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What a piscatorial delight!

by Carl Hyland 20 May 04:15 UTC
Inland Fisheries Service in action at Liawenee © Carl Hyland

Recently, I had the pleasure of spending a few hours with some chaps from the Inland Fisheries Service and watched them in action at Liawenee in the Central Highlands of Tasmania.

Liawenee is a small town in the central highlands of Tasmania. It is a Tasmanian Indigenous name that means 'frigid'. This is very fitting, as Liawenee is classed as one of the coldest permanently inhabited places in Australia. It was an eye opener and great to see the passion these fellows showed whilst working in harsh conditions.

This time of the year is when the brown trout, get it on, so much so, that masses of fish, averaging about 1 kilo, mass for the annual spawning run up every creek, rivulet and waterway that runs into the Great Lake and other waters in the state. It's hard to imagine the humble beginnings of Tassie's trout fishery, for in the mid-1800s, a group led by James Youl made several unsuccessful attempts to import live trout and salmon eggs to Tasmania.

In 1864, live eggs were successfully imported from England packed in moss. The first small trout were released into the Plenty River in Tasmania in 1865. The first recorded attempt to bring salmon and trout eggs from England was in 1852. The journey took four months and the eggs were stored in containers of fresh water that was topped up four times a day. The eggs all perished. Subsequent attempts used up to 30 tons of ice to produce cool water which was runover the eggs in trays. However, the ice supply inevitably ran out before the end of the voyage with fatal results for the ova.

Finally, in 1864, salmon and trout eggs from England were packed in moss in boxes and stored in ice aboard ship. While many of the eggs still died, enough remained to produce fry. By 8 June 1864, 300 healthy trout and several thousand salmon were observed in the Salmon Pond in Tasmania's Derwent Valley.

The first fish were released the following year. While the salmon disappeared and were never seen again, trout appeared to adapt well to local conditions. They were later introduced on the mainland of Australia. The first successfully introduction in NSW and the Canberra region was in 1888, when a number were released into the Cotter, Naas, Molonglo and Queanbeyan rivers.

Trout stocks have been maintained over the years by government-run hatcheries. Rainbow trout, native to North American, were introduced to New South Wales from New Zealand (where they had been previously established) in 1894. Acclimatisation societies then transferred the fish into Victoria and Tasmania.

According to Brett Mawbey, Fish stocking manager for the Inland Fisheries Service, Tasmanian brown trout have established themselves in not only the Great Lake but also though the inland waterways of the state and ideally, the species like the cold, fast moving waters of most streams. They are targeted by many anglers, from many persuasions throughout the world as was evident by the success of the recent World Fly fishing Championships. Spawning runs usually occur from April to July but are dependent on weather conditions and other factors.

The day I visited, it was overcast foggy with misty rain, just when brown trout like to spawn, according to Brett. Low pressure systems with rain are ideal and one would expect to see many fish moving through the spawning channels when this occurs. Rainbow trout usually spawn later, during the spring in Tasmania and continue for approximately two months. The spawning system created at Liawenee for spawning rainbows is a sight to behold with gravel beds making up the bottom of the spawning runs.

Water levels from Lake Augusta are determined by Service staff and once ova have hatched into fry, the water level is raised by Hydro Tasmania and the young rainbows are effectively 'flushed' back into the Great Lake. According to Chris Basssano, a former fly fishing guide who is now a Fisheries Officer who is responsible for transport and other functions within the service, brown trout are best transported in smaller tankers to other waters within Tasmania with a good oxygen supply. The smaller tankers are only equipped to carry 1,000 1 kilo fish per transport but that's usually enough to stock most waters throughout the state.

Chris has a real passion for what he does and eats and breathes fish, which was evident in my discussions with him. When he is not moving fish or working in compliance, he goes fishing and with two young daughters just getting into the sporting aspect of fly fishing, it looks like he's set to fish for some time to come.

Brett is the 'old timer' of the Service with starting in his job some 33 years ago. Being the boss mans that he gets to enjoy the finer aspects of his job which means he not only is responsible for all hatchery movements from his New Norfolk base but also involved with compliance matters of the freshwater fishery. Josef Wisnieswski is a trainee Fisheries Officer and is also involved in compliance, fish movements plus he lives at Liawenee, the coldest place in Tasmania during the winter months.

You would have to be keen to live there plus work in the snow and sleet but after viewing their homesteads with roaring wood heaters, I could see why he has the passion. The passion also runs in the family, for Josef is the son of Chris, himself a renowned Tasmanian Fisheries officer. The spawning run usually coincides with the annual open field day, hosted by the Service, which traditionally takes place during May each year, but this year, due to Coronavirus concerns the event was postponed until 2021.

Here the general public can get to see how fish are stripped of their eggs and milt and how fish are transported around the state. There is even a fishout pond for youngsters to try their hand at catching a real fish.

Interestingly, fish stocking around the state are now taking place with surveys to also take place at popular waters during the coming year where box traps are placed in the relevant water and fish analysed and released once studies are done. Four springs has had 2,000 fish fin clipped recently, so analysis can be made of their progress when recaptured. The three officers I spent time with indicated their love of their job and I must admit, I had a little bit of envy showing but I reckon if I was 20 years younger I could have a go. Power to them I reckon.

This coming trout season which commences on August 1st looks like being a cracker and I reckon you'd be mad to miss it. Book your place as soon as you can, if you don't want to have a go, there are plenty of trout guides with great reputations who can help.

The Brown trout fishing is the state's best kept secret! Hope to see you down here!

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