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Sea run trout tactics – Craig Vertigan

Sea run trout tactics – Craig Vertigan

During the trout off-season I tend to spend a bit of time chasing bream, to continue getting a fishing fix, and spend time tying flies and dreaming about the trout season to come. It’s a time to spend doing tackle maintenance, stocking up on lures and dreaming up new challenges and goals for the trout season ahead. When the new season comes around I usually spend the first few months targeting sea runners. Sea run trout are simply brown trout that spend much of there lives out to sea and come in to the estuaries for spawning and to feed on whitebait and the other small endemic fishes that spawn in late winter through spring. Mixed in with the silvery sea runners you can also expect to catch resident fish that have the typical dark colours of a normal brown trout as well as atlantic salmon in some of our estuaries that are located near salmon farm pens. Living in Hobart it is quick and easy to do a trip on the Huon or Derwent and is a more comfortable proposition compared to a trip up to the highlands with snow and freezing winds to contend with.

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Presented from Issue 94

Fumbling around in the dark I finally found the mobile phone and switched off the alarm. The 3wt was set up with a new fly (I like to have a brand new fly on at the start of each fishing trip. It makes no difference to catch rates, only in my head!) and the contents of the pack checked last night. Now its time to get out of bed, have the usual hot Milo and put the waders on. That is of course after the warm thermal layers have gone on.

If you want to catch tailing brown trout in the shallow lake margins you have to be on the water at first light, and to a lesser extent last light. Generally when the sun gets up and conditions become to bright the trout will move out of the shallows for the safety of deeper water. If you are lucky and get dull overcast weather the fish can ‘tail’ all day.

Some people say that tailing only refers to fish that are feeding nose down on the bottom of a lake bed, virtually straight up and down in the water column, with their tails waving above the surface. Personally I like to refer to any fish in shallow water that could have a tail, a fin or even half its back protruding as tailing.

Little Pine Lagoon

My first memories of Little Pine Lagoon consist of staying there in one of the old waterfront shacks with my grandfather as kids and playing in the snow. It would snow so much my dad would have to dig a track out to the main road, with our help of course for pop’s old pink HQ sedan. Whilst I wasn’t a fisherman then (but I sure wish I was) I didn’t realise at the time but a love affair had begun. It wasn’t until many years later that I would be lucky enough to have my first trip there with a fly rod. Whilst being world renowned as a premier mayfly water, for me the real attraction of The Pine, as it has become known is the tailing fish that frequent the lagoons shallows. The best time of year to find to consistent action with these fish is from around mid September onward and into early December, which is when the duns generally start to fire up . Personally I like to target the Little Pine tailers right from the first morning of the season. In fact over the last few years it has become a tradition to go there at daybreak on opening morning, crack a Boags can to celebrate and then go fishing. Most would be well aware that these tailers have gained a reputation for being a touch on the fussy side, one section of shoreline even gaining the name The Untouchables. When wandering this section of the back shore watch out for the fish that calls the bottom corner home. He will gladly give you a wave and then move on!

I have found the tailers at the start of the season to be generally more forgiving than their mates that hone in on the usual diet of small scuds and the like as the season progresses. I have had some good morning sessions there even in extreme cold conditions.

A few seasons back we were lucky enough to have a week in the highlands just after opening. We had been on the receiving end of some prolonged cold weather and all the tailing shores around were either partially or completely frozen over. Little Pine was no exception but we decided to give it a look anyway, we had a week to kill after all. We weren’t surprised to find a lot of ice as we headed up the back shore on that first morning, but we were surprised to find fish tailing about between the ice and the shoreline in pockets of thawed out water. They were obviously only there for one reason because they pounced on anything and everything we threw at them. The fishing lasted for nearly the whole week until the ice started to disappear with hardly another angler in sight. Obviously put off by the frozen shallows.

On another occasion the lake was spilling and the water was backed right up in the scrub. The fish were everywhere feeding on drowned corby grubs. We were managing to fool the odd one, but for the amount of fish showing we were not at all happy with the hook up rate.

After a close inspection of these grubs it was back to the shack to try and match the hatch. We came up with a few variations but the most successful was a small woolly worm pattern made out of red/yellow variegated chenille with a brown tail and a head built out of maroon thread. The head seemed to act as a trigger because the ones without the coloured head were not as well received.

