Presented from Issue 100
Have you ever driven over the South Esk River bridge at Perth? I am sure that most of us have. On every trip to Hobart, the idea of fishing this section of river has been in the back of my mind. As a child, I often fished the adjoining ‘Charles Berryman Picnic Reserve’ with my father. It was close to Launceston and had very good access to a small side-water that branched off the main river. Being European, we targeted species that would normally be considered as pests, such as redfin perch and tench. Sounds crazy I know, but prepared the correct way, tench were actually pretty good eating.
Most of the time we fished the old fashioned way, using worms suspended under a float. I also used small redfin-patterned Celtas on the odd occasion. The traditional red-coloured ones seemed to give the best results, with many trout caught on these metal spinners in the picnic reserve side-water. However, access to good fishing spots in the river itself was difficult, as the banks were overgrown with willows.
Back then, we didn’t have a boat and my father’s preferred method of set-rod fishing meant that we never really discovered the area’s full potential. These days, many of the willows are gone. This provides many more shore-based areas to fish from. But how does one access the fantastic looking river upstream? It is certainly not going to be with a powerboat! There are no boat ramps on this stretch of river and many of the bordering properties are privately owned. For me, the answer is simple and it involves the use of my Hobie kayak.
Where to launch
While the William Street Reserve offers good access to the Western side of the South Esk River, I decided to re-visit my childhood fishing ground and launch at the Berryman Reserve. Access to the reserve is via Old Bridge Road (off the Main Road in Perth). There are the remains of an old concrete boat ramp there, but this is not accessible to vehicles. It’s a short 20-metre walk from the car park under the bridge. The ramp is the perfect platform to set up and launch a fishing kayak from, while still giving you easy access to your vehicle. Be mindful that the boom gate to the reserve closes at 6:00 pm, so although you can still access the reserve on foot, vehicles need to be out of the car park by lock-up time. My advice is to park your vehicle outside the entrance to the reserve on Old Bridge Road. Access to the water can also be improved with a purpose-built kayak trolley or wheels. My Hobie Outback Kayak has plug-in wheels as a standard factory accessory.
Best areas to target (see map) During the first part of my trip, I followed the Eastern riverbank upstream, looking for trout. The bank is heavily overgrown with willows, but some likely looking spots, such as rock ledges and drop- offs, do exist. While targeting these areas, I was the target of some intense harassment by the local redfin population. While I would normally keep these for dinner, they were very small and not worth the hassle.
I then reached the first bend in the river, upstream and adjacent to Mill Road. The river there becomes shallow and flows clear, and any sort of crossing by boat or kayak is nearly impossible. There is some fast water here, in the form of rapids and riffles. There are also some very nice looking pools over the next 200 to 300 metres. Perfect trout territory, as I happened to find out, with of course, the odd small redfin thrown in. Looking around, the banks in this section of the river would not be easily accessed by foot.
The other area that fished equally well, if not better, was the weir just upstream from the bridge. You can see this weir as you pass over the bridge on your way to Hobart. It is right opposite the Berryman Reserve and very close to where I launched the kayak. I had initially overlooked this area, with my focus on exploring the river upstream. The weir is constructed entirely of rock and, when the water level is low enough, is accessible by foot. Water spills over the weir to form several fast- flowing, shallow riffles below. These are only ankle to knee deep in most places. I found that the water was very clear and the bottom was gravel. There are also plenty of intermittent weed patches and protruding boulders. These features give cover and provide plenty of resting places out of the current for trout.
Kayak tactics and lure selection
Due to the shallowness of the water I was targeting, the kayak technique I used also involved some footwork. For this, it was handy to have at least some knee-high kayak boots. There are several brands available, but I have found that the best are made from a neoprene type material. This makes them both waterproof and flexible. You could also wear thigh waders, but I doubt they would be as comfortable in a Hobie kayak, where pedalling is required.
It is possible to fish the approach to the deeper sections of the area near Mill Road as per normal from a kayak. But once it has become shallow, it’s a good idea to pick a spot to beach and secure your kayak. This should be out of the way of the current and, if possible, somewhere where you can tie off to a log or branch.
The next part is the fun bit, although it can be dangerous, with submerged rocks tending to be quite slippery. Being careful to step on solid ground, get out of your kayak and do some prospecting in the pools and shallow fast water sections of the river. Try to walk and cast upstream, as river trout can be very easily spooked.
