Lake EchoBy Greg French
In my opinion, Lake Echo is an even better wild brown trout fishery than the much revered Great Lake, yet it remains one of the most underrated waters in Tasmania. Perhaps this is the year that will change public perceptions once and for all. Why? For a start, access has been greatly improved over the last few seasons. Moreover, there has been a commitment by the IFS to stop swamping the fishery with domestic rainbow trout. Most importantly, the big wet of 2009 has created phenomenal fishing conditions that have already resulted in the average catch rate going from about two fish per angler per day to about three fish per angler per day. This compares very favourably to Great Lake (which oscillates from 1.0 to 1.5) and even Arthurs Lake (1.7 to 3.0). Word of this year's stunning fishing was being broadcast by boastful anglers long before I began writing this article, and the rush to the lake is already well underway. Don't despair about the extra visitors, though. There is plenty of room for everyone and with much more rain predicted, the fishing is likely to get even better in the lead-up to Christmas.
Set amid tall forest, the old (natural) Lake Echo was shallow and weedy but more or less the same size and shape as the current impoundment. It was fed by a handful of small tributary creeks, and drained out the southern end via the River Dee.
The HEC began road-building in the early 1950s. By 1954 the HEC had constructed a coffer-dam and raised the lake by about 4 m. However, the Echo Dam itself was much bigger, 18 m high, and was not completed until 1956.
Also in 1956, the upper reaches of the Ouse and Little Pine rivers were diverted via the new Monpeelyata Canal into the northern end of the lake. Since then, outflowing water has been diverted through a canal flume and pipeline to the Lake Echo Power Station at Dee Lagoon.
General description of the modern lake
At full supply, the modern lake is 846 m above sea level. This is much lower than Great Lake (1039 m) and even Arthurs Lake (952 m), meaning that the weather is relatively mild and the fishing usually fires up early. Very good results can usually be achieved on the opening weekend at the beginning of August.
The lake is usually kept well below full-supply (draw-downs as large as 13.5 m are typical) and the exposed littoral scar permits convenient foot access along most shores. It usually takes two or three wet years for the lake to go from minimum operating level to full supply, but it can fill in as little as six months (winter to Christmas) if you get a period of exceptional flooding. Here's hoping that 2009 is such a year. The last time the lake reached full supply was in 1997.
Echo is large-12 km long and up to 6 km wide-but despite the large draw-downs, the water never recedes too far from shore, as happens in, say, Lake King William.
Major logging operations have been carried out around the lake since mid-1990s, yet there has been no large-scale clear-felling and the water is still surrounded by spectacular tall eucalypts, mainly gumtop stringybarks. Extensive stands of drowned trees persist in many areas of the lake too, particularly along the western shores.
The water is generally very clear but some bays and shores can become quite turbid after heavy rain or high wind. Problems with water quality are relatively mild, but have been exacerbated in recent years by logging operations and long periods of very low water.
The sheltered western shore features steep banks of rock scree and provides consistently good fishing.
The eastern shore is defined by dramatic wave-washed sand flats and is not favoured by many anglers.
The most dynamic fishing-by that I mean wonderfully variable, not always best-occurs in the series of shallow weedy bays at the north-western end of the fishery, and in Brocks Bay at the south-eastern corner of the lake. The nature of the fishing in the bays is highly dependent upon lake levels, and these can be monitored on the Hydro website, www.hydro.com.au or go via www.tasfish.com and you'll also find them.
Standard maps show Lake Echo at full supply, and Brocks Bay usually looks as if it is exposed to the full brunt of the prevailing north-westerly weather. At about minus 1.5 m or lower, however, this bay becomes something of a huge backwater lagoon. The north-eastern corner remains connected to the main lake by deep, wide channel, but the rest of the bay is shallow and well sheltered. It is encircled by amphibious grass flats and supports the most expansive weedbeds in all of the Echo system.
