Presented from Issue 94
Sea run trout are somewhat of an enigma for many Tasmanian and travelling anglers. Our population are mostly comprised of brown trout which, by definition, choose to live most of their lives at sea. These fish then come into our estuary systems twice a year in order to feed (August – November) and to spawn (April – June). The best time to chase them is during the early months of the season when site fishing is a very real possibility.
It all starts in earnest when the Tasmanian whitebait (Lovetti) begin to run up the estuaries towards the fresh water in order to spawn. Their distribution ranges from the far north east across the north and north west, down the west coast and into Hobart. The east coast also has good sea trout fishing but it is very hard to recommend over that which is found elsewhere.
Both sea run and resident (slob) trout feed heavily on these small and slender whitebait which darken in colouration as they move further into fresh water reaches. Their colouration can start almost translucent before turning dark grey and culminating in a dark olive. This is magnified in tannin stained water ways as they adapt to their surroundings. A dry August followed by a wet September makes for ideal conditions. Although dry conditions make fish easier to see and follow, bigger trout will make up a smaller percentage of your daily catch. Apart from raging flood, don’t let high water put you off.
Whitebait will run into the estuaries and continue towards the fresh water reaches for as long as the water remains brackish. Heavy rain brings a push of fresh water further down the river and this will usually force the whitebait back down the river. If this occurs at the start of the run (August) and continues for a few weeks, the whitebait run can often be poor and almost appear not to have happened. Dribs and drabs of bait will be seen from time to time but unless you are lucky and strike it at exactly the right time, the sea trout year may be a disaster.
If on the other hand the rains occur in September, by the time the fresh pushes down the river literally millions of whitebait will have already made their way up the river and into the log jams where they seek refuge. This is where the larger, resident trout live and will feed on them. The bait is then pushed back down the river and the large fish will follow. Once they reach a ‘salty environment’, they will be met by even more bait pushing up causing a bottle neck effect of bait. This is when we can get a feeding frenzy of sea and slob trout – ideal conditions.
This year, the rains have come earlier than we would like and that has made for a slower start than usual, keeping trout and bait further down the estuaries.
Locations and Timing
The Derwent River is usually the first to fire up and this year was no exception. Fish can be found from just below the Tasman Bridge near the city centre all the way past New Norfolk and beyond. Before the official season started this season, trout were already being caught in the lower reaches. Rocky points, side channels and back eddies are worth fishing but the usual tell tale sign of bait fish spraying is easily found during calm weather. For the shore based angler, the Derwent provides possibly the best access to good fishing on the south coast.
Fast and accurate casts are needed with bait fish patterns that at least resemble the rough shape and colouration of the natural prey. There is no need to fish ‘light’ and a ten to twelve pound flurocarbon tippet is standard. Five to seven weight rods are sufficient although when targeting big fish or when using sinking lines, the heavier option is more practical.
The Huon River and those to the south such as the Esperance, Lune, Kermandie, D’Entracasteaux and Catamaran are all good places to look for sea runners through September and October. I have had a few trips down here already this season and at the time of writing, I have found them to be much slower than I would normally find. A boat is handy in most of these rivers but each will have one or two spots where the river can be accessed from the bank.
The Huon below Huonville is one such spot. The marshes around Franklin are easily found and fished but waders are needed. A run out tide is perfect as trout ambush bait as they leave the stagnant flow in which they were resting.
Picking the right stage of the tide during which to fish will also directly affect your success. A strong out going tide is almost always the best. The speed of the water running down the middle of the river forces the migrating bait to the edges where trout will lie in ambush. The bait uses logs, rocks, bridge poles, eroded banks and anything else that breaks the current to hide from the strong flows and rest. Trout then use these same obstructions to launch fast and explosive attacks on unsuspecting fish.
The top of the tide is usually the quietest time as bait can be well up under bushes and totally inaccessible to casting anglers. The bottom of the tide is also a quiet time as no flow allows the bait to move freely up the river and spread out across its width. A rising tide assists the bait in their quest to move up river and more importantly, brings in another fresh run of whitebait with every high tide. Big tides are therefore better than small tides. The Henty river is a great example of this.
The west coast has many tannin stained waterways which have sea runners moving into them from mid October onwards. The Arthur and Pieman rivers have very limited walking access but boat fishermen can make the most of otherwise inaccessible spots. Small craft that draw next to no water can be taken almost right up to the Pieman Dam.
Apart from the mouth of the Arthur River (which can be the main hot spot), a boat is vital.
