Gourmet Trout Foods

Greg French lists some all-time favourites on his Tasmanian sight-fishing menu.

Throughout the fishing season, Tasmania’s wild trout – browns and rainbows – consume an astonishing array of mini-beasts. Some of these – the gourmet foods – provide the serious trout hunter with spectacular sight-fishing opportunities. Here are a few of my favourites. Baitfish (explosive charging) In Tasmania, sea-run whitebait migrate up estuaries and rivers between early August and late December. These baitfish are just 40–50 mm long and usually transparent, but they cluster in their thousands, forming dark ribbons along the edges of the current. Sea-run and river-resident trout feed on whitebait with gusto. Often you can see them sprinting across shallow flats adjacent to the main current, veils of spray streaming from their wake, frightened bait erupting all over the place. I especially love fishing from the white-sand beaches flanking the Henty and Little Henty estuaries, and sometimes I don a pack and walk 25 km along the South Coast Track to the outlet of New River Lagoon. If you have access to a boat (I use a sea kayak) I also recommend the Huon River near the Huon Bridge, and the Lune River downstream of the road bridge that crosses the head of the estuary. Then there’s the freshwater reaches of the Mersey River (from Latrobe through to Kimberley) where you’ll see trout bow-waving across the riffles and hunting in the shadows of overhanging willows. Baitfish also occur in a few Tasmanian stillwaters. With Lake Sorell closed to fishing, we make do with Tooms Lake (FL#39) and sometimes stumble upon spectacular but incidental events in the Western Lakes. For small whitebait, I use a Sloane-style whitebait pattern tied from natural seal’s fur. For larger baitfish (FL#92) I prefer a black or green Fuzzle Bugger. Scud (classic tailing) Overseas, scud are often found in deep water (they underpin the Lago Strobel fishery in Argentina and the Yellowstone Lake fishery in Wyoming). Tasmanian scud are mainly found in weedy shallows, and feeding trout often stand on their noses waving their tails in the air. Sometimes they’re eating snails as well, but invariably they’re hard to fool. The most famous destination is Little Pine Lagoon in the highland moors. Here, the action is most reliable from early October to late December. It pays to be on the lakeshore before first light because the fishing often stops the moment direct sunlight hits the water. Calm mornings are divine, but trout also tail in surprisingly rough conditions. Other waters can fish well throughout the season at any time of day. The Pump Pond is ever reliable, but the Western Lakes offer much bigger fish. Then there’s the top end of Laughing Jack Lagoon, which offers exciting fishing from mid-November to mid-January when the water drops and the scud are forced to amass along the edge of the rapidly receding shoreline. All sorts of flies can work. I like to splash down small, heavy-bodied dries. Others use lightly weighted ‘nymphs’. The only thing for certain is that a pattern that works well one day is bound to fail next time around. Earthworms (mooching & tailing) After heavy spring or summer rain, lowland meadow streams (the Meander, Macquarie, Mersey, Leven, Inglis and South Esk) quickly back up over weedy verges, and trout instantly move into the shallows. The same thing happens in small highland lakes (the Bronte System and many of the Western Lakes). First things on the menu are spiders, which are enthusiastically sipped from the surface. Fishing at such times is fast and furious, but the action tends to be short-lived, ending abruptly the moment the water starts to recede. Much more durable than drowned spiders are earthworms, which have a half-life to rival uranium. In very shallow water, wormers can be seen mooching about with their dorsals and tails clear of the water. Sometimes, though, the best habitat is knee-deep and you have to polaroid the quarry, which is a lot of fun in bright weather. In contrast to small rivers and lakes, big hydro impoundments can stay ‘high and rising’ for weeks at a time. Since long-drowned worms disintegrate on contact, trout are forced to inhale them, and in these situations inert presentation is paramount. Lake Echo works well any wet year, while Great Lake only works after a succession of flood years. My go-to fly is a ridiculous-looking pink-chenille imitation. Chironomids (porpoising) The English call these tiny mosquito-like