Warrnambool in Winter

If you’re a flyfisher living in Warrnambool over winter, it must be confusing. Not only do you have to choose between a lot of water, you also have to choose between several species. A cereal box calculation reveals that, within less than an hour’s drive, there are at least four fly-friendly beaches/ harbours, six estuaries, four trout rivers, and five trout lakes. Then there are the species, and I can count at least seven of those.

Not every winter’s day in Warrnambool is this benign, but there are always more flyfishing options than you know what to do with.

This is all fresh in my mind because I’m recently back from a couple of days at Warrnambool with JD. As usual, for somewhere so diverse, a couple of days weren’t enough. A growing theme as the short trip progressed was, ‘Are we in the right place, and are we trying for the right fish?’ Regular readers will know I’m an advocate for options as one of the keys to a successful trip, but I did wonder at times if Warrnambool might be overdoing it. Once or twice, I even found myself craving the simplicity of, say, a single trout lake, where you work away until you crack it… instead of thinking after a fishless half hour, ‘Hmmm, I wonder if we should be fishing the Moyne for trevally?’

Despite these distractions, we did manage plenty of moments where, at least briefly, it felt as if we were in the right place.

Estuary perch (EPs) like this beauty are one of several target species available around Warrnambool in winter.

There were bream in the Hopkins estuary if you worked hard enough, and estuary perch. However, the most exciting moment came near Deakin when something very large bow-waved past me at great speed, spraying terrified baitfish ahead of it for at least 10 metres. Realistically, my frantic cast with a bream fly probably landed behind the fish, so I didn’t get to find out what it was. (I suspect if I had hooked it, this story wouldn’t be about anything else.)  We’d seen a recent pic of an 80 cm mulloway caught somewhere nearby – and in daylight – so in typical fisher fashion, that mythical species was the first to come to mind. Yes, it was more likely a big salmon that had shot past, but when you don’t catch, you don’t know.

A winter evening on the Hopkins estuary. Anything could happen…

Up in the freshwater, conditions looked good for winter, with the river flowing strongly yet surprisingly clear. I’ve caught both trout and EPs up here over the years and the decision is often which to focus on (their behaviour and lies do overlap a bit, but it’s best to target one or the other).

Up in the fresh, downstream from Hopkins Falls.

I’d forgotten how alive this part of the river can be; always a surprise given the scale of floods which strike every year or two. Besides the trout and perch, we saw several tubby rakali, and numerous schools of finger-sized galaxias swam past. It was no wonder that we watched some solid EPs bust up (I missed one of these on the strike) and JD caught a nice trout on a black Woolly Bugger.

Winter river brown.

They say it’s the misses – not the catches – which bring you back. No doubt those will be on my mind next time I head to Warrnambool and all its options.