A Winter’s day in the Grampians

Yesterday afternoon I was walking the shore of Lake Bellfield under a winter sun that promised more heat than it actually provided. Once out of the car and fishing in the annoyingly persistent breeze (I wanted it to drop to bring out the midge) it was definitely layers, beanie and gloves weather.

We’d arrived at Bellfield after a morning session at Wartook, which was also windier than the forecast promised – and even icier on the ears and fingertips. Often, I don’t mind wind on lakes, but for winter sight-fishing in the Grampians, a calm surface helps with hearing or seeing trout from a distance. With the score at Wartook one good hit and one brief hook-up for a couple of hours’ effort from JD, Mark and me, the hope was that Bellfield would offer more warmth, less wind and maybe a bit more trout activity.

Sunny but single figures at Wartook.

I spent the first hour at Bellfield prospecting amongst the dead trees with a dark Woolly Bugger flecked with a bit of sparkle. I was focussed on avoiding snagging the back-cast, fishing the fly with patient confidence, and scanning with my peripheral vision for any sign of a trout. (Multi-tasking usually isn’t one of my strengths, but I can do a passable job of it when fishing!) It helped the confidence part that, as I rounded a small point and the tree skeletons became thicker, the wind was blunted somewhat and in the calmer conditions, small dark midge began buzzing around my face.

Then out of nowhere, a good rainbow glided past just a couple of rod lengths out and sipped a midge, cruised two metres barely submerged, and clipped off another. Later, I would speculate that the trout mustn’t have noticed me because I was just one more upright shape in the flooded forest. At that moment though and with no time for a fly change before the fleeting chance passed, my only thought was to flick the Woolly Bugger in front of the fish and hope. It ate the fly without hesitation, and I was immediately hooked up to the best Bellfield rainbow I’ve encountered. All went well until I was removing the net from my back… and the fish was off. No break-off, extra lunge or jump – just off. The hook had pulled.

A typical shoreline of dead trees at Bellfield.

I can’t recall the last time I was so disappointed to lose a fish, but with nothing else to be done about it, I kept walking through the trees, fishing the gaps and looking for another trout. At least my belief that the trout were about was reinforced, and I’m sure I looked harder, and cast and retrieved with added purpose. (Incidentally, I did contemplate changing to a dedicated midge pattern, however with only the one fish spotted eating off the top, coupled with its positive response to the Woolly, I decided to stick with the bigger wet.)

After a while I saw another rise, although it was behind a clump of dead trees and I simply couldn’t get a cast to it. Soon after, I spotted a movement and fin tip in a gap, landed the Woolly Bugger ahead of the imagined direction of the trout, and… yes! Again, the ‘midging’ rainbow took without hesitation and this time, it stayed on until it was safely in the net. While not as large as the one I’d lost, it was still a solid 3 pounder. I felt much better.

A fish in the hand isn’t in fact worth one lost – but it helps!

And can you believe it, just as I was releasing the fish, another trout rose only 5 metres to my left. I covered it and got that one too! Hours without success, then two nice trout in ten minutes.

I’d like to be able tell you that was a turning point. Instead, high cloud began dimming the sun and with the temperature plummeting from an already low base, it seemed whatever life had flickered on mid-afternoon, had faded away again. Soon after, the sun was gone altogether behind the kilometre-high bulk of Mt Rosea to the west, and the light evaporated with solstice speed. On the walk back to the car in the gathering dark, JD commented that one fish can change a day. So true of course, yet it wasn’t the trout I caught that I’ll remember a year from now, but the one I lost.

The sun is gone and the cold closes in at Bellfield.