Person standing on the side of the great lake

Tasmania’s Great Lake

Simon Taylor reports on the largest lake in the Tasmanian highlands.

Photographs by Brad Harris.

Fishing on bright days, with a good wave to open up and create a “window” best allows you to take advantage of the Lake’s crystal clear water and the fantastic visual dry fly fishing.

Tasmania’s Great Lake is the largest hydro-electric storage in the Central Highlands. The natural Great Lake was first dammed in 1912 and subsequently dammed another three times, with the current rockfill wall completed in 1967. When full, the lake has the capacity to cover an im-mense 17610 hectares, and hold 3178 million cubic metres of water.

However, in recent years Tasmania’s Central Plateau has suffered low rainfall; the winter of 2006 was the driest on record. This has taken its toll on Great Lake. At the time of writing, it is down to below 20 per cent of hydro generating capacity or around 16.5 metres from full. At this level, the lake can appear barren and unappealing, with low water scars dominating the landscape and many prominent bays having all but disappeared.

The good news is that although not aesthetically pleasing, the current low water levels are creating some outstanding fishing. The typical size of Great Lake fish has increased over the past five years. Low water levels promote better weed growth. With weed comes more invertebrate life, meaning more food for the fish. While both brown and rainbow trout are present, brown trout still dominate and in the 2006 spawning run, the average weight of browns has risen to 2.6 lb. This was a significant increase on the previous year.

Great Lake Fishing

While Great Lake is one of Tasmania’s most popular trout fisheries, many fly- fishers fail to recognise its full potential. The lake’s large size and exposed nature turns many fly anglers away.Traditionally it has been regarded as an ‘evening rise’ venue where, in calm conditions, it offers very reliable and accessible sport. But if you can look beyond this, with a little confidence and knowledge, you too can experience the fantastic daytime fly fishing it has to offer.

As a fishery, Great Lake is as diverse as it is large. Midges dominate the hatches, but fish rise freely to a range of terrestrial insects. The lake also offers superb polaroiding water for both boat and shore-based anglers. 
On days when no fish can be seen, blind prospecting with a team of dries produces outstanding results.

While the lake offers high quality wet fly fishing, to me it is a dry fly fishery. Leave the dull, overcast days for nearby famous mayfly waters. Best days on Great Lake are blue-sky days with light to moderate winds. Fishing on bright days, with a good wave to open up and create a ‘window’, best allows you to take advantage of the lake’s crystal clear water and the fantastic visual dry fly fishing.

Person standing on the side of the great lake

An ideal spot on one of the islands where structure and wind lane remnants combine.

Great Lake Hatches

While Great Lake does not feature a major mayfly hatch, it does produce some of the best midge hatches in the state. Early morning hatches occur from October through to the end of the season. Heavy hatches result in a thick ‘scum’ of insects accumulating on the shore and can have literally thousands of trout rising over the lake.

Although it is possible to catch ‘midging’ fish under flat calm conditions, and even when the water is quite ruffled, the best fishing occurs when the insects accumulate in the wind lanes which form on the lake. Wind lanes concentrate the midges and make it much easier to find feeding fish.

Midging fish on Great Lake can be hard. To get the most out of this type of fishing, a boat with an electric motor is a huge advantage. But even with the aid of a boat, these fish remain difficult. Rainbows in particular move quickly and need to be led by long distances. Speedy delivery of long accurate casts will dramatically improve your catch rate. Casts of 80 feet are not uncommon and long leaders are vital for success. Due to the high clarity of the water, when fishing calm conditions the trout are very spooky. It is not unusual to have fish over 80 feet away ‘slash’ the water in panic, fleeing the scene while your cast is still in mid-air!

Terrestrial insects such as beetles, flying ants, jassids and hoppers also generate excellent rises. The key to finding good fishing is to find food on the water. Even on days when there are few insects to be seen, fish can 
still be found hunting wind-blown shores and spotted in the waves searching for food. Excessive beetle-falls can often generate poor fishing conditions. The best beetle fishing is found in medium to light falls, as the fish seem to feed for longer as they move around hunting them out.

