Guest Blogger: Mike Cline, Bozeman, Montana

Tasmanian Brown Trout
Tasmanian Brown Trout

I’ve never really had a bucket list for fishing, but if I did, Australia, specifically Tasmania would have been on it. So this next Spring (2017) the wife and I will be heading to Australia for several weeks which will include at least a week in Tasmania trout fishing and a couple of fishing days in the mountains of eastern Victoria. Although the trip will also include ample sampling of Australian wildlife, wineries, single malt distilleries and of course some exotic Australian cuisine, with good reason, Tasmania provides a fly fishing opportunity for trout that is unparalleled by any other. It is not the realm of monster trout, steelhead and salmon like Patagonia, Alaska or Kola. There are no exotic species like rooster fish, peacock bass or Taimen. But, unlike in the U.S. or other locations where you find introduced Brown Trout, the browns in Tasmania represent a pure strain of English brown trout from the River Itchen.

Prior to 1864, Australia was devoid of salmonids. Starting in 1861, several efforts were made to introduce Atlantic Salmon into Australia but none ever really succeeded. Despite tens of thousands of Atlantic Salmon eggs making the four-month sea voyage from England, very few survived. But those that did were hatched in the new Salmon Ponds hatchery on the Plenty River northwest of Hobart, Tasmania. However, in 1864, as an afterthought, 1500-2000 brown trout eggs from the River Itchen made the four-month voyage from Falmouth, Cornwall, to Melbourne on the sailing ship Norfolk. Only 300 of those eggs survived by the time the shipment reached Hobart in Tasmania. By 1866, 171 young brown trout were thriving in the Plenty River hatchery in Tasmania. Thirty-eight young trout were released in the river, a tributary of the River Derwent in 1866. Six pairs of healthy brood stock were retained in the hatchery. By 1868, the Plenty River and the Salmon Ponds Hatchery hosted a self-sustaining population of brown trout which became a brood source for continued introduction of brown trout into Australia. After some forty generations, the offspring of those first 38 brown trout populate trout waters in Tasmania, Victoria, New South Wales South Australia and Western Australia. Those offspring are genetically pure River Itchen strain brown trout. Brown trout in the U.S. and those introduced elsewhere originated from multiple strains of English and German and although not true hybrids, they are purely products of hatcheries and cross-breeding of strains—mongrels if you will. In Tasmania, I’ll be fishing for that pure English brown descended from fish that swam in the River Itchen.

Typical Tasmanian Creek
Typical Tasmanian Creek

Planning a trip halfway around the world to fish for Brown Trout when you live in Bozeman, Montana isn’t a casual decision. It’s about 8700 miles from Bozeman to Launceston, Tasmania. That’s a long way if you forget something. While it’s only about a 3rd of the way around the world, it still takes 2 days to get there. Although I knew Tasmania had some decent trout fishing, a bit of research revealed the fact that there’s actually a lot of quality trout water—some 1000 miles or more—on an island just one forth the size of Montana. To ensure a quality week of fishing I needed to make some decisions on when and where well before we boarded the flight to Sydney. We settled on tackling streams in the north-central portion of the island surrounding the small town of Deloraine, close to the Meander and Mersey Rivers. And as my prototype Down Under Elk Hair Caddis suggests, things are bit up-side-down down under. Unlike Montana, Tasmania has a fixed trout season that runs roughly from early August to May 1st. Our trip in mid-April should encounter similar Fall conditions that we might experience in Montana in late September, early October. On the map, Tasmania looks like it’s really out there, but from a latitude standpoint, the island is on par with southern Oregon. Its climate is characterized as cool temperate which is very similar to the interior coastal valleys of southern Oregon. Like most islands, the climate is influenced significantly by the surrounding seas—about three times wetter than SW Montana.

Down Under Elk Hair Caddis
Down Under Elk Hair Caddis

One of the early decisions we made was not to try and spend a week in Tasmania fishing on our own. The commitment and cost to get there warranted further investment in expert advice. So we are planning on staying and fishing with a small country lodge operated by an Australian entrepreneurial couple with a Montana connection. After some serious searching we found Driftwater, a small lodge operation run by a couple who eschewed a life of business in Melbourne and became trout bums for a while. Having spent some time in Montana learning the guide trade and becoming certified casting instructors, we will have somethings in common. They even imported their drift boats from Montana. A few guided trips with the Driftwater folks and a few days on our own under the care of their advice should make for a productive trip. In Victoria, we will sojourn a few days out east of Melbourne in the western foothills of the Snowy Mountains and Victorian Alps to float the Mitta Mitta for browns and possibly the Murray for the prized Murray Cod if conditions are right. We’ll be assisted by an outfitter based just outside BeechworthRiverescapes who will provide meals, lodging and of course expert knowledge of the rivers and fish. Big decisions remain.

The biggest in my mind is what gear am I going to bring along. A few fly boxes, rods, reels and lines are pretty easy to deal with, but waders and boots are not. We are only going to spend a week in Tasmania out the four weeks in Australia while Driftwater and Riverescapes have all the gear we would need for the short time we will be fishing. Plus, from what I can discern, the Australian authorities are pretty diligent about inspecting gear upon importation for invasive species. I’d hate to lose my good Simms boots and waders to an overzealous inspector. But, our other planned destinations along the southeastern coast—Adelaide and Melbourne have some decent saltwater beach fishing which I might like to sneak in. Time will tell on the gear decisions. As for flies, I will be taking a box or two of my favorite stuff along with the hope that Tasmanian and Victorian brown trout have the same thirst for fur, foam and feathers as they do in Montana. I am sure I’ll need some esoteric fly tying material from J. Stockard to tie up some go-to Tasmanian fly that is the favorite prey of Tasmanian brown trout descended from the River Itchen or the voracious Murray Cod. Time will tell as this will be an ongoing odyssey–Going Down Under.

NOTE FROM J STOCKARD: Read Mike’s next post about the “Shrek” fly, developed in Tasmania!

1 Comment

  1. Nice photos Mike; hope you have a good time. Decades ago I spent a full year “down under,” but did not set foot on Tassie terrain. Half of that year was spent traveling New Zealand, which is of course another fabulous example of trout heaven. I kayaked a stream or two no bigger than the creek in your photo on NZ’s North Island and hiked across many more that were similar in the Southern Alps. The glacial silt that makes pristine South Island water appear stunningly turquoise from a distance is not a detriment to trout, who grow huge in those wild flows.

    Some day I’ll return and fish there again. Or maybe Tassie. Or, what the heck, both.

    Have fun.

    – Mike

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