Rivers - End of Season Fly-Fishing
Setting the Scene
In Tasmania the rivers are no doubt considered the poorer cousin of the lakes. This perception was likely started by the river fisher's who were quite happy to send their neighbours up to the lakes and keep the world class rivers to themselves! Believe or not the rivers that you have probably been passing on your way to the lakes can offer everything the lakes have - big hatches, polaroiding, tailing, the list goes on.
The end of the season is as good a time as any to get out and sample some of Tasmania's great river fishing with haywire "hopper fishing on warmer, windy days and some equally impressive (though often frustrating) evening (after work) fishing to be experienced. Here's a sample of what to expect.What's on the menu?End of season fishing on the Tasmanian rivers covers February to the end of the season in late April and ranges in quality year to year from enjoyable to sensational. Enjoyable years usually involve fairly stable weather patterns into early to mid March whilst the sensational seasons are often typified by an elongated warm and dry "Indian summers" carrying through into early April. During this period the angler can often experience dragonfly, damselfly and mayfly hatches, grasshopper ('hopper) and flying ant falls as well as caddis hatches. For the new to the sport fly fisher an in depth knowledge of scientific mayfly names is not required, nor typically is an exact replica of a hovering dragonfly. Despite this an ability to recognise what the fish are feeding on is paramount to consistently catch fish as this knowledge will guide you on factors such as where to find the fish as well as equip you with a general idea of what fly to use. Here is a few hatches to look out for as well as some indicative signs to look out for:-
Dragonfly's and Damsels - Dragonfly's and Damsels are usually around until mid to late February dependent on enough warm weather. They start their lifecycle as nymphs (mudeyes and damselfly nymphs) and prefer to hatch out using above water structures as rushes, fence posts, wading anglers or rocks. The hatch typically occurs during nocturnal hours. Fish feeding on these hatching nymphs will be fairly boisterous feeders boiling or slashing around on the water surface. This activity is normally more prevelant in slower waters where the fish will actively cruise around a "beat" (territory) hunting the prey. Fish feeding on the dragonfly's and damsels will often leap a couple feet into the air to catch the flying adults (the adult dragonfly can fly faster than an amazing 50 km/h!). This feeding will even occur in dense rushes where the angler may be able to find an opening and cast a fly for the cruising fish. Big buoyant deer hair flies or smaller green nymphs are useful to imitate the hatching nymphs whilst dry flies with long tails and a bit of sparkle can imitate the adults.
Mayflies - Mayflies come in all shape and sizes but the colloquially referred to red and black spinners customarily provide the two predominant mayfly hatches on Tasmanian rivers. Typically these hatches occur during February and March and can often been linked to specific morning water temperatures and weather patterns (a good case for keeping a diary). My preference is for a morning water temperature of 15 to 17 degrees and a warm overcast day. The humidity on an overcast day means that the mayfly duns have to stay on the water for longer after hatching to dry their wings out giving the trout a greater opportunity to feed on them. The daily timing for mayfly hatches to be unpredictable but between ten o'clock a.m. and two o'clock p.m. is likely to give you as good a chance as any, and if your fishing the "after work" rise at your local river than keep an eye out for the clouds of mayfly spinners or the dead 'spent" spinners on the water.
Rise characteristics vary during mayfly hatches but fish taking hatching nymphs (emerger's) will often bulge or boil at the surface. Good flies can be the Barry Lodge emerger, shaving brush or parachute emerger. Fish taking duns will often stick their beak out (snout) and snap it shut on the fly or it may do a "head and tail" porpoise rise similiar to a dolphin. Again a shaving brush is a good fly to try otherwise tie on a parachute dun or small Highland dun. Fish taking the fluttering spinners will leap out of the water after the mayfly and the best patterns I've found are a Macquarie red spinner or a Jetson's black spinner. Either of these flies with the hackles clipped underneath are good imitations of the spent spinner as well as more specific spent spinner patterns. Look out for the dead adults on the water surface to indicate that spent spinners may be on the menu.
