Connecting Creeks

Greg French turns his attention to stream fishing in Tasmania’s Western Lakes

I haven’t written much about the connecting streams in the Western Lakes, mainly because the lagoons and tarns are absolutely the main event. However, many of my friends in Victoria and New South Wales, who are principally stream anglers, admit that they find the lake fishing ‘out back’ rather intimidating. They frequently ask about fallback options. Generally the creeks in the Western Lakes are nowhere near as productive or stable as the high-country creeks of Victoria and NSW so often featured in FlyLife. In keeping with the rest of the Western Lakes region, the fishing is highly seasonal and often relatively difficult. Still, fastwater options abound no matter what the season or the weather. And, while I favour the lakes, some creeks provide truly spectacular sport. MAJOR RIVERS NEAR THE NINETEEN LAGOONS My favourite ‘big’ stream east of the Great Pine Tier is the River Ouse (ref#1), which is fishable upstream from Lake Augusta all the way to the Julian Lakes. Some sections are a bit overgrown with scrub, but the open stretches are a delight. Mostly the water riffles over silt and cobbles, and because of the abundance of spawning gravel it is unusually well-populated with wild trout, including a sprinkling of rainbows. Despite an abundance of small fish, bigger specimens to 2 kg or so can be found in the deeper runs, especially those with undercut banks and trailing weeds. I find the Ouse most productive when it’s running fast after spring rains and I’m prospecting with a lightly weighted nymph. But I have more fun when levels moderate in early summer and I’m polaroiding risers. In very dry conditions, when the current dwindles and warms, the big fish can be hard to find but the sprats usually remain eager. The lower James River (ref#2) where it flows through the (normally) exposed bed of the Augusta impoundment is quite a different beast to the Ouse. It has well-defined grassy banks and features a series of wide but not-too-deep broadwaters, most of which are clear and silt bottomed. Access along the banks couldn’t be easier, and although the fishing can be tough, the trout are typically 0.7–1.5 kg and well worth the effort. When the water is running a banker in spring I like to fish down and across with wet flies. When the water drops in early summer, I prefer careful polaroiding with dry flies. Rises are intermittent but glorious when you find them. In late summer and autumn the fish tend to retreat under the banks, or else become infuriatingly spooky. The upper James River (ref#3), from Lake Augusta to Pillans Lake, features scrubby banks and a mostly rocky substrate and provides classic pool-and-riffle fishing. It also boasts a few impressive broadwaters. Fishing is not easy when flows are high, but can be good fun when flows moderate — typically from mid-spring through summer into autumn — providing you are up for a bit of scrub-bashing. The trout population is not as big as that in the Ouse, and you’ll encounter fewer sprats. Blind fishing with small dry flies is bound to raise a fish or two, but I prefer polaroiding. Fish of 1–1.5 kg are typical. Often there are memorable hatches of snowflake caddis around Christmas. After that, as flows diminish, everything becomes significantly tougher. The Little Pine River (ref#4) from Ada Lagoon downstream through Hood Lagoon, Lake Booth and Lake Kay meanders through poa tussocks and moorland. This stretch is relatively narrow with deep honeycombed banks and provides year-round cover for big browns, many of which weigh 1–2 kg. It’s best fished when it’s running a banker in October and November because under these conditions the trout love to tail along the flooded margins while venturing in and out of the backwater lagoons. In summer the fish can become very spooky — most hide in the shade of the undercuts and become super-sensitive to vibrations caused by heavy footfalls on the wobbly banks. MAJOR RIVERS WEST OF THE GREAT PINE TIER The two biggest streams out west are the Pine River (ref#5,6,7) and the Nive River (ref#8,9). Upstream of Pine Tier Lagoon all the way to the first of the headwater lakes, these waters pass through forest and the banks are often heavily overgrown with tea tree and other decidedly unpleasant shrubbery. Neither river is worth fishing in high water, but both can provide fast sport in summer and autumn. At such times flows are often reduced to mere trickles, the water braiding over largely exposed beds of cobbles and boulders. Most fish are quite small, typically 0.1–0.5 kg, but there are plenty of them. In the lower reaches, you will encounter a surprisingly high percentage of rainbows, though rainbows do not seem to have established in any of the headwater lakes. A few small, grassy glades lie scattered along both rivers, most of which are quite remote and inaccessible by road. Here the rivers change mood, becoming deeper and more suitable for bigger fish. If you’re up for an adventure, I recommend