Smelters. Fascinating, exasperating; spectacular even. No form of feeding transforms trout more from dainty insect-sipping fish, to shark-like marauders.
Though possible at any time of year, autumn seems to be the season when smelting activity really starts to ramp up. I’m not entirely sure why. Perhaps comparatively low water levels reduce the amount of cover available to the baitfish the trout are hunting, or it could be that cooling water temperatures encourage this energetic form of feeding. Or maybe there’s some aspect of a baitfish’s lifecycle (and here in western Victoria these baitfish are likely to be Australian smelt or galaxias) which make them easier targets?
Whatever the explanation(s), smelters are starting to appear, and will only become more likely on lakes like Newlyn, Hepburn, Moorabool and Lauriston as the days shorten. Cloudy, light wind conditions are good, though dawn and dusk can work regardless of cloud cover. The trout will certainly smelt in ripple; even waves, but given how erratic and unpredictable smelters are, you simply stand a better chance of hearing or seeing them if it’s reasonably calm. Smelters will even hunt in the sunlight, especially if the there’s mottled cloud and sunny breaks. Still, I’m more confident overall if it’s dull, not bright.
Despite being spectacularly aggressive, smelters are quite a challenge to catch. I’ve previously written pages about this on FlyStream – punch ‘smelters’ into the search function. The key point is, baitfish like smelt have evolved very good strategies to avoid being annihilated (hence their continued existence over many millions of years!), so trout in turn have to come up with quite complex techniques to successfully catch them. If you watch the video carefully, you’ll see the tiny shapes of minnows the trout passes which it doesn’t attack. Substitute those minnows for your fly, and it quickly becomes obvious why catching smelters isn’t as simple as just chucking an imitation into the general area and pulling it back.
Still, it’s great fun striving for that combination of skill and luck which leads to that ‘smelter-perfect’ presentation and a hook- up. And smelters are mostly good fish too, so when you connect, there’s every chance it will be to a beauty.