Presented from Issue 107, December 2013
What a crazy start to the 2013 fishing season it has been. Rain, wind, lots of snow and then just for something a bit different we had some rain, wind and more snow! Rivers have more or less been flooded and dirty since July, the lakes have been blanketed in that white stuff for a lot of the time and the wind, well let’s not get started about that god forsaken wind. No word of a lie, it’s been doing my head in. Even contemplated selling all my fly gear and taking up a new hobby, for a brief second!
Fear not fishermen and women as I just happened to be up in the highlands sneaking about very recently and guess what is starting to make an appearance. The old summertime favourite — the gum beetle is starting to make an appearance. Once again they have decided to show what amazingly strong fliers they are and take to the air, only to crash and burn right in the middle of a lake where the brown and rainbow trout will begin to line up ready to smash them. And smash them they do, till they are literally overflowing out of every available opening with the things. God I love trout, they truly are amazing creatures. I am so glad I hung onto that fishing gear now.
Fishing from a boat is my preferred method for targeting gum beetle feeding trout. Sure it can be done on foot, but there is nothing better than a warm and sunny summer’s day out in the middle of the Great Lake chasing its inhabitants as they cruise the deeper water offshore chomping down every beetle in sight. Having said that trout feeding on gum beetles can be found all over the central plateau, it is not uncommon for these little creatures to get blown a considerable distance in the wind and land where you would least expect to find them.
Any of the major fisheries from Arthurs Lake, Lake Echo, the Brady’s chain and of course the rainbows of Dee Lagoon can all hold their heads high when it comes to beetle feeding trout. I have even witnessed good beetle falls in the Western Lakes area. But as we all know everybody has their favourite destinations which they are convinced are better than where everyone else fishes, and for me when it comes to gum beetles the place I most want to be is on the Great Lake.
So how do we go about catching them now that we know where they are going to be? It’s not always plain sailing I must say. Beetle feeders can be fantastically easy one day and fussy enough to make you want to cry the next. It is a bit luck based I believe, if there are not enough beetles on the water the fish will not stay up near the surface long enough for you to have a decent crack at them. Then on the other hand if there are too many of them the fish will stuff themselves full too quickly for us as anglers to enjoy some decent fishing as well.
Ideal conditions will see just enough beetles hitting the surface for the fish to stay on top actively searching them out and feeding for sustained periods of time. I like to target the beetle feeders with a 9 foot fast action fly rod in the 4-6 line weight range. My personal preference is for my Sage TCR 5wt rod, nice and quick in the action ready to fire off a cast at any spotted fish.
A lot of boat based fishing is done downwind with longer, softer rods in the 10 foot range and I am sure a lot of fishers use them with a great deal of success. But for me I find a lot of casts have to be made out to the sides of the boat at times across different breezes and the faster rod serves me best. I like to use standard tapered leaders down to around an 8 pound tip and then add my own section of tippet to take them out to around 12 feet in length and to whatever breaking strain I want to end up at, generally that will be 4 pounds.
As for flies there are as usual countless different beetle patterns, both imitative and generic that will all work on their day. For me the though the main ones are foam gum beetles in green and yellow and the good old foam bugs. It used to be Chernobyl ants but the Bruisers Bug style of fly has now taken over from the Chernobyl as my favourite.
Whilst we are on the subject I have the very first Chernobyl ant pattern that I ever bought hanging in my tying room above the bench, he has long been retired but he caught me a total of 26 Great Lake beetle feeders all up. He is now missing a leg or two and to be honest is looking pretty ordinary but I couldn’t bring myself to keep fishing with him anymore for fear that he got stolen away from me by some nasty trout. I often sit at my tying bench staring at that fly and think back on all the good times we spent together out in the middle of the lake. Reading back over that I think I may have issues, ha-ha. I guess we all have some secrets in our closets, don’t we?
As I said earlier the fishing can be all or nothing. I was lucky enough a couple of summers ago to take a good fishing mate Sean McCarthy up to the Great Lake for a day. He had never witnessed what has now become known as the Great Lake shark fishing so I offered to take him out for the day as I had some good fishing the weekend before. Too easy I thought, I know where they all are. We arrived at the Brandum Bay boat ramp and launched for a day’s fishing. To cut a long story short all my never fail areas of this section of the lake failed.
