Fishing around Cradle Mountain

Shane Flude
The Cradle Mountain area is well known to locals and tourists alike and most are aware what this special region has to offer. What many don’t know however is that this area is also home to some particularly good trout fishing in both rivers and lakes. This article describes several of the main waters which are worth fishing in and around the Cradle Mountain area.

There are three main lakes within a short drive from Cradle namely Lake Gairdner, Lake Lea and of course Dove Lake which lies right at the foot of the infamous mountain.

Dove Lake
Most of us would be familiar with the postcard shots of Dove Lake with the mountain in the background but its amazing when you fish it just how many people ask you what fish are in the lake. The answer to that question is of course brown trout and the lake supports a large population of somewhat stunted fish – a one pound specimen would be considered large. The lake lies at an elevation of 600m? It is about 2 kilometres long and one kilometre across. Being an old glacial lake it is extremely deep in the most part with some shallow wadeable shores near the carpark at the northern end. Like most waters in the area it is tannin stained and difficult to polaroid but fish can still be spotted along some of the sandy shores. They stand out on these backgrounds as most fish are very dark bordering on black.
Spinning, fly fishing and trolling from canoes are probably the preferred methods on this lake, spinning being the most productive due to the often inclement weather. Cobras and small rapalas will bring results. In late summer through to Autumn there can be reasonable rises in settled weather. Back casts are a problem for the dry fly angler however on most shores. I recently spent some time trolling Rapalas around the lake but the scenery was more rewarding than the fishing. Access around the lake is easy as the Dove Lake walking track completely encircles the lake, its just a matter of walking to a particular shore or point a few metres from the track. Canoes can be launched by car topping them into the carpark and walking them a short distance to the first bay.
Remember that this is a National Park and entry fees apply. Restrictions for vehicle entry to the park has increased considerably and the use of the shuttle buses is now strongly urged. If heading up with the family car and canoe an early start is recommended before the carparks fill up and the boom gate comes down. As I recently discovered it can be a long wait for car spaces to become available later in the day. Dove Lake will never be an angling drawcard for Tasmania but the magnificent scenery makes up for the mediocre fishing and makes this lake a must do for every trout angler.
Best bets: - Fishing from a canoe on a calm autumn day, its about as relaxing as fishing gets.

Lake Lea
About a 15 minute drive north west from Cradle and nestled in the Vale of Belvoir lies Lake Lea. A well formed gravel round leads to the southern shores of the lake from the Cradle Mountain Lake, this road compliments of a failed tourist venture many years ago. All methods of angling can be practised with spinning and fly fishing the most rewarding. In the early season the lake is often brimming due to the high rainfall the area receives and the nice conditioned brownies up to 750 grams that inhabit this lake are often found quite close in. It is possible to fish right around the lake but when full some of the forested banks become difficult. I prefer the lake in high summer as the level starts to drop exposing the shallow southern bay and the extensive sandy beaches which run about half way down the eastern bank. Despite the tannin stained water the fish stand out well in these areas and across the sand can be seen in up to waist deep water. A beetle pattern or Royal wulf works well. On some maps it appears Lake Lea actually has two outflows but its only outflow is the Lea River on the northern shore which flows down into Lake Gairdner. The southern bay of the lake is fed by water flowing off the Vale of Belvoir into a small lagoon. On a calm sunny day this lagoon should not be overlooked as it holds some nice fish. Lake Lea has a population of small crayfish and the larger fish sometimes have a number of these critters inside distended stomachs.
Best bets; - Polaroiding the eastern sand flats on a hot sunny day.

