Arthurs Lake Tasmania
By Chris Hill
|In this article Chris Hill,
professional guide and 1997 Australian Fly fishing Champion explains why he describes
Arthurs Lake as the finest Stillwater wild trout fishery in Australia.
Arthurs Lake is well regarded as the most popular and productive fishery in Tasmania. The lake is a large hydro-electric storage with historically variable water levels and fish populations. In past years levels have dropped as far as nine metres and this has been a major detriment to the fishery. A minimum operating level has now been agreed upon, this reduces the range of water level change. And has no doubt helped in maintaining relatively high levels over the past few years. These higher water levels during spring flood large areas of grasslands adding worms, grubs, frogs, beetles, and spiders to the fishs already substantial diet. It is little wonder that many fish last year ranged from 1 to 2 kilos in weight.
The lake is a delightful fishery. The water is crystal clear, and surrounded by towering eucalyts which in many areas plunge straight into the water creating the appearance of an underwater forest. Most bays are shallow and sheltered with emergent weeds and shallow grassy foreshores. The lake is synonymous with its mayfly hatches but there are many other significant hatches and exciting fishing opportunities.
Summer Mayfly Hatches
The importance of the small aquatic insect called a mayfly to Tasmanian fly-fishermen cannot be over emphasized. A fly that doesnt even hatch in May! Summer mayfly hatches in the Central Highlands are the most eagerly awaited and anticipated event in the Tasmanian trout-fishing calendar. Arthurs Lake and Little Pine Lagoon are the leading waters and both are well known for their mayfly hatches. The hatches on these lakes are as good as any stillwater fishery anywhere in the world today. Tasmanians are very lucky these highland mayflies hatch in quantity throughout the entire summer period. On Arthurs the highland duns which are most important, begin there emergence in November and continue through until the end of March. January and February produce the biggest and most consistent hatches of duns and some of the most productive fly-fishing for the season. Large swarms of black spinners, which are sexually mature duns, are also ever present throughout this period. They are most evident on calm warm afternoons during January and February when they frequent the surface. If conditions remain favorable large accumulations of spinners can occur, and fishing can be really special.
Arthurs has large areas of shallow fertile water covered with water grasses and weed beds, which provide ideal breeding grounds for extensive mayfly populations. Caddis, stoneflies, midge lava, mollusks and shrimp also flourish. It is not surprising that these are the most productive areas to fish, with the biggest and best-conditioned fish being found there. Most bays and the many areas immediately surrounding the islands are shallow and experience good mayfly hatches. My favorite bays for shore-based dun fishing include Sevenpound Bay, Tumbledown Bay, Hydro Bay, and Cowpaddock Bay. Whilst in the boat the Jonah Bay area is certainly hard to beat.
Two seasons ago I experienced a day on Arthurs when the water was a continuous carpet of duns. There really were duns sitting on top of duns. That same day I spoke to Jim Allen at the boat ramp and he said it was the best hatch he had ever seen on Arthurs. I felt very fortunate that I was there! At that time I didnt know that in the following summer I would witness several hatches that would rival if not surpass this one. February 1999 produced some of the biggest hatches and this was one of those days.
The weather had been overcast, cool, and drizzly for the past couple of days. The low-pressure cell positioned off the East Coast of Tasmania was the cause. This day was no different, cool, light drizzle, heavy low cloud and a light SE wind. I had guided the past three days and the hatches had been heavy each day, today I had the day off, a chance to fish with a friend. We had been drifting across Jonah bay until midday but there was only the odd dun coming off. Then at around 1.30pm it started, it was as if someone flicked on a switch! Within minutes duns surrounded the boat they were everywhere! We were tucked into a lee bay where the duns were hatching but there was only an occasional rise. I decided to move across to Seven Pound bay whee the duns were drifting onto shore, and this was where we found the fish. In the waves they were gulping down almost every dun in sight. By now there was constant rain, and the duns were glued to the surface. Casting had to be pin point due to the number of naturals present. I opted to fish a single claret emerger, which proved to be most successful when landed in the trouts window. I am sure I would have caught more fish if I had covered fish with a team of loch style flies, but this would not have been anywhere as near challenging. Between the two of us we boated twenty-six fish and lost many more, some of the bigger fish were close to 2 kilo.
