In flyfishing (as in life) we like the reassurance of using past experience to anticipate the future. Yet while I do my best to keep an open mind about what may or may not happen on a fishing trip, I sometimes find myself making assumptions without carefully thinking things through, and occasionally, that lets me down.

On the way back from the Grampians recently, I called in on a lake that was a good fishery decades ago, but which has since varied from fair to plain disappointing. It’s not much of a detour to visit, so every year or two, I check in… just in case something has changed. However, my last few visits have found a low, turbid and tired-looking lake, with no sign of a trout. It seemed this water was continually unlucky with rain, its catchment missing out when areas not far away did better.

My expectations were so low this time, that I barely bothered to take the turn-off. I remember thinking that if it was ‘Lake Disappointment’ yet again, that would be it. I’d simply write it off once and for all.

Yet as I drove closer to the lake down the dusty gravel road, I imagined I could see a lot more water than usual through the trees. Surely not? Keep in mind this was in late autumn, at the end of a pretty harsh few months for the general area, including bushfires. Then, as I pulled up on the lake shore, I could barely believe my eyes. Not only was the lake a mere 70cm from full at what should have been the low point of the year, the water was remarkably clear.

Looking better than expected.

Later, I reflected that the lake’s healthy state was probably due to a patch of exceptional winter rainfall the previous year (in a reversal of its usual fortunes). Although the area had since dried out dramatically, apparently it was still reaping the benefits of a re-saturated catchment, and the ‘flush’ of having filled and spilled.

Reflections and explanations could wait though. It would be dark in an hour, and I wanted to get in as much fishing as possible on this apparently reborn lake.

Well, initially, it seemed nothing much had changed fishing-wise. Despite feeling confident, and trying techniques which had worked for me in the good old days, as far as I know, nothing touched my fly – by that stage, a cast-and-retrieved Viva Magoo. I also saw no sign of a trout. Admittedly, there were so many waterbirds flapping and fussing on the water, I would have needed to be staring at just the right spot at the right moment, to have confirmed a trout’s rise or disturbance.

Then, about half an hour in, I had a distinct hit. Not a rip-the-rod slam, but still one of those taps down the line which couldn’t be anything but a fish. Trouble was, whatever had tried to eat my fly did so in low light and at least a metre below the surface, so I had no proof it was trout rather than a redfin – a ubiquitous and drought-tolerant species on most western Victorian lakes.

Nevertheless, that encounter was enough to keep me focussed for another half hour: covering different kinds of water, varying the retrieve, fishing the hang, and being razor-alert for any further sight or feel of a fish.

Then, out of nowhere, BANG! Something crash-tackled the Viva Magoo so hard, it nearly did rip the rod from my hands. Within a moment, the fish was screaming off with enough speed that it just had to be a trout – and a good one. Within another moment, it was into the backing, before leaping half a metre into the air. Yep, a big trout – although at 40 plus metres, it was far enough away, I couldn’t be sure if it was a brown or a rainbow.

The rest of the fight was a mix of excitement and concern – I desperately wanted to land this trout from a place where I hadn’t succeeded in years. Had there been a spectator (and as far as I could tell, there was not one other angler or person on my part of the lake) they may have been amused by the mix of whoops and curses coming from my mouth.

It was the toughest trout fight I’ve had in ages, and even at 5 pounds, I would say the fish (which turned out to be a rainbow) fought well above its weight.

Worth the detour for the first time in years.

Strangely enough, my reaction after landing the trout and letting it go, was more relief and satisfaction than a desperate urge to catch another one. I did have a few more casts here and there on the walk back to the car, and I kept looking amongst the busy birds for a rise. But in mid May, the evening light evaporates quickly, and before I knew it, I was negotiating the last section of the path in semi darkness.

On the night drive home, I had plenty of time to contemplate what had just happened. As I write, it seems likely that this lake, which I’d pretty much given up on, is well worth a go – at least in the medium term. Having taken so many years to return to a healthy state, it should now last until at least next summer as a viable water.

I’ll stop short of giving it a full stamp of approval for now though. After all, at this point, I have only caught one fish from it, albeit a beauty. With plenty of more ‘proven’ waters nearby, it would be a big call to send you there as opposed to the others.

Still, for myself, I feel that the fundamentals stack up pretty well, and my instinct is that this lake could be back to being a solid option – at least for quality if not quantity. If I’m right, it would have been so easy to make the contrary assumption. Probably a good thing I didn’t!

Philip Weigall