Presented from Issue 97
Most fisherman I know have a spot or two that when they go there they get that same sense of feeling that occurs when you arrive back home after a lengthy absence. One area that never fails to generate this nostalgic feeling for me is when I journey out to the two diminutive lakes located roughly north east of Arthurs Lake named Gunns Lake and Little Lake.
A chance meeting….
My Gunns and Little Lake odyssey started approximately 20 years ago on a calm and sunny September morning when long time fishing companion Todd Lamprey and I journeyed out to the two shallow natural lagoons on a purely exploratory mission. Todd and I had been in the highlands for a few days already on a multi day trip and we had decided on looking for a location for the days sport that didn’t require a lot of walking to get to. The preceding days had been spent hiking in the Western Lakes district and Todd and I both really needed to rest tired legs.
The evening before at our accommodation base we had consulted an early version of the Tasmanian trout fishing bible, Greg French’s Tasmanian Trout Waters, and after much debate had eventually decided on a 4WD excursion out to the “ponds” as we have now affectionately come to know the twin waters of Gunns and Little. After an extremely bumpy one and a half hour journey in Todd’s trusty flat tray Landcruiser along the Gunns Marsh road starting from the famed Cowpaddock Bay on Arthurs Lake we had eventually pulled up under the power transmission lines on the western shore of Gunns Lake, the smaller water of the two. Without a lot of expectation we pieced together our fly rods and commenced a search along the pin rush lined shallows on this beautiful pocket sized lake . Much to our delight it only took a few short minutes before a trout reacted to the splash of my woolley worm wet fly hitting the water along an undercut edge. A large bow wave came to the fly and then a savage take and tussle ensued. This fish was not the tiny ½ pounder that we had been expecting after reading Greg’s book, rather it was a 2 ½ pound brown in beautiful condition. The action continued from there that first day with a number of trout landed ranging in size from pounders up to a magnificent golden 5lb specimen taken by Todd which is still the largest trout that we have seen grassed on these lakes in all the years since. To our delight much of the action on that first day was sight fishing to at first tailing and frogging browns in the weedy shallows through to polaroiding regular risers that were eagerly taking hatching midge and then later in the day falling Gum Beetles across the open water. Of course after this great initiation this diminutive pair of lagoons quickly became firmly entrenched at the top of the list of favourite fisheries for Todd and myself.
This great fishing for good sized browns continued for quite a few seasons with a number of genuine 4lb trout coming to hand each season. Superb sight fishing opportunities abounded and it was very hard to not go to the “ponds” when we headed for another trip to the highlands.
The fishing in the current era
Today Gunns and Little Lake are home to incredibly large populations of Brown Trout. These trout can be taken effectively by all angling methods but it is the superb fly fishing conditions which draw me and many other anglers to the area time and time again.
Even though the lakes themselves are only very small the fishing opportunities presented are many and varied throughout the season and pleasingly most are sight fishing based, which in my opinion is the epitomy of our sport.
Early season features
Both lakes have extensive pin rush marsh areas on their western shores which as soon as the water starts to warm in spring time come alive with spawning frogs and of course feeding trout. The chorus of the frogs in springtime is really something to be experienced. When you open the car door on arrival and hear it you just know that you are in for a good day! The action can be frantic some days when searching casts to the holes in the rushes are commonly met with bow waving trout which absolutely love medium sized wet flys. Patterns such as Fur Flies, Woolley Buggers, Mrs Simpsons and Yetis are taken with a rush. The trout often will react to the splash of the flys entry to the water and charge across metres to grab it when they are really switched onto the frogs. An added bonus is that the marsh ”froggers” tend to be of a larger average size than the open water trout.
Another early season feature is if you are lucky enough to be out there during or immediately after heavy downpours. At this time the lakes will be brimming full and the trout will be right in on the edges hunting all sorts of food flushed out by the rising water. Grubs, frogs, earthworms, spiders and snails are all on the menu. The fishing can be ridiculously easy at these times with large bags of medium sized trout to be expected. The peak of the fishing action can be relatively short though as the levels fall back to normal very quickly after the rain eases. As soon as the levels start to drop out the majority of the trout will retreat back to deeper waters so that they do not get stranded in the unconnected puddles left behind. Missing the peak by only a few short hours can be the difference between frantic sport and nothing.
