Spinners are grinners
Fishing rivers and streams with lures can be one of the most effective ways of catching a feed. Often the size of fish is small, but the unique atmosphere and nature of streams makes up for their often diminutive stature.
Greg French looks techniques that will help you improve your catch and have you smiling.
The secret to catching trout is to work practical lures where the most catchable fish are." A statement of the obvious? Maybe not.
To fully appreciate this maxim you must accept that the average angler over-emphasises the importance of gear. You must accept that success mostly depends upon knowledge and experience of the quarry itself - not lure colour, line colour, nor pedantic variations in lure design.
This view is a double edged sword. On one hand it presents the harsh reality that no amount of money spent on equipment will make you an inherently better angler. Then again, it offers the promise that anyone who develops an affinity with the environment, regardless of their social or economic background, will become a truly successful trout fisher.
There is only one major consideration - practicality. In his book The Truth about Trout, Rob Sloane coined the term "Functional Fly" and demonstrated that presentation is more vital to success than trying exact imitations of what the angler presumes the fish to be feeding upon. This advice is even more relevant to the lure fisher. What you want is a lure that is both easy to cast and of a weight and design that will get to the depth at which trout are feeding - without snagging. A heavy Cobra is useless for fishing in shallow riffles, no matter what colour it is. On the other hand a tiny blade spinner will be too light to cast far out across the current of a big river. All the fuss you have read about colour and subtle changes in say the design of Cobras and wobblers is unnecessarily confusing. The reality is that if you are constantly changing lures in the hope of stumbling across the Holy Grail, you are wasting valuable fishing time and demonstrating an unhealthy lack of confidence. The successful lure fisher approaches a water, confidently assesses where the trout will be, selects a functional lure and goes about covering trout lies. (I wrote more about colour in Fishing and Boating News - Number 16.)
When spinning in rivers during the day a few small blade spinners, 1/4 oz wobblers and few heavier Cobras or Devon Spinners will effectively cover all situations that are likely to arise. At night it pays to have a few Mepps Floppies or small Fishcakes as well as some bulky wet flies (for droppers). This is not to say that other lures will not work equally well, but other lures will not usually work any better. Confidence is essential to success and to foster confidence it is vital that we adhere to the KISS philosophy (Keep It Simple, Stupid).
Where and when to fish
Assuming that you have a fundamental appreciation of spinning equipment, the most important decision you make is where to fish. This choice, more than any other, will influence your catch rate and enjoyment. Unfortunately, the novice often finds this choice to be daunting: Which river is best at this time of year? Where are the hot spots in that river? What time of day should I be on the water'.?
If you simply want to catch a fish or two and you aren't too concerned about size then shallow, fast-flowing streams are usually the best option. But maybe you want to a different experience - lbroadwaters, big rivers, estuaries? Let's consider the whole gamut of possibilities.
Shallow riffly streams
Small intimate fast waters are a delight to fish no matter what degree of experience an angler has achieved. In Tasmania such streams usually carry an oversupply of small eager trout and on good days the fishing can be fast and furious. Among the most popular and reliable waters are the tributaries of the Huon River (including the Weld, Little Denison and Kermandie); the western tributaries of the Derwent (including the Tyenna and Styx) the upper North Esk River and St Patricks River. (Mind you, there are dozens upon dozens of productive creeks scattered all over the State.)
Such streams mostly have overgrown banks and wading is all but essential. In places you may be able to fish a pool or riffle from the banks but generally such sites are few and far between. This means that there is down-time during floods.
The usual method is wade up-current and cast ahead. This is commonly known as upstream fishing and is a clever tactic indeed. Small disturbances are carried away by the current and you have the added advantage of approaching the fish from behind (not technically out of its range of vision but usually out of it's field of concentration.)
The most effective lures are small blade spinners such as size 1 Celtas. These are so lightweight that you will need to use fine monofilament (2 kg test or about 0.17 mm diameter is ideal) in order to achieve reasonable casting distance. You might also consider investing in a closed spool "bait-casting" reel, which will improve casting efficiency whenever you use lightweight lures or baits, though a conventional spinning reel will usually be okay.
