Being Better

In the third instalment of this series, Peter considers his most recent decade in Tasmania, 2014-2024.

In 2019, Penstock Lagoon was one of the venues for the World Fly Fishing Championships (more about this event later) and the IFS stocked the clappers out of it. High stocking rates continue to this day, yet ironically, Penstock Lagoon has recently been named Painstock by some fishing friends.

During the later part of this decade, as it has arguably become harder to catch fish in some other mainstream waters like Little Pine, Arthurs Lake and Woods Lake, Penstock has seen a huge increase in fishing pressure.

It seems to me there is a bit of a Catch 22 going on with Penstock – and these days, I generally I avoid it with my clients. It’s like this. High wind days limit where we can fish in comfort in the Highlands, and Penstock is the go-to for many flyfishers when it’s very windy. In turn, the IFS knows Penstock is popular, so they keep the fish numbers up, thinking that will make the anglers happy. High numbers of fish eat high numbers of nymphs each day, and it seems to me that there aren’t so many nymphs left to hatch into adult mayfly. Anyway, for whatever reason, there seem to be lesser quality hatches, combined with a huge increase in fishing pressure and boat movement. In my opinion, this does not equate to better fishing.

Another issue – not just for me but for many other boat anglers – is if you head into the shore to chase a fish, an angler often jumps out from behind a tree and goes nuts at you for messing up their fishing and spooking their shoring fish. They have a point, but the problem was, they were hiding with camo gear behind a tree or crouching down behind a bush.

Penstock can get busy on windy days as anglers seek a bit of shelter.

There are more disagreements than ever before. The regulations say that when fishing from a drifting boat, the boat cannot get closer than 100m from a shore-based angler. On a busy day, there could be 20 or more shore-based anglers spread out around the lake. So theoretically, with Penstock typically 400m to 600m wide, on the wrong day, the 20 to 30 boats on the lake would be jammed into a fairly narrow slot down the middle. More pressure.

The bottom line is, there is too much agro and not enough easy fish for me to spend time at Penstock in the main part of the season.

I’d love to see the boating rules changed to only permit fishing from anchored boats. I think you would find the bank anglers would calm down. The fish would calm down, and the environment would be better, with fewer movements on the motor, or drogues dragging the weed-beds.

Arthurs Lake

Following a massive drawdown during the Millenium Drought, Arthurs eventually refilled, but the fishing has never recovered from the halcyon days pre 2007. A weird lime-green and hairy weed took over the shallower and once productive bays, and not much aquatic life seems to live in it. Although the water clarity varies, it has remained green/brown ever since and it hasn’t returned to its original state. The mayfly and stick caddis populations have been very, very, slow to return.

Jim Allen once described Arthurs as a world-class brown trout factory, and it’s appalling that more effort hasn’t been put in to bringing it back to its former glory.

World Fly Fishing Championships 2019

In 1988, Tasmania hosted the World Fly Fishing Championships at Bronte Park in the Highlands. Thirty-one years later, the competition returned to Tasmania in 2019.

Competitors and boats line the shore of Woods Lake during the 2019 World Championships. Despite terrible weather, the competition was a huge success.

Huge credit must go to Malcolm Crosse and his team from Fly Fish Australia for organising an international event so well. All the competitors had a ball and, despite atrocious weather, plenty of fish were caught pulling wet flies on the lakes, and nymphing the rivers.

Catch-and-release and barbless hooks

With huge catches from places like Arthurs less common, perhaps anglers are valuing the trout they do catch more. In any event, there seems to be greater reverence for the fish – as there should be for such a beautiful wild animal that gives us so much pleasure.

Catch-and-release has become steadily more mainstream.

Barbless hooks have become much more common and are now normal for thinking anglers. The better tackle stores are stocking flies tied on these hooks, and there is a huge choice of barbless hooks for fly-tying on the shelves.

Whilst many Tasmanian anglers of the ‘old guard’ are still slinging sugar bags over their shoulders and donging any trout they catch, there are more and more catch-and-release anglers about. I think people are starting to realise that some fisheries are not as sustainable as they once were. As an example, my 20 year old son would never dream of killing a single trout. Having said that, I’m still happy to keep the occasional trout for the cold smoker, so long as it’s the right trout, and from a water that can afford it.


Cormorants have been a big issue on our freshwater fisheries this past season. It seems to me that the past two winters have been very wet (unlike the current one) and the fish breeding has been spectacular. I had never, in 30 years of guiding, seen as many small trout getting about in all our waterways. I think the normally sea-faring cormorants somehow worked out there were easy pickings inland. This year, in a short 4 months, these birds have plundered many streams and lakes of the smaller fish.

In the long-term though, I don’t think it matters. To my mind, there seemed to be too many small fish. I guess it’s just nature doing its thing.

A darter – a close relative of the cormorant, but not quite as voracious when it comes to trout!

