Day Trip – Penstock Lagoon

Guest Blogger: Mike Cline, Bozeman MT

Called the Jewel of the Highlands by Australian angler Malcolm Crosse, Penstock Lagoon is one of those idyllic angling spots that will stay etched in your memory. Our hosts in Tasmania, Peter and Karen Brooks of Driftwater chose a perfect day for the journey and fishing on Penstock Lagoon. Nestled in a gum forest high on the Tasmanian Central Plateau, Penstock, at 900 acres is not a large lake. There is very little development along the shoreline. Maybe a dozen or more small fishing shacks, most of which have been along the eastern shore hidden among the gums for decades. The lagoon was formed in the 1950s as part of a Tasmanian Hydro scheme by damming a small tributary of the Shannon river. Average depth might be 10 feet, but there is a lot of shallow, wadable water along the shorelines.

From Deloraine where we were staying, the drive to Penstock takes a little over an hour, but provides the exceptional experience of leaving the lowland Meander River valley and ascending rapidly up to the Central Plateau which averages around 1000 meters or a little over 3300 feet. The contrasts are stark. The valley is lush and agricultural, but as you crest the plateau, the rocky rugged landscape lets you know this is an unforgiving place. As you circumnavigate the Great Lake you eventually turn off the main road for a quick 10 km drive to Penstock. It is isolated. Wallabies and Tasmanian deer are common sights and there’s too many different birds to even think about.

We would be fishing from Karen Brooks wooden runabout, the Tradition. As we launched the boat at the campground, anticipation grew. It was a banner weather day. Light winds and partly cloudy skies portended good fishing. Penstock can be a difficult venue when there are strong winds or sunny, dead calm days. Peter was convinced conditions were perfect. After a short, slow run to the south end of the lagoon, I could see that the water had great clarity and good weed growth. Our early casts with wets didn’t generate any strikes, but by 11AM a few fish were rising irregularly. The real benefit of having a guide (besides the boat) is they know what works and when. My 4 weight was rigged up with two dries-a red spinner and possum emerger. At 6-feet apart at end of a 7-foot leader, I was casting over 12 feet of leader. It didn’t take long to connect with a nice brown that took the possum emerger. The mayfly duns became more common and we drifted through the wind lanes along the eastern shore trying to target rising fish. Just after noon, the iconic red and black jassids (leaf hoppers) started showing. Karen gave me a new challenge by adding another 6 feet of leader with a jassid. I was casting three dry flies 60-70 feet with a 4 weight and a 19-foot leader. The casting part wasn’t that difficult, but landing a fish with that long leader and three flies was a new experience. As the day progressed, I was able to take six nice fish–five browns and a fat rainbow.

Lunch on the shoreline provided a good view of “The Tradition”, a wooden runabout built by Australian angling icon, Malcolm Crosse a decade ago. Driftwater acquired the boat from Malcolm, named by him “Tradition” because it is a traditional and historic “Loch style” fishing boat in 2014. Malcolm Crosse might be an unknown in the U.S. but as the editor of “The Best Australian Trout Flies”, he has been a force for recreational and competitive fly fishing in Australia for decades. As the day drew to a close, I was unaware of the special treat Karen and Peter had in store. Seventy -year old Malcolm Crosse has owned one of those fishing shacks on Penstock for over 35 years and he would be there this afternoon to spend Easter week at the lagoon.

We stopped by, said hello and were welcomed with the traditional tea and biscuits. The cottage was small, but well- appointed with 35 years of Australian angling memorabilia and art. A small fly tying room was littered with flies and materials. One could only imagine what iconic Australian trout flies had seen that desk over the decades. I didn’t intrude too much with photos but was granted this one.

The afternoon light was fading, so our time was limited, but that didn’t stop Malcolm from telling a few stories, talking about some of his favorite flies and showing genuine interest in my experience on the lagoon.

As we left the cabin, our adventure wasn’t over. It took about 15 minutes to motor back to the ramp. By the time the boat and gear were stowed it was dark. One of the big cautions in Australia is driving at night. By day, most of the mammals of Australia are invisible, tucked away sleeping in the bush. But once night falls, their presence is obvious. We had about 70 miles of windy road through gum forests and parkland to get home. Wallabies, possums, deer and wombats were visible along the roadside at every turn. It seems they are all bent on committing suicide. It was an experience that made me thankful I wasn’t driving. It was a great day on Penstock Lagoon.

3 thoughts on “Day Trip – Penstock Lagoon

  1. Michael Vorhis

    Nice write-up Mike. Care to share some thoughts on the length of that leader & tippet? Was 6 feet between flies necessary due to the shallowness and clarity of the water? Is that kind of setup standard for calm lakes everywhere (if so t’s news to me)? Were the fish there easily spooked due to regular fishing pressure or to predation of some other sort? Or was that mostly just the customary rig there, not necessarily required but commonly used so you went with it? Curious.

    Impressive that you were able to extend that whole train out there with a 4-weight, too.

    – Mike

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  2. Mike Cline

    Mike,

    I don’t think 6′ between flies is all that uncommon when dry fly fishing on lakes as it would be on rivers. Three flies however are as, at least in MT, that would be illegal. As for a specific reason for the long leader and three different flies, I can only guess that giving the cruising trout more choice as they meander around the lake is a good thing. The casting part is actually fairly easy since you are standing in a boat, well above the water and have no worries about your backcast. I was using my 9′ Orvis H2 Tip Flex with some WF Sharkwave line so distance and accuracy weren’t an issue. Even if you don’t get the leader to lay out perfectly straight, a few line strips will straighten it out.

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  3. Michael Vorhis

    That “tip flex” action probably makes a positive difference; I use a rod I made myself from a nice Orvis ‘mid-flex’ blank a few years ago…the ‘mid-flex’ is a medium action thing and I don’t think I’d be able to extend that rig with it. Never tried…and don’t intend to!

    I rarely fish lakes, and with a tandem rig I’ve never used anywhere near that much distance between flies, but I might try a little more separation the next time I hit still water.

    Again, thank you for a nice write-up. It reminded me of my own long-ago days “down under,” especially when you mention the need to get off the roads at night. I circumnavigated Australia on a big ol’ motorcycle and took ‘er straight down the middle too…and trying to ride after sunset was a real good way to end one’s life against a herd of Big Reds, or plastered against the side of a feral bull. Not only stuff, but big stuff, comes out everywhere at night. Far better to spend a night on the ground lying on sharp “double-Gs” and hoping you’ve chosen a spot where there are no poisonous snakes. It’s a place Nature suffers Man to wander by day but has never really reliquished.

    – Mike

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