Great Lake Structure

Man fishing from a boat on the great lake in Tasmania

Any wind lanes and foam lines found across the lake are worth checking out.

On days when few or no insects are to be found, Great Lake still offers tremendous fishing. But to get the most out of your day on the water you must fish around structure. Structure includes things like weed beds, rocks, reefs, logs, stumps, drop-offs and wind-created foam lines and wind lanes.

With the lake at such low levels there has never been a better time to target fish living on the weed beds. At normal levels, the best weed beds are 5–8 metres below the surface. Now that levels are down, many weed beds can be easily seen from the lake shore. Both shore-based anglers and those fishing from boats can easily access these prime areas. On bright days, it is possible to drift large distances in a boat and see the lush weed growth beneath. Many of the best weed beds in the lake are easy to locate and can be found in places like Canal Bay, Tods Corner, Swan Bay, south of Maclanachans Point Island, Sandbanks Bay, Elizabeth Bay and south of Reynolds Neck.

Rocks are another excellent form of structure where you should concentrate your efforts, although some rocky areas are better than others. Large rocks and reefs provide excellent holding ground for fish. I prefer fishing at a depth from about 4 feet through to where you can just see the bottom. In this type of water, trout can easily see a floating fly and also, in many cases, sense it land. Some of the best places to find this type of bottom are Maclanachans Point Island and reef, the shore between Grassy Bay and Cider Park Bay and much of the western shore between Duck Point and the Beehives.

There are many other excellent places to find productive rocks and reefs. Those mentioned are just some areas to get you started. With lake levels constantly changing, new features are being created, leaving lots of room for discovery.

Foam lines and wind lanes are fish heaven. The importance of wind lanes has already been mentioned for midge fishing. Both these types of wind-created structure trap and hold any surface food. Such features can appear anywhere on the lake, and when a productive one is found, will often hold large numbers of feeding fish. At times they can represent a thick soup of fish-food, and should be fished hard.

Recent low levels at Great Lake have resulted in better quality fish.

Great Lake Polaroiding

The clear waters of Great Lake are perfectly suited for polaroiding, but it is generally overlooked by anglers as a polaroiding venue in favour of the nearby Nineteen Lagoons. Any blue-sky day will do, but the best are those with a gentle to moderate wind during the summer months, when the sun is at its highest.

Shore anglers need to be smart to get the most out of their fishing session. Wind is an important factor; not only to ‘open up’ the water, but also to concentrate the food that fish will be hunting. Wind-blown shores or those that have the wind blowing parallel with them are best. In these places, the wind currents accumulate food and therefore attract large numbers of fish.

Boat polaroiding, or ‘shark fishing’ as the locals know it, is a must-do for all fly fishers. The best days are those with a good northerly wind and plenty of sun. In good conditions, it is possible to find fish a long way offshore hunting food like gum beetles in the waves. The fish can often be seen from long distances: it is not uncommon to see large golden browns glowing in the waves from over 50 metres away! Another feature of these fish is that they are normally not too selective when it comes to fly choice. Often, just getting the fly in front of a fish is enough

The Black Cricket is my favourite pulling fly and I find it deadly. When you think about the bigger food items found around the lake (cockroaches, cicadas and crickets) they are all big and all black!  When blind-prospecting Great Lake, flies are best fished static and as a team of three. Ideally, a combination of searching patterns and pulling patterns should be used. My favourite set-up is a size 12 black Bobs Bits on point, a size 10 Carrot Fly on the middle dropper and a size 6 Black Cricket on the top. Flies should be spread out evenly on a level 10-foot, 4 lb tippet. While this may sound hard to cast, most of this style of fishing is done drifting with the wind at your back, which makes it a lot easier to turn the leader over.  So now there is no excuse. If you find yourself in Tasmania’s Central Highlands on a sunny day from late spring to the end of autumn, Great Lake should be on the cards. With the lake low and the fish in terrific shape, it is the ideal place for some wonderfully visual dry-fly action.

