The 24 m high concrete Craigbourne Dam was constructed across the Coal River in 1986 to provide irrigation water for the rural districts of Campania and Richmond. While it cannot compare to the highland lakes, it is located less than 1 hour from Hobart and has become a very popular trout fishing venue.
The water is surrounded by farmland and most banks are open and grassy.
The coal catchment is one of the driest in Tasmania. The lake often fills in winter but is drawn upon as soon as flows in the lower Coal River begin to ebb, often in the early months of the trout season. Marked draw-downs are to be expected in summer and autumn.
The shoreline flanking the western arm is very flat and the water recedes markedly as lake-levels drop. The bottom here is clay/silt and is continually disturbed by wave action so weed growth is relatively sparse. However in most years pasture re-establishes on exposed parts of the lake-bed.
Smaller grassy flats flank the original courses of the Coal River and Craigbourne Creek (at the Brandy Bottom end of the lake). These flood at high levels and remain sheltered under most weather conditions.
Most other banks are moderately steep.
The water becomes quite murky after heavy rain and/or strong wind but clears appreciably during prolonged spells of settled weather.
Toxic blooms of blue-green algae were first noticed in autumn 1997 and have become commonplace during prolonged periods of hot, dry weather.
Prior to flooding, the Coal River contained established populations of brown trout and redfin perch and both species are self-supporting in the new lake. In the early years there were regular releases of brown trout fry and occasional releases of adult fish (transferred from the spawning runs at Great Lake) but these had little material effect on the quality of the fishing.
The rainbow trout fishing is wholly dependent upon artificial stocking; which has been undertaken on a regular basis since the initial flooding in 1986.
The average size of the trout and the relative numbers of each trout species are heavily influenced by stocking regimes. Rainbows can account for as little as 20% and as much as 60% of the annual harvest. In recent years there have been annual releases of 5000 domestic fingerlings, ensuring that the species has been prevalent in anglers' bags.
Brown trout to 1.5 kg are to be expected and quite a few attain 2 kg. The rainbows are generally smaller, most being maidens of around 0.3-1 kg, though they too are capable of growing to 2 kg or more.
Craigbourne fishes best in spring when the water is reasonably cool and is especially good when water is rising over long-exposed flats. Generally the fishing wanes during the heat of summer but there is a resurgence of dry fly activity in autumn.
The lake usually begins rising in late winter or early spring and brown trout soon move into the flood plains to forage about for worms and corby grubs. The fishing is best when the water is covering ground that has been exposed long enough for pasture to have re-established. It is also best if levels are rising slowly. During major floods, when the lake fills very quickly, drowned food litters a high percentage of the lake bottom and fish are less prone to concentrate along the fringes.
In ideal conditions the trout will tail freely along the edges but sometimes they are a little more secretive, making it necessary for anglers to resort to prospecting with Woolly Buggers. In any case, the fishing is usually best late in the afternoon and from first light until sun-up.
During wet springtimes frogs can provide for excellent wet-fly fishing, though you really need consecutive wet years for red-letter sport. The hot spots are along the edges of the flood-plains.
There is a reasonable mayfly population and the fish rise to duns from mid spring until Christmas. There are good midge hatches too, especially in spring and autumn, though most fish feed well offshore and are accessible only by boat.
The evening rise
The evening rise provides the most reliable sport of all, particularly when things are calm and warm. It is at its best from late September until Christmas but continues in a subdued form throughout summer before intensifying in autumn. There can even be some activity during winter if the weather is settled and reasonably mild.
Caddis flies are the predominant food, though there are excellent falls of cockchafer beetles on hot, muggy evenings during summer and early autumn. Mudeye migrations are unreliable but can stimulate intense activity in February/March.
The most popular stretch of shore extends from the carpark to the dam wall where anglers encounter a high percentage of maiden rainbows.
Mature rainbows migrate into the Coal River from August to late October. If flows are low the fish have difficulty entering the river and big numbers queue together in the upper reaches of the Coal arm of the lake. They are best targeted with wet flies: try a red and black Woolly Bugger with a bead-head.
When the water is rising it is normally quite turbid and polaroiding is next to impossible. However, during sustained periods of dry, calm weather the water can clear appreciably. The deeper edges of the lake are usually best for this style of fishing, especially the banks east of the dam wall where you are likely to spot big browns and rainbows cruising the lip.
Craigbourne is one of the few lakes open year round. It is one of the better venues too, mainly because it is a lowland fishery in an area noted for its mild weather. Because the rainbows and maiden browns feed well throughout winter, you may notice the odd rise (particularly on calm evenings) but you will probably have to rely heavily on blind fishing with wet flies.
The Coal River is the main spawning stream for brown trout but flows early in winter can be poor or non-existent so the fish tend to congregate in the upper reaches of the lake's Coal arm waiting for the first flush of rainwater. They are best targeted with wet flies.
Springtime is the most productive time for spinning. The deep banks are appealing and quite productive, but those prepared to wade pick up plenty of browns in the shallows, especially when the water is rising over the flood-plains. Fish-spoon wobblers are most practical in these conditions.
Spring also sees mature rainbows congregating at the mouth of the Coal.
Summer can be quite challenging, especially post Christmas when things are hot and dry. At these time it pays to concentrate your efforts at dawn and dusk. Daytime sport picks up again with the onset of cooler weather in autumn.
Winter fishing has proven to be worthwhile with anglers reporting fair bags of mainly rainbow trout.
Craigbourne's general dynamics and hot spots are covered in the discussion on shore-based lure fishing.
Flat-line trolling is favoured when fishing lures from boats but in high summer you generally fare better by fishing in the cooler clines a couple of metres below the surface. Fishing at this depth does not require the use of down riggers nor lead-core line. I prefer small, weighted lures such as Baltic Minnows which easily sink to the required depth when trolled slowly. Tassie Devil Cobras and big spoons are also quite efficient if used in conjunction with the finest line practicable (say 0.22 to 0.17 mm or 2.7 to 2.0 kg) and/or some lightweight to medium trolling sinkers (30-45 g).
Set-rod fishing is extremely popular but the merits of cast-and-retrieve should not be overlooked, certainly not on warm muggy evenings when the trout can be seen sipping beetles and/or mudeyes.
Worms are ideal bottom baits when rising waters are re-flooding grassy verges while grubs are best for surface fishing.
Access and facilities
A sealed road leads from the Colebrook Road along the south-western shore towards the dam-site. At the terminus of this access there is a boat launching ramp (which provides good service unless the lake is exceptionally low) and a toilet block.
There is also vehicular access to the eastern end of the storage from Colebrook via Brandy Bottom, and from the Colebrook Road north of Campania via the Brown Mountain Road and Hardings Road. Small boats can usually be launched from the drowned Craigbourne Road but there is limited room for turning and parking.
Craigbourne is essentially a day-use area and there are no camping facilities.
The lake is open to year-round fishing.
The maximum boat speed is 5 knots.
The surrounding land is privately owned and camping is not encouraged.
In recent years blooms of toxic blue-green algae have become regular events during extended hot, dry periods. As a public-health precaution access to the lake may be prohibited during these times.
Notes for the coming season
Rainfall has been poor for several seasons and by last winter the lake was very low. Heavy rains during August have resulted in the water rising to levels not experienced for years and the flood-plains look very, very promising. There are also good numbers of frogs about.
At the time of writing (early September), the trout had been a bit slow to take advantage of all the goodies along the verges, though there were a few notable catches of tailing fish during the dawn patrol. I expect that things will really pick up during October, so my advice is to take advantage of high water while it lasts.