Finding the action
by Greg French
Judging from the number of inquiries I have received in recent months it is high time for a review of Tassie's fly fishing options, especially with a view to helping the occasional angler who is forever perplexed by the fundamental questions of "When should I take my holidays?" and "Where should I fish today?'.
So how do you make these decisions? Do you guess that with all those hundreds of top-quality lakes, streams and estuaries it hardly matters. Do you think it is good enough to simply wet your line in whatever big-name water you happen upon?.
Maybe you are a connoisseur, determined to experience one of the Island State's acknowledged highlights - red spinner hatches on the Macquarie River, sea trout on the West Coast, polaroiding in the Western Lakes wilderness?
Be warned, more often than not rigid adherence to one or other of these tactics is a recipe for disaster. Many new comers and occasional anglers misunderstand the nature of the Tasmanian trout fishery and become bitterly disappointed. Let's talk about what you can do to increase your chances of taking trout.
What is special about Tasmanian trouting?
Stalking fish is the name of the game. To get the best value out of a fishing trip it is important to choose venues where you stand the best chance of polaroiding cruising fish, seeing risers or locating tailers. You must keep in mind that trout behaviour varies from water to water and that the weather will make one or other feeding pattern more probable than the rest.
Few newcomers are fully prepared for the vagaries of the Tasmanian climate. Our weather is mindbogglingly fickle. One day it may be pouring with rain and blowing a gale, the next it could be snowing, the next it could be a blue-sky scorcher. Even in summer you are likely to experience these extremes, sometimes all in the one day (and that is no exaggeration). Moreover, winds have a tendency to spring up and die away without warning, according to no pattern whatsoever.
The one definite plus is that, unlike the situation in Victoria and New South Wales, it is rarely hot enough for long enough to force trout out of the shallows or down from the surface. You can use floating lines year round and, if sight fishing is your passion, you need never resort to sinking lines.
An overview of where to fish
Unfortunately, many of Tasmania's fishing "highlights', those events we journalists extol as exciting and/or different, are dependent upon exacting weather conditions. Yes, there will be a phenomenal hatch of red spinners on the Macquarie sometime in late spring or early summer, but it is unlikely the weekend you allocated three months earlier will see the water levels just so, nor could you reasonably expect that the weather will be perfectly calm and warm. Similarly, sea trout fishing is at the mercy of floods, not to mention the extent and timing of the whitebait migrations.
No matter how much you have been inspired by David Scholes, Tony Ritchie and the rest of us, the reality is that the most reliable sport is going to be found at the high-profile lakes on the Central Plateau. Even here you cannot be guaranteed that conditions will favour any specific fly fishing method or location - but you can rest assured that on any day, fish will be on the move somewhere.
What time of year should I take my holidays?
To get the best of what the State has to offer you should plan to fish sometime from mid October to late March. If you wish to get a chance at tailers, the period from October to December is prime time. On the other hand, polaroiding and fishing to risers are at their best from Christmas until early autumn.
Where to go when it is wet and dull in spring
Dull weather is ideal for tailing fish. The action peaks when the lakes are high and the verges sodden from heavy rain. Frogs are the staple diet, though drowned terrestrials and worms may also cause intense activity. First light to sun-up and mid afternoon to dark are the best times to fish, though if it is sufficiently dull the trout will forage about throughout the day.
The feature water for wet fly fishing is Bronte Lagoon, especially the lee shores of the tussock marshes in Tailers Bay, along the Long Shore, in Woodwards Bay and about the western end of Woodwards Broadwater. You will have timed things perfectly if the lake is rising after recent rain or at a sustained high level. If the lake is low you will still be able to rely on the dawn patrol.
Another reliable fishery for frog feeders is Lake Echo. Nowadays there is road access to the marshes in the north-western corner of the impoundment - Teal Bay, Large Bay and Broken Bay - though you really need a high-clearance vehicle.
