Trout tips for February-March
by Greg French
If I could fish only two consecutive months in any trout season, February and March would be my choice. Of course I would miss my cherished sea trout fishing, and red letter days on the South Esk and Macquarie rivers would be few and far between - but the weather on the Central Plateau would usually be relatively settled and I could rely on ideal conditions for polaroiding and dun hatches.
Anglers who delight in grasshopper sport on lowland creeks also find plenty to be happy about at this time of year.
Central Highland lakes
Spinning in summer can be relatively slow, though rewards await the patient and cunning. The best results will be obtained at low light so if it looks as though its going to be a blue sky scorcher it would pay to concentrate your efforts early in the morning and late in the afternoon. At other times you must take full advantage of any dull, windy conditions. When all else fails, fishing from dusk until after dark will usually save the day. A good rig is a small surface lure or shallow diver incorporating a bulky wet-fly dropper, a combination which works equally well be it muggy and calm or cold and windy.
My tips for trollers almost duplicate those I give to spin fishers. Low light and choppy conditions invariably offer the best chance of success so you can afford to be a little lazy during the middle of the day when the sky is clear and the air hot. On the Australian mainland anglers can expect to increase their bags by using lead core lines and downriggers to take their lures deep down away from the hot surface to cooler, better oxygenated water. In Tasmania deep trolling is rarely beneficial. There are usually plenty of trout cruising about both in the shallows and close to the surface further off shore- it just happens that bright calm conditions make them more than a little reluctant to strike at lumps of metal. Even big wet flies get a terrible reaction (so much so that successful fly fishers almost universally use small dries and nymphs on dead drift).
The only Tasmanian lake where deep trolling is reasonably popular is Great Lake, but even here heat is not part of the equation. The reason fishing deep was advantageous in the 1980's and early 1990's was that the best fish avoided the barren clay shores, preferring instead to feed in the lush weed beds deep down. With levels high, as they have been for several years now, the old weed beds have been starved of light and are surely dead. While new areas of weed are no doubt evolving, at present the trout are still finding plenty of food over the new flood plains and flat lining is effective enough. There is no feature wet-fly fishing at this time of the year. Since lake levels will be stable or falling, the verges will be n o big influxes of frogs, tadpoles or drowned earth worms. Prospecting is usually a last resort, confined to times when it is too dull and riffly to polaroid and/or when the hatches fall. Of course you can still flick a matuka or woolly worm about with a measure of success, especially in the low light conditions which prevail at morning and dusk, but most experienced fly fishers will opt for a dry fly, emerger or stationary nymph. Even when blind fishing is called for, the preferred flies are small nymphs or traditional "wee wet" patterns. When tailing fish are often associated with flood margin fishing, there are always plenty of brown trout foraging about in the extreme shallows chasing scuds, water slaters, snails and other tasty morsels. In February/March this activity is mostly an early morning event and you must be on the water at first light, say two hours before sun up. Once the first sunbeams hit the water the action will cease. Sometime the fish will also tail at dusk but this is not common behaviour at all lakes and can rarely be relied upon. The hot spots are shallow weed beds, sand/slit flats and gravely beaches. Reliable action can be expected at Bronte Lagoon (Tailers Bay, the Long Shore, Woodwards Bay, the western shores of Woodwards broadwater), Lake Echo (Teal Bay, Broken Bay, Large Bay), St Clair Lagoon, Little Pine Lagoon and many of the Western Lakes.
Hot blue shy conditions are made for polaroiding - take advantage of these days when ever you can and be prepared to fish hard from 10 am to 4 pm. The best fishing will be found at our clear water lakes. For those who prefer to fish from the shore or wade, the best venues are Lake Echo (Teal Bay, Broken Bay and Brocks Bay), Great Lake (all of the western shore, Tods Corner, Little Lake Bay, Cramps Bay), Lake St Clair (Frankland beaches, Cynthia Bay, St Clair Lagoon, Narcissus Bay), and selected shores in the Brady chain of lakes. The Western Lakes are also at their best at this time of year, though it pays to remember that this region gives up relatively few trout and is favoured by those who like wilderness fishing and/or challenging sport. If you have a boat try polaroiding the wind lanes in Lake Echo, Lake St Clair, Great Lake and Dee Lagoon.
