Bradys Chain Of Lakes
Early in the trout season, high-elevation waters like Great Lake, the Nineteen Lagoons and Little Pine Lagoon (all higher than 1000 metres) can be very cold and uneventful, so this is an ideal time to try fishing further west in the Bronte district.
Without doubt, the most high-profile lake in the western part of the Central Plateau is Bronte Lagoon. This is largely because of its wet-fly fishing and superb rises, both of which can be world class. However, the nearby Bradys chain of lakes offers more consistent fishing and more variety. Greg French explains how you can make the most of the venue during the opening months of the coming trout season.
The Bradys chain of lakes includes three waters (Bradys Lake, Lake Binney and Tungatinah Lagoon) which are interconnected via deep canals and share a common regime of water manipulation. Water enters the system at Bradys Lake (via Woodwards Canal from Bronte Lagoon, and the Dee Tunnel from Dee Lagoon). It flows through Lake Binney to Tungatinah Lagoon and exits via a pipeline to the Tungatinah Power Station on the banks of the Nive River.
All three lakes have a full supply of 651.2 metres and a normal operating range of about 4.6 metres. Water levels in any one lake cannot be manipulated independently of the others, so levels are always consistent across all three impoundments. For this reason the chain can be considered as one distinct fishery, and rather than talk about each lake individually, I prefer to discuss the various shores and bays in the context of the whole chain, just as I would talk about, say, Cowpaddock Bay in the overall context of Arthurs Lake.
Generally the shores in the Bradys chain are steep and rocky, and at times of low water expansive clay banks are exposed-all of which contrasts unfavourably with the gentle, lush banks characteristic of Bronte Lagoon. Nonetheless, there are some weedy shallows and the lakes are certainly neither ugly nor barren.
The water is usually wonderfully clear, certainly of a higher quality than that in Bronte, though heavy on-shore waves can temporarily disturb the margins.
Wild trout in the Bradys chain generally weigh from 0.5-1.0 kg but fish to 1.5 kg are hardly uncommon and some of the biggest specimens (generally those which are proficient at hunting redfin perch) attain 3 kg or so. On average, Tungatinah fish are slightly bigger than those in the other two lakes.
While brown trout dominate, wild rainbows are common, especially in Bradys Lake which is deepest and closest to the main rainbow spawning areas.
In recent years, the IFS has intensively stocked Bradys Lake with domestic fish-predominantly small hatchery-reared rainbow yearlings, brook trout yearlings and large adult Atlantic salmon. These fish remain concentrated in Bradys Lake but disperse throughout Lake Binney and Tungatinah Lagoon. The average size of the stockies fluctuates according to the time elapsed between stocking events. The rainbows and brookies are often small and tatty, but can attain 0.7 kg and more. The Atlantics are often 4-9 kg when released, but are prone to become slabby if not caught within a few months.
Despite the huge quantity of domestic fish liberated in recent years, wild trout remain the real attraction, and you can still catch good quantities of them if you know where to concentrate your efforts.
Fly fishing when water levels are high
By and large, the shore-based fly fisher is confined to the places favoured by wild brown trout, and the fishing is never better than when levels are high in late winter and early spring.
The Hydro is able to raise levels simply by releasing extra water from upstream impoundments, and/or shutting down the Tungatinah Power station, which is sometimes necessary for maintenance and other reasons. However, in the normal course of events the lakes are usually drained to something approaching normal minimum operating level by about March (especially if the summer has been hot and dry) and allowed to fill quickly when there are heavy spring rains.
This year the chain was low throughout much of the winter. Still, despite the ongoing drought, a single rain event can be enough to fill the system, so a return to high levels this spring is more probable than not.
Rising water usually means that a wealth of grubs, worms and terrestrial insects are flushed from the flood margins, especially over the flats. Even if there is no obvious action, as is often the case in the cold days of early August, rest assured that there will be lots of secretive cruisers in the shallows just waiting to have a go at a wet fly. And as soon as things start to warm up, usually by early September, the fish will normally be found tailing about in the shallows and/or rising close in on shore.
The best floodplain in Bradys Lake is the grassy Shack Shore (which extends from the southern end of the dam to the outlet canal). In Lake Binney it is the shallow weedy Island Shore (just south of the outlet canal) and in Tungatinah Lagoon it is the Northern Shore (particularly the flooded marshy corner near the dam wall and the weedy shallows just south of the inlet canal).
These same flats can be good for frog fishing too, especially if levels remain high for a couple of months during spring.
For wet-fly enthusiasts, the fishing is best on dull days. A small black Woolly Bugger is preferred by many anglers, though these days I'm quite happy to use a wee wet or nymph.
