Mount Field

Greg French pays tribute to an iconic national park in southern Tasmania

Mount Field has long been recognised as one of Tasmania’s most prominent and beautiful natural assets. As early as 1885 some 300 acres at Russell Falls was declared a scenery reserve, and on 29 August 1916 Mount Field became one of Tasmania’s first two national parks (along with Freycinet). The creation of these early reserves was championed by tourism boards and angling organisations, as well as prominent naturalists, ski clubs and bushwalking clubs. Back then, the main aims were unashamedly utilitarian: to preserve natural assets for recreation and spiritual wellbeing. As a child in the 1960s, visiting Russell Falls at ‘National Park’ was a rite of passage. Later, in the early 1980s, I became a regular patron of the Mount Field ski fields. Strange thing is, I didn’t really get to properly know and love the park until the mid- to late 1980s when I took to fly fishing with a vengeance and secured a job at the Salmon Ponds, just 30 minutes’ drive down the road. Tyenna RIVER Due to the way rostering worked at the Salmon Ponds, a lot of my free time came in small packets: an evening here and an afternoon there. A full day was a thing to treasure and optimise. Consequently I spent many hours fishing the Tyenna River, especially the section that flows along the park boundary at the foot of Mount Field. Although just 150 metres above sea level, the Tyenna is sourced in dense, wet forest. The permanent riffles and shady pools are reminiscent of the best Victorian streams, hence its wide appeal to mainland anglers. Naturally- spawned browns (and a smaller number of rainbows) of 0.2–0.7 kg have always been typical, but you can reasonably hope to encounter a fish or two weighing 1.5–2 kg. During my time at the Salmon Ponds a number of anglers randomly presented themselves at the office and asked me to ‘officially weigh’ a brown of 5–8 kg, and fish of this size are still caught today, though they remain exceptional. The Tyenna features good rises on balmy afternoons, and indicator nymphing is a reliable fallback. Better still, the river is one of the most family-friendly in Australia. There is a convenient camping ground on the northern bank just inside the park boundary. It incorporates expansive lawns and is a gateway to many wonderful strolls, including the wheelchair-grade route to Russell Falls (45 minutes return) and the Tall Trees loop via Russell Falls and Lady Baron Falls (2 hours). And in summer everyone can participate in a night-time torch hunt for abundant and diverse wildlife. Lake Dobson Many visiting anglers find it hard to leave the Tyenna, but the high-country lakes are not to be missed, especially since the 12 km drive from the park entrance to the top of the mountain is so dramatic, the road extending from a swamp gum forest with manfern understorey up through stands of endemic yellow gums to sub-alpine complexes of Tasmanian snow gums and tanglefoot (deciduous beech). The first lake, Fenton, used to be a favourite of mine until fishing was banned in 2001 on account of the storage being a major source of drinking water for Hobart. Just past Fenton the road ascends Wombat Moor (1080 m), where an inverse treeline delineates the rivers of cold air which tumble off the towering mountaintops. Then the road dips down to the main carpark at Lake Dobson. Whenever I had an afternoon to spare from my work at the Salmon Ponds, Dobson could always be relied upon for a great session of polaroiding. There were reliable black spinner leapers on warm days, too, and midge sippers in the evenings. Still are. The trout, all browns, mostly weigh 0.7–1 kg, and some grow bigger. The edges can be waded, even if the log-strewn western shore is a bit arduous, but doubtless non-fishing companions will prefer the lakeside walking track, where the pandani understorey radiates a mystical ambiance through elfin eucalypts. In the 1950s, bags of fertilizer were scattered over the lakebed in the hope that they would help increase biological production and ultimately result in larger fish. The experiment failed, but the bags – now overgrown with weed – are still prominent on the silty substrate. Dobson is a great daytrip from the camping ground at the foot of the mountain, or else you can book one or more of the five low-cost Government Huts, located just ten minutes’ walk back down the road from the Dobson carpark. Twisted Tarn From Lake Dobson you can undertake a number of walks to some worthwhile trout waters. Unfortunately most of the backcountry huts are now managed for ‘emergency shelter’ only, and camping is discouraged too, though not actually outlawed. Anyway, I have always preferred daytrips. One of the more spectacular walks is along the Tarn Shelf to Twisted Tarn. At just over 1100 m altitude, the narrow Tarn Shelf is properly alpine and affords dizzyingly grand views down to Lake Seal and the Broad River valley. The first few clusters of tarns are trout-free, and even Lake Newdegate at the far northern end of the shelf is severely underpopulated. The water you are after, Twisted Tarn, is located on a moor a few hundred metres downstream of Newdegate. Although you’ll find some shores flanked by pencil pines and light scrub, there are plenty of wadeable sandflats. At times you only see small browns, but fish to 1 kg are common enough. The return walk from the Dobson carpark to Twisted Tarn via the Tarn Shelf is 12 km long and will take 4–7 hours. Alternatively you can complete the circuit past Twisted Tarn down to the Broad valley (altitude 800 m) and back to the carpark via lakes Webster and Seal, which will take 5–8 hours. LAKES Seal & Webster Lake Seal lies snuggled in a spectacular cirque at the head of the Broad River just 45 minutes’ walk from the Dobson carpark; Lake Webster lies just a kilometre or so further down the valley. Both waters were considered fishless until 1898 when the Fisheries Commission and Tasmanian Tourist Association, together with prominent naturalists Morton and Rodway, walked in from Ellendale with billy-cans of brown trout fry. The party named Lake Seal after Matthew Seal, once a Salmon Commissioner and Chairman of the Fisheries Board. Lake Webster was named after another Fisheries Commission official. I’ve enjoyed fishing from an inflatable boat in most of the Mount Field lakes, but Seal is the only water that really warrants the effort. Even though I always see less fish than I do in Dobson, rowing along the foot of the towering cliffs beneath Mount Bridges and the Tarn Shelf is terrific compensation. Polaroiding is the staple, though on warm days fish often leap for spinners beneath the overhanging scrub. Furthermore, worthwhile midge hatches can occur at any time of year, and schooling baitfish sometimes precipitate showy rises in February and early March. All the fish I’ve ever landed have been browns of 1.0–1.8 kg, though I’ve cast to much larger specimens. The browns in Webster are generally much smaller and more plentiful than those in Seal. The eastern shore is wadeable, though polaroiding can be tough. The best rises occur on calm, balmy evenings. The Broad River downstream of Webster flows through a classic U-shaped glacial valley. The buttongrass verges are a bugger to traverse, but the creek teems with brown trout up to 0.4 kg, and most are suckers for a generic dry fly. Lakes Belcher & Belton Cat out of the bag: Lake Belcher is as good as any wilderness water in Tasmania, and it’s fitting, I think, that it was named after the first park ranger, Bill Belcher, who was himself a keen angler. Belcher is reached by walking from Wombat Moor up to the pass on the southern side of Mount Mawson, then descending steeply into the Humboldt valley, then struggling up a boggy buttongrass valley to a spectacular cirque. It’s about 8 km (2–3 hours) from the carpark to the outflow, and another 3 km around the lakeshore. A few hundred metres before you reach the water’s edge, you pass a small, single-room hut with two bunks and a modest wood stove. It’s one of the few public huts in the park still available for overnight use, but even so I prefer to do day-walks. Belcher browns are plentiful and fit. In normal years most weigh 1–1.5 kg, and in good years the best specimens commonly attain 2 kg. Usually you’ll only see incidental rises, and perhaps the odd tail, but the polaroiding is so good that if you pick a blue-sky day with little or no wind my guess is that you’ll experience the best day’s fishing you’ve ever had. Be warned though: the edges are frustratingly scrubby, and when wading the shoreline you need to beware of patches of treacherous silt. Then too, because K Col towers more than 300 metres above the northern shore, the water falls into cold shadow by mid-afternoon, so the best of the fishing is generally well over by 6.00 p.m. Lake Belton, on a wooded shelf above Belcher, also holds a good head of brown trout, though the average size is less than 1 kg, and access to the lake and along the banks is relatively difficult. The old walking track from the Humboldt valley has become almost indiscernible, though it is possible to bash your way uphill through the scrub flanking the outflow creek, which enters Belcher midway along the western shore. Lake Hayes Much of Mount Field was devastated by wildfire in the 1960s, and when I first started fishing the park, off-track expeditions were easy. In fact I used to make up for the early close of fishing at Belcher by clambering straight up to K Col and down the sunny slope to Lake Hayes, where I’d usually enjoy a good evening rise. Then, after dark, I’d clamber back up to K Col and walk home via the Mount Field West Track. In the last decade or so, tearaway regrowth has made cross-country walking much more arduous than it used to be. These days the best way to reach Hayes is to follow the formal walking tracks via the Tarn Shelf and Newdegate Pass to the southern side of The Watcher, and then scrub-bash your way 150 m downhill. There is no good place to set up a tent on the lakeshore either, so again daytrips are most practical. Hayes is a rainbow-only lake, one of very few in Tasmania, the only others being Junction, Youd and Meston in the Mersey headwaters. The outflow teems with tiny rainbows (see FL#86), but in the lake the fish attain 0.5–2 kg. Conservation In Tasmania, ‘national’ parks are really state parks with no inherent federal protection, which is why conservationists work so hard to have them listed by UNESCO as World Heritage. Mount Field finally achieved World Heritage status in 2013 when it was included in the ‘finalisation’ of the eastern boundary of Tasmania’s existing World Heritage Area. Another cool thing about the 2013 listing was that it incorporates a bridging reserve at the Florentine Gap, which physically joins Mount Field to the rest of the WHA. This is important because ‘islands’ of wilderness are highly susceptible to environmental decay over time. The only potential long-term problem with the World Heritage listing is that it does not acknowledge the importance of recreational values in the same way that the ‘founding fathers’ of the park intended them to be acknowledged. Wilderness fisheries seem to be more robust and stable than other fisheries – even when they are ‘unmanaged’ – and I have no doubt that Mount Field will remain a world-class venue while ever it retains a critical mass of fly fishing advocates.

Current FlyLife Subscribers can login to read the full article.
To access this article, back issues & more Subscribe to FlyLife today.