Extreme Streams

Greg French tackles some rarely fished Tasmanian headwaters

The middle and lower reaches of Tasmania’s bigger streams have their own delights, including big fish and wonderfully technical fishing, but whenever I feel overworked or mentally exhausted I retreat to headwater creeks which are safely reserved in National Parks and World Heritage Areas. In these places, because of the shallow currents and absence of willows, blackberries and gorse, I can move quickly upstream and give myself a thoroughly decent workout. I also savour the cool, super-clean water and pristine landscapes. No doubt about it: mountain streams are the ultimate balm for body and soul. Lawrence Rivulet We’ve just driven down the Florentine valley, once home to the world’s tallest forests, and turned onto the Westfield Road. Now we are standing on the crude road bridge spanning Lawrence Rivulet. The sun is just coming up, and we can see that the water is low and clear. Good — the wading will be easy and the rainbows eager. This area was heavily logged in the 1950s, right to the water’s edge, but the regeneration is thick enough for the canopy to have closed-over. The new trees are twenty metres tall but small in diameter, and the under-storey is nothing but soft green moss. Scattered amongst them are giant moss-covered stumps, shaggy mammoths standing like sentinels in some post-apocalyptic dreamscape. Some of these stumps are more than five metres in diameter. They have been cut off above the buttressing, two or three metres above the ground. You can see the shoe holes (springboard notches) in which the old time loggers slipped planks. Close your eyes, and the creek echoes the zizz-zizz of giant hand-held crosscut saws. We hop back into the car, take the first right-hand turnoff, and keep driving until we reach the western boundary of Mount Field National Park, where the road becomes overgrown with young myrtle trees. From here we walk another kilometre to the road terminus, an old siding. We scramble down a steep incline, past numerous bodies of long abandoned saw logs, all rotting and mossy. At the foot of the cliff is a pool, and Ric’s first three casts result in three brilliantly coloured rainbows. I like the thrill of hunting big, difficult trout, but I can catch thirty half-pounders in a beautiful creek like the Lawrence and still look forward to catching another thirty tomorrow. Ric’s casting starts off a bit rusty — he hooks more than the requisite number of trees and loses some of his new home-tied flies — but he’s soon making amends, even executing perfect long-distance bow-and-arrow casts. The fishing is so good that by the time we’ve made our way 4 km upstream — out of the rainforest, past the pandani groves, onto the first valley-moor — it’s early evening. I suggest that we stop fishing and make a dash to Lake Hayes, the high-altitude source of the Lawrence. The lake is small but holds bigger rainbows, most around 1 kg, some much better, and it would be good to catch the evening rise. Ric responds by wondering if we’ll beat the rain. I look up. Where in hell did that black storm cell come from? By the time we reach the lakeshore it’s teeming, and lightning is forking the exposed ridge tops. Fishing is out of the question. We get into warmer clothes and rain jackets, and clamber up the steep scrubby slopes of The Watcher. By the time we reach the dolerite tops — and the walking track — we will have come 7 km and climbed 750 m. From there we’ll walk another 10 km along a well defined track through the Newdegate Pass and along the Tarn Shelf back to the Lake Dobson carpark, where we left my car. Then we’ll have to drive 60 km back through the Florentine Valley to pick up Ric’s car, then another 150 km back to Hobart. We should be home by 3.00 a.m. It sounds daunting, but isn’t. We’ve had a good day. Nile River Walking up the Nile is my idea — I want to see if there is a small barrier fall that stops trout getting onto the Ben Lomond Plateau and into Lake Youl, which I know to be trout free. Ric can’t do an overnighter, so it’s going to be another big day. We leave home at 5.00 a.m. and drive three hours to where the Fishers Tier Road crosses the headwaters of the Nile. The water is higher than we would like. Instead of being ridiculously clear, there is a hint of tannin. And instead of being able to walk up wide esplanades of exposed shingle on both sides of the current, some riffles extend from bank to bank. We wonder if we can drive further upstream, and by going a kilometre back the way we came we find a rugged forestry