Presented from Issue 101
I am a fly fisher living on the banks of the Mersey River in Latrobe in northern Tasmania. Some, close to me, think I am obsessed. I get to see close hand the cycles of the river and its inhabitants throughout the changing seasons. For me the most exciting time of the trout fishing season is late spring and early summer when the aquatic insects, like the caddis flies, stoneflies and above all the majestic mayfly, are going through their hatching stages. What follows is a story of a spring morning’s fishing on my favourite stream.
The din of the mobile phone alarm in the predawn darkness signals it is time to jump out of bed, wipe the sleep from the eyes, grab a coffee and a quick bite to eat in readiness for what I hope to be a frantic morning session fishing on the river. The fishing in the weeks immediately previous to this had seen a steady buildup in insect activity on the river and my hopes were that with the weather predictions that this foray just might be the best yet. The short drive down into the river valley at Merseylea is full of anticipation with the reddish sky off to the east heralding the breaking dawn.
Mist is slowly rising off the farmers ponds that dot the countryside throughout this region and a low fog is hanging in the valley. Plentiful wildlife such as wallabies and rabbits are evident along the road verges making the most of the last hours of darkness to feed on the lush grass that grows in abundance at this time of the year.
The decision on location had been decided the evening before and today’s adventure would start at a bridge access that had generally provided reliable fishing in the past.
As soon as I pulled the vehicle into the parking area adjacent to the bridge which is conveniently provided by the farmer. This is probably more to stop people parking in front of his gates than anything else, but we are grateful for that. It was off to check the river conditions and also to check if there are any of the “bridge fish” on the chew.
A quick glance over the bridge railing confirmed a couple of vital pieces of information. Firstly the river was at a perfect height for the morning fishing and more importantly the fish were already feeding hard. The water surface at the tail of the pool below the bridge pylons was being regularly punctuated by rings of rises from feeding trout and most probably native grayling—a free rising small fish that is regularly encountered in this river system.
Sometimes it is enjoyable to stand and watch the bridge fish go about their business but not this morning as I had a plan in mind.
A dash back to the vehicle to grab the flyrod and associated paraphernalia and then it’s time to head downstream along the bordering paddocks for a kilometre or so. This short walk will give me plenty of water to fish on the way back upstream to the car for at least a few hours if the action is solid enough. By the time I had reached the bottom of the stretch where I intended to start fishing the light had strengthened considerably. The walk downstream had been halted a few times to survey each pool. I had been considerably heartened at what I had seen as in each likely spot a feeding trout could be observed. In fact it took quite a bit of discipline not to jump in and start fishing right there and then!!
| A raft of caenids like this is
not uncommon on the Mersey.
Once at the predetermined starting point I slipped into the water quietly at the tail of the long glide. Immediately a smattering of small caenid duns drifting along in the bubble lines and current seams were evident. This tiny mayfly hatches en masse in the Mersey during mid to late November through into December and also creates quite a bit of action in the feeding trout department. The hatch usually occurs in the few hours after first light, starting with a few individuals building quickly up to a crescendo where on the best days the water is literally covered in fly. The fishing itself though can be very technical and demanding with plenty of refusals to be expected, especially on the heavy hatch days. The caenids are known to flyfishers by a few names and amongst these are the unflattering ‘fishermans curse’ and ‘smut’ just to give an indication of the difficulties that can arise when they are on the water in numbers. In recent seasons though I have had quite a bit of success on the caenid feeders using a small, (size 16-18) F Fly tied with natural coloured CDC wing and a hares ear dubbed body with just a little UV flash mixed with the dubbing. That success has given me confidence that most of the caenid feeders can be brought undone with a little perseverance, although there are exceptions to the rule.
After entering the tail of the pool I immediately started scanning the bubble lines, current seams and back eddys. These are the places where the food, such as Caenids and Baetids, another small mayfly that is common on the Mersey, often get concentrated and as such making them an easy meal for a hungry trout. A few hearty sips and clops were soon seen and just as much heard only a short distance above my position. Trout feeding on caenid mayfly are really quite noisy when they are taking the flies from the surface film but interestingly the rise forms often create very little disturbance. It is a strange feeling when you can hear the fish rising but cannot actually see them.
