Tasmania's Western Lakes
The Western Lakes is the term given to the huge area of lakes and tarns in the Central Highlands of Tasmania. The area is roughly bordered by Great Lake in the east, Lake Rowallan in the West and Lake Mackenzie to the north. The lakes are typically very shallow and clear on the upper plateau from the Pine Valley north. Further south and west the waters are relatively deep with well defined rocky shorelines. The western lakes are truly a world class fishery unique to Tasmania.
There are literally hundreds of lakes and tarns most of which contain good numbers of brown trout in the 2 - 3 lb range. Selected headwaters and small isolated tarns contain fewer larger fish and the occasional trophy trout. They are contained within the world heritage area between the altitude of 600 and 1300 meters. The area is generally flat and exposed and cops the full brunt of Tassie's fickle weather - even mid -summer can experience the odd snowfall. Apart from the area known as the 19 Lagoons near Lake Augusta, the western lakes are the domain of the bushwalking four wheel driving dry fly angler. It is the area's isolation and fantastic dry fly polaroiding opportunities that provide the appeal. Apart from bait fishing which is banned the western lakes are open to all methods but the clear shallow nature of the lakes makes it a fly fisherman's paradise. This article is therefore aimed at the fly fishing backpacker who loves to escape the crowds. The different areas and access routes are now discussed in detail.
The waters that drain into Lake Mackenzie are known as the Chudleigh Lakes. It is a very popular area particularly with northern anglers as it offers ready access via a good quality road to the Mackenzie Dam. From either Launceston or Devonport it is a little over an hour's drive. From the dam it is just a matter of deciding which particular area to fish. The reconstruction of the Lake Nameless Hut has seen a huge increase in bushwalking anglers choosing this as their main destination. It is an 8km walk over flat terrain via a good track that leads directly to the hut. This delightful stone hut offers great base to fish from and explore the area. Many anglers simply choose to fish the immediate area of Lake Nameless, Explorer and Ironstone. All these waters contain good numbers of browns in the 2 - 3 lb range. A little further north, Lakes Lucy Long and Westons offer another days fishing with the chance of much bigger fish as both lakes contain fish above 5 lb. These two lakes are a great location for a day walk via the Nameless track and then slipping over the saddle to the western end of Lucy Long. As both lakes run roughly east-west it is possible to walk the northern shore and have the sun at your back all day providing great polaroiding.
Lakes Halkyard and Evans are only a short distance from the Nameless Hut and feature probably the most consistent dun hatches in the Chudleigh Lakes. Both lakes are deep so it is just a matter of slowly walking the banks. Nearby Lake Fox was stocked with rainbows in 1987 and soon produced fish up to 12 lb. They were quickly cleaned out by the grub fishing brigade. The lake still has some nice browns up 3lb which cruise the deeper shelf that runs around the lake.
The Blue Peaks are another popular area of the Chudleigh lakes and are comprised of several large waters which hold browns to just below 4lb and several smaller tarns which invariably hold the odd larger fish. Wading is necessary in the shallow bays but many shores feature a deeper trench that run along the edges. The browns cruise these trenches all day. Blue Peaks also has some great dun hatches with the deeper Middle Lake providing the best action. When the lakes calm off completely the black spinners can appear in numbers and provide very exciting fishing. On my best days fishing however I did not see a single dun or spinner in the blustery conditions. All 17 browns that were caught and released took the size 12 red tag beautifully despite the absence of any other insect life. Access to Blue Peaks is via a good quality walking track that roughly follows an old 4wd track from the carpark below the Mackenzie dam wall. It takes about 1 hr 20 min to walk the 6 km track which rises nearly 200m over the first half. A short detour to view the valley from the summit of Blue Peaks is well worth the effort. The track is now fairly well marked however is still tricky in places. In thick fog like anywhere in the Western Lakes navigation can be a real challenge as I was to discover on my first trip to this area. I ended up spending a balmy August night under a rock near Lake Furmage some 12 kms further on. They have since invented GPS and I suggest you carry one and a decent map when walking anywhere in the area as the weather can close in very quickly. There are several obvious campsites around Blue Peaks if you intend on camping however at only 6 kms from the nearest road it is an excellent day tripping location.
