Got the Winter Blues - How to get over them

Shane Flude
Well it's that depressing time of year again when Tassie plunges into another winter. We turn on our headlights to travel to work and on again to come home. The memories of the magnificent long summer evenings when we could still just polaroid that Western Lakes brown at 7 pm have faded. It will soon be the shortest day again, a time which surely marks the greatest depth of our winter period. So just what attractions await the frustrated angler during this coming bleak period either out to sea or inland chasing trout? The short answer for most is "not much'. There are a few places worthy of mention though and we will examine these areas and the best methods to use.

Out to sea
Because sea temperatures lag behind air temperatures by some 2-3 months in Tasmania the coldest seas are not usually encountered until early spring, and not during winter as you may expect. This means that there is reasonable fishing for most species extending into this winter period. I mainly fish the north coast and concentrate on areas around Port Sorell and Devonport. Common species here include flathead, salmon, wrasse, whiting, couta, pike, shark and squid. All these are still being caught along the coast at the moment and should remain available for at least the next 6-8 weeks.
Certainly a trip during May from Port Sorell will rate as one of the most action packed and rewarding I've had this year. We were lucky enough to happen upon a school of salmon breaking the surface (a rare sight around here) and happily played with these for a while. The ever-reliable pearl watermelon Berkley plastic again proved their undoing. Several salmon had small baitfish fall from their mouths in the boat and the resemblance to the plastics was remarkable. We then moved on to the nearby weed bed off Griffiths Point and caught a feed of both species of pike, again on the soft plastics but this time swapping to the wriggly tail grubs. Once squid started to attack the plastics we swapped to jigs and remembered how to catch these critters. I tried the pinch behind the eyes technique to lessen the ink wars. This dispatches them very quickly and I would recommend this technique to anyone.
The squid are still around in good numbers this year but should soon start to thin out and appear again in spring when they start to congregate to spawn. It is worth mentioning that the squid we caught late May were the biggest I've seen this year.
The salmon we located because of their surface activity and had they not been up I would have motored over them. The large schools of salmon did not appear in the Port Sorell estuary last year until late July so I will be eagerly awaiting this period to fish the incoming tides. Fishing however can often be unpredictable so it would pay to fish the incoming tides occasionally over the next few months in case the salmon appear earlier. Once they arrive word will certainly get out fast. On weekends the estuary became somewhat crowded last year and some peoples" boat etiquette left a lot to be desired.
Pike have been around in good numbers this year and show no signs of thinning out just yet. I caught them well into winter over the past few years but have been particularly successful this year, I guess I do target them more now with soft plastics and waste less time than I used when just trolling for them. They are much more fun to catch to on light gear than a large trolling rod. I still don't see many other people targeting them however and see very few at the boat ramps in peoples" catches, indeed I am often asked what the long fish are. Although their flesh is soft they are good eating and make great fish cakes. They are well worth the effort to target and will provide reliable sport over the winter period.
The flathead have spread out more as winter approaches and can be caught in good numbers in the 30 to 65ft mark. The ones being caught are mostly over size although very few of the leviathans we claimed over summer are still about. Consistent fishing should continue to around august when they certainly become harder to locate along the north coast.
Set line fishing for gummies has been popular this season and catches are only just starting to slow down. It appears the best months this year were from March to April but there are still some good one about.
The fishing in general does start to decline by July although as the weather in this month is often the worst in the year perhaps it is more a case of not being able to get out rather than not being able to catch. Bass Strait is not a water to be taken lightly, it can blow up very rough at little notice and remain that way for days on end.
In southern and southeastern parts of the state this winter period is of course eagerly anticipated by the tuna brigade. There have already been some catches of large bluefin but only time will tell if this season continues on and lives up to expectation.

Inland waters
The coming winter months are certainly not the favourite times for most Tasmanian freshwater anglers. All rivers and most other inland waters are closed from the end of April to the start of August. Some West coast waters including Lake Macintosh are open until the end of May. This water can provide surprising results near the Sophia Tunnel inlet during the month of May and early june as large trout feeling the urge to spawn are attracted to the inflowing waters from Lake Murchinson but on reaching the area find no rivers to swim in. Some very large specimens have been taken here in recent years. Shore fishing is possible however a boat is a better proposition. Any minnow type lure works best as the lake supports a good population of large galaxias. There are a number of drowned trees in this area however so you will lose lures.
Waters that remain open throughout the year are Lake Barrington, Brushy Lagoon, Great Lake, Lake Burbury, Craigbourne Dam and Lake Meadowbank. Burbury and Great Lake would certainly rate as the two standout waters, the others are largely dependent upon previous stocking. Large atlantic salmon when released provide some interesting sport but this action is usually short lived. The remaining fish stocks in these waters are not high and the fish rarely reach good sizes. Meadowbank received 165 3 kg fish in April and Brushy Lagoon was stocked with 21000 rainbow fingerlings in January and 1000 adult browns in May. These stockings should help to keep local anglers content over the winter. Other stockings are planned in the near future. To keep abreast of these releases visit the Inland Fisheries website.
Lake Burbury has again fished well this season with the main complaint being low water levels causing great difficulty in launching your boat. The condition of the fish remains high and the rainbows are still around in ridiculous numbers midging on calm mornings. If you have not visited this lake yet at first light on a calm morning then it is something you should put on your "to do" list. During the winter months however is not be the best time to view this spectacle, late spring into summer is better.

Of all the waters that remain open Great Lake is by far my chosen destination. The three occasions I bagged out last year at this water were once in June and twice in July. On all trips the weather was freezing and the water temperature positively life threatening. I fished off the southern shores with wet fly, rapala lure and gary glitter soft plastic. My day on the fly was the most memorable but also the most physically demanding. Wading the shallows trying not to fall in as each wave hits your legs is very draining. A striping basket is essential to keep your line under control between casts. My $3.50 Kmart laundry basket is still going fine. I use a floating line and tie a minnow like wet fly pattern which closely resembles the native fish. The trout are often in very close, usually just behind where the waves break. Wind over about 15kts makes casting difficult and usually results in waves that drag your line. The water levels going into this winter are similar to last year but still very low. If we do not receive good winter rains this year then the outlook for next season could be grim. The low levels have certainly not affected the trouts" size and condition with a number over three pound and still in good nick . Some of the rainbows are now over five. Most of these have been in superb condition. Fish I caught late in May at Great Lake were full of small mussels and large shrimps, a combination I have not seen for some time.I inspected several of the spawning creeks including the canal at Liawenee with Fisheries. The spawning streams were simply full of trout so it's not hard to imagine why the fishing improves later in June as most of these fish return to the lake.
It is also worth remembering that during the winter period the coldest water will be on the surface of the lakes. On days when there is little wind and wave action to mix the temperatures the fish will be found further down. On these days fish the plastics and on the rough days fish the lures or wet fly. You will see the results.
So despite our depressing winters the Tasmania angler should still be able to maintain some degree of sanity over the coming months. My advice would be to make the most of any settled calm days and head to sea targeting any of the species I have described above. We do experience some perfect calm days in winter, they just don't get very warm or last that long. Rough weather works well inland, particularly at Great Lake, so the choice should be easy. Check the Inland Fisheries website for future lake stockings to make the most of the action on the lowland lakes. Remember to rug up and don't fall in, particularly in Great Lake where the temperature will soon be around four degrees. If the petrol price keeps increasing however the long term sanity of all anglers will be in doubt and slow winter fishing will be the least of out worries, but that's another story.

Shane Flude

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