Great Lake

Jim Allen

One of Tasmania's premium fisheries, and in my opinion the most under utilised, is Great Lake. I have had a shack at Haddens Bay for many years and spend every summer there. So I look at the opportunities Great Lake has to offer very closely.
Most Tasmanian trout fishers look at Great Lake and think the fuller it is the better the fishing. I believe for fly fishers the reverse is true and when the levels are low it is certainly at its best. At the moment it is around 15 metres from full supply level and we are seeing some of the most superb fish come out of it in the 2004-2005 season. It is really a bit of a Cinderella and an unsung hero.
This year the lake has come into its own and with low levels the light gets through to the weed beds and photosynthesis cause the rapid growth of these weed beds. Isopods and shrimps take advantage of this growth and they quickly develop as well. In turn this gives the trout an increased food supply and the trout I have been taking are in the most superb condition I have seen for years. I have seen both a rainbow and brown trout of over four pounds recently. We have not seen fish like this for some time.
The old records of Great Lake show big fish and I am sure this was due to low levels and the fact that weed beds were close to the surface and food production was high. We are in a similar situation now.
Whilst some anglers are worried that Basslink and the new power sharing arrangements will ruin Great Lake I believe extended lower summer levels will actually improve the fishing substantially.
If we get lower levels and the deep water warms it will be even better. We are seeing explosions in the isopod and stick caddis populations. There are large numbers of galaxiids around the edges and for fly fishers all this food means some great fly fishing for both shore and boat based anglers.
I stress the shore fishing especially as Great Lake has numerous access points and virtually the whole shore can be fished.
On the right day, which for me is a clear blue-sky day, the polaroiding can be as good as anywhere I have ever fished. Clear water and a sandy bottom make this water better than many of the more highly regarded waters.
Prime areas to look for are slowly sloping beaches, which tend to have good quantities of stick caddis and good galaxiid numbers.
Conversely though areas such as the Beehives which is cliff-like and has deep water right on shore can be excellent when a big northerly wind pushes waves onto the shore and the fish can be lined up waiting for stick caddis to be dislodged from the rocks.
Traditionally anglers have looked to the more muddy, silty bays for stick caddis feeders, but this year I have been finding more and more fish on the rocky shores. So don't be confined to one area. Look around more and you will often find fish where you never expected to find them in the past.
It is quite timely too, because the mayfly fishing in places like Arthurs Lake and Little Pine has been sporadic, unreliable and disappointing for the last couple of years. Little Pine has lost a lot of its weed beds and whilst this has its pluses and minuses in regard to isopod numbers and other factors it does flag options of visiting other fisheries that anglers may never have done. This is where Great Lake has become so important.