Brocks fishes well when the water is as low as minus 6.5 metres, and provides classic floodplain fishing as the level rises from minus 6 m to about minus 1 m. At higher levels the bar which separates the north-western shore from the main lake becomes inundated and then most anglers prefer to fish the north-western bays of the main lake.
The head of Teal Bay features expansive beds of aquatic weeds, and the inflowing gutter, Dicks Creek, is flanked by persistent marshy "lawns'. This is the most fertile and stable of the north-western bays and provides first-class sport at wider range of lake levels than either Large Bay or Broken Bay.
Teal Bay is at its best as the lake rises from about minus 5 m to minus 1 m creating classic floodplain fishing. At higher levels the water begins to backs up into tea-tree and tall timber. The fishing remains exhilarating, though you have to have to be prepared to stalk your way around knee-deep gaps in dense shrubbery.
Teal Bay also fishes well when the lake falling, but weedbeds give way to unattractive mud flats when the lake drops below about minus 6 m.
Large Bay and Broken Bay
Large Bay is fed by a small gutter, Harrys Creek, and at normal levels is a gentle arching cove with some weedbeds and pin-rushes at its head. Broken Bay is fed by the larger Broken Bay Creek and at normal levels is more elongate-a flooded riverbed reminiscent of a tiny estuary.
At low levels (less than minus 4 m), the marshy "lawns" flanking these bays and their associated creeks are often separated from the lakeshore by expanses of exposed clay and mud. Consequently, they tend to fire up later than Brocks Bay and Teal Bay, and they are not especially remarkable until the lake gets to minus 3.8 m or higher. At minus 2 m, the water breaks out into sparsely vegetated clay flats, and it is great fun hunting fish as they cruise over small clearings bounded by clumps of re-established hakea. The fishing peaks when the lake is at minus 1.5 or higher and the water backs up over expansive areas of grass amongst dense stands of tea-tree.
Until the 2000s trout stocks were maintained entirely by natural recruitment from the River Ouse, Monpeelyata Canal and a number of small lake tributaries. Brown trout predominated, though rainbows accounted for up to 10% of the annual harvest.
Before hydro development of the lake, the trout averaged about 5 lb, and 10 lb fish were common. In the 1950s, when the offshore weedbeds were drowned and major new spawning grounds created in the new Monpeelyata Canal, the average size of the fish dropped dramatically. By 1960, however, the size of the fish had stabilised, and since then most wild trout taken by anglers have weighed 0.7-1.5 kg. Better still, the lake has maintained a healthy sprinkling of specimens in the 2-2.5 kg range.
Despite four decades of remarkably robust and consistent fishing, the IFS decided that Lake Echo was underutilised. In December 2001, in an effort to popularise the fishery, it initiated a program of annual stocking with large numbers of domestic rainbow trout (mainly fingerlings). The experiment was a spectacular failure, with visitation quickly falling from 1850 licensed anglers per year to something less than 900. This did not reflect a decline in fishing, just the fact that given the choice the majority of Tasmanian anglers, like the great majority of anglers worldwide, would prefer to fish wholly wild fisheries.
In its Tasmanian Inland Recreational Fishery Management Plan 2008-18, the IFS recommended annual stocking with wild rainbow trout (natural diploids, not artificial triploids). This is a much better management strategy than the previous one, but the need for any stocking at all is highly questionable.
A current history of trout stocking is shown.
In addition to trout, Echo contains a modest population of redfin perch and some tench.
Since the 1950s there has been a northern access to Lake Echo via Monpeelyata Canal, but it crosses private land and has usually been unavailable for public use. Also in the 1950s, 4WD routes were pushed in from the southern end of the lake to Teal Bay and Large Bay and Brocks Bay, but these were very rugged and difficult to locate. So, until the mid-1990s, the only reliable access was via the 2WD road that led to the Echo Dam. At least there was plenty of scope for shore-based fishing here, and a good launching ramp too.
