Trout In The West

John McConigley provides a guide to the Warren River

Western Australia is not blessed with prolific trout streams. Searing heat and dramatically reduced rainfall confine any likely trout waters to the extreme southern corner of the State. Here a handful of rivers and streams still manage to hold a scattering of stubborn trout, both browns and rainbows. Since the successful introduction of trout to the Pemberton area in 1927, ‘our’ trout have slowly changed as the climate warmed and dried. Now they can withstand temperatures of up to 29°C, which would kill trout in cooler climates. The watery jewel in this precarious crown is the Warren River. It rises way inland as the Tone and Perup rivers, flowing with some salinity south west, gathering momentum as small streams trickle in, adding cool fresh water as it enters the higher rainfall of the mighty karri forest. Shaded by these impressive giants, the pools lie quiet and mysterious, giving no hint of what lies beneath the tannin stained waters. The trout seldom show themselves, so where does the puzzled angler start? The banks of the Warren are densely overgrown to the water’s edge. Wading is out of the question except in high summer, when the flow is reduced to a trickle and wet wading is possible in some log-choked stretches. The pools are far too deep, and a kayak or float tube is the only hope. Even then, the trout are few and far between. More prolific are redfin perch, which are regarded as a feral species and must not be returned to the water. The upside of this is they are great eating and grow to a good size – 1.5 kg is not uncommon. So, back to the river. With the pools not very productive, this leaves rapids, rock bars and anywhere where the current increases. The faster the better. Rainbows love the faster water and the browns haunt the areas where the current starts to lessen before entering a good pool. THE WARREN IN DETAIL Anglers have a lot of river to peruse. Trout do not venture much upstream of the Wheatly Bridge on the Wheatly Coast Road, and generally the further downstream you go, the better the chance of finding fish. There are some rock bars just up-stream of Rooney’s Bridge on the South Coast Highway that produce fish if the weather it not too hot, especially in the early morning and evening. The serious young angler with an exploring bent can ‘bush bash’ or kayak for kilometres in either direction, and there are some classic spots for the adventurous to find. However, the less strenuous option is to drive into the delightful town of Pemberton, visit the coffee shops (the pub comes later) and drive to several easy to reach (and to fish) rapids and rock bars. The first of these is Bannister Road Bridge. It is a good gravel road, well sign-posted. The spot is delightful, with many nooks and crannies to run a fly through. Some large trout (up to 4 kg) have been caught here in late evening and early morning. They slide into deeper water as the day heats up. Not far below Bannister Road Bridge lies a marvellous set of overgrown, slippery, channelled runs and rapids at a spot called Regen Road. It is signposted and not difficult to access, if you don’t mind using your four-wheel-drive for what it was intended. Every little channel between the bushes and boulders should be fished. Scramble across the channels right to the other side of the river — most anglers only fish the southern edge and miss the best fishery. If you don’t want to get your beloved vehicle scratched by the bushes, return to Pemberton and then take the road past the Gloucester Tree (a fire lookout tree open to the public who are willing to climb the spikes driven into the trunk to a lookout 53 metres above the ground — don’t look down), which will take you to Moon’s Crossing, downriver. It is indeed a crossing, but only in summer. The flow in winter would deposit your vehicle a long way downstream. Again, much time can be spent finding the nooks and crannies. We have watched anglers drive up, cast into the obvious pool below a small waterfall (with and without success), then drive away, having ignored a good hour’s fishing in productive boulder runs and riffles. Just on the western edge of the town of Pemberton lies Lefroy Brook. In spite of its appearance in summer — barely flowing — it is a prolific stream and is usually clear, so sight fishing is possible. The Lefroy flows south through dense karri forest, entering the Warren below Glauder’s Bridge. It is possible to walk through the paddocks from the bridge right to the mouth where the Lefroy meets the Warren. There is good fishing from the mouth down for several hundred metres. You can then fish up the Lefroy on your return. Back on the Warren, Gloucester Bridge holds fish around the logs. It is an easy and popular spot, so the lucky angler gets the fish. Still working downriver, stop at Brockman’s Bridge (Warren Bridge) and walk downstream on the north bank a few hundred metres to the mouth of the tiny Treen Brook. Again, it is a popular spot, but continues to produce trout at any time of the year. Not far below here, the Warren National Park begins. It is worth driving through it to experience the