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Atlantic salmon the hard way

Atlantic salmon the hard way

Scott McDonald
The first Atlantic salmon eggs used to begin Tasmania's Atlantic salmon aquaculture industry were introduced into Tasmania in 1984. From these humble beginnings a valuable Tasmanian industry has evolved with a worldwide reputation for having a premium disease free product. This industry provides a spin off to all anglers in the form of regular escapes of salmon from the farms.

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Brushy Lagoon

Craig Rist
Brushy Lagoon was built in 1987 by the Forestry Commission to store water for the purpose of fighting fires in the area. The lake is located in the northern part of Tasmania surrounded by state forest. Turn off the Frankford Road (B71) or Biralee Road (B72) from Westbury, onto Priestley Lane (C714). From here you take a gravel road to the lake. There are two boat ramps, one at the southern end at the dam wall, and the other halfway along the eastern shore.


Over the years the IFS has stocked the Lake with domestic rainbow, Atlantic Salmon, Brook Trout and wild Brown Trout. The most recent stocking was 11 of October 2007, 510 domestic rainbows, averaging 3.8 kg where released into the Lake. These fish are old brood stock, donated by the Springfield Fisheries.

A week after the IFS released the 3.8 kg rainbow into Brushy Lagoon, Steve Hambleton and I decided to fish the early morning midge hatch on Brushy, then try our luck on these big rainbows.

We left Devonport at 4.45am so we could be on the lake before daybreak. Forty-five minutes later we had arrived at the boat ramp on the eastern shore. The headlights shone through the thick fog that had unfortunately settled over the lake, making navigation and presenting a fly very difficult. Trout seem to be able to pick up the movement from the boat and the action from casting a fly rod very easily against a white background created by the fog.

While setting up the boat, we spoke to one of the two anglers already fishing near the boat ramp. They had already landed two of the recently released rainbows using Power Bait. Under the power of the electric out board we made our way out onto the lake through the thick fog with the sounds of electronic bite detector alarms going off back at the boat ramp, followed by the sounds of excited fishermen as they landed yet another rainbow.

We quickly lost all sense of direction amongst the fog and decided to stop and wait for the fog to clear. While we waited, more and more midge continued to hatch, emerged from the depths, gathering on the water surface to dry their wings. Soon we heard the familiar sound of a trout sipping down insects somewhere out in the fog. The fish soon came into view, rising two or three times, then reappearing another metre closer to us. Steve couldn't wait any longer and made a cast to the next likely rise, only to see the fish change direction away from his fly. Steve made another cast but the fish failed to rise again, no doubt seeing the boat or the cast. It wasn't easy judging the length of cast and not spooking the fish in the thick fog, although we both had several chances.

At about 8.30am the fog started to lift, revealing millions of midge and the occasional dun across the lake. We could see trout feeding randomly amongst the concentrated masses of midge that had gathered in the middle of the lake. Steve suggested we try the rising fish further up the lake, where there were not as many midges present, giving our flies a better chance of being noticed. We approached yet another fish feeding steadily on midge. Steve put out a cast, landing a slightly larger emerging midge pattern, half a metre in front of the feeding fish. The fish neared Steve's fly, rising three times, before eventually taking his fly. Steve paused, and then lifted his rod into a good fish. After a few solid runs, the net went under a well-conditioned brown trout of around 2 pounds. Steve released the fish to gain a few more pounds.

As the sun grew more intense the trout had stopped rising to feed on the abundant aquatic insects found in the lake. With no more surface activity, we decided to target the large stocked rainbows with big marabou wet flies. Drifting down the eastern shore, with the aid of a drogue, we fished the water in front of us, constantly changing retrieves to hopefully provoke a strike from one of these big rainbows. Steve's line jolted tight as one of these rainbows grabbed his red and black woolly bugger. His four-weight rod quickly took on an impressive bend as the water erupted with the struggling fish. Steve soon had the upper hand, leading a 3kg rainbow to the net. We continued to fish our way down to the dam wall. This time my line came tight into a fish, but only for a couple of seconds as the hook pulled. After yet another drift down the eastern shore, I managed to stay connected this time, hooking up on a fast retrieve deep amongst the weed beds. This fish leapt clear of the water giving me a great fight on a four-weight rod. With two nice fish in the boat we decided to call it a day. After cleaning these fish, I was amazed to find a fist full of snails and the odd nymph in each fish after only a week of being released.

Midge feeders
Catching trout feeding on midge is a great challenge and is often your first chance at dry fly fishing early in the season. Midges start their life as a worm like larvae on the lake bed. From this stage they pupate, changing into the winged adult inside their pupal case. When fully formed the pupa will rise to the surface. Hanging in the film before breaking out of the pupal case, emerging as an adult midge. Trout can be seen feeding on the emerging pupa and the adult midge in the early mornings, late afternoons and into the night.

Because most of the midge hatches occur in deep water, often well out into the lake, a boat powered by oars or an electric outboard is a great way of positioning yourself in amongst the action. If there's any wind about, position the boat up wind of the rising fish. As well as making casting easier, trout will often feed into the wind allowing for better fly presentation. I think a well-timed, short accurate cast is often better than a long inaccurate one. There's nothing worse than putting out a long cast to cover a fish, only to have it rise halfway up your fly line and eventually spook very close to the boat, although this is not always possible, especially in foggy conditions where you and your boat stand out very easily to the feeding fish. The wind can be an advantage, especially when it congregates the midge into wind lanes. Here the trout will often feed predictably up wind in a relatively straight line, making fly presentation a lot easier.
Choosing the right fly and presentation on the day can be very frustrating at times. Do you match the hatch or go with something large like a Chernobyl Ant with rubber legs. While a trout would scoff down one of these big foam flies in the middle of a midge hatch is beyond me, but they do. These flies sit low in the water and are easily seen by the fish, with those rubber legs adding life to the fly. If they refuse the foam thing with legs, and you still want to catch them using a dry fly, then try something roughly the same size and colour as the natural. There are many flies available in this category - Red Tags, Griffith's Gnats, parachute patterns and emerger patterns. The biggest problem is making your fly stand out amongst the naturals, but with the right presentation and persistence, you should eventually catch fish.

Wet flies will also take midge feeders. These are often fished to represent the midge pupa rising to the surface. Using a small Green Nymph or a Fiery Brown Beetle, lead the feeding fish and allow the fly to sink to about half a metre. Then as the fish nears the location of your fly, begin stripping in line so that the fly rises up in front of the fish, hopefully resulting in a hook up. I first read about this method in Rob Sloane's book The Truth About Trout and have been using it successfully ever since.

Stocked domestic rainbow
Introducing these large rainbows to lakes such as Brushy Lagoon gives many people a very good chance of landing a trophy-sized trout using a wide range of fishing methods. Many fish are caught within the first two weeks of their release as they make the transition from being fed on pellets to discovering what they can eat in their new environment. Hence, this is the time when many of the released fish are caught. After that time, a large number have already been caught, with the remaining fish dispersing across the lake, in search of food. Releasing big ex-brood stocked fish into waterways such as Brushy Lagoon is a great initiative. The enjoyment these fish give to many people should not be under-rated.

Craig Rist

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