150 Years of Southern Trout

150 Years Ago, the obsessive desire of a pair of wealthy gentleman graziers to recreate a slice of England in the Southern Hemisphere bore fruit. The British Empire and Royal Navy were at their height of their powers, and anything was possible, including the transplanting of northern hemisphere gamefish to the colonies _ the faroff island of Tasmania in particular. James Youl and William Ramsbottom wanted Atlantic Salmon but it was brown trout which would prosper and spread to other Australian States, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea then South America. It would be another 19 years before brown trout would be introduced to the United States, a much shorter journey than the 3-month trip down south.

The “ecological imperialists” who wanted to remake the colonies in the shape of their homeland are better known for their failures, rabbit, blackberries, starlings and carp, _ but fly fishers the world over have plenty to thank Youl and Ramsbottom for.  After all there were no salmonid gamefish south of the Equator.

Last weekend there were 150 year celebrations at the original hatchery on the banks of the Plenty River, which remains a working hatchery. The Plenty still holds a dare I say, plenty of browns, descendants of the original release of 38 brown trout, which started it all. It certainly wasn’t an easy road though.

It took 12 years, many thousands of pounds (a fortune in those times), and thousands of Atlantic salmon eggs, and a bunch of public criticism of Youl in particular before they would find a way to have the ova survive the 90-odd day journey from the English ports.

The eggs were packed in moss and carried in an ice room on a sailing ship, then carried 4 miles overland on bamboo poles from a river barge on the Derwent River to  to the new Plenty Hatchery. Several thousand salmon and 300 brown trout _ the latter an afterthought, a gift of chalkstream brown trout eggs from the most famous of English waters _ were raised to maturity and a portion released. The brown trout prospered and spread but the salmon would never achieve a self-sustaining basis. Without such determination, and deep pockets, its probable that there wouldn’t be the same sorts of trout fisheries in the southern hemisphere that we lust after today.

Rivers like the  Tongariro, the Chimehuin, and the Rio Grande may just be blue lines on a map, troutless and little known. Its not inconceivable that without the drive and desire show by the pair that brown trout may never have made it across the Atlantic and what a shame that would be.

Enjoy a little taste of the Tasmanian wilderness fishery today in the video below

Cheers Steve