Winter trout fishing in the Derwent Estuary
by Greg French
The Derwent, the truly great winter trout fishery on Hobart's doorstep, remains under fished. There are several reasons: The River Derwent down stream of Dogshear Point (Cadbury Point) is not an official "˜inland water"and so it is not subject to normal Inland Fisheries regulations.
Consequently, recreational anglers, including trout fishers, are able to fish the lower estuary throughout the year. Yet, since 1992, the normal closed season for inland waters (basically May, June and July) has applied to "˜"¦the taking of salmon and trout in the section of the River Derwent below its seaward limit to an imaginary line drawn between the extremities of Dowsing's Point and Store Point.'
The new law has discouraged winter trout fishing. Many anglers felt that they were legally prohibited from wetting their lines, when in fact it simply means that any trout caught must be released unharmed. Other anglers figured that the law must have been introduced for important conservation reasons and exercised voluntary restraint.
The Derwent trout fishery is vibrant and, since fishing in the estuary does not impact on spawning trout, winter angling should be actively encouraged.
It is worthwhile noting that some of the very best waters in New Zealand and mainland Australia are open to year-round fishing, and in many of these waters anglers actually target pre-spawners. There is nothing ethically wrong with winter fishing providing that it occurs in suitable waters and is sustainable.
Sea trout and slobs
The vast majority of trout taken from the Derwent in water are maiden sea trout weighing 0.7 - 1.3 kg. These fish are muscular, bright silver torpedoes. Occasionally I hook into much bigger sea trout, but not often.
There are also a fair number of brown trout which have taken up residence in the estuary and do not move out to sea. These trout are known as slobs. While they are hardly ever in peak condition, they are still good fish which average 1 -1.5 kg.
Where to fish
My favourite shores are at Dogshear Point, Otago Bay, Wilkinsons Point, Dowsings Point, Store Point and the stretch between Geilston Bay and Lindisfarne Bay.
When to fish
Fishing for trout is good throughout May, June and July, though I find that it is often more reliable in the later half of this period. While very good catches can be made at any time of the day, peak activity occurs from sunset to midnight and again in the morning (at the change of light).Floods are about the only thing that really subdues the fishing.
Spin fishing from the shore is a very productive method in the Derwent. My favourite lures are Wonder Wobblers in the silver or green. Other anglers are happy to use virtually any lure, providing that it is heavy enough to cast a long line but light enough not to snag repeatedly on the bottom. Dusk is the best time to fish. If the river is dirty with freshwater it pays to fish as deep as possible since the trout tend to retreat down into the salt. In a big flood it can be difficult to locate trout no matter what you do.
In recent years trolling in the Derwent estuary has become more and more popular. It pays to fish shallow running unless there is a significant fresh, in which case every attempt should be made to get down into the salt water. I always prefer to fish relatively close to the shore but friends have been having enormous success fishing amongst patches of "˜rising"trout in the middle of the river.
Anglers using set rods have their share of success, the best baits being pretty fish, sandies, scallops, crabs and strips of scale fish. The big problem, if you are specifically after trout, is that your baits continually get snatched by eels, cod, flathead and just about anything else. This can be annoying when you can see trout milling about metres from where you are sitting. Far more effective is the cast and retrieve method of fishing, where a wattle grub or sandy (or indeed, any other durable bait) is wound in and over the water surface or just below it. This method allows you to cast to any trout you see (in the same way that fly fishers do) and so greatly increases the chance of trout noticing your offering.
The traditional method used in lakes involves the use of single or tandem hooks. During the retrieve the rod is held vertically and the instant you feel the hit you point the rod at the fish, thereby giving it a metre or so of slack line to run with while you release the bail arm. The fish is then allowed to run until it stops and swallows the bait. Ideally the strike is made when the fish starts to move off again though fish often do not follow this desirable pattern and when to strike becomes a matter of fine judgment.
The problem with this style of fishing in the Derwent is that sea trout are so ferocious that you often don't get enough time to release the bail arm - the fish feels unnatural resistance and drops the bait. The use of a bait casting reel is perhaps the best way of overcoming the problem but, if you can't afford new equipment, try rigging up your bait with one or more treble hooks so that the trout hook up at the instant they strike.
Although you will be compelled to do a fair bit of blind casting, the real attraction is casting to trout which can be seen slashing at the surface. Ideal conditions are calm and warm (or at least as warm as you can expect in Hobart winter).
Significant freshes are disastrous for sight fishing enthusiasts, and the action rarely picks up until the water becomes clear enough to allow you to see your boots when wading knee deep.
Expect to encounter much more than just trout. At times juvenile blue grenadier (whiptails) are so thick that the water is seemingly a bailing mass of tiny rises and splashes. When casting blind you sometimes hook literally dozens of these little brutes in a session.
They are rarely much longer than 30 cm and so have little sporting (or table) value, but their sharp teeth rip flies to shreds. Consequently I tend to prefer woolly worm style flies which have the pampered hackle held in with copper wire rather than silk.
Despite the flurry of surface activity, you soon learn to identify atypical "˜rises"and so it is possible to target trout (or at least fish which are not whiptails). Sometimes you get fooled by mullet, Australian salmon and bream but such hook ups are rarely disappointments. Fishing blind you commonly catch cod and flathead as well. Winter trout feed heavily on shrimps (Paratya) and crabs and sometimes you will see trout tailing in the shallows. By late June or early July they gorge themselves on juvenile lampreys which are moving downstream from their freshwater birth places to the ocean where they grown to maturity. And at some time in July there will be the first runs of whitebait.
If, like me, you are a trout fishing addict, there really is no need to suffer withdrawal during winter. The Derwent offers fine sport, and while the trout fishing can be sporadic, you'll soon come to savour its rewards.
And don't make the mistake of thinking that the Derwent is a last resort, a thing to do only because it is illegal to fish elsewhere. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the first cold month of the new trout season (August) highland trout are relatively inactive and are yet to recover condition lost during spawning, so the Derwent usually remains the best bet for Hobart-based anglers. The fishing stays very good at least until early December.