There are many rivers in Tasmania that are just waiting to be explored using a canoe or kayak. These let you fish those inaccessible parts of rivers that are heavily overgrown and too deep to wade. Some of these sections have had little or no angling pressure and can hold some big fish.
Things to consider, before planning a trip, are water levels and whether or not the river is at all passable. Low water levels can have you out of the canoe more often than you are in it. Impassable waterfalls, gorges and rivers choked up by willows and logjams are all worth some investigation before taking the plunge into the unknown.
A full day floating down a river usually requires two vehicles, one to launch the canoe and the other to retrieve it at the end of the day. Estimating how long it will take to paddle and fish a section of river is one of the hardest things to do. There are so many variables to consider. For one, time can soon get away from you when you start catching fish. On a long day trip, where you plan to cover a few kilometres of river, a 1:100 000 topographic map is a must. By having a good understanding of how far you have travelled, you can allow enough time to catch a few fish while they are on the bite and reach your planned destination before dark.
On some slow flowing rivers, you can use the canoe to travel upstream. The easiest way to do this is to fish as a team. One person can row or use an electric motor to travel up stream, then hold the canoe in the best position for the person in front to deliver a cast to rising fish or any likely lies. Teaming up also works well when travelling downstream. Positioning the canoe to effectively fish those fishy spots is as important as making the perfect cast. When fishing downstream, a good way to hold position is to deploy an anchor at the stern. This will allow you to quietly hold off rising fish until you have made the right presentation with fly, lure or bait.
Choosing a canoe or kayak
With so many different types of canoes and kayaks on the market these days, choosing one can be a daunting task. I started out with a big fibreglass three man kayak that had the top cut out of it to make it more like a canoe. A set of out-riggers made from 90mm PVC pipe were fitted to improve the stability of the craft. This was fine for the rivers that had weedy bottoms, but when it came to rivers with rocky rapids, things got a bit scary. I remember one trip down the Meander River with Simon Hedditch, where I soon found out the limitations of a fibreglass canoe. The plan was to fish the section of the Meander River from Deloraine down to Porters Bridge. The morning started off well, as we quietly made our way down the river, alternating the role of paddling the canoe while the other fished. When we came to a set of shallow rapids we would get out and lead the canoe down the rapids using a long rope. This system worked fine until we realised we were running out of time to reach Porters Bridge before dark. We decided to makeup some time by paddling through some of the quieter rapids. With each rock we slid over, came an unnerving cracking sound, as we watched another white seam of damaged fibreglass appear through the hull. This was the beginning of the end of our once water-tight canoe, as the obvious eventually happened. Fortunately we had brought along a roll of duct tape for such an occasion. This slowed the leak enough to continue, but put an end to shooting the rapids. Needless to say we didn't make the bridge before dark and we were forced to abandon the canoe and walk the last 500 metres to our second car at the bridge. Soon after that trip, I upgraded the old fibreglass canoe to a more durable plastic model.
Kayaks, sit on top canoes or open canoes all have their advantages and disadvantages and the choice you make will depend on the type of fishing you want and where you want to take it.
My new canoe still had to be customised to suit my needs. The 90mm PVC outriggers were fitted so I could stand up and fish if I wanted and the anchor at the stern was a must. The anchor is just a lump of lead that hangs from a rope guide mounted to the back of the canoe. A V-Cleat mounted along side the back seat conveniently holds the anchor rope. The cleat and rope guides allow the anchor to be quickly lowered and retrieved within seconds. Installing backrests on your seats will give your back much needed support, making a day on the water a lot more comfortable.
A long lightweight rope is very useful to lead your canoe down some of the more severe rapids. Having something to bail out water is also a must. Cutting the bottom out of a two litre cordial bottle makes a cheap and effective bailer. For rivers, I prefer to use the extra long double-ended paddles. These paddles make manoeuvring the canoe a whole lot easier.
Trolleys are useful when access to the river, by car, is limited. These trolleys are a set of wheels mounted on a frame that will support the mid-section of the canoe, so it can be wheeled cross country.
Airtight containers and dry bags are essential if you need to keep items such as cameras, phones and spare clothing dry.
