Fly fishing in Australia: How dangerous are snakes?

How dangerous are snakes?: This is a question I am often asked, along with “Do you ever see snakes?”, “Aren’t you worried about being bitten?” and “Have you ever been bitten?” – (Yes, Yes and No in case you were wondering ).

I guess most people want to know What are the risks and what can we do about them?  Apart from staying at home and not going fishing that is.  Since just my personal experience was sufficient to answer this, I undertook some research, and ran a short survey (100 anglers)  and I have based this short blog on the results of both.

The Research

How venomous are Australian snakes?

Australia’s snakes are very venomous: Australia has the eleven most venomous snakes in the world. [ref. 1]  Of these the ones that may live near our trout streams (TAS, VIC, NSW)  are:  Eastern Brown Snake (2), Tiger Snake(4), Black Tiger Snake (5), Gwardar or Western Brown Snake (9), Copper Head(11) and Mulga or King Brown(20), Red Bellied Black Snake(21).  Note the figure in bracket is how they rank in venom toxicity.

Prior to the development of anti-venom therapy less than 10% of brown snake bites were fatal but nearly 50% of all tiger snake bites were fatal.  [ref 2.] Brown snake venom is very toxic and fast acting, so it would seem other factors preventing envenomation may have contributed to the lower death rate.  For envenomation to occur, the fangs must penetrate skin, and the snake inject/exude venom. Tiger snake fangs can be up to 3.5mm ( between 1/8 and 9/64 of an inch) and Eastern Brown snakes have fangs up to 2.8mm ( about 7/64 of an inch). [ref. 2].

The good news is that since the development of anti-venom, there have been very few deaths in Australia (4-6) per year. [ref. 3] . However it is important to know how to treat a bite, and to get medical assistance as soon as possible.

How likely are they to bite us ?

The Eastern Brown Snake is fast moving, and often aggressive, and is responsible for the majority of snake bites in Australia. Mainland tiger snakes are responsible for the second-highest number of bites in Australia, while the Red Bellied Black Snake, and Copper Head Snakes are usually less aggressive, and normally escape from human’s if possible.  The King Brown Snake is not found in Tasmania or Victoria, and whilst reputably less aggressive and venomous than Brown and Tiger snakes, they can inject a large amount of venom in a single bite.

However, in Australia, according to Bryan Fry, an Associate Professor, herpetologist and venom expert at the University of Queensland: “Snake bites are very, very rare and often the fault of the person being bitten. Most bites occur when people are trying to kill a snake or show off.” [ref. 4]

 

The Survey (100 Anglers)

How likely are we to encounter a snake ?

snakesightings

99 out of 100  respondents have seen snakes while fishing. The frequency of snakes varies by location but a third of respondents, see snakes more than half the times they go fishing.  So un surprisingly, you are almost guaranteed to see a snake if you regularly fish for trout.

 

What type of snakes do you encounter?

typesofsnakes

87% of respondents have seen tiger snakes, 50% have seen copper heads, 40% have seen red belly black snakes and brown snakes.  Interestingly (white lip/whip snakes are regularly seen in Tasmania).

 

How likely are they to bite us ?

where struck

Seventeen of the one hundred anglers surveyed have had a snake strike them (fourteen on the lower leg, one on the upper leg and two on the hand or forearm). Of these seventeen, three were struck on bare skin.  Those struck on the leg all reported to having stepped on or near the snake without seeing it initially, and all except one were wearing some protection on their legs.

typesofsnakesthastruck

Based on the survey the snake strikes were mostly from Tiger Snakes (65% of strikes), followed by  Brown Snakes (12%), Red Belly Black Snakes (12%) and then Copperheads(6%).

 

What protection do waders/gaiters/boots give ?

Six people reported being struck while wearing rubber/plastic waders, but none were  envenomed, two of these also wore gaiters. Four people reported being struck while wearing breathable waders, three were never envenomed (two of whom were struck on the boot), and one had a possible partial envenomation but did not require treatment. (This person reported having a headache the next day, finding venom on their waders, and a scratch on the leg). One person was wearing gaiters when struck, they reported feeling ill the next day. None of the respondents had to have anti-venom. Only one went to hospital.