After ensuring my fly and tippet was ready for action a short cast was placed a few feet above the nearest noisy riser. The F Fly floated a short distance before it was sucked down in no uncertain terms. I lifted to feel solid resistance and a nice sized Merseylea brown was soon airborne. The trout put up stubborn resistance but into the net he eventually went. Landing a trout early on does wonders for the confidence and to get one first cast for the day is a real bonus. After the obligatory photos were taken the trout was gently released back into his domain and then I refocused on the next potential victim.
|A few useful flies. The F Fly
is shown at the bottom
As the light got stronger and stronger so did the caenid hatch. By about 7:30am the air was full of spinners and there was a mixture of duns and spent flies gently floating down the currents. The trout were also responding with gusto and the sound of sips, clops and slurps was music to my ears.
Plenty of trout were covered in this first river pool and success was forthcoming. Half a dozen fine fat browns came to hand and as many were missed, pricked or lost after a short fight. All fish fell to the little greyish F Fly, it was certainly proving its worth today again.
A real bonus with the caenid hatch on the Mersey is that it brings most of the larger stream fish out of hiding. The sheer amount of fly on the surface makes for an easy meal for the large browns and they will be found in the prime lies in each pool taking advantage of the smorgasbord on offer. Don’t be fooled by small rise forms during this hatch, any disturbance in the prime spots should be covered as a priority. You will quite often be surprised by a huge splash and heavy weight on the strike when expecting a small fish after covering a mere dimple rise.
One such trout was found rising with purpose beside a willow clump dragging in the river. The current was pushing around this clump creating a very nice bubble line. A big snout could be observed coming out at regular intervals sucking down some of the constant stream of caenids being pushed around the obstruction. Getting into position as quickly as possible without spooking the trout I first ensured the little F Fly was dry, they can take a bit of floating after being “slimed” a few times. A quick dab with Frogs Fanny, a dessicant style dry fly floatant that works wonders with CDC flies, I was ready for action. It took a few tries to get the fly in the right area as these bigger trout will rarely move more than a few inches across to take. I had finally managed to get the tiny fly in line amongst the bubbles drifting past the willow clump when the big snout went over the top of it. A short pause and I lifted and then all hell broke loose. The trout first tried to dive under the willow clump and when I successfully stopped him on this pursuit he turned and went flying downstream with the little Vision reel screaming in protest. This trout really tested the limits of the 3lb tippet material before he succumbed to the net.
|The real McCoy
At around the 3lb mark himself he was prime river trout, in picture perfect condition with golden cheeks, large black spots and beautiful olive green back. Mid Morning Duns As the peak of the caenid hatch came and went a few large black spinner duns started popping to the surface. These duns are among the largest of the varieties of Tasmanian mayfly and as such a marked difference to the tiny caenids that were in abundance only a short time before. A few trout started making splashier type rises instead of the gentle sips, a sure sign that at least some had switched over their feeding to the larger mayfly dun. While these duns generally do not emerge in the huge concentrations of the caenids their presence is certainly a feeding trigger for the resident trout.
My fly of choice on the Mersey for these risers is a variant of the shaving brush emerger. Tied on a #14 curved shank hook, with a pheasant tail body and Chocolate Labrador underfur wing, I have dubbed it the “Brown Dog emerger”. The natural oils in the fur help to make it float nicely and you can really slap this fly down without fear of it sinking. I have found the shallow pool tails to be the hotspot for trout feeding on the larger genus of mayfly duns. The trout will line up in these spots and feed consistently when the hatch is at its peak. It is really visual and exciting fishing as the fish will lazily slurp the hatching duns from the surface in full view across the shingle bottomed shallows.
On this particular morning I had reached the bottom of a favourite run for dun feeders. The mid morning air was already quite warm and from a distance I had already spied quite a few hearty slurps along a shallow edge. Getting closer I could see no less than four really good sized fish lined up along an edge spaced only a few metres apart regularly taking emergers from the surface film. I tried to pick out the largest trout from the group but unfortunately the biggest was at the top sitting as to be expected, in the prime lie. By risking a cast at him there would be a fair chance that the others would be spooked and surely take him with them.