Personal floatation devices come in many forms these days, allowing free movement when paddling and fishing, giving us no reason not to wear them. If waders are to be worn in a canoe, a wading belt is a must. If you do happen to fall in, a belt will stop your waders filling up with water. Simply roll onto your back holding both knees up and scull to the river's edge. The action of holding your knees up will create an air lock inside your waders preventing any more water entering them.
Most new canoes have sufficient buoyancy to keep them afloat. Buoyancy can be added by introducing buoyancy foam or airtight containers. Become familiar with the stability and handling of your canoe before taking on a faster flowing river with rapids.
A torch kept in a dry storage compartment or bag is a good idea, just in case you don't reach your planned destination before dark. Flares and an EPIRB are also worth carrying in case of an emergency.
Fly fishing, lure fishing, soft plastics and bait fishing can all be very effective methods of fishing a river from a canoe. The main thing to remember is, when fishing down stream, trout will be facing upstream towards you and will spook a lot easier. Longer casts and approaching a fish from the side will help. When fly fishing directly downstream, using an indicator nymph or dry fly, more time is needed before setting the hook. This will improve your chances of a solid hook-up. The best thing about fishing rivers from a canoe is getting the opportunity to cast a line in those previously out of reach places and the anticipation of what may lay around the next bend.
The lakes of Tasmania's west coast are probably some of the most scenic an angler will find anywhere in Australia, and they are, I believe, a real proposition for an angler looking for a trophy fish.
Danny Holmes had been telling me for quite awhile about the quality of fishing to be had at Lake Macintosh and finally after a few non starts I was going to get the chance to fish what turned out to be quite an amazing lake. Located just outside of Tullah it was a fairly easy drive from Burnie to get there. Once at the lake you cross the dam wall and as long as the lake isn't spilling you continue down a well maintained dirt road to one of two excellent boat ramps.
The first thing I noticed was how dark the water was. All west coast lakes are tannin stained but the water at Macintosh was probably the blackest I have seen anywhere. This starts the cogs turning as to what color your lure choice should be. It's funny how we will pick a certain lure color because we don't think fish can see it in such dark water but realistically fish see Galaxia and small insects at incredible depths in this water so our perception isn't always right.
Over the last few seasons I've really started leaning towards using more natural colored lures even in tannin stained waters and even fishing at depths more than 15 ft deep. My catch rate hasn't changed much, but I think the quality of fish has been better. We always hear "you've got to match the hatch", and yes bright colored lures catch fish but as you will see by what happened on this days fishing I believe it isn't always the best way to go.
Once you set off on the lake its probably best to not tear around until you familiarize yourself with the many bays and few rivers that surround the lake. There is quite a lot of standing timber that is just below the surface as well. Much of this timber extends out from the points for a surprisingly long way.
We started fishing in a bay about a kilometre from the ramp as Danny had caught some good fish here, trolling the in the few weeks prior. As we entered the bay I scanned the sounder looking for fish in 10-15 ft of water, but after traveling a fair distance I had not seen anything to excite me.
So I dropped the bow mount Minn Kota in and commenced fishing along the shoreline with soft plastics, using a fast hopping retrieve. I alternated this with a small lipless vibe slow rolled out from the bank, but it was all to no avail. Using the Minn Kota electric motor I steered the boat out into the middle of the bay and tried using the vibe with a hopping retrieve across the bottom in deeper water whilst we both kept an eye on the water around us to see if we could spot any fish moving. We spent a good hour in the bay and only saw two fish porpoise out of casting range.
Danny decided a quick troll through the bay would show me that there were really fish here. I was becoming a little dubious. Danny was using a 12cm deep diving lure in Elton John color (pink and blue), whilst I opted for a Strike Pro Galaxia 2 minnow in Rainbow Trout colors. We trolled for an hour for only one small fish so we headed up the lake to where one of the rivers that flowed in. I really like fishing the points and bays where a river first runs into a lake so this was the next stop.
