Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Tasmania

I thought I would arrive in Australia in January to sun and heat, the height of summer here, and packed only a single fleece. Big mistake. The first ten days of my camping trip in Tasmania could have been spent back in the UK for all I know, or any other European country gripped by winter at the moment. It was cold and wet and the wind blew a gale and always annoyingly downstream when I was out on a river. Even the headline of a local newspaper cried “Where has our summer gone?” My 900g sleeping bag, supposedly meant to keep its occupant warm and alive at a minimum temperature of -2C, proved no match for single digit degrees and I had to suffer until I got from Hobart to Launceston (there is nothing in between but fishing and rolling hills covered either by dry looking grey-green eucalypt forest or pasture) where I could hit the shops and splurge on thermals and warm clothing. Being under prepared for the weather almost, but didn’t, put a dampener on the novelty of fishing a new state and the thrill of camping in the trees with a log fire and the sound of a trout stream lulling me to sleep (except some nights my Bear Grylls skills couldn’t get a fire lit in the rain…and some nights it was too wet to contemplate). Just as I leave the weather has improved dramatically and temperatures are anticipated to rise to the 30s this week. Typical. This isn’t a pity plea but rather a reminder to anyone intending to come to Tasmania to pack warm. The old adage ‘four seasons in one day’ is very apt in this part of the world. It’s also a good idea not to plan your itinerary too inflexibly and to be prepared to adapt your plans to the weather conditions.

Camping in better weather at Myrtle Bank

Despite the inclement weather I was able to pick up fish in every river I stepped into but one, so the trip has been a success (trout eluded me on possibly the most renowned of them all, Brumby‘s Creek, but I couldn‘t devote much time to it because the wind was blowing a gale). I even caught one particular river (the Mersey) on a hot still day at the end of my trip and the fishing was exceptional, one of those blue ribbon days when the trout were looking up and hungry for dry flies.

The Florentine River

Tasmania is of course known for its exceptional wilderness lake fishing. One cold morning I even got as far as the end of the 2WD dirt track at Lake Ada, the springboard for a hike into the wilderness to fish the innumerable lakes and lagoons where sight fishing for large brown trout is the game. I had a backpack packed and was ready to go but the weather was just too foul and the wind too strong. The hike and fishing would have been uncomfortable and I would have had no price polaroiding fish with no sun and choppy water. I brewed a cup of coffee in the parking lot hoping for a break in the weather but instead it started to drizzle. I decided to push on north to fish the rivers near Launceston, which I hoped would at least be a little more shielded from the winds. At the back of my mind I felt if the weather improved and time permitted I would make my way back to the central plateau to fish the lakes but in the end I never got round to it. I was having too much fun exploring the rivers of the north east and north west. So I guess this is a report a little unusual for Tasmania, with no lake fishing to speak of.

The Styx River

I started my trip in Hobart and was glad when I eventually got on the road in my hire car and out of the stuffy hostel dorm room. I headed a short distance north west towards the Styx, Florentine and Tyenna rivers. On the way I stopped in at the Salmon Ponds Hatchery on the Plenty River which is the first place where trout ova were reared in the southern hemisphere. I paid my Aus$2 for a tub of pellets and had fun throwing them at the trout and ugly salmon. It was warm and bright that first day (a Saturday) when I set up an informal camp in the Styx Forest on the banks of the tannin stained Styx River. The river looks dark and foreboding, presumably why it is named after the river in Greek mythology. I caught nine trout in a few hours of glorious evening sunshine, saw a platypus, and went to sleep content and flush in new adventure. It was so warm that I went to sleep in a t-shirt and sleeping shorts… but that soon changed at about 1am when I woke up chilled to the core. It had started to rain and little did I know that I wouldn‘t see a completely rain free or cloudless day for another nine days. It was only a light rain at first but enough to make me move my tent to higher ground in the morning and worry about my 2WD sedan getting out on the short but steep and now puddled dirt track back to the Styx Forest road. It all worked out fine in the end and I skidded my way out the next morning. It was however a wet and blustery day on the Styx and I only managed four trout in the vicinity of the beautiful Big Tree Reserve where the river is especially scenic. The best fish was 13 inches. I spotted it rise against the left bank just before a torrential downpour which lasted a couple of minutes. I stood stock still while the rain pelted down noisily on my rain jacket, all the while marking the place where I saw the rise. When the shower passed I cast a CDC & Elk to the left bank and it was immediately snatched by the trout.

That night I was woken up at 3am by some noisy animal intent on entering my tent to get at my salami (possibly a Tasmanian Devil but more likely a possum I guess - I‘d like to think it was a Devil) and from then on all food remained locked in the car boot.