An interesting feature of Gunns Lake, and also some areas of Little, is the extensive band of open water that exists between the pin rush marsh areas and the shore. When the water levels are moderate to high this area can be full of tailing browns creating exciting sight fishing action. Be aware though that when the levels get too low the same band becomes home to a large population of very small fish which can sidetrack the unwary for quite a while wasting valuable fishing time.
Stonefly and midge hatches occasionally result in short lived rises during the early part of the season but it is the wet fly fishing that is the highlight during these times.
The undoubted feature of the late spring, summer through to early autumn months on these waters is the extensive mayfly hatches. Both the large Red and Black spinners abound on these waters and when the spinner is up the trout really react with gusto. Dun hatches are steady and trout can always be found rising to them but it is the adult spinner which creates the spectacular action. On warm sunny days the action can be incredible with trout of all sizes leaping out of the water to take the adult spinners on the wing. I personally have always found the best of the spinner feeding action along the scrub or pin rush lined shores of Little Lake but I am sure that Gunns has just as good a rise also. If the air temperature is right even on the windiest days a band of lee water can be located somewhere around the perimeter and the spinners will be in the air. Lulls in wind strength will also result in leaping fish right across the lake, just like someone flicking a switch.
As always with trout jumping after insects on the wing they can be incredibly difficult to fool but by searching long enough you will come across a trout or three that is sucking the spinners from the surface and these are the ones to target. My favourite pattern for the mayfly feeders is a size 12 or 14 parachute hackled black or red spinner but any general mayfly pattern will suffice. Some of my companions swear by a possum fur emerger through all phases of the hatch and certainly fool their share of trout.
Dragons and Damsels
Another hatch that gets the fish excited out here is the annual dragonfly and damselfly hatch. The damselflys in particular emerge in their millions during the summer months. The trout feed heavily on the nymphal stage of both species but it when they are in their adult form that the truly spectacular feeding occurs. The trout leap out of the water in valiant attempts to take the fly on the wing along the edges of the pin rushes. As with the mayfly feeders described above it can be terribly difficult to tempt the leapers but a well placed fly, generally a big terrestrial pattern like a WMD, Chernobyl Ant or Bruisers Bug, that lands in front of them immediately after the jump will be accepted often enough. Being able to spot the fish in the water is a big advantage here as they will change direction frequently in their attempts to track the adult fly.
Little Lake in particular has extensive areas that provide excellent conditions for wade polaroiding . The large sandy bottom bays at the northern and southern extremities of the lake are the features and by wading across these areas on bright sunny days you are bound to see good numbers of trout. The smaller average size of the browns in recent years can sometimes prove to problematic in spotting them at times but anglers adept at polaroiding should not have too many issues. Gum Beetle and Jassid falls as well as the Mayfly hatches get the trout cruising across the shallows and provide some memorable fishing. Standard fly patterns, such as Red Tags and Foam Beetles as well as large terrestrial patterns like WMD’s or Bruisers Bugs work well here.
Both lakes have extensive iseotes weed beds and trout are always to be found in this vicinity. The fish in these areas, if not rising to insects on the surface are usually feeding on the large population of amphipods that call these weed mounds home. Once again they can be difficult to spot but as soon as you get your eyes” tuned in” you will do okay. Small bead head nymphs or lightly weighted scud patterns work well on these fish, if they are not looking up.
Trout can also be fished up at any stage of the season by just wading downwind and searching the water with either dry or wet flys. Anglers should be aware that although much of both lakes can be easily waded, especially at moderate to low water levels, there are areas that are very soft and you can become easily bogged down. I have witnessed some unlucky anglers having to crawl out of soft areas. One area to be especially wary is just outside the pin rush marshes lining the western shores of both waters.
Unfortunately in recent seasons the average size of the trout in both lakes has dropped away dramatically to the point where a genuine 2lb fish is cause for celebration. What they lack for though in size they certainly make up for in numbers, condition and exquisite beauty. Fish from these lakes normally exhibit magnificent colours with a peppering of black spots and superb golden flanks and bellies. As indicated in the preceding paragraphs the trout from the marsh areas tend to be slightly larger on average than the open water fish.
