St Patricks River

Leighton Adem shares a Tasmanian gem with local trout-guide Peter Broomhall

Annual reports are not usually associated with fishing trips. They are something most fly fishers would seek to escape from, leaving behind the stresses of an office, or their share portfolio, for the quiet and peaceful surrounds of a river. But occasionally these two worlds collide. In a time when data is collected on just about everything, I discovered a diamond in the rough one day, when skimming a Tasmanian Inland Fisheries Service annual report.
The Angler Postal Survey obtains a range of data to assist in fisheries management. It’s a questionnaire mailed out at the end of each angling season and the results include estimates of the catch rate, total harvest, angling effort, and number of anglers fishing each waterway. While not a definitive measure, it is a reasonable indicator of anglers’ focus on particular fisheries.
One river stood out in the ‘top ten’ list of well-reputed Tasmanian rivers — the St Patricks. It was the most productive and least fished river in the list with a catch rate of 2.23 fish per angler and only 841 anglers. Searching through FlyLife back issue articles (, I found that we had only alluded to this gem of a river a few times in ensemble pieces. Little Gems (FL#36), Tasmanian River Renaissance (FL#42) and The Broken Rivers (FL#59) touched on the river’s charms as one of many often overlooked north-east waters, perhaps suffering from poor cousin syndrome with more famous waters further west and the legendary lakes of the Central Highlands just an hour away.
The St Patricks River certainly didn’t miss the attention of great Tasmanian writers. David Scholes, Noel Jetson and Dick Wigram spoke of gin-clear waters flowing from the forest and plentiful bags of healthy brown trout, taken on sedges and other such dry flies. Scholes described a stretch of the ‘St Pats’ as ‘one glorious unbroken stretch of rippling pools and runs.’
I picked up the phone to Peter Broomhall in a heartbeat. An experienced fly fishing guide based in Tasmania’s north, Peter regularly takes clients on the St Pats, or Patties as he calls it, and holds this water close to his heart.
We teed up to meet at Pete’s favourite coffee shop in Launceston. A slight misunderstanding had me turning up a little late. He already had a coffee in hand and was looking impatient to get on the river. But his beaming smile quickly broke through as we talked on the way of his love for fishing the St Pats.
“What’s not to love about casting to free-rising trout? I love the dry fly fishing and the sight fishing on the St Pats. It’s my office; I love it.”
The river flows north-east of Launceston, from its source in the mountains above Diddleum Plains, where the sloping shoulders of Mount Maurice, Mount Scott, Ben Nevis and Mount Barrow converge to provide a reliable source of cold, clear water year-round. It bubbles through temperate rainforest before transitioning into willow-lined meadow glides past the Myrtle camp grounds and towns like Nunamara, before joining the North Esk lower down.
It’s only a short drive out of Launceston before the St Pats meanders up beside the highway. We pull up at one of the many bridges to check how it’s flowing. Forty millimetres of rain
two nights before has flushed a fair bit into the system and the level is up slightly more than we’d like, with the tannin stains of the forest further upstream turning the water into a light tea colour. It doesn’t interrupt the visibility too much though, as we spot six or more browns rising and feeding readily, unperturbed by the slightly higher flows.
One is finning gently in the current, rising freely against the bank. I goad Pete into grabbing his rod out of the car and having a shot at him. He carefully unfurls his leader from his rod as he synchronises with the rhythm of regular rises on a small circular beat. He pops a delicate close-range cast through the awkward bankside window of grasses, just ahead of the fish. We watch as it gracefully rises to the fly, opens its mouth and gently slurps in the Scruffy from the surface. If this is an indication of what the day’s fishing holds, we are in for a bloody
good day!
We drive further up to the more forested area and pull up at yet another bridge. A couple more trout are visible here too, eating nymphs sub-surface. Pete rigs up with his favourite caddis-like Scruffy fly, with a Blue Nymph on the dropper — a flashy, skinny tinsel number with a bright red tail that is sure to attract attention in the slightly discoloured flows.
Finding the softer edges of the flow proves productive with most fish avoiding the main current. The Blue Nymph does the trick and Pete strikes and strips line frantically as the trout swims straight back at him. “There’s a fish! A nice little Patties brown.”
Pete keeps things short when fishing these small Tasmanian streams. “You should resist the urge to put too long a cast in; fish short. Work your way through the runs. Long casts will just spook fish that are closer to you. Short and accurate is the key.”
Peter has the uncanny ability to cast right and left handed, which helps to get in tight to slower water against either of the banks. He also reinforces the importance of line management. “Line management is key. You can’t allow too much slack. If a fish eats your fly, you’ve got to be able to hook him quite quickly.”
