Presented from Issue 100
Having moved to the North East of Tasmania several years ago I set out to explore my local rivers and found them to be vastly different from the Mersey where I grew up. The rivers up this way tend to be much smaller, shallow sandy-bottomed streams. One of the first rivers I fished was a tributary of the George River, the Groom. It was early October and a nice sunny day as I headed north out of St Helens. As I went I stopped on each of the river bridges to have a look. I found the George River to be a little higher than what looked to be normal and discoloured so I continued on.
A few kilometres up the road I came to the Groom River and once again parked the car and had a look downriver from the bridge. This stream was also a little higher than normal but most sections flowed over a broad flat sandy bottom ranging between 30 and 50 cm deep. Much to my surprise looking downriver from the bridge I could quite clearly see five or six small fish feeding over the sand.
After a quick drive around the neighbourhood on a fruitless search to find the landowner I decided to take a chance I wouldn’t get shot. I jumped the fence and started fishing the last hundred metres of river up to the bridge. Even though it was early season and the fish weren’t rising they were not far under the surface and feeding hard. I attached a number 14 Royal Wulff and covered the closest fish which elicited no reaction. After four of five more casts over the same fish I changed to a small brown nymph. Feeling a little more confident the nymp was presented to the fish only to be refused on multiple drifts.
Scratching my head a little I went back to the fly box and found tucked in the corner a number 14 black beetle. It was tied on a short shank hook, a fairly simple affair of black wool with a crow feather wing case and a small cotton head. As I took out the small, black beetle I had a fleeting memory of a conversation as this fly was handed to me by a good friend “this works really well early-season”.
After quickly wetting the fly in the river to help it sink I put the first cast over the fish which turned out to be a little wayward with the fly drifting about 30 cm to the fish’s left. Much to my surprise the fish that was so reluctant to move off station earlier turned and chased the small black beetle downstream taking the fly as he went. With a flash of the fish’s white mouth I paused and struck and came up tight to my first brown of the day. Thankfully the fish continued to charge downstream and after a little bit of quick stepping I brought the fish to hand which gave me a chance to admire the colouration with bright red spots over a very light brown background. The fish’s colour blended perfectly with the slight tannin-stained water.
On closer inspection I found the sand on the bottom of the river to be a creamy white colour and it was only the staining in the water that gave it a golden look. After releasing the fish I moved back to the point where I’d first hooked it and continued to study the water nearby and was quite surprised to see two more fish holding station just above where I caught the first one. The closest was sitting on a pressure wave in front of a small log mid stream with the other holding on a slightly deeper edge against the right-hand bank. With the fish in the middle of the river being closer of the two I presented the black beetle well above and just to the left of the fish. I quickly lost sight of the fly as it sank but was pleased when the fish turned to its left and I once again clearly saw a white mouth, a quick strike and I came up tight to my second fish. I kept the pressure on and lifted the fish over the log and down past me to be played out. After releasing this fish I had a couple of wayward casts to the fish near the right hand bank before I got the drift right and was rewarded by a third take. This little black beetle was proving to be deadly. It’s not often you can catch three fish in a river fishing from the one spot.
As I slowly worked my way up the river I found an abundance of feeding fish. The bright sunny day and sandy bottom made them extremely easy to see with most of the fish feeding midstream usually holding station either on a piece of structure such as a very rare rock or log or more commonly in the slightly deeper depressions out of the current flow. I was quite surprised to see the amount of debris that was being washed across the sand, with most of the strata being very unstable the stream bed is continually moving and the slightly higher than normal water flow was working well to stimulate the fish. In the hundred metre section up to the bridge I managed nine fish with several more spooked. By the time I finished that day, counting the number of fish caught seemed a little pointless as it became more about the grin on my face and less about numbers.
It’s funny how these things go, I find your first impression of a fishing location will stay with you forever. I consider the Groom River to be a magnificent small stream even though on my next visit I found the fishing more challenging. As I stood on that same bridge and looked downstream I couldn’t polaroid a fish anywhere and it took me a while to figure out what had changed. The water levels had dropped slightly since my last visit and the fish had moved from the open sandy sections and were now taking cover along the undercut banks. The drop in water level had changed things quite a bit. Fish were much harder to spot and reluctant to take my fly.