Hot spot number three is Little Pine Lagoon. Here the trout will usually be preoccupied with tiny amphipods in the weedy shallows. Often you will encounter dozens of fish, hence the ongoing fascination, but fooling them can be a tough call. Use a small nymph and try to cover lots of different fish. The best shores are the Tailers Shore, the Cricket Pitch and the Western Shore. Low water is rarely a problem at this time of year and, although the lake is exposed, the breeze, if not too strong, actually helps the fishing.
In wet years there is also exceptional fishing along the northern shore of Tungatinah Lagoon and the south-western shore of Lake Binney
Bright days in spring
The aforementioned waters are still your best bets but things are going to be a little tougher - bright light is not conducive to tailing. Take every advantage of low light conditions at dawn and dusk.
In the middle of the day the fish will stay out a little deeper but you can usually polaroid cruisers providing the water is clear enough. The marshes at Lake Echo are be hard to beat in this regard.
Other good daytime options for polaroiding springtime cruisers are Tungatinah Lagoon, Lake Binney and the western bays of Great Lake.
Hot, blue-sky days in summer
These are the days that Tasmanian fly fishers live for! - polaroiding at its best. You are still likely to find tailing fish along suitable shores at morning and dusk but the key time to be out on the water is from 10 am to 4 pm when the sun is at its highest and visibility at its peak. For best results you must select a venue with clear water and a substrate which does not offer too much camouflage. My favourite waters include the north-western bays of Lake Echo, all of St Clair Lagoon, the Franklin Beaches and Cynthia Bay at Lake St Clair, the western side of Great Lake, and even selected shores of the Bradys chain of lakes. The Western Lakes are both exceptional and delightfully unique but the catch rate is low and you may wish to delay a visit until you have already notched up a few trout from easier waters.
An effective method, especially where the water is deepish, is to look for fish from the bank. Choose a lee shore and walk as much bank as possible - the biggest mistake new comers make is to fish too long in the one spot.
Where there are shoreline shallows the use of chest waders is essential. If you are fishing along a shelf or lip, it pays to move out from the bank and polaroid back in towards shore. In these situations I usually opt for a sheltered shore and move cautiously.
Where there are extensive flats you can wade well out from shore and use wind to advantage. Rhythmic waves (as opposed to scatty riffle) open up the water and give a better view of the trout. Wade down wind and be on the look out for moving shadows and stationary anomalies.
Even if there is no obvious rise (usually the case), most polaroiding enthusiasts opt to use a buoyant dry fly. You can't be too dogmatic about these things, however, and if you get consistent refusals it is time to change to a small nymph.
Hot overcast days in summer
Cloudy dull weather is usually disastrous for polaroiding, especially if associated with breezy riffle. However, if the air is warm conditions will be ideal for mayfly hatches. Use such weather to fully exploit the ever reliable rises at Arthurs Lake (Pumphouse Bay, Hydro Bay, Jonah Bay, Cowpaddock Bay, Sevenpound Bay, The Opening) and Little Pine Lagoon. If you want to stay closer to Bronte Park, there are good hatches at Bronte Lagoon (Fly Corner to Red Rocks Shore) and good beetle falls on Pine Tier Lagoon.
Peak fishing usually occurs from 10 am to 4 pm, so don't plan lunch for the middle of the day. Although calm conditions are usually best, some venues (notably Little Pine Lagoon) can offer surprising activity even when things are quite windy. What really stems the rise is very bright weather or extreme cold.
Foul, cold days in summer
If you are combining family responsibilities with fishing and you have a flexible timetable, these are the days to devote to activities other than fishing. But if you are super-keen to fish at all costs rest assured that persistent prospecting with a nymph or wee wet will usually lure up a fish or two. The shallow weed beds in Lake Echo, Arthurs Lake and Bronte Lagoon, or the rocky shores of Great Lake and Lake Sorell, are as good as anywhere. Never let a lack of anticipation to allow you to slip into thoughtlessness - cover as much water as possible, never give up on polaroiding and always be on the look out for rises, bow-waves or tails.