Further south near Strahan, the Gordon River is even more difficult to get to and again, a boat is essential. Trips to this iconic river require large fuel tanks, good weather and long days. The mouth of the river is the major hot spot although casting under the over hanging trees is a reliable fall back.
The most well known and productive rivers on the west coast are the Henty and Little Henty. Both of these rivers empty into the ocean just north of Strahan after running through dense forest and then along the beach. The Little Henty runs parallel to the ocean and behind the beach for such a long time that trying to find the point at which enters ocean on foot is hardly worth the effort. The Henty itself is the most accessible of all west coast rivers. There is a boat ramp is right next to the highway bridge or four wheel drives can be driven to the sand dunes at the mouth. A camp site is located at the Henty dunes. First and last light often bring the best action but polaroiding on bright days is surprisingly productive. Although the water is dark brown, trout often feed in inches water out of the main channel.
On occasions these fish can seem almost impossible to catch. Don’t let this worry you. Some of the best anglers I know have struggled to catch these fish. There is a good chance that if they ignore your whitebait pattern, they are feeding on sand fleas. These are usually being washed in off the sand as the waves erode the banks. An inert presentation of a small hares ear scud or ‘czech nymph’ pattern might just do the trick!
The north east coast doesn’t get frequented by many sea trout fishermen but those who take the time to travel there are rarely disappointed. Driving through Bridport, the Little Forester is difficult to access but well worth the effort. The banks are quite over grown but this ‘pain’ is eased by the size of the white bait runs. I once took a photo off the main road bridge of the largest migration of bait I have seen anywhere at any time. Unfortunately I misplaced it but when I find it, I will get it published!
The Great Forester River is east of Bridport and divides Barnbougle and the Lost Farm golf courses. The main road bridge provides the best access. A kayak or small raft could be dropped in at the bridge but there really is no need. Almost all of the river can be cast across and the fish are always found close in along the tussock lined banks. The mouth of the river provides poor recruitment and the falling tide after a big high tide is the time to go. I have always found the fish in the Forester to be very willing to eat the fly but large numbers should not be expected. Wind is very common in this part of the world so short, stiff leaders will aid turn over and accuracy.
On the north west coast, the Mersey and Forth are the main sea run fisheries. That is not to say that other rivers such as the Rubicon, Franklin, Blyth, Duck, Flowerdale, etc do not have sea runners in them. They are all worth a look!
The mouth of the Forth is better known by those wanting to catch Australian salmon but it is very accessible for people chasing sea runners. On the south side of the highway trout regularly feed on whitebait around stands of tea tree and grassy edges. Bank access is reasonable but expect to get frustrated by those moving just out of casting range. A kayak could be worthwhile. Upstream from the town of Forth, a weir stretches across the river forming a barrier past which the white bait can’t get. The whitebait simply bank up below the weir forming what is arguably the best shore based spot for catching sea trout in the state. Unfortunately, the banks between Forth and the weir are rather steep and practically inaccessible.
The Mersey River at Bells Parade near Latrobe is a beautiful spot from which many double figure fish have been caught. It is a place of legend. Most of these have been caught by bait fishermen. Down stream from Bells Parade the river splits and although runs and riffles can be found, the big deep holes are where the sea runners are found. Large bream also frequent the water in this area and trying to tempt them into taking your fly is a distraction. Fishing on the North West coast is much better than the rest of Tasmania realise and I suspect that is how the locals like it.
I don’t like making these sorts of statements but of all forms of trout fishing, chasing these fish is more suited to the experienced angler. Repeated good casting is the key to success. Even if you can land your fly on a five cent piece at will with a minimum of false casts, don’t expect to catch numbers of fish that will rival those taken during mayfly time. Having said that, if they were easy, they would lose some of the mystique that all anglers feel when chasing these beautiful fish.
These fish are the ultimate in trout fishing. They are much harder fighting that their fresh water counterparts and certainly more elusive. At a time of year when snow is often falling on the highlands the lure of sea trout is never stronger. Many of my best clients and good friends travel to Tasmania at this time of year in search of these fish, opting for the colder climate of September and October over the warmth andconsistency of a highland summer. Sea trout fishing in Tasmania is nothing short of World Class and I don’t say that lightly. If you were ever going to catch a fish in excess of ten or twenty pounds, now is the time. Unlike almost all other types of fly fishing, sea trout fishing has to be done before December or you will have missed it. Then window of opportunity is now. Don’t miss out and regret it later.