Great Lake lies on Tasmania’s central plateau around 30km north from the geographical centre of Tasmania.
First stocked not long after the first brown trout were hatched in 1864, Great Lake enjoyed a reputation for massive trout. It was left as a natural lake until the first hydro-electric development was started prior to the First World War. The first dam was a crude rock filled wall that served to preserve summer levels, which was then superseded by a steel and concrete structure in 1916.
In the 1920’s engineers diverted the waters of the Ouse and James rivers east into Great Lake – the increased flow necessitating a bigger dam and the construction of several downstream power stations.
These developments increased the level of the lake quite substantially, and while it created the famous Shannon Rise immediately downstream from the Great Lake dam, it did destroy the weedy and fertile nature of the natural lake, resulting in a substantial decrease in the average size of trout.
In the 1950’s it was decided to divert the waters of Great Lake north via a new underground power station at Poatina on the northern side of the plateau. This meant that water previously flowing south would be diverted north.
A large rock fill dam was built, and a tunnel cut through the mountain. In 1963 the water flowed north for the first time, and by the summer of 1964 the Shannon Rise was effectively no more.
Further to this, the dam wall was again increased in height in the early 1970’s, bringing the level to what we see today.
Over the ensuing 90 odd years the landscape and ecology of Great Lake has changed dramatically, however it still is one of Tasmania’s most popular lakes.
While it is a popular lake, it is also a massive piece of water. This massive sheet of water with shorelines that appear uniformly barren confronts anglers visiting it for the first time.
Thankfully the lake is a wonderfully diverse trout fishery where anglers can catch plenty of fat and fit brown and rainbow trout throughout the entire year. Summer sees it at its best, and the following guide describes how anglers can get the best from this very accessible waterway.
In many ways the lake is of two halves – the top end and the bottom end surrounding the township of Miena. It can be quite vast the difference between the two, even on the same day. What can be a blue-sky day at Miena can see cloud and even light rain in the northern half!
The northern half is dominated by the wide open expanses from Breona in the west to Cramps Bay in the east. This open water is nearly 15km wide, and can get quite rough on windy westerly days. While trollers more often frequent this open water, flyfishers on bright and breezy northerly days often find world-class sight fishing. Brown trout especially love to cruise the top layers of the water looking for wind blown food such as gum beetles and ants.
The trick to finding fish in this open water is to cruise slowly in the boat across the waves with the wind and sun behind you. With the aid of polaroids the trout stand out quite markedly – the browns glow bright yellow as the sun reflects off their flanks. Rainbow trout are often harder to see as they tend to show up grey in the water, which doesn’t have the contrast of the browns.
These fish move quite slowly and will readily take gum beetle imitations such as Bruce Gibson’s Foam Beetle, surely the best ever gum beetle imitation. Big flies like Chernobyl Ants and Muz Wilson’s Stimulated Sandwich are also worth having.
The fish move up the white foam streaks (or foam lines) – these features accumulate the food and therefore attract the attention of the trout.
Any blue-sky northerly from December through to the end of March is worth a look, and expect plenty of company, the locals will often take a day off work when the right conditions present themselves.
The ‘enclosed’ bays such as Little Lake Bay, Cramps Bay and Canal Bay offer the shore based angler plenty of scope to find fish right on the shore. Flyfishers will use blue-sky days to wade the shores looking for stick caddis feeders. The fish will cruise the silty (and gravelly) shores looking for caddis and pretty much anything else. A non-descript dry fly like a Red Tag will usually do the trick, or if they are stubborn hand a Stick Caddis 10cm under the dry fly.
On rough days the lure fisher should head to the rocky shores where the wind is pushing in and cast lures like Tassie Devils into the wind. Plenty of fish will be active on these wind-swept shores, so rug up and expect plenty of action.
The southern end has a lot more variety of shoreline, and consequently tends to attract more anglers. It is a lot closer to the accommodation houses such as the Great Lake Hotel and the facilities it offers.
While the die-hard boat polaroiders tend to stay up the northern end of the lake, the southern end is my favourite. There are certainly less fish, but they are considerably bigger and are better to eat as well. This, I guess, is due to the weed-beds being a lot more extensive in the southern end.
All down the western shore from One Tree Point to the Beehives, shore based anglers have very easy access to some great fishing. With a decent 4WD you can drive right to the edge of the lake. Watch out for the black mud though, it does tend to be a trap for young players.
There are several key features to the bottom end of the lake: Tods Corner, Kangaroo Islands, The Beehives, Swan Bay and McClanaghans Island.
Tods Corner is a reasonably enclosed bay that receives water from Arthurs Lake during most summers. This pushes a current out into the bay, but perhaps more importantly it brings a lot of nutrients from the more fertile Arthurs Lake. Consequently Tods Corner is weedier than any other bay on Great Lake. It is also reasonably shallow and offers good drift spinning and flyfishing on cloudy days. There is an excellent boat ramp on the northern shore as well.
These two islands out in the middle of the lake provide some excellent structure for spin fishers. Trollers spend a lot of time here chasing the bigger rainbows that hold on the weed-beds close by. On windy northerly days there are some massive foam lines that come off the island which attract plenty of rainbows, as well as the normal run of brown trout.
The size and condition of the fish that come from this area is amongst the best in Great Lake, but do be careful of the weather as you are basically at the mercy of every wind direction.
This is one of the most distinctive features of the lake; the peninsula extends right out towards McClanaghans Island. In a northerly the wind creates a massive foam line that always has plenty of fish in it. Spinning from the shore is extremely reliable, and a rugged 4WD track extends from the Lake Highway north of the Great Lake Pub right out to the point.
There is a deep water drop off here that goes down about 20ft at the current level, and don’t the rainbows love it.
Swan Bay is the closest bay to the road and the township of Miena. Many people launch in Swan Bay and then head elsewhere, which is a pity as some of the better fishing in Great Lake is right next to the ramp.
Swan Bay has a massive weed-bed right throughout, and as a result the fish are always fat and fit. Midge hatches are reliable on calm mornings and evenings, and with beetles hitting the water on warm days you are assured of good fishing within casting range of the hotel.
McClanaghans Island provides some wonderful rocky structure for big browns. On the eastern side between the island and the point lies a very rich shrimp bed, which as a result produces some great fish.
Wind blowing onto the shore stirs up the resident browns who hold right on the shore feeding on stick caddis and other bits washed out by the wave action.
Big dry flies fished into the shore from a drifting boat can be a very exciting and productive method.
Wet fly fishing and spinning of an evening can also stir up some fast and furious action as the sun sets as well.
Great Lake is something of an enigma. While the great majority of shacks are based at Great Lake, few of the locals give the lake the fishing pressure it deserves. Quite often the best fishing will be right under your nose at Great Lake, so digest a few of the spots marked on the map and choose a few flies and lures as recommended and you might just find angling paradise very close to civilisation.
Gibson’s Foam Gum Beetle
Muz Wilson Stimulated Sandwich
Elk Hair Caddis
English Dries – Bibio Hopper, Orange Carrot and Claret Carrot.
Scintilla Stick Caddis
Wet Black Beetle
Red and Black Woolly Bugger
Olive Woolly Bugger
Berkley T Tails in Black and Gold
Squidgy Fish in Garry Glitter
Berkley Power Minnow in Pearl Watermelon
5” and 7” Rapalas
Cranka Vibes in Black and Salmon Roe
Daiwa, Ecogear and Jackall lipless crankbaits
Tassie Devils in Black and Gold and Green and Gold
Ashley Spinner #17