The lake was crystal clear and I could distinctly see each of the brown spots that randomly adorned the perfectly proportioned brown trout as it swung around a rock and tracked along the undercut bank that lay at my feet. I was standing at full height, leaning on my camera tripod, as I had been for the last fifteen minutes.
Once again the fish, following the exact same beat, swam past close enough for me to touch it with my foot. And once again this same fish tracked an airborne mayfly spinner and exploded from the water to engulf it mid-air. I stood mouth agape and pulse racing, wondering how the fish had not seen me yet? The only plausible explanation being that the fish was so preoccupied with the aerial bounty that it had not focused beyond the first foot of air above and I had escaped attention.
This fish and others I have observed feeding in this manner do a display a kind of reckless abandon, science teaches us not to project human emotions onto animals but its tempting to interpret this abandon as fish having some fun; albeit with a valuable reward for doing it correctly – a mouthful of a tasty mayfly.
I watched and filmed that fish feeding for over 25 minutes without being detected. It remains the most incredible of all my fishing experiences. The opportunity to observe, at such close quarters, a wild animal predating so ingeniously and with such efficiency was spellbinding. From that day forth I have been addicted to finding trout feeding on airborne mayfly spinners or as my Tasmanian mates call them ‘The Spinner Feeders”.
Most anglers would only observe such fish briefly before making a cast and who could blame them! Luckily for me, my occupation has forced me to hold fire and observe these fish for long periods. This has led to some interesting insights.
The bulk of my spinner feeder experiences have been in the Western Lakes and my observations should be taken in that geographical context, although I am sure they roughly apply to most waters in Tasmania. Let me loosely and unscientifically describe the happenings that lead to this magical event. The Western Lakes of Tasmania lay on an alpine plateau in the centre of the island, they experience a significant mayfly hatch during early summer. The mayfly nymphs ascend to the surface from the weed beds where they have been living. Once at the surface they hatch into mayfly duns. The trout feed extensively on both the ascending nymph and the hatched dun. Those duns that avoid being eaten fly onto surrounding vegetation where they under go another metamorphosis into the adult mayfly spinner. Spinners will sit in vegetation until there are calm conditions when they will take to the air in giant clouds of mating insects. They often congregate in the windbreak offered by large rocks or backside vegetation. Once successfully mated the female spinner lays her eggs in the water by dapping her body on the surface. It is the mating and dapping stages that the trout can become fixated with.
Timing, as they say, is everything. Time of year is critical, spinner falls of magnitude will only happen over a period of roughly one month and in some water I suspect this time window to be even narrower. In the Western Lakes I have found the three weeks after Christmas to be the peak of the activity. The other essential ingredient for spinner feeding trout is the correct climatic conditions. In short, you need calm and warm weather, an unusual occurrence in the Western Lakes, even in summer.
Assuming you have been lucky and arrived at your chosen lake or river to find the trout feeding heavily on spinners; you might be excused for thinking that its only a matter of throwing a fly in there and hanging on! While there are times when it is this easy, but for the most part, they can be quite hard to fool. Understanding the intricacies of this feeding behavior can give the angler the upper hand.
Spinner feeders follow a beat and this is usually along a bank of the lake or river. When the action is intense this beat will be quite small, between 10 and 20m. During the lesser activity, they may patrol a much larger area. When you spot some activity it pays to watch for a few minutes, you should see numerous splashes. You can safely assume these are from the same fish. After a while, a pattern will emerge and the fish’s beat will become apparent. Ambush tactics are the most effective and fun. Cast your fly, which should be a suitable sized black parachute spinner pattern, to a place directly in line with the fish’s beat.
The stories of lakes boiling with fish taking spinners are true – I have witnessed it. During such times each bay will have a fish leaping with abandon and they can be very easy to catch. But it is the exception rather than the rule, in over 40 days fishing during the peak period I have witnessed that on only two occasions and then only for a couple of hours. They are precious memories and they keep me coming back in the hope of another encounter with Tasmania’s enigmatic Spinner Feeders.
Article, photos, and video from Nick Reygaert, be sure to follow him @ginclearmedia on Instagram.
The full version of HATCH is available on Amazon Prime. It is an episode from the trilogy of films in the Planet Fly Fish series (LEVIATHAN and PREDATOR are the other two). Check out the films here.