insects ‘buzzers’ for the sound they make as they swarm over the water (or get in your ear). The Irish, on the other hand, call them ‘duck flies’ for the way waterbirds — gulls as much as ducks — gorge themselves during mass-hatching events. In both countries the preferred fishing method is to sink a team of nymphs deep down, targeting bigger fish feeding on pupae rather than smaller fish feeding from the surface. In Australia and NZ we call chironomids ‘midges’, and we prefer to fish surface flies. On mainland Australia, in impoundments like Lake Eucumbene, emerging adults are famed for clinging to one another, and the best flies are moderately large ‘midge ball’ patterns. In most NZ lakes, the midges don’t ball up but the flies themselves are relatively big and again the fishing is ‘easy’. Tasmanian midges are real buggers. The most common varieties are pinhead tiny and they don’t ball up. Trout sip them down one after the other, porpoising rhythmically, the rises usually less than a metre apart. Pupae and emergers are usually concentrated in offshore slicks and wind lanes, so most fishing is done from a boat. Accurate casting is vital, and to complicate matters the fish are often very easily spooked. (Rob Sloane’s The Truth About Trout (Revisited) is essential reading). Cool, calm mornings from early December to late March are most reliable. Classic destinations include big hydro impoundments like Lake Burbury, Dee Lagoon, Great Lake, Arthurs Lake and Lake Echo, but there can be plenty of action on smaller lakes and tarns in Mt Field and the Western Lakes. As for flies, you’ll end up trying everything. Tiny ‘imitations’ can work well, but sometimes you’re better off trying to induce a savage reflex-response with a weighted nymph. Caenids (rhythmic sipping) Caenids are tiny, fat-bodied mayflies with translucent wings. Trout adore them, especially the duns. They exist most places around the world, but surprisingly not in NZ (FL#67). In Tasmania the best action occurs early on calm mornings from late November to Christmas. Once the sun hits the water or the wind gets up, it’s over. In rivers, the duns typically float down easily recognised bubble lines. Trout mostly sit in station and sip them down one after the other as they drift overhead, usually with just the tips of their snouts breaking the surface. My favourite streams are the Mersey from Latrobe to Liena and the Leven at Gunns Plains, though Brumbys Creek and the lower Meander can also be very good. In lakes, caenid duns are often scattered all over the surface. They precipitate stunning activity on the northern basin of Meadowbank Lake and the Mentmore arm of Dee Lagoon, but the rises can be frustratingly erratic. River or lake, a small CDC fly is usually good enough. It’s all about presentation. Mayfly duns (clopping rises) In the Tasmanian highlands, summertime dry-fly fishing in most shallow, weedy lakes is underpinned by large ‘leptofleb’ mayflies, notably black spinner species (FL#10, #11, #12, #29). Strangely enough, there are no truly lake-dwelling mayflies in NZ. In some Tasmanian lakes the nymph of the predominant black spinner mayfly crawls out onto rocks to hatch and the duns largely go unnoticed by trout (FL#84). In other lakes, however, the nymphs ascend through the water column and the duns hatch on the water surface, where they drift aimlessly like little sail boats and are clomped down by showy, noisy trout. The most famous venue is Little Pine Lagoon, but you’re likely to find very good action on Woods Lake, Penstock Lagoon, Bronte Lagoon, Tooms Lake, many of the Western Lakes and in the more sheltered bays at Lake Echo. Any well-tied imitation will do the job nicely, providing it sits low in the surface film. Mayfly Spinners (leaping) Adult black spinners (FL#84) are eaten by trout when they fly back over the water to mate. Trout prefer to eat them as they hover – before they dap their eggs – and will happily leap clear of the water. Black spinners are reliable on warm, calm days from early December to early March. Clear, blue sky is no impediment, so you can often polaroid the fish between rises. The most reliable lakes include St Clair Lagoon, Gunns Lake, Little Lake and most of the Western Lakes. Riverine black spinners can be relatively small and usually prefer rocky or silty substrates. My favourite locations include the full length of the Mersey, the mid-reaches of the South Esk, and the Meander upstream of Deloraine. Red spinners featured strongly in