Lake Gairdner
The waters from the Iris and Lea rivers flow roughly east and north east to fill the man made Lake Gairdner. The upper Wilmot river was dammed for hydro purposes in the late sixties to create this lake as part of the Mersey/Forth scheme. As a hydro dam it can be drawn down quite rapidly and being in a high rainfall catchment it can fill just as quickly. From early season to mid November the lake is often full and fishes best when the waters rise across the flooded grass and tussocks around the southern shorelines. Any decent rain even in summer can fill the lake quickly and it is best fished in these conditions so it pays to monitor the weather and check the hydro lake level website. All methods can be practised and boats can be launched near the dam wall at the Moina end. Trolling and spinning in rough weather can produce good numbers of again, mainly small fish up to about a pound. Beetle falls in summer are the highlight for the fly fisherman. With two major spawning streams the fish in Lake Gairdner will always remain on the small size due to the high number in the lake. Like the other two lakes mentioned Lake Gairdner is not popular with anglers so you will often have the water to yourself.
Best bets: - Fishing the flooded grassy margins as the lake fills at any time of year.

Iris River
This is a delightful river to fish if you are into large bags of small brown trout. It drains tussock and grassland near the entrance to the Cradle Park and is big enough to fish over the first bridge heading into the park. Access is easy off the Cradle Mountain Road as the river flows along several kilometres of grassy flats near the power lines. The many long pools in this area all hold several trout. Further down the river enters into a steep valley and soon becomes hemmed in by thick bush which is difficult to negotiate, in fact fishing from the bank becomes impossible as the bush closes in. This is the stage where you turn around, jump in the river and fish your way back to the car. The river is home to large numbers of small brown trout although most are over takeable size being around 25-30cm. They are often in excellent condition. It is an ideal spinning/celta water but my preferred method is upstream dry fly fishing with any small highly visible dry fly. When the levels drop in summer and there has been no recent rain the tannin stain clears somewhat and the trout can be easily spotted. From November onwards there can be some great snow flake caddis hatches. They flutter about around the overhanging bushes and at times every fish in the river seems to be rising to them. Tight casting is ctitical to land the fly in under the bushes. I use a white hi vis winged royal wulf in size 14. Its works a treat on these hungry brownies and lasts for a number of fish. The Iris River flows into the south western corner of Lake Gairdner and immediately above the lake there is some really nice water to fish. Size of the fish does not seem to change much through the river but access becomes difficult as you proceed up the river from the Lake. The middle reaches of the Iris would be rarely fished, most residents surely dying of old age.
Best bets: - Fishing a small white dry when the caddis hatches are on.

Vale River
This river starts its journey in the upper reaches of the Vale of Belvoir just south of Lake Lea and flows south into Lake Macintosh some 25 kilometers away. The lower half flows through thick scrub and features many rapids and even a waterfall, it would be rarely fished. The upper most waters feature several small tarns with water clarity to rival places I have seen in New Zealand. They contain some magnificent brownies up to 2kg but be warned as the water clarity makes them very spooky. In the early season these tarns and the headwaters spill into the surrounding grassland and better than average trout can be spotted in some unlikely spots. Below the tarns the river supports a huge population of smallish trout although the odd specimen to 2 pounds turns up now and again. There has been mention of rainbow trout in these upper reaches but in recent years I have not seen any. This river is particularly fertile and most pools and runs feature extensive weed growth. As such insect life can be prolific and some of the larger pools below the Cradle Road often have a dun hatch on suitable days. Access again is from the Cradle Mountain Road by either walking upstream or down. There are no trees or high bushes to impede casting and walking along the river bank is easy. Waders are not essential to fish the river but help on many sections. They also offer some protection from the many black tiger snakes you may encounter on a hot sunny day.
Best bets: - Polaroid the tarns on a sunny day.

The Cradle area may not house the larger fish some anglers prefer to target but sheer numbers of smaller ones should make up for it. Despite being the most popular tourist destination in Tasmania I doubt you will be spurned by other anglers on any of these waters and if you are then more on to another nearby. All the waters mentioned are within about a 30 minute drive of each other. Like all trout fishing destinations suitable weather conditions will greatly affect your catch rate and the Cradle area is no exception as the weather here is often inclement, even in high summer. Choose the right day and you will find this area is one to return to.
Shane Flude


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