Go-To Waters

Greg French shares his favourite Tasmanian trout waters

Friends and acquaintances often holiday in Tasmania with family, but commonly lament that they can only afford one day, or less, for fishing. When I ask where they want to go and what they want to do, they usually admit that they would just like to catch a fish.
Right now Tasmania’s most popular lakes would have to be Penstock Lagoon, Woods Lake and Little Pine Lagoon, and the most popular rivers would be old staples like the Tyenna and the St Patricks. I love all these waters but I tend to take time-poor visitors to waters which require less effort and skill to master, or which fish well under a wider variety of conditions. Or which happen to be conveniently located close to Tassie’s major tourist attractions.

St Clair
Excluding backpacking destinations, the St Clair system is absolutely my favourite Tasmanian fishery. It’s located at the southern end of the hugely popular Cradle Mountain – Lake St Clair National Park, but for some inexplicable reason you’ll probably find yourself fishing alone.
Romantic partners love the luxury accommodation at Pumphouse Point, and if you have kids there’s the option of cabins or campgrounds. Near the visitor centre at Cynthia Bay it’s easy to get up close and personal to all manner of wildlife. Most people like strolling along the white-sand beaches and picnicking on the marsupial lawns, while the more adventurous prefer to venture into the primal rainforests (on well-maintained walking tracks), kayak on the crystal waters or swim in the not-always-cold shallows.
The fishing is as reliable as you’ll find on any lake in Tasmania, especially on warm, calm days. If it’s overcast you’ll see plenty of risers and perhaps some tailers. And if the sky is blue the polaroiding is to die for.
On the main lake, numerous brown trout and a smaller number of rainbows can be spotted cruising along the beaches. St Clair Lagoon is better still – in normal summer conditions, you can wade out over expansive flats and polaroid fish as they clop duns, leap for spinners and damselflies, and zoom about after mudeyes. Even when the lagoon is high in spring, there’s plenty of stalking to be enjoyed amongst the flooded tea-tree flats.
Energetic anglers, even young families, should factor in a day walk to Shadow and Forgotten lakes (FL#94). And if you simply can’t resist stream fishing, you can have fun with tiddlers in the tiny Cuvier and Hugel rivers.

At St Clair the best of the polaroiding is usually finished by 4 or 5 p.m., so I often find myself driving back home past Tarraleah a few hours before dark. If I have visitors, I invariably stop at the Pump Pond.
The Pump Pond is invisible from the road, and you have to walk a couple of hundred metres past a locked boom gate. The water is sheltered by native forest, but at normal levels the foreshores are grassy and easy to negotiate (even if they’re somewhat soggy). The lake supports a huge head of admittedly small brown trout, though there’s a fair sprinkling of bigger specimens to 0.7 kg or so.
The Pump Pond is such a reliable place to see fish that I often recommend it to beginners for a full-day training destination. The polaroiding is good, especially if you don’t mind a bit of boggy wading, and there are reliable (if frustrating) rises to predominantly midging fish. But the real attraction is the preponderance of late-afternoon tailers.
To top it off, there’s a dry grassy glade midway along the northern shore — ideal for the kids to play, paddle and picnic in the shade.

Pine Tier Lagoon
Fish of Pump Pond size also abound in Pine Tier Lagoon near Bronte Park.
Bronte Park Village is a favourite amongst visiting families. The pub burned down in March 2018 – and everyone mourns the loss of the kid-friendly lounge, open fireplace and cheap meals – but at least the old hydro-workers’ houses are still available for short-term rent.
Pine Tier is just a short drive up the road. It’s set in a forested valley, but the best spot for casual fishing and a family picnic is at the Pine River inflow at the northern end of the lake, where you’ll find expansive grassy flats. This area is so pleasant you might even want to set up your camper or pitch a tent.
Polaroiding the flats at the river mouth is well worthwhile, but it’s the abundance of rising and leaping fish that really sets the heart apace.
Mayflies, damselflies, dragonflies – the lake’s got everything.
I especially love walking down the western shore from the Pine River inlet. At normal levels you can go halfway down the lake if you like, and if by some weird stroke of bad luck the fish aren’t as active as they should be you’re bound to have some success just by peppering the lip with a dry fly.
There’s also fast fishing for small (often tiny) browns and rainbows in the inflowing Pine and Nive rivers, though flows diminish greatly in summer and sometimes stop altogether.
Gunns & Little lake
The Gunns and Little system is set in moorland north-east of Arthurs Lake, and is my second-favourite vehicle-accessible fishery after St Clair. The fishing is good all year round no matter what the water level, and the habitats include everything from pin-rush marshes to wadeable sandflats to isoetes gardens.
In spring, frogs and tailers are the main attraction. Later, throughout summer and autumn, dry fly fishing comes into its own, with hatches of black spinners, highland duns, blue damselflies and giant dragonflies. And although the water can be slightly tea-coloured, it’s always well-suited to polaroiding.
Gunns and Little both hold prodigious numbers of brown trout. The average weight can be as little as 0.8 kg but is often well over 1 kg.
The lakes are not so good for small kids, but are ideally located for a sneaky daytrip from either Hobart or Launceston. Access is from Cowpaddock Bay (Arthurs Lake) via the rugged Gunns Plains Road. Most anglers use a high-clearance 4WD, but I usually manage to cajole my little Echo all the way to the parking area on the northern shore of Gunns Lake.
I always end up walking right around both lakes in a day. If you follow in my footsteps make sure you carry warm, wind-proof clothing. A narrow stream of cold air commonly funnels in from the north-east, and even on seemingly perfect blue-sky days things can suddenly become very cold, cloudy and damp.