locating suitable areas on Google Earth. But be prepared for a lot of scrub-bashing to get there. The Pine River upstream of Lake Antimony through to Lake Ball is much more accessible than the lower stretch. It’s a major spawning ground for lake fish, and the redds between Antimony and Silver Lake (ref#5) are something to behold. The whole stretch holds plenty of small yearlings throughout the year, and a few big post-spawners hang around until water levels drop in early summer. Rainbow Streams Small rainbows coexist with browns downstream of the headwater lakes in the Pine and Nive catchments (ref#5,6,7,8,9), and bigger rainbows coexist with browns in the Ouse above Augusta (ref#1), but the best water is the rainbow-only Mersey River above Fergusson Falls (ref#10,11,12). My favourite stretch extends upstream from Junction Lake to Lake Meston (ref#11). This is delightful pool and riffle country, featuring a beautiful pebbly substrate. It’s set in a grassy valley but many banks are overgrown with native pines and scrub. In one of those silly historical quirks that litter Tassie’s fishing regulations, the season here opens at the beginning of October, bang-smack in the peak of the spawning run when the river is chock-full of mature fish in the 0.3–1.3 kg range. Nymphing at this time can be fast and furious, especially if you’re adept at bow-and-arrow casting. Later, from late spring to late autumn, when flows abate and the spawners have retreated back to Junction and Meston, there’s usually plenty of eager tiddlers to keep dry fly enthusiasts occupied. The Mersey below Junction Lake (ref#12) is also well worthwhile, though it’s isolated from lake spawners because of Clarke Falls. The Mersey above Meston (ref#10) is a tiny overgrown gutter which fills up with big Meston fish at spawning time, but holds hardly any residents. INTERMITTENT SPOON DRAINS Some intermittent lagoons are connected during wet periods via grassy depressions that resemble spoon drains. These connections can be so shallow and narrow that many newcomers never guess they contain fish. Trout using such channels can be very secretive, and you must be constantly alert for the slightest hint of nervous water or maybe a protruding fin-tip. But once you know what to look for, spoon drains can be more productive than the lagoons themselves. In springtime I usually use a Woolly Bugger or Black Cricket, but during big summer rains I prefer a small nondescript dry fly. The only drawback is that the spoon drains are so damned ephemeral. UNDERCUT GUTTERS The real jewels among the creeks in the Western Lakes are the deep gutters that run relatively short distances between small lagoons. My favourites include Christys Creek downstream of Christys Lagoon (ref#13), the creek draining Stumps Lake (ref#14), and Powena Creek upstream of Lake Fanny (ref#15), but similar water exists here and there all over the place. Look for deep honeycombed banks and thick masses of trailing weed. In spring and early summer, when levels are moderately high but not breaking the banks, these creeks fill up with big browns, some of which weigh 2 kg and more. Polaroiding can work, but the fish are usually spooky so careful blind searching is often more productive. I prefer upstream dry-fly fishing, though sometimes you need to resort to a nymph. I’ve had fish run through the subterranean channels and leap skyward from small puddles ten metres to the side of the main channel. Breakoffs are inevitable, but with fishing this spectacular, who cares? Like so many other creeks in the Western Lakes, the fishing becomes much harder as levels drop through late summer into autumn. INSTREAM PONDS Many tiny creeks which don’t provide good fishing in their own right are punctuated by deep permanent or semi-permanent ponds, typically 3–6 m in diameter and 1–2 m deep. We call them potholes. In some systems — notably those on Chinamans Plains — each pond is likely to host one or two good trout, quite often very large ones. In order to cover as many pools as possible, some of my friends habitually walk fifteen to twenty kilometres of creek in a single day. It’s surprising how addictive this style of fishing can be. STONY CREEKS Long stretches of Powena Creek between Lake Antimony and Lake Fanny (ref#16) are wide and cobbly and contain big numbers of small trout, most of which weigh just 0.1–0.3 kg. Similar waters exist all over the place. Most of us would never choose such waters as destinations in their own right, but they can be a pleasant distraction while walking from one lake to another, especially when the fish are rising. AN HONEST OPINION I fish the Western Lakes because the lagoons and tarns provide the best wilderness trout hunting in the world. But best does not mean easy. I can sympathise with stream enthusiasts who have a hard day out back and hanker for something more familiar. The connecting creeks can be just the thing to reset your mood and give you a fresh heart to try the lakes again tomorrow.

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