The Meander River

Tom Jarman profiles a favourite Tasmanian fishery

Two very different parts of my fishing life — guiding and competition angling — have drawn me to the Meander River. When I started guiding in Tasmania, the Meander was our go-to fishery in the north of the state. There is some 30 km of river between Lake Huntsman and the town of Deloraine, offering a range of water types and fishing opportunities to suit anglers of all fishing and wading abilities. Each year the river hosts a round of the Tasmanian Fly Fishing Championships, and in December 2019 it will be one of five venues used in the World Championships, seeing some of the world’s best competition anglers rotating through the river. The Meander is one of the few tailwaters in Tasmania that has consistent flows suitable for fishing throughout the season, and it always runs cold due to the water released from the lake. It contains mainly wild brown trout averaging 25 to 30 centimetres, with larger specimens, 40 cm or more, regularly caught. Recently there has also been successful spawning of stocked rainbows and it is not uncommon to run into some feisty rainbow trout around the 30 cm mark. The reasons for this river being so enjoyable to fish are the same reasons that make it such a fantastic competition venue. The river has such varied water, with different challenges for the angler around every bend. THE WATER Between Huntsman and the township of Meander the river features large boulders, fast water and general pocket water with the odd straight run. This provides a great challenge for the nymph angler, with multiple currents to work around while wading through fast water. From Meander township to the Cheshunt Road bridge the wading is far more friendly than farther up-stream. Here the river features classic run-pool-runs, fast and shallow pocket water, deeper slow pools and sweeping bends. Cheshunt Road bridge to Longridge Road holds beautiful pools with nice long runs. This section contains more flat water, lending itself well to the dry fly and patient nymph-under-dry angler. The river then flows alongside Longridge Road and is a lovely sheltered piece of water with tall eucalypts on one side and farmland on the other. Here you will find some faster water with large boulders set in fine gravel, and some long pools down in the straighter sections of river that make for some very pleasant and scenic fishing. TACTICS Having such varied water with exceptional public access (thanks to the Inland Fisheries Service and their work with the local landowners) means that you can fish any way that suits you. As mentioned, the higher sections of river lend themselves to nymphing techniques — if you are looking to get into European style nymphing, this is the water for you. If you do head up to the higher reaches, make sure you are ready for deeper wading and have heavily weighted nymphs. Carrying 3.0 – 3.5 mm tungsten beaded nymphs is a must here, because you have to get down in the faster chutes and around the big boulders. You can’t go wrong if you have some Pheasant Tail Nymphs with hotspots, and Hares Ear Nymphs with some CDC or other soft hackle on them. Below the Meander township all the way through to Longridge Road there are some great sight fishing opportunities with good numbers of rising fish holding in the pools and at the back end of runs, just waiting to eat a well presented dry fly. The runs here always hold good numbers of fish for the nymph angler too, or for the clever dry fly exponent working up the edges. If a fish rises I can’t go past a size 16 or 18 F-fly, and when searching blind a small parachute mayfly like a Parachute Adams in a size 16 or 18 is ideal. As if you need more options: if you enjoy swinging soft hackled flies on a floating line you can find some long shallower glides where fish enjoy eating a Spider pattern moved across the current. Hare and Partridge, Partridge and Orange, and Snipe and Purple are all fantastic choices, but again, keep them small. And finally, the streamer fishing addicts will find success and catch some of the bigger fish in the river by swinging/retrieving large Woolly Buggers, such as a silver or gold Humongous, as well as damsel imitations and black and brown Rabbit Zonker style flies in the deeper holes. GO SMALL The Meander is one of the more popular rivers in the north of the state, and its popularity is likely to increase with the new access to the upper stretches being created for the World Championships (and for the public after the event’s conclusion). It amazes me how the fish are still willing to eat flies right until the close of season, even after seeing their fair share of traffic. With this in mind it really helps to fish small and light, especially later in the season. When I say light, I’m referring to your tippet. I strongly encourage you to fish 6X or 7X. These fish see plenty of flies and anglers, so by fishing finer tippet you can achieve a better, more natural presentation. By small, I mean small flies that more closely resemble the aquatic insects that the trout feed on. I would say that the typical size of a mayfly or caddis that you will see in the river is about a size 16 or 18. To fish these lighter tippets and smaller flies, rods in the 3/5-weight range are perfect. This is quite an open river, so longer rods, 9/10-ft, are advantageous because they will help with presentations at distance and line control in more complicated currents. SEASONAL FACTORS As mentioned already, the great thing about the Meander is that it has controlled, consistent, year-round flows. This means that you can get on the river and start fishing from the season opening. However, there are many feeder creeks and irrigation canals flowing into the Meander, where fish spawn and hold earlier in the season because the water temperatures are higher than in the main river. As the season progresses, more and more fish push back into the main river. I like to start fishing the Meander seriously in November. Before then, you can of course catch trout on dries, but most of the fish you catch are going to be on nymphs. Post November, all techniques are very successful when applied in the right water — i.e. dry fly fishing the soft water, nymphing the fast runs, nymph-under-dry in the medium paced pools. In my experience the river fishes its absolute best through late December, January and February. This is because all the fish are back in the river, and we have hot, dry summer weather in Tasmania and beautiful cold water coming from Lake Huntsman. While many of the fish in other northern rivers are having a bath in warm and low water, the Meander fish are in heaven, loving the abundance of insect life. This time of year provides the most options in terms of techniques. For me, it is very hard to go past fishing dry flies or a nymph under a dry, because the fish will come up and eat dries from early in the morning and then all through the day into the evening. Fishing from late February through until the end of April is still fantastic, and I definitely favour the dry fly fishing late in the season. The trout have seen a lot of anglers, conditions at this time of year are typically still and settled, and the fish are looking up and expecting to see your dry drift over them. In terms of insect life, from the start to finish of the season you can expect to find caddis and mayflies on the river. As it warms up through the middle of the season we start to see more beetles and ants about, and as the paddocks dry off, the grasshoppers push towards the edges of the river in search of greener grass, and naturally end up on the water. This past season I was surprised to see good numbers of stoneflies on the water at times, and the odd fish eating them, which was fantastic to watch. DON’T DRIVE PAST I can highly recommend going and having a look at the Meander. Many visitors travel to Tasmania to fish the highland lakes and end up driving past some of the most diverse river fishing in Australia. If you are getting off a plane in Launceston, or the Spirit of Tasmania ferry in Devonport, you can be fishing the Meander in under an hour. The beautiful thing about the extended season on this river is that the fishing continues to change throughout the year. With the slight variations in water height, season, sunlight and time of day, the trout never end up holding in the same place. This means that each time you return to the Meander it will reward you with a different experience.

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