Presented from Issue 96
I have spent most of my life growing up in close proximity to the Mersey River and its wonderful trout fishing. Over the years I have got to know the river and its denizens quite well and this particular season to date has certainly been one of the best I that I can personally remember. What follows is my take on the fishing action on this water for the first half of the 2011/2012 trout fishing season.
My 2011/2012 season on the Mersey River started with some flooded backwater fishing in mid August. After a particularly wet night I decided on a quick sortie up to a Merseylea stretch to see if rising water levels had brought out any of the river denizens, namely fat brown trout, out on to the verges looking for drowned worms and grubs. A short walk up from a favourite access point found me searching the shallows for signs of actively feeding trout. It took a little while to find them but after a couple of false starts generated by the resident platypus population soon enough a small swirl was spotted and the resulting cast with a small black woolley bugger wet fly resulted in a solid hookup on a feisty brown. After a short but none the less dynamic struggle the beautifully marked little brown was slid up onto the wet grass. A couple of quick happy snaps were taken and then he was slid back into the frigid river backwater. It was certainly good to be back!
The springtime floods on the Mersey this season were rather limited in both frequency and duration. On those rare occasions that the conditions suited some good fishing was experienced with a number of above average conditioned brown trout coming to hand. The condition of the early spring trout was a portent of what was to come in the following months on this wonderful fishery.
Successful fly patterns in this period were the usual suspects with small black Woolley Buggers and Rabbit Fur Flys doing the bulk of the damage.
The whitebait runs on the river this season started rather early in September and lasted through to mid November in very good numbers. As is customary with these little guys they were rather enigmatic with some days the ripples and runs immediately above the Latrobe township full of whitebait schools and feeding trout and the next day nothing. On the days that the bait where thick wonderful fishing was to be had. Silvery brown trout smashed fly patterns such as modified Surf Candies, Olive Yetis and Woolley Buggers leaving you in no doubt whether they had accepted your offering. This fishing as always was challenging with the trout certainly not giving themselves up though. Quite often long walks along the river were in order to find the action but with careful observation some memorable fishing was possible.
The whitebait schools tended to bring out the bigger trout into areas where they were much more catchable rather than being tucked up in their normal daytime lies in the deep water in under the willows. Interestingly, on more than one occasion during this period a trout feeding hard on baitfish on the river edge slid across and accepted a dry fly floated down into its feeding lie.
Another unusual occurrence during this period was literally stumbling across a fully grown male Fur Seal some 5km’s upstream of the tidal influence. On this day I had found the fishing strangely quiet in a normally productive stretch of the river flanked by the Shale Road. I initially thought that the stretch had been “cormoranted” until I found this big fellow stretched out on the bank. I suspect that he had been following the annual Lamprey Eel migration upstream and got out for a rest to digest his meal. Hopefully there were not too many trout in his belly!
One morning in mid October after knocking off after a nightshift at work I had just taxied my daughter to school and decided that a quick drive down to the river at Bells Parade to have a look was in order as it was a beautiful warm sunny morning with only a slight breeze. Upon arrival some rather large shoals of Mullet were easily spotted feeding on the algae buildup on the shingle in the ripples. Seeing as I had my 2wt fly rod and a box of flys in the car (as always!) a quick decision was made to try and deceive a few of them on nymphs before heading home to bed.
Shortly after landing my first mullet I glanced upstream into the glide above and was met with the sight that all flyfishers yearn for, dainty little “sailboats” floating down the river. Mayfly Duns! Quite a few more were able to be seen fluttering in the air above as well. How I had missed this first up was beyond me but a quick dash back to the car and a short drive upstream to a favourite stretch for dun feeders was in order! A peek over the bank on arrival was all that was needed for confirmation that a large hatch of mayfly was in progress. A quick phone call to fishing mate Jim Schofield was made and then it was off into them. Sleep would have to wait!
