Sea Trout Fishing - October and November
Fishing guide Christopher Bassano explores his favourite fishing-and shares a few tips that will help you discover the world of trout near the sea.
Most fly fishermen sit through winter and the early months of the season waiting for warmer weather and dry fly action. Although the draw of summer fishing is obvious, the pursuit of sea trout has taken over as my favourite form of fishing. A big statement I know and one that is certainly not based on success in numbers. On the contrary, half of the attraction is the difficult nature of the fishing and the lack of knowledge that seems to have been pooled over the years about unlocking their secrets. It is my belief that we know less about these fish than we do about all other trout and their habits in Tasmania.
With August and September behind us, an opportunity has already gone begging. Fortunately, the best may still lie ahead.
There is a trend which suggests that estuaries "fire up" at different times. That is not to say that you can not catch a sea trout in a river outside of these times, but simply that each spot has a peak time within the first months of the season.
Autumn fishing aside, runs of sea trout coincide with the migration of bait fish into the rivers heading up stream to spawn. While holding behind cover during tidal flow, trout ambush these fish-like tuna going through a bait ball. It looks spectacular and really gets the blood pumping. Tidal regions within a river have always been the best places to find concentrations of both bait and trout.
It has long been thought that heavy rain and the subsequent fresh water that arrives into a system will shut down any sea trout activity. It is said that they drop back into the saltier water and wait for the rain water to subside. If ever there was a year where fresh water should interfere with the sea trout, it would be 2009. However, I have not found this to be entirely correct. Yes, flood water condition certainly do have an adverse effect on the fishing but a small increase in water height will increase success by concentrating the bait and trout in a smaller area down stream from their normal haunts. Large floods will delay baitfish migrations as they will not be able to push upstream through such strong flows-even a good tidal flow forces them to the edge of the river for shelter. In light of the weather we have been having, every river in Tasmania may yet to have reached its full potential this season. For now though, assuming that all else is equal, history suggests some rivers should start to fish very well while others may have past their best.
But which rivers are going to provide the best fishing in October and November?
The Derwent River fishes well from opening day and in fact for those people fishing below the "fresh water zone', fish are regularly caught before August. Although very consistent, this river is the first to fish well every year.
Heading further south, the Esperance, Lune, Catamaran, D'Entrecasteaux, etc have been peaking in September with whitebait arriving here before other parts of the state.
The Huon is not quite as straight forward and this is where I would concentrate my casts down south. Although it too fishes very well through August and September, it can still produce big fish (and lots of them) well into November. The recent high water levels make this an even greater possibility. Concentrate your efforts around Huonville but be prepared to move depending on the amount of fresh water in the river and bait present. During heavy rains, the area around Franklin is an excellent starting point. There is also plenty of scope for shore based access in this area and a falling tide will bring about the best action. Look for drains and gutters coming out of tussock lined banks. As the fish move upstream, shallow edges located on the inside of bends provide as much action as log jams and back eddies do, up to and beyond Huonville. The main road bridge has been a consistent spot for many years, not only providing structure for trout, but the numerous Atlantic salmon that escape from time to time. Beware of the shallow rock bar that extends below the bridge - especially on a low tide. Above the bridge, log jams again provide good ambush points for trout and coupled with a large inflow creek and drain, there is a wealth of great water to explore between here and Flat Rock.
Remember that there is no substitute for finding the bait as the trout will not be far away.
October and November are the best times to get excited about going to the north, west or even north-west of the state. Generally, these areas tend to have later runs of bait than their southern counterparts.
The west coast is often seen as being too far to travel for most people but it contains many worthy rivers. All of these are worth visiting during October and November. From the Gordon up to the Arthur, whitebait runs in this part of the state are later than anywhere else and the rivers along this coastline are truely hot spots. For me the pick of these rivers is the Henty.
