Fishing the opening weekend in the highlands is one of my favourite events of the Tasmanian trout season. It’s a great opportunity for any lure caster to hook a few trout that are eager to feed once spawning duties are over.
Waters that have suffered the effects of low rainfall or draw-downs during the past season are now in better shape due to the decent winter rains. The resulting change in levels means that this opening should see trout working over freshly covered ground. Hopefully the shallow water bite will eventuate and provide a nice mix of options for anglers.
Traditionally the first few weeks of the trout season will offer good fishing over weed beds in around 3-4m of water. Trout feeding on snails, scud and stick caddis are prime lure targets as they chomp their way through the tower like strands of weed that are common in many bays.
At times the bite can be a frenzy of activity early on in the day and early starts are always an advantage, particularly in still conditions. In contrast, a bit of breeze can mean the trout will use the cloaking effect of the broken water surface. This is because the trout feed a little shallower or longer as food is often dislodged in these circumstances.
A well-presented soft plastic is without doubt the best all rounder at this time of year. In order to obtain that quality presentation it’s very important to balance your rig to get the best possible movement at the lure. My upper limit for braided line would be 6lb Fireline or other gelspun and dyneema lines of similar diameter in order to allow as much natural sink as possible. Keeping your fluorocarbon leader around 6lb will also make a big difference. The other really big one here is of course the rod. It has to be graphite and have a light enough tip to register the taps you get prior to a decent take.
Minnows or stickbait profiles are where most trout anglers first tested the water in regards to soft plastics on trout. Great baitfish imitations like the Berkley 3” Dropshot Minnow and Berkley Gulp 3” Fry both remain as fantastic galaxia patterns and are perfectly designed for deeper weed bed work. This style of lure works very well when casting forward of your drift with the slender shape allowing excellent drop on the pause. This is when you will often register a nip or tap from an inquiring trout during the lift part of the ‘lift and drop’ retrieve.
Often the next drop will result in a solid response from the trout. An important factor when fishing in this way is to only move the lure with the rod tip and not fish the lure from the reel. Try to use the reel only for picking up slack line if at all possible. Longer stickbaits or even worm style plastics are often more suited to casting against shorelines or over much shallower water.
Paddle-tail or T-tails are by far the most popular pattern for casting into or along shores. The paddle-tail catches the water and lifts the rear of the lure as its retrieved, keeping the presentation level and slowing the sink rate. The mesmerising pulse of the tail is also a very lifelike movement that prompts the attention of cruising fish. Both these assets make for a very successful lure and it comes as no surprise that this style of plastic has really taken over the market in the last season or two.
Some of my favourites are the ever present Berkley 2.5” T-tail, Atomic 2.5” Ripperz, Ecogear 2.5” Grass Minnow, 70mm Squidgie Fish and the Slider 3” Bass Grub. Black and gold, watermelon, smoke yellow core and imitative trout colours are all very good in our highland lakes.
Paddle-tails also make a great lure for slow rolling over weed beds but may require slightly heavier jigs to get the tail working at times. You can also cut down the length to suit a fussy bite if need be while still maintaining the subtle tail action. Another option for quiet times is to use a smaller curl tail grub like an Atomic Ripperz 2” Fat Grub or the Berkley 2” Powergrub if all else fails. As a rule I tend to use a 1/8th jighead for deeper water or a 1/16th in shallower waters when starting out for the day.
I then tweak the amount of weight depending on wind or subsurface obstacles. Generally I tend to go a bit heavier if I can as I find that heavy jig will give the lure more flex and life. I tend to use a size 1/0 or 1 hook for almost all soft plastic fishing in the highlands as the majority of our waters have plenty of good trout mostly in the 800gm to 1.5kg range. Big hooks for big mouths!!
Early season is also the perfect time to throw hardbodied lures for lake trout. Once again the freshly flooded margins of many lakes will provide good prospects for anglers that prefer to use diving minnows. The lack of any established weed in close should allow good use of slender floating hardbodies around the shore or over shallow flats. The timing of level rises in Arthurs and Great Lake for example could not be better for those looking to throw lures to trout tailing on the edges.
Many slim profile minnows currently available to the bream fraternity are ideal for fishing in less than a metre of water. In fact the majority of small Japanese minnows have been designed specifically for trout.