Techniques for Great Lake
I use a few different techniques including zig-zagging across the lake in my boat. I love a hot northerly for this and spend a lot of time way out in the middle. The locals call it "Shark Fishing'. It was adopted, and I hesitate to say invented, by Peter Wilson, the builder of the original Great Lake Hotel, which is now the Central Highlands Lodge. Peter found fish "on the top" between McLanachans Island and the dam wall in the evening time.
Subsequently I have found them all over the lake when there is surface food such as beetles, grasshoppers, midges or any other form of surface food. Both rainbows and browns get out in the middle of the lake, get on top and search the whole lake on the surface.
You can polaroid in the beautiful clear water and find fish in the waves all over the lake. They not necessarily numerous, and it is hard work, but the fish will be there and you will often see them from 50 metres away. You will get excited about casting to a fish only to discover you will have to motor a little closer.
Other days I shore fish it using a fly a good friend of mine, Julian Brown, has developed. I get out of the boat and look for stick caddis feeders, lead them with JB's fly and they rarely hesitate. Julian's fly is simple and is pictured later. It is made from venetian blind cord and it is the best stick caddis imitation I have ever seen or used.
Julian is also well known for his bogong moth pattern called a Dunny Brush. It is also a terrific fly on Great Lake late of an evening. However the JB Stick Caddis is an absolute winner. It is soft, easy to tie and works very well. By the way, it is deadly at Arthurs fished under a strike indicator over weedbeds when there is no mayfly hatch.
A couple of mates fish the shore with the wind blowing onto it with wets and also have good success, but I must admit it is not my cup of tea.
Out in the middle I use different flies. Everyone will know my love of Red Tags and this is the fly I first used in the middle, but not any more. Perhaps they have seen every variation and now they seem to be a bit shy of them. Now I find small hopper pattern works well, and I use one I can see too. Foam varieties of green or olive work well and I often use two flies, a big one as an indicator, cum sighter, that I can easily see and a smaller beetle, which I can't see, but know where it is if a fish takes it.
The fishing can be a bit tricky too, especially in the hot northerly. You will, hopefully, find that you will present to a fish, it will take, or seem to take, and when you strike there is nothing there. I believe this is because there is a big wave and you get pull-back of the fly off the wave. This can often spook fish and I haven't worked out the answer to this yet.
With flies I know guides like Peter Hayes uses a Chernobyl Ant and I can understand why. It is a good fly and successful fly, but I tend to use a Muddler Hopper more.
Sometimes I think there are differences in the top (Northern) and bottom end of the lake and I do seem to catch more rainbows both there and in the middle. In calm conditions these fish are extraordinarily hard to present to and even the longest casters will be in trouble. They move very fast, are boat shy and pinpoint accuracy is essential. So generally rough weather fishing gives much better results than calm conditions.
Even windlane fishing is really difficult except at first and last light of day when the chances of catching, a rainbow especially, are increased enormously. Once the sun is on the water though the rainbows become shy.
The new management program of a reduced bag limit for rainbows two is a good decision. The regime at the moment to take browns out and distribute them to other waters has done no damage that I can see, and in fact it has been a positive move. In fact the IFS has implemented some good management decisions over the last few years.
Great Lake is the place to visit on good polaroiding days. That for me equates to a blue sky and strong northerly wind. The more hot, strong northerlies we get the better as they blow terrestrials out of the highland moors, grasslands and trees. A north-westerly is my favourite, because it has westerly in it you get the benefit of the sun behind you all afternoon and because I am a slow starter these days it means fishing is posible up until at least five o'clock in the afternoon.
It is also a great wind for fishing the western shore with the wind and sun behind you.
I prefer to fish the shores from the bank and like to pull the boat up and search the edges. My knees aren't too good these days and I do have a little difficulty with the rocky areas, as well as the muddy bays. If there are fish there though I soon forget my problem knees.
Many anglers drift the shores in a boat and I think this is the wrong approach in shallow water. You get much better accuracy being still and not drifting in a boat. From a boat you get a moving fish, moving shore, and a moving boat. That makes it hard even for the best casters. If you are wading you cut down on two of these impediments and your catch rate will go up.
I don't use a drogue on Great Lake except if I want to slow my drift in a windlane. In Great Lake fish tend to be in patches and you seem to find several together in a small area and then nothing for up to twenty minutes. Even if I see a fish and don't get a cast to it I hang around and look for a while. It is surprising how often more fish will be found without moving too much. I zig-zag so I always have the best light. It is the absolute critea for Great Lake - the light.
Accuracy of casting is super important, and whilst saying that you can be a few feet out, but you must get it to the fish quickly and land it right the first time.
False casting and having three presentations will never give you good results. I stress to many people how much better their fishing results will be if they can cast quickly and accurately. You have a superb casting instructor in Peter Hayes, here in Tasmania, and I urge everyone to spend a few dollars and get lessons. The results are immediate and well worth it.
Casting too close to the fish and they will spook straight away, so when I stress accuracy I mean you must put the fly at the right spot, which is not on their nose. You need to cast so the fish discovers the fly, not cast so they see it arrive. It is essential to use the wind to your advantage and I am often accused of screaming instructions (they call it abuse) to a fellow angler in the boat. I get stressed when they don't lead the fish by enough. I liken it to clay target shooting where lead it important, otherwise you will be shooting behind the target. Landing the fly behind a fast moving fish is a wasted effort, and it might be the only presentation you get to that fish.
Nearly all fishing in Great Lake is with the wind behind or to the side of you so you need to cast well upwind so the fish discovers the fly in its path.
Take these few tips on board and your success will improve. Particularly in relation to casting accuracy.       
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