Arthurs Lake is without the best wild brown trout lake in Australia. For that matter it would rank right up there alongside the best in the world, and plenty of international anglers would agree with me. It has a diversity of trout environments that is staggering. Weedy bays, sandy beaches, tree lined shores, rocky reefs, secluded corners and wild open stretches contain a vast amount of fishing opportunities- the majority of them basically ignored.
For many Tasmanian anglers Arthurs Lake is basically the Jonah Bay arm of the lake, and Hydro/ Pumphouse Bay. While these two major areas receive most of the fishing attention, they certainly aren't the full picture. Many anglers would know that plenty of guides use Arthurs Lake, but how often do you see the guides at work? Not often, because in general they are in different areas of the lake that fish better and have less pressure than the two areas mentioned above.
The key to fly fishing Arthurs Lake successfully is not a thorough knowledge of the lake. This is an important part, but the major element is reading the wind and then fishing in the areas that the wind will give you the greatest opportunity. Each wind direction will give some fantastic fishing- even the dreaded easterly- but not always in the same locations! What follows is a basic summary of the different main wind directions and where the smart fly fisher will find some good fishing. This is really directed at boat anglers, however the same shore and locations fish well from the shore.
Dick Selby Smith, a remarkable old angler who still pesters plenty of trout at the age of 89 once told me a little rhyme.
"When the wind blows from the west, the fish bite best. When it comes from the south, it blows the fly into the fishes mouth. When the wind comes from the north, the wily angler goes not forth. And when it blows from the east, it is fit for neither man nor beast, and the fish- they bite least"
While Dick used to quote this little rhyme every time the wind direction was against us for the day, he still managed to put plenty of trout into the net. This is for a great part due to fishing Arthurs Lake according to the wind, not the location.
Wind from the north round to the east
This wind on Arthurs can present both some brilliant fishing, but also some uncomfortable fishing conditions. In December and January when the wind gets up from this quarter it will blow like the very devil! In the morning it is quite often calm, but as soon as the influence of the sea breeze comes into play it can really get up strong. It therefore pays to be in a good spot to start with, rather than try to find one later in the piece. Mostly the weather will be bright and sunny, but on some occasions it can be cloudy and rainy from this direction. Both are very good, in fact my favourite wind on Arthurs these days is a bright north easterly at around 15 knots- makes me twitchy just thinking about it. This is due to the beetles, ants and spent spinners that are blown onto the water, and then into the path of the trout.
On bright and breezy days the best spots are the top end of the lake, such as Tumbledown Bay, Jones Bay, Flemings Bay, and the Lily Ponds when the level is up, (like it is now). Add to this Phantom Bay, Hydro, and the treed shores between them provide plenty of places to find the trout. When the wind blows off these shores don't ignore going out into deep water- this is often where the majority of fish will be feeding on the surface, even in 25 feet of water! Hunt the foam lines, and keep your eyes peeled, as the deep water polaroiding opportunities here are very good indeed.
In the shallow weedy bays the polaroiding opportunities leave the 19 lagoons for dead, more fish, more duns, and less anglers it seems these days! It is always worth tying the boat up and going for a walk- some very good fish can be in these areas, mostly in the mornings though.
Cloudy days will mean mayflies, and most of the bays mentioned will throw up good-sized hatches, especially if there is some decent rain falling. Mayflies love wet north easterlies. Again, don't fall into the trap of hugging the shoreline; some of the best risers will be out in the deep water.
We never seem to get too many due easterlies, which is a pity, as it is a good wind on Arthurs. The western side of Brazendale Island is hard to beat in this wind, as the beetles and cinnamon jassids get blown over some very tasty water indeed- mostly unfished for the great part of the year. Even the simple method of drifting a couple of Red Tags in the foam lines will bring some nice fish to the net on this wind- just be patient.
Wind from the east round to the south
A south easterly can be a bitterly cold wind, sometimes accompanied by a persistent drizzle that seems to soak you to the bone, despite the layers of space age fabrics. The cold wind will bring on a few duns, but never it seems in the same numbers as a wet westerly or easterly. The southern end of the lake can be ok, in such areas as Stumps Bay, Ti Tree Bay, Creely Bay and the Shack Shore in Pumphouse Bay. A south easterly is a good breeze in Jonah Bay, and right on down into the Cowpaddock, especially that wonderful little side bay, Seven Pound Bay. Sometimes I think it is called Seven Pound Bay because all the fish in it are seven to the pound! Camerons Opening is a great location in a south easterly, especially if you can get a drift onto the old dead tree on the point between the Opening and Seven Pound Bay. There seems to be a never-ending population of well conditioned two pounders around here.
In the evening there can be some good midge hatches off the trees between Creely Bay and Pumphouse Bay, especially when the wind dies off and you get some lovely slicks squiggling their way across the lake. A size 14 palmered Red Tag is really all you need.