Jim and I ended up having a wonderful session on the hard feeding trout which seemed to have waited all spring for this occurrence. Big snouts popped up with a pleasing frequency that morning and for a great many times after during October and November. Beautiful brown trout ranging up to 4lbs in weight were available in good numbers throughout most stretches of the lower end of the river ranging from Latrobe up through to MerseyLea, Kimberly and Weegena. Interestingly plenty of Rainbow trout have also been interspersed among the resident browns this season as well. These trout also displayed a pleasing willingness to rise to dry flys floated past their feeding zone . Once again the trout condition was a sight to behold with fat fish the rule rather than exception. The reason for this exceptional condition was easily evident as when you rolled over any flattish stone in the river you were met with the sight of masses of wriggling mayfly nymphs, caddis grubs, stonefly nymphs and mudeyes.
Successful fly patterns during the mayfly hatches were generally the emerger type patterns such as shaving brushes, possum emergers and various parachute hackled flys. Royal Wulffs, March Browns, Iron Blue Duns, F-Flys, Black Spinners and Para Adams’ also took their share of trout. When the trout were feeding on adult spinners by jumping and taking them in mid air, beadheaded pheasant tail nymphs fished under an indicator were a good fallback, sometimes taking a fish where all the dry flys failed to get a response.
Warm and calm evenings also provided feature fishing during October, November and December. Parking yourself at the tail of a glide that gave a good view in the evening glow was the place to be located in the last hour before darkness. Generally dozens of chances to present your Royal Wulff, Elk Hair Caddis, Fastwater Dun or similar high floating fly pattern to a hard feeding trout were available for those that decided to forsake their favourite evening television.
Most of the action for us was centred around the Merseylea section of the river but I have no doubt that any suitable stretch from Lake Parangana down to the estuarine section at Latrobe would have had a similar event during this period.
One evening that really sticks in the memory was one where Jim and I ventured to a stretch just out of Latrobe. The day before had a heavy downpour and the river levels were inflated and the water definitely cloudy. We had gone out in the hope of finding spinner feeders in the late afternoon but that action was best described as underwhelming. Just about to leave the river before darkness set in a few rising trout were spotted in the glides. This sight prompted us to investigate and what we found was a sprinkling of large Mayfly duns, flying ants and caenid mayfly starting to appear on the water surface. The insect activity built up rapidly as darkness descended and the trout followed suit. Jim and I ended up landing over a dozen trout all better than 2lb’s between us in the mad flurry of activity. Quite a few others were missed or broken off as well. The value of persisting was well and truly proven on this occasion.
Willow Grub Feeders
During late November large welts became apparent on many of the green leaves of the resident population of Willow trees that lined many stretches of the Mersey. These welts were caused by the growing larva of the Sawfly, better known to fly fisherman simply as willow grubs.
Willow grub feeders can be fooled with a simple fly of foam bound to a tiny hook.
During warm windy days in early December a look under the willows in the deep pools sometimes revealed an outsize cruising and rising trout. Initially these trout were extremely difficult to tempt with traditional dry flys being at best refused and normally totally ignored. On one morning while fishing to a particularly large trout that had eluded me for the previous week I watched him swing around aggressively after a small “plip” on the water surface. The trout raced over and ate whatever it was. I now know that it was a willow grub that had either fell off or had been blown off the leaf that he was devouring at the time. His arrival on the water surface was not the delicate landing like my dry fly presentations but rather a crash landing.
Watching and learning from this episode that had unfolded in front of me my next cast landed with a definite crash and in fact the little foam willow grub pattern sank. The trout cruised straight over and inhaled the fly and soon enough after a titanic struggle under the trees I was able to slide the net under a magnificent Mersey brown in the 5lb class. After this epiphany quite a few other good sized browns were fooled with the “crash land” presentation. Although none were as large as that first trout a few others approached this size. It seemed that the willow grubs were bringing the larger browns out to feed as they did not have to move far from their watery lairs in under the willows. This was certainly exciting fishing as quite often the hookups were in tight spots in under the willow trees surrounded by snags.
