Presented from Issue 94
After a short drive from home I pulled into the parking area I frequently use adjacent to a bridge spanning the Mersey River, my old friend. The first priority, as always, was to walk onto the bridge to have a look at the river conditions. This revealed that things were looking good with the late afternoon sun revealing a mixture of mayfly spinners and white caddis in the air above the rippling river in the soft October light. The mayfly spinners were especially noticeable with the sun glinting through their iridescent wings as they danced en-masse. Swallows, fantails and wrens were also on the wing taking advantage of the easy meal on offer. A splash or two in the river below indicated that another predator had noticed the insects as well!
After momentarily soaking in this scene I then began hurriedly piecing together my trusty 2wt Sage fly rod, loaded pockets with boxes of flies and tippet material, and then hot footed it off upstream to a favourite run that I knew from previous experiences would be just perfect this evening given these ideal conditions.
Arriving at the rippled water at the tail of the pool I quickly noted that the rise was already underway with small trout ranging from fingerlings up to slightly more respectable half pounders were throwing themselves out of the water in what looked to be sheer joy at the multitude of spinners and caddis that were on the wing. Further upstream in the smoother tail water a few slower slurps signalled that bigger trout were also starting to hone in on the coming feast. A smattering of mayfly duns were also noticed drifting downstream like little sailboats before making their first clumsy attempts at flying off to safety amongst the surrounding trees. Some didn’t make it!
Stepping out into the river and slowly edging my way across the slippery shingle bed I lined myself up downstream of a massive log that had floated down in a big flood a few years earlier and wedged itself in the shallow water.
Since that time this log had created a perfect diversion on the relatively swift river current at the pools tail. This upwelling created a couple of bubble lines that were now a favourite feeding area for many of the wily brown trout that called this particular pool home.
Soon after taking up my position a splashy rise only a short cast above me indicated my first chance at success. It took a few casts to get the Fast Water Dun, a favourite fly pattern for the evening fishing with it being great representation of either a mayfly dun or a caddis, into the bubble line before the feisty little brown took it with gusto. After lifting the rod with maybe a little too much force (I sometimes get a little trigger happy with the first few of the session!) I found with some surprise a solid weight on the rod. These little river browns always give a great showing in the fast current on the light rods. After a short but nonetheless spectacular battle the chunky pounder was slid into my waiting hand. After quickly admiring the superb colouration and condition of the trout, (this being the rule rather than the exception with the Mersey browns in recent times), he was slid back into the cool clear river water and freedom.
This scene was repeated quite a few more times as I slowly worked up to the big log in the fading light. Most accurate casts to the visibly feeding trout had been rewarded with solid takes and as an added bonus the average size of the browns had also increased as I worked up further out of the broken water into the true glide of the pool.
As in most trout waters the best and biggest trout always occupy the prime feeding locations. After targeting, hooking and landing a few that would have been in excess of two pounds, a good size in this particular area of the Mersey, the darkness had almost completely descended like a cloak on the river valley. The bird life feasting on the abundant insects had long since been replaced by nocturnal bats flitting about above the rivers surface.
Deciding that the dozen or more trout that had fallen victim to the FW Dun was more than enough (I would have been happy with one!) I wound up the loose line and readied myself to inch my way back across the thigh deep current to the safety of the grassy paddock bordering the left bank of the pool. But wait, what was that sound out in darkness. A couple of hearty slurps were able to be heard in the inky darkness over near the right hand bank directly adjacent. Was it a platypus, a water rat or something else? Definitely time for one more cast! This time it had to be entirely by intuition. Not sure of the distance required I shot out a cast and then listened intently with it being impossible to see the progress of the fly. Visualizing the progress of the fly down the current I somehow sensed that it was in the strike zone. A barely audible “plip” radiated out of the darkness and I lifted the rod gently in response albeit more in hope than with confidence. This gentle tightening was responded to with a massive pull on the rod and as equally as big a splash. The little Vision fly reel with just a clicker drag system started losing line at an alarming rate as the big trout headed off upstream no doubt to its lair under the bank somewhere. Somehow by palming the spool I managed to turn the trout it before its intended destination and after a couple of lunges it angled out across the river and then using the current to its advantage ended up holding station below me.
All the while I also edged across the river and after a few more nervous moments was able to put the finishing touches to the titanic battle from dry land. As the trout rolled at my feet I put the torch light on him and was amazed to see a big hook jawed male brown trout in the five pound class in his absolute prime.
This was a true Mersey River trophy and a trout that I will never forget throughout my fishing days. I only have to close my eyes to again see him in all his glory. Oh how I hope that he is still in the pool somewhere marauding the galaxias and shrimp population.
The scenes described above can be achieved on virtually any of the major river systems in Tasmania. We are certainly blessed with a multitude of superb locations where it is still rare to find another angler in your chosen spot. If you do arrive to find another vehicle it is a simple matter to drive up to the next access point. Rivers that I have enjoyed particular success on have been the before mentioned Mersey River and the nearby Leven River. Both of these waterways have good access and many, many suitable locations to look for rising trout as darkness starts to descend.
Specific locations I look for are the tails of large pools just above the broken water. I try to time my arrival at this area just as darkness is descending as this is the time that the rise usually reaches its crescendo. Quite often though, if I have a bit of time to spare before the peak fishing period I will begin by fishing up through the broken water below the pools first. Some bonus fish can be taken this way either by indicator nymphing or fishing likely locations with dries before the real stuff starts.
