Presented from Issue 95
The Dorset River is a magic little stream that flows through Pera Flats at the foot of Mount Paris situated on the northeast corner of Tasmania near the town of Ringarooma. The “Dorset” is just one of the tributaries that flows into the very productive Ringarooma River. This small stream meanders its way down through a mix of farmland and native forest that generates all kinds of land based trout food which inevitably finds its way into the river for an opportunistic brown trout. When you add to this the ongoing aquatic lifecycles of a small stream and the competition for food amongst the fish that inhabit it, the trout become very willing to take a variety of well presented flies, lures or baits with this being one of the great attractions of fishing small streams such as this in Tasmania.
For me, anyway, fishing small streams isn’t about catching large trout. It’s about the “take” and by that I mean that magical moment when you can see a trout eat your offering. I never get tired of experiencing that moment and I suppose it’s just one reason why small streams will keep me coming back for more.
There is something very exciting about fishing new water. It doesn’t matter whether it’s an exotic overseas destination or if it’s that previously unfished stream in your home state. The sense of adventure, anticipation and the thought of what might be achieved during a day on the water remains the same.
It was this need to discover and experience new water in my home state that led Simon Hedditch and I to fish the Dorset River. Simon is another like- minded small stream enthusiast, who, like me, thinks nothing of travelling a few hundred kilometres just to fish a trout stream. Our plan was to be on the river by 10am.
The day starts to warm up around then and typically so does the fishing. So, after a short detour into Scottsdale to grab a morning coffee and lunch, we pulled out the map to find a back road that could give us access to the river. We approached a farmhouse that looked like it may belong to the property owner and knocked on the door to ask permission to access the river across their land. Thankfully the land owner’s past experiences with other fisherman had all been good and access was happily granted. It doesn’t take much to do the right thing when crossing private property. Small things like leaving gates as you find them, taking your rubbish with you and reporting any problems with livestock or fences goes a long way to maintain a healthy relationship between land owners and future anglers.
We parked the car off the road and made our way down to the river. The day was perfect with blue skies and a light breeze blowing from the north making it ideal for sight fishing. The river is a typical freestone stream that is crystal clear with farm land on one side and native forest on the other. When Simon and I fish a small stream like this, we like to team up with one person fishing and the other spotting and taking a few photos along the way. This system works really well for us, as it can be just as much fun to capture the action on film as it is with the rod.
As expected, it didn’t take long to spot the first fish of the day lying in a shallow pool below a large boulder mid-stream. Simon was first on the rod while I stayed beyond the back cast, to enjoy the hook up from a different perspective. Simon soon had a couple of false casts slicing through the morning sunlight with his little 2 weight rod, as he lengthened the cast, before finally delivering a size 16 Royal Wulff ahead of the fish. The small dry floated down stream with a perfect drag free drift and Simon was rewarded with the fly disappearing with a gentle sip. The rod was lifted into a fish that looked to be well over a pound in weight. From my position, the lightweight rod just seemed to keep bending as it took the weight of a fish charging around the pool. Of course, Simon was loving the sensation of fighting a fish of this size on his 2 weight rod.
When you use a rod that actually bends under the weight of a small fish and you no longer have the ability to just muscle a fish in after the hook up, all of a sudden you find yourself having to use all of the fighting techniques you would normally use when fighting a much larger river or lake fish on a 6-weight rod. You need to think quickly on these small streams, as these fish can have you stitched up under the bank in seconds. These light rods bend a long way before the brakes come on to stop a fish. Because of this, you often need to apply some serious side strain, as soon as the hook goes in, to pull a fish out of a tight situation. Watching your mate get stitched up by these small river fish is also all part of the fun of fishing small streams. Simon’s first fish of the day wasn’t about to disappoint as it shot up stream between Simon’s legs leaving him dancing around in the middle of the river trying to step over the line. Simon quickly regained his composure and led the fish out of the fast water where he was able to remove the fly and return the fish back to the river.
We changed roles, Simon was now the photographer and I was the lucky one with the rod. I was using my 7 foot 1 weight rod with one of my deer hair versions of a size 10 Chernobyl Ant. This buggy looking fly, with its rubber legs, sits low in the water and lands with a splat, signalling that food has just landed in the river. This type of fly can be deadly during the warmer months and it didn’t take too long before it was eaten by another quality fish and I regained my role of photographer and spectator as Simon took his turn on the rod.
