by Justin Causby Presented from Issue 93
Such are the busy lifestyles these days it seems no sooner has the brown trout season closed and it is already July once again. And with that, the mind starts to ponder the first Saturday in August; where will the trout be this year in the Derwent River, what will they be focused on, will it rain between now and then, just how much baitfish will be through the system and last but certainly not least, searunners?
Those two words seem to make most of us early season river anglers salivate with anticipation as the day draws near. Now with the new regulations in place from the IFS there is plenty of scope throughout the lower Derwent system to target trout/ searunners right through winter. Two seasons ago when we returned to a ‘normal’ winter, following 14 years of declining below average rainfall, the number of searun trout increased in the catch rate. Last season my records show they almost double in number again, once more following on from a relatively normal wet winter.
Let’s look at what just is a searun trout. We all know that no trout begin their life at sea. Just like all other trout they start out in the rivers and streams and head down in the first year or two of their life cycle, most likely following one of the many baitfish schools that also breed in our water ways. Any younger and they just would not survive given the much larger list of predators in the ocean. Now, what they exactly do out there I have no idea and I’m not sure anyone actually does. Likely they roam, not too far from the coast eating pretty much whatever they come across. Whatever it is they do, there must be plenty of food as I’m yet to see a searunner in less the good condition.
At some stage they re-enter the Derwent estuary again following schools of bait of one kind or another. Fat and silver and full of fight with deep red flesh, perhaps the best tasting trout for the table. There is research that shows and recommends against the consumption of Derwent trout but these fresh from the ocean silver bullets are in my mind fine for the dinner table.
There is a huge number of what I call estuary trout in the Derwent system. These are trout that are still reasonably silver in appearance but do not have the other characteristics of a searun trout. Most searunners will be glistening in appearance, fat with quite small heads in proportion to their size, their scales will shed everywhere in the net, boat floor, hands or river bank. Quite often you will see patches of scales missing where your line has rubbed on the fish during the fight. There is also an absence of spots with very few or far less than one would expect on a wild lake trout. Their West Coast cousins will quite often have lingering red spots, where Derwent searunners do not in my experience. I can only assume the west coast fish stay in the river systems much longer before heading to sea as these red spots are a beautiful feature of all wild river trout.
The Derwent has been open to year round angling from below the Bridgewater Bridge for the past two years. A current IFS trout licence is still required to target and take trout during these winter months. A bag limit of 12 fish is in place and the minimum size is 220 mm. Some new regulations will be in place from the IFS for the coming season so please check your new angling code when you purchase your 2011/12 licence.
When to target searunners
My experience over the years has suggested there are two main times to be specifically targeting searunners in the Derwent. Firstly on the whitebait run and secondly, contrary to most anglers beliefs, is straight after a good flush of fresh water. To broaden the scope here though you have a chance at scoring a searunner right through the traditional closed season up until the end of October when the resident and ‘estuary’ fish feature predominantly in the bag.
This however can be broken down in to sections of the river, feeding patterns and tides. It could take quite a few more pages than I have been allocated to attempt to explain all this in detail so I’ll work on several aspects that should help those searching for answers find a few of the silver bullets of their own.
First we’ll look at the lower estuary from ‘open water’ below the Tasman Bridge up to the Bowen Bridge. When fishing here a boat is an advantage solely to cover more areas of the river. Shore based anglers need not feel disadvantaged as most of my best sessions happen on the river bank after dark. In this lower section of the river, it clearly fishes best on and around the high tide but only during the day. Favoured shores are between Lindisfarne Marina through to the Tasman Bridge and on the western shore from the Cornelian Bay boat sheds down to the Botanical Gardens car park.
Daylight hours, one is best to cast baitfish profile hard bodies in any variation of natural colours. Soft plastics are also deadly and 3” and 4” minnow styles choosing a jig head weight to the depth surrounding, 1/12th and 1/16th will suit most shorelines. Favourites include Berkley Pearl Watermelon and Gulp in Watermelon Pearl and Smelt colours. Retrieves I find best are a slow roll with a constant twitch of the rod tip. Most occasions this gets the best response for me throughout the river. The lift and drop technique reserved for only deeper water further up with larger jig heads.
