Most Australian trout anglers regard Tasmania as the nation’s premier trout destination. It’s like Tasmania was purpose-designed for trout, with hundreds of lakes and a cooler climate. Mother Nature didn’t seed the waters, but the early settlers saw to this. If you have an interest in the history of trout fishing in the antipodes, spare half a day and go to the Salmon Ponds. Every brown trout caught in Australia – and New Zealand for that matter – can trace its roots back to the Salmon Ponds.
The facility is located 10 mins from New Norfolk, less than an hour’s drive from Hobart, and includes a Museum of Trout Fishing and an Anglers Hall of Fame.
Since the late 1880s, the Salmon Ponds – the oldest trout hatchery in the Southern Hemisphere – has been a favourite picnic spot for Tasmanian families and a popular place to take visitors. It has been operating since 1864, when a shipment of Atlantic salmon eggs, and a small number of brown trout eggs arrived. The concept was to grow the salmon, release them into Tasmania’s rivers where they would go to sea and return, as happens in Europe and North America. The salmon were grown, released into the rivers and that was the last anyone saw of them. Meanwhile, the brown trout did exceptionally well and became the foundation stocks for brown trout in Australia and New Zealand.
The ponds are set within an English garden setting. Surrounded by a hawthorn hedge, the manicured lawns are interspersed by imported English trees, some of them more than 140 years old.
Each of the six ponds contains different salmonids: rainbow trout, Atlantic salmon, tiger trout, albino rainbow trout and brown trout. Displays explain the annual cycle of fish-breeding activities.
The albino rainbow trout is a rarity bred at the Salmon Ponds for decorative purposes. Someone suggested replacing the koi carp at Government House in Hobart with the albinos; the governor liked the idea and the trout went in.
A display based on the original trout hatchery is set up in a building next to the brook trout pond and opposite the Museum of Trout Fishing. Anglers with an interest in the history of their sport will appreciate the collection of memorabilia in the museum, which is housed in the cottage built for the first superintendent of the Salmon Ponds in 1865. Every room is filled with antique fishing equipment, showing changes in fishing reels, rods, flies, lures and accessories.
Visitors to the Salmon Ponds pay an entry fee, unless they have purchased a full Tasmanian freshwater fishing licence.
There is opportunity to feed the trout with pelletised food, something I always do when I visit a hatchery or trout farm. If you want a feed yourself, try the Wily Trout Cafe, a licensed restaurant at the entry gate that offers a diverse range of food and drink.
Behind the barbecue areas at the back of the facility is the River Plenty, where several fishing platforms are set up for disabled people. This is a wild river and the trout are free to roam, so I didn’t expect to see much. But I walked onto the platform and tossed a few fish pellets into the river and trout – some of them better than 2 kg – came thundering out of the water.