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Tasmanian Fishing Adventure

By David Brace

Although Tasmania is renowned for its quality bream, Atlantic salmon and huge bluefin tuna, among other species, when anyone mentions fishing in Tasmania most anglers think of fishing for either brown or rainbow trout. Being a very avid freshwater angler, the temptation of catching a trout was too great and catching either species on our holiday to the southern state was my primary focus. This was a fish that I had never targeted before and the prospect of catching them, where they thrive in such pristine waters, was pretty exciting.

This holiday wasn't just a fishing trip as such, rather a honeymoon, so the fishing time was extremely limited and not highly regarded as a priority by my better half, for obvious reasons. Besides, Tasmania is a destination of wonder, beautiful flora and fauna and the friendliest people, so while we were here, we didn't want to leave disappointed that we hadn't seen all of the sights that this amazing place has on offer to explore.

Like any fishing adventure, it's pretty advantageous to gain as much local knowledge as possible about the region and the target species. This information can be acquired by talking to local anglers, visiting tackle stores or taking a guided fishing tour. In Tasmania, I also found locals convening very small regional stores were just as knowledgeable, if not more informative, about their own backyard. These regional stores included the Post Office, which is also often the fuel station, bakery, cafe' and general grocery store, all under the one roof.

Whilst traveling around the island state, it was clear that there wasn't a great volume of regional tackle stores, with most larger retail tackle shops being located in the major towns and cities. These stores are conveniently stocked with a multitude of Tackle Tactics lures and gear to chase these fun sportfish. I chose to travel minimally, packing only a couple of Okuma CM-S-702MH Competition spinning rods, matched with Okuma Inspira ISX-30B reels and spooled with 10lb Platypus Platinum Braid. The rods are a two-piece outfit, making for a great travelling rod and an easy option for transporting on the plane to and from Tasmania.

Arriving in winter, during the closed season for trout, I wasn't very optimistic that I would find enough suitable locations and opportunities to catch a few landbased fish. The Tasmanian Inland Fisheries Service has regulated a closed season for Trout within most inland waterways, including some privately owned dams, leaving literally a handful of lakes and sections of rivers still open from the start of May to the first Saturday in August (Closed season).

Other regulations also apply for targeting rainbow trout in some locations and at different times of the year. These closed seasons are enforced to reduce fishing pressure during the spawning season, allowing trout to migrate and to spawn without any disruption or added pressure. As a result, this reduced where I could fish greatly. There is an incredible number of inland waterways throughout Tasmania, which is very evident when driving to and from townships. They don't call Tasmania the island of rivers and lakes for no reason, with over 3000 inland rivers, streams, lakes and lagoons within close proximity of each other. Needless to say it was frustrating passing them by and also visiting so many of these pristine waterways, without being able to cast a lure.

At the time of my holiday adventure the following waters were open all year, however it would be worth checking local regulations prior to your visit.

  • Brushy Lagoon

  • Craigbourne Dam

  • Yingina/Great Lake (other than Canal Bay)

  • Huon River downstream from the Huonville Bridge

  • Lake Barrington

  • Lake Burbury

  • Lake King William

  • Huntsman Lake

  • Meadowbank Lake

  • Lake Pedder

  • Pioneer Lake

  • River Leven downstream from Whisky Creek

  • Kanamaluka/River Tamar, downstream from the Lower Charles St Bridge on the North Esk River and West Tamar Road Bridge on the South Esk River

  • River Derwent downstream from the New Norfolk Bridge

You are required to purchase a fishing licence when fishing inland waterways throughout Tasmania. Although you can buy seasonal licences, the Tasmanian Inland Fisheries Service has also accommodated for the traveling angler, whereby monthly, weekly and daily licences can also be acquired. The best way to purchase a fishing licence is online, upon arrival to the state, or at selective information centres.

From time spent researching where and how I could target trout throughout Tasmania, it became quickly noticeable that each river or lake had its own strict regulations. I would highly recommend downloading Tasmania's Inland Fisheries Service app on your mobile phone, which is incredibly helpful in the way of providing maps and so much important information regarding their regulations. The app also assisted me with where I could gain access to rivers and lakes. It showed me where I was located within a region and what waters were close by for an opportunity to target these fish. I was also able to plan my trip ahead, by pinning locations that we had planned to visit on a map. Although the state's inland fisheries are heavily regulated, there is a good reason why. The Tasmanian government, in conjunction with the Inland Fisheries Service, have recognised the importance of these fish and the maintenance of their sustainability.