spur road that takes us 5 km to the western boundary of the National Park. Even this far into the forest, we are only 700 m above sea level. From here we need to walk 11 km up the creekbed, gaining 600 m in altitude along the way. Then we’ll have to turn around and retrace our steps back to the car and drive home. With a bit of luck we’ll get to bed in the wee hours of the morning. Despite being unseasonably cool the little brown trout are keen to rise to our dry flies, and by the time we reach the upper end of the Speke Gorge we’ve landed maybe forty. Most have been half-pounders but there have been a few decent surprises. The gorge itself is a spectacular dolerite canyon (hence the name, I suppose) and because the water is so high we have to wade up to our waists in places. We catch another fish right at the confluence of Rafferty Creek. We don’t see any more after that, but nor do we find any barrier to upstream migration. Exactly why there are no trout on the Ben Lomond Plateau remains as big a mystery as ever. Mersey River Headwaters We begin this multi-day trip by parking our car a couple of kilometres from the end of the Mersey Forest Road. We intend to take it easy on the first day — hike for 11 km, then fish near camp. The sky is blue and the air crisp. We don heavy backpacks, cross the Mersey via a short suspension bridge, and soon emerge on a big glade, the Pine Hut Plain. From here we amble 7 km through closed-canopy rainforest before reaching the expansive snowgrass flats known as Lees Paddocks. After lunch we walk a few more kilometres upriver towards the Wadleys Memorial Hut. This part of the stream is serpentine, and relict myrtles shade most banks. In many places we have to hop into the water to get practical casts at little browns and rainbows. We wade through expansive beds of trailing weeds, and scramble over partially submerged logs. There aren’t as many fish as we expect — perhaps it has something to do with the passing low-pressure trough. Day two sees us planning another shortish walk, this time 12 km upriver to Hartnett Falls. After breakfast we fish our way upstream to the Kia Ora Creek confluence. In the steep, forested valley above the paddocks, the river is rocky and weedless. Again we see fewer fish than normal, but Ric hooks every small brown and rainbow foolish enough to betray its presence by rising. And at the confluence of Kia Ora Creek, in the fast tail-out of a ‘big’ pool, he polaroids and lands a ‘giant’ brown of three pounds. Beyond Kia Ora Creek we enter the dark heart of the upper Mersey valley. Log jams make instream progress slow, especially with heavy packs, so we spend ever more time on the banks, and end up skirting around the worst of the scrub by hiking up to the Du Cane Hut on the well-formed Overland Track and detouring back to the Mersey at Hartnett Falls, where we set up camp after dark in drizzling rain. The morning of day three dawns crisp and clear. Before breaking camp, we walk down to the floor of the gorge and fish the kilometre-long stretch from the top of Fergusson Falls to the foot of Hartnett Falls. This is fairyland stuff. There are esplanades of King Billy Pine forest along both banks and an open moss understorey. It is rainbows only through this stretch and we catch dozens of them, most small, a couple weighing 0.5 kg from the big pool under Hartnett Falls. We break camp after lunch and head off upstream towards Junction Lake, barely 6 km away. Wading isn’t particularly easy here, so we follow what looks like a wallaby trail through thick tea-tree scrub, before breaking out into the open understorey of yet more myrtle rainforest. Small rainbows are easily spotted and easily caught, and we become so distracted by the fishing that we don’t arrive at the lake until dusk. The Junction rainbows are rising to tiny chironomids, a long cast off shore. The fishing is hard, but the bigger trout are well worth the effort, running into the backing and leaping spectacularly. We don’t retire to the quaint little hut until almost midnight. On day four we leave our gear at the hut and walk on a formal track to the top end of Lake Meston where, fishing from the cliffs, we polaroid plenty of big rainbows. Predictably, we don’t get back to Junction until dusk. Despite having already clocked up 22 km for the day, we wonder if we should spend a few more hours catching chironomid feeders again. What the heck, why not? It’s only a 16 km cross-country walk via Chalice Lake back to our car tomorrow, and we can rest when we’re dead.

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