Macquarie River in profile

by Tony Ritchie

Arguably the Macquarie River is Tasmania's best known for angling sport. Its main stem wanders through the open farmland of the Northern Midlands from Ross down to its junction with the South Esk River at Longford, covering about 80 kilometres and is fishable along most of its length.


Beginning in the eastern hills of the state, one of the forks rises just south of Lake Leake and receives water from the Tooms Lake, while the other fork is the Elizabeth River which flows out of Lake Leake and down through Campbell Town. These headwaters Macquarie offer angling typical of smaller, faster streams (similarly of rocks and broken flow), while in contrast, the main stem is deep, slow and filled with lush weed growth. It's larger trout are also far more choosy about what they eat, especially when the many flies hatch.

Epping Forest to Ross

Early season sport from the beginning of August on through September can be good all along the main stem - if the usual spring floods come down. Water from the eastern hills then spills over the river's banks to fill countless holes, ditches, basins and backwaters into which trout cruise looking for food. Anglers using earth worms for redfin perch, tench and especially eels catch some good trout at this time as well, as do those spinning in the discoloured water.

Since the best places for them to try are often weedy, shallow and flowless. Lighter lures like the smaller Celtas are favoured, in proven colours of copper and black, or silver with blue or green. Wet flies used to search such places, as well as the drowned edges of the main river channel, can include with advantage a twitched Robin, Yeti, Mrs Simpson or Hamills Killer in sizes 10 to 12, together with a weighted 12 to 14 Black Beetle which is usually a better fly to put to trout actually seen moving.

The main mayfly hatch on the Macquarie is of Atalophlebia australis, the red spinner which appears mainly in spring for a month or two, with a secondary hatch through March and April. While the start of the prime hatch varies, depending as it does on warmth and water level, between mid October and mid November anglers should enjoy good dry fly sport using orthodox brown nymph and dun ties, Red Spinners and Macquarie Red floaters.

If trout wont take one of these presented properly during a good hatch, it's often a matter of waiting until they will rather than trying other flies. Due perhaps to the extensive marshes just upstream, the Macquarie's red spinners seem to hatch first on the Stewarton and Valleyfield properties, eight kilometres southwest of Epping Forest.

Early in October it's normal for many local enthusiasts to gather at Stewarton Bridge, but there's always room for a few more - especially if you're prepared to either quietly "˜sit on"a likely pool, or alternatively don't mind walking along the river a kilometre or two. There is an interesting variety of water here, ranging from weedy runs and side waters to long, slow pools and backwaters.

Also, although the owner of Lincoln Park (downstream and closest to Epping Forest) needs to be asked for permission, other farmers just here give free access from the bridge. This thoughtfulness you may repay through the usual courtesies - no lighting of fires, leave gates as found, cross fences with care, don't worry stock and advise the farmer of any problems observed. Although not expected, the presenting of an occasional trout or two does no harm either.

There are some good, lusty, wild brownies here - mostly around half a kilogram but many others double and triple that. My biggest so far from this stretch tipped the scales at 2.5 kilometres, and more than a handful of around 2 kilometres have come to net as well.

Middle Macquarie - Ross to Cressy

The hatch progresses upstream and down from Stewarton so, if the spinners are patchy there, using Roads 520 and 522 you can explore other parts of the "˜middle Macquarie"between Ross and Cressy. Properties which spring to mind are Fairfield, Fosterville, Greenhill, Kenilworth, Mt Joy and Taranaki, although there are many others. You do need to ask permission, but if done properly there's no problem; throughout Tasmania I've only received one knock back in forty years.

Fishing the red spinner hatch on the middle Macquarie involves a leisurely start to the day, with the rise not beginning until mid to late morning. However, a breeze of any strength will force the spinners into cover and among the tussocks and then it's a matter of either moving to sheltered water or waiting for calm. Because the irritating drought id often a sea breeze, it will usually ease in the cool of evening and the hatch will continue to the delight of all still present. So try an unhurried breakfast and plan to stay late.

Fishing a flat river of the meadows like this one involves putting a line out on what are normally deep pools, about the size of a couple of rooms or a family house. The water is of slow to moderate flow and usually bordered in whole or part by the spike - rushes which can make life hard for someone still learning to cast.

Most anglers will find thigh waders useful but, because there are boggy areas, if in doubt play safe and stay on firm ground. There are also faster glides and runs, where a trout tends to hold in its feeding lie not far below the surface and lets food come down to it on or in the current. Such a fish is usually easier to trick than those in deep, slow water which cruise purposefully upstream looking for food, dive at the head of each pool and return deep to its tail to repeat the pattern. It pays to stand and watch, to fall in with the feeding rhythm of these trout before presenting a fly which may well need to be smaller, and hackled more sparsely.

