Recreational fishing

Mary Morton Allport's sketch 'Esperance River' shows four fishermen of various ages enjoying the sport (ALMFA, SLT)

Recreational fishing perhaps began with the Aboriginal people, though whether they ate scale fish as well as shellfish is debated, and it is also not clear whether they fished for food only or also as a sport. From 1777 Cook's and Bligh's crews caught bream and 'small trout' in Adventure Bay, and while the food was welcome, diaries show that the men also saw fishing as 'very good amusement'.

Parson Knopwood was among the keen fishermen of early settlement, catching flathead, cod, crayfish, 'parrot fish' and 'perch' (Australian salmon?). Colonists continued to enjoy such fishing, but it was felt that these did not offer real sport, and from 1841 acclimatisers tried to introduce salmon and trout. Finally, Salmon Commissioners were appointed, hatching boxes and breeding ponds were built at the Salmon Ponds, and in 1864 James Youl successfully brought trout and salmon to Tasmania. By 1870, fish had been released into a number of rivers and Central Plateau lakes. Trout flourished, though salmon did less well, and fishing licences were established in 1870.

The Derwent Anglers' Club (1879) was the first of many fishing societies, transport improved, accommodation was built, journalists praised fishing in the Central Highlands, H Anderson's Guide to Trout Fishing in Tasmania (1900) gave advice, the Northern Tasmanian Anglers' Association (about 1900) stocked northern waters, and fishing flourished both among locals and tourists. Most fish were caught by natural bait or lure.

In 1910 TB Simpson, who regularly fished at Great Lake, introduced dry fly fishing to Australia, though English flies were not always successful. Tasmanian Dick Wigram built on this start, inventing many exquisite flies to match the local hatches. His Trout and Fly in Tasmania (1938) became the standard work.

At the same time, the Shannon Rise attracted fishermen from around the world. At first unremarkable, this half-mile stretch of the Shannon River was altered by a Hydro-Electric Commission dam (1911), in a way which greatly attracted the snowflake caddis fly. As these hatched in December, they in turn attracted trout, which became large, provocative and elusive, and the challenge of catching them attracted many anglers, not only from Tasmania but around the world. Hydro activity created other popular fishing areas, such as Little Pine Lagoon (1954) and, later the new Lake Pedder (1972), but in the late 1950s the Hydro began diverting water from Great Lake, destroying the Shannon Rise, to the regret of many anglers.

Fishing became even more popular in the 1950s. David Scholes' books, notably Fly Fisher in Tasmania (1961), helped cement the island's status as one of the world's leading venues for fly fishing. However, there was little in the way of a tourist industry, with no private waters, only a few rudimentary anglers' lodges and no professional guides. In the 1970s this began to change. In 1974 Noel Jetson became Australia's first full-time trout guide, and Jason Garrett created London Lakes, Tasmania's first private fly fishery, in marshy land east of Lake Echo. Many experts regard it as one of the best in the world, and it was the venue for the 1988 World Fly Fishing Championships. More guides set up, and more private fisheries were established, such as the Snowy Range Trout Fishery south of Hobart. Many Tasmanians represented Australia in fly fishing, such as Jason Garrett, Shayne Murphy, Jan Spencer and Peter Hayes. Books and magazines proliferated, and in 1995 Robert Sloane launched the internationally-distributed magazine FlyLife.

Game fishing was also developing. In the 1950s, charter boats operated out of Tasman Peninsula ports in search of blue fin tuna, and game fishing clubs were formed. As climate and ocean current systems changed, increasing numbers of striped marlin and sharks have been caught around the coasts. In 2003 the four clubs affiliated to the Game Fishing Association of Tasmania had about 700 members, who among them held 23 Australian and six world game fishing records. Fifteen-year-old Ashley Hallam's 125.75 kg blue fin tuna, caught in 1985, is still the heaviest blue fin tuna taken in Australia.

Fishing is the most popular sport in Tasmania. In 1988 there were 27,195 licensed anglers and also, as throughout the last two hundred years, many unlicensed anglers who, around Tasmania's coasts and estuaries, have continued to catch flathead, mullet, whiting, crayfish, and recently, Atlantic salmon, escaped from salmon farms.

Further reading: D Young, Sporting Island, Hobart, 2005; D Gilmour, Trout fishery of Tasmania, Launceston, 3 vols 1996, 1997, 1998; G French, Trout fishing in Tasmania, Hobart, 1987; and Tasmanian trout waters, Hobart, 1994; R Sloane, The truth about trout, Hobart, 1983.

Alison Alexander and David Young