On the scale of Aussie sportfish, trout are placed very definitely at the skinny end.
Generally though they are a very wary adversary, and once hooked they fight hard often with some spectacular aerial antics. Capturing them involves careful fishing in scenic but often technically challenging environments, and using specialised equipment. When everything comes together and you fool even the smallest trout, its not only great fun but extremely satisfying.
Happily, south-eastern Australia provides some fantastic opportunities for trout anglers in every southern state. Tasmania is the Aussie trout angler’s Nirvana and especially renowned for its lake fishing. It’s fair to say that no other state in Australia can match the consistent quality of fish in the Apple Isle. Nevertheless, Victoria also has its share of trout, particularly but not exclusively in the high country and foothills of the Great Dividing Range.
I caught my first trout on a fly in 1995 and I’ve hardly lifted a spinning rod since. There’s definitely no snobbery intended in that statement – it’s merely a reflection of the enjoyment I derive from catching trout on fly. I cut my flyfishing teeth catching big rainbows in the Tongariro River and other streams around Lake Taupo in the North Island of New Zealand during a seven-year stint in the Shaky Isles. Much of what I learnt on the mighty Tongariro is reflected in my fishing back here in my native Victoria, albeit it on a smaller scale.
I tend to do a lot of upstream nymphing. It’s a good way to go when the water level is a little higher than optimal in the opening weeks of the season. For effective nymphing, vary the weight of the nymph and the length of the leader to match the depth of the water: slow, shallow water makes it easier to get the fly down to where the fish are. On the other hand, fast flowing deep water necessitates much heavier nymphs and longer leaders.
The key to successful nymph fishing is ensuring the fly drifts along the bottom in a perfectly natural way. In this regard, the way your nymph is presented is more important than your choice of nymph. Any drag at all will cause the fly to drift too quickly, or too slowly, or even sideways in relation to the current.
Watch the end of your fly line like a hawk. At the slightest hesitation of the line where it enters the water – strike!
The one exception to the ‘no drag’ rule is on the swing at the bottom of the drift. When the line comes tight, the nymph swings around to a position directly downstream of the angler and lifts up off the bottom. This often induces a savage strike. I’ve caught many trout on the swing in this way –once I even caught a nice rainbow on a nymph that was bobbing around downstream while I undid a tangle in my line!
It can also be a good idea in spring to use both nymphs and dry flies simultaneously. A dry fly can be used as a strike indicator for a nymph suspended 30cm or more beneath the surface – depending how close your want the nymph to the bottom. Keep a close eye on the dry fly and if its stops or pauses in any way – strike! Don’t be surprised if your indicator gets eaten either! Casting two flies like this can take some getting used to, but it certainly covers your bases and doubles your chances of success.
Shore-based lake anglers won’t be disappointed by the trout fishing opportunities in the early season either. There are myriad trout lakes of all shapes, depths and sizes and many of them are well stocked with trout by either the government, private clubs or individuals. Stillwater options range from the lakes in the Tasmanian highlands to humble farm dams in Gippsland, Victoria - and everything in between.
As with stream fishing, there are many different techniques for flyfishing in lakes. Some lakes – especially but not exclusively in Tasmania – provide great opportunities for sight fishing to tailing or otherwise visible trout. For many anglers this is the ultimate experience in flyfishing and requires the highest degree of stealth and accurate casting – plus an ability to study the conditions and offer the trout the fly they want.
Lake and dams lakes can also be fished blind, using both wet and dry flies to search likely areas for cruising trout. Flies and the equipment used are generally up sized from 5 weight or less to 7 weight or more. Larger wet flies and streamers used for searching are usually cast out and slowly retrieved to hand, while dry flies can be cast out – sometimes in gangs of three or more – and allow to drift downwind while maintaining close control of the line.
Spinning can be effective in many situations, but under some circumstances it’s simply a more feasible technique to use than flyfishing. For example, when fishing in deep or fast water in which the trout are holding deep, a spinner or lure will often give you a better chance of getting down into the strike zone. Similarly, if the water is dirty from recent rain, spinners are usually a better bet than flies. Rivers in which the bank-side vegetation is simply too thick to cast flies, or where a long cast is required to reach the best lies, are other situations where spinners would be useful.
The spinner to use depends on the water you’re fishing in. As a general rule of thumb, the smaller the water, the smaller the spinner. On your classic small mountain streams, you can’t go past small bladed spinners like a Celta or a Mepps. When fishing discoloured water, a black or dark spinner can save the day. At other times, go for something with a bit of shine or flash about them.
