Boating techniques - improving your catch rate
Trout guide, Peter Hayes explains some of the techniques he uses that will help improve your catch rate.
As I stand at the door of my Great Lake shack the eleventh day of February is just four hours old. The morning is black and remarkably quiet. Around me the trees seem hypnotised by the stillness in the air. This is a rare and beautiful moment in the highlands of Tasmania and you need to rise early to witness it.
A log truck grumbling its way around the edge of Swan Bay gradually steals away the silence as it draws nearer.
It is now that I realise why I'm standing in the cold at this hour. This early morning ritual has become a part of my daily life since living and working as a trout fishing guide in the highlands. In order to plan my day's work I must understand the weather. In particular, it is vitally important that I know the wind's direction and strength. The wind is a friend of mine. It helps me catch trout by providing additional food in the form of land borne beetles and insects for trout. If you know where to look for the heavier concentrations of fish food, the rest is easy. Additional cover provided by the waves helps enormously in disguising our trickery.
Unfortunately, today the wind will desert me and the sun will be scorching. Still, bright days at this time of year are my greatest test and, as a fishing guide, my worst enemy. The arrangements made with my clients the evening before were that I would wake them at 5.00 am, provided there was not a breath of wind. The slightest ripple would enable them to sleep until 9.30 am.
Today I know that our greatest opportunities will be in the early hours of the morning chasing the wind lane feeders. If my fly fishing clients are capable casters they could catch up to half a dozen of these beautiful fish before the sun makes them too wary and breeze puts them down. For several weeks now I have noticed the change in diet our quarry from caddis to snail. The fish are certainly feeding in greater depths and are very fussy about what they eat. On days like today fish are often hard to locate and even harder to catch. I know that our catch rate will be lower than normal and I feel sadness for the average shore based angler because I know that he doesn't have the opportunities of the boat based angler.
The importance of a boat
Trout, particularly browns, are territorial creatures, generally not moving very far from the familiarity of their immediate surrounds. This is frequently confirmed with catch-and-release practice. On many occasions different clients catch the same fish not more than a few metres from his previous capture. Also, rising fish while moving about freely to feed, don't seem to roam very far.
The exception to this is wind lane feeders. In the calm slick of a wind lane some trout can be seen coming toward the boat from as far as seventy metres away and a chase can last for a hundred metres.
A boat can provide access to the reefs, deep water weed beds, channels and rivers or weed bank. You don't need to be Einstein to understand that your bait, lure and fly needs to be in front of a fish before you have an opportunity to catch it. So, put simply, the reason to own, or have access to a boat is to enable you to maximise your opportunities in any situation. What I'm trying to say is that it is much easier to go to the fish than wait for the fish to come to you and with a boat one can do just that!
One enormous advantage, often underestimated, when fishing from a boat, is the additional water that can be fished. An interesting fact is that if an average caster was to circumnavigate a one-kilometre-round lake he would only have access to five percent of water - not really good odds. I estimate that the use of a boat increases my catch rate by as much as eighty percent. This is not to say that eighty percent of fish are caught from the boat but rather the boat plays a part in these captures.
From the point of view of a professional guide it is very important to be able to access the right shores which will depend on water levels, feeding patterns and particularly wind direction.
Jim Allen, owner of the Compleat Angler fishing stores is some what of a fly fishing guru in these parts and not that many years ago Jim realised the importance of a boat. Nowadays Jim would catch many more fish from the boat than from the shore. He would be the first to tell you of the opportunities that have been opened up since the purchase of that boat. It simply gives him more options on the day. Some of the techniques, equipment and tactics I have developed or picked up from my regular fishing companions, are just common sense solutions to our every day problems. I hope they can be of some use in helping to increase your catches.
Boat designs and fishing techniques
When the fish are outside your casting range almost any boat is better than no boat at all. However safety on the water should be of prime importance and catching a fish should be secondary. Too many fisherman drown as it is, without adding to the tally.
The central highlands of Tasmania can be a wild and inhospitable place and the wrong boat in the wrong circumstances can be a deadly combination. The right boat in the right conditions can lead to some magical fishing. Again, to increase my opportunities I use two different sized boats - the choice depends on the conditions, my clients and the water being fished.
The larger boats are 5 metres in length. The new Stessl tri-hull design is used on the larger lakes with up to three anglers. This design is very stable and rides smoothly in the roughest of conditions. It is extremely safe and it is ideal for clients who are not used to boats. Flat, open decks from bow to stern give ample room for fly or spin casting. (anyone considering purchasing a trout fishing boat should look seriously at these boats).
