Mersey River after the floods

Mersey River flooding, 2016

Mersey River after the floods

This time last year, the Mersey River was experiencing the most destructive flood in history. Houses were washed away, more than 300 cattle were lost, and the river set many new courses. So how did this affect the fishing this year?

Our first inspection post-flood, in August 2016, revealed an almost unrecognisable river in parts. Whole river bends were gone, and thousands of tonnes of gravel littered the adjacent farmland. But miraculously under the rocks, mayfly nymph and caddis crawled and scurried, survivors of the massive flood. The first few fish of the season also looked great–perhaps even a little fatter than normal, from the additional available feed.

By late spring the traditional run of whitebait had begun up the river, and both sea trout and resident trout began actively preying on the small fish. The odd mayfly hatch began, and somewhat normal conditions returned to the river. The biggest difference was consistency; while good fishing existing through the river, it was almost impossible to predict which riffle and run would have fish, or good fishing.

Mersey River Tasmania

A ripper Mersey River fish from Autumn 2017

Skip to post-Christmas, and the river was showing some great form. Polaroiding nymph feeders, and fishing to aphid sippers was steady, though a noticeable absence was the normally reliable willow-grubs. Whether this insect was impacted by the floods, or by the unseasonable cold winter, it’s hard to know.

By late autumn the Mersey was almost back to itself – baitfish feeders smashing galaxia, and aggregations of nymphing brown trout in the riffles. Indeed our favourite riffle for the season was yielding catches of up to a dozen of fish, in the area the size of a dining room, on some of our custom tied nymphs during April.

From our experience, the Mersey has certainly been altered by the massive floods, and the best locations have changed, but the fishing is as great as ever.

The results of a two-fish in two casts for RiverFly customer Richard M.

The Vanishing River

The Vanishing River

The Vanishing River

Compared to five years ago, May is an interesting time for Tasmanian fly fishers. Great Lake, Brushy Lagoon, Lake Barrington and even Lake Rowallan are among lake-based choices for those still wanting to target trout, and avoid the winter blues. This season has seen further waters opened for fishing in May (for the first time), with designated ‘rainbow waters’ now including the upper Mersey River, the two Weld rivers and parts of the Leven River. Finally, some late season destinations for river-fishers.

Most anglers I’ve met recently have packed their gear away, not wishing to blind-flog Woolly Buggers through the death-nell of another season…but the message I have is that there’ s still room for sight-fishing in the newly opened rivers. I’ve heard two excellent reports from the Weld River (northern Tas), and just yesterday I got to visit one of the other rainbow rivers in a section I like to call Vanishing River. At this time of year as the downstream lake drops in height, an extra 2 kilometres of original river comes back to life, flowing with crystal clear snowmelt over a clean, gravel bottom, complemented by under-cut banks, pools and riffles.  It is here, at the end of a 45 minute walk for humans, that brown trout (‘visitors’ to the rainbow section of the stream) begin to lay in wait for heavy rains and winter spawning. Over fifty of these trout were polaroided in Vanishing River, ranging from 1 lb to 4lbs. Three of these trout were sitting in foam-lines sipping dries and nymphing. So the next time you think the season is over, think about this: May holds some pretty cool sight-fishing opportunities, and some of them, such as Vanishing River, only exist for a fleeting moment late in the season.

The giant stonefly and Max Christensen’s Bloody Mary

Bloody Mary

Bloody Mary

In Flylife Magazine Spring 2008, I wrote an article on the Mersey River in Northern Tasmania. Within this article I spoke of hatches of giant stoneflies, and the large bouyant dry flies used to imitate the adult insect – flies such as our WMD Hopper, or the slightly more crass Chernobyl Ant. Well, it appears that this is a hatch that hasn’t passed through time completely un-noticed.
A couple of weeks ago I was lucky to receive a parcel in the mail from well know fly-fisherman Rick Keam, detailing the history of Max Christensen’s Bloody Mary fly, a popular wet fly used even today among the highland lakes of Tasmania. In Rick’s own words:

‘Few people today know that he (Max) developed it as an impressionistic imitation of those same stoneflies. It is still around of course, but nobody ties it with the really long, raked-back hackles it originally featured’

Of even more interest in the parcel were two items: an excerpt of an article written by David Scholes on the Bloody Mary, originally published in the Anglers Digest during the late 1960’s, and three Bloody Mary flies tied to correct proportions for me to try.

From the Anglers Digest, Scholes writes:

‘But every so often a real gem comes to light, a fly that either answers some long-standing need, or, by virtue of it’s success just as a nondescript, is a contribution of definite value to the sport…Without question the Bloody Mary is such a fly.’ ‘Max Christensen’s thoughts were first stirred when he considered the larval and adult stages of large stoneflies and wondered how to best imitate them. Bloody Mary is the result of much subsequent trial, error, and careful experimentation. I have no doubt that, in addition to achieving this aim, Max has accidentally evolved a most remarkable general-purpose fly which, so far as I can see, will work successfully at any time, so long as it is fished correctly.’

Isn’t it interesting how the future is often rediscovering the discoveries of the past? My questions in parting is this: if Max was seeing enough stoneflies to prompt thought, it is most likely that he was fishing the Chudleigh Lakes or the Mersey River, two modern-day hotspots for giant stonefly activity. The thing is, these fisheries were barely mentioned by the friends of Max such as David Scholes. So where was Max fishing – was it way out west in the Chudliegh Lakes, or perhaps deep among one of the Mersey’s great gorges, well before either became modern-day icon fisheries?

Caddis grubs

Fastwater Caddis
Here is a new ‘go-to’ pattern for the freestone rivers of Tasmania. While I have a preference for fishing the dry-fly, this isn’t always the best approach. This is when I opt to fish a nymph in tandem with a larger, bouyant dry fly, or upstream nymph with the single fly.

A nymph that has proved deadly this season has been our Fastwater Caddis pattern. Originally tied for the fastwaters of Tasmania’s north-east (North Esk, St Patricks rivers), this fly has historically produced for me a few times, but didn’t ever rate as a must-have pattern. That was until this week.

The speedy tail-outs of fastwater slots (the fastwater run-ins at the heads of pools), and the deep bored-out channels found on the outsides of long runs had always under-produced for me on Tasmania’s Mersey River. This caddis grub pattern, fished on a long dropper, has provided the key to succeeding on these sections of water over the last two days of fishing; seven brown trout between 1 and 2lbs, and a wild 2lb rainbow have been proof of its appeal, all fish that have been captured from these previously difficult water structures.

This fly is pretty simple to tie, with the main challenge tying the olive rib body in. Translucent olive rib (medium size) makes the segmented body, secured down with black wire. A black seals fur throat is added, just behind a black tungsten bead, all tied on to a curved grub hook. 

The next time you’re on the stream, lift up a few rocks and check out the inhabitants. No doubt, there will be plenty of bright green caddis grubs crawling around.