Flies can be relatively simple but serve specific purposes. I divide them into three categories: flies to imitate insects found on the lake, searching flies, and pulling flies.

Dry flies used for imitating the midges found on the lake do not have to be anything special. My preferred patterns include the Black Parachute and small Possum Shaving Brush both tied in size 14. For best results, fish these flies as a two-fly set-up on a long leader of 12 to 15 feet. Fine tippets are important and the Shaving Brush is best fished as the point fly where it can ‘hang’ properly. The Black Parachute should be fished on a dropper around 60 centimetres in front. Using two flies greatly improves your chances of covering a midging fish, and it is much easier to make a long cast than when fishing a team of three.

The only other specific imitation I use is the gum beetle. Some days beetle feeders will eat anything you put in front of them, but on others they are fussy. Bruce Gibson’s gum beetles are excellent and if well presented, are rarely refused.

Flies in my ‘searching’ category must float well, but still sit low in the water. Seal’s fur and CDC are perfect materials for making this type of fly. While there is a fine line between my ‘searching’ and ‘pulling’ flies, they are different. Although they both catch plenty of fish, the searching patterns are smaller flies that don’t have the power of the larger pulling flies to draw fish to them. My preferred searching flies include black Bobs Bits and CDC Bibio Hoppers in sizes 10–12.

These are also excellent for polaroided fish. When used in polaroiding, they should be fished with the same type of leader set-up used for midge feeders, though the leader may need to be shortened if casting into a stiff breeze.

Pulling flies do not get their name because you move them, but from their ability to pull fish up off the bottom or draw fish from long distances. A size 10 Carrot Fly and the supersized Chernobyl Ant and Black Cricket are the flies of choice.  Chernobyl Ants and Black Crickets need to be big—size 6 is best. These weapons land with a thud and often result in a savage take.

Adding a fly Great Lakes Fishing in Tasmania

For prospecting likely water on Great Lake, Simon teams a Black Cricket with a Carrot Fly and a black Bobs Bits. He doesn’t worry too much about clipping the tag ends on his knots!

This colourful Great Lake brownie couldn’t resist Simon’s three fly trick.

Great fishing adventures of Australia

With 60,000 km of coastline, nearly 4,000 marine species and a multitude of lakes, rivers and billabongs, it’s no wonder Australia has some of the best fishing in the world.  Great Fishing Adventures of Australia is the catch of Australia’s best fishing operators that have come together to raise the profile of our country as a world-class fishing destination. As well as providing overviews of each fishing operator, Great Fishing Adventures of Australia has suggested itineraries for fishing holidays, plus tips on different fishing types, from saltwater and freshwater fishing to deep sea and fly fishing adventures.  Additional information is available on https://australia.com/fishing

About Tasmania

Tasmania is a place of wild and beautiful landscapes, friendly people with a relaxed island lifestyle, wonderful food and wine, and a haunting history evoked by world-famous convict ruins.  It’s also Australia’s smallest state and the most geographically diverse with over 40 per cent reserved as national parks and world heritage wilderness. No matter where you go, whether you spend time in one place or drive around the island, we know you’ll be delighted by what you’ll find and surprised at how much bigger Tasmania is on the inside.  Additional information is available on https://www.tourismtasmania.com.au

Fly fishing in Australia

FlyLife is a high-quality journal featuring the best salt and freshwater fly fishing in Australia and New Zealand. Each issue is packed with feature articles, regular columns, short stories, fly-tying, techniques, locations and tackle, all complemented by outstanding photography.

For more information on Fly Fishing in Tasmania and Australia visit https://flylife.com.au

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