Celtas rarely bottom out, not even in very shallow water, and when they do the rotating blade usually causes just enough deflection to prevent the hook from snagging. In addition to all this, the rotary action of the blade causes vibrations in the water that can be sensed by secretive fish even when they cannot see the lure. Black and gold is as good a colour combination as any other and I rarely bother to use anything else. Be warned, though, that some of the cheap imitations spin inefficiently so it pays to buy quality lures. One problem with Celtas and the like is that they only function when wound in briskly so they are inefficient for covering the bottom of very deep pools. For this reason it is wise to have a few heavier wobblers on hand.
If the water is moderately high and discoloured you can catch fish throughout the day from all accessible parts of the river. Such conditions usually occur in spring when the water is quite cold and the fishing can be relatively slow - though the persistent angler will rarely be skunked.
Undoubtedly the best action occurs in summer and autumn when the water is low and clear and at these times experienced spin fishers commonly take limit bags.
In the middle of the day, when the sky is blue and the air uncomfortably hot, the trout which frequent the bigger, slower pools can be infuriatingly unresponsive. Sometimes they will repeatedly follow your lure right to the tail of the pool but not display much aggression. Then it pays to concentrate on fishing the riffles. Trout residing in this heavy water cannot afford to waste energy swimming backwards and forwards. They get used to making quick decisions before their food is carried away by the current. Moreover, the ruffled surface hides the angler and disguises the initial splonk of the lure.
On these hot days the fishing gets better as the afternoon progresses. By evening there are usually fish rising all over the place and a good many fish will now be prepared to have a swipe at the lure.
As the sun moves off the water the deep pools become the real hot spots. This is where the bigger fish hang out so I tend to fish them as soon as is practical.
A lot is said about fishing "structure" and likely lies. The reality is that in small streams it is often difficult for fish not to notice your lure. Remember they don't need to see it - they can feel the vibrations (I have actually caught a number of blind trout on Celtas and Devon spinners!). In small riffles and pools it is best to cover all the water rather than set about plonking the lure over various targets. I first make a couple of short casts into the tail of the pool where I can usually pull fish out without disturbing others feeding further upstream. Then I cast halfway up the pool, first covering one bank then the other. If the width warrants I also make a cast or two down the centre. Finally I cast in and around the rip at the head of the pool.
The secret is to do this covering business methodically and not to waste too much time thrashing any one piece of water. Remember, the chances of success diminish greatly with each cast. Once a stretch has been covered, don't think about repeating the performance with a different lure. Move upstream to a fresh stretch. Bear in mind, though, that barren water fished early in the day may come alive with eager trout later in the afternoon. Remember, too, that there is usually a spate of intense action just on dusk.
If you are really keen you will soon discover that the pools provide excellent fishing throughout the night. Rarely does night fishing reach the heady action of the dusk session, but strikes often come more consistently than they do during the day and by now the really big fish are on the cruise. I have caught a handful of 3-4 kg fish from the Plenty and Tyenna rivers and every one has been taken late at night.
For night fishing you can use blade spinners and wobblers quite effectively though I prefer a surface lure such as a small (2.5 cm or so) fish cake (they are difficult to buy so I make my own) in conjunction with a wet fly dropper.
The most famous trout streams in Tasmania are in the South Esk catchment - waters such as the Meander, Macquarie, Break O'Day, Lake and Elizabeth, to name but a few. These rivers mostly flow through flat pasture and are generally fished from the banks. Many pools are long, deep, sluggish and weedy. The combination of bright weather and low water can cause the trout to become very suspicious of lures. Effective spinning is then pretty much confined to periods of low light early in the morning and at dusk - and some spots will be too choked with weed to be of much use. I am not suggesting that obsessive spinning will not take fish (it will!) but much better results are to be expected during springtime floods when the water is lapping at the banks, breaking out into adjacent gutters and depressions. Under such conditions the trout forage about in the murky edges hunting worms, corby grubs and the like - and they are prepared to strike savagely at and lures.