I have just looked back at my notes and exactly 10 years ago, the same thing happened. I wrote an article about it, based on the premise that this was evolution at work. The cormorants ate all the lazy, dumb fish. When they were gone and no longer available to be caught, some anglers left too. The rest of us just manned up. We got better at stalking, better at locating the lies of cormorant-shy trout, better at casting longer and finer leaders, better at mending, etc.

Find the Food

When I started my guiding business on the highland lakes 30 years ago, my job was relatively simple. All I had to do was find the food. If I found the food, I could guarantee the fish had found it before me and they were already on the job eating. The target was obvious, and a half-decent cast would settle the matter in our favor.

On any day by using my local knowledge – especially an understanding of the wind patterns, combined with the use of a big, fast boat – I could find surface food and fish. There might be stoneflies, caddis, ants, mayfly duns, mayfly spinners, dragonflies, damsel flies, grasshoppers, gum beetles and even jassids sometimes.

Sadly, I must tell you that over the last 10 years, I have found really big quantities of surface food a lot less. Don’t ask me why.


This has been the decade of better rods. The good old US of A seemed to lose its upper hand regarding access to high quality graphite cloth and resins. South Korea has now become one of the great rod making countries of the world. With the exception of a handful of American rods, all the best rods are coming out of Korea. They are more affordable and every bit as good.

Fly-lines have become expensive for the piece of coloured string they are, and now some are textured (and noisy to use). Progress? These lines are just like the silk fly-line I started my flyfishing with 48 years ago. I still like the smooth, quiet lines and I must say, they do seem to last a whole lot longer these days.

Powder floatant is the bee’s knees and it just wasn’t around when I started guiding. In the last few years, I’ve become a great fan of the spray powder Shimakazi. Seek some out and give it a blast. I think as expensive as that stuff is, you will love it.


CDC is a wonderful material for dry flies. Many of the comp guys use it, and it is very popular in Europe. If you can get your line speed fast enough to remove the water from the feathers, you will find the trout love flies tied with this stuff.

Micro rings

These tiny little rings have been about for decades, but they are more common these days. Do yourself a favour and get a packet of them. Tie one to the end of your leader and tie tippet and droppers from this. Your leader should last years, and the fish don’t mind the tiny steel ring. And no, it won’t make your dry fly leader sink.


Sportfishing boat

10 years ago, I changed the big alloy tri hull sportfishing boat for a fibreglass centre console. The new boat rides more smoothly in rough water, it’s a drier boat, and most importantly, it is much quieter to fish from.

I feel the alloy boat acted like a big upside-down drum floating in the water. I can certainly get much closer to the fish, and a client who’s low to the water doesn’t need as long a cast as was required from the old alloy boat. We clearly spook less fish. I would never buy another alloy boat for flyfishing.

Drift boat

Last season, I replaced my Hyde fibreglass dory-style drift boat, with a wooden tailwater skiff-designed boat. It’s a much nicer boat to fish from and despite it requiring a little more care and maintenance, I find it a better fishing platform. On occasions, the trout come so close to the boat I can actually touch them with the oar!

Euro nymphing

It has certainly been in this past decade that Euro nymphing techniques have become so prominent in river fishing. As far as I can see, this has been driven completely by the competition fishers, and now the local recreational anglers are onto it. With a little bit of practice, it is an unbelievably effective way to catch trout in moving water – often, much more so than a simple nymph under dry rig. It’s not my cup of tea, and not for most of my clients either, but it is undeniably effective if you just want numbers.

Euro nymphing has become very popular over the last decade.

Plonking and bobbers

These are lake fishing, generally nymph-under-indicator techniques. I personally don’t like to fish our lakes like this but… sometimes, it is deadly. If you are using any weight to speak of in your nymph, then a dry fly just doesn’t cut it as well as a visible, buoyant indicator. Do yourself a favour and get into a tackle store and buy a whole bunch of weirdly-designed and bright-coloured bobbers. You will initially thank me for this advice, and then maybe one day you will throw them all out.

The Japanese influence

After fishing in Japan some 5 or 6 years ago, I became besotted by the effectiveness of a long leader, and long drag-free drift system they use to fish dry flies on fast water.

To cut a long story short, I think that after 50 years of passionate and obsessive flyfishing, I have never been more excited about learning and perfecting an aspect of the sport.

It’s a funny thing – I remember more than 40 years ago a great Victorian angler, John Lanchester (inventor of the Tom Jones fly), showed me how he was supergluing in his leaders, and the leaders he used for fishing were 20’ long.  At the time I thought he was mad.

Here I am now gluing in my leader which is 24’ long! For what it’s worth, in recent times, the savvy competition anglers who have spent any time with the Spanish flyfishers, are using 20’ dry fly leaders. The Spanish are considered some of the best in the world with a dry fly on a river.

I have a few more reflections and ideas to cover in my Spring column, but for now, that seems like a good place to conclude this little history: sometimes what’s old, becomes new again.