Tooms Lake
Tooms Lake, set in eucalypt forest in the eastern midlands, has become my favourite lake for early-season fishing. It’s relatively shallow, has slightly milky-grey water and teems with jollytails. If you can’t see trout busting up schools of baitfish, try stripping a big, black Fuzzle Bugger anyway – you’ll not find better traditional wet-fly fishing anywhere in the state.
By mid-October, if the weather is warm enough, red spinner mayflies come into their own, and the dun hatches are a sight to behold. High summer can be a little slow, especially in drought years, but the fishing improves again in autumn.
Tooms is not a great family destination but, rather like Gunns and Little, it is conveniently equidistant from either Hobart or Launceston. And access around the shores is a doddle (unless flooding rain has filled the lake to capacity).

Talbots Lagoon
Ever since being opened to convenient public access, Talbots has become the pre-eminent stillwater in the North West. You can’t take your car right to the water’s edge, but it’s only a 100-metre walk from the boom gate to the western shore. Indeed, walking this track is so easy that plenty of people choose to lug-in a kayak or raft (even though the best fly fishing is usually shore-based).
Talbots is set amid plantation forests but is ringed by native tea-tree and dense scrub. Wading can be a bit arduous too, so it’s not a good place for young children.
Frog feeders are the big attraction in spring. Prolific hatches of red spinner mayflies (especially duns) occur in late spring and early summer, and again in autumn. Midges pour off year-round.
I love polaroiding big browns (typically 1–2 kg) in the shallow bays, but if you’re averse to boggy wading, not to mention being broken-off in the sticks, there are plenty of rainbows in the deeper water.

Weld River
I live near Hobart, so I tend to take stream-besotted mainlanders to the Weld River (Huon catchment), which is easier to wade than the Tyenna and easier to fish than the Styx.
The Weld is conveniently located near the Tahune Airwalk, and isn’t too far from Hastings Caves either. I wouldn’t recommend taking young kids to the river itself though – it’s set in tall forest, the banks are very scrubby and many riffles extend from bank to bank. (The lower part of the river, downstream of The Eddy, was burned in the January 2019 bushfires but will rehabilitate quickly.)
You’ll find plenty of browns, including some of gargantuan proportions, but the river owes its reputation to the unusual abundance of wild rainbows. Rising or not, these small fish are suckers for a dry fly. Otherwise, nymphing works a treat.
The further upstream from The Eddy you are prepared to walk, the more frantic the fishing becomes.

Meander River
The middle Meander is a medium-sized tailrace water, and it runs right through the heart of the quaint rural centre of Deloraine.
Deloraine is a popular family destination, noted for its arts community and friendly coffee shops. The caravan park is located in the middle of town on the grassy banks of a swift-flowing broadwater, and even from the door of your camper or tent you can often see rising fish. Better fishing exists upstream, though, especially in the broad riffles adjacent to Cheshunt Road and through the township of Meander.
The water can be slightly milky, even tea-coloured, but it’s easy enough to polaroid and good rises are common throughout the day.

Mersey River
Without a doubt the Mersey below the Parangana Dam is now the best large stream in Tasmania, mainly due to the mandating of steady environmental flows (see FL#92). Best of all, it’s close to Deloraine and even closer to the Mole Creek Karst National Park.
I tend to fish the water near Liena with my mates while their families are enjoying cave tours. This stretch was scoured out in the June 2016 floods, but remains chock-full of rainbows up to 0.7 kg and browns up to 1.3 kg. Dry fly fishing and indicator nymphing are most popular, but the water is often perfect for polaroiding.
Other great stretches can be found at Kimberley and Merseylea.
Small streams
Most mainlanders love fast-water creeks. Before I reveal my personal favourites, promise me you won’t crowd out other anglers – if there’s a car at the bridge move on to another bridge. With greatly increased visitor numbers in Tasmania over the last few years, etiquette has become paramount.
If you’re based at Deloraine, I highly recommend the Liffey River, especially the rainforested section at Liffey Falls. I also recommend Jackys Creek, the upper Meander River en route to Meander Falls and, well, almost any other small creek you happen upon.
If you are visiting Cradle Mountain, treat yourself to a few hours on the Vale River (easily accessed from the Link Road).
Out of Launceston, in the North East, you might want to take a daytrip to the upper South Esk upstream of Dans Rivulet, the South Esk tributaries (including the Tyne and Tower) and the Great Forester at Springfield. If little rainbows are more to your liking, you can’t beat the Weld River (Ringarooma catchment) at Weldborough.
In the south, I tend to fish bigger streams, but there are lots of little creeks which carry ridiculous numbers of tiny trout, the Lawrence River in the Florentine catchment being a classic example.
Have fun!

For more detail on these waters, refer to Greg French’s guidebook ‘Trout Waters of Tasmania’.

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