Upon arriving in Tasmania, and during the first week of our holiday, it never stopped raining, with localised thunderstorms and light hail in the northwest of the state. There was also a huge cold front that pushed across the state from the west, dumping a massive amount of snow in the Highlands and over the Central Plateau area, around Cradle Mountain and the Derwent Valley regions. This isn't uncommon during winter, so be prepared to be flexible regarding your itinerary of where you plan to fish.

Landing in Launceston, we headed west to Stanley. Due to the rain and snow forecast, while trying to follow an itinerary with pre-booked accommodation, we quickly called into Lake Huntsman, just south of Deloraine, for a bit of a look and reconnaissance. Lake Barrington was another lake that I wish we had time to visit. It is located just south of Devonport, however we were on a tight schedule.

After travelling and sightseeing, visiting renowned landmarks on the west coast for a day or two, we were very lucky to make our journey from Strahan to Lake St Clair within the Central Highlands, just four days into our holiday. Prior to leaving Strahan and reviewing weather forecast and road conditions for the day with the police, we decided to take the journey. However, with the amount of snow that had fallen on the roads, we were skeptical on numerous occasions whether we were going to reach our destination for the night.

Pulling into the Lake St Clair Lodge late that afternoon and reviewing updated weather alerts, now that we were within mobile service range, it became apparent that authorities had closed that road whilst we were driving on it, deeming it to be too dangerous. The realisation that the Tasmanian winter weather can change very rapidly quickly became apparent. When visiting Tasmania in winter, depending on your itinerary and where you'll likely travel, I would recommend hiring a four-wheel drive vehicle. This will allow you to gain a lot more access to different locations, while more importantly allowing you to drive on sealed and unsealed roads where light snow has fallen, with a lot more confidence in knowing you'll have a better chance in reaching your destination.

Don't be complacent either and be prepared for what may occur when travelling. It would be daunting to spend a lengthy period of time stuck in a ditch on the side of the road in below freezing conditions. Be sure to inform someone of your travel plans if you know you'll be driving in adverse conditions and pack plenty of water, food, warm clothes and blankets. Also remember to regularly check weather and road conditions when you can.

The snow turned these areas into a winter wonderland and it was just spectacular witnessing the landscape change and seeing rivers cut through low lying bushes and trees now covered in a shimmering white blanket of snow. It was nothing that I have ever seen before and I was completely taken by the whole experience.

When the snow melted, combined with the rain that had fallen within these catchment areas, the rivers rose dramatically. Catching fish was difficult with rivers now flowing with extremely powerful currents. The water was also stained a tannin colour from the buttongrass and decaying eucalyptus leaves, fallen from the trees that lined their riparian zones. All was not lost though as it also gave me the upper hand in terms of not being noticed by the fish, with the somewhat turbid water now clouding the fish's vision whilst I walked the river edges.

Casting my lure upstream into the current and retrieving it sideways back to the bank was clearly the method of targeting these fish in this type of water. The retrieval speed of the lure was determined by the rivers speed flowing downstream, especially when casting the Mepps spinners, ensuring that the Colorado blade attached to the lure would spin to attract the fish.

While the rivers were full and running fast, the lakes' water levels were also obviously rising. This was great, knowing that the trout would be pushing up on these now flooded grassy banks and feasting on submerged worms, grubs, and beetles. I also knew that finding areas along the bank where the water temperature would be half a degree warmer, would also be advantageous.

So, a decision was made to target fish within the lakes that were open to fishing in the closed season, focusing along shallow windward bays and banks. Lake King William was one of those lakes, located within the Central Highlands and part of the River Derwent system. I managed to find a couple of hours whilst the roads were closed to Hobart, exploring the upper reaches and headwaters of the lake. I could have walked the lake banks for days and although I struggled to land a fish, I gained more knowledge from a number of fish striking my lure. Noting the environment where these fish lived and the type of structure that lined the banks of these lakes.

Further south, toward Hobart on the Lyell Highway, there were a few towns that I was very keen to drop into and not pass by. There was a stretch of the River Derwent at New Norfolk, downstream of the town's bridge that allowed access for fishing during a closed season. I had particularly wanted to spend some time in this location. Upon traversing through the small towns of Bushy Park and Plenty, upstream of New Norfolk, and following the River Derwent's tributaries, such as the Tyenna River and the Styx River, I knew that conditions were far, far from perfect.