The Henty is situated north of Strahan but below the Little Henty and Trial Harbour, this river epitomises the tannin stained wild rivers that slice the rugged, hilly terrain of this under fished coast. The location of the mouth can change dramatically in a wet winter but never fails to provide a wonderful back drop to an exciting fishing trip. It is a spectacular place to be with waves smashing on the beaches and running into the dark fresh waters over a shallow sandy spit. The river has always fished well in October and November whether doing so by boat or on foot.
The boat ramp is small and difficult to navigate when other cars are present and although giving you access to much more water, a boat is not essential. The mouth can be accessed from the highway and over the Henty dunes, giving an angler enough water to fish to keep them occupied for days. One advantage of a boat is that it allows you to follow bait schools up and down the river. The truth is, I usually take my boat and get out of it to fish off the shore. Last season I visited the river a couple of times and found something there that I had not encountered on any other sea trout river in the state. Heading towards the mouth, I was shocked and disappointed with the lack of bait present.
Having driven for hours and not slept I was not about to turn around and go home and I decided to flog a couple of whitebait patterns blindly along the beach. It was not until I was at the mouth in the sea swell that I caught my first fish. It was a very silvery two pounder which promptly went back. I had a friend with me from Austria who was visiting the area for the first time and he soon joined me. For two hours we stood side by side and caught fish hand over fist without a sign of a whitebait. By their positioning and density in one small area we surmised that the fish were actually waiting in ambush for the bait to arrive. Although most fish were a modest size, one monster was hooked and promptly ran back out to sea. The vision of my friend running along the beach with his backing heading into the waves and beyond will stay with me forever. A sinking line is handy to have in your armoury when things are quiet but sight casting is best done with floaters and intermediates. The best fishing occurs when schools of bait are found in the shallows on the lip of the river. Even in the dark water, they can be seen making dashing runs into inches of water before fleeing back to the depths of the river bed. Early morning and low light levels are the best conditions for successful fishing but I have experienced equally good fishing on the few bright days I have had here. If you know anyone who lives in Strahan, it might pay to get them to look for whitebait in the river before you make a trip there from one of the major towns across the state.
The north west coast always provides a few monster fish during October and November. Although the Mersey is a river that provides good fishing from the start of the season, it can fish well in the coming months. Again, the recent rain will aid in this. Belles Parade is a well known hot spot for big fish and is also very easy to access. The river around Latrobe can be equally as good and access on foot is quite easy.
The nearby Forth River has given me more consistent sport but this may be due to more regular visits to the area. From the highway bridge right up to the weir, sea trout can be caught in back eddies and snags. The boat ramp has provided good action on a falling tide although small Australian salmon can become annoying at times. Without doubt, the weir provides the most consistant sport. It is a natural barrier preventing the bait from going further up stream and this bottleneck provides the perfect ambush point for our quarry.
Heading further east, the Rubicon between the road bridge and weir provides excellent, but not as consistent fishing. Access by foot is the only real way to fish this area unless using a kayak at high tide.
Continuing east, the Tamar has now got a band of devotees that catch a good number of large fish. Night time can provide the most opportunities both around the tail race and the Gorge although a fish did make a fool of me in broad daylight last season, feeding freely under some moored boats without even looking at my offerings. On the same day I ventured to the base of the gorge and found the area to be full of small sea trout and some decent residents. The water quality is not wonderful but casting around boulders during periods of inactivity is a reliable fall back. For those in Launceston with an hour or so to spare, the Tamar is worth a look but for people wanting to spend a day or extended trip chasing sea trout, there are better options within an hours drive.
The North East Coast has some excellent sea trout fishing. The Piper, Forester, Little Forester, Brid, etc all provide excellent site fishing in the third and fourth months of the season. Again, where possible a boat is handy but far less essential in this area as it can be in other parts of Tasmania. The rivers are also generally smaller than the west coast and access is not too difficult from public roads although I would advise seeking permission before walking onto anyone's property.
