It’s getting harder and harder to stay away from the lakes up here in favour of the more distant mountain streams (although I plan on making a few more stream trips yet before winter closes in).
A large part of the distraction has been the steady increase in trout chasing baitfish, aka smelting. On the last couple of outings, the smelters have been feeding well for at least a few hours, and showing up occasionally all day long.
Now, smelters being smelters, the action is too unpredictable to set your watch for. For example, a week ago at Tullaroop, the best of it was from 10am until 12.30pm, while today at Hepburn, it was 3.30pm until 6pm. A week ago was quite warm and bright, yet today was cold and cloudy, with showers as we arrived and again just after we left.
Maybe there’s a pattern in there somewhere, but I think just turning up for as long as you can, and exploring plenty of different shores, is the best approach.
I’m pretty confident the main baitfish target is presently Australian smelt, as is typical on the central highlands lakes from mid-autumn and through into winter. Like most aquatic life, the smelt have evidently thrived during the relatively wet, cool climate which has prevailed since early 2020, and on calm shores, they’re dimpling the water like light rain.
This is probably one reason the smelters – never easy – seem quite hard to catch so far this autumn. There’s an awful lot of the real thing competing for attention with your fly, and if you add to that various smelter idiosyncrasies (see my article in FlyStream issue 7 in the Magazine digital back issues) … Well, the smelter spectacle is great, but the catching is a challenge.
So far, smaller, slimmer patterns like a Tom Jones, Wets Zonker, or Olive BMS seem to perhaps have a slight edge over larger wets. Repeated presentations in the zone, with a slow, steady figure-8 retrieve have worked, coupled with a nice smooth ‘hang’ into the next cast.
If you like nice, relaxing ‘sure thing’ fishing, central highlands smelters aren’t for you. However, if the idea of some action and seriously decent fish to at least cast to appeals, they’re out there right now.