Jim Allen and the jassids

During a year when quite a few jassids are turning up in Tasmania, Jim tells us what he knows.

Recently I was asked about the reappearance this year of the leaf hoppers we anglers in Tasmania’s highlands call jassids. I confessed to my interrogator that I really knew very little. However, he reminded me that having fished the highlands for around half a century, perhaps I knew a mite more than most! So I’ve resorted to my diaries and memory to recall what I can.

From my experience, Tasmania has two species of jassids of interest to flyfishers. The more popular and well-known one is the black and red jassid, which turns up in impressive numbers every now and then, particularly through autumn. The other is a much smaller insect which some flyfishers identify as the cinnamon jassid.

To me, both are mysterious insects, and as per my protest above, I truly feel I know very little about them. However, I do understand the fascination, because when jassids turn up, our speckled adversaries absolutely love them, and I’ve seen instances when the trout will not take anything else.

Jassids clamber on to some strap-weed while an angler beyond waits for a rising trout to come within range.

Late this summer and into autumn saw a return of a number of the black and red jassids on waters like Penstock Lagoon. They are a very beautiful, miniature cicada-like insect with black wings marked with white striations and a pillar box red belly. If one is picked up from the water, it will leap from your hand like a grasshopper. Every now and then, flyfishers notice large numbers of jassids on gum trees around the edge of the lagoon and get excited, yet they don’t end up on the water. Eventually however, there are usually some warmish, light wind days when the jassids do end up on the water in substantial numbers and then the trout look for them feverishly.

Very occasionally, jassids seem to be everywhere, even out in the Western Lakes where there are few gum trees. I suspect that when conditions are perfect, like other forms of insect life there are explosions of jassids and they are prolific all over. I’ve been told they come every seven years, however after researching my diaries, I don’t think this is correct. I do think they prefer a long, sustained warm autumn and it’s perhaps every ten years or more (not seven) that the conditions become ideal for a large increase in jassid numbers. However, when the first really bitter cold front with sustained snow arrives to herald winter, it seems to be the end and they die off and disappear overnight.

Beautiful jassid conditions at Penstock; almost too good actually, with the trout spoilt by thousands of them on the water. Definitely fly-twitching conditions (see a few paragraphs down).

There’s an old adage in the rural community that farmers look for an autumn break in March, expect it in April and get it in May. In the years of a sustained mild autumn, I think these little critters get a chance to breed and there is a continual annual build-up of their population – until the year when the autumn break comes early. This year, 2018, has seen a build-up year with a few good falls on the waters that are known for jassids. Hopefully next year might be a legendary ‘year of the jassid’ but who really knows? As I said earlier, jassids are a mystery: always have been, and, I suspect always will be. So as I pen these notes, I remind the reader to not go to the expense of booking a jassid trip to Tasmania on account of my prediction. Remember, during the nearly fifty years I’ve been fishing in Tasmania, I can only really recall three or four great jassid years.

One thing I can be certain of, is your jassid pattern must be tied with black and red materials, roughly in the shape of a real jassid, and about size 14 or 16. My good mate and now retired trout guide Bill Beck ties a superb pattern, as do a few other tiers in Tasmania. Many commercial patterns are just plain awful, so I suggest you tie your own based on the pictures of the real insects hereabouts, or search your favourite fly shop where you might just find a decent imitation or two.

A capsized jassid gives us a trout’s eye view – note the ripples as it struggles in the film.

Although trout adore jassids and will often select them over anything else on the water (including mayfly and gum beetles), on the rare occasions when there are huge numbers of jassids, it can become hard to track the trout as they randomly twist and weave through the sea of naturals. I think I’ve written before of a trick I use in prolific dun hatches, which is to give your fly a tiny twitch if you believe a tracking trout is in sight of it. Many times, I’ve discovered this little movement will generate a take.

Jassid falls seem to be more common on waters that have surrounding eucalypt forests. Lakes in Tasmania like Arthurs, Penstock, Woods, Bronte, Dee, Echo and Laughing Jack which have trees close to the water’s edge, are better known for jassids than the more open waters. Yet as I commented earlier, in the big years jassids seem to be all over the place. I well remember a remarkable day on Little Pine Lagoon, which has very little bordering forest. It was overcast with full cloud cover and a light easterly breeze. Overall, the kind of warm, humid day when you might expect a thunderstorm later. I think every trout in the lake was up and rising to jassids.

On big open waters like Lake Echo, warm days with a light breeze often create productive wind-lanes from mid-afternoon onwards. These oily slicks can attract a soup of fallen insects and if there are a few jassids about, then set your boat and drift down the lane with your eyes wide open, looking for the tell-tale signs of nervous water which indicate feeding trout. Remember with wind-lane fishing, it is important to have good manners and not poach another boat’s water. In fact, some good advice is, if you see a wind-lane occupied, go and find another.

Mark Weigall hooked up to jassid feeder in late February this year. While there were more jassids on the water in overcast weather, the trout this day were easier to track as they hunted down every jassid.

The other significant jassid which I mentioned before, is the cinnamon jassid. Again, while it’s a rarity, every now and then I’ve seen thousands of them on Arthurs Lake and Great Lake. They are brown in colour and tiny, about the size of a large pin head – impossible to precisely imitate with a fly. Fortunately, a small black or brown gum beetle pattern or Bibio Hopper will usually suffice. Trout absolutely love cinnamon jassids and during those rare perfect cinnamon jassid falls, it can seem as if the only movement on the lake is the nervous water of gently rising trout! I’ve had some amazing fishing when this happens, and I will often pull up the boat in a light ripple and be on the lookout, just in case.

As with the black and red jassid, I really know nothing about the cinnamon jassid except to say in a lifetime of fishing, I’ve seen only a few prolific falls. Cinnamon jassids seem to fall from January onwards – but that observation might only be because that’s when I’ve found enough of them to record a special fishing day in my diary.

I’ve written before that the ‘Book of Flyfishing’ is a hundred pages long and few of us live long enough to reach page ten in our acquiring of knowledge! But surely this is the charm of fishing with a fly rod, and this is most certainly true when it comes to these cryptic little leaf hoppers. Perhaps over time we will learn more. Meanwhile, make sure you have a few jassid patterns in your fly box for any late season Tassie trips this year, and for autumn next year… just in case!