Presented from Issue 107, December 2013
Arthurs Lake has always been one of the key fisheries for Tasmanian brown trout. In recent years though Arthurs has faded somewhat from the trout fisherman’s perspective with the lake being challenged by big draw-downs on the water level. The draw-downs drained many shallow bays including Cowpaddock and most of Jonah Bay, killing long established weed beds and resulting in the prolific mayfly hatch being interrupted. With the aquatic food supply from these bays no longer available this meant that the lake could not support a large head of good size trout.

In 2008 Arthurs fell to one of its lowest levels since damming, 5.72 meters below the full level of 952.82 meters above sea level. Dead fish were located in pools isolated by the draw-down and threatened galaxias were transferred to other waters by the Inland Fisheries Service to create safety populations.

Following the low levels, minimum draw-down levels were agreed upon and a memorandum of understanding was signed between the key parties to prevent such big draw downs in future.

Following the dry spell, good rains in recent years have filled Arthurs again, good spawning seasons in Hydro creek and Tumbledown creek saw the average size of brown trout in Arthurs fall markedly as fish numbers increased on a base of limited food as the weed beds had not fully re-established and the aquatic food source was still limited. Good size fish became hard to find, particularly in the shallow bays where small aggressive browns held in big numbers.

It’s taken time, but the consistently high water levels have seen the food return. The previously small brown trout are now stacking on size and weight. In Cowpaddock Bay, shrimp and scud have returned and are plentiful in the stomach contents of resident fish, together with the bigger damsel fly nymph and loads of stick caddis, stone fly and snail, all of this aquatic food means the fish are growing well.

What is becoming very clear to me this year is that the fish are also returning to being far more amendable to top of the water action, floating or intermediate line tactics with small dry and wet flies. More and more the trout are accepting nymphs, traditional wet flies and the dry flies including the pommy hopper patterns which sprang to prominence when John Horsey the top rated English competition angler visited Tasmania in the late 1990s. Always effective, these flies are proving themselves to be even more so this year.

After what has been another ’unusual’ spring with sun, wind, rain, snow, the weather now appears to be settling. I fished Arthurs 16/17 November from my boat in the warm bright weather, stoneflies were hatching in big numbers and landing out in Cowpaddock Bay. Fish averaging 38 to 40cm in solid condition were high in the water, some rising, others cruising just below the surface in the top 600 mm. There were stone and caddis fly adults on the water, the occasional mayfly dun and even a few gum beetles landing upside down on the surface of the bay. I fished a clear intermediate line, 18ft leader and 3 x flies. The flies selected were a wet hopper pattern on the top dropper, soft hackle wet in the middle, and a light coloured cormorant on the point. Wind was light with a nice ripple in the surface. Fishing dead slow with a hand twist retrieve; the intermediate line was effectively fishing only the top metre of water where we were drifting in the 3 metre depth range. The browns were looking for small food and took confidently, drawing the line tight in your hand. Two of the browns took moments after the flies hit the water, obviously attracted by the flies dropping on the surface. One of these was a solid 2lb brown what I would regard as a typical Arthurs brown about 5 years ago. All of the other browns we caught were also in great condition, some very deep and solid for their size. As the afternoon progressed, the intermediate line action slowed, we went back to sinking line techniques with woolly buggers and a type 5 (sink rate 5 inches per second) line. This was about right for the 3 metres of water with the prevailing wind being light. We found that the browns had dropped back down closer to the bottom, and although a bit reluctant in the bright weather they would still take the woolly buggers. There were quite a few follow ups, quick hesitant grabs which did not stick but also confident takes resulting in good hook ups.

The water level has established now at 0.04 metre from full supply level. There is water through kerosene bush everywhere creating loads of back water fishing. Going ashore, browns are in the edges foraging for worms, frogs and other food. In warm calm weather these browns rise freely in the flooded margins. They are easy to approach because of the shelter, relatively easy to hook, but challenging to land.

With lots of snags and cover these fish have to be held onto to prevent immediately being snagged in the drowned shrubbery. Polaroiding these fish is also relatively easy because of the shelter from the wind means that light conditions do not have to be ideal on flat water. Although there is so much flood water through the margins there are still plenty of trout in the open water, the return of the food to the weed beds is ensuring fish are in all of the old haunts.

As the weather improves, I can see the trout in Arthurs continuing to put on condition, and see plenty of opportunity for dry fly and top of the water fly fishing. If we are lucky enough for the water level to hold close to its current levels I also think we will see the average size of fish next year up again and 2lb fish being the norm. If the mayfly has increased in numbers consistent with the stone fly then we will be in form a good dun hatch also, by Christmas 2013 we should have a pretty fair idea.

Arthurs has always been one of my favourite wild brown trout lakes. There are so many bays, sheltered shores and open drifting water all at a good depth for holding trout, with large sections of the lake being accessible by car. The Morass bay in the southern end, Hydro and Phantom bays along the Western shore and Cowpaddock around to Tumbledown Creek in the North you can find access and comfortable fishing with shelter from prevailing wind. In a boat you can also access the Eastern shore of the lake, the Northern bays like Jones and Fleming bay and all around Brazendale and Neil Islands.

Arthurs Lake is back in business with aquatic life returning in abundance and terrestrial insect falls which give loads of opportunity for fly fishing. With the water level back at height plenty of trout and in fabulous condition it is still one of our premier trout fishing lakes.

Joe Riley

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Flies that will entice Arthurs trout. Point fly on left is a Cormorant, middle fly, a soft hackle and the top fly on right a Bibio Hopper

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