Another reliable area to find willow grub feeding browns was in the tail of the pools below stands of willow. The trout would literally line up in this locations waiting for the current to bring the food to them.
Fly patterns that worked for these type of fishing were simple little slivers of yellow or chartreuse foam bound to a tiny hook in a couple of spots. I found this fly pattern in a flyshop in New Zealand on a recent trip over there and it seems the Tassie browns
The last big “hatch” event that I experienced on the Mersey during 2011 was the regular caenid falls on the river on warm calm mornings throughout December. If the conditions suited the amount of fly on the water really had to be experienced to be believed. Tiny caenid mayfly duns and spinners literally covered the surface of pools throughout the lower section of the river. The trout honed in on the feast and could be observed almost schooled up in the prime lies slurping fly from the surface.
Caenid falls can be massive on calm mornings
It took my companions and I some time to work out a fly pattern that would be taken consistently by these highly visible feeders. Small Royal Wulffs, Iron Blue Duns and Red Tags would be taken sometimes but frustratingly they would drift over many trout unmolested. It wasn’t until I tied on a small grey or natural coloured F-Fly that the trout became more accepting of my offerings. Sure enough there were still a few that refused but pleasingly more often than not it would be taken.
The trout themselves during the caenid hatches were of a very good average size and without fail in sensational condition. Once again an unusual amount of Rainbow Trout were present in the catch during this period.
Mersey Prospects for Late Summer
So what is to come in the next few months on this fishery? During late January and February grasshoppers will start to make their annual appearance along the streams. The hot spot for this type of fishing is generally the upper reaches and the associated tributary streams. The river in the Weegena area right through to Parangana Dam plus the river above Lake Rowallan will be worth a look. An advantage with the higher reaches is that the water will be cooler with minimum flow levels controlled by the frigid water released from the bottom of Parangana Dam.
Anglers should look for pools that have grassy verges along their length preferably with a bit of depth alongside. The pool tails and ripples are also well worth a look as well, the ripples especially on hot summers days as the trout will look for these areas of oxygenated water. Grasshopper time is not the time for delicate fly presentations, which is perfect for me and my casting style! Your favourite hopper pattern presented with a splash or splat will often bring out a trout from its lie to take with gusto. It is not unusual to see a fish bow wave metres across to smack a fly at this time of year. My favourite fly pattern for hopper feeders is my little Bruisers Bug, a foam based fly with its rubber legs and deer hair wing. Other reliable flies are Craig Rist’s Hair Chernobyl (otherwise known as Craigs Horror!), WMD hoppers and similar. There are many more traditional fly patterns that work at Grasshopper time, the trick is to fish whatever pattern you choose with confidence.
Other hatches to look out for will be the giant river stonefly and reliable caddis hatches will continue especially on the upper reaches. Beetles, Jassids, Ants and Cicadas will also appear on the river surface from time to time throughout the upcoming period.
Late March and into April big galaxia feeders will start to make their presence felt in the lower reaches of the Mersey. At this time of the year, especially after Autumn rains the galaxid school up in readiness for spawning. These densly packed schools of baitfish become prime targets for hungry brown trout also looking to eat up big in readiness for their own spawning run and the large galaxia are just the protein kick they are looking for. Look for showering baitfish and big splashes in the lower reaches around the Latrobe area. These fish are readily targeted with big wet flys such as woolley buggers and yetis. Some of the biggest trout for the season are seen and sometimes taken during this period. Interestingly the late season trout are much more accommodating in their acceptance of well presented flys than the early season whitebait feeders.
And then there is also the Autumn mayfly hatch……
Summary As you will have deducted from the previous paragraphs it has already been a wonderful season to date on my favourite water in this great trout fishery that we have in Tasmania. My expectation, with the way the 2011/2012 season is unfolding, is that this sport will be likely to continue on until closing date at the end of April.