is tight.
A word of wisdom was passed on to me some twenty years ago by my mentor, Jack Joyner. If you're going to fish into the dark, particularly as big fish may be encountered, break the first two sections of the leader off before tying the fly back on. This advice had stood me in good stead on many occasions. A short thick leader is easier to cast and tangles are less frequent.
Wind knots in a 10 lb tippet or 15 lb dropper rarely break. Jack was right. Often big fish are caught at night in some of the most unexpected places.
Also some advice about floating mudeye patterns. It is vitally important that your fly swims properly. By this, I mean that it must sit in the water at the right height. A fly that floats too high is next to useless and one that sinks too deeply does not have the desired effect either. I use two Cubit mudeyes when fishing this way. The larger sized mudeye I tie onto a 15 pound dropper and the smaller one on a ten pound point (it is easier to cast the larger fly if it is located nearer the fly line.) This fly was developed by Leon Cubit from Hobart when Lake Pedder was at peak. It is constructed from a foam rubber body that gives a great silhouette, exactly the right amount of deer hair as a head and loaded with a good sturdy hook for balance. These flies always sit at the correct depth, 2/3 underwater, 1/3 above. They are, in my opinion, without equal. So beware of "look like" imitations that do not float.
I'm sorry to say that Lake Burbury will never be another Lake Pedder. The fish stocks are far too great for that. The spawning facilities are magical and the fishing pressure is minimal. This will always ensure an enormous head of fish and a large head of fish but never result in large fish. What I am sure of, is that this fishery will provide great fishing for us, out kids and hopefully their kids. Whilst I am a great advocate of catch and release this is definitely one of those waters where, I believe, you can, and should, catch the limit - not limit your catch. Despite the lack of large fish, all in all this has to be the best trout fishery in the country. So get down there and try your luck. Incidentally, two seasons ago a friend of mine caught his bag limit on 14 consecutive days. The record for any one day was an amazing 36 fish. Where else do you get that sort of fishing?