Gunns and Little Lakes are certainly areas where keeping a fish or two to eat is encouraged. Due to the large percentage of crustaceans in the fish’s diet the flesh is generally a lovely red/orange colour and is very tasty. Another bonus is that a large proportion of the trout landed are just perfectly sized to fit the frying pan.
While the 4 and 5 lbers from a decade or two ago are but memories I live in hope of a recurrence. Like most waters the average size is cyclical and hopefully a strong year class of larger fish will come through soon. (Some older angling friends still talk about the double figure fish that were available in these waters way back!!)
Another drawcard to the area is the array of native wildlife that abounds. Sandy furred wombats are frequent visitors to the marsh areas. These guys are drawn out of the surrounding scrub by the succulent marshgrass flats. At times the numbers are so great you could be fooled into thinking a flock of sheep had invaded the flats. The wombats are commonly so intent on feeding you can walk right up to them without them becoming aware of your presence. Wallabies, Brush Tailed Possums, Echidnas, Tassie Devils, Quolls and majestic Wedge Tailed Eagles are also frequently spotted going about their business in the lake surrounds. The lakes themselves are home to a large population of platypus which seem to be almost double the size of their lowland cousins.
Another frequent visitor to the marsh and lake shores is a robust population of tiger snakes. Also drawn by the large amphibian population he is not so welcomed by some but watching a large undisturbed tiger snake hunting his prey makes always makes fascinating viewing
Access and Camping
Gunns and Little Lakes are accessed by Gunns Marsh road. This track starts from Cowpaddock Bay on Arthurs and traverses around to Tumbledown Bay. This section of track is usually in reasonable condition, albeit “potholey” at times, and is good enough for a sturdy 2WD vehicle. After crossing the Tumbledown Creek bridge the track condition takes a turn for the worse and becomes very rocky for a few kilometres. This section will generally stop all but the highest clearance 2WD vehicles and is really only suitable for 4WD’s.
The lakes are located approximately 6 kilometres further north along this track after leaving Tumbledown Bridge. The first water encountered is Gunns Lake (often mistakenly called Little, as this is the smaller water by far). Most anglers, especially the ones daytripping, leave their vehicles here under the power lines and fish their way down to Little Lake (or just stay on at Gunns if the action is solid as has occurred on more than one occasion!!). Vehicular tracks across to Little Lake exist around both sides of Gunns Lake but both are extremely rocky and also have extensive boggy sections to trap the unwary. These tracks should only be attempted after lengthy dry periods. Unfortunately these tracks in the past have been badly affected by an element among us that seem to love to get in and tear them up as much as possible.
Idyllic campsites exist at Little Lake in the vicinity of the hut on the NW shore and on the point that juts out on the northern shore. Note that the hut itself should only be expected to provide an emergency shelter and is very rough indeed. Unfortunately as mentioned with the 4WD tracks some of the camping spots on these lakes have been routinely junked by an unruly element with mounds of rubbish and broken glass left behind. I urge all visitors to respect these areas as if their own. If we continue to disrespect then we will surely lose access!!
Prospects for the remainder of the 2011/2012 season
Both Gunns and Little Lakes are robust fisheries right throughout the trout fishing season. In late March and thoughout April the trout will start to school up in preparation for spawning. These spawning aggregations can be effectively targeted with both wet and dry flys and create exciting fishing opportunities. The easiest way that I have found in recent times to find the aggregations is to look for large disturbances on the water surface, particularly if the water levels are low after a long hot summer. The fish are easy to spook at these times however and even a bird flying over can set off a chain reaction akin to a school of feeding blackback salmon in the salt. Even though the fish are schooled they still feed aggressively.
Late season staples are also trout feeding on falls of Gum Beetles and Jassids. If these insects are on the water the trout will respond to well presented dry flies.
Gunns and Little Lake are fisheries well worth a visit for anglers with all degrees of skill ranging from the absolute beginner to the very experienced. For those new to the sport the “ponds” will generally provide plenty of opportunities to spot, cast to and hopefully hookup to a hard fighting brown trout . For the experienced flyfishers the technical aspect of the fishing, especially around the mayfly hatch will satisfy even the most hardened of pros.
Once again I urge all visitors to respect the area. Leave only footprints behind when you leave and this beautiful little pair of lakes will provide sport for generations to come.