Based on this survey it would seem: rubber/plastic waders give the best protection.  By themselves breathable waders may provide some protection, but it is possible that a snake bite, and venom may penetrate.  Similarly gaiters themselves may not fully protect from snake envenomation. Waders plus gaiters seems to provide better protection.

Conclusion:

If you go fly fishing in Victoria, Tasmania and New South Wales it is almost certain you will see one of our venomous snakes.   If you do see a snake, leave it be and give it a wide berth to minimise your risk of being bitten.  No matter how vigilant you are, there is still a reasonable chance, sooner or later , that a snake will strike at you, and it will probably be the one you did not see.

Based on the results of the survey, it seems that wearing waders and or gaiters provide some protection, but will not guarantee 100% protection from envenomation from snake bites. To prevent envenomation, protection is needed: Either a material tough enough or thick enough to prevent the needle sharp snake fangs penetrating the skin is required. Based on the length of fangs (3.5mm for a Tiger Snake), protection that is 4 mm or thicker when compressed should reduce the risk significantly.

So be vigilant, keep at least one eye on the bank (while you have the other on the river)   and if you see a snake, leave it alone, and it will most likely leave you alone.  But still be prepared.  Learn what to do and how to treat a snake bite should it happen to you or someone you fish with. St Johns Ambulance offers the following advice for treatment of snake bites: St Johns Ambulance snake bite treatment fact sheet.

Now enjoy your fishing, or try to!

 

Survey Notes:

I kept the survey short (9 questions), and posted it to a few Facebook fishing groups.  I asked a number of questions in relation to frequency and types of snakes, and whether people had been struck by a snake, and whether envenomed. In retrospect, I should have added a question about the respondents location.  The results are based only on 100 respondents, and these may be weighted/skewed  more heavily towards those who encounter snakes more often (i.e. those who have encountered snakes may have been more likely to respond).

Acknowledgments and thanks:

Many thanks to all who responded to the survey and agreed to let me use their photos. In particular thanks to Brett Chatwin, Brendan Turiff , Peter Watson and Damo Blackwell.

References:

[ref. 1] The Australian venom research unit (January 11, 2014). Facts and Figures: World’s Most Venomous Snakes (archived). University of Melbourne.

[ref. 2] . “CSL Antivenom Handbook”Tiger Snake , Brown Snake.

[ref. 3] List of fatal snake bites (Wikipedia).

[ref. 4]  “Australia’s 10 most dangerous snakes”. Australian Geographic. Australian Geographic.

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Late Season North Island Fishing

When a fly fisher hears the word Tongariro, they think of the river made world famous by Zane Grey in his book Angler’s Eldorado, and the wonderful winter spawning runs of large rainbow trout. In June, July and August every year, when the cold heavy rain falls, it swells the tiny tributaries, that flow into the main river down to the river mouth, where the chrome bodied torpedos, ripe with milt and eggs await arrival of water that carries the irresistible scent each trout’s birthplace. With each wave of rain, pods of these magnificent sort fish head to their home tributary to spawn the next generation.

However, the spawning runs are not contained just to the winter months, but continue into Spring, with a constant trickle of late runner right up to late October.  With early spring, the nymphs are starting to move, bringing mayfly hatches of an evening.  This makes for more varied and interesting fishing than just upstream nymphing with glo-bugs and heavy nymphs.  So when my kiwi mate Perry, suggested I come over in late September, I jumped at the chance.

A few days later he picked me up from Rotorua airport and after easy drive , we arrived late morning at to Turangi, on the shores of Lake Taupo.  Crossing the highway bridge, I glanced downstream, and as always there was a picket fence of anglers trying their luck.  Since there had been no rain for at least a week, and with none on the horizon, the river was low and clear.   I glanced above the bridge, and an angler was hooked up to a leaping silver fish.

Wanting to avoid the crowds, we headed up river to check out some of the pools at the top end of the relatively short stretch of the Tongariro that is open to winter fishing.  Every few hundred metres, we passed yellow signs pointing to the river, each bearing the name of the famous pools on this iconic river:  Birches, Hatchery, Major Jones, Stag and Blue.   We had decided to explore and fish a variety of pools to see if we could locate a trout or two.