The rain and the melting snow that had fallen in the upper catchment of this region, had caused all the river systems within this area to be filled with debris and lots of sediment, held within its now raging water. It was nearly impossible to cast and retrieve a lure. To say that I was a little disappointed would be a massive understatement. The opportunity however, gave me another insight of how the rivers run, their power and how some of the Mepps spinners that I had in my lure box performed in the very strong current.

Now in Hobart, after visiting Port Arthur and other landmarks along the coast within the Tasman National Park, an opportunity arose to visit Craigbourne Dam. Located on the Coal River, Craigbourne is just a short 50-minute drive north from the city centre. We couldn't not visit the Richmond Bridge and a couple of wineries along the way. This region is renowned for its wine making, cheeses and chocolate, and I was very content in being the designated driver and not overindulging.

I managed to flick a few lures around for a couple of hours at Craigbourne Dam, late in the afternoon. No trout were caught, however I did manage to catch a small redfin perch, which I could now tick off the bucket list. Albeit a small specimen, I was just happy to catch a species that I had never caught before!

I switched from a Mepps spinner to a ZMan 3.5" Trick SwimZ in Bad Shad colour, rigged on a TT Lures 1/6oz 3/0 HeadlockZ jighead. As the sun set and the brisk breeze blew into the windward bays, across a couple of points, I noticed some small baitfish seeking shelter among the weed and submerged grassy edges. As the sun sank lower in the sky, I also saw a few fish striking the surface. Casting my lure into the vicinity from the bank and retrieving the paddle tail lure close to the surface was effective almost immediately.

Whilst in the southeastern part of Tasmania, we also decided to catch a ferry to Bruny Island for a couple of days of exploring. The sights from the walking tracks were spectacular, however the boat cruise around the bottom of the South Island was next level. We were in awe of the rock formations, towering cliffs and caves that meet the ocean, evolving over thousands of years. We also saw an abundance of sea birds, falcons and marine life, including dolphins and Australian fur seals.

The east coast of Tasmania is where you'll find locations to target trophy sized bream. Although they are more prevalent in the warmer months, according to locals, they can also be caught when the climate is much cooler... with persistence. As you travel north, along the east coast, be sure to fish waters such as the Little Swanport River, Swan River near Coles Bay and Prosser River. The Scamander River is another location that is renowned for producing these brutes.

These fish are very fickle though and natural lure presentations, designed to match baitfish within their environment, will give you the upper hand. ZMan 2" GrubZ and 2.5" GrubZ, 2.5" Slim SwimZ and the 3.5" Trick SwimZ in natural colours, such as Bad Shad, Bloodworm and Baby Bass, rigged on TT Lures 1/0 and 2/0 HeadlockZ jigheads, all make for good bait presentations.

Don't be fooled that these fish spend their time in deeper water hunting their prey. They are just as fearsome, honing in on the baitfish that are schooled in numbers, along with crustaceans residing in shallow water on the flats. The water along the coast is crystal clear and I would also recommend rigging your soft plastic lures on 8lb or 10lb Platypus Stealth FC Fluorocarbon Leader, at a length no shorter than about 1.5m or 5 feet in the old imperial measurement. You may even pick up a flathead or two holding in these same areas.

Retrieval techniques can be as easy as just a slow roll (slow wind) or as complex as you like, using small twitches of the rod tip whilst retrieving the lure. Be sure the cover the entire water column, allowing your lure to sink slowly to the bottom when paused on your retrieve. You'll know when the lure has reached the bottom as the belly in your line quickly drops. A lot of the time the bream will aggressively hit your lure on the drop, so keep the belly in your line to a minimum and stay connected to the fish throughout the fight.

Another species worth targeting along the Tasmanian coastline is Australian Salmon. A super fun, hard fighting sportfish for their size which is regularly encountered in this region. Paddle tail soft plastics, such as ZMan 3" MinnowZ rigged on TT Lures 3/0 HeadlockZ jighead, are a perfect lure presentation to target these fish. Australian salmon can be found spanning the many beaches along the coastline and within the lower reaches of the rivers that meet the ocean. They have a slender, bullet-like body, with a forked tail and they are built for speed. They are also incredibly fun on light gear and hit a lure hard and fast.

