Tasmanian trout on soft plastics
To have not heard or been exposed to the absolute hype surrounding soft plastic fishing you would have had to have been on Mars for the past four years or born yesterday. The success on bream, flathead and a whole host of popular species has been well documented in a whole range of media. Yet one of our favourite species hasn't had that same exposure- the good old dependable brown trout.
Brown trout are a prime target for autumn lure fishing with many Tasmanian trolling and spin fishing enthusiasts rating the autumn months of April and May as the most successful time of the whole season. While April sees the end of the brown trout season in designated brown trout waters, there is still excellent lure fishing to be had during May in waters such as Great Lake, Lake King William, Lake Rowallan, Dee Lagoon and Lake Pedder.
While I am a dedicated fly angler, I am not opposed to intelligent lure fishing at all, in fact I have regular guiding clients who love to lure fish. It is this "intelligent" tag that fits the soft plastic technique so well, it is a long way removed from basic cast and retrieve lure fishing. I recently had a day out on the water with Steve Steer from Victoria who is something of a soft plastic expert, having been part of the revolution with bream fishing on the mainland. It was something of a meeting of the minds- Steve knows plenty about soft plastics and I know where the fish are. Armed with these two levels of expertise we had a great day out- the results of which are presented here as well as some options for the coming months.
There are some key elements to catching brown trout on soft plastics: under water structure, retrieve techniques and soft plastic selection. Much of this is based on information learned from Steve Steer and from my own local knowledge of brown trout waters.
The Importance of Structure
The key element to catching plenty of trout on soft plastics is finding them in the first place. Targeting browns on soft plastics successfully means finding populations of trout that are essentially resident in nature, and these trout are invariably found near or in structure. The types of structure that are the most reliable are emergent dead trees and rocky reefs and drop offs. The vast shallow weedy areas that fly fishers find so wonderful aren't prime areas for soft plastic anglers, however wonderful they appear for the fly guy! They are good for plastics, but not as good as three dimensional structure.
The trout that live around structure feed almost exclusively on shrimps, scud, caddis, yabbies (especially in Arthurs Lake), damsel fly nymphs, mudeyes and galaxia. In short they spend most of their time eating large underwater items that move around slowly with plenty of action. Only occasionally do these fish feed off the surface, such as in big and ant falls, spinner falls and midge hatches in slick and windlanes. This is where soft plastics fit in very well with these trout's typical "modus operandi'.
The best structure for finding these fish is plenty of dead trees in the water, with weed and rocks in the mix as well. The best of this is between two and four metres deep. In Arthurs Lake you will find this everywhere around the shore lines- some of the best soft plastic water is a simple stone throw from the Jonah Bay ramp! In Great Lake there isn't a great deal of dead timber in the water like Arthurs, however where the stumps are showing through is good, especially near Elizabeth Bay and the area between Cramps and Elizabeth Bay. The real jewel in the crown in Great Lake is the deep rocky drop offs that are near the weed. The weed beds in Great Lake are getting nearer the shore by the hour as the level drops as if it were the tide. This is giving observant anglers some very good opportunities indeed. Areas like Becketts Bay, Maclanachans Island, Helen Island, Shoobridge Island and the drop offs outside Elizabeth Bay are prime areas for drifting and casting plastics. The same can be said for many other waters, find trees, rocky reefs, ledges- anything that will give shelter and a food supply for trout and you will have the first and most important ingredient- trout!
It is really the technique of using soft plastics that epitomises the "intelligent" tag. Using plastics successfully isn't a case of casting out and pulling it back in, nor is it a case of the same method for each style of lure.
The first thing that really struck home to me when fishing with Steve was the importance of the drop down after the lure is cast. As soon as it hits the water, watch the line- watch it very carefully indeed. As the lure sinks down into that lovely structure, its little wiggly tail will be working very seductively, however you wont know if a fish has eaten it unless you pick up the movement of the line. This can be a subtle tightening of the line to something as bold as an abrupt move to the side. Strike if you think it's a fish- the worst that can happen is that the plastic darts up suddenly, the best thing is, well, a trout I suppose!
