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Sea-run trout fishing this year got off to a cracking start in most areas, with the majority of anglers employing nearly every trout fishing technique to secure fish in local estuaries statewide.
Even those anglers fishing the "off-season" lower down in our estuaries for sea-trout commented on the number of fish moving in early August.
From Issue 87
The anticipation surrounding the start of the fishing season seems to increase every year. We have had three months to decide where we will go on opening day, changed our minds ten times and finally decided that we will wait and see what the weather is doing. The highlands and the lure of big fish is ever present but this year it could be time for a change.
Often overlooked in the early part of the season, the rivers of Tasmania’s north and north east provide excellent fishing for fly, lure and bait anglers. The exact location of your chosen spot should be determined by your chosen technique and the height and colour of the water.
For the fly fisherman, the Macquarie River has not fished as well over recent years as it has in the more distant past, but it looks better for this season. This difficult fishing is definitely due to low flows and warm summer weather. The best of the mayfly hatches will not start until October and dry fly opportunities will be limited. However, there is a silver lining! The high rainfall of recent weeks has swollen the river and backwaters have appeared down its course. These provide excellent fishing opportunities for all fishing styles. Fish have already been seen tailing throughout the lowland sections.
A burst dam further up the system a couple of years back had a negative impact on the river and the best fishing was further down the water course. Good Winter rains over the last couple of years should invigorate it again though. Although the height of the water around Woolmers Estate is usually determined by the amount of water being released from Brumbys Creek, backwaters will still fill if enough rain falls around the source. Water quality in spring will not be as good as that coming from Great Lake but this will not deter the fish. Finding the best backwaters can often mean driving up and down a river looking for just the right spot. On the Macquarie that can mean from well above Ross to Longford.
Small wet flies worked in eddies on long leaders over newly flooded ground can be productive. For the spin fisherman, shallow running lures and soft plastics will have the same effect. Although fish numbers may not be as high as those in other rivers, the quality of the fish can often make up for the reduced opportunities. Most fishing will be ‘blind’ but when light levels are low, trout can be found swirling in shallow water up adjoining ditches and channels.
For those who prefer to use bait to chase their fish, an unweighted worm and light spinning gear is all you need at this time of year on all rivers – including the Macquarie. Expect the river to be running a little discoloured which will hide you from the fish but do likewise for them.
Running into the Macquarie is the Lake River. This river always runs with a ‘milky’ hue but expect it to be more muddy than milky if heavy rains persist. For those who have not fished the Lake River, it holds larger fish than you might at first think. Access is not always easy but if you are willing to walk from the obvious public access points, back eddies and side gutters are not hard to locate. The best techniques to use are similar to those outlined for the Macquarie.
Junctions of inflowing side creeks can provide a colour change and although not quite as productive for trout as they are for barramundi in the north, fishing these areas can be productive on an otherwise fishless day.
The same can be said for those areas where major rivers meet. Remember that trout do not have eye lids and when all else is equal, they will choose to stay in clear water where they can hunt and see danger with relative ease.
Brumbys Creek is another water which suffered badly from low levels during last season. It is regularly frequented on opening day by local anglers hoping to catch larger fish around the bottom weir. Trout often escape from the fish farm and present anglers with a better than average chance of a three pound plus fish.
Trying to predict what the water level will be is almost impossible and it can also change very quickly. Rising or high water levels will bring fish into the shallows and provide the best fishing conditions. Sight casting to fish foraging in gaps in the weed is a real possibility. This is especially so above the top and bottom weirs where the flow spreads out and structure provides a break from the current. As with all of the rivers, stay away from the main flow and concentrate on slower moving back waters and ditches. The base of the weirs is also a reliable fall back as the turbid water provides currents in which fish can hold.
If water levels are low and less than ideal, deeper undercut banks are worth prospecting. Since the ‘settling dam’ was built at the base of the Western Tiers, water quality has reduced alarmingly. Although you would be unlucky to see it, there is potential for a huge volume of dirty water to come thundering over the weirs. If this happens, go elsewhere!
Near by, the South Esk is one of my favourite destinations for early season fishing. There are many backwaters in very accessible spots that hold catchable fish. The water around Longford is under fished and has been flooding over paddocks throughout July. Fat fish will abound. The Mill Dam area is well worth prospecting if there is not too much water.
A clear summer flood is prime time fishing in the South Esk due to the numerous depressions that join the main river channel. When water rises into these areas along the entire lower course of the river, fish will move in to feed on drowned worms, spiders and grubs that were too slow to evacuate. Although it is difficult to polaroid these fish in the dirty waters of August and September, they are still there and very opportunistic. It is worth staying back from the edge of such areas and observing. Many fishermen feel as though the “dilution factor” is against them when there is such a large volume of water. This would be true if it wasn’t for the fact that fish will always gravitate towards a spot with the most food, plenty of cover and with no need to fight the current. Instantly, this rules out 99.9% of what is in front of you and often reduces the dilution factor to a better average than during summer.
