Tails of tailing brown trout
  |  First Published: September 2013

September always excites me as an angler and a fly fisher.

Winter is dying its slow death for the year and as the lake temperatures are slowly warm up for the spring. We start to see some more trout enter the shallow margins of lakes, and this gives us the pleasure of sight fishing to tailing trout.

Tailing is a term used by most to describe brown trout that choose to feed in shallow water that is shallow enough to expose tails and backs of the fish through the water's surface, but always remember, they aren't all the same, they aren't all feeding on the same thing, and different situations spark trout to tail in each different water.

Lowland rivers

The rivers on the lowlands of Tasmania are often subjected to minor winter/spring floods. To find consistent tailing trout sport really relies on these rivers flooding new ground to encourage the resident trout to throw all caution to the wind and enter shallow ditches and flood-created bays. Here they mooch around for flooded terrestrial insects and creatures and start showing their tails.

It can involve fishing in inclement weather, as you want to be there as the river is rising, not arrive a long period after it has already risen, as trout will soon have their fill and retreat back to the main channel. If it keeps raining and a major flood happens, there can simply be too much water between the fish and fishing will be unappealing, and in some instances dangerous.

To find these tailers it pays to sit on a ditch or backwater and wait and watch, blind casting will often scare any prospective trout away, so tread carefully and be patient, let the fish come out to you and into your vision.

The Meander, Macquarie, South Esk and other mid-northern slow rivers are Tasmania's premier broadwaters, but all rivers with backwaters or pastured banks are worth a look when they are rising over new ground, fast waters are not to be ignored either!

Hydro Lakes

In September, the once icy lake shallows should start to warm up, more and more tails should appear. Many of these lakes have muddy, weedy or silty shallow marshes and bays rich in aquatic life, which encourage trout to come in close.

They can behave in different ways, tailing trout in rising water will often be on the move, and cruising along with their backs and fins out of the water, searching for food and moving prey like frogs, snails, stick caddis, tadpoles and damsel nymphs, whilst as levels subside as the season goes on, trout in thick weeds in waters such as Little Pine Lagoon will quite often be nose down and tail up feeding on a very specific amphipods (shrimp) or water snails and be very difficult, or as the traditional name suggests, they can be untouchable!

Other hydro waters great for tailing trout are any on the northern highlands of Tasmania which have shallow bays, marshes, weedy substrate, and good aquatic insect populations. Penstock, Arthurs and Little Pine are my favourites.

If you want to see tailing trout, set your alarm, as the best tailing action either occurs before and just after sunrise, or in the late evening, but on rough or overcast days, Trout will tail during the day provided it stays dull.

Western lakes

The western lakes would have to be my favourite waters to search for tails; as much as I love summer polaroiding on blue sky days out there, fishing to trout tailing in inches of water on misty spring mornings or evenings can be equal, or not better sight fishing with a fly that you will ever come across.

I was always taught as a young angler by my mentors that spring and summer polaroiders will not always find all the fish, in recent years I've focussed on trying to find big fish in remote lagoons and headwater lakes. One thing I've found is that these fish will often hide during the day in ditches or under big rocks and are not always easily seen in the day, so it is great tactic to find shallow weedy or silty bays where they may tail, bide your time, and be there at dawn waiting for tails!

Trout in the many shallow western lakes will usually tail right through the spring and into autumn, but as the weather heats up the only time you will consistently find them tailing is pre dawn or evenings.


Many anglers will tell you that as far as flies go, in the early season it’s wet, wet and wet. Flies such as unweighted Woolly Buggers, Woolly Worms, Green Nymphs, Scud, Black Beetles, Black and Peacock and Montana Nymphs are great flies for tailers, but detecting takes is not easy: a greased tippet can help detect takes, but not always.

Truth be told, if you present a dry fly gently in front of a tailing trout from September onwards, I find it is just as effective, and it is much easier to see the take, and time the strike, especially for beginners.

Takes of the dry greatly outnumber the refusals for me, so I am very comfortable throwing dries such as Black Spinners, dun patterns, emergers and even the good old Red Tag at tailing fish, as there is nothing better than seeing that tail go down, nose come up, and a big fish clop that dry fly down!

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