A fly fishers guide to the trout fishing season
by Barry Hickman
"˜Knowledge is power"so the saying goes. In this article, Barry Hickman shares his knowledge of trout fishing season and what to expect, what flies are needed and when to use them.
The Brown Trout has been subject to predation by fly fishers for a very long time. Trout were certainly fly fished in Macedonia as early as the second Century A.D. and the fish which we now pursue are the descendants of the survivors.
Tasmania has an abundance of lakes and streams, most of which hold considerable numbers of fish and while it is very much a Brown Trout fishery, we also have self sustaining populations of Rainbow Trout and Brook Trout.
To maximize your chances against such able quarry you need to have some idea of the seasonal cycle and its influence on the behaviour of trout. Water levels and temperature are influences in their own right, but equally importantly also effect the behaviour and availability of trout food species.
It is often written that trout do not feed in water temperatures below 10 degrees Celsius, Fortunately trout can not read.
It is a more accurate observation that there is less food readily available in the colder months and that trout, with a temperature lower metabolic rate, require lees food. As the season warms, so also does the food and trout feeding activity. However, as we all know there is no bad time to fly fish, just different months which demand different approaches.
Experience has produced an expectation of the season ahead and the following may be of value in guiding your approach.
August - September
Early season adventures, ice, flooded lake margins and swollen lowland streams. This year many lakes are particularly high and reasonable numbers of fish have already been taken cruising the margins looking for drowning terrestrials. The cold edges don't seem to bother the fish but trying to stalk them, through breaking ice sheets, certainly gives them fair warming of your presence. Don't false cast too much and when the runners ice up, dip the rod in the water. Work the edges with a wet fly such as Sloane Fur Fly, Olive Woolly Worm or Black and Yellow Yeti and who would go early season lake fishing with out a Mrs. Simpson or two?
The rivers are regularly flooded and discoloured with high - country run off. Local folklore has it that you can not catch fish while there is snow-melt in the rivers. Put on a bead-head nymph or sinking line and test the lore. A beat-head Pheasant Tail Nymph or bead-head Green Nymph is always worth a try.
The traditionalist may wish to try small English wets like a Mallard and Claret or Watson's Fancy, with or without lead. The flooded backwaters of a river on the rise will almost always have fish feeding on spiders, beetles and grubs. This fishing can be as challenging as it is exciting.
A House or Nephila Spider (FADG Griffiths) or a corbie grub fly pattern is always worth a go.
October - November
Torrid times with tailing fish and springtime streams. Tailing fish around the margins of lakes and the major feature for those committed enough to make the dawn and dusk patrols. Those fishing "gentleman's hours" may luck-in during dull days.
Watch the water's edge from a comfortable casting distance. Watch the feeding of the fish closely as their prey can be diverse and still small at this time of the year. If the fish have their eyes and heads down in the weeds, scoffing down green amphipods, like they do in Little Pine Lagoon, the best dry fly in the world is unlikely to be successful.
Experiment with fly styles and patterns. Use a tandem rig with a dry fly strike indicator and a small wet or nymph underneath. Let's be serious, you don't have to admit to your fishing partner that you are catching fish on the strike indicator. Use a Snow Burner or Rat-Face McDougal on top, with suitable snail, wet beetle or scud imitations on the point. But no more than two at any time. Any more are in breach of regulations.
Spring is very much upon the "streams of the meadows". The famed Red Spinner hatch on the Macquarie is representative of what is happening on all the low-land streams, albeit, on the faster freestone rivers the hatches are more likely to be small black Baetidae spinners and white Edwardsi caddis. Try a small Black Spinner (Noel Jetson) and delicate Quill-winged Caddis patterns
This is the time for the novice stream fly fisher to gain confidence through success. The fish are feeding with enthusiasm and many fishing opportunities will present themselves. A casually selected, nondescript dry fly thoughtlessly permitted to drag across the current, can look every bit as enticing, as a well skated Caddis pattern, to a hungry and careless young fish.
Maximum options with minimal competition. The fish seem to take advantage of the reduction of fishing pressure, as locals and visitors alike, attend to the end of year social whirl and family affairs. You have the best of spring time fishing and hungry fish take advantage of the increasing summer feeding opportunities.
The approaching summer solstice makes for perfect polarising around the lakes and long evenings on the streams.
The first mayfly duns start lifting off Little Pine Lagoon, signalling the same phenomenon on our other high lakes. This is probably your last chance to spend some quiet time with the fishes before the rowdiness of the approaching summer holidays. The rivers are slowly passing the frantic activity of spring but, with the addition of beetles to the diet, fish can be found feeding steadily throughout the day. Try a smaller sized Red Tag, Tea Tree Beetle, Cochy Bondhu or Soldier Beetle.
January - February
UV screen, wide brimmed hats and prayers for calm, dry days. A calm day on the lakes can be spectacular with trout steadily feeding on Gum Beetles or leaping for hovering blue Damselflies and Spinners. The Plastic Gum Beetle (Sloane) or similar is recommended.
A Blue Damselfly will imitate the naturals but the fish will just as readily take a large Rob's Dry which is a lot less fussy to tie and carry. At this time of the year the river fish are in good condition and not particularly enthusiastic about feeding.
If no recent rain has fallen the water will be at it's clearest and current flow as its smoothest. To deceive the fish use tippets as fine as possible, yet still capable of rolling over your fly. Daytime fishing on a warm summer's day is delightful but the fish can take some finding if that is your priority. During the day search with a Gray Wulff or a Royal Coachman. Alternatively, make the effort and adopt the fish's routine, actively moving at dawn and dusk. The dawn rise is it's usual smorgasbord of food, but with a regular bonus of caenids, on slower moving sections of streams.
Brumby's Creek is always worth a look on a January dawn. Use a size 18-22 black or dark brown spent spinner (Tony Ritchie). During the evening rise watch for the regular hatches of mayfly duns and various brown caddis. A Twilight Beauty tied to size will normally fool a den feeder. An Elk Hair Caddis, of the right size and colour, will well imitate the caddis.
March - April
Autumn colour and feeding urgency. Pre-winter rains reduce the water temperature in the lakes, much more to the trout's liking. Now is the time to bring our favourite dry attractor patterns and also consider a return to some wet flies. If all else fails try a dry Zulu or Wigram's Robin. Jassids will occasionally be on the water and suitable red and black Jassid patterns will tempt fish, that have developed a taste for these. Early in this period grass hoppers can be a major feature on suitable streams.
A Noel's Hobby or Madam X fished as a struggling natural will sometimes deceive particularly worthy fish. As autumn advances so begin the last of the day-time dun hatches. A small Greenwell's Glory or Tup's Indispensable will well imitate most fast stream, Baetidae duns.
An infrequent, but spectacular, occurrence during this time of the year are flying ant falls on the rivers. They trigger the greatest rises of the season but success, is not possible, without suitable imitations. Small sizes are needed or sparsely dressed flies. Try a black, deer hair, legged Ant or a McMurray Black Ant. In an emergency, use a mayfly spinner pattern, after you have cut the tail off and shortened the shoulder hackle.
Barry Hickman is a trout guide and fly fishing tutor who operates Tasmanian Fly Fishing (School and Guiding Service) and is the Marketing Officer of the Tasmanian Professional Trout Guides Association. Telephone/FAX (03) 6362 3441.