If things are warm but bright, the fish may stop tailing and become less inclined to strike savagely at wet flies. On the other hand, you'll be surprised how easy it is to polaroid your quarry. Under these conditions I prefer use a rugged emerger pattern. I can retrieve it like I would a semi-buoyant wet fly, and when I spot a trout I can splat it down and leave it sitting like a traditional dry fly. A bob each way.
At night, it is worthwhile prospecting with a black Woolly Bugger on a # 8 hook, but you may prefer to opt for a luminous fly. If you don't have a traditional New Zealand pattern, such as a Dolly or Glo-squid, you can just make up a "Glo Bugger" with luminous chenille for the body.
Fly fishing when levels are low and the sky bright
During August and September, rises are likely to be incidental, so if levels are low and the fish not foraging in the flooded shallows, polaroiding will be the staple. The best spots include the flats already mentioned above, but you might have to wade a bit further offshore.
A real hotspot is either side of the plume where the canal from Lake Binney empties into Tungatinah Lagoon. It is best to wade out knee to thigh deep and work your way up along the edges of the riffle. I look for fish on the shallows adjacent to the lip while prospecting the deeper currents with an emerger.
In October and November the rises increase substantially. You can expect good activity from spinners and gum beetles, along with intermittent hatches of caddis and smut. All of the areas already mentioned are good, but now is the time to embrace wave-washed areas as well. Foremost, during the prevailing westerly breezes, are the Bradys Sugar Loaf Shore and the eastern shore of Tungatinah Lagoon. The connecting canals are also superb, with many fish taking up station behind structure along the banks or in the middle of the currents.
At this time of year I always start off with an emerger-either a First Choice or one of my own rugged white-post emergers-and I rarely get too many refusals.
Fly fishing when levels are low and the sky dull
Where to go when levels are low and sky dull really depends on how good a polaroider you are. The brown trout will be in all the places you expect to find them on bright days, but they will be harder to spot, especially if it's too cold for good rises. Under these conditions the easiest thing to do is look along shallows bays that are well protected from the wind where polaroiding will be easiest, and where you will be likely to notice any fish that makes an incidental rise. You can prospect with a small nymph, but you'll catch more fish if you stalk your way along the shore armed with an emerger. You can deposit your fly for a ten seconds at a time over deep water as you make your way along the shore, but you should concentrate on polaroiding. On a typical hard day, I'll land three or four fish out of maybe six or eight that I see, and perhaps pick up one or two blind as well.
If things are really hard, you should try retrieving a weighted nymph in Bradys Lake in the plumes from Woodwards Canal and the Dee Tunnel. You are not allowed to fish the canals themselves until after the end of October, but rainbows, predominantly small domestic fish, congregate in the currents just beyond the white posts that mark the no-fishing zone.
Fly fishing from a boat
Most of the best fly fishing is shore based, but there are very good midge hatches throughout spring. The best midge slicks and windlanes form well offshore in Bradys Lake and are highly recommended. I used to love fishing these areas for wild rainbows and browns, but these days I am frustrated by the predominance of domestic fish. Still, if you prefer good bags of small domestic rainbows to slightly smaller bags of big wild fish, there's plenty of action to be had. Even the brook trout will have go at times.
A reliable fallback if sight fishing is hard is to fish the plumes from Woodwards Canal the Dee Tunnel. Throughout spring, these currents are absolutely chocker full of pre-spawned rainbows. When using a small weighted nymph on a slow figure-of-eight retrieve it is nothing to catch huge bags of trout. So easy has the fishing become that the IFS has introduced a bag limit of five fish per angler per day.
Binney and especially Tungatinah produce very good bags of wild fish when using traditional loch-style techniques with either a team of nymphs or dries, but the sight fishing around the edges is so good that I only bother doing this when there is no light for polaroiding.
Lure fishing from the shore when levels are high
When levels are high, the best places to fish are the thigh-deep waters along the outer edges of the flooded marshes. Try the Shack Shore (Bradys Lake), the Island Shore (Lake Binney) and the Northern Shore (Tungatinah Lagoon).
The brown trout are caught as they move in and out of the extreme shallows in search of frogs, drowned terrestrials and worms. It pays to use small lures so you don't get snagged, the best options being fish-spoon wobblers, Celtas and lightly-weighted soft plastics. Remember that fly fishers will be wanting to fish the extreme shallows at this time (water too weedy for lure fishing), so take care not to disturb the fish. Wade smoothly out to the appropriate depth, and try not to race along the shallow margins spooking everything as you go.
