Spring on the sweetwater
  |  First Published: October 2014

Spring is a fantastic time to wet a line in any of our diverse freshwater environments, from the cool trout waters of the deep south all the way to the jungle perch and sooty grunter streams of our tropical rainforests. This month, Starlo offers some valuable freshwater fishing tips for new chums and old hands alike.

It was the legendary Australian outdoor writer and doyen of fishing journalism in this country, Vic McCristal, who first popularised the term ‘sweetwater’ to describe our more pristine freshwater angling environments. It remains a particularly fitting label for these magnificent places.

Whether you ‘re keen on chasing those speckled immigrants, the trout, in Tasmania, Victoria and the high country of NSW, inland natives such as cod and yellowbelly west of the divide, bass in the coastal rivers, or sooty grunter, jungle perch, saratoga and barra up north, the period from now until Christmas is prime time for a little sweetwater adventure.

As the weather and water warm up, all of these fish become increasingly active and more willing to grab a bait, lure or fly.

Bait fishing is a great way of getting started in the wonderful world of freshwater fishing. All of the species described so far will happily eat a range of natural and not-so-natural baits. Common, garden-variety earthworms make a great starting point and will catch most freshwater species at one time or another. (As a matter of interest, garden worms also appeal to bream, whiting and even flathead in the salt, especially after rain.)

Rigs are best kept simple and, as in most fishing, anglers using smaller sinkers and finer lines or leaders usually get the most bites. A simple running sinker rig with a small ball sinker sliding freely on the line right down to the hook works well in many freshwater scenarios, although some anglers prefer to add a small swivel 30 or 40 cm from their hook, with the sinker running above this. In really snaggy areas, a dropper or paternoster rig with the weight at the bottom may be better. However, if at all possible, dispense with the sinker altogether and go weightless. You’ll catch more fish.

One valuable tip is to keep your worms in a shovelful of soil taken from the bank of the creek or hole where you’re fishing. This quickly gives your wriggling baits a bit of local “flavour” and increases their appeal to resident fish.

Catching other baits is also easy and fun. Check local regulations to find out what you’re allowed to use and how you’re permitted to catch it before securing supplies of shrimps, yabbies, cherabin and insect larvae such as mudeyes (dragonfly nymphs). But don’t rule out oddball baits, either. Frozen saltwater prawns, strips of skirt steak, chicken breast and cheese all catch their share of freshwater fish, so be prepared to experiment and mix it up.

Many anglers will soon wish to move beyond bait soaking and begin casting or trolling a few lures in the sweetwater. This is an exciting and active way to fish. Start out with a small selection of basic lures and don’t spend a fortune on bizarre and expensive offerings that you may never end up using. Talk to the staff at the local tackle store about the lures that work best in your area and also seek their input on sizes, colours and how best to present and work those lures.

A couple of floating/diving hard bodies, a few spoons, spinners or spinnerbaits and a handful of soft plastic tails with matching jig heads are about all you need to get started in freshwater lure fishing. But be warned: it’s a highly addictive pursuit! Don’t be too surprised if you soon find that you need a much larger tackle box to carry all your shiny new acquisitions!

I’ll return to the subject of freshwater fishing several times during the coming summer and offer some more specific clues on targeting various species. But for now, dig yourself a punnet of lively worms, grab a couple of lures and get out there… Spring has sprung and the fish are biting!

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