111 early headwatersPresented from Issue 111, August 2014

Tackling early season trout is a totally different proposition to fishing during the mild, calm conditions we had at the end of April. Fish have now spawned and are looking to put condition on, while the cooler weather of Spring is not conducive to insect hatches. Water temperatures are very low and levels are high. All of these things require different tactics. I will not discuss sea trout as they run and feed off a totally different set of circumstances. I will concentrate instead on inland lakes and rivers.

Trout seem to feed best in water temperatures of around 16 degrees, but you are not going to find much warm water in August and September. Having said that, I don’t believe that there is such a things as being ‘too cold to catch a fish’ as long as the water isn’t frozen over. Although water temperatures are far from ideal, a change of tactics will still bring results. Don’t expect enormous bags of fish but certainly enough to make it worthwhile.

111 early four springs 
Four Springs attracts many anglers from opening day 

Find the warm water On stillwaters, try and seek out the warmest water. This is much easier when fishing from a boat through the use of a good sounder. Once you locate the warmest depth, the most active fish will usually be happy to eat the fly. This depth can change quite quickly but usually, the 12 – 15 foot mark is a good starting point.

The shallows cool down quickly with frosts and snow affecting it in a negative way. Wind and subsequent wave action however can help to mix the water and increase the temperature by a few degrees. Even a half a degree rise in water temperature can increase your success rate.

It is all relative.

If you are shore based, finding a warmer section of water is more difficult, but again, the shore on which the waves are breaking is a good starting point. Lack of ice is another good sign! It can even be as simple as going to the shore in which the sun is shining and avoiding the shade.

Rivers are also greatly affected by water temperatures. Surface fly life is non existent and many of the insects that live in the substrate are still juvenile and therefore very small. The metabolism of the trout has greatly slowed at this time and they are not feeding very hard. These sound like negative things but in fact, by reducing the number of tactics we can employ to catch them, it makes everything much more simple for the angler.

Just as it is a good idea to fish faster water in summer when the water is warm, at this time of year, the slower, deeper water should be found as the temperature will be warmer. You don’t necessarily have to fish the deep, slow pools as this would require you to move your flies and in that case, you may as well go and fish a lake. Look for the deeper depressions just off the current where a fish could hold without depending too much energy but still collect the food morsel. These sorts of spots will often hold numerous fish. It may appears as though they are schooling but in fact they are just looking for the same type of water while the temperatures are down and food hard to find.

 111 early penstock
 Penstock Lagoon is a water that often performs well early

Slow things down

As the metabolic lethargy of the fish means they are less inclined to chase flies that are retrieved at pace and much prefer a fly that practically sits in front of their face. In a river this means that a slow drift through a depression with your flies on the bottom will be your most successful drift. If your flies appear to be moving more slowly than the current, you are in a good spot.

In lakes, as hard as it is to do, a very slow, twitchy retrieve is usually best. Takes as your flies are falling through the water after the cast (called, ‘on the drop’) and at the end of the retrieve as you lift the rod and stop before lifting the flies out of the water (called, ‘the hang’) are very common. Fish these fazes of the cast with diligence. Because you are not retrieving your fly very quickly, you need to use flies that have plenty of movement built in. Whether that is with long marabou tails or soft, fur tops, it does not matter. Just think movement.

Unlike some other times of the season, the warmest part of the day is often best. There is not much point in going out too early in the morning or fishing until too late at night. With the sun on the water and heating things up your chances will increase. Even if it is snowing hard or raining, the middle part of the day usually brings about the best fishing. Remember that it only takes a small increase in water temperature to get the fish more active.

When it comes to water temperatures, it is also important to remember that as you go up in altitude, the water will be cooler. For this reason, the lakes closer to sea level are normally better propositions than those in the highlands at this time of year. Of course, there are plenty of exceptions but working around this model will increase success.

Some highland lakes that fall into the ‘exception to the rule’ category are Little Pine and Penstock. Without going into too much detail (because that is another story in itself), these lakes will still fish well from opening day because the fish have nowhere to go. They do not have deep water to swim to and get away from the angler making them very accessible.

The same cannot be said for the deeper lakes. It is also very important to realise that there will come a point in time when fish move into the shallows as they are warmer than the deep water. In order for this to happen, it will take numerous days of warm weather without snow, hail or large frosts. All of these things cool the water in the shallows quickly and considerably as the body of water is not deep enough to hold the heat. This can be demonstrated by placing one centimetre of boiling water in a mug and filling another up with boiling water. The smaller amount of water will cool down to room temperature much more quickly than the full mug and the same principal applies to the shallows of a lake just as the smaller amount of water would warm up more quickly too.