Ideal runs for late evening fishing will have some aspect facing in a westerly direction. This way you can use the afterglow of the setting sun to assist in spotting rises well after other areas are blanketed in darkness.
Unfortunately the large brown described above is a rarity in Tassie’s rivers and streams but the high numbers of lesser sized trout generally more than compensate for this. Most anglers that spend a lot of time on the rivers and get to know their secrets will come into contact with a few of these trophies throughout the course of a season
During late September and into October, given favourable weather conditions, an evening recce on the rivers will rarely fail to find steadily rising trout. During this period the river and its inhabitants really seems to come to life, effectively throwing off the doldrums of winter. As the river water starts to warm up the mayfly and caddis start to hatch in great numbers and the predators are never far behind.
A bonus in October is the advent of Daylight Saving time will generally give you enough time to get home from work (you know that thing most of us have to do when we are not fishing!) have a leisurely meal with the family and then head off to wash away the pressures of the working day.
I have found over the years that the Mersey River generally fires earlier than the Leven River. For me that is a great situation as I can target the Mersey first of all and when the fishing starts to drop off the Leven becomes a viable option. During late September and throughout October you will find me on the banks of the Mersey on most suitable evenings. Spring floods will generally slow the fishing but it usually does not take too much time to recover after these events.
Insects that trigger late afternoon and evening rises on Tasmanian rivers and streams are most commonly varieties of caddis or mayflies. The little white caddis that flutters around overhanging foliage along our streams generally does not provide reliable fishing opportunities. Sure enough the little trout love jumping out to try and catch these caddis on the wing but this is usually the extent of the fishing opportunity. The caddis variety that does provide great sport is the drab grey or brown insect that fills the air above the streams as darkness descends on calm evenings. Trout take these, both as they are popping to the surface during their hatching phase and then again as they become trapped in the water film as they dip to lay their eggs after mating. Mayflies also cause some intense surface feeding activity on the streams during springtime evenings. Similar to the caddis flies they are taken by trout during the dun or hatching phase and then again as spent spinners that have fallen to the river surface exhausted after mating. Trout taking duns are commonly hurried or splashy in their rise forms as they know that they have a limited time to capture the dun before it flies off to freedom but trout taking spent spinners are the exact opposite. These rise forms are painstakingly slow as the trout just know that they have all the time in the world to sip the mayfly from the surface, particularly if you find them in the slower back eddies.
Gear – Keep it light!
My favourite rods for this type of fishing are what it generally referred to as “twig” fly rods. Up until very recently I have been using a 7’10” Sage 2wt fly rod. While these rods are not made for distance casting loading them with a weight forward line will make them deadly accurate weapons for casting up to 10 or 15 metres. If I had to make a choice, especially on the rivers, I would take accuracy over distance every single time. They are simply superb rods for throwing flies into tight spots under overhanging streamside vegetation.
Another bonus with the light rods is that it turns the battles with average sized river trout into something much more enjoyable. The lighter rod evens the odds for the trout somewhat. The way that the fly rod bends right from the cork is exhilarating to say the very least. With saying that though I have been lucky enough to land a number of trout around the four pound mark on the little 2wt.
A word of warning for those that have not fished with twig rods before, just one cast might just have you hooked (as well as the trout!). I have just finished building myself a 7’10” 000wt Sage for the coming season. Stay tuned!!
Generally fly rods in the 9’ length and 4-5 wt range are suitable for dry fishing on the rivers and streams. Tapered leaders of 9’ to 12’ are standard with a 3 or 4lb tippet. Maxima Ultragreen is my personal favourite tippet material as I have found that it has an exceptional knot strength for its diameter and is rare to break a fish off.
Another useful item in line with the “keep it light” doctrine is the lanyard necklace. This item can be used to hold vital streamside items such as nippers, floatant, tweezers/ hook pliers, spools of tippet material and even a small fly box close and handy without the unnecessary weight and constraint of the traditional vest. These items are becoming more and more popular in recent times. Another great thing about them is you could get the kids to make you one as a craft project!
Most of my close fishing friends probably would not believe that my list of favourite fly patterns for this type of fishing do not have a hint of foam in them.
Dan Hackett’s great little pattern, the Fastwater Dun, has become a staple in my flybox for the spring months, especially in regard to the evening rise. As indicated above, it’s combination of CDC, Hares Ear dubbing with a little UV dubbing mixed in and the deer hair wing make it a very good representation of the caddis and also the mayfly duns that are common in the locations that I fish. Other reliable fly patterns for this type of fishing are the very simple to tie F-Fly, the Shaving Brush, especially in the curved body configuration and also the Elk Hair Caddis. Any of these flies in a variety of colours and sizes from large 10’s down to 16 or 18’s will cover most evening rise situations. Black Spinners, Royal Wulffs and Parachute Adams are also worth their spot in your box. As darkness falls the Black Muddler Minnow will always earn its keep.
There is certainly something about the late afternoon light on the rivers that is good for the soul. Even if the trout aren’t playing the game it is simply refreshing for the mind and spirit being out at this time of day taking in the sights and sounds of the river. For example the screech of the possum high up in the trees bordering the river, the flickering wings of a passing bat, the swirl of an inquisitive platypus in the glassy stream surface and maybe, just maybe the splash of a sizeable river trout on the end of your line.