If you want to polaroid large numbers of smallish fish then the upper waters of the Ouse River is the place to visit. The 16 or so waters north of the Devils Den area are all located in a large flat marshy basin which is easy to walk and navigate through. Most lakes are contained by defined rocky shores and the trout usually cruise the edges. They mostly feature flat muddy bottoms which stir up considerably if you wade. As each step sinks up to your knees this is one area that wading is not recommended. The two larger lakes namely Second Bar and Furmage have firmer bottoms and can be waded safely. Both lakes contain huge numbers of fish and are a delight to fish. On a perfect day you should be spotting a fish every 10metres or so. The only rule is to lead the fish back the way you have come so as to not spook the next one. Lake Furmage fish would have to have the lowest IQ of any trout on the plateau and rise freely to nearly every fly offered. Apart from a slightly deeper middle section the whole lake can be waded by mid-summer. This lake does stir up somewhat with moderate wind and is best fished early in the day.
Franks Lake is nestled in the rock scree a short distance above Lake Furmage. It is crystal clear and quite deep and still contains the odd larger specimens. Franks and Ila both contain much larger fish than are found elsewhere in this system.
Access to the Bar Lakes is best by either walking or driving part way along the Pillians/Julians track to the bank just south above Devils Den. From this point just walk across country to your chosen lake. The time taken to even reach this starting point will make this area an overnight adventure. There is a great sheltered campsite on the western side of Lake Ila and another good one near the inflow of First Bar. For the keen and fit day tripper the only real option is to travel in from the Meander Falls track . Follow this track up half way until you see the Dixons Creek spur track. This leads directly up onto the plateau and emerges only about 10 minutes walk away from the first trout filled headwater. Total walking distance to the top is only about 4 kms and takes about 1 hr 40 min however the 650 metre rise will soon sort out the fainthearted. Once on top there is a great days fishing by walking down the system and then turn and fish your way up past First Bar and on to Furmage. Its only 4 kms back across the flat to the head of the track and a 50 minutes to the car.
Lake Pillans and Julian
Being centrally located in the western lakes these two huge lakes can be accessed from all corners of the plateau. However most patrons utilise the world's roughest 4 wd track and travel in via the Pillans-Julian Track. This track extends in as far as Lake Field from Lake Augusta with a major branch leading to the Pillans Hut. It is around 12 kms in length and takes about 3 bone jarring hours to travel in, add a bit longer if you walk in. Both Pillans and Julians offer similar fishing with both lakes holding good numbers of fat trout to just below 4 lb. There are some wadeable shallows but mostly both lakes are deep and are fished from the bank. Pillans is huge being over 6 kms long and actually has over 25 kms of shoreline. Both lakes due to the vehicle access have long been the traditional home of the car topping angler and I was amazed how many people arrived with these vessels one perfect Australia Day long weekend. If the road is ever closed there will certainly be an uproar. There is great overnight accommodation at the public Kerrisons hut to the first lucky visitor. The two private huts at Pillans and Lake Field appear to have been built by the same people who constructed Fort Knox are not open to the public.
If you are keen on exploring headwaters lakes and tarns then this is the area for you. The Pillans/Julian Lakes are fed by several major streams that lead to the very edge of the plateau. Off these streams are countless minor unnamed waters any of which may contain that perfect trout. Generally the higher up the system you travel will result in less fish seen but larger specimens. Some tarns are fed by tiny connecting creeks but may hold a handful of very impressive trout. I release all fish caught in the western lakes however this practice is imperative in these trophy headwaters. Many tarns could be fished out overnight and some old favourites certainly have been. Despite the huge number of waters to choose from, careful scutinising of the relevant 1;25000 Pillans TASMAP should soon have you pondering likely waters. Let it not be said that I don't give away trout secrets. For the lazy explorer check out the overweight specimens at 537766 and 500747. If anyone can catch and photograph the leviathan that swims at 469709 then you will surely feature on the cover of this magazine.