Changing horses mid stream
It is quite normal for experienced locals to fish two or three waters in the one day. However, a well considered tactic (perhaps starting with a dawn session looking for tailers at Bronte, spending the middle of the day polaroiding at Lake St Clair, and returning to Bronte for the evening rise) should not to be confused with the reactionary approach adopted by many less confident anglers.
Consider that you have noted cloudy, warm conditions and opted to spend the day at Cowpaddock Bay, Arthurs Lake. When you arrive at 10 am things are glassy calm and the water is dotted with duns. The fish have just started rising, clops and splashes being clearly audible a couple of hundred metres back from shore. No sooner do you reach the lake edge than the wind springs up and the fish disappear. You wade out a little, look and wait. After a while you tie on a small nymph and begin blind searching, but an hour later the wind is still there and there has been no reaction to the fly.
Doubt casts its shadow and quickly becomes gangrenous. Maybe Arthurs will be a complete waste of time. Perhaps it would be better to move on to Great Lake or Little Pine.
Stay where you are!
Okay, it is not likely to be a red letter day but what are you going to achieve by moving on? Do you really think that these conditions will create ideal fishing conditions at other waters? One thing is certain - you will not catch any fish while flitting about in your car.
On the other hand, if you persist where you are you will likely find that occasionally the wind dies out, even if for just for just 15 minutes or half an hour at a time. During these brief periods the fish will rise furiously and you will be amply rewarded. Even if the rise does fail, time spent systematically prospecting with a nymph should eventually prompt at least one or two strikes.
It is difficult to overstate this advice, especially to beginners and visitors. Allow me to reiterate - once you have committed yourself to a water, fish it for all its worth. Even if it seems futile on the day, you will compile a chapter on the water which you will use to immense advantage on another occasion. Leave too early and will have gained nothing except bitterness.
When all else fails
Perhaps you have been fishing for a few days or even the best part of a week. The weather has not let up - grey skies; cold, driving wind. You are, to put it mildly, jaded. You've forgotten the dreams of grassing a dozen three-pounders in a session - now you despair that your holiday might not yield a single fish! Perhaps the weather will abate tomorrow, perhaps it won't, but you need a place where you can be assured of success.
The Pump Pond, near Tarraleah, carries small (300-500 g) browns and is not often fished. However, it literally teems with trout and on any day, in almost any weather, you are likely to find at least a few tailing, rising or just cruising. A couple of pounders from here will lift your spirits and give you the confidence to return to the feature waters nearby.
Mossy Marsh Pond is less sheltered than the Pump Pond and access along the banks is more difficult, but it too supports an enormous head of browns. If it is reasonably calm you will find plenty of risers and, if there is some sun, polaroiding will be productive. Expect fish of 300-700 g.
Clarence Weir is also full of small trout and, though slightly less reliable than the two other waters, it nevertheless offers even the novice a good chance of bagging fish.
If you become overwhelmed by lake fishing and hanker for something a little more reliable, you should try fishing some small streams. Since the Central Plateau has little to offer in this regard you may wish to look at a few of our lowland fastwaters, perhaps the Weld, Tyenna, Leven, St Patricks or upper North Esk rivers, all of which are reliably productive in summer and autumn when the water is low and clear. Take your waders and try upstream nymphing or dry fly fishing. The trout may be small (mostly 200-500g) but you will rarely be skunked.
What about all those other famous waters?
The advice offered in this article is directed to shore-based anglers who wish to taste as much fishing action as possible. It only recommends waters which give up fish relatively easily and are reliable in both wet and dry years. Other first class waters - those best suited to boat fishing, those which do not fire every year and those which give up relatively few fish - are excluded.
There is every likelihood that something extra special will be happening during your holidays: sea trout in the Derwent, frog feeders in the marshes at Lake Sorell, mudeye migrations at Lake Pedder - the list is endless. When you pop into a local tackle store, make sure you take time to chat with the staff. They will be only too pleased to tell you where the action is and to give you plenty of invaluable tips.