If possible, vary the retrieve with twitches and pauses, though you’ll have to keep them moving or the current will wash you into trouble. Fishing these tiny spinners is the ultimate in spin-fishing finesse. They are designed to imitate insects like cricket or grasshoppers and need to be fished with the most delicate rod and threadline reel you’ve got.
In bigger rivers and lakes, where smelt and other small bait fish form a significant part of the trout’s diet, you’re likely to find success with minnow-style lures. These lures usually have bibs to impart them with action and keep them beneath the surface, but stay clear of the deep diving versions if fishing shallower water – you’ll be constantly hitting rock or hooking timber. Take a variety of colours and present you’re lures using a variety of retrieves until you find a combination the fish want.
Other types of lures such as cobra style wobblers, spoons, soft plastics and the latest range of lipless crankbaits can be used with equal success in many instances.
Trout will be more likely to be found around structure, which in turn is almost always closer to shore. On arrival at a lake for a new session, putting a few casts close to the shore for a retrieve that runs parallel to the shore should be the first thing you do - before you scare off any close-in trout.
No matter which method you use, you won’t do any good unless you can put your fly or spinner in the right place. Which place is that? The equation is simple. The vast majority of fish will be holding up where cover meets feed source. In other words, you’ll find fish in places where they can eat without leaving the cover that protects them from predators – or at least not for too long.
In rivers, trout like to position themselves where the current provides a kind of natural food ‘funnelling’. Good spots include where current plunges into or exits a pool, where it concentrates against a bank, or simply near where the fast water hits the slower water at the edge. In these types of spots, trout will be stationed facing upstream. At that point they zip out from their station and inhale the offering – you’ve just got to make sure that’s your fly or lure!
In lakes such feeding spots include surface wind lanes, slicks, foam lines, areas where streams enter, and corners and bays where drifting insects are concentrated. These feeding areas are not generally as obvious in lakes as in streams, but it starts to become easier if you remember that it is the wind that provides the surface current in lakes – so developing the ability to read where the prevailing wind will deposit the trout’s food source is paramount.
Usually cover is provided by the physical characteristics of your chosen waterhole. For example, trout might take cover under overhanging banks or submerged logs, in pockets in weed beds or beside midstream underwater boulders. In rivers, such physical cover also provides trout with welcome respite from the constant pressure of the current. Look for such cover within feeding areas, and you will have the prime target zone. Don’t forget though that cover can also be provided by ‘non-physical’ phenomena such ripples on the surface of the stream, shadows cast by boulders or low tree branches, and, of course, darkness.
Once you’ve got an idea of the likely lies, all that remains is to work them systematically. Flyfishers fishing upstream (as most do these days) will simply use the current to drift their artificial offering to their quarry, being careful not to ‘line’ the fish in the process. Spin fishers will also use the current, in conjunction with the forward motion of the retrieve, to position their lure. Again, the only real way to get a handle on where you should be casting so that the spinner ends up in the strike zone is to practice – but rest assured the trout will let you know when you’ve got it right!
So get out there and give in to temptation. Whichever way you tempt a trout, I’m sure you’ll find that it's not as complicated as some would have you believe. You may have to persist for your first fish, but after that there’ll be no looking back!
For many mountain streams a fly rod and reel combination in 5 weight, or even lighter, is all you will need. For bigger rivers and lakes, upsizing to 7 weight is a better option.
Floating lines will suffice for the majority of shore-based trout fishing scenarios. Weight-forward lines are best for some extra authority when casting, but they can’t be reversed like double taper lines when one end starts to wear. After you’ve mastered the floating line you can start getting fancy with sink-tips or sinking lines.
The most convenient option for leaders are commercially-available tapered leaders. You can also make your own from plain old monofilament, step it down from 10kg to 3kg in about four steps. Flat leaders will often suffice for nymphing. Don’t make the mistake of having too long a leader, on small streams a bit over a metre can be enough.
For streams start out with some basic fly patterns like Elk Hair Caddis, duns, Red Tags, Humpies, Royal Wullfs, some hopper patterns, Hare and Copper nymphs and Pheasant Tail nymphs (include some bead heads).
Spin gear is fairly straightforward. Choose light, fast action spinning rods with matching threadline reels in size 1000 to 2500. Spool up with monofilament from 1kg to 3kg breaking strain. Alternatively, braid or gelspun in about the 2kg range is extremely light and fine. It makes casting light spinners easy (and gives you some extra purchase when extracting your spinner from vegetation!).
Like flies the list of effective lures is too long to list here. In small streams try small bladed insect spinners. In larger waters minnow-style hard-bodied lures may be effective. The latest range of minnow imitating plastics are extremely effective as are the latest in crankbaits.