Tasmanian Twigwater

David Anderson delights in Tasmania’s small streams

If there was a fly-fishing Rorschach test and they flashed up an inkblot picture of Tasmania, you would probably be expected to say ‘lake’ to be considered even close to normal. That is the sane answer of course. Tasmania does have some of the best lake fishing imaginable, but I’m a certifiable small-water nut and would have to say ‘small stream’ just to be difficult. Daniel and Simone Hackett, owners of Riverfly 1864 — the Launceston fly shop and guiding business — might well think the same because in their invitation to fish and photograph the St Patricks and the North and South Esk river systems there’s no mention of lakes and their list of suggested tackle doesn’t include anything over, or under, a 3-weight. That’s all the invitation I ever need. Within an hour of landing in Launceston, I’m standing in a small alpine meadow in the headwaters of the St Pats, dwarfed by some of the world’s tallest hardwood trees and looking for the water while Daniel sorts the gear on the bonnet of his ute. I can’t even remember if we’ve had coffee, and don’t have time to think about it before he’s off across the meadow at a pace and I grab my cameras and keep up as best I can. I catch him at a well-hidden stream, no more than a couple of feet wide in parts, that’s winding its way around the spongy hummocks and almost invisible until you’re virtually standing in it. The plain is small, maybe a kilometre or two long, with massive tree stumps cut a couple of metres from the ground — evidence of previous logging — which strangely lends something to the serenity of the place. The pools are very small, most not even a metre wide, the banks undercut and there are wild 180-degree twists. The water is very shallow and the bottom quite sandy, and different enough from the small meadow streams I fish on the mainland to make the trip worthwhile. There’s a point in size where a meadow stream goes from being easy to fish thanks to short casting distances, obvious lies and trout that are looking hard for their next meal, to being so small that it becomes technical and hard to get the fly on the water with anything like a natural drift. This is such a stream. Claiming I really need photos of trout more than I need to catch another, I hand the rod to Daniel. Sink or swim, Tasmania. Daniel doesn’t disappoint, and through a combination of slow, almost sloth-like pace and very accurate, sometimes leader-only casting, he is into the fish within a few minutes. And what fish they are: dark, with sparse brown and vivid orange spots on a dull, buttery brown background. They are fat and healthy despite the long hot summer and low rainfall that’s bleached Tasmania this past season, and a testament to the quality of the meadow and the springs that feed it. Eventually, as amazing as it is, the creek becomes virtually unfishable as it fractures and disappears under the tussocks from whence it came. “Rainforest stream?” Daniel asks. No arguing on that. Lower down the mountain from the meadow, south of Mt Maurice, the St Patricks flows through a stretch of rainforest, dense and beautiful. The bottom is weedy, with stream-wide patches of sand that make the fish, all brown trout, stand out even in the broken light. A very small bird, hardly bigger than a golf ball, is nervously darting around the trees, and had it been named by first fleet fly-fishermen it would have been called the 4/0 Pink Glo-Bug bird. But, with little left in the day, there’s no time to think about that before we’re off again, upstream in search of the slower, deeper pools where the better fish might be found. The next morning, I’m fishing with Simone and guide Peter Broomhall. Peter is an excellent photographer and I am keen to talk f-stops and apertures, but Simone has us out the door before I can get a word in. She’s in a hurry to show me the best meadow stream she knows in all Tasmania, and likely, as it turns out, one of the best I’ve ever seen anywhere. Highly secret apparently, the stream is a deep-cut meadow beauty surrounded by mist-clad and heavily forested mountains — were it not for the sheep in the paddock, it would be like something out of Hollywood. There’s a grove of beech forest on the plains surrounding the stream and the occasional tree that’s so huge it’s hard to believe it doesn’t simply fall over — a victim of its own success. It’s an amazing place. If fishing with one guide is good, having two is twice the fun, and again I stand back with my cameras and take in their style as they vie for the next fish. Working as a pair, they’re taking turns, one casting and one spotting — tough in this flat, grey light. There’s a near constant conversation about flies, presentations and good sessions from last season, with just enough sledging to keep things from getting too serious. Peter clearly has the same quality eye for spotting fish as he does for photography and soon the duo are catching chunky browns up to 13 or 14 inches. 1500 shots later, the day has flown by. While the meadows are beautiful, the lure of Tasmania’s forests is a hook that’s hard to shake and the next morning I’m out with Daniel and guide Brendan ‘Beevor’ Turriff to explore the North Esk and see more rainforest. Like Peter, Beevor is an excellent photographer and their images are a powerful draw for trout fishing in Tasmania. We’re fishing up a section of the river, off a logging road, where it’s mostly a tunnel of trees with the odd massive fallen log to navigate. Generally, it’s shallow with brilliant green weed patches across a gravel bottom, and the fish to hand, all browns, are fit and dark. The challenge here is not in finding the fish, but getting your cast out in amongst the trees while still managing good drifts and natural presentations. Slow movements and hugging the cover of the banks is best, though sometimes not possible, and accurate casting a must. Here’s the thing: these streams are so beautiful that I can hardly put the cameras down long enough to cast a line, but after watching the locals fish for four days I can say it’s as good, or better than any small stream fishing on the mainland, and despite fishing right through a busy weekend I didn’t see any other anglers. They must have been playing normal at the lakes. Access here is relatively easy and with the 1:250000 North East Tasmap, finding your own way around is not very hard and there’s plenty of water to explore, large and small. If you prefer guided fishing, Daniel and his vie of guides (a collective noun I just made up) offer a great service as they have all fished these waters for a lifetime. What- ever direction you take, I highly recommend having a chat with the guys and getting some flies from the shop before you start. They are very useful back on the mainland as well.

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