Once we arrived at the Brougham River I immediately found fish on the sounder and using the ever faithful 65 mm Gary Glitter soft plastic I caught our first decent fish on about the third cast - a beautifully marked brown of about 2 ½ pounds. Other fish soon followed. Then the bite slowed, so I suggested we rest the spot for a while and go look for more fish elsewhere and come back later.
Danny was still keen to troll the first bay we started in as he was adamant the fish were there so we set up for another run this time he used a HJ12 Rapala in Brown Trout color and produced three small, but fat fish just a bit better than a pound. This wasn't what I was hoping for as I knew this lake held big fish. My mate Jamie Harris often pulls fish from here up to 8 lb. I asked Danny to steer us in the direction of another river so off we went.
At the next stop just outside of the Josephine River I watched the sounder and found a ledge that started in 10ft and dropped off to some really deep water. This got me excited as this was the sort of water I had been looking for all day. The bottom was clear of logs which only extended from the bank but the odd patch of rocks could be seen so again I went with the soft plastic. Second cast saw me hook up to a fish of about 4lbs that followed the lure out of the depths back to the boat. As soon as I saw him I stopped the plastic and just twitched it gently, the fish flared his gills and just inhaled the lure. It was awesome stuff as it was so visual.
Not long after I scored another fish of similar size that I really shouldn't have landed. As soon as the fish hit the lure from about 20 metres it had me around some ridiculous snags for several minutes. I did what I could by just holding the rod tip high and not really applying a lot of pressure and just let the fish go mad at the other end. When it stopped thrashing around I slowly retrieved line and I don't know how but it eventually came back around everything and into the net. Again it was just awesome.
On the way back down the main lake Danny took me into a small bay that had something like a waterfall with only a trickle of water coming down the bank into the lake. I used the Minn Kota and slowly made my way in closer throwing a Bassday Kangoku lure in clear colour, and had a huge fish follow it to the boat, but it couldn't be enticed into eating it.
A few more casts in the next hour or so saw a couple more fish and a couple of bust offs on unseen but obviously large fish and we decided we had enough.
So what did I learn in my first trip here? Well most importantly I was reminded again of how important my electric motor is. Without being able to sneak up quietly to areas that were holding fish we never would've caught what we did. These motors allow you steer through trees and around the bays effortlessly just but rocking your foot backwards and forwards on the foot pedal. I cannot state the importance that my Minn Kota has in my fishing and the rewards I get from using one.
The next thing I learnt was it doesn't matter how dark the water is fish will see your lure. I used three different lures on this day and they were a 50mm Gary Glitter Squidgy Fish with a 1/12 oz TT jig head on a #1 Gamakatsu hook. A Bassday Kangoku hard body lure in clear color and a 50 mm Strike Pro Vibe in clear. All these lures are clear or dark in color and yet the fish still saw them easily in water up to 15 ft deep which was probably the deepest I fished. Why did I choose that depth? Simple that was where the thermocline was showing on Danny's sounder. It was also where most of the baitfish was showing on the sounder so it made it the obvious choice where to fish.
Tackle was standard stuff. Both Danny and I used GLoomis rods in 7 ft fast tapered with 4 lb braid and 6-8lb leader. With the vibes we used GLoomis 5'4 casting rods with Team Daiwa baitcast reels 4-6 lb braid and 6-8lb leader.
This lake has enormous potential. Whilst it is a large body of water it has some fairly obvious fish holding areas. If wind lanes are about that's where I'd look for the big rainbows. If not then I'd fish the timber stands that extend far out into the lake in deep water. For browns look in the bays and points off bays. Most importantly use your sounder which is probably the most under utilized piece of equipment in your boat. Look for thermoclines (changes in temperature), baitfish clouds, bottom structure, drop offs etc. All these things attract fish.
Shore based fishing here is also excellent. Whilst retrieving the boat Danny caught and released a beautiful fish right next to the ramp. I would target shores that had a bit of wave slap. Just be prepared to walk. I probably wouldn't bother with bait fishing as I believe you would be more productive with lures. Fly fishing wind lanes would also be fantastic fun. Next time you decided to hit one of the west coast lakes don't drive past Lake Macintosh looking for greener pastures as it is worth the effort and won't disappoint.