The arrival of winter used to bring with it a sense of slowing down as my flyfishing options contracted to lake fishing for trout. Not that I didn’t enjoy the winter lakes – still do – but in fishing terms, the closed streams counted towards a nett loss. Then, several years ago, I discovered the winter bream fishing on Victoria’s west coast was not merely passable, but perhaps even better than the sport at balmier times. Whether that was a function of bream being genuinely more catchable in winter, or simply fewer distractions, I couldn’t say. Whatever the reality, these days, the first frosts and the last autumn leaves have me looking forward to west coast estuary bream as much as the finest spring mayfly hatch, or a windy summer grasshopper day on the north-east streams.
So last weekend, Max and I headed down the Otway coast with bream at the forefront of our minds, but also a plan to have a final stream fish before the closed season.
The second part of the plan saw us squeeze in short sessions on three Otway streams. Although I’ve fished for long enough to learn there are exceptions to just about any flyfishing rule you care to make, my expectations this late in the stream season were low. I don’t intentionally fish for stream spawners (that’s a personal decision, not a passing of judgement) and in early winter, that leaves few other likely highlights.
The streams were as pretty as ever, yet even when there were breaks in the cloud, the steep valley walls and rainforest canopy refused to allow any sunlight to reach the water. It felt a little like fishing in a large fridge. Still, the water was clear enough and the flows manageable. Every so often, a trout snatched at our nymphs and we caught a couple of these. I fished a large Parachute Adams above my nymph mostly as a nice, visible indicator, but with the hope in the back of my mind that a sluggish winter trout might find it worth the effort to swim up for.
And on my last trout cast on a stream for season 2016/17, in a lovely run on the upper Gellibrand River, that’s what happened. A 12 inch brownie came up and took the Adams as if it was mid-summer.
For a while it looked as if a few trout might be the trip’s main success. Back on the estuaries, where we were putting in most of our fishing effort, we were struggling to catch a bream. To make matters worse, at the beginning of the first session on the Barham estuary, I hooked and fought what felt like a good fish for over a minute before losing it; then repeated the process almost exactly at the start of the second session on the Aire! As dozens and dozens of subsequent casts stretched into hours and came to nothing, I had to fight the feeling I’d missed my only chances.
The tough fishing made no sense. The rivers had gouged deep channels to the sea, resulting in excellent tidal flow – something that’s not necessarily essential for good bream fishing, but nice if you can have it. We caught quite a few small salmon and had the odd bump, yet the result of several hours of effort was a solitary bream landed between us.
Then Max cracked the code. It turned out the bream were feeding very close to the edges, and total focus on this narrow strip of water, regardless of location, changed everything. For the rest of that session and the next the following day, we landed lots of great bream to 43cm – and even sight-fished to a few: a rarity for this area.
So Max and I are afflicted by the bream bug once again and although the streams may be about to close, it adds to the lake trout fishing we have to look forward to over the coming months.