Early trout fishing prospects
Greg French takes a look at where and when you can find a trout or two.
In the opening weeks of the new trout season the weather on the Central Highlands is likely to be cold and windy, perhaps with snow and rain. At this time of year the brown trout are yet to recover from spawning and most will be relatively lean and sluggish. It is possible to catch good fish, and many lakes will be heavily patronised even on the opening weekend, but in all likelihood the most productive waters will be closer to home.
National weather forecasters are predicting an El Nino year and, although the severity and local impact of such events are difficult to predict with much accuracy, it is likely that this winter and spring will be unusually warm and dry. This means that there is unlikely to be severe flooding of the estuaries in August and September so the sea trout fishing should be good and consistent. It also means that there may be early hatches on the lowland rivers. On the other hand, it is unlikely that the big highland lakes will be as high as they were last year and the year before, so we probably won't find an early flurry of brown trout feeding in the extreme margins.
The hottest sea trout fishery for the first couple of weeks of the season is the Derwent estuary and if you live in Hobart this fishery is undoubtedly the serious angler's best proposition. The waters further south, such as the Huon, Lune, Esperance, D'Entrecasteaux and Catamaran, can also fish well on opening day but tend to fire up from mid to late August. In my experience, the sea trout waters in the north of the state are rarely as good in August as those in the south. However, they offer exceptional fishing from mid to late September. My favourite spots are the River Tamar near the Trevallyn Power Station, the Great Forester River either side of the Waterhouse Road, and the estuaries of the North-West rivers (Leven, Mersey, Forth, Black Detention, Inglis and Duck). The rivers on the West Coast, such as the Gordon, Henty and Pieman, don't really peak until October/November.
Fast stony bottomed streams, such as the Tyenna, Styx, upper North Esk, and upper Liffey, are rarely at their best until about Christmas ( when the water is low and less cold). However, if the early season proves to be especially dry and warm, Celta fishing in these waters will be worth tying. The classic meadow streams (the Macquarie, Break )'Day, Meander and South Esk) can be kind to fly fishers from day one, though you have to wait a month or two before you can expect red letter action. If the waters are low you will find that prospecting with nymphs and small wets is bread-and-butter fishing but you are likely to find the odd riser. Take advantage of any minor flooding - the fish will then be found furiously foraging along the flooded edges taking worms and drowned terrestrials.
Those who live in the north should take early advantage of the big trout in Curries River Dam. In spring the fishing is at its most consistent, offering fair returns to both bait fishers and lure casters. On calm mornings, before the sun hits the water, fly fishers will find browns and rainbows freely sipping midges, providing what may well be the only reliable sight fishing they will experience all year. Blackmans Lagoon, near Waterhouse will be at its best from about mid September, when huge brown trout will be found in the shoreline marshes hunting down frogs and aquatic insects. The Craigbourne Dam, thirty minutes drive north-west of Hobart, is not as spectacular as the northern still waters but gives up good browns and rainbows to persistent lure casters, trollers and bait fishers. Early season fly fishing is unimpressive unless heavy rains drown the grassy verges.
Lake Burbury, on the West Coast near Queenstown, is proving to be a wonderful early season destination, with the action getting underway on opening weekend. Spinning, trolling and bait fishing are bound to result in good bags, even if the weather is rough. Remember that spawning is late on the West Coast so in August the brown trout will still be hanging around the river mouths. In September you will find concentrations of rainbows in the same areas. Fly fishing, too, will be worthwhile, either blind fishing with wets or chasing midging rainbows in the wind lanes.
I tend not to venture into the highlands too early, especially if estuaries are free of flood and full of sea trout. But I sympathise with those who simply can not bear to wait another month or so and in truth I too commonly throw caution to the wind and visit my favourite highland lakes - after all there is more to trouting than just bagging lots of fish. My first piece of advice is to leave the western Lakes alone until mid September. This area is more elevated and more exposed than most other highland destinations and the fish take longer to regain condition. I'm not suggesting that it is impossible to catch a trout, but the majority of fish taken will be lean and lethargic. In waters like Lake Botsford, you will mostly hook fish freshly transferred from Great Lake which are yet to benefit from the better feeding grounds in their new home. It's a shame to take them in such poor condition when, come summer, they will be so fat and strong.
Undoubtedly the best bet in the opening weeks is Lake Sorell. During August and September trout hunt down golden galaxias (small native fish) which are congregating to spawn around rocky points and over the shallow rocky reefs. More often than not the action is underway on opening day. Usually you can tell where a trout are by looking for tell-tale swirls and bow-waves, otherwise it pays to blind search. Lure casting from the shore of a drifting boat is far more productive than trolling. The best lures are Cobras and Wonder Wobblers in colour combinations which include red and green. Wet fly fishing in the galaxia spawning areas is also extremely worth while. In fact it is a much better and reliable proposition than fishing the marshes. The marshes do offer unique opportunities but are never especially worth while until about mid September and then only if the water is high. The best patterns for general wet fly fishing are black fur flies, Wooly worms or galaxia imitations. At Arthurs Lake shore based wet fly fishing will be at its best from the end of August until November. During this period the trout will be found tailing along the grassy verges in Pump House Bay, Cowpaddock Bay and other shallow sheltered shores. Be warned though - it is unlikely that things will be as spectacular as they were last season when the lake was rising to its highest level in many years. Lure casting is productive all over the lake at any time of the year, while deep trolling in the Sand Lake, Blue Lake and Morass basins is also bound to be effective.
In the past few seasons, Lake Echo has risen to capacity in the early months, inundating the marshes in the north-western bays and providing angling opportunities second to none. Only time will tell if this is to be repeated this year but things don't look so good. If levels don't come up during winter/spring the tailing will be subdued but there should be enough frog feeders in the shallows to provide sport enough. In any case the best action for all anglers will be from early September onwards.
In recent years the great thing about Great Lake has been that the water has been inching up over long exposed flats on which terrestrial vegetation has re-established. Last year it actually attained all-time high levels. The wealth of worms flushed out during these episodes has fostered unbelievable shoreline fishing, so much so that anyone willing to brave the elements could take big bags even in August. It levels fall this season, the worm fishing won't recur and the early season action will be greatly subdued. However, as soon as things warm up a tad there will be fish snooping along the edges looking for nymphs and terrestrial insects. Likewise, Lake King William is unlikely to provide the exceptional early season fishing to which we have become accustomed - unless we get enough water for it to rise close to capacity. Regardless of levels, by late August the brown trout in Bronte Lagoon should be in the tussocky shallows feasting on frogs. The exceptional fishing last season, when the fish were gorging on dead worms, will only be repeated if there are unexpected heavy rains.
I realise that this year I have painted a less than optimistic view of early season fishing in the Central Plateau. This is primarily because it is likely that rainfall will be less than average so if we get unexpected floods go to your favourite marshes and expect what you found last season. But if rains don't come things in the highlands won't be all bad. Come late spring and summer, warm dry weather will result in better than average rises and reliable polaroiding, not to mention the obvious average to pleasant conditions for being outdoors.