Presented from Issue 99
Early season fishing can be very challenging. Too challenging for this mere mortal of a fishing guide so I don’t like to guide before October. You see, I have a problem taking money from clients for what I consider mostly to be sub-standard (read sub- surface) fishing.
My clients love sight fishing on warm balmy days. Whilst early season shallow water tailers can offer great sport on lake margins and flooded river edges the weather is anything but balmy and the sport is particularly unreliable.
If you are Johnny on the spot, you have good local knowledge of water levels and conditions and you are not scared of frosty, foggy early mornings, then by all means be my guest. You may just find some of the best fishing of the season.
Where to Fish
For me the more reliable fishing early in the season comes from our still waters. If the margins are food rich, and not all margins are, then the fish tend to exit them as soon as the sun comes out. You can fish these great looking edges all you like after that and few fish will be remaining. It is imperative that you seek out the deeper weed beds. The fish are used to this habitat. They have spent nearly all their time since returning from spawning there. They are recovering shaggers. They are beginning to become hungry again, trying to put on condition for summer. The water temperatures are cold. Edges are freezing often. Nothing is moving fast down there.
There are no fast swimming damsels, no big fat mudeyes, no ADHD nymphs. Just scud hiding in the weeds and stationary snails. Sometimes you will find them feeding on sand cased caddis if the environment is suitable. One way or another these fish innately know that surface food is pretty well non existent and mid water offerings are just as hard to find. They must feed on the bottom and ideally in the weed. Look for water greater than 10 feet deep and with good well developed weed beds. Now that sounds easy – especially if you have a sounder. Try it. You won’t believe it but at Arthurs Lake for example it is hard to find well developed beds in August and September. Weed also needs warmth to develop.
How to fish
The great Leon Cubit used to say ‘Haysie – low and slow, small and black’ and that is sage advice. I remember dozens of days where we have flogged the water to a foam, only to catch a fish on an unattended rod when someone was having a leak. On the drop. The non-retrieve was better than pulling flies through miles of water. Often, when fish are hard to catch we try harder by pulling flies faster and covering more water. It can be a big mistake. Let me tell you that when the water is very cold you should hardly move your fly at all. There are some times during the day, and often short periods, when the fish will have a go and chase a little but for the most part; Low and Slow.
It is remarkable how many fish you catch ‘on the drop’ at this early time of the season. That should tell you something about retrieves! Snails don’t swim fast, nor do scuds. Scuds are really good at hiding and often the fish have to lie in the weed perfectly still so that they can ‘tune in’ to the slightest movement that catches their attention.
Wait and Weight from the Bottom up
You simply must get down, otherwise you are not fishing where the fish are. Give great consideration depth. Develop a great understanding of the tackle options you have available. Learn how quickly each option can get you down. Learn to count down every single delivery. One thousand and one, one thousand and two, one thousand and three, retrieve etc. Learn to WAIT.
Many anglers fish at the surface for 10 minutes and when that doesn’t work they let everything sink for say 5 seconds then ten minutes later without action 10 seconds of sink etc. I prefer to work from the bottom up.
After you have decided on your tackle set up, cast and count down your first cast to where you really think the bottom is. If you don’t snag in the first five feet of retrieve then count a further 10 or even 20 seconds. When you find the bottom back it off to work the fly just above such that you only pull weed every second cast or so. Tackle Options
Here are some tackle ideas for you to consider from shallow to deep
- 1. Floating line, tapered co-polymer leader,
- 2. Floating line, level flurocarbon leader
- 3. Floating line, sinking poly leader, flurocarbon tippet
- 4. Intermediate line, flurocarbon leader
- 5. Sink tip line, flurocarbon leader
- 6. Sinking lines of various densities, max type 7, flurocarbon leader
Fly - Weight from shallow to deep
- 1. Unweighted slim profile
- 2. Weighted with lead wire
- 3. Brass bead head
- 4. Lead eyes
- 5. Tungsten bead head
- 6. Tungsten bead plus lead wire under slim dressing
I like many of my flies to be tied upside down for this type of fishing. This way I can pull them through the weed beds with the confidence of not wasting a retrieve with fouled hooks. You can achieve upside down lots of ways. For bigger attractors I simply go and buy Squidgy hooks of various sizes and weights. If you use curved hooks and apply the weight to the dressing on the outside of the curve this hook will ride upside down too.
