Up top early – Highlands rewards the hardy – Christopher Bassano

Yes it is cold—some even think miserable, but wow, the fishing can be fantastic. After three months of winter and very little fishing, the beginning of August is the traditional start of the fishing season. Many people leave it until the central highlands warm up before venturing ‘up top’ but by waiting that long, you could be missing out. 

The northern end of the plateau has seen heavy rains in early July and lake heights rose quickly. If this continues, water will cover new ground bringing fish into the shallows to forage for food. Of course, much of this relies on the Hydro which means it is anyone’s guess as to what will actually happen. 
As is always the case, the water in lakes situated lower in altitude will warm up first and this tends to bring fish onto the bite sooner. Lakes higher in altitude get warmer as summer approaches and lowland waters over heat.
With this in mind, it is no surprise that waters such as Four Springs, Tooms Lake and Lake Leake are very popular in August and September. 
Four Springs can become choked with weeds by December and therefore has a relatively short ‘peak period’. Coupled with it being so close to Launceston, its early season popularity is understandable. I am sure that most people will find success fishing wet flies and soft plastics but to escape the crowds, I look elsewhere.
There are many questions being asked about Tooms Lake. The fishing in recent years has not been what it used to. The enormous populations of Jolly Tails and Galaxia are still there but trout numbers being caught seem to be down. Since October last year, there have been 8,500 yearling rainbow trout released into the lake, 2,500 brown trout fingerlings, 10,000 rainbow trout fingerlings and 620 adult brown trout (released this June). Although the numbers are impressive, most fish have been small but their growth rates should be outstanding. I will certainly be visiting this lake in the first fortnight.
Hunstman Lake does not have years and years of history to look though to gain an appreciation of how it will fish in the first two months. Although featureless in many ways, it is a dark horse and a trip through Meander will be worth while for bank anglers.
For the more adventurous who will be highlands bound, the options are plentiful.
Bronte Lagoon has always been a favorite of mine when the water is high. The Long Shore, Hut Bay, Tailers Bay and Woodwards Bay are all excellent locations for fly fishermen. Keep it simple and fish Woolly Worms and Fur Flies around the tussocks. The sound of frogs should give away the whereabouts of foraging fish. Early and late in the day could bring sight fishing to tailers but for increased success, fishing knee deep water and less should be the staple technique.
If you have access to a boat, fishing around the intake portal for brook trout is great fun. These fish love cold water and there is no shortage of that in August. The earlier in the season you chase them, the more likely you are to have success. A sinking line will be very handy and large flies such as Woolly Buggers and Yetis in green, black and orange will produce the goods. Along the drop offs at the front of Woodwards Canal consistently provides fishermen with opportunities. Almost the entire lake is a good depth to fish which makes this lake so very attractive. Yes, there are good areas and great areas but it is almost all worth a cast.
For the lure fisherman, the same applies when fishing from a boat. From the shore however, Red Rocks seems to consistently produce the best fishing. Fish numbers are very high in the area and with westerly winds blowing on shore, conditions could hardly be better. Green and Gold and Red and Black are reliable colours.
When water levels fall, fly fishermen should look elsewhere but it is not as critical for the lure angler. Soft plastics have really allowed people to fish in conditions that were previously difficult. Jig heads can be rigged practically weedless and fishing slowly over drop offs and weed beds is now relatively simple. The ability of this technique to ‘plum the depths’ in order to find fish is second to none.
Unlike the aforementioned lakes of the lowlands, if things don’t work out at Bronte or the Hydro has pulled the plug, Bradys, Binney, Echo and Pine Tier are not far away and more than worth a trip in their own right.
Little Pine Lagoon is popular throughout the season. Apart from the potential for tailing trout early and late and the day, it is the domain of the boat angler until the mayflies start. South westerly’s that blow over the dam wall will be the predominant wind. It is cold and can be fierce bringing inhospitable conditions and difficulties with line management. The lake is yet to spill and ‘flush’ which, although excellent for tailing trout later on when levels rise to create ideal conditions, it may affect water quality and weed growth through the warmer months. Floating lines can be used but to maximize your chances, sinking lines from clear intermediates to Di 5s (sink rate of five inches per second) are far more adaptable. The general rule with earl season wet fly fishing is slow and deep but sometimes that is only half true at Little Pine. Going through the depths by using sinking lines rather than sinking flies makes casting much easier. Heavy flies tend to have a hinging effect and when trying to get distance, turn over can be hard to attain. There is also no need to try and fish with three flies as two will do the job just fine. Bill Beck’s Cat Flies and the usual arsenal of woolly buggers are eaten well. 
The use of sinking lines enables you cast out and count them down before retrieving. This way, you can work the depths until a fish is hooked and then stick to it. Unlike other lakes, fishing slowly is not as important at Little Pin. I have always been a big advocate for varying the speed of the retrieve throughout a fishing session. Of course when a particular speed works at a certain depth, stick with it but if fish are not coming quickly, go back to varying the speed. Trout can be strange creatures and what is good for one is not necessarily ideal for another. Whether you are retrieving quickly or slowly, always hang your flies at the boat! Fish will often follow flies all the way to boat before taking eating them as they are lifted and left to settle just below the surface. There is no excuse any more for having fish swirl and return to the depths as you lift off to recast!
