Autumn Windfall

Up here in Victoria’s central highlands, we’re at the beginning of a relatively short window that marks some of my favourite local fishing. For the next six weeks or so, on the right day I can pretend I’m at Dee Lagoon or Lake Echo in Tasmania; or maybe the on the western shores of Eucumbene in a good year.

The fishing I’m talking about involves lake trout cruising and rising for dry flies right on the edge; sometimes for hours on end. It’s so mesmerising, I often completely lose track of time and my lunchtime sandwiches have been known to slowly get warm and soggy on the car seat as I stalk back and forth, trying for that magic cast which perfectly intercepts a riser. But before you call in sick and race up to the lakes, I need to confess that this is kind of fishing requires a number of conditions to match up for it to work.

The right lake

While any number of Victorian lakes can produce rising trout in autumn, this windfall fishing requires a lake with at least some very steep, forested shores close to the water’s edge; it won’t work if the gap between the water and the trees is too great. As autumn often corresponds to the lowest lake levels of the year, this is a risk. Right now, lakes which have some shores which definitely fit the profile are Cosgrave, Wombat and Lauriston. Bellfield in the Grampians is a possibility on the steepest shores, and there are probably patches of good water at Upper Coliban if you’re prepared to walk.

A perfect shore under perfect autumn conditions.

The right season

The reason windfall fishing season is so short, is you need mild to warm weather to drive terrestrial insect activity, and at the same time, water temperatures cool enough for the trout to spend time on the surface. In summer you have plenty of the former yet the surface water is usually too warm… and by late autumn, water temperature is great but it’s too cold for active beetles, ants, jassids and so on. Incidentally, there can be a windfall encore of sorts in spring, but usually it’s too windy; and access tends to be harder with high water often crowding right to the edge of the surrounding forest.

The right weather

Speaking of wind, this is part of the reason the inherently settled weather of autumn offers the best chance of a good windfall day. Basically, you want little or no wind when you’re actually fishing, coupled with a mild to warm day to activate the bugs. And as the days from now on usually take a while to warm up, don’t plan on getting to the lake until at least mid-morning; and in another month, push that back to after lunch. As we’ll see, windfall feeders are often difficult to spot, so you don’t want to burning up energy and enthusiasm looking for fish when it’s too cool for them to be rising anyway.

About as much wind as you want – any more and try something else.

On the water

Finding the trout basically involves finding the food. Look for concentrations of general windfall – leaves, petals, twigs and so on, and there will be terrestrial insects mixed up with it. On dead calm days, this could be anywhere close to shore, so be prepared to do some walking. (There can be residual and apparently random concentrations from wind that has died off before you arrived.) If there’s a light breeze blowing, look for concentrations of food in the lee of points and headlands, and pushed into small bays. If it’s really windy, give up and try another kind of fishing!

Find the food, and you’ll find the fish.

Perhaps the greatest challenge is spotting the rises: they are usually tiny. It doesn’t make things any easier that windfall feeders have a special liking for the mottled shadows so common on these lake shores now the sun is lower in the sky. Listen as well as look. Ideally, present your fly ahead of the apparent path of the trout. However, if the rises appear random, it often works to present your fly to the general area and wait patiently. (A good reason to use a nice, visible pattern, lest you suffer a terrible, ‘Was that my fly?’ moment!)

Windfall feeders are usually quite opportunistic and a foam beetle, Red Tag or any other small, visible dry will usually be eaten if the fish find it.

Rainbows are really enthusiastic windfall feeders, but browns certainly do it too.

Pick your moment

To repeat, this is the challenge. Perhaps ironically given the subject heading, too much wind is a problem. When planning a windfall day, scour the local forecasts for an upcoming light wind day, accompanied by a maximum temperature at least in the high teens; ideally in the 20s.

For those without such flexibility, a plan that’s at least as good is to head for the lakes regardless – there will be plenty of other sorts of fishing available at this time of year. But if the wind drops out and it’s suddenly shirtsleeves warm, stop what you’re doing and head to a steep, forested shore nearby.

Postscript: Local lakes update.

Hepburn Lagoon is very low, weedy and discoloured. Moorabool Reservoir is quite low but in otherwise lovely condition. Newlyn is similarly low but very clear – you just need to walk a bit to find decent gaps in the weed to fish. Wendouree is in typically good shape and worth a look on cloudy days, or on evening.

Hepburn needs some autumn rain.

Newlyn is in great shape – just be prepared to walk to find open water.

Moorabool is also low but in fine shape otherwise.