Tuesday, March 5, 2024
How toTips & Techniques

Summer high country trout

IT has been a while since the nation’s south-east experienced a “typical” hot Aussie summer.

Recent summers in my neck of the woods have been uncharacteristically short, cool and wet – thanks to a persistent La Nina weather pattern.

Trout relished the reprieve from the heat – and so did fishos.

While it wasn’t necessarily a great period for beach holidays or owning a backyard pool, La Nina was heaven for anyone chasing these spotty little fish.

That’s all behind us now.

The El Nino weather pattern we are currently experiencing has produced a much more “traditional” late spring and early summer.

Sure, it’s rained on-and-off, but gone are the widespread heavy falls and below average temperatures. 

Some inland areas in the south-east have had very little precipitation and are moving to water restrictions.

With El Lino forecast to last well into 2024, expect this pattern to continue.

And expect trout fishing over the coming summer months to take on a whole new complexion.

They’ll still be there and biting, but anglers will need to re-think their approach.

Stream of thought

While the fortunes of every waterway in this country hinge on Mother Nature, the high-country creeks and streams are unique.

With no catchment – they feed the larger rivers and streams below – they rise quickly when it rains and fall rapidly when it’s dry.

In spring and early summer, they’re generally healthy, thanks to snowmelt that seeps from sphagnum bogs.

By Christmas time, if there hasn’t been any significant storm activity, the mountains start to dry out.

The creeks fall into a summer pattern, characterised by reduced flows and increased water temperatures.

When the heat is on, though, don’t underestimate the resilience of the fish in these waterways, though. Like anglers, they too adapt to the conditions.

Most are tough little wild brown trout, a hardy species that can survive surprisingly harsh conditions.

In fact, 99 per cent of the fish I pull from these tiny creeks are browns. I encountered a couple of rainbows during the recent wet summers but haven’t seen one since.

These feisty browns respond to the heat and bright sunshine by retreating to the deeper pools or finding comfort under overhanging banks and thick vegetation. 

They fire-up in the morning and evening, as the mercury drops. They also revel in the occasional cool day, or when cold fronts and storms drop much needed rain.

But they remain very catchable. And if you do your homework and understand how these fish are responding to our first long, hot summer in years, you will still enjoy some sublime high-altitude trout action.

Pool party

The alpine streams that zigzag across Australia’s rooftop at altitudes above 1500m are characteristically narrow and shallow.

But most feature deeper pools at regular intervals – this is where the fish will be when things heat up.

This season, focus on the pools and deeper holes, firing casts into these areas with tiny hard-bodied minnows that resemble a clumsy grasshopper or similar terrestrial insect.

The fish will be quick to pounce on anything that splashes down in their vicinity. The anticipated hot weather will mean insect activity should be at fever pitch for most of summer, with juicy hoppers particularly active.

There isn’t a meal a trout enjoys more than a big, fat, protein-rich grasshopper. A 4cm hard-body does a fair impersonation of a mountain hopper, splashing down in a similar manner to an errant insect that has missed its mark and fallen in the drink. 

If there’s a hungry brown in the vicinity, it’s often a matter of seconds before the lure is engulfed, so fishers need to be on their toes.

If you’re slow to react, the fish will quickly reject the piece of plastic before it’s hooked, leaving you empty handed.

Keep your cool

Fishing for alpine browns is all about reward for effort.

In other words, anglers who cover the most ground tend to catch the lion’s share of fish.

Don’t waste too much time exploring each pool. A handful of casts in a given spot is more than enough – if fish are there, you’ll know almost straight away. 

Moving from location to location, covering as much water in the process, is the key to getting the most out of a high country trout session.

Fortunately, the air temperatures at altitude tends to be more fisher-friendly than down on the tablelands.

Weather records show that temperatures in locations like Perisher Village and Thredbo Top Station have never reached 30-degrees. They’ve got close – I think 29 is the record.

So you can happily fish up here all day long – even in mid-summer – and not get too hot.

You will, however, get assaulted by March flies, so it pays to cover up and pack the Aeroguard.

The UV is also extreme at these high altitudes, so don’t take any chances with sun protection, especially on those exposed body parts that can sometime be forgotten – hands, forearms, ears and neck.

Get high

Every trout season dishes up its own set of unique challenges. This season is shaping as no exception, with the weather gods set to remind us that we do, indeed, live in a sunburnt country.

With every challenge, though, comes opportunity. 

With a little adjustment, and a preparedness to persevere, anglers should find the fish as plentiful as previous seasons.

The coming months are arguably the best on the calendar to chase wily alpine trout.

Regardless of what the weather gods dish up, I am betting that plenty of fish will be caught. 

Get up there!

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