Bare deciduous trees glowed like old hands in the headlights as Lindsay, Mark and I drove through the deserted main street of Newstead towards our basic motel room. Late on a Friday night, wisps of fog were already gathering over the paddocks on the edge of this little central Victorian town.
It might have been midwinter, but the thought of the Tullaroop Reservoir smelters we’d fished for the previous weekend, and our after-dark arrival (without a chance for a pre-fish) meant the anticipation levels were high. The edginess as we sat in the motel wasn’t helped as we recalled certain trout caught, and missed, on the last outing; and offered predictions – all erring towards the optimistic – about what the following day might bring. It looked like it would be calm, and the lake was creeping up. Perfect!
It was almost midnight before tiredness finally overcame enthusiasm. My motel bed was too soft and my feet dangled over the end, but as I drifted off, my last thought was, there was nowhere on earth I’d rather have been.
We set the digital alarm on the Formica bench for an ambitiously-early 5.00am start. This probably meant we’d arrive at the lakeshore in the dark, but no one wanted to miss even a minute of light and fishing time.
You can imagine my state then, when I woke with a start and glanced with bleary eyes at the clock. 5.30! The alarm mustn’t have gone off! With the sort of urgency usually saved for when I’m in danger of missing a flight, I jumped out of bed and straight for the kick-start of a shower. Yet I’d no sooner fully submerged when a sleepy voice called out. “What are you doing?” It turned out that in my half-dazed state, I’d misread the clock. It was 3.30am, not 5.30. By the time I got back to bed, Mark and Lindsay were in tears of laughter at my error.
After a half-hearted attempt by all three of us to do the sensible thing and go back to sleep, we soon gave up and gave in to the excitement of a new day. We prepared a basic breakfast involving lots of toast, made a few cups of tea, sorted flies and rigged rods fastidiously. Even so, it was still pitch black when we pulled up beside Tullaroop’s north-western shore.
All these years later, it may surprise you to learn that I can’t remember what we went on to catch – which possibly suggests that the actual result was unremarkable. But I can recall the clock mistake, the good humour of my fishing mates, and the contented, almost blissful feeling of being at the beginning of a fishing trip. Never mind that it was a trip to a not-so-glamorous water a mere 2 hour drive from Melbourne, in the depths of winter.
Winter flyfishing still has a hold on me, and I can’t easily explain why. Perhaps part of the answer is that, without the siren song of the streams to distract me, I can focus fully on the lakes and, increasingly, estuaries and salt.
I now live less than an hour from Tullaroop and several other very good trout lakes, and less than 2 hours from yet more winter water. In autumn, there’s often a conflict between making the most of the last stream fishing for three or four months (and often very good stream fishing at that), versus the start of reliably decent local lake fishing as surface temperatures cool. Do you want to miss the end of something, or the beginning? Last autumn, just after I’d locked in a north-east Victoria stream trip, I received two independent hot tips that the Lake Bullen Merri chinook salmon were firing up within range of the shore. Predictably, the Ovens, Buffalo and Kiewa rivers all fished well, but I couldn’t shake the sense that I might have missed a once-a-year window at the crater lake. Choices, choices…
No such dilemma in winter, when for trout fishing at least, it’s pretty much lakes or nothing. And am I just trying to talk myself into it, or are there more big fish about? The same ones that might have been feeding on smelt, gudgeon or galaxias in fifty feet of water over summer, are now moving in closer in the low light and cold.
Some acquaintances, and even a couple of friends, treat winter as a time to take a break from the actual fishing. Instead, they tie flies, sort out a season’s worth of disorganised gear, wash their vest and waders; maybe even make a rod. Each to their own I suppose, but I do wonder sometimes if they know what they’re missing.