Around The Bend

Recently, an impoundment near me was opened to the public. This was to become the catalyst to stop procrastinating and get back into float tubing after more than a decade long hiatus since moving to Melbourne in the late ’90s. The waterway is known as Devilbend Reservoir and is located near Tuerong on the Mornington Peninsula. It’s about an hour and a half drive from Melbourne’s CBD and access is easy via Peninsula Link and a few kilometres of dirt road. I’m glad I took the plunge as there are some 120,000 trout stocked in that water, and a similar number of estuary perch with a thriving population of redfin as well. Shoreline access is limited to a small number of ‘fishing zones’ set aside by Parks Victoria, but heavy weed growth and popularity can limit opportunities for the shore-based angler. When Parks Victoria announced that part of the waterway would be opened to unpowered water craft, in 2017, it was only a matter of weeks before I was down there in a new float tube starting to work out the moods of the fishery. The gates open at 6 a.m. but this doesn’t seem to be adjusted for daylight savings, as I am often there shortly after 5. Gates close at 8 p.m. but the exit has an automatically opening gate — so you can fish through dark and still escape home before the yetis get you. The car park is well lit, with toilets and undercover BBQ facilities, making it a great place to take the family. Walking tracks abound, and the reason the fishing zone is so restricted is due to the prolific birdlife in the area. Around 20% of the impoundment is open to explore by watercraft and all of us who fish there hope this will be expanded in the future. Maybe it doesn’t sound much in writing, but fishing it from a float tube will take you three to four hours to explore this amount of water… And that’s if you can peel yourself away from the fish and keep moving! ESTUARY PERCH I fish for the estuary perch most of the time and am enjoying unlocking the bite windows of the larger fish. But I’m ready to switch into trout mode if there is a hatch on, or a decent wind-lane to explore. Estuary perch are closely related to Australian bass and share many habits (FL#91). Late winter schooling in deep water, feeding around structure and hitting flies hard are typical behaviours that will have you coming back again and again. Estuary perch are currently averaging around 30–34 cm with larger specimens up to 38 cm every now and then caught in the right conditions. According to Fisheries, they can grow to 75 cm and 10 kg — when that happens it’s time to increase the tippet strength. Perch will hide in the weed beds and ambush prey opportunistically as well as actively hunt in mid water. Sometimes on super hot days they will find a thermocline somewhere, depending on water depth and wind direction. It’s hard to find them like this without a lot of prospecting, or mounting a sounder on your watercraft. There are usually some friendly kayakers that will share their sounder readings; otherwise you need to seek them out by fishing on the drift or slowly finning yourself along. Overcast and slightly windy days seem to fish best with bright and calm days almost not worth the effort. EPs feed on a variety of fauna including baitfish, crustaceans, insects and amphibians, but some of the most effective fly patterns don’t look anything like the local forage. Small Bass Vampires are my favourite, and it’s hard to switch flies when they work so well. My original success came from bead head Rabbit Matukas and large olive green nymphs, and a couple of mates use large wet flies like Green Machines and Cat Flies. There is a huge population of damsels and dragonflies in that water, and millions of small baitfish — little wonder these patterns work so well. There is also an abundance of freshwater shrimp, yabbies and mussels. TROUT Trout are seldom seen — they can casually feed in the depths without exposing themselves too much in the shallows, but there are some monsters in there. I know as they often porpoise right beside float tubes in that ‘oncing’ behaviour. In winter, you can find some nice wind-lanes with trout feeding on midges and in the warmer months it is not uncommon to experience a dun hatch or two. This has been an interesting distraction from catching native EPs on fly, but you need to be prepared and change rigs whilst on the water. GEARING UP I am yet to unlock an EP surface bite with any great success, but lure fishers do fairly well fishing from shore at twilight. Some of my fellow float tube tragics have had some success with small Gartside Gurglers, and I am sure they will go for a BNB Popper or small Dahlberg Diver just as much as bass do. With some heavy weed beds it is possible to