Look for areas that trout may use for cover. Things such as boulders or fallen logs/trees will all break the current and provide cover. As most of you no doubt know, trout will sit out of the current to conserve energy. Patches of weed will also give this sort of cover to some extent. Trout often take advantage of the cover, not only to rest, but to also find any food that may flow past in the current. Shallow diving hard-body lures and soft plastics work very well in this type of river environment. My favourite hard-body lure for trout is the Japanese made Jackall COLT minnow in the classic ‘black n gold’ colour. Tie one of these on to at least a rod- length of good quality 4lb fluorocarbon leader. I have found that a light leader is all that is needed in most river applications. Being such a fine diameter, it certainly goes a long way in providing the best presentation of your offering.
I found that a ‘rip’…’rip’…’pause’ retrieve worked very well. Simply cast and work the hard-body lure fast in quick succession a few times, then pause for a second or two and repeat. The initial ‘rips’ can be done with some fast, but short lifts of the rod-tip or by a couple of very fast turns of your spinning reel. You can cover a good area of water by letting your lure float with the current on the pause using this method. Once you get a bit of practice, you can even navigate your lure between any obstacles that may be in the way. The only problem you may have is when a trout ambushes the lure from between the obstacles. Then the fun really begins!
When using a hard body lure in very shallow water, you will find that it will often (if not always) hit the gravel bottom with its bib as you retrieve. Don’t be afraid to fish like this – I found that ankle deep water in these areas contained trout. A word of warning however, this style of fishing does take a heavy toll on your lures. Paintwork and even the eyes can be ripped off even the best quality lures thanks to the constant hammering against the rocky/ gravel bottom.
So if you are not willing to give your $30 Japanese lures this type of punishment, use something less expensive. Try a small Rapala minnow in the ‘Brown Trout’ pattern. They are a great little river lure and generally cost a lot less. There is also no reason why you shouldn’t try a Celta spinner in the traditional ‘redfin’ pattern.
Personally, after seeing the devastation to my expensive hard-body, I turned to soft-plastics as a much less expensive option. Thinking what would imitate a natural food source, I used 1-inch Strike Tiger nymphs in ‘olive pepper’ and ‘black n gold’. They are very ‘insect–like’ and come in some great trout catching colours.
I rigged one of these on a very light 1/24th size 4 jig head and increased the 4 lb leader length to around 2 rod lengths. I then proceeded to cast into some of the deeper pools I found. The increased leader length really helped me cast better due to less resistance offered by such a thin diameter of line. I would then just let the nymph sink all the way to the bottom and slowly twitch it back up to the surface. I use a similar technique when I go lake fishing for trout.
I had the most success using the soft plastic nymphs at the weir (on my return to the reserve). Again, due to the shallow water, I utilised the same kayak tactic of securing the kayak and then prospecting on foot. With the water flowing faster in this section of river, I used a different method to the one outlined above. I tried casting into the deeper water just above the weir. By deep, I mean only around a metre. I picked up a small brownie fishing in front of the weir but this success was soon interrupted by an influx of pesky small redfin.
Trying something different, I walked below the weir and proceeded to cast the nymphs directly into the pools and riffles. The current would eventually take the nymph downstream of the weir. It was very important at this point to remember to be in-touch with the line. Too much slack will result in lost takes. It also helps if you watch your line in the water for any sudden movement. The faster water in some sections of the river can make this difficult.
Letting the nymph ‘drift’ like this in the current was the key to my success. The only rod input I used was to skip the nymph over any obstacles or obstructions. It turned out to be a very simple method of fishing a soft plastic, yet a very productive one.
While there are probably many better sections of the South Esk River to fish, the one that I have explored is very close to Launceston and offers some pretty good trout fishing. The best fishing was found in the faster water sections that I have described. They were accessed very easily using a kayak and then ‘prospecting’ the area on foot.
The trout caught on this particular trip were of typical river size, averaging between 500 and 700 grams. They were all in very good condition and, as a result, full of energy. Although the river was infested with small redfin perch, the cooler spring weather did put a reasonable dent in their appetite. With warmer temperatures ahead of us, increased redfin activity is something that you will have to put up with.
Redfin aside, I have a feeling that this section of the river really does have a lot more to offer than just average-sized river trout. With this location being so close to Launceston, it’s time to grab your kayak and start your fishing adventure!