Size isn't everything

Joe Riley
As the drought that grips Australia continues towards 2008, Tasmania is fast becoming one of only a handful of viable trout fisheries available to anglers who pursue trout. With Victorian lakes still hovering in the low teens percentage wise, with many rivers already at summer levels and   irrigation demands obviously high, a good percentage of the fishing pressure from the big island is being transferred to Tasmania.

Even with the continuing increase in visiting anglers we still have some amazing opportunities to fish unpressured waters with wild fish that have not needed supplemental stocking since the first trout made their way into the various rivulets and streams after being stocked on the lowland rivers nearly one hundred and fifty years ago. These fisheries are varied and challenging and give opportunities for polaroiding, dry fly fishing, challenging casting and reading intriguing water all of which can test your skills to the max while proving plenty of fish, not just one or two opportunities a day.
These fisheries are the mountain streams, or "headwaters" which feed the lowland rivers around the state. Small streams and rivers but clear and vivid with runs, boils and rapids as they drop through the hills and provide ample habitat for brown trout in plentiful numbers.  

Size isn't everything
While large trout abound around the lakes and lowland rivers, the headwater streams often hold plentiful numbers of trout somewhat smaller than their brethren in lowland and lake habitats. These fish lack nothing else though in the trout stakes, they are beautifully marked, perfectly adapted to their habitat and have all the wile and cunning required to live in small clear shallow streams.  
Often you can sneakily polaroid a small pool and see nothing but the rocks no matter how closely you examine it, however when the dry fly drifts towards the tail of the pool movement will suddenly reveal a trout as it drifts to the surface and sucks down the dry before the offering escapes into the next run. These fish blend so well with the bedrock and stone in the river that they are all but invisible without movement giving them away.
Two seasons ago I was heading to Lake Burbury one afternoon and I decided to stop and have a quick fish on the Nelson river. This beautiful overgrown river surrounded by Myrtles, King Billy Pines, Ti-tree and other Tasmanian rain forest timbers was absolutely a mass of small trout. Rainbows which were still in the yearling range waiting to drop back to the lake and in comparison brown trout which were obviously resident fish but still only small were all eager to snap up a beetle pattern drifted along runs. Twenty trout in no time and the best was a buck brown, complete with a mature head and hooked jaw, obviously king of his run which had held several trout, and he was still no more than 20cm long.
While these fish are small and often eager to take a fly they are still trout and still have the survival instinct that has seen them thrive in their respective habitats. Presentation of the fly still has to be good, a dragged dry fly in the confused currents between pockets and runs will still be ignored and poor presentation to a fish will result in it being spooked and disappearing under a rock  for the afternoon.

 Where to go
A good thing about Tasmania is that there is still plenty of room to explore. There are many rivers that get overlooked and some remarkably small streams hold plenty of trout, grab any map of Tasmania and you will soon see potential opportunities. Feeder streams of the major rivers  are a good place to look,  the Mersey River above Railton has the Dasher River feeding it, further up near Lake Rowallan there is the Arm river and the Mersey itself climbs into the Western tiers with big sets of waterfalls and reduces to a beautiful stream sized river. The South Esk river headwaters hold numerous streams where it feeds off the side of Ben Lomond, while the North East has the Ringarooma River. Similar locations can be found in the South and West of the State by following the course of the larger rivers back into the mountains by map to find suitable locations to explore. The best thing about these fisheries is there is so much room to explore that you can find water that has seen very little foot traffic and solitude is all but guaranteed.

Of course these fisheries are no place for 7 weight rods and weight forward lines, 2-4 weight rods and double taper lines are the order for this type of fishing.

Lines: With regard to lines precision replaces distance, delicate  landing on the water replaces the slap of a heavy line in shallow, small waters, and roll casting is aided by the narrowing line of a double taper. There is plenty of debate about the colour of fly lines and their ability to spook fish. To this end  I follow a couple of simple rules, in dark environments under a canopy of trees dull lines may be the go, however where you have sky clearly visible from above a light fly line is more the go. Even an overcast sky appears quite bright from below the water surface and a dark coloured lines stand out sitting on the water.
Rods: A soft actioned rod in the range of 2-4 weight is usually ideal. Most of these rods are available now in shorter lengths around 8ft which is also a bonus for tight casting in overgrown situations. Vision has recently released in Tasmania a range of 3 weight rods which have all of the characteristics of a good small river rod, and are very affordable.
Flies: On some of the headwater streams dry fly is an option right from opening day. Beetle patters as well as small mayfly and caddis representations fit the bill for accurate representations while the ever reliable Humpy and Royal Wulff are really good general patterns which always attract attention. One hint for dry flies, when the angle of the sun is low and a sheen is on the water white winged or posted flies are all but impossible to see. If you tie you own flies tie some with different coloured indicators on top of the flies, parachute flies with white, pink and red parachute posts enable you to see the fly on the water in most light conditions. Nymphs small bead head nymphs are good for early season under a dry fly, however as the water shallows in summer and fish become more spooky and unweighted nymphs are more appropriate as they will cause less disturbance when they hit the water.

Give the headwater streams a go, some can be found close to home and some are worth the drive to find them. As always when you find a piece of water please respect it and try not to remove too many fish so they will always be there for another day. These fisheries are not the kind of place you go for a feed, they are a real treat that fits well into the catch and release side of the scale.

Some fishermen who have done the work to find them guard their mountain streams like the crown jewels. I have deliberately avoided naming specific pieces of water to avoid being excommunicated by friends who have introduced me to some of their jewels. Grab a map, a light weight rod and your yearning to explore and you will soon find some of these beautiful pieces of water yourself.

Joe Riley

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