Typical colouration of a Tasmanian river trout

The Florentine was a strange river. Also tannin stained the colour of dark roast coffee, it consisted of deep, slow moving pools which were eerily quiet. It was a hard slog beating my way through the bush to get around the deep water and stone cliffs but I found no riffles or wadeable water after some way so I beat my way back through the bush a little disconsolately at the wasted effort. When I got back to the car I noticed a couple of rises downstream of the bridge and I entered the water below, very different limestone water with trailing weeds which was shallow enough to wade and clear enough to spot fish which were lying between the weeds rising to little olive mayflies. I could have been on the Derbyshire Wye! I missed the first four rises to my olive CDC fly but then got serious and caught the next two, both about 12 or 13 inches. It was fun casting to fish in such clear water and seeing them react to the fly. Most patterns were simply rejected, some after interminable scrutiny.
A trout from the North Esk

The Tyenna is probably the most popular river near Hobart and I caught it on a good day. It was mostly sunny and the water level had dropped a fraction from the day before. I accessed the river from a railway line in the vicinity of Mt Field National Park and had a great day catching sixteen fish in total. The biggest was around 14 inches but I lost a bigger fish which must have been about 16 or 17 inches. The Tyenna is a fast flowing river and whilst I could have landed the fish if I had a landing net, I just couldn’t get the fish to me in the strong current. When I reached down to hold the tippet with my hand, unable to move up or down the bank and the fish agonisingly close, the fly dislodged and the fish was off. I saw four platypus that day too.

Tyenna trout

A typical Tasmanian gravel road. Is that a top hat?

I pushed on north, stopping to look at Lake Echo, Great Lake and Arthur’s Lake along the way, all big, daunting waters for a shore fisherman and, quite frankly, so big and monotonous that I’d be bored fishing them. I got to Launceston and did what all modern travellers do these days - looked for a plug socket to charge my phone and found some free wifi to check my emails and send a Whatsapp or two. Launceston felt a little more interesting and upbeat than Hobart, but I couldn’t tell you why.

The headwaters of the St Patrick's River

A trout from the Great Forester River

In the north east I camped on the banks of the St Patrick’s River and from there fished the St Patrick’s, Great Forester, North Esk and South Esk rivers. In the north west I camped on the banks of the Meander river and fished the Meander, Mersey and Leven rivers. The best of the lot by a country mile was the Mersey, even though this river had the smallest average size fish. It could not have been any more different from the River Mersey at Liverpool in the north west of England! I probably just caught it on the right day when everything including the weather clicked but besides that it is remote and set in beautiful scenery, is crystal clear and relatively easy to wade. It’s trout were quick to rise to a dry fly too. It was from the Mersey that I caught the largest fish of the trip, a brute of over 20 inches which had unusually few spots. Fishing up a shallow riffle I spotted a large snout break the surface and casually sip in some hapless insect, then again after a few seconds. My pulse quickened at the sight of it. I cast the fly I had on at that moment, a Royal Wulff, but it elicited no response so I changed to a Parachute Adams. The very first cast saw the fly submerged in a gentle boil of water and elated, I lifted the rod into the biggest fish I had caught that day. It was a fish of 13 inches and whilst obviously pleased I thought to myself how misleading fish can sometimes look in the water, often appearing larger than the reality. But I was sure I had seen a much larger fish to I flicked the Parachute Adams out again after giving it a quick dry and this time there was no mistaking the size of the snout which broke the water’s surface and swallowed the fly so nonchalantly. A fish of 20 inches plus fights a bit differently to a fish of 13 inches, using its full weight and boring down into any deep and dark space it can find, trying to grind out a war of attrition. I prayed my tippet would hold and when I released the fish I noticed my hook had almost bent straight.

The best fish of the trip


The Mersey

The most scenic river was the St Patrick’s, followed by the Mersey, upper Meander, Styx and upper South Esk. I’d recommend all of these rivers to anyone bound for Tasmania. I’m naturally biased towards freestone rivers though, and many people who spend a lot of time fishing in Tasmania prefer the broad, smooth flowing pastoral rivers. My most memorable catch came from a pastoral stream - the North Esk. It had been a tough day with little interest from the fish but right at the end of the day I came across what I could tell was a decent sized fish rising consistently to something. I never did work out what it was. Something miniscule. I must have thrown about 5 or 6 different dry fly patterns to the fish over the course of about half an hour, and once or twice it came up and tracked my fly for a second or two before deciding otherwise. Eventually a moment of genius dawned on me (so it turned out) as I tied on a small nymph pattern with only a hint of exasperation. I cast it to the fish and with no apparent doubt in its mind it took the nymph as soon as it saw it. It was a plump fish of 16 inches.


North West Tasmania

So is Tasmania worth a separate trip especially given its proximity to New Zealand? I’d say so. Fish were abundant and I could reasonably expect and did catch good numbers of fish in the 13 to 16 inch range every outing with a few sightings of much larger fish. There are plenty of rivers to choose from in a small geographic area making it easy to move from river to river and of course the wildlife is completely unique. In some places the little state is trout mad, like Cressy, where all the street signs are in the shape of trout. I like little things like that. And on top of it all I didn’t even have time to try the famous lakes and lagoons. Yes, Tasmania is worth it and doesn’t deserve to be judged by its close neighbour.


This was taken at the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Centre, not in the wild where these things are almost impossible to see

Speaking of which, I’ve just arrived in New Zealand…

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