The Red Tag dry fly was floating proudly but it still took all my concentration to maintain visual contact with it as it floated down the gentle riffle. As I peered into the lengthening shadows of the far bank, there was a sudden swirl in the vicinity of my fly and I instinctively lifted my 5-weight fly rod skywards. I hadn’t actually seen the trout take the tag, but I guessed that it had – and I was right!
The line came tight on a feisty little trout that immediately jumped clear of the water then headed downstream. The staccato fight of the small fish was great fun on the light rod. Soon enough I was able to reach down and grab him. Gently unpinning the tiny hook, I slipped the pretty fish back into its watery home.
I was fishing the Tanjil River, a productive little trout stream in west Gippsland. The Tanjil rises from a number of tiny feeder creeks high in the Great Dividing Range east of Melbourne, then slowly gains volume on its journey south. Eventually it joins forces with the Latrobe River, having passed through Blue Rock Reservoir along the way. Though there are trout present in the section below the dam, particularly immediately below the wall, it is the stretch above the dam that has earned greatest acclaim as a trout river.
For city-based anglers, an attractive aspect of the Tanjil is its proximity to Melbourne. It is less than two hours drive from the Burnley Tunnel: well within reach for a day trip. To access the areas mentioned below, first get yourself to Willow Grove. Take the M1 (Princes Highway) east out of town, then when you get to Trafalgar, turn left and head north towards the hills. Follow the signs to Willow Grove.
About 15km upstream of Blue Rock Reservoir there is a fork in the river where the Tanjil River splits into the west and east branches (it’s around 5km as the crow flies). Between Blue Rock and this fork there is some very productive trout water, but access to this water is difficult without a four-wheel drive.
Boats can be navigated up to 10km upstream from the reservoir (depending on water levels), and some intrepid anglers have been known to paddle canoes all the way down from the junction to the reservoir. Those who go to this much effort deserve to be rewarded and often they are, with better specimens of brown trout that have travelled upstream from the reservoir.
Redfin and carp are also present in the stretch of water immediately upstream of Blue Rock.
My favourite stretch of river however, is even further upstream, in the west branch of the Tanjil, beyond where it joins the east branch. Despite being only a couple of hours drive from Melbourne, the river here is wild and unspoilt – a real wilderness fishery. I have to admit though, I’m not one of those types who finds much consolation in the scenery if the fishing is poor. Happily, that’s not often the case in the Tanjil. Provided the conditions are right and the river isn’t flooded, you will almost always catch trout here.
Access to the west branch is relatively easy via three spots off the Willow Grove-Mt Baw Baw Road. Heading north out of Willow Grove, access to the junction itself can be gained from Rowley Ridge Road via Russell Creek Road. Thereafter there is easy access at Costins Road and at the road bridge that crosses the Tanjil just before Tanjil Bren.
At many spots there are also 4WD tracks running close to the river. These tracks can give access to long sections of rarely fished river, provided you’re prepared to bush bash your way to the actual water’s edge. When it’s home time it’s convenient to hop up onto the track for an easy walk back to the car. When I’m feeling more adventurous, or when I see fresh boot prints at the more popular spots, I’ll leave the tracks behind. With no track alongside, you don’t have to go very far upstream before the imposing forest closing in on every side gives you that distinct feeling that you’re in the middle of nowhere.
Access to the east branch is more difficult but can be gained via Russell Creek and Rowley Ridge Roads, as described above. The east branch of the Tanjil also contains a good population of trout and is well worth fishing, though the close bankside vegetation (even closer than the west branch) means that it’s probably not so good for inexperienced anglers.
Whichever section of the upper Tanjil you choose to fish, you’ll usually be confronted with some fairly tight fishing. In fact, the bankside vegetation in places is so thick that the first time visitor can feel somewhat despondent! The only option is get in the water and travel up the bed of the river itself, fishing as you go and making short forays into the bush to get around logjams, deeper pools and other obstacles. The riverbed is mostly gravel or small stones, so wading is safe if you take your time.
No matter what your favoured technique is, success on the Tanjil will be dependent upon short but accurate casting to avoid the close attention of overhanging trees and ferns. Like all fishing, you’ll be more successful if you maximise the time you spend with your fly or lure in the water, and minimise the time you spend untangling your equipment! One last tip is to keep a sharp eye out for things that wriggle as both leeches and snakes abound in these parts.