Hard bodies favourites include Diawa Double Clutches and Presso 6F minnows, Nories Laydowns, Rapala XR6/8 and Ecogear MW62/72’s. All of these and many more in baitfish imitations will produce the goods. The fly angler is also well catered for again in baitfish styles like BMS, zonkers and whitebait patterns they way to go.
After dark and this applies to all sections of the river you will maximise your chances on the run out tide. Position yourself on one of the multiple rocky points or outcrops on any of these shores and work a Gulp minnow slowly on a light head. Scent is the key after dark. There is no need to move around, the fish will come to you in the river.
The biggest fish tend to fall to the bait anglers, not fished inanimate but cast up current and let drift down drawing slowly back to your position. Takes can be exceptional soft with this method, but always let the fish run a little before setting the hook. By far the best baits are the Jollytail, the native ‘Sandy’and Glassy’s. A lot of talk centres on Prettyfish, and while they do work they are the least effective in my book as they do not hold as well on hooks and rigs.
As the season proper draws near I tend to fish the Bowen Bridge region exclusively and find it the most productive area prior up to the first Saturday in August. There are two standout areas here, the 300-400m north of Store Point and the shore line directly below the Bowen Bridge at Dowsing Point. Similar techniques are employed although much of my fishing here is literally 15-20 minute sessions, on the way home from work, that are almost never fishless. Smaller baitfish profiled hard bodies seem to be the best bet in this region. In that last 30 minutes of daylight it would seem the searunners find it hard to resist an Ecogear MX48 or Jackall Colt Minnow in the Laser Wakasagi pattern is very hard to beat. The Store Point shore is shallower and requires shallow running lures but the Dowsing Point side has a nice shelf where a pair of waders is advantageous allowing you to fish closer to the edge of the drop. Both positions here require the outgoing tide which again may be converse to most people’s opinions solely from what they have been told over the years.
The lower point at Dowsing is dynamite particularly on a tide ripping out. Get there early, fish the plastics and hard bodies and settle in with some fresh rigs for nightfall. The point gets two distinct current lines, one from the main channel and the other from Prince of Wales Bay. The baitfish hold up here and the trout certainly know it.
Another productive spot nearby is either of the two rocky points each side of the old Otago boat wreck just north of the Bowen Bridge. Same lures, same techniques and again and hour before dark is likely to net a trout.
From here the river changes dramatically with shallow bays and deep channel lines the main feature. Don’t overlook the shallows; Elwick Bay in front of Rosetta High School and Windermere Bay a little further north are excellent on a high tide. You will be surprised at the size and number of fish that frequent water less than 1m deep at any time of the year. With a little rain around the creek inflows in these areas are deadly and always worth some time. I saw a lovely 3.8kg searun hen come from around 70cm of water a couple of years ago on opening day in one of these positions.
Cadburys Point is possibly the highlight of the middle section of the river. I nice cut comes off the corner of the northern part of the point dissecting the shallow flat between the shore and the channel marker. It can be difficult to fish such is the speed of the current but is very worthwhile once one learns a few of its secrets. The southern point here is another classic bait holding area. Again on the run out tide all manner of techniques can be very productive.
Looking at it, you wouldn’t expect it but Old Beach Jetty has given up some cracking fish over the years. It does seem that a jollytail after dark here is what is required for the big searunners, fished inside the line of the jetty. Out wide and you’ll not see a trout in a hundred years. The whole shoreline at Old Beach north of the jetty can be very productive on a high tide and again any of the little outcrops are worth prospecting a little longer particular on the run out just prior to nightfall.
Likewise, directly opposite the shoreline at Austins Ferry north of the Yacht Club holds some excellent trout. I’ve had some memorable session here, albeit in a drifting boat, but well within casting distance from the shore. It’s a constant 1.5m deep all the way along the train line here and is very good pushing up to a high tide and for the hour after it turns with sufficient water remaining.
