Life in the South-west

The run of brutally-cold weather in south-west Victoria over the last week or so doesn’t easily match up with the concept of natural abundance in and around the water. And yet, that’s what we’ve experienced during recent fishing trips to this part of the state.

Bullen Merri rainbow on (appropriately) a BMS.

It began with an afternoon at Lake Bullen Merri. Although I know (intellectually) that cold weather needn’t be a negative for winter trout fishing, at home we’d been burning firewood like the Flying Scotsman, and Daniel and I half expected to find this crater lake and its residents in a state of semi-hibernation. In fact, however, big schools of baitfish were active along the edges, exciting the gulls and in particular, the trout and chinook salmon.

Bullen Merri tiger trout.

It wasn’t easy fishing (is it ever here?) but the action was frequent, we caught some great fish, and the overall sense was of a lake full of life.

Then a few days later, I joined Max, my brother Mark and our friend Peter (there for the surf fishing) for a few days around Apollo Bay. Again, the weather had that edge which makes you feel sorry for animals out in the open – while simultaneously being relieved that we humans have access to modern waders, thermals, gloves and other cold weather accessories.

Grateful for the cold weather gear.

Max and I mainly fished the estuaries with our flyrods, while our colleagues reported plenty of big salmon in the surf. The estuaries seemed full of life. I watched the unlikely pair of a great egret and a white-faced heron, spend the better part of an afternoon constantly pecking minnows from the same few metres of river edge. Perhaps their mutual tolerance was a function of the sheer number of baitfish.

Enough baitfish to go around.

Meanwhile, a lamprey swam right past my feet, while a sea eagle and wedge-tail brawled overhead. As for the actual fishing, we were plagued by thousands of small salmon – although it’s hard to get angry with these handsome, feisty fish. If I’m honest, more than once, I suspect my deliberate stop/ start bream retrieve was subconsciously sped up to entice a whack from a kamikaze salmon.

There may have been too many salmon around, but we found it hard to complain.

Does it sound like an angler’s excuse to wonder if the huge salmon schools might have compromised our bream and estuary perch fishing? Maybe they beat our preferred targets to the fly, or just upset them with gangster competition. We still had some exciting moments with both of our preferred species, and we even caught a decent mullet or three, all hooked fairly in the mouth on quite big bream and EP flies. And speaking of which, does the fact that the mullet were chasing down and eating our Bream Buggers, also reflect hyped-up behaviour from a fish which normally eats plankton and weed?

At least this bream got there first!   

So, in little over a week in south-west Victoria, we’ve caught rainbow trout, tiger trout, bream, estuary perch, salmon and mullet – all on fly. It may be cold, but the waterways are alive.

Another for the species count – even the EPs didn’t mind the cold.