Autumn on the Lakes
Joe Riley looks at the tail end of the trout season and encourages anglers to make the best of it. You can be sure he will.
As daylight savings comes to pass and the days grow cooler through autumn, winter approaches and the brown trout season draws to a close. All is not despair though as there are still fish to be caught, even the prospect of specimen dry fly fishing in the highland lakes on the warmer days. It's the last surge to make the most out of a season which has been challenged by water draw downs, blustery weather and controversy over one of the world's finest brown trout lakes coming under threat from irrigation schemes.
There are two distinctly different ways to approach fishing the lakes towards the end of the season, fishing for numbers in bays around spawning streams or targeting trout which remain in the lake, not spawning but continuing to feed, bypassing the need to mate for one season. A reasonable percentage (and don't ask me what it is) of trout will not spawn each year. These fish stay in the body of the lake and continue to feed and keep their condition through the winter. We have all caught that fish on the opening weekend, fights like a demon, has firm silver flanks, bright pink flesh and a full tail that has not been knocked around from the rigours of spawning. These fish can be targeted and offer good sport late season and through winter. Unfortunately they are thinner on the ground, or lake bed as the case may be, but persistently fishing over known weed beds and structure away from the spawning streams will produce these fish. If you are partial to a feed of trout like I am these are the ones to target.
If on the other had you are going out for a bit of sport and want to catch fish in numbers, brown trout gather to spawn in bays close to feeder streams around the lakes. These areas become hot spots for fishing as the trout will still feed and the males will arguably become territorial, attacking large flies or lures with gusto. There are area limits to fishing around spawning streams and these rules need to be obeyed, however fish will gather in numbers in bays approaching feeder streams and can legitimately be targeted. These trout will offer plenty of sport but are not exactly what you would call palatable when it comes to table qualities. You can easily tell when a fish has moved into spawning mode, the skin has darkened considerably, they become slimy and the flesh goes grey and soft...really only suitable for serving up to your mother-in-law. These fish are still good fun to catch but should be handled gently, treated with respect and returned to the water as soon as they are caught as they still have to spawn and will provide progeny for seasons to come.
Dry fly opportunities
Although the dun hatches have run their race, warm days still see gum beetles hitting the water and the late arriver in the terrestrial scene starts to show himself. From March through to May, the jassid turns up each year in varying numbers. This leaf hopper with a red belly and black and white body is like candy to the trout. When jassids hit the water trout switch on to them often feeding selectively. I have been fishing Great Lake in a late gum beetle hatch where there are plenty of beetles on the water and fish rising happily without a jassid in sight. However at the end of the day upon returning to the boat ramp and cleaning a couple of browns taken on English hoppers, a post mortem revealed nothing but jassids in the stomach of each fish.
Jassids are a leaf hopper and therefore they are best found along shorelines timbered with eucalypts. Penstock Lagoon, Great Lake particularly the Northern and Eastern Shores, Bronte Lagoon and Arthurs Lake are just a few of the waters where jassids can fall in numbers. Sport can be localised to individual areas so scout around on warmer days looking for rising fish or jassids on the water where the wind is blowing out of the trees over the water. A jassid imitation does not need to be too fancy, a #14 dry fly tied with a red body, black over wing and black hackle. Alternatively a red English hopper with black legs and hackle is a terrific dry fly all season and makes a good representation of a jassid.
With shorter days through autumn, fishing dawn and dusk does not mean being out at ungodly hours. Midge and sedge will still bring fish to the top of the water in morning and evening still presenting more opportunity for dry fly. We have literally hundreds of species of Caddis and any warmish evening along the lee shore fish will take caddis as they flutter out of the tussocks and bushes over the water. Little Pine is a favourite piece of water of mine for this dry fly fishing as are the bays on Great Lake where the kerosene bush comes closer to the water. Small slim flies in a natural light grey colour are good representations. A slim March Brown or a classic river dry fly, the F fly both work well when the caddis are on the water.
Opportunities after May
Rainbow waters remain open until the 31st of May and Great Lake, lakes Barrington, Burbury, King William, Pedder, Gordon, Meadowbank and Brushy Lagoon remain open all year round. Great Lake has some good polaroiding on bright days around shallow bays and fish can still be caught fishing blind along shores which have recently been stirred up by the wind. Fish are patchy though, so keep moving and fishing until you find them and then concentrate on that area.
Brushy Lagoon continues to be regularly stocked with trout and salmon by the Inland Fisheries Service and can be fished right through the winter. Although redfin perch are a designated pest species and should be humanely destroyed when caught, Brushy Lagoon has got some monster redfin which are a surprise by catch, and are starting to be targeted by a few anglers for their eating qualities. The bigger redfin seem to hang around the sticks and snags and are a definite taker of a fly. The big redfin are not fussy and will take lures or nymphs without much hesitation.
Although some of the opportunities available may seem a bit unusual and not every ones cup of tea there's something to be had for everyone in autumn and winter. Whether it be seeking out dry fly fishing or non spawning quality fish for the table or simply satisfying the need for a regular pull on the end of the line, there are still plenty of waters in this the lucky State to do it.