In the early 1990s, the Forestry Commission upgraded the Sukes Tier Road, which branched off the Brown Marsh Road (near Lake Samuel) and led to within easy walking distance of Teal Bay. This road was ostensibly maintained at 2WD-standard, but could become muddy during very wet weather and was sometimes gated. It has since been much improved and can now be reliably negotiated in the family sedan.
In the early 2000s, the road to Brocks Bay from the Echo Dam was upgraded to 2WD standard.
Further road works were undertaken in the mid- to late 2000s. First was the construction of the Echo Link Road, from the Mentmore Road (1 km west of the Echo Dam) to the Sukes Tier Road, giving convenient access to a bay on the western shore that has since become known as Middle Echo. There is a good launching ramp here but the steep log-strewn banks make can make access along the shores laborious at times, especially when levels are rising above minus 5.5 m.
In 2007 a brand-new road was pushed in from the Brown Mountain Road to Large Bay. This is an all-weather road, but much of it is surfaced with chunky road-base and it can be a rugged drive in the family 2WD. A good concrete boat ramp was constructed at southern end of the bay in 2008.
Boat owners should be aware that Lake Echo is large and exposed. Extreme caution should be exercised when operating small dinghies in open water.
Wet fly fishing is usually quite productive on the opening weekend at the beginning of August, but things always get much better in early September. If levels continue to rise throughout spring, as looks likely to be the case this year, the action peaks from early October until Christmas. Hotspots are the shallow bays, though each one fires up at different times depending upon lake levels (for details, read "Description" above).
This year is already proving to be a ripper for wet-fly enthusiasts. The lake has risen from historic lows in April, to a healthy - 4.25 at time of writing. Teal Bay and Brocks Bay have been going berserk for several weeks now. With rain cascading down all over the State as I write, and plenty more predicted in the weeks ahead, you can bet that the focus will soon shift to Large Bay and Broken Bay.
Predictably, in August and September the principal food item for trout in the shallows has been worms. The grassy shallows in the heads of Teal Bay and Brocks Bay have been the real hotspots, but plenty of fish have been found grubbing about along the rocky approaches.
Some anglers prefer to use worm imitations for worm feeders, but I find no need to use anything other than black Woolly Buggers (#8 and #10).
In the first flush of rising water the worms can be quite wriggly, but they soon die. In fact many of the worms eaten by trout are little more than blobby strips of putrescence that disintegrate on contact. The trout are forced to suck this stuff up, and they behave the same way to your fly, always stopping a few centimetres short of your offering before inhaling. A blind strip-retrieve usually results in the fly being pulled away from the fish's mouth at the critical moment. Some anglers try a stop-start retrieve, perhaps relying on an indicator to tell when a fish has taken, but the trout often spit the fly out without moving the line at all. For consistent results, then, you need to spot your fish and plop your fly half a metre in front of its nose. It is important to let the fly settle to the bottom, and to strike soon after the trout opens its mouth or flares its gills.
On dull days and in the evenings many fish can be seen tailing, but when the sun is out it often pays to wade knee-deep offshore and polaroid back towards the banks. You'll probably be surprised at how many fish there are in the shallows that you failed to notice on your first approach to the water's edge. How is it that the great majority of trout cruising in the extreme shallows completely fail to disturb the water surface?
After such a prolonged drought, you might think that it would take a couple of wet seasons for worthwhile frog populations to re-establish, but good numbers of common brown froglets have been spawning the weedy shallows since early September. Some fish are already feeding on them with gusto, sprinting several metres to intercept any suspicious splash or wake. Such activity often prompts novice anglers to blind fish wet flies in the conventional plop-strip manner. The problem is, only some trout will be feeding selectively on frogs. While the lake continues to rise, most fish will be eating a mixed diet of frogs and worms, and some will eat only worms. Inert presentations with black Woolly Buggers work in all these situations, providing you make sure that fish sees the fly fall into the water.
Throughout December, the weedy shallows in the sheltered bays are likely to be full of tadpoles.
