Winter Reflections

Winter has come and gone, and a real feeling of spring is in the air. Almost on cue, trees are laden with blossom and we’ve had a few lovely warm sunny days. Winter here in Victoria has been cold, wet and bleak. I think most of us are pleased to see the back of it. Not that I’m complaining too loudly! The fishing has been great despite the weather, and as a bonus, all these ingredients will make for fantastic spring and hopefully summer fishing on the streams in the coming months.

I should say I’ve had some very good winter days fishing estuaries over the last 6 or 7 years, catching some fantastic bream in good numbers at times, and I’ve tasted some success on lakes. But lakes can be a real challenge for me, especially during those grey, cold, winter days when you start thinking you need a miracle to see any sign of life.

Lake or estuary, on cold, grey winter days, it can be easy to lose faith – and focus.

When the action is slow, I can sometimes become a little mechanical with my fishing. I console myself with the notion that if I put in enough casts, eventually the effort will pay off: a trout or bream will eventually cross paths with my fly. It becomes a percentages game, but after listening to the advice of a good fishing mate this winter, two things made me think.

Winter Reminder 1

My friend really stressed the importance of a slow retrieve for bream (a palm to the forehead moment for me). Let the fly sit on the bottom, twitch, slow down, slow down, let the fly sink, sit and then repeat. When fishing is quiet, we get impatient and tend to speed everything up. What we should be doing is slowing everything down.

I can’t begin to tell you how effective this technique was this past winter. On occasions, you just would not get a take unless the fly was almost inert. Yes, this happened a few years ago when we worked out that allowing the fly to sit still in the actual weed beds would incite takes from big blue-noses, but it seems I’d forgotten.

Well we had a ball. While other retrieves and techniques also worked, we always found those first few and most important fish, by being slow and methodical. We also gained some great insights by reading the water, the tides and that all-important inflow of saltwater pushing up the estuaries. The fishing at times was quite spectacular.

That patient retrieve with pauses caught me a lot of bream this winter.

We are under no illusion however that we have worked ‘it’ all out. Far from it; each day on the water can be different and working out what will succeed on any given day is half the fun.

Winter Reminder 2

My friend also mentioned that where conditions are suitable, he’ll try to polaroid lake trout in winter. This made me sit up and listen. I’ve done a lot of sight fishing, especially in New Zealand but it hadn’t occurred to me to use this as a primary technique on lakes. Obviously, I am always looking out for risers, sippers and smelters, but I never really concentrated on subsurface spotting that much.

This made a lot of difference to my focus during a July trip to the Grampians. Conditions were very good for polaroiding and to my surprise by actually trying, I sighted a lot of fish! A bit of a revelation for me. Catching them was a little more challenging, but we had reasonable success.

Polaroided, then caught. Something I haven’t been trying enough on the lakes in winter.

The next day on two different lakes, sighting was more difficult, yet that focus was still there. I fished more slowly, more purposefully and read the water better. Each fish I caught I almost visualised, in the sense that I purposely concentrated on types of water such as drop-offs, treed areas, or indeed where slicks met slightly broken water. I kept asking myself: where would a trout be cruising and feeding?

I put in maybe 50% less casts and caught twice as many fish, including a lake PB for me!

Three great trips this winter, a slower more focussed approach, and that wonderful thing called confidence, finds me pushing away thoughts of the streams for the moment as I crave another session or two chasing those wonderful bream and testing my skills again on our beautiful Victorian lakes.