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.

In recent times, two factors have contributed to a resurgence of interest. The first was the advent of guided raft-fishing on larger meadow streams such as the Macquarie River, initially offered by Andrew Harker (FL#20). Anglers were quickly absorbed by the relaxing charm of the lush weed-lined meadow streams and their mayfly hatches, made famous by the writings of David Scholes. Guided rafting open-ed up kilometres previously reserved for the few people lucky enough to know the landowner and receive permission to fish. For many old hands a return to the rivers was like a reunion with an old friend, while those with more limited experience and skill could also achieve success.

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.

Over the past twenty or thirty years the rivers have borne the brunt of changes in land use. Increased water extraction for intensive cropping, large-scale plantation forestry, and weed infestations—particularly the crack willow Salix fragilis—have been major factors. However, all is not lost. Natural resource management organisations such as Landcare and Trout Unlimited have begun teaming up with concerned landholders to restore selected waterways. The middle and upper Macquarie, along with parts of the South Esk, have seen the removal of willows and revegetation with native flora.

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.

Prominent among the highlights of the modern fishery is Brumbys Creek, a tailrace water in the State’s north. Since the late 1960s Brumbys has received the hydro-electric flow from Great Lake that previously discharged down the Shannon, creating the famous Shannon Rise. Today Brumbys Creek offers world-class sight fishing. At first appearing like a cross between a lake and a river, it has an average depth of a couple of feet, and its fish average more than two pounds. Fishing the various shallow weedy ‘flats’ can offer hand-trembling excitement as three-pound-plus speckled rockets snaffle drifting caddis and duns, all the while cruising with their backs and fins out of the water! Brumbys is probably Tasmania’s most challenging fishery, but through persistence and help from reputable fishing guides, it can handsomely reward patience and skill.

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.

Tasmanian riverine hatches may have changed since the classic era but they are by no means gone. The tailrace section of the Macquarie River and Brumbys Creek play host to significant red and black spinner hatches from late October through until January, and again from late February through until the end of the season. The hatches of the middle and upper Macquarie are still a highly anticipated event, and at times produce spectacular fishing as alluded to earlier, but this is more reliant on appropriate water levels than 20 or 30 years ago due to increased water usage. A prolonged period of high water leading up to the mayfly hatches is ideal.

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.”

RiverFly Tasmania offers guided raft based fly fishing, wade fishing and stalking trout on the small streams. Email dhackett@tassie.net.au
or phone Daniel on 0427 313 972.

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