This winter more than most, I’ve struggled to choose between trout fishing the lakes, or what has been some particularly good estuary fishing for bream and salmon. So with a couple of days free for a trip at the end of July, Max and I grappled with the decision: salt or fresh?
It was the forecast of settled weather that swayed us towards the Grampians lakes. We are honestly happy to fish the estuaries in any weather, but for us, the feature fishing in the Grampians is sight fishing. While we hardly ever have a Grampians trip where we can rely on that alone, what spotting there is, is always easier when the wind isn’t ripping the surface to shreds.
We started at Wartook just before lunch on Monday and sure enough, the lake featured large glassy areas, and just a gentle ripple elsewhere. With my rod set up from the night before, I kindly volunteered to head off for a ‘quick scout’ while Max got his gear organised.
You know those days when it just feels right? The mottled cloud, patches of sunlight taking the edge off the winter chill, the lake level creeping up and flooding a sparse fringe of weeds and grass, birdsong, the odd midge buzzing past… Sometimes, winter days can seem lifeless, but not this one. When you’re in hunting mode and it feels like this, every sense is accentuated clearly. I heard the ‘beep-beep’ as Max locked the car 500 metres way, while my eyes carefully considered every unusual shape beneath the water. Nothing at first and then… that shape is moving? Yes! An absolute cracker of a brown, inches across the back, was moving steadily up the bank about 3 metres out, cruising a distinct channel between the reeds and the bank.
A sighting like this means so much. That trout is a top predator, threatened by little except anglers and maybe pelicans. It can choose to hunt anywhere in Wartook’s hundreds of hectares, and it chose this area. I never caught that trout – although I probably saw it at least once more – but it was an easy choice for Max (who had just caught up) and I to focus the next couple of hours on that few hundred metres of shore.
And it paid off. We polaroided plenty more trout, saw some incredible smelters (including one that chased a gudgeon 20 metres across a foot-deep sand flat and another that virtually beached itself) and even a few rises. It was only hunger that pulled us away for a (very) late lunch. And would you believe it, back near the car we saw more smelters. Some days, the fish are just ‘on’ – and this was one of them. We walked off Wartook in the dark having landed 3 nice trout, but still feeling just a little ripped off at several other misses and dropped chances. Was that ungrateful?
The temptation to return to Wartook the next morning was offset by my memories of good fishing at Bellfield a few weeks ago. Once again conditions were good; maybe a tad breezier, but with that intangible ‘alive’ feel we’d enjoyed at Wartook. While the actual spotting was harder, we fished amongst the dead trees with care and optimism, expecting a trout to suddenly appear in the transparent water from under a log or the shadows of a branch, in hot pursuit of our Woolly Buggers. And they did – four times.
By midday, time was running out due to commitments we both had to attend to back in the real world. Was there time a for a quick go at Fyans on the way home? Could we make it three from three? Our curiosity got the better of us and we left perfectly good Bellfield fishing for the unknown of Fyans.
At first, this looked like a mistake. A stiff south-easterly was blowing (my least-preferred Fyans wind) and it felt decidedly colder than at either Bellfield or Wartook. Still, we got into it, fishing with that care and purpose which might have been lacking if not for the successes of the previous sessions.
Max is no hippy, but he told me later that when he cast his fly beyond a particular shallow sandy edge and into the dark drop-off beyond framed by two snags, he could feel the presence of a big brown, and actually imagine it chasing down and smashing his Woolly Bugger. Which is what happened, and after a fight that was equally nerve-wracking for angler and spectator, he landed it. Certainly Max’s best-ever trout from Fyans, and as good a fish as I’ve personally seen from the lake in years.
Well, we weren’t going to top that, so after a few photos it was back to the car and back to civilisation. And now we have a small problem. Supposedly, our next outing is down to the estuaries, but after a trip like that, the temptation to go back is strong!