As we work up the river, the Blue Nymph continues to unstitch fish that are feeding on small mayfly nymphs off the current seams. The nymph’s psychedelic nature doesn’t seem to bother them at all, and I now have yet another fly pattern that is a must-have in my box — better figure out what I’m going to remove to make room.
One piece of equipment that is a bit irregular is Peter’s DSLR camera, hanging from his left shoulder with its giant white telephoto lens. We use his images quite often in FlyLife, whenever we need a trout close-up, leaping fish shot or other images that take incredible patience and dedicated time observing what’s happening on the water. It’s a skill that crosses over well with fly fishing and he occasionally pauses, slinging the camera up to his eye, capturing subjects that catch his interest.
As we push further upstream the forest canopy closes in around us. Giant tree ferns line the banks and fallen timber increasingly interrupts the river course, creating ideal pools to hold fish, with snowflake caddis dancing above the slow bubbling runs. The trout we catch here are slightly smaller, but what they lack in size they make up for in vibrance and colour.
Returning next day, we observe the conditions have settled even more, with warm sun, light cloud and the river level on its way down. The water clarity has improved, but it hardly matters as we enter the river a bit lower downstream among a stretch of willows. Snowflake caddis fringe the edges of the foliage and trout are visibly rising, having moved back into the heart of the runs and glides, right where you’d expect to see them. Tea tree bushes are interspersed among the willows, and everywhere a tea tree overhangs the water there is at least one fish, rising and leaping to the caddis it shelters. The splashy rises tend to be sprats, but the more subtle sipping rises consistently result in good-sized fish.
Here is the St Patricks dry fly fishing that Peter has been raving about, and perhaps the same delight that inspired those angling authors of yesteryear — a time eternal dream scene for a fly fisher. Pete is in the zone and lands fish, after fish, after fish. The energetic browns scoff the Scruffy off the surface time and again — another Tassie fly pattern to find room for in my box — think I might need to get another box.
The foot-long browns are like cookie cutter copies of the last, but on closer inspection each one has unique patterning down its flanks. “150 plus years of DNA,” Peter exclaims. It doesn’t get much better than this.
A stunning freestone stream, the St Patricks River is lined by a combination of native vegetation and willows. With gravelly runs and pools, it holds an excellent head of brown trout, all too eager to take a fly. Fish of a respectable 30 centimetres are typical, while larger specimens are always a chance if you put the time into finding them. It’s a shallow river, making wading reasonably straight forward. The trout hold in skinny water, shaded pockets behind willows, or along the edges, so cover the water methodically. The shallow depth ensures fish are never too far from the surface, making dry fly fishing a viable option in the warmer months. Hot summer days with light wind produce an exciting evening rise.
Early in the season, the water runs cold and high, so nymph fishing is most productive, while swinging small wets can also be very effective. From August to October the fish tend to sit in slower water on the inside bends or the back half of a run or riffle into the pools. From late spring, you will find superb dry fly fishing through to the season close.
Heading into summer the caddis hatches on this river are prolific, with some of the best hatches occurring around Christmas and New Year. With their signature splashy rises to emerging caddis, you can spot fish easily. Standard caddis patterns will do the trick, particularly CDC style F-flies or a Split Wing Caddis, which will also cover the possibility of small mayfly duns hatching.
In late summer keep an eye out on the banks of the meadow sections for grasshoppers. Trout will eagerly await a juicy protein packet at these times and your favourite hopper pattern should do the trick. You will also find plenty of other terrestrials, so fishing ant patterns and beetles will produce good numbers of trout through the warmer months.
Moving into autumn, get ready for some wonderful hatches of small mayflies including blue winged olives. The trout can be tricky at this time, so smaller flies are a must, and it’s a good idea to fish a bit longer and finer with your leader and tippet.
Access to the river is straightforward. Following the Tasman Highway
much of the way, there are many bridges and angler access points from Nunamara to Corkerys Road where the river turns toward the mountains. The bridges are often a great vantage point to polaroid fish, but that doesn’t mean they are easy — they’re bridge fish after all.
There are many farms along the St Patricks, so please respect private property by sticking to the river and using designated Angler Access Points.

See the St Patricks River short film at:

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