Lower Macquarie - Cressy to Longford

The lower Macquarie between Cressy and Longford is often a different kettle of fish, so to speak. It frequently becomes very large, thanks to the inflow from a Brumbys Creek artificially boosted by much Great Lake water coming down through the Poatina power station from the Central Plateau bulking large to the south.

This means that the mayfly hatch, here of black spinners as well as reds, will be strung out from late spring clear through to season's end. It won't "˜explode"as it does farther upstream on the middle Macquarie. Results when fishing floaters, or nymphs become less spectacular here, but more consistent.

Of course, such flows can't be predicted. If localised rainfall does allow the use of turbines of "˜run of the river"stations, power authorities will husband the key Great Lake storage and as a result, the lower Macquarie will run low. This it did for most of last spring, and hatches then, particularly of black spinners, resembled those of streams of more natural flow - heavier at any one time, and shorter in total length. But in summer and autumn, artificially high water is the norm and this lower strength becomes popular when most other rivers are low, including the Macquarie itself, father upstream. For although extra water from Lake Leake does come down it regularly, the Macquarie above Cressy usually runs too low and clear through summer and in the strong sunlight its trout become far to cautious. Summer sport on a full lower Macquarie can be interesting. Most trout are wild browns, with a sprinkling of rainbow escapes from the fish farm upstream on Brumbys Creek, and typically range in size from half to one kilogram.

While in some seasons exotica like "˜bee-flies"prompt head scratching, more to be expected are a few mayflies, caddis around the overhanging tussocks and the occasional willow, damsel and dragon flies, grasshoppers in patches, beetles and, for several weeks right at the end of the day and of summer, large corbie moths.

Grasshoppers real and counterfeit of course are acceptable to trout but usually only beside or just downstream from concentrations of this insect which in Tasmania are much more localised than they normally are on the Mainland. Spun lures of green, red and gold, like the old Redfin and Greenfin wobblers, are popular in weights heavy enough to cast well out across water big enough for one visitor from England to describe, in some awe, as "˜salmon water'.

Spin fishing sport improves if the water is at all cloudy. Of flies, for floaters, that champion all rounder, the Red Tag, in sizes 14 to 16 is probably the most popular. Mayfly ties are also essential, especially dun patterns in sizes 12 to 14, and with some bulk to them if the surface over the good, weedy shallows is ruffled. Grasshoppers are needed, and will also account for trout jumping at dragonflies with a frequently more pleasing here than on the top Weir of Brumbys Creek, but that's another story.

The Corbie Moth tie, wet Brown Nymphs and Black Beetles in 14's together with size 12 Robins, all ties weighted and unweighted, are available locally and should meet most needs. The lower Macquarie can most easily be reached from Woolmer's Bridge, just south of Longford on Road 520.

Here, there is no need at present to get permission to fish either bank upstream from the bridge - just walk on, but remember that others to follow would like to be able to do the same. Other access is available on request from homesteads which can be reached from the northern sections of Roads 529 and B51.

Good places on the lower Macquarie are the more extensive, weedy glides which may be worked with a lure, weighted Brown Nymph or Robin cast out at right - angles to the bank, or slightly downstream, and allowed to curve around in the current. These glides can also be fished by searching them methodically with an upstream floater, and leg waders are useful for this.

Another good method is to prospect using a grasshopper, fly or lure cast upstream close in to the bank, especially along stretches bordered by a main current and deeper water. Incidentally, if your grasshopper lands with something of a splat, so much the better in attracting a trout's attention upward.

Corbie moths show up on calm, warmer evenings just before dark during the last half of February and the first half of March. A large, buoyant floater twitched across the bows of trout slashing at these big insects as they blunder about on the water, will often prompt really savage grabs in the gloom.

Apart from corbie moths, all the insects previously mentioned continue on the lower Macquarie through autumn, gradually tapering - off until, when fishing finishes at the end of April, all that remain are beetles and mayflies in the shape of small, pale duns,

Farther up the Macquarie between Cressy and Ross, autumn angling is pretty hopeless if low summer flows continue. However, a late flood certainly will liven up trout which may be ignored your Red Spinner in spring and can result in this river's very best angling sport, with good fish looking much more kindly on bait, lures spun through the discoloured water, and mayfly, grasshopper and beetle imitations.

Although action may not be as frantic as spring's, it is more dependable and regularly lasts the whole day. The big fish are on the fin and, with spawning and winter approaching, are looking to build up condition. Anglers"bags may well grow pleasantly heavy - if the rains come in time. But even if they don't, as the English poet observed: "˜If winter comes, can spring be far behind?'

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