The Terrestrial's - "Hoppers and Winged Ants
My Favourite end of season fishing is without doubt when the trout are chomping down grasshoppers. This can be absolutely dynamite! Grasshopper fishing typically occurs on rivers with steep / undercut grassy banks in February through to April. The vital ingredient is consistent dry weather then all you need is a bit of a breeze (and a boisterous dog running through the grass) and you'll have trout hammering the "hoppers. Trout taking grasshoppers usually feed closer to the river edge (where the grasshoppers get blown on to the river) and high undercut banks can provide shelter (and fishing) for good trout. My favourite flies are all rough homemade jobs consisting of two knotted legs, a sinking abdomen and a floating head. Hollow deer hair is useful to construct the head whilst solid bristly deer hair is good for the sinking body with a bunch of turkey or pheasant tail fibers knotted together for the legs. Apply a bit of varnish to the abdomen for durability.
Flying ants can make their presence felt on the rivers in March and April (last season they were especially predominant in the last three weeks of April). The fish will usually remain fairly stationary in the river whilst 'sipping" the floating ants down. The ants I've always encountered have been a size 16 to 18 and the trout may be tricked by a small red tag or coch-y-bondhu, however a purpose built pattern on a light gauge hook (size 16-18) is often a bit more effective. The body can be constructed with peacock herl or foam for the front and back of the ant and a bit of white feather or hi-viz tied either side of the shank for wings.
Fish feed on caddis nymphs all the year around in Tasmanian rivers making it an ideal nymph to hang under a dry. In addition to this when the adult moths hatch and flutter about in their clouds the fishing can be brilliant, although often very frustrating. The caddis moths are usually out on the rivers until late March (again weather dependant) and can be the highlight of the evening rise due to their almost nocturnal characteristics (Scholes, 61). Typical dry-fly fishing for caddis feeders can consist of imitating the emerging or egg laying caddis, or imitating the fluttering moth.
When a caddis emerges from its pupa stage the moth will often skate around the water surface to shake off its trailing shuck. The other time a caddis will skate around the water surface is when it is laying its eggs on or in the water surface. For this reason an Elk hair caddis can often be quite successful when the leader and fly is greased and twitched or skated across the water surface in front of a feeding fish. When the fish are targeting the clouds of moths it is typically more successful to cast the fly on to the fishes nose (or just above the rings of the rise). This gives the trout a minimal amount of time to decide whether to eat the fly or not. Again the Elk hair caddis, a small stimulator or a creel caddis can be good flies to try.
Typical caddis moths are about a size 12 but keep an eye out for the smaller black caddis moth that can get around our rivers. It is closer to a size 14 or 16 and can often be what the trout are feeding on when nothing is readily visible.
A Few Final Tips....
The typical flyfishers will be most familiar with the evening rise at this time of year due to work or school commitments during the day. When you do get to the river target any searching casts to bankside areas or banks with overhanging bushes. Big back eddies are also excellent areas to locate consistently feeding fish and try casting a combination of two dries or a dry and a nymph around the seems or edges of the conflicting currents. For day time action target the undercut banks surrounded by grassy paddocks.
End of season fishing can produce some very good fish so don't be dismayed with fish rejecting flies. Changed to another pattern or lengthen your leader after a rejection and cast to the fish again - persistence pays off. As with all fishing avoid drag on the fly at all costs. Learn to cast accurately and efficiently (in other words without tangles). A person with who can cast accurately and without any tangles will always catch the most fish regardless of flies, rods etc. Get a good technique early on in your flyfishing "career" through your local club or fishing guide and remember the three P's - practice, practice, practice.
I'm bias to the North of the state so I'd always recommend the Macqaurie, Brumby's, North and South Esk rivers for excellent end of season fishing, as well as our smaller creeks such as the St Pat's and the Lake river for great "hopper fishing. Anytime is the best time to go fishing and remember to fish for the future!
"Fly-fisher in Tasmania" and other books by David Scholes
"Australia's Best Trout Flies" by Crosse and Sloane