Georges River Sea Runners

Jamie Henderson
The East Coast of Tasmania, in particular Georges Bay St Helens, is fast growing in popularity as a saltwater sports fishing haven, not only in Tasmanian circles but also with anglers right across the country. It has always been on the map as the "Game Fishing Capital" of Tasmania boasting some of the best Salt Water Game Fishing Tasmania has to offer and now with the inshore bays and coastline fishing better than it ever has it offers sports anglers a diversity of species and environment unmatched by anywhere else in the state. 

However there is one facet of piscatorial beauty that is commonly overlooked by anglers fishing the St Helens region and that is the champagne trout fishing that the area has to offer. The Georges River which starts its life high in the mountains west of St Helens is the centre piece of Trout fishing on the East Coast. The George starts as two separate river systems, the North George River and the South George River. The North George starts just in the foothills of Mount Victoria whilst the South George starts just above the St Columbia Falls, they both meander down through a mixture of natural forest and rich farmland until they meet just below Pyengana and merge to create the Georges River proper. From here it continues its journey all the way to the East Coast and into Georges Bay at St Helens.
The upper reaches are very reminiscent of an English chalk stream, crystal clear water, dense forest growth all around and rich in aquatic and terrestrial life, the perfect haven for small brown trout to flourish. The spawning habitat in the head waters is second to none which in turn creates excellent recruitment every year, unfortunately this makes for small growth rates due to large demands on the food sources however what the fish lack in size they make up for in numbers.
Fishing the upper reaches requires a very stealthy approach, with very clear, shallow water and large numbers of small fish it is very easy to disturb whole runs by jumping in like a bull at a gate. Sneaking into the water and fishing low at water level is the only way to minimize spooking a lot of fish. Here light tackle is also needed, fly rods in the 2-4 weight ranges are ideal, light leaders and quality lines enabling the angler to gently land a fly accurately will bring the most success. One of the most deadly fly combinations I have fished in these situations is a small #14-16 black bead head nymph under a similar sized royal wulff dry fly as an indicator. This combination floated down through fast flowing runs and at the heads of pools where the water is well oxygenated is very rarely refused by the small fish laying in wait. The length of the leader between the dry and the nymph can be adjusted to suit the depth of the water you are fishing which makes it a very versatile method of covering the whole water column.
Once the summer months are here I favour the grasshopper patterns such as the small knobby hopper or my personal favorite the para-hopper in #14. As the bankside vegetation drys out in the summer heat and the small grasshoppers start to become very active landing a small hopper pattern in close to the bank is irresistible to any fish laying in wait. For those wishing to fish with spin gear instead of fly short lightweight spin rods in 1-3kg coupled with small 1000 size reels and 2-4lb line will suit perfectly. Lures such as #1 Rublex Celta's, F3 Rapala lures and the small Strike Pro Pygmy's are all good choices.
As the river flows east it slowly builds a little in size and through the middle to lower reaches gear can be stepped up a notch as the fish start to grow in average size, here fish of 2-4 lb are not uncommon. But it is without a doubt that the lower reaches as it flows into Georges Bay is where the action becomes second to none. Unbeknown to many the Georges River has a good run of Sea Run Trout every year as they follow whitebait schools up into the river. October see's the Tasmanian Whitebait, Lovettia sealii, an annual species with an anadromous life cycle, large shoals of adults migrate from the salt water into the fresh water rivers to spawn. They deposit their eggs on the bottom and among the debris, the adults then die shortly after and the eggs hatch in about 2-3 weeks where the fry are swept out to sea to undergo development.
It is during this period that sea run trout between 2-6lb are caught on a regular basis while feeding hard on the whitebait schools. Here the use of fly rods in the #6 weight range are better suited than the lighter models used further up stream, flies such as Muzz Wilson Fuzzle Bugger in olive and black as well as the BMS and various whitebait patterns will all take fish. The Sea Run Trout do however require a lot more time and effort than the small fish from the head waters, food is at an excess for them and they don't grow big by being stupid. They are far more wary and can frustrate the angler for hours on end before a strike and many fisherman walk away scratching their heads. Fish will lie hard up against the overhanging bankside and up under the willows waiting to ambush the schools of whitebait working their way upstream. Areas such as undercut banks, eddy's in the current and overhanging vegetation creating shady runs should be targeted as this is where the whitebait will shelter and rest, casting needs to be accurate and tight in hard to lure the fish out to the fly. Those using soft plastics or spinning outfits need to be just as accurate with casting and light line will need to be used, small squidgy fish, 3" bass minnows and 2" power grubs are popular styles to use or hard body lures such as the Bushy"s Stiffy are perfect.
As the river floods into the bay it flows over a shallow delta area, quite often left nearly dry at low tide, the whitebait congregate on the drop off of the entrance into the bay where it is quite deep waiting for the incoming tide, this is quite possibly where some of the larger fish patrol attacking the exposed schools of whitebait while they have nowhere to hide.
Sea run trout of up to 9 lb have been landed in Georges Bay which goes to show that it is a very diverse fishery.

Jamie Henderson

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