Fishing the edges

Peter Hayes
History of my experience
You know, it's a funny thing. I started guiding a dozen years ago and whilst I had a big, flash, fast sportfishing boat (which incidentally I still have) I never used it to catch fish from it except in windlane and dun fishing situations.

In the first couple of years I mostly used the boat to move from shore to shore where we wade fished. Shane Murphy taught me this.
I often watched the other two major guides drift fishing and thought that they had it wrong. We were catching more than our share of fish on the banks. I now know those guides well and of course they were catching plenty of fish too.
I don't know what happened, or when it happened but somehow I shifted away from using our legs in shallow water to using the boat in more open water. In some ways I am a lesser guide for it.
The late, great, John Brookes use to say that you can never remember a fish caught out of the boat but you remember many that you catch from the bank. I think it is true. If we wade the water the fish swim in we seem to get to know the individual fish better, and his immediate environment that we also are part of.
When fishing from a boat in open water we happen to drift onto (sometimes by accident, rather than design) our quarry. They become more like faceless free range chooks rather than individually hunted trout.
In the past few seasons I am pleased to say that I have moved the guided experience back to ground level rather than up on water level. I know the clients are appreciating it more. John Brookes was right. Give it a try. Get out of the $20 000 boat and get a life.

One of the main reasons you should consider fishing edges more often is that the fish are only there for one reason- to feed. This is a good start if you are trying to catch them. More often than not edge fishing also involves sight fishing which for me is why I like to fly fish.

Availability of Food
You need to have an understanding of why the fish might be on particular edges before you mess around too much. Certainly unproductive edges can waste a lot of time. Early in the season fish love to forage on newly flooded ground.
These fish are often opportunistic and they will eat anything presented properly. Understand that unless there are mountains of food available in this shallow water the fish will be very flighty. Low light is best and the Kiwis have a term known as "change of light" fishing. Definitely best to look early and late in the day for the best fishing as the fish are more likely to "shore'.
Areas like the western lakes offer good shallow water edge fishing. Sometimes great sport can be had all day long if it is a little rough and heavily overcast. Keep in mind though that if there is no food on the edges the fish will remain over the more productive deeper weed beds. It's about the availability of food, nothing else.
As the season progresses and the water warms up the aquatic life becomes more active. This whole group of lake dwelling underwater tucker has great trouble coping with big waves and turbulent water. Use the wind as your friend to tell you which shores you should be fishing. I am very rarely concerned about surface food being blown onto a particular shore.
I am acutely aware of the currents along shorelines and drawing off points that stir up the aquatic tucker. If you can find a shore that a good wind is acting on at say, 45 degrees then you will find an underwater minestrone soup for fish. Fish these edges "across and down" as you would a river.
You will be surprised at the number of fish you can catch from a 50 metre length of shoreline in this situation. They will be hungry too. No short takes, just strong aggressive pulls from good fish that will push all the smaller fish away from the food.

Edge features
Keep an active eye out for geographic features along the edges that will help concentrate fish. I can think of Creely Bay just north of Blue Lake Lodge. Here the bay is a consistent gradient except for a gutter running in at the south end and one at the north end. Apart from giving slightly more depth which the trout like, the gutter has been a silt trap for many years. The weed grows better and there is a different type of weed in the gutter. This helps attract the food and then the fish.
Another example is every 700 metres or so down the west side of Brazendale Island there are large rock outcrops. These outcrops continue into the water and are reefs with big rocks and holes. Ideal holding habitat for trout. It is amazing how when it is impossible to catch a trout on the lake I can usually get one from each of the outcrops. I think these are resident fish that take out of aggression because our flies swim through their house. I always let go these fish so we can dro p in on them when we need to.
Some time ago I fished Bronte a bit. We used to fish from the bank where there were 4WD tracks entering the water. Amazing how many fish we caught casting out along the wheel tracks. I told many people that fished down there a bit and rarely did anyone ever recognise the opportunity they so often walked past.  
The yank, who designed the Tom Jones, fished Cairn Curran, in Victoria, where sheep tracks entered the water. Catching fish with sheep poo in the stomachs highlighted this fact to him. "Fish use these tracks as highways to move around" he said.
Light flies, rigs and methods
In shallow water you need to sort out a couple of methods  of fishing so the fly doesn't hang up on the bottom. The first is to hang a fly under wool or a dry fly. A good friend calls this rat turd fishing. Often the fly is a black and peacock or small dark nymph hence the inference.
I like to use a slip knot a few inches above the fly and insert a small piece of greased sheep wool. About a cigarette butt in size maximum. The wool is naturally greasy so it floats and off white so it is inconspicuous. If you use a dry instead of the wool you run the risk of the trout taking the dry. This is ok until the nymph catches weed during the fight and this can pull the dry out backwards (just as you would remove a hook from your skin if pinned)
A second method is to use a very light wet fly. I use light gauge hooks and dress them in various formats to represent nothing in particular. The flies hardly sink and often bulge the water as I move them. Use seals fur, possum fur, cdc or rabbit.
Greasing the leader to within an inch or two can be an effective method too. Especially when small light flies are used. If it is calm and you are fishing inert to the fish it is simple to get the strike right on the movement of the leader. The only downside is that if you have to move the fly much the leader surface tear sometimes puts fish on edge and you can bugger things up.
Try to use as long and as fine a leader as you can. Especially in shallow, calm water. Long leaders help keep the line landing noise away and you can often get many presentations to wary fish. Using a short leader often only gives you one shot so if you do this make sure it is on the money.
Keep moving until it is time to stop
It's important to keep moving when you are edge fishing. That is, until you find the fish. I often recklessly cover the area without fishing. When I start spooking fish, I slow down and fish and sometimes come back to an area of spooked fish an hour after the event.
Having said that, when you find a few fish sit on them for as long as you can - there is a reason they are there. They will have plenty of mates around and sometimes it is better to sit quietly and wait for the next sucker rather than go tearing off all over the place.

Peter Hayes

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