Guest Post: The Trout from Down-Under by Guy Curtis

The Trout from Down-Under by Guy Curtis

After having some recent dealings with Anthony and connecting with him on Facebook I found out that he was largely interested in the global history of the humble trout species, Australia included. This was displayed by his keen interest in locally written books such as “Of Rivers and Rises” by Les Hawkins (a well-known advocate and spokesperson of the Australian fly fishing community). Anthony had also mentioned books he had read as written by Greg French; arguably one of the best known fly fishing journalists in Australia. I have myself, enjoyed many of Greg’s writings and am an avid ‘fan-boy’ of his contributions within the ever popular Fly-Life magazine. During our discussions, Anthony had asked if I would mind doing an article for the Three Rivers Tenkara blog (3RT Blog); I was happy to oblige!

Sir James Youl

So in thinking of content, I thought why not start with a brief history of trout fishing within Australia (taken from writings of the Australian Trout Foundation Inc.) and then I might touch on some of the more recent discussions surrounding stocking and management. At the very least, it may give the reader a small insight into the history of Australia’s trout fishery and what we have to offer when fishing for our favourite feather munching species.

History reads that in 1864, a Mr. James Youl was successful in shipping approximately 90,000 Salmon ova and unknowingly, 2700 live brown trout ova to Australia, packed within layers of moss inside of wooden boxes (carefully stored within the ships ice-house). Apparently this journey took 84 days and eventually docked at Melbourne here in my home state of Victoria (VIC). I have read that the ova had been provided by a couple of people, a Mr. Frank Buckland and a Mr. Francis Francis (obviously Francis had parents with a sense of humour). The ova had been provided at their own expense.

A few weeks after arriving at Melbourne dock, some of the salmon ova were taken to Tasmania. It was here that a hatchery was being introduced on a tributary of the Derwent River at Plenty, where the first ‘Australian’ trout successfully hatched in May of 1864.

Both trout and salmon were successfully bred over the following years with some of the stock being kept as brood stock for the hatchery. The remaining boxes of salmon ova were said to be kept in Melbourne with the first hatchlings of salmon being released into Badgers Creek near Healesville, Victoria; also in 1864. 2 years later, an additional 500 brown trout, 93,000 salmon and 15,000 sea trout ova were exported from England aboard the clipper ship “The Lincolnshire“. However the brown trout which were left in Melbourne were said to have all perished.

In the early years, there was a hatchery built at the site now known as Royal Melbourne Zoo, of which had problems maintaining water temperature and in 1872, was moved to a Mr. William Robertson’s property called “Wooling”. Wooling was located on Riddell’s Creek near a town called Gisborne. During the following years, other Victorian hatcheries were set up at Ballarat (in 1870) and in Geelong (in 1874). These were both provided with brown trout and sea trout ova from Plenty Ponds in Tasmania. The ‘Loch Leven’ strain of brown trout were introduced to Victoria, Tasmania and New South Wales (NSW) in the 1890’s via New Zealand and were distributed from the Ballarat and Geelong facilities.

Typical New South Wales River Brown Trout: Photo by Guy Curtis

Rainbow trout were originally stocked into NSW around 1894 and came from New Zealand stock which had been shipped from California (USA) in 1877 and again in 1883. These were all from ‘steelhead’ (sea run) stock. In Victoria, rainbows were supplied to the Ballarat and Geelong facilities at about the same time.

Typical New South Wales Lake Rainbow: Photo by Guy Curtis

All of the trout in Australia are the progeny of these original strains and without the vision and determination of Mr. James Youl and the provision of trout ova (when the contract stated ‘salmon’ only) by Buckland & Francis, brown trout may very well have never even existed in this country!

It’s an interesting story but unfortunately, may not have a particularly happy ending. You see over recent years, trout have been branded as the ‘Rabbits of the River’; charged with choking Australian rivers and streams of native fish. This label has seen a decline in financial funding, management and reduction of stocking numbers over the years which is an absolute shame. I for one believe that trout have earned their place within our ecosystem and that there is the ability to limit the so called damage to native fish stocks if managed correctly; something that I believe could be executed a whole lot better in this country. However the argument remains that the co-existence of species (trout and natives) is more than likely unsustainable.

Typical Victorian High Country Brown Trout: Photo by Guy Curtis

In recent times, stocking numbers for trout have declined heavily and numbers for Bass, Trout Cod and other native fish has increased; giving weight to who is winning this debate. It will be an interesting future for sure, as recreational fishing (for trout) is enjoyed by thousands of Australians every year during the open seasons.

In my local areas, I have fished for trout for over 35 years and like many, cut my teeth on fishing unweighted scrub worms down every riffle I could find – bringing many a trout undone. The years that followed saw my techniques grow and develop into the spin fishing arena (a small black Celta my weapon of choice); then on to fly-fishing for those many years that followed. In the last couple of years however, I have dedicated near all of my time on the rivers and creeks practicing Tenkara and I thoroughly enjoy it!

Whatever the future holds for trout in Australia, and I believe it still has a fighting chance, there are some fantastic opportunities still available in the land Down-under (particularly in Victoria and New South Wales). You can catch many brown and rainbow trout in any given session, with an opportunity of an elusive brook trout in some parts of the two named states as well (still on my bucket list with Tenkara gear) – Ill crack that brookie code one of these days…

About the Author

Guy Curtis resides in country Victoria, Australia and spends his fishing time chasing high country trout among the Alpine National Park, particularly within the Avon Wilderness area. Guy is primarily a dry fly enthusiast with wet flies and nymphs rarely seeing any time in the water. He writes about his Tenkara exploits at his blog; (when time permits) and is planning on future travels to the USA, UK and Japan to extend his Tenkara portfolio.