Here covering the water is an inefficient method. The trout are concentrated in specific areas and you need to learn to identify them. Sweet spots include the deeper edges of the partially submerged banks and the spots where gutters and ditches empty into the river proper.
Much of the best water will be shallow and or weedy so I prefer the use of small blade spinners, though heavier wobblers can be good along the deeper verges.
Don't ignore other water completely - the rip at the head of a broadwater is always worth a cast or two and even the current in the middle of the pool is worth brief inspection - but concentrate your efforts on the edges.
On the west Coast the lower reaches of a number of famous rivers are wide deep and sluggish. These include the Gordon, Henty, Pieman and Arthur Rivers, all dark and mysterious with a slight tidal influence. Here, most fishing occurs in spring during the whitebait runs but there are some really big resident browns which can be tempted by lures during summer and autumn.
Since most banks are heavily overgrown with rainforest you really need to fish from a boat, but once on the water careful spinning is often more effective than trolling. The West Coast rivers hold plenty of 0.3 - 1.5 kg fish, especially in the shallower riffly sections, but special tactics increase your chances of connecting with something of 2 -3 kg or even bigger. Trophy fish tend to lurk deep during the day and for best results you need to get your lure right down amongst the drowned roots and logs - snags and break-offs have to be accepted as part of the deal. The edges of rips and currents are also ideal.
While a slow retrieve will usually allow heavy Cobras and spoons to sink deep enough, in places there is merit in using deep-diving bibbed lures. Usually I just let the boat drift down the edge of the main current and put my lures into, around and alongside suitable structure. Retrieving downstream helps get the lure down but by winding slowly I find I can fish effectively across current.
Since the water is tea coloured and many banks are shaded, bright light is not as disastrous as it is in other waters. Nonetheless, when the fishing proves tough it pays to intensify your efforts at dawn and dusk. Fishing after dark with surface lures is also very effective.
Waters such as the mid sections of the Derwent and Huon rivers can be daunting. Many banks are overgrown so access is limited and, in any case, it would be impractical, not to mention inefficient, to try and cover all the water. Here it is vital that you learn to discern the sweet spots where trout are easiest to catch.
One of the easiest places for the shore-based angler to gain access is at the wadeable rapids. Such water is also very fishy. To take best advantage you need to fish across and down in much the same way that wet-fly specialists do.
You will find that it is best to wade down a glide or rapid (so that you are not fighting the force of the current) while making long casts towards the opposite bank. Usually the fish strike just as the line gains tension and the lure starts to swing back across the current. This happens to be when the lure is closest to the bottom and not accelerating away from trout holding up in "pocket water'.
I tend to use 1/4 oz wobblers for this job but resort to heavier lures if I think that I am not getting close enough to the bottom. I also favour water where the current is not too deep or fast, while simultaneously avoiding very shallow un-fishy water. It takes a little practice to get a feel for what's good and what's not but, hey, it's the learning process that makes trouting so damned addictive.
Other hot spots are the mouths of the tributary streams. Here you will often find wadeable shingle bars from where you can cover the best currents using either upstream or across-and-down methods. Tributary mouths are very good year-round but become even more attractive in April when brown trout begin their spawning migrations. They fire up yet again in August when post spawners are dropping back and in spring when trout are chasing migrating whitebait.
(Incidentally, across and down techniques are also invaluable on medium sized rivers such as the Leven and Forth.)
Fishing in the estuaries is at its best in spring when sea trout and river-resident browns are chasing whitebait. At times fishing these waters can be a little like lake fishing, especially when the trout are slashing about in sheltered bays and current isn't much of an issue. However, current is often a big indicator of where your quarry will be. First, whitebait tend to swim up along the edge of the main current - water which is easily covered by using the upstream method. Trout also like to ambush bait from cavities in the bank or from the calm pocket-water down current of small points and bars - get your lures in there!
Finally, one whitebait species (Lovettia) often spawns on shallow reefs, while the other species often hold up in the same places. Consequently you will find that some rapids and riffles are renowned springtime hot spots - Lawitta on the Derwent, the Huonville bridge and the Pieman rapids upriver of Corinna being classic examples. Such waters are perfect for across and down fishing either from a boat or the bank.