Find the flood waters and be rewarded
Bob Buell finds fishing the floodwaters of the South Esk River in his back yard very rewarding at the start of the season. He explains his methods initially with bait and later with fly.
When I moved to Tasmania in 1984 a work mate told me he was going fishing. This was after three days of rain and I found it hard to believe that he could catch trout in these conditions. Of course I was a green horn and didn't yet know the joys of catching tailing trout in flooded back waters. To my knowledge the sport of fishing for tailing trout is almost unheard of in my native Western United States. From my limited experience in New Zealand, locals assured me very little flood fishing was done for tailing trout. Tasmania surely has some of the best fishing for tailing trout in the world. Fishing for tailing trout in flood backwaters of northern Tasmania rivers such as the South Esk is hard to beat. The South Esk has early season backwater fishing for the bait angler and fly fisher. In 1985 I moved to a home that borders the South Esk, and was soon to find out how good the backwater fishing on this magnificent river is. In a matter of days I was catching many well conditioned fish in my back yard on the humble garden worm during times of flood. Catching fish during a flood along the South Esk near Evandale proved to be quite easy. One of the locals had shown me an effective method for rigging up two small hooks. He used a large round sinker with a hole in the middle and threaded it through his line. He tied on a two way swivel and attached two hooks to the swivel one about 30 cm from the sinker, and the other about 60 cm from the sinker. Two large worms completed the rig. Four the worm fisher it is best to cast fairly close to the edge of the back water and wait for the fish to find the worm. For many locals, worm fishing is a relaxing past time around a fire sharing a few yarns. With two hooks the fisherman increases his chances of catching fish greatly, and often two fish can be caught at once. Worms comprise the bulk of the stomach content of most South Esk backwater fish and trout love them!
The next year I learned in Noel Jetson's fly tying class backwater fishing was also a sport for the fly fisherman. Noel recommended dick Wigram's "Robin", a fly popularised by David Scholes, Tasmania's most popular fly fishing author. I tried the Robin and a red matuka, and to my delight was able to catch backwater fish. I never fished with a worm again! The key to catching a backwater fish in times of flood on the South Esk is to find the fish moving. I initially did a lot of walking until I found some favourite backwaters near my home that produced fish year after year. There are a lot of backwaters on the South Esk between Hadspen and headwaters. Most of the good backwaters are private land, so get permission from the land owner before entering any private property. Many will give you permission if you ask. When a king flood is on I do not bother fishing as there is too much water and it is almost impossible to find the fish. Once a moving fish has been found, catching it can be fairly easy. Cast ahead of the fish with a fly such as matuka and move it towards the fish. I do not use a weighted fly as many tailing fish are caught in only six inches of water. A matuka or a robin is a good wet fly as either can be cast with a "light" touch. A number 12 or 14 black beetle will also produce good results as many trout feed on beetles in times of flood. When the river is not in flood the beetle is one of the best flies you can use, especially if you are blind fishing. Only fish the edges. A "tailing" trout that is in a somewhat vertical position is probably feeding on small snails, another common food organism of backwater trout. Naturally a snail pattern is a good bet, but a robin or matuka near the bottom close to the trout's nose will often be productive. Not many people fish a backwater with a dry fly, but at dusk backwater trout are often feeding on caddis. A royal wuff or a caddis pattern are my favourites. Every season I catch many backwater fish up to 2 pounds on a dry fly at dusk in August and September. Early season South Esk backwater fish are always in magnificent condition. Forego the trip to the highlands with the snow and cold weather and give the South Esk a go!