Typically, without rain, the Tongariro can be a hard mistress.  It is not uncommon to be faced with a blank session or two.  We came away fishless from our first foray so we headed back down stream.   When we crossed the bridge, there were no anglers on the true right bank so we decided to try our luck.  Perry was into his first fish before long, landing a 1.5kg rainbow, I missed a chance before hooking a decent fish briefly; the hook pulling after some angry head shakes.  An hour or so later with no further action we moved upstream to rest the pool. Perry hooked his second rainbow on the tail end of his first drift, but I was still fishless.  After a further hour or so, we decided to drop back down below the bridge, where I finally opened my account.

By this time, the light was starting to dim , and we were treated to a brief hatch.  The trout appeared to be taking something on and in the surface, but we could not tell what. They were moving around a lot,  but with only one dry fly between us, an ugly looking Caddis emerger, we were only able to get one missed take on the swing.

Up early the next morning we decided to head to the middle reaches to try to pick up a fish or two at first light.  This time I was first up and managed my first within a few casts.  We worked the pool for an hour or so to no avail, so headed further downstream.  A good decision as we both hooked some good fish in this pool.  After a quiet spell, the passing of some white water rafters seemed to stir the fish up, and we had a short spell where we caught a few more.

Heading back to town we grabbed some lunch and then headed to the lower reaches.  By this time it was Friday afternoon and the weekend anglers were arriving, so it was now difficult to find vacant water let alone unfished water.  Unsurprisingly we weren’t successful and headed back to the Bridge pool for the last few hours of fishing. The Bridge pool was crowded, yet the odd angler had success, and before the light started to fade numbers thinned out.  Armed with some dry flies, I hoped to catch one or two , if we were lucky enough to get a hatch. Finally I saw a couple of large Mayflies come off the water.  I persisted with a small Adams emerger, and a small nymph, but could not raise any interest.  I finally changed to a large Royal Wulff , which was good enough to fool a fesity fish of about 1.5kg before the hatch died.

The next morning we were up early again and headed to the middle reaches for some peaceful fishing, and we managed to land half a dozen fish between us.  Before we left for an early lunch, we were rewarded with a rare treat. A pair of blue ducks , normally shy creatures that avoid humans, were so engrossed in chasing of an over amorous male, they circled us a number of times, coming closer than a rod length, and even flying under the arch of my bent rod, whilst I was trying to play a fish.

In the afternoon we shifted to a broad expanse of river, and had glorious fishing in the early spring sunshine.

We lost count of the number of prime conditioned rainbows we caught between us, most in the 1.5 to 2 Kg range, all caught on natural nymphs.  It was a great finish to a short but superb adventure.  I am pretty sure come next spring I’ll be heading across the ditch again.

Tying a simple hopper

Over the next few weeks, the hopper numbers will explode, and the trout will feast, so last night I restocked my fly boxes.

Last weekend, as we waded the field of long grass to reach the stream, swarms of juvenile hoppers leapt left and right to avoid being crushed underfoot.  You can guess what we tried fishing first.

In my fly box , I had a solitary tan foam hopper left from last season (I had a quick look for more before I left home, but couldn’t find the reserves).  The trout rose eagerly to this pattern throughout the afternoon, until an errant back cast left it dangling forlornly out of reach on a dead branch.

The tan hopper matched the natural in size and colour but couldn’t find another in any fly-box, only a few green ones of the same pattern. Unfortunately they were not as effective, and were difficult to see on the shadowed water. So last night I restocked my fly boxes and  I took a few photos to give you an idea of the tying sequence.

 

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I am no great tier, as you will see from the photos, but be encouraged, they are pretty easy to tie, and the fish don’t seem to mind the rough edges. Give it a go!.

Over the next few weeks, the hopper numbers will explode, and the trout will feast.

If you are a bit lazy, and would like some, you can contact me and I may be able to tie a you a few to order!

Fly lines for Twigging

There are so many different fly lines out there it can be a bit daunting choosing one to match your rod and the style of casting.  A quick google search returned more than fifty different choices for a three weight floating lines.

What is the ideal fly line for small stream fishing (Twigging)?

Ask this question and you will get a lot of well-intentioned, but often misinformed advice.  There are so many different fly lines out there it can be a bit daunting choosing one to match your rod and the style of casting.  Especially with textures, colours, coatings and the plethora of complicated tapers offered by manufacturers.  A quick search on the internet gave me about fifty different choices for a three weight floating line from three of the main fly line companies. It is confusing, and therefore not surprising that many end up with a poor line choice for this type of fishing.

