Presented from Issue 96
December on the rivers got off to a good start, featuring strong flows and warm water temperatures across the north of the state, after a slow late November period. Calmer conditions were perfect for consistent baetid hatches on the St Patricks River and upper Meander, solid black spinner falls on the South Esk, and excellent red spinner action at Brumbys Creek. Caddis hatches also fired the fishing along the upper Meander, and to a lesser extent along the small headwater streams of the north and north east. The Mersey around Liena, and further down around Merseylea also fished extremely well, with fish to 4lbs on the dry and shallow nymphs. The Mersey is an example of the benefits to be had from high winter flow rates in the past few years, along with environmental flows outside of periods where dams are spilling.

Contrasting the great early summer conditions on most northern rivers, The Top Weir at Brumbys Creek remained low and murky for much of the time, as did the Lower Macquarie River. Aesthetic values and recreational opportunities have been impacted on these waters since 2006 or so, when Basslink flow regimes and the associated coffer dam were implemented on this hydro catchment. Despite these water conditions, red spinner falls were very predictable and steady along the Top Weir, particularly from the pines at the bottom carpark, and downstream to Weir One itself.

Top flies for December were our Pheasant Tail Black or Red Spinners on the meadow streams, presented to steady risers. The Fastwater Dun and Scruffy dries were both great patterns on the faster rivers (such as the Meander and St Pats), though tungsten beadhead nymphs were very important on days when the dries didn’t work. These nymphs were fished on three to four-foot droppers tied off below a bouyant dry such as the Fastwater Dun. Pheasant Tail style nymphs tied on curved hooks, such as our Pheasant and Peacock or Pheasant and UV dub patterns were especially effective during these quieter periods, tied on a #14 with 7/64” black or gold tungsten bead heads.

Christmas and New Year finally saw the beginnings of significant hydro-flows down Brumbys and the Lower Macquarie. The red spinners continued to hatch on Brumbys from the Third Weir upstream to the Top Weir, to be joined by damsels and dragonflies. Conspicuous in their absence was the caenid hathes that are typical for that time of year, not only on Brumbys but also on the Macquarie and Meander rivers. A simple explanation would be the silt-flushing effects of the large floods over the past two seasons; caenid mayfly are silt dwellers, hence the connection.

The St Patricks, Mersey and Meander all continued to fish very well during early January, though the Meander began to taper off somewhat as flows from Huntsman and Jackeys Marsh dropped from 0.78M or so at Meander, down to 0.72M. During periods of lower flows on the upper Meander we managed to land a number of larger fish to two pounds in fast pocket water, which were quickly released to catch again. A few of the remaining stocked rainbows were also landed, though some were in poor condition. Let’s hope the river doesn’t see any more ad-hoc stocking in the future, as the wild brown trout fishery is robust and highly productive, and a drawcard for any fly fisher. As the heat of mid-January arrived, the fishing switched from the spring and early summer mayfly and caddis hatches, and the foodchain began to be dominated by damsels, dragonflies and juvenile grasshoppers. This is the typical annual cycle on our rivers. My favourite place to find consistent summer damselfly feeders, along with the first hopper falls of the year would have to be the broadwater’s of the South Esk, in and along the Fingal Valley. Without much surprise we found both damsels and hoppers, however the trout had disappeared from our usual haunts, to be replaced by flocks of large black cormorants. Cormorants are nothing new to Tassie’s rivers. In the past as a fish farmer, we had more than 10 tonne of fish taken by a flock of sixty or more cormorants, over a two month period. Pack-hunters in numbers, cormorants can be ruthless, and leave stretches of rivers all but bare. The upsides are many though: firstly, cormorant plagues are cyclical (connected to optimum breading conditions on the mainland), and the cycle of predation on particular stretches of our rivers leads to larger fish in following years as competition for food and territory is reduced. To date I’ve seen patches of the South Esk and Meander with decent flocks of cormorants in residence, though a recent trip to Christys Creek in the Western Lakes also showed signs of cormorant predation through some of the smaller, shallower lagoons.

Looking beyond the odd trip affected by cormorants, the great news is that the hoppers have started. By Australia Day we’d had our first big hopper days on the Lower Macquarie and Lake rivers, with Mini-WMD Hoppers, and full size WMD’s proving to be all we needed. Fly choice was determined by the hopper species around, and whether the small brown flightless, or the large yellow winged grasshoppers were about. The Lower Macquarie fish averaged about 1 1/4lbs, and were healthy young fish, whilst Lake River fish averaged closer to 2lbs in parts. As the seasonal grasses continue to brown-off, we’ll head further afield into the lower Meander, as well as the north east creeks chasing hopper action. Hopper time is the best time of the season to catch a large river-fish, so enjoy it as it continues until the first big rains or frosts of late March make their appearance.

Bright and windy conditions can be perfect for fishing grasshopper imitations. If the hoppers are streamside, then the fish will be looking for them; you won’t necessarily see takes however, and it is best to prospect undercuts and structure with large and buoyant patterns. Use a tapered leader with a thicker- diameter butt to turnover large dries such as hoppers, in the wind. For example, most of the time we use Rio or Orvis 6lb (4X) tapered leaders, however during hopper time we often switch to 8lb (4X) tapered leaders. The difference between 0.61mm and 0.64mm butts is enough to drive the big flies into the stiffest of breezes.

A good hopper presentation should hit the water with a splat, the same as the real insect. If a fish inspects the fly but won’t take, then twitch the fly to imitate a swimming hopper, but stop as soon as the fish turns back towards the fly. It’s very fun to watch!

Daniell Hackett