For the fly fisherman, the headwaters may provide the pick of the sport. If fishable backwaters are hard to find, water levels are too high or in fact too low for flood water fishing then the upper reaches are where you should go. It is very common to find dry fly fishing and certainly sight casting in the region around Mathina at this time. Look for clean water and start fishing. Even those fishing with unweighted worms will have success with long casts upstream. Slowly real in the slack line as it comes towards you while holding the rod to the side. If the line stops, quickly point the rod at the worm, wait a second and strike. If you wait too long, the fish will have the worm too far down its throat and you run the risk of damaging or killing a fish that you had no intention of keeping. If this does occur, cut the line and tie on another hook. Do not go looking for it!
The Meander River has been touted as the premier back water fishery during early season rains. There are plenty of run off channels, creeks and even storm water drains that enter the river down it’s course. Since the Meander Dam went in, the days of huge floods around Deloraine are gone. I suspect that fishermen are the only ones who shed a tear. What the dam has done however is to maintain more consistent flows. The further from the dam we look, the more influence run off creeks will have on water quality and height. This tells us that unless we can find that wonderful slack water as the river spills into the paddocks, we should look a long way up river. Walking from the Westwood Bridge and searching in amongst the tussocks is reliable. Look for flat country surrounding the river bed. The further up river you venture, the rockier and steeper it becomes making it less attractive if you are wanting backwaters but they can be found in smaller numbers up to the dam itself.
Before Huntsman Lake was built, my brother used to fish that exact stretch of river on opening day, never tie on a wet fly and always catch his bag. The fish were not big but all ate dries. The river upstream of the dam still provides the same quality sport. If you are looking for a feed, this is not the spot for you. The fish are tiny and best left to those who are there for the sport, intending to catch and release.
North Esk and St Patricks Rivers
The North Esk and St Patricks are influenced by rain falling in a different region. If other rivers are flooded out, this area (along with the Forrester) could be far less affected unless it has fallen in the east. Even still, it provides very consistent early season fishing. With Forestry plantations in the head water regions of the North Esk and St Patricks, neither river clears as quickly as it used to after rain. As I write this, the water running under one of the bridges of the St Patricks near my home has remained high and dirty for weeks. Both rivers can be fished in a very similar manner. Again, backwaters behind willow trees and ditches will produce plenty of fish for the worm fisherman. These are a little harder to fish with the fly and those using this method should venture upstream looking for clear water. There is nowhere better than the headwaters which provide kilometres of polaroiding water. It is tight but a small nymph placed in the right spot will elicit an aggressive take. As the fish are generally very small in these rivers, sight casting in dirty water is not easy. The fish need to be in centimetres of water in order to make a disturbance and although it does happen, it is not consistent sport.
When the rivers are running just inside the banks (a ‘banker’) fish will sit right along the edge waiting for the river to spill over. The target area for landing your offerings is small but as there is less water these fish could possibly sitting in, your chances of success are very good. This is where celta fishermen really clean up! Before my fly fishing days, I learned about trout and their behavioural patterns fishing these exact rivers with a red and gold celta at this time of year. It is a great way to recognise good trout habitat through success and failure.
All fish at this time of year are likely to be in less than ideal condition after spawning. They are generally a little bit ‘slimy’, out of condition and their flesh is less than perfect. Unless you really, really want a fish to eat, their table quality can not be recommended and I would advocate catch and release. This will see them there for you and everyone else during the summer months.
In a Nut Shell
Basic Facts about fishing northern rivers in August and September:
It was early start once again on the Meander River this morning and it was one of those beautiful mornings too. No wind, overcast and 5 degrees, absolutely great conditions for another session on the river. Today I'm fishing a different stretch of river, one that I haven't fished for around four years at least. I felt that with the way the river has fished below the bridge then perhaps it's time I gave the four kilometres of river above it a go. I was in the river at 5.40am and started off with the black fury today because the first one hundred meters was all shallow fast water. I was onto a small brown on the second cast but lost the little fella. That was the only hit for the first twenty meters, after that is when the fishing really picked up. Over the rest of this fast water stretch I caught & released seven nice browns from eight hook ups with the best brown going 540 gms. This was a great start, one I haven't had like this for some time.
Mainly overcast conditions plus a forecast with the chance of a shower or two I decided I would try a section of river at Weegena that I haven't fished for close on twelve years. The reason I haven't been near it is because I had completely forgotten about it. Once there I soon remembered why I had wiped it from my mind, it is one of the toughest sections that the Mersey River can throw at you. It is very rocky and always as slippery as an ice skating rink. It was no different today either, as soon as I hit the river it all came back to me.. The last time I fished here I went in for three dives during that session up here. Back then I only had the old waders with the rubber soled boots and they're a death trap in any river that's rocky and slippery. But today is another day, besides I now have the proper wading gear with the Korkers spiked felt soled wading boots, it wasn't going to be as bad as twelve years ago.
Well wasn't I a fool today as I forgot it was a holiday weekend here when I headed off this afternoon for a session on the Mersey River in what were perfect conditions for trout fishing. It was a very dull humid overcast day, conditions that I love to trout fish in. My first stop was at Kimberley just ten minutes from Sheffield. Once there I saw there were campers set up next to the river, that's when it hit me..''HOLIDAY WEEKEND.'" that meant most access areas are going to be busy for the next three days and won't be worth fishing at all. So I headed on up to Weegena only to find both access areas had cars parked there as well.. I knew of one more spot that may be okay so off I went once more in the hope of finding a spot to fish.
