Daniel Hackett spends some time on the streams.
In the past decade Tasmania has maintained its deserved reputation for world-class lake fishing, but its rivers have been largely overlooked, leaving a handful of traditional stream fishing devotees to carry the torch. The departure from Cressy of Tasmania’s first professional guide Noel Jetson signalled the passing of an era: a tradition of fly tying, fishing and writing based on the northern rivers, passed from Dick Wigram to David Scholes to Noel, had ended. Names such as Arthurs, Sorell, the Nineteen Lagoons and Bronte became the new flagship fisheries, and windlanes, gum beetle falls and Fur Flies the new icons.
The second has been the emergence of a new fly fishing generation. Young anglers not afraid of putting in the hard yards can be found after school or on weekends wading their way up the St Patricks, casting to grasshopper feeders on the North Esk or testing their skills against the selective trout of Brumbys Creek. Unencumbered by memories of past glories, they see only fantastic fishing and endless opportunities. This is the generation that will rebuild our riverine environment, and write the books about how good the fishing is.
Proof of the success of this work is in the fishing. In October 2003 Aaron Errington and I visited a freshly rehabilitated section of the middle Macquarie to be greeted by a caenid spinner fall, followed by a red spinner hatch and an evening red spinner fall. We took over twenty fish on dry fly, with eight measuring over fifty centimetres!
For those wishing to follow in the footprints of angling legends, a visit to Stewarton Bridge brings a wonderful sight. Five years ago the river was surrounded by an impenetrable mass of willows. Now the banks are mostly clear and waiting for the rejuvenation of native flora. The restoration work was carried out by a small branch of Trout Unlimited based in northern Tasmania.
For this and many similar projects, the only remaining requirement for complete restoration is increased and more consistent water flow, and better water quality with decreased nutrient input. Do not mistake this as laying blame on the local landowners: many are involved in actively improving the rivers flowing through their properties. The problem lies in over-allocation of water resources and irresponsible management practices by a minority of landowners.
Over-allocation of water is placing a heavy strain on the smaller streams. The Meander is an example, reduced to pools connected by veritable trickles in some parts during late summer. However, an encouraging success story is in the catchment of the North Esk, where a local landowner has formed his own Landcare group and has fenced off and partially rebuilt an important tributary. Where stock have been fenced off, the dormant seed load in the soil has given birth to hundreds of new blackwoods and tea-trees. If the duns flying around there in mid-winter are anything to go by, the rehabilitation has been an ecological success.
The St Patricks River has been subjected to a massive increase in forestry activity in its catchment, but for the most part has passed unscathed. Trout numbers in the St Pats are said to be the same as 20 years ago, and this and other little rivers still offer some of the most beautiful tree-fern and native tree-lined sections of fishing available in Tasmania.
This does not mean that as anglers, users and caretakers of our aquatic environments, we can become complacent about intensive land use practices in our catchments. But it is encouraging to find many stretches of river that still offer a home to the same flora, fauna and fishing as they did thirty years ago.
Other highlights include the tailrace section of the Macquarie River below Brumbys Creek, which remains a magnificent hatch-driven fishery, the South Esk’s classic riffles and runs with the chance of the occasional four-pound-plus fish, the North Esk’s excellent hatches, and the St Patricks River with one of the highest trout numbers per kilometre in Australia. Tassie’s small north-east streams also remain wonderful little fisheries (Little Gems, FL #36), whilst tiny spring creeks covertly dotted around the state offer some exceptional hatch-based sight fishing challenges, with the prospect of the occasional football-sized resident.
There are massive hatches of baetid mayflies on the majority of Tasmanian trout-streams, and good caenid hatches (also known as smut) proliferate on the slower waters. Caddis, stonefly, dragonfly and damselfly hatches are common, along with falls of terrestrials including grasshoppers, native bees, cockchafer beetles, corbi moths, ants, soldier beetles and lady beetle larvae.
With so many locations and hatches to fish, it is easy to see why Tasmania’s river fishery is a dry fly fishing paradise on the rise, and one certainly worth the visit.
It seems appropriate, in parting, to quote from David Scholes’ final book Macquarie River Reflections (2003): “What shall I say then about the Macquarie to the crop of young anglers to whom I am now passing the torch? Listen. There are still some delicious crumbs left from the old cake in its middle reaches. Look after them and make friends with the landowners.”