Access to these headwater tarns is by footslogging from all corners of the plateau. The upper Julians headwaters can be reached by walking through the Chudleigh lakes via the Fisher River system. The westernmost Pillans headwaters can be reached by the Little Fisher Track which leads up from Lake Rowallan to the western end of Long Tarns. It is about an 8 km, 2 hr walk through some magnificent rainforest complete with scenic waterfall. Once at Long Tarns there are numerous waters close by which hold good trout. The upper reaches past Pencil Pine Tarn contain trout to Lake Australia which at 1290 metres above sea level is I believe Tasmania's highest trout water. The western lakes" best campsite is situated amongst the pencil pines on the north eastern corner of Pencil Pine Tarn.
Pine Valley Lakes
All the lakes in this valley from Lake Antimony to Lake Ball hold good numbers of brown trout and all are worth fishing. Antimony is hard to beat for wade polaroiding with its huge expanse of shallow sandy flats. Silver Lake has some great dun hatches but even if there is no hatch the fish still rise well. Lakes Sally, Sonja and Solveig lie close together and contain heaps of trout up to around 2 lb. There are some nice sheltered campsites at Sonja and nearby big fish waters of Galaxias and Ah Chees make this a perfect base. If you don't like snakes or ants do not walk around Ah Chees. There are rough huts at either end of the valley in an emergency at Antimony and Ball. Access to the valley is from the Talinah track past Christys creek, just follow the road down Powena Creek where it emerges at Lake Antimony near the hut. To reach the far end, you could walk in the Walls of Jerusalem track to start fishing at Lake Ball. The Pine Valley is a perfect area to be dropped off at one end and picked up at the other. For the bushwalking angler this is an absolute must-do location.
South of Pine Valley
From the Pine Valley south and east most waters are contained within obvious valleys, have well defined shorelines and are moderately deep. This entire area is drained by the Pine, Little and Nive Rivers all of which flow is a roughly south east direction. Foot access to these lakes is from either end of the Pine Valley and entails several hours" walk from either end. Vehicle access is via the Gowan Brae property on the road which travels past Pine Tier Lagoon. Distance from the Malborough Highway at Bronte to the World Heritage Area boundary below Olive Lagoon is around 25kms. Last time I travelled it, there was a dodgy bridge crossing so a 4wd is needed. The road leads right to Olive Lagoon but is very rough and boggy at the boundary to the park so it pays to walk the last 2 kms. Once at Olive Lagoon the road is easy to follow as it travels north and slowly peters out past Lake Naomi. An old haflinger track extends across to Lake Malbena from the western side of Olive Lagoon but becomes increasingly difficult to follow.
This part of the Western Lakes offers varied fishing conditions with reasonable stocks of browns up to 2 lb. Lakes Naomi and Rotuli contain high numbers of smaller fish. If you are seeking a larger fish then Denton and Galxias have fish to 6 lb. There are a number of headwater lakes to the south and west of Three Arm Lake which are well worth exploring. Preferred fishing method is again the dry fly however as these lakes are generally deeper the spinning method could be used. For the hut lovers there is an excellent one on Halls Island at Lake Malbena but you need to swim or boat your way across to the island. The hut is situated at the edge of a small rainforest and is worth the effort to reach. This part of the Western Lakes is not as popular as the upper western lakes but still holds many attractions and is worth visiting. The Ada and Olive 1;25000 TASMAPs are needed for this area.
Fishing in Tasmania's Western Lakes is a must-do experience for the bushwalking/dry fly fisherman. I have explored most areas during the past 20 years but still relish the start of each season. Unless there has been unusually cold weather the fish start to rise in November and can still be taken in April however many are sluggish by then. By mid-March most waters see fish pairing up to mate and the fishing drops off. February is my preferred month and the Red Tag the preferred fly. A selection of beetle, dun and spinner patterns should not be left out. Four piece fly rods are better to drive and back pack in, a simple floating line and standard 9 ft leader will suffice. Some long hard prayers to the Flying Spaghetti Monster to ensure your Tasmanian skies remain cloud-free will complete the check list. The time is now upon us fellow anglers, let's head to those Western Lakes.