Presented from Issue 95
Huntsman Lake lies approximately 20 km south of Deloraine. It’s an easy, scenic drive via the small town of Meander. As most anglers know, the lake is only a few years old. It was formed in 2007 with the construction of the Meander Dam. The lake is fed by the Meander River and also by several small streams.
The lake is intended as a brown trout fishery and has been stocked by the Inland Fisheries Service with wild brownies from the Great Lake. It also benefits from the natural recruitment of wild brown trout from the local Meander River. As such, the average size of the fish is not very large. Fish around the 300 mm mark, weighing in at around the 600 gram mark are very common. However, what they do lack in size, these little pocket rockets make up for in condition. They are fat and full of go!
The lake itself is a very large body of water and can be overwhelming for a kayak fisherman. Some good reconnaissance is required in order to know where to find the fish and how to go about doing it. I have had many trips there this year – some good and some not so good. With plenty of hours spent, I can now honestly say that I have managed to ‘suss’ the place out. With this knowledge, I have consistently caught my bag limit during a day’s fishing over the last few trips.
So how did I do it? What’s the most productive kayak fishing method? In one simple word the answer is ‘trolling’. Without boring you with fishing jargon, let me explain some useful kayak trolling tactics that I get results from.
Where to troll (see map)
Most people who troll Huntsman in a boat will tell you that the fish lie deep and lead-line is required. Trolling depths of 15 to 20 metres are common using lead-line, and lures such as Tassie Devils and Cobras are regular choices. This method is productive – I totally agree. It’s also one of the most frequently used trolling methods used in Tasmanian lakes.
But, from my experience, one can do equally as well, if not better, trolling at a much shallower depth, using a variety of lures. I have found the Western shore, between the Meander Inlet and Paynes Landing, to be by far the most productive. Depending on water levels of course (and water levels vary considerably, and often, at this lake), the shore there is usually 4 to 6 metres deep.
The Southern shore is also productive, but more so when water levels are up. The fishing is especially good when this happens because of the freshly flooded grass. Fish can be found gorging themselves with worms and insects. Leeches are common in the grass and provide a good food-source. It pays to remember when getting out into the water that these little critters can swim. In other words, check your legs! It’s also worth thinking about what lure best resembles a leech.
Trolling with hardbody lures
Trolling hardbody lures behind your kayak works very well at Huntsman Lake. The ability to go super slow on a kayak makes this tactic a deadly one, especially when using suspending hardbodies. Lures such as the Strike Pro Bass X minnow range are a favourite of mine. They have a tight action and feature fish-attracting rattles. This model of lure will dive to around 4.5 metres and is perfect for trolling the areas that I have highlighted on the attached map.
While factory colours are great, I have taken it a step further. With a little imagination, and some help from JD Lures at Beaconsfield, I had a couple of these Strike Pro lures ‘pimped’ in some custom colours. The black and gold colour in particular (by JD) with the orange belly has caught me many brownies and would be my all-round favourite Huntsman hardbody lure.
Aside from the custom painted lures, the new ‘spotted dog’ Rapala is also a good choice. Because the version I had was not suspending, I didn’t use long pauses in my trolling runs. The results were comparable with the suspending lures. I will rig a hardbody for trolling almost exactly the same way as I would for casting, except with a longer leader. A 4lb leader of around two rod lengths is ideal. This is attached to a good quality, braid using either a ‘slim-beauty knot’ or the easier to tie, ‘double-uni knot’. Instructions for both of these knots can be found easily on the internet with a simple Google search. I found that the visibility of your braid doesn’t matter too much, as long as a longer fluorocarbon leader is used.
In order to commence your trolling run, position your kayak parallel to the bank at the correct depth (4 to 6 metres). Having a sounder fitted to your kayak is crucial if you are going to do this successfully. In my Hobie, I will begin to pedal as I cast the hardbody lure backwards behind me. I will let out a good 40 to 50 metres of line before I start trolling.
This does a couple of things. It helps to not ‘spook’ the fish by the movement of the kayak and its pedals (or paddle). And the extra distance in the line will help take some of the shock out when the fish hit the lure – remember braid has no give and doesn’t stretch like monofilament will. Huntsman brownies are vicious little predators and, despite their size, will hit a lure with amazing power, often bending your rod violently.