Some standouts from last season were Ecogear MX48f, Nories Laydown Minnows, Daiwa Presso 6f, Strike Pro Smelta, Rapala XR06, Ecogear MW62f, Stiffy Minnows and both the 50 and 70mm Daiwa Dr Minnows. In addition to those, a couple of old favourites that still undo many good trout are the trusty Rapala original F7 and Nilsmaster 7cm Invincible. A couple of classic trout lures! They’re just some of the choices out there so as you can see there are plenty to choose from.
Given the opportunistic feeding habits of our brown trout and the abundance of slender baitfish (galaxia) in many Tasmanian lakes, it’s easy to see why hardbodied minnows continue to be a ‘go to’ trout lure.
When moving out deeper to target trout holding on rocky bottom or weed beds there is often the need to get down to the fish. Spoon style lures can be very good for this type of application. The 2-4m zone is the best depth to swim these lures when drift spinning. On the odd occasion when I do throw a spoon I find it’s a good idea to do away with braid and use a quality monofilament line like 8 or 10 lb Maxima Ultragreen. The obvious choice of lure here would be Wigston Tassie Devils 13.5gm (03, 06, 48, 63 colours), Lofty’s Cobra 13gm or Pegron Minnow spoons in frog or rainbow trout colour.
Deeper diving hardbodied lures such as Ecogear SX43, SX48, Bassday Kangoku Shad, Daiwa Spike TN Revo 53 SP-G, Daiwa 50mm SC Shiner, Jackall Deep Chubby and the Rapala Glass Shad Raps will get down to between 1.5-2.5m. These crankbaits are fantastic for crash-diving around standing timber, boulders and weed margins.
Last, but by no means least is the lipless crankbait or vibe (vibration bait). Whether it be the classic moulded plastic with rattles ‘Rat-L-Trap’ style or the new pressed metal VX40 blades, you can’t go wrong.
These versatile lipless lures are very good trout lures when the trout decide they’re on the menu. And in my book, there can’t be many better ways to catch a trout. The takes are simply awesome! I’m not sure why but once committed, trout seem to really pounce on lipless crankbaits. With the bigger models representing quite a meal to hungry early season trout, vibes will attract plenty of bites.
A way to employ deeper running lures is to long cast them down wind and work them just above weed beds. Using an erratic retrieve with plenty of rips can often work well on rainbow trout in open water. As with most lure fishing it can be well worth experimenting with lure speed and action on the day and let the fish decide what’s best.
My favourite method of delivery would have to be pitching these lures in and around the drowned timber on Arthur’s lake. This is usually an early morning affair which consists of a quick milk run of favourite or likely looking locations. Normally rigged using a slighly heavier braid and leader (8 or 10lb PE braid and 8lb fluoro leader) setup, vibes are cast tight into gaps in timber stands and rolled back to the boat with a medium paced retrieve.
This forces the trout to strike at the lure or miss out altogether. It’s a classic reaction strike scenario that often results in a ‘heart in mouth’ fight amongst the sticks.
The other main application for vibes is slow rolling in open water which can be dynamite on overcast days. Long casts over established weed beds followed by a constant rolling retrieve should do the trick.
Something I have noticed recently is that the silent non-rattling versions seem to be better suited to the open water and the noisier rattlers are best around structure. Blades on the other hand seem to be the finesse vibe and often draw a response when conditions are still and the trout have shut down.
Gently flicking blades against any cover followed by a quick hopping retrieve has worked for me. There are many lipless crankbaits on offer but the Ecogear VT65SP, Jackall TN 50/60, Ecogear VX 40, 45 and 50, Megabass X-Smartra Silent, Jackall Mask Vibe 60 and Bassday Range Vib are all fine lures.
The new kids on the block at the moment would have to be lipless minnows. The sinking models can be fished much like a soft plastic and in just about any type of water. Smith Shirasu Minnow and the Tiemco Stick Minnow are both worthy of a try.
Lastly a few words on lure colour. Black/gold or green/gold are great combinations for any lure and a hint of gold is an asset to just about any trout lure. And for something different both chartreuse and pink have turned around a slow days fishing at times. Imitative colourings like brown/rainbow trout, wakasagi (Japanese for smelt), ayu and perch are all good fish takers. But importantly, there is no substitute for a superior finish when it comes to colouring a lure. Invest the extra dollars and the rewards will come. A good quality selection of lures including some favourites and perhaps a few that I’ve mentioned should offer lots of option in the early season.Reads: 9380