Over the subsequent year or so I found that it is a fine line between too much and too little water. You don’t need a flood but you do need enough rain to stimulate the fish into abandoning their safe lies and feeding out in the open. If the catchment is soaked, as little as 10mm of rain is perfect. If the catchment has been dry for some time it may take 20 to 25 mm to raise the river enough to have the fish on the move.
After this minor revelation in the Groom River I looked further afield at some of the other areas of the George River with a similar granite sand substrate. These included the Lower George River, the North and South George Rivers, Mount Albert Rivulet, Margaret Creek and Ransom River. All of these waters have a vast array of different substrates over their lengths from shingle ripples, large granite boulders, boulder strewn pocket water and of course the stretches of white granite sand. The sections that are purely granite sands that have very little or no cover generally will not hold fish during times of low water, usually summer and early autumn. Fish will only move into these areas and feed once the water levels rise and the sandy substrate starts to move more freely and offer up a richer food source. It’s at these times that I like to target the sandy sections of these waterways.
They aren’t all small. A fine fish taken on a plastic by the author.
The way I like to approach it is to keep a very close eye on the weather. Once we have had what I consider to be enough rain I’ll start by looking lower down in the river system and work my way up into the small streams. I’ll let the water level and the clarity of the water dictate where to fish on any given day. If the rain has only been light I generally fish the lower sections as the tannin staining or silt load and the water level won’t be too high. But conversely after heavy rains it will be necessary to push right up into the headwaters above the influence of forestry and agriculture to find good water clarity.
Our spring weather comes predominantly from the west which leaves the George River in the rain shadow of the north-east highlands. Apart from the benefit of reducing the westerly winds associated with each front, our rain events at this time of year are generally only 5 to 15mm reducing the likelihood of a blown out river. Given the regularity of westerly fronts during spring this has the effect of continually topping up our streams and rivers just enough to keep the fish out on the sand and feeding hard. For this reason October and November regularly produces some of the best sight fishing of the year.
The lower George River fishes extremely well in the early part of the season with the best sport occurring with the whitebait run during October and November which regularly produce some good size sea runners. The river just above the estuaries is quite wide with a flat sandy bottom. Fish in this area tend to hold on willow tree snags close to the edge waiting in ambush for the schools of whitebait. Casting to these fish can be a little difficult at times but is well worth the effort. Several kilometres up river from the Binalong Bay Bridge there are large sections of rock bars that produce some good pocket water fishing during summer. These rock bars also provide a fantastic ambush point for some of the larger river-resident fish during the whitebait run. Hard bodies and soft plastics work extremely well at this time of year and also produce a lot of good sized fish.
The George River at Pyengana forks into the North and South George River and provide some fantastic springtime nymph and dry fly fishing. Both rivers have a combination of granite sands and shingle stones with plenty of bank side structure in the form of willow trees. The combination of good cover and changing substrate means there are good feeding locations during low water but also plenty of clear open sections of sand to take advantage of when the water levels rise. By walking the banks and utilising the available cover it is easy to polaroid good numbers of fish, some up to 2 pounds. It is also possible to wade most of the river and fishing with a hardbody through the deeper pools and selter in the shallow ripples will produce good bags of fish most of the year.
Above St Columba Falls the South George River forks into numerous small streams all holding good numbers of small brown trout. Typically these streams are a combination of shingle stones and granite boulders with small sections of granite sands. These areas fish well all year round with most forms of tackle. Selter’s work extremely well when the water is a bit lower. Hard bodies and wet flies work well in times of flood. Some of the smaller creeks and drains that flow into the South Georges River above the falls are well worth prospecting at times of high water. I have found that some of the larger fish from the South George push up these smaller drains at these times and can provide quite good sport on light gear.
For me the standout feature of these north east rivers has to be the white sand. It gives you the opportunity to be able to sight fish to large numbers of fish for the entire season. Even on days that are quite dull or early in the season when the sun’s angle is low, fish can be polaroided in the shadow of the high banks or the bank side vegetation and targeted at short range. So far I’ve barely scratched the surface and can’t wait for the next opportunity to get out the door and go and explore somewhere new.
Alas winter this year in Scamander proved to be the driest on record, but thankfully as I write this the rain has started to fall and our spring break has arrived. My once-dry water tank is now overflowing and my weekend is mercifully devoid of non-piscatorial activities. I know what I’ll be doing, I’ll start by standing on a bridge and looking down river to see what I can see.