My advice for small stream fishing line choice is:

Type of line: Double taper (DT) line with a front taper of about 7 – 9 feet.

Weight: Start with the Rod’s designated Line Weight and adjust according to your preference for that rod. (Between -1 and +1 line weights of the rod’s designated weight)

Note: this is specific to small stream fishing, and some will disagree with this, but please read on to understand the reasoning behind this advice.

Rainbow171116

 

The needs of twigging and the first 15- 20ft. of the line. 

When I say twigging, I mean fly fishing small streams with small rods of 7 to 8ft in length, using lines in the 2 to 4 weight range.  When fly-fishing these small waters we need to cast accurately in confined spaces at a range of only 10 – 30 ft., hence the most important aspect of our fly line is the weight of the first 15 -20 feet. WHY? Taking rod and leader length in to consideration, the line length used when twigging could be as little as a few feet, and perhaps as much as twenty, but very rarely more.  Therefore, we need the first 15 -20 feet, the effective line length, to have sufficient weight to comfortably load the rod.  This is where the front taper design is extremely important.

Taper Design and effective line weight

The majority of fly lines in the market are of a Weight Forward (WF) design.  They are designed to facilitate long casts (90ft+), and are great for Salt Water and lake fishing where distance can be of importance, but for twigging this design is superfluous.  The front section of a WF line, the head, is usually 25 – 40 feet in length and carries most of the lines total weight.  The remaining 40 – 60 ft. is running line, which is much thinner and lighter the head section which facilitates making longer casts.  Long casts are rarely needed for small stream fishing.

Double Taper lines have the same thickness for the majority of their length and taper at each end.   They are reversible; when one end wears out you can turn it round and use the other. (So your DT will last twice as long as a WF of the same make and model).

The first 20 ft of a DT and a WF fly lines are identical.

The taper of the line affects the weight distribution of the line. When you look at the front 20 feet of WF and DT lines of the same make, model and line weight, generally they are identical, with identical taper, taper length and material; hence identical in weight.  Therefore, for small stream fishing whether the line is a WF or DT will have no impact on the loading of the rod. See the example below of the Cortland 444 line:

DTCortland444

WFCortland444

Source: http://www.cortlandline.com

What does make a difference, however, is the length and shape of the front taper of the line.  This can differ widely from model to model and make to make.

So how does the front taper length effect the weight of the first 20 feet of line?

According to the AFTMA fly line rating system, the first thirty feet of all fly lines of the same weight class must weigh the same, e.g. 3weight lines must weigh 100 grains, 4 weights 120 grains.  Despite this, manufacturers play around with the taper of the line, and hence the weight distribution, to change the way a line casts.  A short taper puts more weight towards the fly end, a long taper, puts more weight back towards the middle of the line.

Take two extremes: a level 3wt line and a 3wt continuous (long) tapered line.  Long continuous tapered lines surfaced in the 1930’s, developed for Spey casting long distances with ease, with majority of the weight closer to the middle of the line. Typically the taper continues for the first 30 feet of line or more.   The first 30ft of both these lines weigh the same: 100 grains. See the chart below, at 30 feet the lines intersect at 100 grains.  However, the respective weights of the first 15 feet, the part we most use for twigging, are very different.  The first 15 feet of the level line weighs twice as much as the continuous taper, and as such would load the rod more.  In between the two is a classic line with a 7.5 ft. front taper.

30ftGrainweight

Why do lines taper?

Tapering from thick to thin, helps the transfer of energy smoothly from line to leader.

It is very difficult to control the turn-over and presentation with a level line, as the difference between line and leader is too abrubt.   Historically most lines DT and WF have had front tapers of 7 – 9 feet.  I suspect this is because 7 – 8ft is about right for turning over the weight of an average trout fly on a 9-foot leader and making a gentle presentation.

The longer the front taper, the more gentle the turn over, however, it can be difficult to turn over heavy flies and you can’t do much to compensate if the taper is too long for your heavy flies.  You can shorten your leader somewhat, but, if the line taper is too long, you may end up with a leader that is too short to fish effectively!

