Two days, two lakes

After a cold and record wet October, November was off to an inauspicious start, when it snowed in the Grampians, and at my place in the central Vic highlands. Then, on the weekend, spring finally snuck its head around the corner. With the promise of mild (if not entirely dry) days continuing into this week, I raced to finish mowing the lawns on Sunday and a few of life’s other chores, and locked in a couple of days of local lake fishing.

On Monday, it was off to Newlyn Reservoir. The building cloud and humidity promised good mayfly fishing. I could see plenty of rises from the car as I pulled up by the brim-full lake – evidently the quite discoloured water was no impediment to the trout. However, many rises were of the splashy kind, probably spinner feeders. Sure enough, there were big red spinners everywhere, and the trout knew it. When the trout are focussed on airborne spinners beyond the windscreen, so to speak, they can be hard to trip up. Fortunately, closer inspection showed that at least some of the spinners were landing on the water – probably egg layers – and these were being taken with more conventional rises. This, coupled with a trickle of duns, had the afternoon looking promising.

Looking good! Those specks in the air are spinners.

I took off the Possum Emerger I had on from my last mayfly session at Moorabool, and replaced it with a size 12 red parachute spinner. Next, it was a case of trying to pick out the better fish from among the many stockies – not easy when even a stocky can make a fair splash if it gets the bellyflop right! After a couple of false starts, I noticed a trout rising in the lee of a willow which seemed to push a bit more water with a bit less effort. It took four point-and-shoot casts before my fly and the trout were in the same place, and I lifted into a confident rise. The 2.5lb brown put up a typically spectacular fight before it was eventually in the net.

There were decent numbers of more respectable trout amongst the stockies.

The scenario repeated three times over the next 90 minutes, with one fish significantly bigger, and another an accidental stocky (not that I was complaining – these fat little fish are coming along nicely).

But while all this was going on, the sky had progressively darkened, and distant rumbles of thunder had turned into startling booms. When a lightening bolt hit the hill overlooking the lake, I finally took the hint and retreated to the car.

A look at the rain radar on my phone showed that the fishing was over at Newlyn, but that Hepburn, still north of the storm, might hold out for a little longer. So I dashed over, hoping to beat the approaching cell with a quick session. This lake is also full, but quite clear – although there’s a fair bit of weed. Despite the increasing onshore wind, a single trout rose as I walked to the water. Without time to analyse the situation, I cast the parachute spinner I already had on to the spot behind a clump of weed… and a 2lb brown ate it straight away. Sometimes you can be lucky. Minutes later, fat rain drops began splatting down, the wind rose to a gusting gale, and I admitted defeat. Still, I was more than happy with a couple of hours of superb lake fishing in truly spring-like conditions.

Time to go at Hepburn.

Mark and I had picked yesterday as the best in the forecast for a Grampians trip, so for the second day straight, I went lake fishing. This time, the weather was unconditionally gorgeous, and after some serious discussion about a return bout at Fyans, where I had lost a very big fish a fortnight earlier, we chose Lake Bellfield to start the day.

As reported in previous articles, this lake is another one at a decade high, and is right back into the trees. There’s quality shore fishing still, but I was looking forward to Mark’s boat opening up a whole lot more water.

After a tricky launch through flooded and fallen trees (not for the inexperienced!) the electric motor eventually pulled us out into open water, and we were soon surrounded by the grand amphitheatre that is Bellfield.

A beautiful place to be.

The first part of the day was good but not great. Pulling wets, we got a couple of smaller fish, missed a couple and landed one decent rainbow. That was okay though – with the warmth, the steady but not strong breeze and building cloud, we knew the main course would most probably arrive mid-afternoon.

From the morning session.

And it did. With wind-lanes forming, midge already present, and insects, particularly termites, flying out from the forest, it wasn’t long before, halfway down a lane, Mark said, “Yep, there’s one”, and pointed to a random spot in the middle distance.

Now, I need to point out here that Mark is the best open water rise spotter I’ve ever fished with, and by a mile. I’m not too bad with the eyes, but for the entire afternoon, I think I was able to spot two fish before Mark… one when he was changing flies, and the other when he was changing batteries for the electric! Mark absolutely loves being way out in a deep lake and picking the subtle rises that signal the start of hours of enthralling fishing, and over the decades, he’s become exceptionally good at it.

When I took this pic, Mark had just spotted a rise in this wind-lane on the bend in the middle distance! His eyes are definitely not painted on.

Note I said enthralling fishing, as opposed to easy or prolific. Not only are the fish usually hard to spot and track, but they also require a pinpoint one shot cast, often as far out as 20 metres… or in the next instant, a few metres from the boat while crouching. Never mind the casting pool and hoops, this is where you’ll see the best practical demonstration of casting skill. Oh, and in the fine print, you can pull off a cast to die for, and the fish still fails to eat your fly.

It’s difficult fishing to the point, at times, of seeming to be almost ruthlessly unfair. And yet I think that’s truly why we, and in particular Mark, love it. It absolutely challenges every aspect of your flyfishing to the limit, including things like your confidence and belief. No matter the disappointments, if you can’t continue to fish with a self-deprecating chuckle, you might as well head in.

Reward for team effort.

Despite the challenges, we caught some good trout. It’s always ‘we’ with this sort of fishing. Analysing where to fish, what fly to use, and manoeuvring the boat (something else I would describe Mark as almost annoyingly skilled at if I wasn’t the lucky passenger!) is just about as important as the cast, strike and the playing of often big, strong fish.

Finally, after a ripper afternoon, with the trout still rising, we had to make the tough call to leave them at it. Like it or not, there was a tricky exit back to the boat trailer to negotiate while there was still enough light to see and not bust the electric motor on a drowned tree. But in keeping with the mood of the afternoon, what could have been a frustrating moment pulling away from the twilight rises, wasn’t. As we headed in, Mark called out in the direction of the last visible rings, “Hope you get nice and fat for next time, you buggers!”