I was starting to feel the pressure, I had, after all, been pumping up all week how good the big lake was fishing and I needed to get Macca onto some fish. We put the boat back on the trailer and headed round to Little Lake Bay for a change of scenery. We sat on the side of the lake in some brilliant sunshine, had a bit of lunch along with a beer and talked some rubbish for a while. Then we launched the boat again and had a look around in the bay managing to raise a fish or two along some deeper edges. It still wasn’t what I was looking for though to really show Macca what all the fuss was about. I decided to head out through the neck into the main body of the lake and the action started.
It was around 1pm and I had just shut the motor off, set the drogue into action and we had started a drift. We were drifting down wind, brilliant sunshine at our backs when out of nowhere the odd gum beetle started hitting the water around us. It wasn’t long before we spotted a trout in the distance coming towards the boat chomping every beetle he could find from the surface. Then there was another and another. All of a sudden we had fish around us everywhere and not another boat in sight.
Had we died and gone to heaven, or was it just a bit of good luck? They were mainly browns but there was the odd nice rainbow in the mix and they couldn’t get enough of our flies. I was using a black bug just to try and prove a point, as you do. Sean was using the more reliable foam gum beetle pattern that has served me so well over the years. It was fast, demanding fishing with fish after fish coming at the boat. We had single hook ups and double hook ups all whilst polaroiding other fish at the same time.
With a nice breeze blowing us along and the boat doing a bit of rocking about it made for some tricky casting at times. The casts needed to be fast and accurate or the fish would be past the boat and gone on to the next patch of beetles. It was all over in about two hours as the clouds rolled in and the beetles stopped falling, but man it was good while it lasted. We only landed 11 fish in total but we lost countless fish, missed plenty of takes and basically just had a blast. I was able to give Macca a somewhat brief introduction to the middle of the
Great Lake and what it had to offer.
One interesting thing to point is that even though the fish were on top feeding solely on beetles the black bug out fished the imitative beetle pattern three to one, something to keep in mind. Sometimes it pays to try something totally different if you are not having a good day.
I also learnt a valuable lesson that day. I had cast at a fish that was well out, but side on to the boat and I lost sight of my fly in the choppy water. I then saw him rise again and thought to myself okay I can recast ahead of him when it’s safe to do so. After what was probably only 5-10 seconds but seemed like forever I lifted into a back cast only to find that I had just set the hook firmly into the fish I was chasing. I don’t know who got the biggest shock, me or the fish.
Two things we can take out of that fish. One is sometimes you can’t really strike too slowly, though you can nearly always hit them too quickly. And the other is sometimes it can pay to fish two flies in these situations, especially if conditions are on the choppy side. Pick something that is big and easy to see for the second fly, it helps to track down the main fly you are using. Even though I was fishing a reasonably big foam fly I still managed to lose sight of it. And there is nothing worse than losing track of fish or worse still missing fish that have taken your fly all because you can’t locate it quick enough in the water.
There is plenty of good sport to be had as well for the shore based fisherman chasing gum beetle feeding trout. You just need to search a bit harder for the good stretches of water on any given day, depending on the conditions. I like to pick the shores with the wind blowing into them myself. A nice breeze blowing onto the bank means lots of beetles close to the edges which in turn mean plenty of trout close to the banks, especially if you can find some deeper water edges of which the Great Lake has plenty. Again though, the best sport isn’t limited only to the Great Lake.
All of the above mentioned waters are well worth a look at any given time. One of the thickest beetle falls I have ever seen, too thick actually, was on Little Pine Lagoon. I have never witnessed them on there like that again, but it goes to show they can turn up anywhere. Make sure you have a nine foot leader with a nice thick butt section to aid with turnover into the breeze and grab yourself some of the action. An added bonus is you will have plenty of this type of shoreline to yourself as a lot of people don’t seem to like fishing into the breezes that are so common on our highland lakes. Just tie on your favourite beetle pattern, add a bit of Gink to it and go get into them.
Thank god for summer
So it’s looking like summer is finally here, even though it is raining again now as I finish writing this. At least it is still warm outside though. Make sure you do yourself a favour when summer does fully hit us though and get out there and chase some beetle feeders.
Whether it be sneaking along your favourite shore or drifting out over the deeper water of your favourite lake, you won’t be disappointed. Grab some beetle patterns and go find out for yourself, don’t take my word for it. I might warn you though the action can be fast, furious and highly addictive and just might spell the end of the rest of your summer as you spend every spare minute in search of those little wonders we call gum beetles.
Good luck and I hope you have as much fun as I have over the years chasing them.