Winter is a time when many trout anglers pack away their gear. For most it is an enforced lay off as there is a closed season in place for trout in streams and rivers in Victoria over the winter period. Happily, a few rivers in the state remain open due to their classification as sea run trout fisheries. A good place to find such winter trout options is around Warrnambool, in the southwest of the state.
What makes perfectly sane individuals want to go and fish for trout in the coldest months of the year? In the southwest rivers it is all about quality of fish rather than quantity. Unlike other trout waters in the state that provide large numbers of fish, but with a small average size, southwest fish average 1-1.8kg, with enough 2kg plus fish around to keep you soldiering on in the cold weather. There can be a lot of water between fish though, and many nice looking locations, good casts and nice drifts go unrewarded.
There seems to be a number of reasons why rivers in the region produce such quality fish. There are abundant forage fish species in the waterways to assist the trout in growing quickly. Various species of Galaxias minnows and gudgeon, along with small mullet closer to the estuary, combine to provide plenty of accessible feed for large trout. Most techniques for catching these southwest trout are based on this piscatorial diet – but more on that later.
The region also receives its fair share of rain, even in this past decade of poor falls for the entire state. It seems the higher the water and the more flood events that occur, the better conditioned the fish become. Stocking rates are also quite low in some rivers, which allows large trout plenty of river to call their own so they can continue to grow. Finally, access to many sections of the local riverbanks is difficult, which reduces angling pressure.
The cooler months of the year are the best for targeting these fish for a number of reasons. The beginning of the spawning drive just before the season closes can see trout become more aggressive and mobile. This enhances your chances of coming across fish in your travels. The higher flows of winter tend to concentrate the fish in the shallow runs and riffles rather than spreading them out through the many deep holes where they spend the warmer months of the year. The dirty water also provides the fish with cover to hold and hunt in these shallower regions.
Also, remember where brown trout originally come from. No, not the hatchery, but Europe! Trout like the cold and in the southwest, the colder and windier the weather is, the better the trout seem to bite. Southerly winds, cold days and drizzle – but backed up by a rising barometer after the main front has passed - is perfect trout weather.
Just as winter has these advantages, so the warmer months have some factors that make them less productive. The fish that can feed so ravenously on disorientated food items during winter flows, become much more selective and wary in the clearer, stiller water. Live baiting often brings these cagier fish undone at this time of year but greatly reduces the anglers’ mobility and ability to cover more area of river.
The presence of snakes in the warmer months is also a consideration. Some of the more remote and heavily overgrown areas have significant populations of fanged reptiles that make bashing through the bush a silly idea during summer. (Areas of the Moyne River and the Mount Emu Creek have some serious populations of snakes, in particular). A final consideration is that in summer there is a whole host of other angling options worth pursuing at that time of year.
Here is a brief run down of the major trout streams around Warrnambool, here in the southwest. Note that some rivers, or sections of rivers, are still subject to the winter closed season (in 2008 the closed season is midnight June 9 to midnight September 5), but they are included here because they should fish well as soon as the trout season opens in September. Stockings from 2006 are listed, as these are the fish that are the major target size bracket for the 2008 winter. Fish released in 2007 will be at the smaller end of the scale. Any 2004/5 fish should be excellent specimens.
Lower Merri (open all year). This is a well-known and popular water flowing adjacent to Warrnambool. There is plenty of bank side access and this is the only trout river with boat ramp access for medium sized craft (at Dennington). In 2006 some 7300 brown trout were stocked. Some true sea run fish are occasionally encountered.
Upper Merri (closed season applies) Above the Broomfield Street Weir is known as the upper Merri. Here the river is much smaller and a little more difficult to access than the lower Merri. Fish on average are smaller than below the weir. There are some good runs here and the water produces some dry fly rises later in the season.
Hopkins River, above falls (closed season applies). The 2006 stocking program comprised 2000 brown trout. This is an extensive waterway that flows mainly through grazing land. Access can be limited, but it does produce good wet fly, lure and bait angling.
Hopkins River, below falls (open all year). There have been no recent stockings below the falls recently, but fish do make their way into the system. Good fish to 2kg can be encountered in runs during high flows. These trout, and addition of freshwater estuary perch, make it an interesting fishery.
Mount Emu Creek (closed season applies). Often overshadowed by the better-known Hopkins River, the Mount Emu creek is a well-stocked waterway that produces good trout angling. There are multiple bridge access points that allow for further bankside exploration. In 2006 the Mount Emu Creek was stocked with 3600 brown trout. Mount Emu fish are generally leaner fish than those encountered in the Hopkins and the Merri but still can grow to over 2kg.
