West Coast - Pieman River - Reece Dam
Around 14 years ago, a workmate and keen fly fisher spoke of a mighty river, where the whitebait were so thick you could almost walk across them, and as far as the eye could see there were trout of all sizes smashing them on the surface. Only in my dreams had I seen such a place. I thought he was exaggerating. He said you could stand in the one spot and catch 20 or 30 fish in a couple of hours. He also said while he had only caught fish to 5 lbs, there were fish in double figures taken there every year. This was all I could take - I said, "Right, when are we going?!" Three weeks later we were there.
The river he spoke of was indeed the Pieman River. We arrived at Reece Dam at daybreak after an hour and a half drive from Burnie; the Reece Dam being the name of the huge dam wall on Lake Pieman. As we drove down to the power station at the base of the dam, you could see the massive volume of water churning out of the turbines, creating the headwaters of the Pieman. My mate Paul mumbled, "Awesome, she's crankin-'. A few seconds later we stopped the car at a boom gate. "Come on', he said, "bring your waders, we'll go across to the other side, there's more room to fly fish."
I didn't ask questions. We walked around the steep track behind the power station and waded across what's known as Stringers Creek. As we crossed we spooked at least four or five fish in the shallows and just metres away there were trout chopping the bait. Paul wasn't fazed by this action and proceeded around to the main river. I, however, couldn't help myself and put my fly rod together then and there.
In the first 20 minutes I managed three small fish and one "keeper" about 2 lbs. I was stoked, I'd only been fly fishing for two years and just as I was thinking "It can't get any better than this', Paul appeared waving his arms and shouting something in the distance. I thought I had better see what all the fuss was about. As I dropped my gear next to his, I noticed the four fat trout he had next to his bag. They were all around 1.5 to 2 lbs. "That's nothing', he yelled, "I've let another eight go'. We'd only been there for 45 minutes!
I walked down next to Paul and he said, "get a cast out there and hang on. Don't strike, they will hook themselves', he said. Sure enough, bang! I was on, first cast.
We stood side by side going fish for fish for about three hours until the sun got too bright and slowed things up somewhat. I think the final tally was Paul 25 and me 21; only keeping five fish each, the best of which was about 3 lbs. And, while we didn't catch any monsters, it was everything he said it would be.
Since that day I try to do at least four or five trips every year. It's possible to catch some nice fish there all season but peak times are from mid-October to mid-December when the whitebait are thickest. The bait runs vary from year to year depending on rainfall mostly.
The old fly rod doesn't see much action these days as I'm hooked on the soft plastics. I've found that most of the fish you see chopping the bait are the smaller fish, and these are the fish you would catch on the fly. The big trout are almost always down deep.
Two years ago at the Reece, just before dark, I hooked and lost a fish that I will never forget. I cast my big 80 mm Squidgey out in the middle, let it sink for three or four seconds and just as I clicked my bail over and took up the slack, bang! The big fish hooked itself and screamed down river 50 or 60 metres, slowed for a split second, then decided it had had enough and almost spooled me before cutting me off on a rock. I sat down still excited, yet totally gutted at what might have been.
I was only running 6 lb mono at the time. I've landed Atlantic salmon up to 16 lbs from Strahan and Lake Barrington on the same gear, but it was no match for this fish in the fast water. About half hour later when I'd almost composed myself, I hooked another fish that went just under 5 lbs. I landed this fish easily. These days I use 8lb Bass Hard Braid with a 10lb fluorocarbon leader. I'll be ready next time.
Many different style lures will work at the Reece. If you're into the plastics, you can't go past Squidgy fish, Berkley Minnows or Firebait Minnows. The lead painted slug style lures in dark colours to match the dark whitebait work extremely well. Smiths Wobblers homemade slices or roofing nail lures work as good as anything in the fast water. The fish sit in the current waiting for the food to wash past so they will snap at just about anything. Try a Black Matuka as a dropper fly, they will often catch more fish than the lure. On a few occasions I have caught two trout at once! Where else in Australia could you do that I ask? You will have to weed through the many hundreds of smaller fish at the Reece but your patience will be rewarded. If you want to target a large fish, use a big lure, down deep, simple as that.
Beware of a big log out in the middle, although I believe this is where the big fish lie in ambush. Other similar places to try are the Bastyan power station on the way to the Reece Dam; also the power station where Lake Mackintosh runs into Lake Rosebery. There are obviously no whitebait so far inland, so there aren't big numbers of fish, but if you hook one, chances are it might be of trophy proportions.
Unfortunately, I have to finish on a darker note. It seems everywhere you go these days there are always one or two irresponsible people leaving rubbish lying around. My last trip to the Reece I was confronted with empty cans, bottles, lure packets and bundles of line everywhere. It's no wonder more and more great places like this are being closed to the public. So please, take out what you bring in and let's keep this beautiful place as pristine as it should be.