Standing on the Bailey esky gives me tremendous vision on a polaroiding day. This height advantage enables me to polaroid three to four times the area of the wading angler. It is an ideal boat for using any the drift fishing techniques. One of the better types of fly casting techniques for this type of fishing is the half roll cast. This is a very safe and effortless casting method that more people should learn. I also use a three metre tinny and an electric motor in the best way to tackle the early morning wind lane and snail feeding fish. The greater manoeuvrability and stealth of this boat make it ideal for any application where it is best to chase a feeding trout. This fishing can be some of the most rewarding that you are likely to encounter, however long casting with pinpoint accuracy is nearly always required. A small boat makes life easier and helps to create opportunities that would not present themselves otherwise. This boat fits on the roof of a four wheel drive and as a total package I have access to many lakes - again, greater flexibility means more opportunities. If you don't have access to an electric motor the next best thing is a set of specially built high rowlocks and longer oars. This extra rowlock height enables you to stand and row, facing forward, while pursuing the quarry. The real art in this type of fishing is the be able to control the boat.
Frequently a good boatman is more responsible for the capture of a trout than the angler. Larger fish are more easily handled from a boat. A long handled net or a well aimed oar has roused out many weeded fish. This could not be done from the bank.
Anchoring and drifting techniques
It's nearly always better to pursue a fish if you know its whereabouts (as long as you don't spook it in the process) rather than waiting for it to come to you. If you hang on a longish anchor rope any fish in the quadrant beside and behind the boat can be covered quickly by starting the motor and reversing backwards and to the side. The boat is controlled by the tight rope and never drifts over or too close to the fish. The anchor provides the pivot and quickly stops the boat's movement when the boat is cut. Rarely does a fish spook because of the motor.
Stick in the mud
This is a calm conditions technique used mostly when polaroiding from the small boat in the shallow, silty western takes. It is also used with great effect on the damsel feeding fish that cruise thick pin rushes. A tea tree pole is used to manoeuvre the boat in the shallows the same as the Christmas Island bone fishing technique.
When we come onto a fish or move into likely territory the pole is pushed through a rubber "o" ring hanging over the side of the boat and driven down into the mud. This lets us stay in the fish's territory until it is captured. This is much better than using an anchor in this situation.
Drift Fishing Techniques
A drogue is a device that enables you to slow down speed of the boat. This drifting technique originates in the reservoirs of England and is also used extensively in the lochs of Scotland and Ireland. The lakes of these countries are very much like ours in Tasmania. If the fish are hard to locate there is no better fishing technique than this as it enables you to cover large areas of water in a controlled manner. If fish are found, be sure to go back over the spot after resting it for a while. Be sure to anchor the boat if you think the spot is a good one. Don't just keep drifting through it. Try to identify why the fish are in this area then seek out similar locations.
Drift spinning in this situation often produces great catches. With several people on the boat using different styles and colours of lures at different retrieve depths it generally does not take long to get the first fish. It is only then that we use identical lures.
Most fly fisherman in the Highlands are using a drogue of some description, some of the home made jobs are often quite ineffective.
I watch with a smile as their little boats drift past our bigger boats at twice our speed. Most drogues are conical or square in shape and work like an underwater windsock. Some annoying aspects of this type of design are that it requires pulling in at every change of boat position and sometimes, if fish are difficult to find, this occurs many times a day. The conical drogues will occasionally swim so deeply that they catch on underwater trees and rocks.
New drogue design
Last season I made my own drogue that was completely different in design and with some fine tuning it now works superbly. It is made of a tough material and is rectangular in shape. A combination of flats and weights keep it at the right attitude in the water. It has taken a lot of developing to get it right. This new design has some advantages. By adjusting the length of the bow and stern ropes the boat can be virtually sailed across the wind rather than just drift directly down wind. This is very handy on small occasions. A second advantage with the new style of drogue is that I don't need to pull it in before moving off. The drogue simply drags along the surface beside the boat and offers no resistance in the direction of travel. The attaching ropes are short enough that it doesn't foul the propeller.
Use your boat safely and with due regard for the weather and be courteous to the shore based angler. Remember they have access to only 5% of the water. Consider also the boats around you don't cut in on another boats drift line. Sometimes I think it would be a good idea for all boats to carry a bucket of rocks and if another boat comes within range they should get what they deserve!
If you are not catching fish don't hesitate to change your techniques and the area you're fishing in. Have a second outfit rigged up with a smaller lure or fly. This is often all that you need to trip up a wary fish that has followed to the boat. Learn to handle your boat well. It is astounding how important this is when trying to catch visibly feeding fish. If fishing with a partner learn to fish as a team; don't compete against each other or the only winner will be the fish. If you are interested in obtaining one of Peter's drogues contact details are:
Peter Hayes Guided Fishing
Phone and Fax - 03 6259 8295