You might be wondering why anyone would want to fish in such tiger country and the answer lies in the fishing itself. This river is chock-a-block with trout. They are not big trout, probably only averaging around 250g, but they are wild trout and will voraciously attack bait, spinner and fly. There are some bigger fish too, with brown trout up to 1kg not unheard of.
Both branches provide great water for flyfishing using light gear. Early in the season, especially if the water is a bit high and discoloured as it sometimes is in spring, I have had success nymphing blind, running a small bead head pheasant tail or hare and copper nymph through likely looking runs. Some anglers use a piece of split shot to make sure their fly gets to the bottom of the deeper pools. Other regular visitors to the Tanjil report great success early in the season using scruffy dry flies fished wet.
Later in the season, when the fish are feeding heavily on terrestrials, the flyfishing with dries really comes into its own. The fish aren’t fussy either, and this river would be a rewarding spot for beginners to get into flyfishing. Use any high floating dry fly such as a Deer’s Hair Caddis, Red Tag or Humpy at the end of a short trace. Size 10 to 14 flies are ideal. Mostly it’s blind fishing, but if you wait quietly at most pools long enough you will also find rising fish to cast to, even in the middle of the day.
Spinners are also successful in the Tanjil, and you can’t go past the smallest size Celtas or Mepps. Early in the season, if the water is high, probing the deeper pools with spinners can be a good way to hook up with a better class of fish. I tend to favour black ones, but the fish here usually aren’t fussy regarding hardware. There isn’t much room to cast cross current, so the best idea is to flick a longish cast up any of the numerous straights. Again though, accurate casting is mandatory.
Though I’ve never tried it, there’s no reason why baitfishing wouldn’t be successful in the upper reaches of the Tanjil too. These small streams flood easily after rain, creating high, discoloured water unsuitable for fishing using artificial flies or lures. I’ve often thought that drifting an unweighted worm through the deeper runs might be a good way to catch fish under these conditions. In summer, the banks of the Tanjil can be alive with grasshoppers and other terrestrials, so a spot of hopper fishing might be rewarding in the warmer months.
The west and east branches of the upper Tanjil River are wild and scenic streams in west Gippsland. They contain high numbers of mostly small brown and rainbow trout, but with some larger specimens to 1kg. These streams would make ideal destinations for anglers from Melbourne looking for a productive and enjoyable day trip. The prolific trout are generally not fussy and therefore also make ideal targets for newcomers to flyfishing, provided they keep their casts short and don’t get to ambitious in the tight cover. And remember, if you do go, send me a report on the action for my monthly area report. Tight lines!
Gear For The Tanjil
A 5-weight flyrod with matching floating line is about as heavy as you would want to go on the Tanjil. A tapered leader is probably best, but there’s no need to get too fancy. I usually make up my own leaders starting with a heavy butt of say 10kg, then quickly stepping down in only two or three sections to a tippet of 3 or 4kg breaking strain. The total length of the leader should be 2m at most.
For spinning or baitfishing, light spin sticks about 5’6” in length teamed up with a 2000 size threadline reel would be ideal. I recommend using Fireline of 2kg breaking strain. It’s as thin as cotton and allows easy casting of lighter spinners and baits. Add a metre or so of 4kg mono to the business end. Try the smallest sized Celtas, or for baitfishing try drifting unweighted worms or grasshoppers on a size 8 hook.
Don’t forget your waders either. The close bankside vegetation makes it almost impossible to fish the Tanjil effectively without getting into the water.
For anglers travelling from Melbourne, a handy place to grab last minute angling supplies is at Paul Worsteling’s Shimano World in Berwick (03) 9704 2200. It is conveniently located on the Princes Highway and Bob (one of the blokes who works there) is an experienced trout fisherman with a good range of flies and other gear. Alternatively, try Active Outdoor Sports in Palmerston St, Warragul (03) 5623 1944, or for anglers coming from the other direction drop in and see the crew at Alpine Country in Saskia Way, Morwell (03) 5134 1380. For lunch and drinks there is a shop at Willow Grove.
Topographic maps are useful for finding the access routes and travelling up and down the river. The appropriate maps are Tanjil Bren (8122-3-1), Russell Creek (8122-3-2) and Willow Grove (8121-4-1) in the Vicmap 1:25,000 series (depending on which section of the Tanjil you want to fish).