We continued to make our way upstream allowing the Dorset to reveal more of its pools and runs as we explored this new water. The Dorset has some of those classic grasshopper banks where the river meets the edge of a grassy paddock that is loaded with grasshoppers. When you find a deep pool alongside one of these banks you know there is going to be a good fish living nearby. On a blue-sky day, pools such as these are a great place to put the rod to one side and just watch from a high vantage point for a while to find the biggest fish of the pool.
On one of these pools, Simon and I watched at least six good fish swimming its length. As it was now Simon’s turn on the rod, I kept a close eye on the largest fish of the pool while Simon moved into position at the head of the pool, listening to my commentary of the comings and goings as each of the smaller fish passed by. When the larger fish came into view it was already making its way up to the head of the pool towards Simon. I relayed the location of the approaching fish to Simon who promptly made the cast well ahead of the fish. The small Chernobyl Ant landed a metre off the bank in the back eddy of the pool. I lost sight of the fish as it entered the deep water at the head of the pool.
Our eyes were fixed on the small Chernobyl as it sat motionless, unaffected by the main flow of the river. Then, as if in slow motion, the fish drifted up from the depths and gently sipped in the fly and turned back down into the pool. The hook was set and the silence of the pool was soon broken as Simon let out a satisfying laugh with the fish thrashing and rolling at the surface before finding its head and slogging it out deep in the pool. Yet another quality brown from the Dorset was quickly released so that we could explore more of this fantastic little stream while we still had time
There are many streams like the Dorset in Tasmania and they all have their own challenges to make a day’s fishing very rewarding. Many rivers, such as these, offer easy stretches to fish that are unobstructed by trees. These open stretches allow someone who is new to the sport easy casting and a good chance of landing a few fish. At the other end of the scale there are always those stretches that will test the casting ability and patience of some of the more advanced casters among us. That is, if they choose to fish those almost un-fishable pools that most anglers would bypass. These are the places where you get one chance and one chance only, to pull off that miracle cast in under trees and over logs, to reach a fish that has probably never seen a fly drift that part of the river before. Believe me, if you get a fish to take your fly after pulling off a cast like that, it won’t matter how big the fish is, the reward will be in making the cast and seeing that fish rise up to your fly. These small streams are the places where you can throw caution to the wind to make that impossible cast, knowing full well that if you get the fly caught in a tree or spook a fish that you can simply wade over and retrieve your fly and move onto the next pool that will have just as many fish and another challenging place for you to place a fly.
Flies There are many flies that will produce fish in a small stream. Traditional dry flies such as the Royal Wulff, Iron Blue Dun, Parachute Nymphs, Elk Hair Caddis and the Shaving Brush, just to name a few, are all worthy of a small stream fly box, as is the growing popularity of all kinds of foam based terrestrial type fly patterns such as small Chernobyl Ants and Stu Tripney’s Bionic Bugs. There’s just something about a low floating, buggy type fly, with rubber legs, that trout find irresistible. This same concept has led me to create my own version that has a little more hair and feather than some of the all-foam flies such as the original Chernobyl Ant. I call it “Craig’s Hair Chernobyl” but some of my fishing mates refer to it as “Craig’s Horror” in reference to its ugly appearance. For me, as long as it catches fish, I am more than happy to have it referred to as ugly. Besides, there’s nothing better than catching a fish on one of your own creations.
When it comes to wet flies, a small brown or black nymph will produce fish. Another favourite of mine is a small size 16 or 14 black beetle. Any of these flies can be fished upstream while watching the leader for any pauses to signal the fly has been eaten, or slowly worked back on those big slow pools. Using an indicator above any one of these flies can also help if you find it hard to see your leader. Alternatively, you could simply use your dry fly as an indicator by tying a short dropper from the bend of the hook. This will then suspend a nymph or beetle at whatever depth you choose. The only thing to remember with this setup is that if a fish decides to take your dry fly instead of the nymph or beetle, make sure you pause before setting the hook, just as you would with any other dry fly.