Water height

Water height is the next factor to consider. Coming into Spring, water levels are often on the rise or high. Stillwaters will always have the odd fish occupying the shallows but very early in the season, this is often not the place to look. Drop-offs are a much better option. Seek out an area where the water drops away allowing you to fish various depths by simply changing your retrieve or the weight of your flies and line. By finding these areas, you are effectively fishing through the depths to locate the fish. If you are getting takes as the fly is falling, soon after the cast, the fish are clearly up in the water column. Conversely, if all of your takes are coming after allowing your flies to sink into the depths, there is no point persisting with light flies. If there is a thermocline, you are far more likely to find it by wading out to a drop off.

A rising lake during a warm period of weather may well have fish in the shallows but not if this is due to snow melt. Again, the water temperature plays a large part in success when levels are rising. If you are fortunate enough to find rising water that is warmer than the body of the lake, there is no need to get your feet wet!


Early in the season, the shallows are often very clear allowing for good polaroiding if the sun comes out. As the sun is still low in the sky, conditions won’t be ideal and the window of opportunity may be small. On the flip side, the fish will not be moving at any pace and this gives you more chance of seeing them first. Often, they are just lying on the bottom and look like a rock.

Creeks and rivers In flowing creeks bring food from the hills — such as earthworms that trout love to eat. While the shallows can ice over at this time of year, flowing water very rarely does in Tasmania. That means the water around the mouth of these creeks is probably slightly warmer than the surrounding shallow water and is well worth a few casts. It is very important however to make sure that it is legal to fish in the creek / river mouth as many of them are off limits at all times. These details will be in the code book you receive with your licence.

A rising river brings a slightly different set of circumstances. When trout sense that a river is rising, they will tend to push towards the edge of the river. No fish wants to be stuck in the middle of the river as it the water pressure increases. Instead, they will go to the edge and try to find refuge behind depressions in the bank, trees, fallen timber, rocks, etc. This has a direct bearing on how and where to fish. There is no need to cast across the river. Fishing along the bank will be much more productive. Rivers are at their hardest to fish when levels are ‘running a banker’. That is when they have not quite spilled out into the paddocks and over the lip of the river. Once this happens, they become a little easier to fish again as fish move into these depressions to feed and get further away from the fast flowing water. This flood water fishing can be spectacular if you strike as the level is rising. Once the level begins to fall, fish will scoot back to the river bank as they sense the lowering. I have never seen a fish lying dead in a paddock after a flood subsides and I don’t believe that they wait until the last minute to get out.

Commonly, river levels will be just as you don’t want them to be and running a banker or close to it. Remember that the fish will be in the backwaters. What this means is that they will be facing downstream. Consequently, fish the river walking downstream with the flow, casting your flies just into the current and swinging them into the backwater before twitching them out. Small woolly buggers or fur flies are best for this style of fishing and long casts are not necessary – especially if the water is discoloured.

On many rivers, fish will still be up the smaller side creeks rather than in the faster, main river. It is not until water levels fall sufficiently that they move back into the main body of water. Often these small creeks are where many of the fish spawn as they have lovely spawning gravel.

111 early headwatersHeadwaters – a good option

A final factor to take into account is that head waters of rivers are rarely in flood as you are so close to the source. The water is clear and often shallow. The lack of depth put the fish closer to the surface which means they are more likely to eat a dry fly than most fish at this time of year. Although there will not be fly life around, these fish cannot afford to pass up the chance of a meal due to the high population densities of these areas. If you are wanting dry fly fishing, this is certainly your best option. Having said that, not all fish will come up to a dry and a small nymph will generally out fish it. Fishing headwaters does mean that you have to go up in altitude but this is offset by the other aforementioned factors.

Your decision as to where to fish in the first few months of the season should be based on water temperatures and water heights. These are the main factors that will affect your success. As with everything ‘fishing’, there are exceptions to the rule but if you search out the warmest water, you will increase your chances of catching fish. Fish your flies slowly while searching the depths in stillwaters and use flies that have plenty of movement. In rivers, fish will be hiding in areas of slower flows with depressions holding small schools of them. Again, depth and speed are important. It is vital to remember that the fishing is very good at this time of year and success should not be difficult to find. Fish are used to bad weather and cold water through these months. They are looking to put weight on after spawning and as such, those anglers who are prepared to brave the elements and take heed to this advice, will catch surprising numbers of fish.

Christopher Bassano

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