As we move further north to Bridgewater your techniques will need to alter again. I usually leave this region alone until the trout season is underway. Provided there has been no major flooding opening day should produce big numbers of trout here. There are a couple of fantastic shore spots in the Bridgewater area, these again are points and all will produce fish. The bridge itself is a hot spot with a procession of anglers jostling for position here on opening night over the years. The southern end of the bridge is where the action is at and really the only spot with a chance to land your fish, walking it to the abutment to be netted. It is traditionally the domain of the bait angler drifting a Prettyfish in the swirling current here although plastics account for many fish these days. Some real trophy fish have been landed here back through the ages.
Surprisingly if the water is clear searunners tend not to feature highly if at all in the catch. This will break one of the biggest myths with searunners in the Derwent. Give the river a good dose of rain, visibility down to a metre or less and bang, one week later you’ve got a bag full of trout that has for me on days consisted solely of searun trout. I’m not sure what it is exactly, maybe the cold triggers the searunners to move up, or maybe it’s the signal to the whitebait that the water is flowing it’s time to move and the trout just follow them. Whatever happens, it switches them on and there will be a permanent feature right through until the end of October, right through to New Norfolk.
With the season open the river above Bridgewater is open and this is my playground. I love the fishing in this region and I tend to do very well here, but I have spent every opportunity I have on this section of the river for the first three months of the year over many many seasons. Even then, when you think you have it figured out you cop a curve ball every time. The Limekiln Point and Masons Point are the only two places for shore based fishing in this stretch. Both are exceptionally good.
Fly fishing Mason’s Point is my recommended approach here, the bigger the tide the better. The Limekiln Point has scope for all tides and all manners of angling.
A boat or kayak is required to make the most of the Derwent from Bridgewater to New Norfolk. The trolling angler features highly here with it being the mainstay of this section. Tassie Devils in colour #92 “Mosquito Fish” and #54 “Smelt” high on the radar. Lead line can be very productive although not for searunners. Most of these are taken on top lines. When trolling, Tassie Devils are recommended purely because of the sheer amount of weed that can frustrate anglers coming off the large weed beds in Dromedary Bay. At least you know when you have weed on a Devil as the rod tip will stop working. Hug the rushes, all the way to New Norfolk and you’ll find plenty of great fish.
Drift spinning is also very productive again hard in along the rushes. The stretch below Norske Skog paper mill down to the road monument is very productive as is the area around Green Island. A 4” minnow on a 1/8th jig head can be very rewarding in the big deep pocket a few hundred meters below the island. Murphy’s Drain shore is well worth a look with plenty of water around.
At New Norfolk itself the straight stretch where the Lachlan River enters the Derwent is a favoured spot. Early in the season trout can be seen here swirling around the middle of the river, in stark contrast to their behaviour in any other part of the system. These fish are feeding on Lamprey’s that migrate up the river to spawn. The trout can be very focused on them but a well placed cast usually produces a vigorous strike. A large unweighted plastic is the key to success. Use a good sized hook as some very big trout can frequent this region. Shore based anglers at a local spot known as ‘The Wash’ do exceptionally well fishing the local ‘sandy’ after dark, again taking some magnificent searunners and resident trout. Whitebait feeders are a feature here also hard in along the rocky and tea tree lined banks. There is plenty of scope for shore based success but a boat with an electric outboard is the best way to target these fish.
The circuit either side of Norske Skog including Sorell Creek are very popular. This section of the river features several deep water reefs that tend to be excellent fish attracting structures.
I really have just broken the surface on this magnificent fishery. I am never short of praise for the quantity and quality of fish the river produces each and every year. There is always something to learn and for the past 3 or 4 years I really have opened my eyes to the areas outside of my comfort zone so to speak. One thing I can’t understand is seeing all the boats towed out of town the night before opening day heading up the lakes. It used to be me once but now I know just how much greener the grass is on this side of the fence.