Fish in the Pipers River seem to be a little smaller on average than they are in the rivers to the east. They are no less exciting however and if you can judge the tides correctly to get a small tiny over the sand bar and head up river, there is some great fishing to be had - but it is very tight around the willow trees!
The Little Forester has very confined access and a boat launching area that is only suitable for car toppers and kayaks. It does hold very large fish and I have witnessed more whitebait in this river at one time than any other. For access reasons and no other, it is hard to recommend the Little Forester over other nearby rivers. If this was to change one day, I would be spending a lot more time here. For those with kayaks, time on the river in October and November would be well worth it
The Brid is where I caught my first ever sea trout. It was on a ten weight fly rod, fast sinking line and a 3/0 green clouser minnow while fishing for flat head! Weighing in at eight pounds, it was also my biggest sea trout for many years. There is a weir on the Brid which stops the run of bait and hence that of the trout. The fishable area is quite small in comparison to other rivers but can be extremely productive. In spite of flowing into the sea at the popular destination of Bridport, I have never encountered someone else fishing for trout there. The beginning of the run in tide is a good time to start looking for them around the mouth with any narrowing in the river being your fall back position.
The Forester River is the main sea trout river in this part of the state. Once again, a kayak can be launched from the road bridge or a boat brought up through the river mouth on a high tide if the sand bar, known as "the cut', allows it. Of all the rivers I have mentioned, launching a vessel into the Forrester will give you almost no advantage at all over the shore based angler and in fact is more likely to hinder progress.
The mouth of the river is over looked by the beautiful Barnbougle golf course. It is very shallow at the best of times and is often home to Australian salmon, barracouta and flathead. Trout will often be found smashing baitfish under the tussock lined banks with sweeping bends and submerged sand bars providing excellent cover for the trout and hiding spots for bait. Looking down stream from the road bridge, a small gutter enters the river on the right hand side. Almost every trip, a large fish seems to be working hard on the bait under a tea tree which occupies a corner of the confluence. Everyone who has stood on that bridge must have (at some time) seen it and headed down to try their luck.
Last season I spoke to the owner of the property which flanks the river in regard to access. It appears as though not everyone is doing the right thing and gaining approval may become more difficult if gates and fences are not locked and looked after.
I must confess that I have never really spent time on the east coast chasing sea trout in rivers such as the Georges and am therefore not qualified to comment on them as late spring fisheries. You may want to talk to east coast guide Michael Hayley to get more information on this and other rivers in the area.
There is not as much finesse about sea trout fishing as there is about other forms of fly fishing. Hence, my equipment is standard no matter which river I am fishing. I use a fast action five weight when fishing with floating lines to deliver quick casts and a seven weight for all of the "sinking line fishing'. My flies are imitative and generally tide on size four and six hooks. Leaders are always around 10 feet long and consisting of twelve pound Flurocarbon straight through. Foot long droppers can be added with surgeons knots on if needed when searching blindly and after substantial testing, Fluroflex Plus has come up trumps as my tippet material of choice.
Floating and clear intermediate fly lines are used most of the time but fast sinking, sink tip fly lines are very handy during high water levels or fishing deep holes. I have a range of Scientific Angler lines with various sink rates that more than cover every scenario I have faced.
Fly patterns are almost the same as those used at the start of the season. The only difference is that they should be tied slightly darker in colour to imitate the changing colour of the baitfish. The longer it spends inside a river system, the darker it can get. Start to substitute gold for silver, dark grey for light, cream for white and dark for light olive. I prefer quite imitative patterns which are tied slightly larger than the natural although an olive BMS has always been a good fall back.
The October / November time period is excellent for chasing and catching sea trout no matter where you are. The weather is always warmer than it would be in the highlands and you don't need a full day to chase them. They can be as intriguing as they are difficult to catch but when you locate them your feeling of success will be immeasurable. You may even find that during a beetle fall this summer, you are yearning for a good spring rain on your local sea trout river.