Fly Fishing April - May
The end of April has traditionally brought about the conclusion of the trout fishing season for three months. More recently, things have changed and a few waters remain open year round. Amongst fly fishermen however, there is a perception that mid to late March coincides with the last of the "worth while" fishing. In reality, I believe the back end of any season can produce memorable fishing and after one as productive as this, those willing to brave the impending cold are likely to be well rewarded.
There are always a few negatives associated with fishing at the end of the season and these need to be understood by the angler.
Firstly, the fish (brown trout in particular) are gearing up for their annual spawning run. Their external coloration darkens and they become much slimier to touch. The colour of their flesh also changes from what is usually an orangey pink, to a much lighter colouration. Even the texture of their flesh alters, becoming softer and less edible with time. All of these traits (although still present) are less obvious on stream fish than on their still water counter parts.
For those of us who fish for the sport and are not looking to kill their fish, none of these things matter.
A second downside to fishing at this time of year is the unpredictability of the weather. More inclement days should be expected and the colder weather brings a down turn in the amount of surface food available to the trout. This means there is the potential for fewer dry fly fishing opportunities.
These negative attributes to fishing at this time of year are outweighed by the success that awaits the observant angler.
Jassids are mentioned at the end of every fishing season. These little leaf hoppers are certainly loved by trout and when available, can produce superb dry fly fishing. Consistency is not one of their best traits and the hatches / falls of Jassids are very hard to forecast and predict. Many people believe that they come in seven year cycles but I have not found that to be the case. There have been dribs and drabs over the past few seasons and being in the right place at the right time seems to make the difference between having a great day and not seeing a fish at all. As they come off the trees on surrounding hills, those waters best known for consistent gum beetle feeders are also those best suited to Jassid Falls. Lake Echo, Dee Lagoon, Bronte, Arthurs and Penstock can all produce excellent Jassid fishing. I have already witnessed decent numbers of them on Arthurs and Penstock over the past few weeks but not enough to speak of a "rise'. With a bright red under belly and tent shaped black wings, these little flies are often imitated with a red tag. More imitative patterns would be my first choice tied on size 14 or short shank 12 hooks. The warmer weather that brings the Jassids will still produce good gum beetle falls. On Great Lake and its surrounding lakes, the Gum Beetle falls have been well spread through out the season but generally, in smaller numbers. This may be due to the increased spraying regimes practiced by the forestry this year. Do not discount the Gum Beetle if warm weather returns to the highlands. On many occasions I have caught and released well over my bag of trout on the last day of the season by casting to Gum Beetle feeders in amongst the timber.
With winter closing in, the number of south westerly weather patterns usually increases. When beetles fall, look for lee shores and points from which the wind is blowing. They will start to congregate in these slick areas and the fish will be waiting.
Cold, frosty mornings will still bring about good midge hatches and these can continue right through the winter months. The number of fish feeding will not be the same as that found in January, but if you want dry fly fishing and are prepared to brave the elements you will find limited opportunities in the wind lanes even in the dead of winter. Of course, calm conditions are a must as are gloves, warm clothes and a pinch of madness.
Mayfly hatches this season have been nothing but disappointing and Penstock aside, their consistency has been anything but. The fishing at the aforementioned lake at the time of writing this article has shown no signs of slowing up and although the hatches are less prolific, the fish seem keen to eat the fly.
On bright days, success should still be forth coming when polaroiding the shallows. Water levels are low in the western lakes at this time of year and although some fish are not in perfect condition, they can often be found tailing throughout the day. Having seen many anglers and any number of fly patterns over the past seven months, these fish also provide a worthy challenge to even the best of fishermen.
Realistically however all of these fishing scenarios require good weather conditions and these are not as common as we would like this late in the season. Good weather does provide more opportunities for sight fishing but bad weather and wet fly fishing usually brings more fish to the net.
The best wet fly fishing seems to coincide with the first of the heavy rains after late March. At this time, the fish begin to colour up and their instincts turn to finding a partner and spawning. Fishermen need to change their approach in order to take full advantage of this phenomenon. Finding fish in pairs or small schools is not uncommon at this time and locating these congregated fish is not that difficult if you apply a few basic principals.
Remembering that many of Tasmania's more accessible lakes have been built or enlarged by the hydro will greatly increase your chances of finding fish. It is common knowledge that towards the end of the season when the rains are falling and fish are getting ready to spawn, they will gravitate towards the creek mouths up which they will eventually run. It is a common misconception that fish will swim to these river mouths on the most direct route. Although this may be the case for a small percentage of the fish, most take a different route all together. It first came to my attention years ago during an Australian Fly Fishing Competition where competitors were allowed to fish anywhere along the shore, south from Tumbledown Bay in Arthurs Lake. Not being involved, I later spoke to Ian Donnachy (the eventual winner) about his success. Ian had accessed a part of the shore where the old river bed ran close enough for him to cast into. He did not move during the entire three hour session and caught fish at regular intervals on a Yeti style fly later to be named, "Donachy's Donger." The fish seemed to be moving through on their way towards Tumbledown Creek but instead of taking the fastest route, they were following the old creek bed. Later exploration found this to be the case and every subsequent trip has brought enormous success wherever the creek beds can be accessed. The phenomenon is not confined to Tumbledown or even Arthurs but seems to be a common theme throughout the state. If you can locate old maps which show the locations of the river beds or you find them with your fish finder, April and May could become your most successful months.
Sinking lines and the ability to cast large flies will increase your catch rates even further. Large Woolly Buggers and Yetis seem to annoy the fish into grabbing the fly. For the loch style fisherman, the key is silver. Silver Dabblers, Silver Invictas and Butchers are all worth using. Bead head nymphs fished slowly are also taken well. I favor fluro carbon leaders and rarely fish less than eight pound. It is not uncommon to hook two fish at once and if you want to stand a chance of landing them both, heavy tippet material is a must. If you are fishing with a partner who hooks a fish, keep casting in the immediate area as others are sure to be close by.
There are no rivers open during the month of May and hence, April 28th is the last available day on these, my favourite waters. Grasshoppers continue to be found in extra ordinary numbers around all of the lowland rivers. There seems to be a resurgence in the smaller, faun coloured hoppers. Brumbies Creek, the lower Macquarie and the South Esk should all produce good rises to spinners on the calmer days.
Although not talked about and rarely practiced, sea trout fishing at this time could be worth trying. Adopting a northern hemisphere approach by going out at night and fishing down and across with silver flies such as the Teal Blue and Silver and the Silver Stouts Tail may produce surprisingly good results.
The season is all but over and the weather is turning wintry with every day that passes but for the fly fisherman who adapts to the conditions and is willing to change their approach, the rewards are certainly there. Wet flies during inclement weather, polaroiding in the sunshine and dry fly fishing on streams and rivers provide options aplenty for even the fussiest of anglers. There is simply no reason to hang up the rods just yet. It's a very long winter and I for one will not be passing up the opportunity to wet a line where ever and when ever possible.
Christopher Bassano has been a full time guide in Tasmania since the early 1990s and has recently released a DVD called "Tasmanian Fly Fishing Techniques - Volume 1."
Although predominantly based in Miena over the summer months, Christopher also lives on the banks of the St Patricks River and shares his knowledge and secrets of five essential techniques for increased success on both the lakes and rivers.
Volume 2 has already been shot and is planned for release before Christmas. He is aiming to produce an annual fishing DVD over the coming years to provide further insight into the wonderful fishing the state has to offer. Tasmanian Fly Fishing Techniques - Volume 1 can be purchased from any good tackle store.