Long Front Tapers too light to load rod at close range:

Long tapers (20 ft. or more) are not suited to the short casting for twigging, and are much better suited for long roll casts, or presenting flies delicately at a distance of 35 ft. or more.  Long roll casts need more weight closer to the rod tip to turn over the great length of line.

LongTaperImpact

The chart above compares a standard 7.5 ft front taper, with a current long front taper designs.

You can see that for casts up to 30ft, long tapers are seriously underweight:

  1. A 3wt line (DT or WF) with a standard 7 – 9 front taper, will load a rod better than a 3wt line with a long taper (>13 ft.)
  2. A 21 ft taper 3wt will load the rod less than 1Wt. standard 7.5 ft front taper for casts up to 25 ft. This is serious underlining.
  3. A 13ft front taper 3wt loads the rod less than a 2 wt, but a little more than a 1 wt. About 1.5wt under.

Front Taper: 7-9 ft. is ideal.

Historically, front tapers of 7 – 9 foot were very common and have worked well. They turn over a 9-foot leader and a big fly with ease, and present a smaller fly with delicacy.

Comparing the weight distribution of lines with a 7.5 ft. and 8.5 ft. front tapers to various other current fly line tapers shows that the 7-9 ft gives a good balance midway between the extremes.  The chart below demonstrates this; it maps out the weight distribution of a variety of fly lines on the market today, showing cumulative weight of line as you increase the length used for fishing.

GrainwtVar

Things to note for twigging casts up to 30ft (15 feet of line + rod + leader):

A 3 wt. line with a 5 foot front taper, loads a rod similarly to a 4 wt. with a 7.5ft taper : Changing the front taper by a few feet can have the same or more effect as changing a line weight by one class.

1wt up and 1wt down, on a standard 7.5 foot front taper gives a good range of weights to suit different rods and casters, without going to specialty tapers.

Line weight choice: Consider your preferred casting style and rod choice.

To enjoy casting we want a line that will load our rod comfortably, with not too much weight that we lose control, nor too little weight that we lose feel.  We are looking for ‘just right’ weight. ‘Just right’ weight depends on both rod design and the angler’s preferred casting stroke.

Some anglers prefer a longer slower casting stroke; others prefer a shorter and quicker one. (I prefer a shorter quicker casting stroke when fishing the small streams, as it affords me tighter loops – but that is a whole other article.)

Different rods suit different styles: Generally modern carbon fibre rods are faster and lighter. Whilst fibreglass and cane rods tend to be slower and heavier.  The former are more suited to the ‘short and quick’ school, and the latter to ‘longer and slower’ movement.

All rods are rated for casting true to weight fly lines, and will work well with them, but may not suit every caster.  To adjust the feel you can try using a different line weight: add more weight will in general bend the rod more, and require a longer / slower casting stroke, conversely less weight will bend the rod less and require a shorter faster casting stroke.

Taking into account our preferred style and preferred rod, the right line will be the one that has the right weight to give it the right feel for you. This could be anywhere between 1 weight lower and 1 weight higher than rod’s rated line weight, and will be different for different anglers.


Conclusion: what is the best line for small stream fishing?

Type of line: Choose a double taper line with a front taper of about 7 – 8 feet.

7- 9 ft. front taper, is preferred as it will load the rod better at a short range, yet still control presentations for average leader lengths. For more delicate presentations you can always go with a longer leader (a foot or do will make a big difference).

Double Taper: In twigging, you only fish short, less than 30 ft. and when the business end wears out, turn it round on your reel, and you have 30 fresh new feet of line.  A WF of the same taper is fine, you will just need to replace it twice as often.

Start with the Rod’s designated Line Weight and adjust according to your preference for that rod.

-1wt will tighten up the rod action,

+1 weight will give a fuller load feel on your rod and if you wish to fish heavy nymphs, give more control)

 


Post Script: we now have a great line for twigging for sale here: Fly Lines

Early Season Rewards – Sep 2017

The rewards of early season, are great, but the fishing isn’t easy.

Unlike the past few years, the streams are higher and colder, meaning the trout are not looking up yet.  The insects are waiting for the warmer weather before venturing out, and the trout are aware: they are still operating on gentlemen’s hours, 11 – 3pm , or 10 – 2pm now that daylight savings has started.  Those that are feeding , are not yet out in numbers, most being tucked up in under the banks and snags, with only the odd fish out in the open actively feeding.