In the northeast there is an old tin mine that is now filled with water. There are remnants of times past that surround Pioneer, once a bustling area and thriving community. Lined with sedge weed, it doesn't leave too many options for landbased anglers to target trout, except for a couple of granite pebbled beaches. In the north, within a fifty-minute drive from Launceston, lies two lakes. Lake Huntsman as mentioned earlier and Brushy Lagoon are both stocked regularly by Tasmania's Inland Fisheries. Four Springs Lake is another lake option, however unfortunately anglers are not permitted to fish here during the closed season. Lake Huntsman and Brushy Lagoon have grass lined banks and are accessible to landbased anglers. I'd recommend fishing the shallow banks one hour prior to sunrise, through to mid-morning and about two hours either side of sunset. While in this region I'd also recommend checking out kanamaluka/River Tamar, downstream from the Lower Charles St Bridge on the North Esk River and West Tamar Road Bridge on the South Esk River.

Basing yourself in Launceston will give you several options. Being positioned in the north, water temperatures will be slightly higher and the fish more active than in southern locations. It's also a great place to base yourself if you're planning to stay at the start of the trout season. However, I'd also recommend doing some reconnaissance prior to locate suitable rivers and water to access and fish.

I had success in catching a few to open my account, using ZMan 2.5" Slim SwimZ and 2.5" GrubZ, along with a variety of Mepps spinners, however I had little success landing them to get a photo. Unbeknownst to me at the time, they have incredibly soft lips that have a tendency of tearing, even though they have a hardened upper palette. It wasn't until I downsized to a #2 Mepps Aglia spinner that I started to catch these fish successfully as the fish were now inhaling the lure rather than pinning them on their lips.

Once hooked they have an abundance of energy, tending to jump and turn in every direction, making landing these fish without a net extremely difficult. The first thing that I did was buy a landing net when I got into Launceston. I learned extremely quickly that these fish, in the cold months of winter, strike somewhat timidity. I found myself evolving as an angler even more quickly while targeting these fish for the first time. Techniques, lure size and retrieval speeds were all key elements to entice these fish.

When fishing with soft plastic lures in lakes or back eddies in a fast-flowing river, knowing when to pause the lure and just let it sit on the bottom was something that needed to be learned, based on the mood of the fish. One thing is for certain though, once a fish is hooked be sure to apply pressure and keep connected to it at all times. It's easier said than done, especially in the faster flowing waters of the rivers.

These fish are so courageous for their size and are extremely determined to escape the clutches of a lure once hooked. Most of the fish that I caught came from casting lures upstream within the faster flowing water of rapids or to the head of the rapids. However, don't discount casting lures upstream to the tail end of the rapids too as you'll also find these fish targeting prey that is being washed down into the deeper pools and back eddies.

I was lucky enough to fish a few rivers at the start of the trout season and ended up catching approximately twenty trout in short sessions during this time. If planning a trip to Tasmania, purely for trout fishing, I would highly recommend traveling during the open trout season, giving you more options to target these fish. Nothing comes easy though and a lot of work will need to be done even prior to arriving, in terms of access points to rivers and streams, using Google Earth and Google Maps.

Don't be disappointed however after arriving at a marked location and finding that accessing the water can't be achieved. This is primarily due to private property and farms that align the rivers, along with the dense riparian zone along the water's edge, often thick with Blackberry bush and African Boxthorn. Both of these noxious weeds are very thorny, making it difficult to traverse through. In some places, especially in the north during the warmer months from spring, there is also the possibility of coming across some tiger snakes, which are prevalent in this region. Be sure to wear appropriate clothing to protect your legs and always pack a couple of compression bandages, just in case.

The many mountains, that form the landscape around most rivers and lakes, capture the rain, sleet and melting snow that eventually flows into their headwaters and catchments. How fishable these waters are during winter depends on the amount of water entering them at the time. The river systems that cut through these stunning mountain ranges are spectacular. The lush green forestry and the dense rainforests that align the river edges and lakes, along with the rocky formations and escarpments, make for an incredible and picturesque backdrop. The shimmering rapids flowing over the rounded boulders and stones were equally stunning.

Although many anglers have fished these untamed rivers before, you'll still feel like you are the first person to discover them. They are raw and forever evolving with changing weather and seasons. I'm incredibly inspired now to return during the warmer months, to explore deeper into the mountainous ranges rarely seen and untouched. No words can describe the beauty of some of these water ways and at times I had to stop to truly appreciate my surroundings. Tasmania you did not disappoint!

Cheers, Bracey