For the fly-fishing novice I can think of no better place to fish than Arthurs during mayfly time! I have witnessed so many anglers catch there first wild trout at Arthurs Lake. If you can cast five metres, which nearly anybody can do, then you will catch fish in Arthurs during summer. Simply tie an emerger or highland dun to a nine-foot leader and float it in the water. Keep concentrating on your fly and it will get eaten if it stays in the water long enough. Drifting in a boat is most successful because of the vast area of water that can be searched with the dry. If boat fishing is not an option then I would suggest wading shallow bays like Tumbledown or the Cowpaddock and continually covering fresh water. If I am not casting to a fish I will make a new cast every 20-30 seconds to another likely spot. Visible weed beds, calm patches of water, and exposed boulders are all hot spots. It is also an advantage to fish two flies, if they can be managed and kept tangle free. An emerger/ highland dun combo or an emerger/ nymph combo are both good options.
Gum Beetle falls
Gum beetles are terrestrial insects that are attracted to water like men are attracted to the opposite sex. In the Tasmanian Central Highlands and around Arthurs Lake they are extremely abundant. On warm days swarms of beetles are clearly visible in the eucalypt canopies. I love these small metallic green and yellow beetles because they compliment and extend the dry fly fishing season on Arthurs. From about mid- October they begin to frequent the lake surface and continue to do so until the end of the season in April. And trout will rise to these insects throughout this entire period, distended stomaches are the evidence of the trout liking to these beetles.
When I consider if beetle fishing is an option for the day, weather conditions must be understood, as this is the key to successful fishing. Beetle activity seems to be controlled almost entirely by air temperature. There tends to be almost no activity at all below the critical minimum temperate of 15 degrees. But once this temperature is reached and exceeded you can be fairy certain that beetles will be on the wing and crash landing into the water. Most days the air temperature reaches this level at around 11am. The prepared angler should already be on the water and waiting by this time, when the first beetles begin to scatter the lake surface. Wind strength and direction will enable me to decide where the best accumulations of beetles will be found. Most lee shore on Arthurs will experience beetle falls to some extent, with some providing more consistent sport. My favourite areas include Creely Bay, Hydro Bay, and Tumbledown Bay. Tumbledown is especially good in a northwest to northerly, while Creely is best in a west to southwesterly.
Last season on Arthurs I experienced some of my best beetle fishing in March and April. This was helped no doubt by the fact that on many suitable beetle days in late spring and summer I was in the Western Lakes polaroiding. During these months beetles often reached plague levels. Often two hours of warmth was enough for these green bugs to saturate the surface. Some days we had to cease polaroiding rising and surface cruising fish because we could not see through the beetles. These are the days best ignored, the fish fill up on beetles very quickly and become super selective. Fortunately many days there was only a light to medium sprinkling of beetles on the water, these were the times when the fishing was best.
A typical day in March last year reflects this situation. It was midday, there was a light wind from the north west, and not a cloud to be seen when Chris Bassano and I arrive at Pumphouse boat ramp. I walked straight to the lake edge and began looking for beetles, this is a habit of mine! No time was wasted as we loaded the boat and headed into Creely Bay. There was a light ripple pushing round the point into a glass calm bay. Nosing the boat through the submerged trees we stopped in a small opening. Here I scanned the surface and could see three or four beetles. Past experience and recent trips told me that we should do well today. During the course of the afternoon we only saw about a dozen fish rise to beetles. As it turned out they were nearly all oncers but fortunately most were in casting range. Every time the dry went out into the vacinity of a rise and some times this was after a prolonged period, the fish rose confidently to take the fly. By 4pm the beetles on the water were gone, eaten by fish or blown offshore. And since no more were flying, our sport was over. The two of us landed about a dozen fish in three hours of fishing. Most fish were between two and three pounds. And I remember one brown that made a blistering first run and wrapped my line around two trees before the hook broke free.
Depending on the size of the beetle fall fish can either be easy or difficult to catch. When the hatch is only small to medium in its extent, fish will rise with some regularity. Then it is only a matter only presenting the fly in the right spot. The fish normally accept most fly patterns. When the hatch is big the best chance normally lies in the first hour of the hatch, when the fish are eager and taking most beetles in their path. Sometimes the last hour before dark can be worthwhile, normally more fish will rise as the light diminishes and these fish are more confident takers. Always take note of beetle accumulations, if no fish are seen rising during the day in these areas, return in the evening and you may be in for a surprise.
Midges and Windlanes
These tiny insects which are similar to a mosquito at first appearance create some of the most challenging and rewarding fly-fishing you will ever encounter. Midges are an aquatic insect and those found in Arthurs Lake are normally olive green or black in colour. Midges accumulate on the lake surface in large numbers early in the morning, or late afternoon on calm overcast days. Their attraction to the trout is obvious and the fish soon key in on this insect. Even the rarely seen deep-water fish will alter their bottom feeding habits to sip down midges from the surface.