awe-inspiring karri forest, as it was before clear felling. A bonus along the drive is Heartbreak Crossing, where, in spite of its name, a pleasant hour can be spent casting into the runs flowing off the old crossing. Still winding our way downstream, the next easily accessible spot is Barker Road Crossing. It is possible to drive across in summer, but looking at the gouges on the rocks, I would give it a miss unless you love that sort of thing. It is an idyllic spot, usually fishing best at dawn or dusk or on cool, cloudy days. For the angler who likes a real challenge, there is a long, long set of rapids some distance below Barker Road. The track is not signposted, and is challenging, but to those fit or foolish enough, it produces great fishing when the water is flowing enough to create some white water. The rapids are called ‘Broken Canoe Rapids’ and, as the name suggests, should never be attempted in a canoe or kayak. I believe they are Grade 5 and we have seen flotsam and jetsam from people who have attempted it — amusing for us, terrifying for them. After this very long stretch of rapids, the Warren has very little access and is almost devoid of runs or rapids. However, there are some good spots for the explorers who are willing to spend time with a map and a kayak. Below the last property — named ‘The Colonels’ on most maps — there is no access to the river at all, except by kayak or punt. However, in contrast to the pools much further up the river, this very long winding section holds fish right down to the sea, some six km away. It is sandy country and numerous small trickles flow out of the sandy banks into the river, even in the hottest weather. They are clear and cool and the trout will often sit with their noses in the trickle and can be ambushed with a stealthy approach by kayak. GEAR FOR THE WARREN So that’s a thumbnail sketch of the Warren as regards trout. Now for the gear best suited. Firstly, most anglers I know wear vinyl waders with Blundstone style rubber boots bonded on. This is as much to protect from the not uncommon tiger snakes and very common blackberries, as to keep out the cold water. In hot weather, some people wade around in shorts and stout shoes in some of the shallower sections. The odd swim is not unwelcome. We use 3.5 kg tippets as the trout are generally not leader shy and we lose less flies to the numerous logs and snags, not to mention the pulling power if you are lucky enough to hook a good trout — up to 2.5 kg — or a large redfin. They head straight for the unforgiving snags. Because of the nature of the banks and depth of water, you have to fight the fish from where you hooked it — you can’t follow it downstream, so a stout tippet is almost mandatory. We favour 4, 5 or 6 weight rods. The 5 or 6 are usually 9-ft and handy for the more open spots, whereas the 4 is usually 7-ft and ideal for the tighter, more overgrown corners. A few anglers use 3-wt, but having broken two in one day, I don’t recommend them for the Warren, and they don’t like large, weighted flies! Leaders can be short — 9-ft is adequate — due to the tight runs and logs. We always carry landing nets, as some spots drop off high rocks into deep water, and short of trying to haul the fish up the rock, a net with an extendable handle is invaluable. Everyone has a different assortment of flies — the truth being that the trout are seldom selective. A lot of their food is large — small marron and galaxiids up to 10 cm long. Small flies will catch big fish, but they will also catch a lot of small, undersize trout, whereas large flies catch the larger fish, and are seldom refused if presented correctly. So we carry black flies, usually weighted to get down quickly in the current. Beadhead Woolly Buggers are a favourite, in sizes from 6 to 12. WARREN TACTICS Given the nature of the accessible fishing spots, the casting is usually downstream — it is lucky if you find a spot where you can cast upstream. So the fly is cast across and down, and allowed to swing across the current, or drawn in slowly to keep the fly moving and up off the bottom. If you are lucky enough to see a fish rising, it can be cast to with any generic dry fly, as there are no hatches of note — the river bottom is sand and mud, so mayfly and caddis hatches are almost non-existent. Ant hatches (termites) do occur in massive swarms now and again, but getting your fly chosen from the tens of thousands on the water is a thankless task. It’s better to pack up early and retire to the pub. To round off the Warren, and its potential: it is a magnificent area to fish, with unrivalled scenery. The trout are not prolific. One or two 1-kg fish a day is considered satisfying, but the experience is like no other. You need a WA Freshwater Fishing licence — see the Department of Fisheries website. The Warren and its tributaries are open all year. Catch and release is the norm, but if you like keeping some, the limit is four trout a day, minimum size 30 cm. There is no limit in size or number on redfin and they must not be returned to the water. Get the best map possible of the area — the Pemberton i-centre can help.

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