Moyne River (below Toolong Bridge is open all year). In 2006 around 2000 brown trout were stocked into the Moyne River. It is not as well known as a trout stream as some of the others in the region. It does however receive a fairly decent stocking ratio in relation to its size.
Eumeralla River (closed season applies). The Eumeralla River is a spring feed system that carries some good trout for its size. It relies on natural recruitment and small waters stockings, so catch and release is advised.
Curdies River (closed season applies). The Curdies received no stocking in 2006. There are few fish, but it does produce the occasional good specimen. Whether they are escapees from Purrumbete, farm dams, natural recruitment or sea run trout is the question.
When walking the banks of these rivers you will come across either clear water or dirty water, and you will need to adjust your tactics accordingly. When the water is clearer you need to search out some deeper water. Fish will still hold near runs, but usually they will be in the deeper water just below them (particularly during the day).
Undercut banks and beside weed beds are two good places to look as well. Use natural coloured stickbait soft plastics to mimic the galaxias population. These can be allowed to free-fall down along the edge of the weed bed to where the fish will be holding. Low light periods are usually more productive in clear water. Consistently rising fish are a rarity, with any surface activity being smelting fish or single inconsistent rises.
Fishing the dirty water is a different scenario altogether. Many trout anglers who would usually turn their back and go home if they encountered such discoloured water at their favourite trout stream. Despite being extremely brown and with little visibility, local trout thrive under these conditions. They feed ravenously on disorientated baitfish, dislodged worms and drowned insects. Of course, with minimal visibility and plenty of dirty water in between fish, you need to identify likely holding positions and fish them thoroughly.
It can often take several casts to a productive looking location before the lure passes that one specific position that draws a strike from a fish. Look for shallow runs and riffles where fish can hold behind rocks. Shallow backwaters out of the main flow can also make for good ambush and foraging areas. The dirty water provides trout with cover and they can stay in these areas throughout the day. Shallow running hard-bodied lures, paddle-tailed soft plastics and large dark wet flies are the weapons of choice here.
It can be long, cold, hard work but when 2kg of trout comes from nowhere out of the cover of the dirt water and smashes a lure at your feet it is definitely be all worthwhile.
Access to many local trout rivers can be very difficult and requires local Knowledge. With this in mind the traveling angler can call on the assistance of Darren Evans of Warrnambool Kayak Adventures 0417 156 822 who can get you into some fairly untouched waters in his Hobbie Kayaks. Fact box
THE STEALTHY APPROACH
Access to many local trout rivers can be very difficult and requires local knowledge. With this in mind the travelling angler can call on the assistance of Darren Evans of Warrnambool Kayak Adventures 0417 156 822, who can get you into some fairly untouched waters in his Hobie kayaks.
WARRNAMBOOL SEA RUN TROUT FISHERIES
Winter is peak trout time here in the southwest. Fortunately some local trout waters remain open throughout the year because they are classed as sea run trout fisheries by the Department of Primary Industries. Currently the local Warrnambool rivers open during the normally closed trout season are the Merri River downstream of Bromfield Weir, Hopkins River downstream of Hopkins Falls, Moyne River downstream of Toolong Bridge and the Gellibrand River downstream of the Great Ocean Road bridge. These rivers provide anglers with fantastic opportunities to target trout during favourable seasonal conditions. In winter, the likelihood of capturing a quality fish is higher than in the warmer months.
There are also other sea run trout rivers further to the east, including some in Gippsland. Check your Victorian recreational Fishing Guide for details (www.dpi.vic.gov.au)
There is a bag limit of five fish per day in sea run trout rivers, of which no more than two can exceed 35cm. Given the usual quality of the fish, reaching your five fish limit without breaking the two over 35cm limit can be rather difficult!
LURES FOR SOUTHWEST TROUT
Rapala MN minnow (5 and 7)
Daiwa Presso minnow 6F
Ecogear SX-40 (302 and 307)
Ecogear VX-35 (406)
Berkley Bass Minnow (pearl watermelon)
Berkley Bass Minnow (pearl olive)
Fins Fish (clear)
Berkley Gulp Minnow (pearl olive)
Rapala BT (5 and 7)
Ecogear 3” Grass Minnow (005)
Berkley Gulp Minnow (smelt)
Squidgie Paddletail (Gary Glitter)
Squidgie Paddletail (brown trout)
Trout in he southwest are not as prolific as elsewhere in the state, but they make up for that with sheer quality.
If bank access is tricky, kayaks are a good way to reach some less heavily fished water.