Often midges will lie trapped on the surface for extended periods, especially early mornings when hatching midges get pushed into concentrated bands or windlanes. Some mornings these areas provide the most concentrated surface feeding you are likely to see anywhere! The brown trout swim barely below the surface and rise every 5 to 10 seconds, each time taking another mouthful of midges. Tails, backs and mouths mark there every movement. If the angler is good enough to place the fly in the right spot then he is in for some serious fun. On the better mornings a good caster can expect to hook plenty of fish. Weather conditions will dictate if the day will be a good midge day, and when conditions are right the angler should not miss the opportunity.
The perfect morning is still, the water flat and there has been an overnight frost. On Arthurs midge feeding fish are available to the angler for six months, October to March. Late spring and early autumn provide some of the most reliable conditions, a day I remember well was October 18th 1998. This day was only 5 hours old, the air was crisp, there was a light frost and the treetops were motionless in the starry sky. The morning had plenty of promise, Simon and I were on the water just as the first rays of sun breached the eastern hills. We were on the water late, normally I would have had 20 minutes of my most productive fishing by now. The boat was shot to the plane as I steered us through the Morass area, the water was flat calm and there were intermittent rises all over. Midges were only lightly scattered so I headed to an area where I knew the light overnight breeze would have concentrated the midges. As I slowed the boat there was a distinct light brown band where thousands of midges lay - glued to each other in the oily surface. The area was the size of a small football field and there were fish rising in every direction we looked. For two hours Simon repeatedly cast to feeding fish. The fishing was intense and consuming. Simon a capable caster landed eight fish that morning on a #16 iron blue dun before the sun and increasing wind put the fish down, such are the pleasures of early morning windlane fishing.
Caddis, jassids, stoneflies, ants, and mudeyes
A number of other insects either aquatic or terrestrial hatch is substantial numbers and also cause considerable surface attention from the fish. Mayflies, beetles and midges are of most importance, I guess caddis would be next. With reliable evening hatches throughout summer, the angler can expect to see good rises on mild evenings especially during January and February. Dragonfly nymphs or mudeyes also hatch during late summer, which adds to the pleasure of the evening sport during this period. A boat again is a big advantage because most fish remain on the edge or past the edge of the ripple, which is painfully just out of casting range. Just on dark is most productive, and at this time I normally fish a cork fly. A small piece of cork glued onto the hook, it always floats and it works well too! When twitched across the path of a rising fish in low light conditions you can be fairly sure it will get eaten.
Jassids when evident are always eagerly taken by the trout. In recent years there has been a build up in their occurrences and last season saw some good falls in March and April. Stonefly hatches and ant falls are unpredictable to say the least. Most stonefly hatches seem to occur through spring, while ant falls occur mostly on humid hot summer days.
Dont wait too long
If you enjoy sight fishing as much as I do and you want a chance to experience some heavy hatch driven fishing then you should start backing your bags! The quality and quantity of fish that Arthurs Lake has been producing in recent years has been exceptional. These fish are really beautiful specimens and their strength and fighting ability is as good as any trout anywhere pound for pound.
Not every day though are you going to get a shot at rising fish, and there are days in the season where conditions are either too windy, or just too cold. Days like these in spring the angler with a trained eye may still be able to locate tailing fish in the flooded shallows. Other days the angler will have to search the water blind. These are the days that can normally test both angler and water! Knowing the art and effectiveness of loch style fishing techniques, I actually look forward to fishing Arthurs under such conditions.
My diary say that December 2nd 1998 was one such day. It was overcast and windy and no duns came off during the day. The two clients I was guiding loch style fished with two wet flies and we spent most of the day drifting alongside Brazendale Island. Most fish attacked the bob fly - a claret dabbler and we hooked over thirty fish for the day.
Two summers ago during February I fished with Bushy and Glen McCarthy, and we fished the Jonah Bay area with floating nymphs on fairly short lines. On the day only an occasional fish rose, yet between us we had about fifty fish engulf our flies. Glen actually caught more fish than both Bushy and I the following day and he had only just learnt how to fly fish. Its normal that we remember the best days and try to ignore the bad. All lakes have bad days, these days make us work harder and experiment more. Arthurs does have bad days, and they can be really bad, but fortunately they dont occur often. My best advise for these hard days is concentrate, and keep the confidence up. Go down deep with sinking or sink tip lines, mix up the retrieve, and vary the depth of the fly and the water being fished.
The future of Arthurs Lake looks good, there is still ample room for increased fishing pressure.
This season past the lake closed at a high level, so with some decent rain during winter and spring the lake should surpass its recent high levels. I am already getting excited about the potential of the lake during the 1999/2000 season. I hope you are too, and I expect to see you there!
Text and photos by Chris Hill © 2000
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