To segue from JD’s last post, a succession of cold fronts, plummeting temperatures and welcome rain have all seen stream fishing slip away in my mind, to be replaced by the lakes. From my home near Ballarat, I can’t easily count how many decent winter lake fisheries are less than two hour’s drive. Candidates that immediately spring to mind include Wurdiboluc, Wendouree, Newlyn, Tullaroop, Moorabool, Wombat, Lauriston, Upper Coliban, Harcourt, Bullen Merri, Purrumbete, Bellfield, Wartook and Fyans. And that’s after two dry years which have seen several very good lakes like Tooliorook all but disappear as trout fisheries.
That’s probably a good point to make first up – pick your winter lake wisely. Given the decent rainfall in May and a promising outlook, it’s possible some lakes that were dry or almost dry will refill to worthwhile levels in the coming months. However keep in mind that these waters will have negligible trout stocks, at least initially. Even if they end up ‘qualifying’ for a stocking this winter, it will take time for those trout to reach a decent size. You can check recent stocking history here. A good rule of thumb is, if there wasn’t enough water for stocking in 2015, chances are the lake in question will hold few if any trout pre stocking in 2016. Even if a given lake did get stocked in 2015, that’s no guarantee it held enough water for the trout to survive summer 2015/16, but the information is a start!
As for tactics, they’re more numerous and variable than I can possibly list here, but if you like your sight fishing (as I do) four possibilities stand out. Polaroiding is great fun on the central and western Vic lakes. While wade polaroiding Tasmanian-style is only practical on a few lakes under ideal conditions, polaroiding from elevated banks or walls is much more viable. As with any polaroiding, you may need to cover a fair bit of water to find a fish, but once you do, there’s often more than one. This method is great with a partner – one to spot from up high, and one to fish from down low. Just be sure to take it in turns!
Smelters (baitfish feeders) are another winter highlight. I covered this form of fishing in detail back in issue 7 of FlyStream magazine (click the magazine tab above). I’m already seeing lots of baitfish – and trout chasing them – so I have a feeling 2016 could be a bumper winter for smelters.
Midging trout will test you every winter, sometimes to distraction! But they’re a great winter option for sight fishers. Cloudy, light wind days can produce action at any time. This blog is a bit of a crash course in midge & midge fishing. Jim Allen’s column in the upcoming issue of FlyStream (Issue 11, out next week) also has lots of great midge fishing information.
Finally, tailers – or more aptly for Victorian lakes, shallow water cruisers – are likely to be a feature this winter as rising lake levels inundate long-exposed shores. The mini-flood will flush all sorts of terrestrial food, and create prime habitat for plenty of aquatic creatures as well. Look for trout sneaking around in low light, visible only via the faintest dimples and tips of tails and fins. I’ve already fished to some trout behaving this way at Newlyn just a few days ago – a Scintilla Stick Caddis under an indicator did the job this time, though you may need to try inert Woolly Buggers, Woolly Worms or midge ‘buzzers’. Pulled flies often result in spooked trout, or stop-start follows without a take. As with most of the opportunities already mentioned, this is demanding fishing that requires a few things to line up before it delivers. You need to change your mindset from the fast stream fishing of just a few weeks ago, to something more patient and observant. Now, even a single fish caught is a victory – but it may just be the weight of ten of those obliging trout from a mountain stream.