The one’s under the bank can sometimes be tempted out with a juicy looking worm pattern, a big nymph or a swung wet – a style of fishing that is out of fashion.  I like little wets with colour, flash or movement.

 

October is now upon us, and the mayflies and caddis will soon be hatching in numbers, and the fish starting to look up.  Reports are already starting to trickle in about the odd fish taking of the top.  I have been fishing the nymph mostly, but had the odd chance on a small royal wulff.   I am eally  looking forward to the months ahead when I can fish the whole day with just a dry fly; my favourite addiction.

Tight lines !

A simple nymphing set-up

Early season and the snow melt has my favourite mountain streams running hard and clear. It is still too cool for insects, and the trout aren’t really looking up for a feed.  They are lying deep, or hard against the undercut banks, keeping out of the heavy currents, but close enough to snack on all of the sub-aquatic nymphs caught in the heavy spring flows.

The fly fisher who persists with a dry-fly on these waters will eventually catch the odd trout, however the main game at this time of the year is the weighted nymph.  I prefer to keep things simple, and opt for a well weighted nymph below an indicator.

Recently whilst fishing with another angler, I was reminded how quick and easy the system I favour is to set-up and adjust while fishing.  They were faffing about with a gadget, tiny pieces of tube, bits of fluff and floatant for about ten minutes. In the same time, I rigged my rod, added the indicator, made a few casts and caught the first fish!

IMG_7407


How does it work?

Since I tie my own tapered leaders, I have handy knots spaced at 3, 4, 5, and 6 feet in depth. These act as handy stoppers for my indicators. This gives me plenty of choices for depth.

I use pre-treated bright yarn as my indicator, with a sliding loop to loop connection. This yarn comes pre-treated, and is highly water-resistant. The photos below show how to attach them. And how to move them.

One piece of yarn will easily support brass or small tungsten bead head nymphs, and two pieces will hold up the larger tungsten bead heads.  If you want to step it up, and use double heavy nymphs, you can use the same approach with big Tongariro style indicators.


Try for yourself

If you are sick of messing about with gadgets and floatant, and want to spend more time  time fishing, try it for yourself!

If you can’t be bothered making your own, or you aren’t confident in your knots, I have pre-tied nymph leaders, including 3 pieces of pre-treated yarn for sale in the shopping section under leaders.  Hand tied leaders start from $4.99.

 

Opening Day 2017

Opening day: some people avoid it, some embrace it. I have been in both camps.  When I first started fly fishing some twenty-five years ago, I couldn’t wait for the rivers to be open to get out fishing again.  Some ten years later, I assiduously avoided opening, waiting a few weeks, for other anglers’ leave passes to be used up in the frenzy of the first weekends.  By which time the angler numbers diminished and I could fish in peace and solitude.

This year I was invited, by a good friend and accomplished guide Scott McPherson’s to spend opening day with a few anglers at his place (Indulgence Fly Fishing) in Eskdale. As a bonus we would meet up at the RISE fly fishing festival in Albury on the Friday evening.  I met Scott and Rob at the pub, and it was pumping, the fly fishers were bursting with the joy at the expectation of hitting the rivers the next day.  It was easy to get caught up in the enthusiasm.

The next morning we gathered in Scottie’s kitchen to discuss the day’s plans, whilst he cooked up a bacon and egg sandwich to get the day started. Delicious.

After breakfast, Dave and I headed to one of the local streams, where, in spite of it being opening day,  we only had to venture a short way before we found a section to ourselves.  On checking the conditions in the river,  we found the sub-aquatic insect life a little sparse; just some tiny black nymphs under the upturned rocks.  The day was cold, and the water even colder (-4.5C), so not surprising.

Despite this after some diligent work, Dave soon had his first of the season in the net. A typical nicely marked small-stream wild brown trout.

… and a rainbow trout.

If you ventured out, I hope you had as much fun as we did. If not I hope you get out their soon.  Feel free to contact us if we can help.

Twig & Stream Fly Fishing

PS Here is a short video to enjoy:  Indulgence Fly Fishing