Lure fishing from the shore when levels are low
The best places to fish when levels are low are adjacent to the inflowing Woodwards Canal the Dee Tunnel. Here you are likely to encounter dense concentrations of domestic rainbows and the action can be thick and fast. In September and October most of the trout are pre-spawners, but in November you will find many wild rainbows and some wild browns feeding heavily on redfin perch.
Apart from that, almost any stretch of shore in chain is suitable, as long as you fish light.
Trolling and drift spinning
In Bradys Lake, trolling and drift spinning in and around Woodwards Canal and the Dee Tunnel currents can be very rewarding, otherwise most anglers just fish their way along sheltered shorelines. Big bags of rainbows are commonly taken, but you can expect to take worthwhile numbers of wild brown trout and even some domestic brook trout. Salmon are taken incidentally.
Binney and Tungatinah are much shallower than Bradys. These waters are predominantly brown trout fisheries, though stockies of one species or another are increasingly common. Because the water is not very deep, most anglers prefer to troll across the open water well offshore. Tungatinah in particular is an extraordinarily productive water for drift spinning.
The popular hotspots are located in Bradys Lake around the Woodwards Canal and Dee Tunnel inflows, though the mouths of the canals in Binney and Tungatinah are also well patronised. Set-rod fishing with worms and wattle grubs are favoured, but cast-and-retrieve methods usually get much better results.
Targeting salmon and brookies
Atlantic salmon and brook trout seem to have an enduring novelty value for Tasmanian anglers.
The salmon are especially difficult to locate. Most are caught in Bradys Lake, where they are released, but they stray far and wide and quite a few end up in Binney and Tungatinah. The fish respond aggressively to lures, but do not feed actively once removed from the hatchery environment, so the usual trouting tactic of fishing areas where there are seasonal concentrations of food is useless. I polaroid the shorelines all the time and only spot the occasional salmon close in. Still, many fish are taken while spinning from the shore, while others are caught offshore by trollers. Bait fishers take the odd fish too, but again the reluctance of the salmon to feed can be frustrating. Salmon that aren't caught quickly begin to waste away, so don't be surprised to find some pathetically slabby specimens.
The brook trout feed quite well but prefer cool water and are often concentrated in deeper water offshore. They disperse more freely than either rainbows or salmon and, although they are released in Bradys, they are common in Binney and Tungatinah. They are most easily seen when there are good hatches during summer and early autumn. An evening smut hatch is especially favoured. Most don't grow much past 0.5-0.7 kg.
Wild versus domestic
Although, I don't have any real problem with domestic fish being used to bolster stocks in lowland dams where there is negligible recruitment of wild trout, the wanton transformation of a robust wild trout fishery like the Bradys chain into a mediocre put-and-take fishery is to be abhorred.
Domestic fish are not revered by serious anglers anywhere in the world. No-one would consider going halfway around the globe to target someone else's tatty stockies, yet many people travel extraordinary distances to sample New Zealand's rivers, Mongolia's taimen, Norway's salmon, Canada's steelhead and Tassie's wild brown. When you read English magazines, they're full on Englishmen extolling the praises of wild Irish trout, and of Irishmen lamenting England's reliance on hatchery fish. Several people have tried to invalidate these arguments by stressing that the IFS is catering for locals, not visitors. Are they suggesting that locals deserve an inferior experience?
Nor do I accept that rampant stocking is a good way of increasing licence sales: the world-wide experience suggests quite the opposite. Indeed, Tasmania's licence sales peaked in the late 1980s around the time of the World Fly Fishing Championship when we were proudly bragging about the lengths we were prepared to go in protecting all our wild fisheries.
One of the scariest things about becoming reliant on stockies is the cost. The IFS alluded to this in a letter dated March 2008 in which it first proposed reducing the bag limit in waters that were being stocked with adult fish, a course of action justified entirely on the grounds that things were becoming too expensive. Bear in mind that this unbearable cost was for transportation only. When the commercial farms begin charging for the fish that they now offer "free" to the IFS, that cost will skyrocket and anglers will have to foot the bill. (In the March 2008 letter, the IFS suggested that the real cost of providing a single adult salmon was in the order of $28 to $33.50.) Believe me, as soon as a steady demand for stocked fish has been entrenched, the farms will start charging for their produce: their shareholders will demand it.
Already in Tasmania we have the ludicrous situation where our IFS considers a small tatty domestic rainbow from Bradys Lake (bag limit 5) to be worthy of more protection than a big wild brown trout from Bronte Lagoon (bag limit 12 fish). This is an admission that maintaining a mediocre put-and-take fishery at Bradys is more expensive and unsustainable than maintaining a robust wild fishery in the same system. Go figure.
Remember, the future of Tasmanian fishing is your hands. Do you want quality fishing you can afford and be proud of? Or not?