Pedal or paddle at very slow speed – about walking pace is good. Watch your rod tip for vibrations to make sure the hardbody lure is working correctly. Tell-tale signs of hooking weed are obviously a rod tip that doesn’t vibrate or becomes slightly bent or seems to be under pressure. I will then vary my trolling run to affect the action of the lure. I will use a couple of fast pedals…and then stop for a few seconds… until my kayak comes to a stop. Make sure you are holding your rod in your hand and low to the water when doing this. Using a suspending lure will mean that it will sit in the water column and stop as your kayak stops. Often fish will follow and take the lure as it comes to a stop. Repeat this tactic several times throughout your trolling run to increase your hook-up rate!
Trolling with soft plastics
The above tactic can also be executed successfully using soft plastic lures. Anything that has a good built-in tail action will usually work well. Tasmanian soft plastics, such as the 3” Strike Tiger curl tail grubs in ‘spiced pickle’, ‘black n gold’ and ‘homebrew’, all work very well slow trolled behind a kayak. Others to try, which are also effective, are the 3” Berkley T-tails in the trusty ‘black n gold’ colour and the 3” Squidgie in the “Garry glitter” colour. Depending on how deep you want your plastics to go of course, rig them as you normally would on a jighead of choice. Jighead selection for trolling involves a bit of trial and error. Different shape jigheads will impart a different action to the plastic. I personally use a bullet head style jighead in a 1/12 weight for trolling. My selection varies with weather conditions and depth. I use a lighter jighead in calmer conditions and increase the weight as the weather deteriorates. Your choice of jighead will require some experimentation to find out what you are comfortable with and what works.
Once rigged up using the same method as with the hardbodies, repeat the same kayak-trolling manoeuvre I have described. The only difference - your stop or pause period will be considerably shorter in order for the plastic not to completely sink to the bottom. If you are holding your rod in your hand (as I often do), you can throw in a few twitches of the rod tip on the pause part of the manoeuvre. This will prevent the plastic sinking all the way to the bottom, and more importantly, it will add extra interest to your offering.
There are many ways a plastic can be trolled/ worked. The method I have described is just one of many but it is one that has worked very well for me. If you are getting plenty of hits, but no hook-ups, then try cutting your plastic down with a pair of braid scissors and using a smaller jighead. I find that a size 2 hook is perfect for smaller fish. You can also buy smaller size plastics – 1” and 2” sizes are worth thinking about.
Trolling with flies (harling)
This method would no doubt appeal to those of you that are fly-fishermen. Harling is a trolling method where flies are used instead of lures. They can be trolled either unweighted near the surface, or deeper using a split shot sinker rigged just up from the fly on the leader.
I am not a fly-fisherman, but I have experimented and tested this method at Huntsman with surprising results. I obtained a nice selection of custom tied flies from a keen fly-fishing friend a couple of years ago. I went through the box of flies and selected colours that were closest to the hard body or soft plastics that I have had success with.
My top picks consisted of dark green flies with orange or red highlights. Given the number of leeches present in the area, I also picked an all black fly with a touch of silver. All three colour choices worked very well.
One thing I will mention in relation to ‘harling’ using a kayak is speed. The speed for trolling with flies needs to be even slower than walking pace. Many people use this method successfully with only a rowing boat. Every row of the oars gives the fly its action. Not exactly a fast manoeuvre. The same applies with a kayak. Use your pedals or paddle to give the fly a subtle action. It’s basically the same method I have described for soft plastics and hardbody lures, but in super slow motion.
If you have not done much trolling with flies before, then experimentation is the key. I have had more success running the fly deeper, rather than on the surface. Rigging a small split shot sinker 30 cm or so above the fly on the leader is the easiest way to achieve some depth with a fly in my opinion. It will also enable you to cast the fly out easier when starting to troll.
Not all of the brownies caught at Huntsman are small. I remember one particular trip at the start of the season. My wife came along to keep me company. Trolling a Strike Tiger soft plastic grub behind her on the western shore near the sunken trees, she landed a brownie which would have easily weighed in at 2 lbs. I remember the moment well, very well in fact - it is one she will not let me forget!
There was no secret to her success - just slow kayak based trolling, with plenty of pauses in between. No special knowledge or expertise required.
Hopefully I have provided you with some insight into how easy and effective trolling (at a reduced depth) in a kayak can be. Although it may not be everyone’s idea of trout fishing, it can indeed be a fun and very rewarding activity.