Woods Lake is another great early season water. It is full of fish and they are generally eager to feed. Woods is another lake that provides equal opportunity for fly fishermen and lure anglers. Soft plastics and hard bodies are equally affective. There are a number of Berkley Gulps and Squidgies that are regularly used by anglers however last year I was privy to a few session where the Wasabi Wriggler on a two gram jig head really caught some fish. This would be my first choice if the water is not too dirty and has that usual greeny hue to it. If it is dirty, bright and flashy colours along with very dark ones will bring the best results.
Those casting flies are best using sinking lines as I have just mentioned. Certainly, Woods fish do respond well to slow and steady retrieves but again, try anything until it works and experiment. I am not saying that fish here are less instinctive than others but we have caught them on monstrosities that could only loosely be called flies. Flies with large amounts of marabou, fur and cactus chenille in ridiculous colours have often worked when the more subtle and lifelike patterns have drawn a blank.
As is the case with Bronte and Little Pine, there really isn’t any bad water in Woods Lake. I saw a boat pull up in what was geographically the dead centre of the lake in the early part of last season. I joked with my boat partner when, through binoculars, it was clear they were using extremely heavy lines and spinners in what can only be described as ‘the middle of nowhere’. Within a few minutes my laughter was turned to horror as they extracted five fish and rubbed my face right in it. I visited the area on future trips and caught fish but found that I could just about drift anywhere and find fish. Yes, it is true that certain hot spots will produce more but you are never out of it on Woods early in the season. Be aware that fish quality and size can vary from day to day. 
With south west winds prevailing at this time of year, the boat ramp is very exposed and care should always be taken when launching or trailering your boat. In a very strong south westerly, don’t even bother going down there unless you have plenty of help.
The burning question is, ‘will Arthurs be back?’ The water is very high in Arthurs and fish should be hard in on the shore again. By the end of last season, they had moved back into the Cowpaddock and with water covering grass that has been high and dry for the best part of two years, fish won’t miss the opportunity foe any easy feed. The Opening, Tumbledown Bay, Seven Pound Bay and Hydro will be very similar. We are going to be spoilt for choice. Very cold mornings when the edge of the lake ices over are never quite as productive but mild, over cast conditions are what to look for. Shallow running flies such as wet beetles, Mrs Simpsons, Hamills Killers and Fur Flies will work well. Don’t ignore dry flies as the season goes one.
Boat anglers (and I will certainly be one of these) should have the best fishing on the lake in years. Expect well conditioned, hard fighting trout. Concentrate on the ten to twelve foot range, getting flies hovering just above the bottom. Old creek beds and sub merged rock bars are also worth searching but drop offs and well known weed beds are the main points of interest. 
The Sand Lake side of Arthurs has been worryingly dirty since the agreed minimum levels were ignored by the hydro. Hopefully this year will see it clear up and become worth fishing again. Drifiting across the face of Stumps, Flemmings and Tumbledown Bay will be productive if this happems.
Lure fishermen always do very well on Arthurs from opening day. The Morass is a well known hot spot as is Creely, Pumphouse and Hydro Bay. The last three spots provide reasonable shelter from the strong south west winds if you sue the Pumphouse boat ramp. Phantom Bay is a bit of an enigma. It seems to run hot and cold but one thing is certain, some extremely large fish are caught from this area in the opening months. They generally fall to lure anglers fishing over the yabby beds that are present through that section of the lake. Again, deep and slow with plastics such as black and gold paddle tails or rainbow trout patterns are reliable but hard body enthusiasts can also fish floating or suspending deep divers with confidence. Get the lure to the right depth and let it sit before giving it an erratic action back to the boat. So will Arthurs be ‘back’ this year? Assuming the water stays high, I would say yes but don’t expect those huge mayfly hatches until we get consistently more stable water levels.
The final lake that is well worth fishing is Great Lake. If you have not been fishing it already, you should be. Although open for twelve months and coming out of a very productive winter, the fishing is going into improve over the next two months. Galaxia will be starting to spawn on the rocky shores and trout will find them. Any point around which the wind is blowing is worth fishing. Boundary Bay, Christmas Bay and Becketts Bay have served me very ell for many years at this time. Simply cast around structure and drop offs with lures or flies and hang on. Unlike later in the year, bright conditions are not ideal and rough, overcast weather is far more productive. Again, black and gold are good colours as are lures looking like rainbow trout par. The ‘Brown Snake’ Stiffy Minnow touched up with an olive permanent marker pen to look like a Great Lake Galaxia has been catching me more than its fair share of fish recently.
When fly fishing, green is a wonderful colour in this lake. The Green Machine, Green Fuzzy Wuzzy, Olive Yeti and a number of variants there of are all that is needed. The fly does not seem to make as much difference as the way in which it is fished and where it is fished. Find the rocks!
Recently, some anglers have been catching plenty of browns while others can only catch rainbows. The rainbows are certainly localized but all fish are in surprisingly good condition. Jerky retrieves should be used by all fishermen and for once, there is no disadvantage in fishing off the shore. Those in a boat will be better off casting into the bank which means land based fishermen will be in a better position to work the likely areas well. Don’t rule out polaroiding or early morning midging fish if calm, bright weather prevails. These styles of fishing have been very successful throughout the winter and once again, will improve with time.
The only problem posed by trout fishing in August and September is which good option to choose. There are equally good lowland and highland options which can provide sight fishing and if casting wet flies or lures brings a smile to your face it won’t matter where you go. Water height may dictate things when fishing off the shore but boat anglers who vary depth and retrieve will be rewarded with large bags. It is amazing how quickly your fingers warm up when the fish are biting.
Christopher Bassano

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