Many anglers insist that falling lake levels-the usual state of affairs in early summer-result in poor fishing. Nothing could be further from the truth. As the tadpoles retreat with the receding water, they become ever more concentrated, and Echo trout feed on them in a frenzied manner reminiscent of sea trout chasing baitfish.
The best fly? A black Woolly Bugger, of course.
Even when Echo is reasonably low, the sheltered bays generally feature carpets of amphibious weeds, so they are ideal for early-morning tailers at any time of the year. Of course, fish feeding on scud, damselfly nymphs and snails are much more challenging than fish feeding on frogs or tadpoles, but then that's the fun of it.
Beetles and other terrestrials
Whatever the water levels, the timbered western shore offers reliable dry fly fishing when the gum beetles are flying on warm summer days. The water is usually very clear at this time of year and polaroids are essential. The rocky approaches to the north-western bays are the best bets, though further shore-based vantages can be found near the dam and in Brocks Bay. Even the sandy eastern shore can be worthwhile, especially if a steady breeze has been blowing beetles across the water surface all day long and things become tolerably calm in the late afternoon.
Most anglers like to use a gum beetle imitation, but I am happy to use the same attractor flies I use in Great Lake: large Black Crickets and smaller Carrot Flies. These patterns even work on very hot days when the fish are reluctant to rise and I am forced to prospect shady areas amongst the drowned timber.
In autumn Echo can have a very good jassid fall, and it always pays to have a few imitations on hand.
Wind-lanes and offshore currents fishing
From mid-spring to the end of the season, boat handlers should take time to look for risers amongst the drowned trees offshore. When the fish are not showing, prospecting with Black Crickets and Carrot Flies can still work wonders.
Outstanding wind-lanes form across the open reaches and also provide superb opportunities for boat fishers. These are noted hot spots for rainbow trout, though brown trout are common enough. The most reliable rises are triggered by gum beetles on warm days in summer and autumn. Midges can also provide exciting sport, with the best action occurring from October to March, especially early in the morning from sunup until the first rays of sunshine hit the water.
When it's running strong, the rip from the inflowing Monpeelyata Canal fills up with stocked rainbows, and big bags can be caught on wet flies and weighted nymphs.
Very good dun hatches can occur throughout summer and early autumn, particularly over the weedbeds in the sheltered bays.
Notable mudeye migrations along the timbered shores stimulate good rises on fine summer evenings. Fishing amongst the drowned timber is best.
When the mudeyes fail, the fish will often be found rising anyway, usually amongst accumulations of beetles, but sometimes to sedges and other aquatic insects.
Spinning from the deeper scree banks along the full length of the western shore can be extraordinarily productive, especially in spring and early summer. Drift spinning along the outer edge of the drowned trees is also highly recommended.
Later in the year, on very hot blue-sky days, you can nearly always lure up a fish or two from the shadier areas amid the drowned trees.
The rip from the inflowing Monpeelyata Canal is a reliable area for spinning when the flow is strong, and these days it is often chock-a-block full of stocked rainbows.
The best areas for trolling are the mouths of the north-western bays and the timbered shores in between. The best bags are taken by trolling just outside the tree-line.
Worms are good bait early on, and any shore, even the deeper rocky ones, seem to give up good bags.
Later in the year, cockroaches and mudeyes are preferred. You get the best results if you stalk your way along the shores and cast your bait in front of rising and cruising trout. The timbered shores are best, and polaroids are essential.
There are no toilets or other facilities at Lake Echo, but informal camping is popular nonetheless.
The most delightful campsites exist in Brocks Bay. Good sites can also be scouted out adjacent to the Echo Dam.
Camping occurs at Large Bay, though you have to be prepared to set up your caravan or tent on bare clay, rock or mud.
These days the owner of the private land at the head of Teal Bay excludes vehicular access and camping.
The nearest formal accommodation facilities are located at Bronte Park.