Winter Lake Wanderings

In case anyone has tried to tell you otherwise, it’s been cold lately. June was colder than average for most of Victoria and so far, July is following a similar trend. Last Wednesday, Ballarat recorded its equal coldest July day ever, Bendigo its coldest July day in 24 years, and it snowed in many parts of the central highlands (including here at my place near Ballarat).

When the winter weather gets like that, it can be hard to find the motivation to head outdoors. Planning a trip with mates can drift into a half-hearted ‘oh, we must go fishing sometime’ rut; easily derailed by less interesting but warmer options – at least until spring arrives.

While winter can be cold, it’s still a beautiful time to be outdoors.

Fortunately, JD and Max are two friends who need a compelling reason not to go fishing, regardless of the weather or the season. Once I’d committed to our respective winter lake trips over the last few days, I knew there’d be no pulling out from any party.

Making a frantic indicator adjustment as a solid Tullaroop rainbow cruises in only two rod lengths away. The adjustment  worked, but I lost the fish after a brief hook-up. (Thanks to JD for the pic!)

So first with JD and then with Max, we headed to the west central lakes, followed by the Grampians. Some of the weather was idyllic, starting with calm water and sunny skies at Tullaroop. These conditions presented several excellent polaroiding opportunities, though catching doesn’t necessarily follow sighting! We also saw some big smelters; mostly a bit out of range.

Lulled by the mild temperatures, late in the afternoon on that first day, I made an ill-advised move to Hepburn Lagoon. It was like travelling to a different country, not a mere 30 kilometres. Full cloud and a bitter southerly wind gave this lake a lifeless feel, and not a trout was seen.

Less inspiring conditions at Hepburn.

The contrasts flipped back the other way when Max and I arrived at Lake Wartook the next day under a sunny sky once again, even if the air had more bite than Tullaroop. The short story here was, despite what I would normally regard as ideal conditions, chances were few and the winter staples – baitfish and midge – were scarce; at least on the shores we fished. As always though, it was hard to feel even a little ripped off on such a beautiful lake.

Max brings in a 2 pound brownie late on the second day at Wartook.

After a sub-zero start yesterday, a gathering wind ensured full winter gear stayed on for sessions at Bellfield and Fyans. In the rougher water, sight fishing chances were fewer except briefly at Fyans, where a monster smelter crashed into some galaxias huddled against the rushes. I’d just done a long searching cast in exactly the opposite direction when the fish moved, and by the time I got a cast to the spot, who knows if the big brown was 2 metres away or twenty?

Not far from the spot where a big brown crashed the baitfish at Fyans. (It’s still there…)

Searching with a sparkly Woolly Bugger in the waves helped ease the disappointment, with some reasonable rainbows coming to the net on both lakes.

A Bellfield winter rainbow from the waves.

Driving down the Western Highway last night with the car thermometer reading just 4C, I told Max I rated the 3 days as good, honest winter lake fishing: fine company (of course!), some fishing that was a little better than expected, and some a little worse. Evenings at Hepburn and Wartook probably concluded 15 minutes early, when the cold seeping through a few layers pushed us in the direction of a hearty meal instead of a few more casts; although otherwise, we mainly dressed sensibly enough to stay warm. As A K Best said, ‘Another success: we said we were going fishing, and we did.’