The best mayfly hatches occur at Arthurs Lake and Little Pine Lagoon, while very good sport is also available at Bronte Lagoon and the Western Lakes (Lake Kay, Lake Fergus, Silver Lake, Christys Creek). All of these waters can be conveniently fished by wading, though Arthurs is equally popular with boaties. Conditions will be ideal sometime between 10 am and 4 pm. If a breeze puts the fish down resist the temptation to move to another lake. Instead, while away you time prospecting with a dry or small wet beetle - not only will you usually induce a strike or two, you will ensure that you are where you need to be when there is a lull in the wind and the fish start rising again. It also pays to remember that at some waters (notably Little Pine Lagoon) fish will often rise quite freely in the waves. On days when the weather is really foul you may have to resort to blind flogging. Lee shores are most comfortable for this style of fishing, though often it is more rewarding to fish in the waves along the edges of silt clouds and the like where the trout take full advantage of a pea soup of disturbed bugs. Virtually all lakes will give up trout in stormy weather but my favourites remain Great Lake and Lake Sorell.
For the fly enthusiast, Lake Burbury is at its very best after Christmas, with February and early March being just as good as January. The two musts for consistent fly fishing are a boat and hot settled weather. Burbury's wind lanes team with fish (mostly rainbows) gorging on midges - and these fish are suckers for any well presented nondescript dry fly. The fish rise regularly and usually move upwind, enabling the angler to track the quarry even when polaroiding is difficult. It must be said, though, that despite the tea coloured water, fish are often clearly visible, especially when they stay close to the water surface, as is the penchant of the average wind lane rainbow.
Mudeyes and damsels are also taken with gusto, proving plenty of opportunity for frantic fishing, especially when fishing close to the drowned sticks. You will find that the fish attack any fly that vaguely represents a mudeye and so it is no surprise that the locals like patterns such as Mrs Simpson, Sloane's Fur Fly and a variety of mudeye imitations. Fishing blind works well enough but even fish found leaping about in the middle of the day will prove to be surprisingly susceptible to a big wet. Of course, the best action tends to occur in the period from evening to after dark. Nights when the fish are furiously sucking migrating mudeyes from the surface are both common and not easily forgotten - any dry or wet mudeye pattern presented within range of such fish is usually scoffed down. If you dream of taking a limit bag of one-kilo trout, Burbury is the venue for you. Burbury is also bound to deliver the goods when spinning and trolling. If the weather is overcast and slightly rough, fishing in the middle of the day usually results in big bags. On calm bright days it pays to concentrate on the dawn and evening sessions, though several friends claim to enjoy much better than average results by fishing deeper than normal, say five metres below the surface. One thing not to be missed is the action on a warm calm mudeye evening - try slow spinning with a surface rig, say a small Fishcake with Fur Fly dropper.
The meadow streams
None of us expect the south Esk and its high profile tributaries (the Macquarie, Meander and Break O'Day) to produce hatches to match the heavy events of spring and early summer, but calm muggy conditions may well result in worthwhile surface activity and, in any case, fishing at dusk is likely to undo a fish or two.
In March you may actually find a secondary hatch of mayflies associated with a cooling of the water. Also at this time of year wet fly and Celta fishing can be effective, especially when things are grey and windy.
Fast water streams
Shingle bottomed streams like the Tyenna, Styx, Weld, upper North Esk and St Pats are at their most productive from Christmas until mid autumn when the water is low and clear. Upstream fishing with grasshoppers results in many limit bags, as does traditional dry fly nymph fishing. Celtas also work well especially from late afternoon until dark. Fish in these waters are typically small (300-500 g) but a few attain 1.5 kg and more so it pays not to let your guard down. Polaroid glasses are a big help in locating fish in the deeper pools.
The whitebait runs will be well and truly over and, while some trout spawners may start to move upstream from the oceans late in March (especially if there is a sudden fresh), such fish are rarely easy to locate. Even in April, when in all probability there will be big migrations in some rivers, sea trout spawners do not usually arouse the interest of local anglers. This is due in part to the fact that they are not as visible or easy to fool as whitebait feeders, but there is certainly scope for reasonable sport. More about that next issue.