the works of David Scholes, and are a major part of Tasmanian fishing lore. Like black spinners, they are large ‘leptofleb’ mayflies, the main difference being that the hatches peak in late spring and early summer, with a hiatus in mid-summer followed by a small resurgence in early autumn. They are more common on ‘lowland’ waters than in the highlands. Red spinners occur in prolific numbers on some lakes (FL#89), notably Tooms Lake and Talbots Lagoon, but are traditionally associated with weedy, slow-flowing meadow streams of the north and midlands, including Brumbys Creek, the lower Macquarie and the lower Meander. Conditions need to be just so, with the air temperature around 20°C and no breeze. The spinner flies I use are rather bulky and feature a black (or red) hackle with prominent sheen. Traditional imitations are more delicate, and most are not very durable. Damselflies (leaping) Trout also leap high out of the water to take damselflies. Tasmanian damsels have a strong preference for marshy water. My favourite places include St Clair Lagoon, Gunns Lake, Woods Lake, Little Lake, the Nineteen Lagoons and the Chudleigh Lakes. Lowland meadow streams – including Brumbys Weir 1 and the South Esk River – can provide equally good action. The best hatches occur throughout the day from early December to late February. My flies incorporate a short body of sky-blue foam and a bulky head of sheeny-black saddle hackle. They certainly aren’t perfect imitations. Willow grubs (subtle sipping) What makes willow grub feeders so attractive is the degree of difficulty (FL#18, #47, #66). The grubs hatch from galls on willow leaves around Christmas time. They are very small and yellow/green, and fall freely onto the water even when there’s not much wind. In Tasmania, willow-grub feeders are most common on the quieter pools of meadow streams (you can’t beat the lower Mersey and Meander) where they cruise back and forth in the shadow of overhanging willows. Because these trout have all the time in the world to inspect the fly, they are much harder to catch than the ones I’ve encountered on faster waters in New Zealand and Patagonia. The rises are quick and subtle, and good imitations are essential. I use Stu Tripney patterns in conjunction with fine, soft tippet. Super-accurate casting is essential; the leader needs to alight softly, but the fly itself needs to ‘plip’. Gum beetles (classic rises) In Tasmania, Gum beetles provide iconic fishing (FL#2). The rises are showy, but for consistent results you need good imitations. Foam-bodied patterns are ideal. Beetles take to the wing when the air is warm, so northerly winds any time from mid-November to early March are best. (When the weather cools in autumn, gum beetles may give way to red-and-black jassids, extending the prime ‘beetle’ fishing through April into May.) In truth, trout seem to prefer mayflies and other aquatic insects, so beetles are of most value on deep lakes where they’re likely to comprise the bulk of the easily available surface food. If it wasn’t for gum beetles, destinations like Great Lake, Lake Echo and Dee Lagoon would not be quite so revered as they are. Beetles commonly get funnelled into wind lanes and slicks, most of which form off shore, so fishing from a properly equipped boat can be a real advantage. For best results, you need to polaroid the trout between rises. Tasmanian lakes are crystal clear but in the deep water off shore, where there’s no visible substrate, the fish can be difficult for beginners to see, even when cruising centimetres below the surface. Rest assured, practice makes perfect. Grasshoppers (savage rises) In Tasmania, grasshopper fishing is a stream thing, the best venues being rural lowland waters: the lower reaches of the Macquarie, South Esk, Leven, Meander and Mersey. Remember, grasshoppers are susceptible to pesticides, and underdeveloped pasture is always best. The best thing about grasshoppers is that trout feast on them in a frenzy of big, splashy, gulping rises. When it’s on, the fishing is easy. You can use big ugly flies, and there’s no need for subtlety when casting. My go-to pattern is made from neutrally buoyant deer-hair with a mustard-coloured foam body. The best time is late summer when green pick is largely confined to the riverbanks. Damn, I’ve just exceeded the maximum word count and there’s ants, and plankton, and termites, and cockchafers, and mudeyes. And more, so much more…

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