Well at last I had a day when I managed to be on the water by 9.00am in what was absolutely beautiful conditions. The Mersey River was much lower up at Weegena than my last trip four days ago, it was also crystal clear. There were quite a few large browns surface feeding in several slow flowing sections of the river too. These fish were all in the 1.5kg – 2.5kg range which was nice to see as there's been plenty of little browns around of late. I started of flicking the black fury (1.5gm) into the shaded areas along the opposite river bank and managed to get a few follows from some decent sized browns, but not one hit to go with it. It's always going to be tough getting into a few browns when you see others surface feeding, this is when I will often pick them up in the fast water runs.
I left home at 12.30pm in overcast and coolish conditions in what I thought were perfect for being in a river today. I was on my way to fish the Mersey River on a friends property and now with the river being lower it was going to be wade-able in every stretch of river. Well, once there the clouds had all but disappeared and it was nice and bright. Not what I was hoping for at all. Any way it was on with the gear and off on a two kilometre walk to where I'll start fishing. The river was now in full sun which was going to make the fishing interesting today that's for sure, especially in low clear water. I could see that the rocky river bottom was covered in a brown algae and that's going to make wading very tough too. Fishing the Mersey River is always hard on the body, the algae covered rocks just makes it that much harder. With the river being low and clear means I'll be starting the session off with the little black fury (black blade) again today.
I headed on over to Mersylea this afternoon in what was beautiful weather conditions with just a light breeze and clear skies. I didn't arrive there until 3.00pm and then had a chat with a couple of young fella's having a spin from the river bank. They hadn't caught anything up to then, but had managed a couple of follows for the time they'd been there spinning. The river was clear and much lower today and was also in full sun. I recommended that they spin the shaded areas as that's more than likely the best place to pick up a trout in the bright conditions. I had to use my old Horne waist waders today as my breathables are down in Hobart at Fly & Dry having new stocking feet put on them as I've worn the other's out. Still they've lasted just over three years of some pretty heavy fishing days and months of continual river fishing. So today it was back to the old way of how I waded the rivers and fished for trout for quite a lot of years in the heavy rubber waders and boots.
Another top day weather wise today had me heading on up to Weegena to give the Mersey River a fish. The wind was switching from the Sth.West to the Nth West and back again so this wasn't going to be a problem either as where I was fishing it's reasonably sheltered in most places on the river. The area I'm fishing is on private property and there's a 2.0km walk before I get to my starting point in the river, but it's always worth the walk. The fishing here is normally quite good most times and there's rarely a trip here that I don't miss on catching a few browns & rainbows.
With overcast and pretty cool weather this afternoon I headed on over to the small township of Kimberley to give the Mersey River a fish from below the main road bridge. I haven't fished this area since we started holidaying over here from Sth Aust while visiting the daughter and family some 18 years ago. There was a cold wind blowing straight down the river which meant I would be working my way upstream against it, something I'm never happy with any time. But I'm here now so might as well push on. With the river being much wider with a little more depth to it I decided to fish with hard body lures today. Plus they're a little heavier and will cast better into the wind than the little #00 mepps black fury, I could have gone up a size with the black fury's but decided not to. Besides I have a few hard body lures that I still have to test out for an overseas company that I promised to do. Before I tried their lure I started off with a rainbow rapala and worked my way up and along the river without a sign of a fish. I'm thinking have I picked another poor section of river to fish, or is it just going to be one of those very slow days again with the trout few and far between. I seem to be having a few of these over the past couple of weeks of just catching one or two fish each trip to the Mersey. Any way I stuck with the rapala for another ten minutes before I changed over to a test lure that was much heavier than I normally use in the rivers. I thought I would work this lure in a deep water run just ahead of me to see how it goes.
With a change forecast for later on tonight I thought I would get a spin session in this afternoon at Merseylea once again. I headed to the middle bridge this time and walked on down through the paddocks to the river. It was still running at a medium to high level but still just wade-able in most sections. I kept with the little black bladed black fury from the other day to see how it would go in today's dull conditions. The first couple of runs didn't give up a fish bit the next run was much better. After flicking the spinner up into the headwater several times and letting it drift into a large eddy it was finally taken by a nice 430gm brown. I fished several more runs some of which I changed over to the hard body lure as they were much deeper runs. Nothing at all was taken over the next two stretches of river where I decided to cross the river to a backwater run.
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Recently Atlantic salmon seems to be a very hot topic amongst local anglers, especially those in the south of the state in the D'Entrecasteaux area. Northern anglers should take a close look at the Tamar as there are opportunities here as well.
The recent "great escape" has provided a perfect opportunity for fresh and saltwater anglers alike to experience some truly memorable sport. Tasmania's pristine, clean and cool waters are the perfect nursery for the Atlantic Salmon and as our local fish farms produce more and more fresh quality seafood it is a fact that there are going to be tangible consequences.