Wind from the south round to the west
This wind is the most vindictive and dangerous wind on Arthurs. Big south westerlies have claimed plenty of lives on this lake, so be very, very cautious. Having said that though, it does provide some good fishing, even though it often means a very low pressure system. The eastern side of Brazendale can offer plenty of sheltered fishing in a south westerly, although getting around there is the major problem. Venturing across the Morass in small boats on big winds is asking for trouble- a safer way is through the Lily Ponds and down the lake that way. However, the Lily Ponds in this wind are fantastic in themselves, as there are some amazing hatches of duns in there, plus the north end of Hawk Island knocks most of the venom out of the wind. Usually the southwester will have some cloud mixed up with it, ensuring that there is something of a hatch. If you are able to access areas where the duns blow out into the deeper water you could find yourself amongst some excellent fishing action, as deep water dun feeders seem to throw caution to the wind.
Wind from the west round to the north
This direction can also blow quite fierce, but it generally is kind enough. Even when it does get up and boogie there are plenty of areas that are not only out of the wind, but also provide great fishing. The most notable of these is right next to the Jonah Bay boat ramp. In years gone by before the road was improved, and the boat ramp built anglers used to risk life and limb to get around here from the Pumphouse Bay ramp. The best shore back then was invariably the one where the camp ground is and the boat ramp. I can assure you nothing has changed, and a drift in the deeper water here with deep fished nymphs, or dries cast and retrieved do very well. An even person speeding across your drift doesn't upset the trout too much. The bay around the corner, called either Duck Bay or Woody's Bay, depending upon your heritage, is also very good in a big blow. You will get plenty of company as well. The shores around Hydro bay and Pumphouse Bay are ok as well, and Phantom can also be good, although a little hairy to get into if the lake level goes down too much.
Again the eastern side of Brazendale Island can be good, but getting there is really the domain of those with boats of 4.8 metres and above. Some big waves come through the Morass at times. I have seen them four feet high, and have heard of them higher, so take care, and of in doubt put the boat in at Jonah Bay and sneak through the Lily Ponds.
Why this is why it is
The reason that these areas fish well is due entirely to what the wind does to the trout food. There are no areas that I know of that are devoid of trout in Arthurs. It is a little like a Vegemite sandwich, they are pretty well spread out everywhere. They don't however, all feed on the same things. For example, the trout on the eastern side of the lake tend to be more opportunistic feeders, consuming mainly stick caddis, snails, scud, and anything blown onto the water, such as beetles. They don't see too many dun hatches, but certainly know what a well presented imitation looks like! At times I think there are trout in the expanses of the Sand Lake side of Arthurs that are basically pelagic in their behaviour. In spring they whale around eating clouds of daphnia, in summer they eat plenty of midges, beetles, and dry flies drifted anywhere in the deeper water, as long as they are in a foam line.
The wind blows their food around, and if you follow the wind you find the fish- essentially as simple as that. Trout on the eastern side of the lake lock in on surface food very quickly, whereas their cousins on the more fertile western side of the lake take a while to be convinced that those beetles are worth leaving the scud and nymph behind!
In summer look for shores where the wind is blowing food offshore. Look in the foam lines, as this is where it will accumulate. Where there is an accumulation of food, there will almost definitely be a corresponding number of feeding trout. Parallel winds are excellent as well, especially for mayflies, both duns and spinners.
Be patient, some of the best fishing I had last season was found by both interpreting the wind, but also by being patient. If you find a heap of duns with no fish working them, just follow them- something will turn up at some stage. The same can be said for beetles, especially if the duns finish the year early in the event of a hot sunny summer.
A few other fish finding tips
There are a few tricks that will get you onto the fish when all other signs fail. The major one of these is to watch the birds. There are five types of bird you need to look out for, ducks, swallows, robins, seagulls and crows. All of these birds eat the same food as trout. Ducks love to eat hatching nymphs and duns in shallow water. I know of a few spots where the trout and the ducks will feed on duns side by side. You need to be stealthy so as not to spook the ducks, and this scares the proverbial out of the trout!
Swallows and robins also love to eat duns. There are two behaviours to look out for. The "fly all over the place without stopping much" activity is basically the same as you and I having a look about- that's all that they are doing- looking. When they dip and hold just over the surface, this is the time to get excited, as it means they are picking duns up off the top- something we all know trout love to do as well.
Seagulls are in interesting one. Vern Barby, a great angler from Ballarat, in Victoria, told this little trick to me. On his home water of Lake Wendouree the seagulls eat millions of duns. Wherever the duns are, the seagulls will find them. Follow the gulls, find the duns, find the trout. This is exactly the same on Arthurs. Keep and eye on those squarking white blokes. They go "mate, mate, mate" whenever those duns start to hatch.
Finally the crows are great picker uppers of duns that have been blown back onto the shore. Sometimes the best dun hatches occur in shallow water, and if the wind is blowing back up the bank you might not see them on the water. The trout will, and can often be in water so shallow that their backs are in fresh air as they take each dun. The crows know this, and they will tell you- but you need to be looking!
The key aspect of Arthurs Lake is observation. Watch the wind, think about what this will do to the trout food, predict what will be hatching, or falling, and plan your location accordingly. Just because they went well in one spot yesterday, doesn't mean it will be so tomorrow. Time spent looking, looking, looking is well spent.
Neil is a trout guide and fishing author based at Great Lake. He has written and edited many fishing and boating stories and self published Essential Fly-Fishing Techniques and is about to release a new book An Introduction to Fly Fishing.