There was nothing for it but to try and pick them all off one by one. By carefully measuring casts and immediately dragging the fish downstream after the take as firmly as possible with the lightweight rod I was able to achieve the first part of the aim. One of these smaller fish had come to hand and a couple came free shortly after hookup but luckily they had darted off sideways. Amazingly the target trout was still finning nicely in the current and occasionally slurping a dun from the surface seemingly oblivious to all the commotion below him.
|Brown Dog Emerger.
Getting into a position slightly downstream and across from the solid brown, to assist with a drag- less drift, I put out a long cast. The fly, a BDE, landed slightly across from him but he had no hesitation in sliding across and slurping it down. Once again a slight pause and lift resulted in a solid hookup. This brown led me on a merry dance across the shallow pool. He had a destination in mind, somewhere deep under the willows on the other bank, and it took quite a bit of side strain to stop the trout from achieving his purpose. Eventually though he succumbed to the landing net. This beautiful brown was another great trout, so typical of this river system in recent years. After a gentle release I watched him cruise across the stream and finally make it into his hidey hole up under the willows. Indicator Nymphing
By the time I had fished my way back up to the bridge it was almost midday. By this stage the trout had almost finished looking for surface film mayflies and had started flinging themselves out of the water in frantic attempts to take spinners on the wing. While this feeding is certainly spectacular it can also be very frustrating trying to tempt the jumpers with dry flies.
I have found that it is much more reliable to achieve a few hook-ups by targeting the faster water with weighted nymphs under an indicator when the spinner feeders are about. While there are many styles of indicator on the market these days I tend to go for something much easier to obtain and far far cheaper. A piece of sheeps wool picked off a barbed wire fence simply looped onto the leader works wonderfully well. The floatation properties of the wool, similar to the Labrador underfur with its natural oils, are superior to any synthetic material I have seen.
The rest of the setup is a weighted nymph, usually a size 14 tungsten bead headed Pheasant Tail or Hares Ear nymph variant, with a smaller lighter weighted nymph trailing from the bend. A good rule of thumb is to have the top or weighted nymph set approximately one and half times the depth of the water below the indicator. The trailing nymph is usually set about 60 centimetres further back. It also pays to vary the bead head colour and size of the trailing nymph until you find a combination that works. Copper, gold and nickel beads are all reliable fish takers on the Mersey.
Conveniently just below the bridge access that I had used earlier in the morning there were a couple of sections of fastwater that have some fish holding areas that are just perfectly suited to indicator nymphing. I had already had a great mornings dry fly action but the chance to drift a couple of nymphs through the pockets and seams of the fastwater was too much too resist.
After quickly setting up my rig I began exploring the likely fish holding sections. It was not long before the little indicator was pulled violently below the surface as it was dancing down along a nicely formed current seam. With no hesitation I lifted the rod and felt a pleasing resistance on the line, the trout this time a lively rainbow threw itself out of the water and tried every trick in the book to release itself before coming to hand. He had taken the top nymph, a copper bead headed Cadillac nymph, one of many pheasant tail nymph variants tied today.
Quite a few rainbow trout tend to fall for indicator nymphing tactics. The percentage of rainbows taken by this type of fishing is much, much higher than traditional dry fly fishing in the Mersey River. The main reason for this is that the type of water targeted by the nymph fisher is also the preferred habitat of the rainbows. These fish are lovers of the fast, rippled pocket water. Plenty of browns are fooled by the drifting nymphs as well as some beautiful little grayling at times.
Working my way up through the ripples I managed plenty of takes on the nymph combination. A few more brightly coloured trout came to hand, others were lost and so as sometimes is the case with the nymph fishing, many others were missed as I was just not fast enough on the lift.
After clambering back up the bank and then standing on the bridge looking back downstream I had a chance to reflect on the mornings fishing that I had just encountered. From the sipping takes of the early caenid feeders, to the slurps of the trout rising to mayfly duns, through to the visual feast of the fish jumping to take spinners on the wing and then finally the watching of the little wool indicator bobbing along the current it had been a wonderful mornings sport.
There were plenty of other sidelights to the day as well. Platypus feeding in the river and the myriad of native birdlife from the diminutive blue wrens feasting on the hatching insects through to a pair of majestic sea eagles circling on the air currents that call this section of the river home, there is plenty to see if the fishing was actually slow.
Not many rivers hold good brownies like this.
Occasionally a beautiful rainbow will come along.
The Brown Dog Emerger.