anchor yourself in amongst the vegetation and draw your surface fly towards the banks. This seems to be the retrieve that works best for lure fishers… You can use your regular tackle, and 9-ft rods will get you by quite nicely. Some people prefer slightly longer rods to keep the back cast up a little higher and cast further from the tube. Long and ultra stiff rods can present some challenges in landing large fish, due to the angle your rod achieves when netting or handling your catch. Landing nets with extendable handles can get around this to some degree. Shorter rods are handy in tight cover, or for making short accurate casts with large flies, but even though you can quietly sneak up on feeding fish and get within a rod length at times, I’ve found the garden variety nine-footer the most useful. I have been using one of the new Orvis Helios 3Ds in a 6-weight, which has proven to be a superb fishing tool that handles a wide range of fly sizes and weights. I look for versatility in my gear these days — rods have to suit my casting as well as fishing style. Floating lines are handy when there is a hatch and the fish are feeding high in the water column, or when you are polaroiding from shore or prospecting surface flies for the perch, but often times you can fish much deeper water with full intermediate or fast sinking fly lines with greater success. My favourite lines are the Scientific Anglers Sonar Stillwater Camo and the Sonar I/3/5 sinking lines. The latter is a multiple density sinker that keeps you in touch with your fly and is usually my first choice. I do carry a spare reel or two on the tube in case things are quiet and I need to make a change – and it’s usually the intermediate that I reach for next. The new SA Sonar Leaders are also proving handy under fishing conditions. These are 10-ft in length and available in several densities. The SINK 6 is particularly handy for creating a sink tip line while on the water. Swapping your leader is a matter of looping rather than changing a fly line. Handy when everything is happening around you. Your standard leaders will get you by: I prefer the tapered leaders myself as there are fewer knots to catch on weed. 9–12 feet long and terminating in 12 lb tippet is perfect and will serve you well when a large fish hits hard. I typically use standard leader material but do carry some fluorocarbon in 10 lb just in case things get really quiet. A stripping apron is a must for any float tuber – the last thing you want is line getting caught around your legs, a real danger with sinking fly lines. Nearly all modern tubes are supplied with these as standard… If they aren’t, make one or keep looking. Your fly box can expand to include some heavier flies, with old standards like bead head Woolly Buggers and Rabbit Matukas ideal for a multitude of southern species. The new breed of Game Changers can be tied enticingly small at 3-inch and you can imitate just about any small fish with articulated seduction, although you will need to bump up the line weight to around a #7 in order to cope with casting such a fly. As mentioned, the Bass Vampire is without doubt my favourite and has caught me hundreds of fish. There are a lot of variations on the market but I have found that smaller flies in size #6 are ideal, and coloured eyes with UV properties are working best. TACTICS These days I fish whenever I have time and rarely come away without catching at least a few. Dull days seem to fish a little better and the twilight times are very popular with angler numbers swelling during these hours. Once some EPs are located, more are never far away. The larger specimens seem to be loners, and hang around the outer edge of the weed beds, around drop-offs and submerged trees. They can be persnickety, but get the pattern and presentation right and you will experience an attack on your fly. Sometimes they can be subtle, and they will often take flies on the drop. Erratic retrieves, using weighted flies with pauses every now and then, often entice savage takes. Be ready for the take, as the fly line will quickly be pulled through your fingers if you aren’t prepared. A short strip strike works best; just lifting the rod in a ‘trout strike’ rarely results in a solid hook set. Any manner of unpowered watercraft will get you on the water, and the fishable area of Devilbend isn’t too large to be a chore. I prefer float tubes for their manoeuvrability, aspect and intimate connection with the water. You may prefer a stand-up paddle board, kayak, pontoon or raft – whatever your poison, give the ‘bend’ a crack if you get the chance. The estuary perch are willing, the trout are challenging and the company is entertaining.

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