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March: Predictable, productive
  |  First Published: March 2005



It's hard to beat this month as a time for good fishing. The weather is about as predictable as it can be all year, river and lake levels are generally stabilised or at least predictable and the water is mostly clear or clears quickly after brief storms.

The ace in the hole, however, is that fish behaviour is by now predictable. That means you have a pretty shrewd idea how the trout, cod, perch and bass are likely to react to your efforts with fly, lure or bait at different times of the day, every day.

Trout are among the easiest to understand. In the lakes they feed a lot at night in the upper layers of water, often close to shore, gorging themselves on yabbies, mudeyes, shrimps, mussels, water fleas, snails, nymphs and lots of other aquatic insect larvae as well as terrestrial insects which blow onto the water during the day and worms and grubs which have been washed into the lake by rain or flushed out of the soil where water is rising over new ground.

EASY CATCHES

Some of these trout are pretty easy to catch. Bait anglers target them with scrub and tiger worms or mudeyes fished under a float or on the bottom with a light running sinker. Floats are mostly round, water-filled plastic types but increasing numbers of anglers have switched to the slimline Mudeye Wagglers. These are easy to cast, very responsive to a bite and do not drift ashore in the wind as other floats tend to do.

Tiger worms are generally fished as a bunch with plenty of loose ends on a slim No 6 or No 4 Mustad, Eagle Claw or Tru-Turn hook. Thicker or larger hooks cause the worms to break and fall apart.

Scrub worms can be fished whole or in half, slid onto a No 6 or No 4 hook which preferably has baitholder slices on the shank to stop the bait sliding down.

Mudeyes can be fished as a dead bait under a float on any of the above hooks but the most productive technique is to use a small No 10 to No 14 hook, piercing the critter only through the bumps of the wing cage on the back. The mudeye then stays alive in the water, often attracting a fish by zooming around and around under the float, using its built-in water-jet propulsion system.

POWERFULLY EFFECTIVE

PowerBait and other similar artificial baits have become extremely popular for lake fishing, mostly at night. There are various colours and each angler swears by one colour or another but I suspect that the same magic ingredient, the secret attractant, is used in all of them and the array of colours is to make us feel we are exercising some choice in the product we buy.

The great benefit of these baits, apart from their attractive odour, is that they float off the bottom if you use a small enough hook. That means when you cast a bait out on a light running-sinker rig, it floats off the bottom free of the algae and other detritus down there. That makes it easy to find for a fish cruising along, just above the bottom, seeking food.

The trick is to find a hook small enough to hide inside the bait and light enough to enable the bait to float off the bottom but strong enough to hold a good fish.

The best hook we have found is the small black No 10 McLaughlin’s Mudeye hook from Juro. It is strong enough to handle large fish and has a nice wide gape which usually results in firm hook-ups. But it also can be removed easily if fish are to be released alive.

FLY REWARDS

Fly fishing at night can be enormously productive. Not only are there lots of fish in the shallows but among them commonly are the big, crafty fish too smart to come out and play during the day.

You have to understand that fish can see quite clearly at night, even on a pitch-black night when you cannot see your hand in front of your face. As required, a fish's eyes expand to take in light and they can see food items, or flies, quite clearly in starlight or moonlight. Even a silhouette is sufficient for them to home in on it.

Mostly at night we use larger fly patterns in sizes 6, 8 or 10 and we all have our favourites. Some are mudeye patterns, others small fish or frogs, while others are just general attractor patterns that we know trout will take.

Most flies are surface or immediate sub-surface patterns which are cast out and twitched in about 8cm to 10cm at a time. My own favourites include Mrs Simpson, Hamill’s Killer, Western Mudeye, Taihape Tickler, Craig's Night-time and Muddler Minnow, but there are hundreds of others to choose from.

DAYTIME ANTICS

During the day trout activity is more varied. The fish commonly keep feeding at and near the surface in the early morning, either on goodies left over from the night before or on newly-hatching insects such as mayflies, caddis and flying ants. Fly anglers can try matching the hatch with a specific fly or rely on a tried and true attractor such as a nymph or small bushy dry.

As the light intensity increases fly fishers might move from a floating line to a sink-tip line, then to a full-sinking line to get down to where the fish are stationed.

Bait anglers can continue with their night techniques, perhaps fishing deeper and deeper as the sun becomes brighter.

Lure anglers now get their turn, casting or trolling light lures such as Imp spoons or Celtas, then Tasmanian Devils, Wonder Spoons, Pegron Minnows and hard-bodied minnows on flat line.

Lure anglers also will steadily go deeper, starting with deep-diving lures, then one to four colours of lead-core line, then a downrigger as the fish go progressively deeper.

Often during the day the fish become too deep to reach or just plain uninterested. Depending on your personality and hunger for a fish, you can either then thrash the water to a foam with any technique you can think of or do the sensible thing and have a snooze in the shade until late afternoon when trout activity commonly starts all over again. Match your activity to the periodicity of the fish and you can put in a long and successful day with the least amount of stress, which is what I reckon trout fishing should be all about.

NATIVE ANTICS

Golden perch and Murray cod behaviour also can be easy to predict, mostly because we have had since about October when their ‘season’ began to observe their antics.

In our part of the world golden perch tend to feed best around mid-morning to late afternoon or early evening, then go to sleep. Cod are similar but seem to feed better at night than the goldens.

Both of the fish love hot, steamy days and often become wildly excited immediately ahead of an afternoon thunderstorm. Both like a high or rising barometer and even if the cod have been a bit sulky during the day they mostly will come out to feed just on dark.

On numerous occasions I have fished water where I was certain there was a cod in residence but, having thrashed the water to a foam with deep divers for a nil score, I have had to wait until it was almost too dark to see the lure to hook up the fish I wanted.

Cod and goldens prefer to stay deep in the water column and often shelter under or near structure such as rocks, stumps, logs, overhanging trees, jetties, bridge pylons, moored boats or any place that also provides shade and shelter for prey such as fish, insects, yabbies or shrimps.

You can target these locations with baits such as wood grubs, shrimps or yabbies, left for the fish to find or bobbed up and down enticingly. Or you can work them with big deep divers or large flashy spoons. Goldens will take small to medium deep divers but cod are suckers for the biggest deep diver you can cast.

Irrespective of what technique you use and what fish you hook up, the result is always the same – a delightful sense of satisfaction that you have used your brain and outwitted a fish.

That's usually a pretty satisfying feeling but if you would like an ego-leveller, remember that you just outwitted a creature with a brain the size of a pea. Feel better now?

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