You can make keel hooks or even buy them like this. Crazy Charlie or Lefty’s deceiver style dressings are designed to ride upside down and as freshwater anglers we can learn loads from our saltwater brethren in this regard and many others for that matter. We are so insulated!
While I am on the subject, I can’t believe the shallow depth (excuse the pun) of some of our competitive fly fishers these days. They need to get out and broaden their horizons by experiencing all manner of fly fishing situations. Believe it or not you learn so much about catching trout by sight fishing mangrove flats for barra or dare I say sailfish in the oceans. Fish are Fish are Fish.
The great Bob Cooper, now looking down on us from above, loved the Dog Nobbler. Google it. I think they are better if you bend the hook (like a Squidgy hook) before you fit the split shot. I also think it is best to flatten the split shot with a hammer. I then paint the head black with a white iris then black pupil. You will want to eat them yourself! They will rarely snag.
Second fly – greed or a great idea? There are plenty of times when a second or third fly can scare more fish than they can catch. That’s a topic in itself.
Having said that when I am fishing low and slow I like to use a second fly. Tied on a dropper say 4 or so feet above the point fly. My point flies are often large. This is necessary to provide weight. My second fly is always very small and discrete. I actually like to foul the weed often with the point fly. I know that the dropper is still working for me above the weed. I cannot tell you how many times I see weeded point flies pulled gently out only to find seconds later we get takes on the top fly. Always make sure you pull from weed with the line hand rather than the rod tip. You will miss too many takes from the slack otherwise.
I learnt just ten years ago whilst guiding a 10 year old and his dad why this happens. After the 4th fish was caught in this manner the kid suggested to me that all the weed on the bottom was stationary and the fish are used to this. If the weed moves slightly it attracts inquisitive fish from great distances. As they approach they easily see the top fly and have a crack. How profound from a 10 year old inexperienced kid. That was one of many OMG moments I have experienced from kids.
The Fat Controller
Maybe Bob Cooper’s current fishing mate is the great Lindsay Haslem. Hasser used to fish with what he called a controller on the point and a dropper fly five or six feet above the controller. Hasser had a tin full of controllers in various weights for different wind strength, (read boat drift speeds), and water depths. The controllers were hooks with copper wire wound around, and around and around. They were little bombs or jelly bean like shapes. Some were anorexic, others a little overweight and others positively little fatties. All the controllers had the hooks cut off so they were relatively snag free. Having said that he did consider them sacrificial and he didn’t hesitate to break them off if they became snagged. Lindsay deliberately fished them on the bottom knowing the only hook that could catch was the dropper. He was literally fishing from the bottom up. Go and give it a try. You will be pleasantly surprised.
Watching the loop
This is a bite detection method taught to me by another great angler, Martin Cottis. Martin is an expert at English reservoir fishing. From the second your offering hits the water immediately smoothly draw in a metre of line. This is to remove any slack from the cast and a bite can then easily be detected on the drop.
Next you must raise the rod tip a foot or so above the water surface and as you retrieve you must never take your eyes off the hanging loop of line. Watch closely the water entry point and the curve shape from the rod tip to the water. Get used to this and if the hanging loop ever rises, even slightly, or the water joining point moves away, you must strike IMMEDIATELY.
Many fish in cold water take very softly and most people miss these takes. In my opinion you should always pay particular attention to where the hook is bedded in the fish’s mouth. Be super cautious, and absolutely in the moment or you will miss them. If your first fish of the day is hooked in the top lip exactly in the center and by literally ‘the skin of his teeth’. I have warned you!
Peter Hayes is a Tasmanian Trout Guide and Master Casting Instructor based in Cressy. Check out his unique fly fishing products like the Fat Butt Leaders and Glue Joining Kits as well as further fishing and casting tips by registering on his website at http://www.peterhayesflyfishing.com/