Two rod tip flicks
As soon as you think it has gotten deep enough, click the bail arm over and give the rod tip two sharpish flicks upwards- the tip should move about 30 to 40 centimetres. This will make the lure dance quite attractively, jigging up and down. Any take at this stage will be blatantly obvious, the line and rod will buck, especially if using gel spun line- an absolute necessity to getting the best out of the technique.
Crank the reel, stop, flick, crank again
Once those two initial flicks have been carried out, crank the reel with the rod tip up high for five or six winds of the handle, then stop and let the lure drop for a second or two. Then two more rod tip flicks and the cranking sequence again. The aim of this is to make the plastic dance and weave, drop and flick and generally look like something wounded or seeking to get away from the nearest trout.
Lifting out of the water
At the end of the retrieve make sure you watch very carefully indeed, as those big browns will sometimes follow you right to the surface. If you see them coming just drop that lure back onto them, they might just grab it in full technicolour glory before your eyes!
Soft Plastic selection
It would be an understatement to say that there are plenty of different brands on the market- Steve carries about five different brands alone. Most of the brands have different characteristics that set them apart, and I am by no means in the position to state what is good and what is better. The best indication for what to try is basically the action and the colour. We used olive nymph and brown grub style plastics, with less vigorous tail actions. We also tried different smelt style patterns that worked well, basically trying to match these to the native galaxia present in the water. Steve used a variety of styles till we started getting plenty of fish on a small paddle tail lure that matched the colours of a brown trout quite closely.
Attention to detail
One fundamental lesson Steve taught us was to pay close attention to the smaller details. Make sure the plastic is threaded onto the hook straight and that it swims properly. Plop it over the side of the boat to make sure. One other key factor is to ensure that the plastic fits the hook- don't be scared to cut down the plastic to suit, Steve often chopped 15mm off some of them so that they had the right balance. The head size on the hook is also important, too big and it sinks too rapidly and with too jerky an action, too light and it wont get down quick enough. Having different head weights on hand means that you can be flexible, windy days will need a heavier one that a clam day and so on.
Getting geared up
There are two elements of tackle that make this style of fishing more effective, the rod and the line. A good reel is also important, but these are universal rather that specific. The best line for soft plastic fishing is gel spun. There are plenty of different brands on the market, but good quality gel spun will make you fishing efficiency rate lift by 200%. The difference is the stretch factor, or rather the lack of it. Every bump, tap, wiggle and take is transmitted directly to the rod tip. Rods are also important, having the correct tip action rod can make or break the day. There are some excellent rods on the market that are specifically designed to fish plastics, and I suggest that you visit good tackle stores to see what they do, it is easier to see it than to explain it.
April and May
The autumn sees most of the brown trout population thinking of spawning which generally gets them into quite an aggressive mood. Areas of structure around creek and stream mouths will be beginning to get a huge boost in trout numbers as they congregate ready for spawning. This means that areas such as Tumbledown and Hydro Bays are prime areas for drift casting with soft plastics. Lakes where the browns run quite late like Lake Burbury are at their prime in April and May, and there is millions of trout down there, as well as loads of structure.
Great Lake trout will be thinking of spawning soon, and even while the mad rush is on in the creeks as they spawn, there will still be plenty of fish in the main lake feeding away while they wait their turn. The other lakes that are open year round are also prime locations.
Soft plastics open up new boundaries for intelligent fishing opportunities, and for many anglers this technique will replace blind flogging with sinking lines and big wet flies. It is an intelligent way to fish, the angler needs to think like a trout, cast with accuracy and retrieve the lure with all the delicacy and finesse of a nymph. Chase some trout with soft plastics this autumn; you will be pleasantly surprised at how successful it can be.