Just when you think you have the killer pattern for The Pine fish they will go cold turkey on it and drive you to your wits end. A couple of years back Bob Duncombe was kind enough to give me a scud pattern he was using with great success. I brought the necessary materials and tied a few up. That year later in the season there were a lot of fish in the shallows and every one

I presented Bobs scud to pounced all over it like it was going to be their last meal. I don’t keep very many fish through a season, maybe half a dozen. So for a couple of them it was their last meal. That fly also brought about an encounter with what is still the best fish I have came across in the shallows at Little Pine. I was standing in a little bay up the western shore when I seen this fish working down towards me. Straight away I knew from the distance between the tail and dorsal fin, which were both quite visible it was a good fish. I got into a good spot to cast and when the time was right landed the little scud pattern right in his path. As soon as it hit the water the fish’s body language changed and he came straight over and scooped it off the bottom.

When the greased up section of my leader started to slide across the water behind the fish I stood up and set the hook. The fish, which I estimated at between 5 and 6 pounds did exactly what was expected and left the shallows with the afterburners well and truly lit. The only problem being I hadn’t noticed the fly line had wrapped around the reel seat of the rod. After about two seconds the line came up tight on the seat and let go. I swear I saw a fish swimming around later with its head bent at right angles, must have been it!. Since that encounter I have hardly taken a fish on that pattern. Like I said just when you think you have them worked out.

Gear and Tackle

Tailing fish can be successfully targeted using a variety of different fly gear. Rods in the 4 weight range and nine feet in length would have to be the most popular. The big advantage of these is that they can also be used for all the other fishing you are likely to encounter on the central plateau. My current favourite set up for targeting this type of fishing is an 8 foot 3 weight rod. I prefer to use weight forward lines over double tapers for this type of fishing, but it is really only a matter of personal preference and what you get used to fishing with in my opinion.

As far as leaders go I like to use shop brought 9 foot tapered leaders finishing in around 8 pound tip, to give a bit thicker butt section for better turnover and then I add my own piece of 4-6 pound tippet to that. Diameter and length determined by water levels and conditions at the time. I have limited my fly selection (god help me) down to carrying two C&F Designs fly boxes. The biggest one is loaded with dry flies and all my scud, nymph, beetle and stick caddis type patterns. The smaller one carries generic wet fly patterns - woolly worms, fur flies, fuzzle buggers etc. Of course in amongst the generalist patterns are a few ‘secret’ killer patterns that every fly-fisherman is developing at some time or another. You know the ones I mean, you have to hide behind a bush when tying them on so the fish don’t see you!

All my gear is currently being housed in a day pack, having gone away from the traditional fly vest for the time being. The pack enables me to carry my fishing gear, warm/ wet weather gear, camera gear etc all together. I like to carry the most used fly box and some floatant in my jacket pocket, some line cutters on a lanyard around my neck. All that is left to do is clip the weigh net onto the outside of the pack and you are good to go. If you happen to forget half the gear I have mentioned can you be sure to remember the two most important items, neck warmer/balaclava and a pair of good gloves. At least if there are no fish showing you can curl up nice and warm in a sag somewhere!.

Where to go

I have barely even scratched the surface on places you can go to chase tailing fish. Little Pine getting the first mention as it is one of my favourite places to fish. If you venture into the Nineteen Lagoons area there are countless spots to try. You could no better than try the marshes at Ada Lagoon, Double Lagoon and Lake Kay just for starters. Then of course there are the tailers that feature along the rocky shores of First Lagoon, Chipmans and Carter Lakes chasing snails to name a few. That is without even heading further out into the more remote Western Lakes area. Of course you could always head in the other direction and drop in on Bronte Lagoon for a look. When you finish there you could have a crack at the frog feeders at St.Clair Lagoon or duck over and have a look at Lake King William for a change of scenery. Of course lets not forget Arthurs Lake now that it is on the road to recovery. It really is just a matter of picking out some likely looking lakes and then jumping into your car and heading out there for a look.

Time to finish

The real attractor in chasing these tailing fish is the visual aspect of it all. Seeing the fish a few metres away from you with half of their backs exposed really is a sight to behold. So when you are planning that next fishing trip set the alarm nice and early, then park yourself on a nice shallow lake edge somewhere. When you see and land that first tailing fish you will have hooked more than you realise, I guarantee it. Now as I sit in the shack finishing this story the howling gale that has been blowing for the last four days is looking like it’s finally dying out. With all the higher water about I think its finally time to go and chase some of the Great Lake tailers, but that is another story. See you on the water somewhere, bright and early.

Gavin Hicks

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