The calendar might say autumn, but winter certainly seems keen to grab the stage up here in the central highlands of Victoria. While we haven’t had much rain compared to our sopping-wet April, May temperatures are already running below average, and we’re still in the supposedly warmer half of the month. Packing for yesterday’s lake fishing, 6 degrees and horizontal drizzle straight from the south, had me digging out the full winter gear for the first time this year – and digging a bit deeper than usual for inspiration on where to go…
By the time Max arrived at my place, I was thinking (hoping?) somewhere north of the Divide and a bit lower in elevation might provide some respite from the grey chill. So we decided to head to Tullaroop. On arrival, the lake looked good – quite clear, only a couple of vertical metres from full (75%) and with a green margin on the gentler, more sheltered shores. Weatherwise however, the improvement from the top of the Divide was marginal. At least the drizzle had stopped, but the wind was only a little less bitter and blowing just as strongly from the south.
The first couple of hours produced no sign of a fish except for a couple of ambiguous splashes way out in the waves. Then, as I arrived at a new bay, a slight easing of the breeze and a dash of watery sunlight lifted things just a notch. Simultaneously, swallows appeared from nowhere, scouting the water for midge and the odd small caddis. It wasn’t much to go on, but after who knows how many fruitless casts, my sense of expectation cautiously re-emerged. Fishing the bay with a Wets Zonker on point a metre from a Scintilla Stick Caddis dropper, I had a sharp hit second cast. I put the flies back in the area and managed three hand twists before coming up tight on a 2 pound rainbow. Not exactly a Tullaroop trophy, but I was happy to land it all the same.
A few casts later, another good hit and miss, then a bit further down the bank, a nice fish rose right beside me just as I was changing flies. The day was looking up… and then the cloud and cold wind blew in, the swallows vanished and the lake lost its temporary promise. Max, who’d noticed the same delicate balance of good conditions come and go, agreed. We could either stay at Tullaroop and hope the weather eased, or head to Talbot Reservoir 20 minutes away and trust there might be more shelter there from the biting breeze.
It turned out Talbot did have a bit more shelter – at least when we first arrived – but it was every bit as cold. We fished blind along the south-eastern bank and soon found an unbelievable plague of tiny redfin. We were hit every single cast by six inch reddies; sometimes two at a time – one each on dropper and point. While this was amusing at first, it soon became annoying. How were we meant to catch a trout if the flies were swamped by runt redfin? But then somehow, a 1½ brown must have pushed through the pack and I was suddenly attached to a fish that actually pulled back. I briefly hoped that might have been a turning point, but the following casts produced nothing but redfin.
Right on dark, the wind eased a little and in a familiar pattern, the swallows appeared. Then a trout rose – twice – which hit (and I missed) as soon as my flies landed. Then another got up, rising a dozen times until it disappeared into the dark water well offshore. Max almost covered a further riser, just beyond range. Could this be the turning point, the reward for seeing out a tough day? But the wind blew in again, colder still and laced with drizzle. The swallows evaporated and no more trout were seen.
Walking back to the car in the half-light with the lake and blackening sky blurring into one, it could easily have felt like a day that didn’t quite work out. Yet there was something about it that kept such thoughts at bay; perhaps those snippets of promise scattered here and there? “Just a bit better weather,” Max suggested as we put the rods in the car, “And I reckon both lakes could fish really well.”