Fishing Great Lake in winter
  |  First Published: July 2013

Tasmania is well known for it’s amazing trout fishery, that’s a given. It is also known for tumultuous weather, unpredictability and the fact that scoring a great window of opportunity is impossible to forecast well in advance.

What if was to tell you that you don’t need the sun to experience good fishing, or that fishing in a blizzard in the midst of winter could actually be enjoyable?

You might think I’m mad and while that’s partially true, I like to go fishing no matter what. Trout options are very limited in winter due to a general closed season for the vast majority of waters but this leaves a handful of waters that can be a blast if you’re adequately prepared. When I say prepared, I mean muster your mind and body for the gnarliest weather you could imagine including rain, hail, gale-force winds and snow. Even if it’s calm and the sun is out, chances are that finger-numbing coldness awaits.

Why would you?

Trout tend to get a bit feisty either side of the spawning period. Beforehand, they’re quite territorial and will chase down lures and flies out of aggression alone, in addition to general feeding. Post-spawning they will often do the same but much of this is due to a strong desire to feed. Fish will have lost condition and are on the hunt to find a few replacement meals. Couple these two facts together and you have a period of hectic opportunity where catch rates can be muttered in the dozens.

The Greatest Lake

One of the few waters open year round is Great Lake. Located in the Central Highlands and right on main roads it’s pretty darn big and really, well great! Once a mammoth natural lake it first experienced hydroelectric development more than a century ago and after several tweaks along the way, full capacity currently sits at around 1039m above sea level.

Water has never actually reached full capacity and even the wettest of years have only just passed 4m below full. Normal operating levels range according to seasonal changes and would generally fluctuate between minus 10m and minus 16m. These are important considerations as levels can alter the dynamics of the system.

Great Lake has a purpose-built spawning canal and the continued success of this canal assists in the annual harvest of eggs and milt to bolster stocking programs around the state. Despite this, the lake has numerous spawning creeks and so all of its brown and rainbow trout inhabitants exist due to natural recruitment, somewhat enhanced by man.

At over 20km long and 15km at its widest point, it’s a huge body of water. To the uninformed, the prospect of even seeing a fish all day seems too daunting for many anglers and so they drive on by. Add to this that the barren edges look rather unappealing when compared to many of our pristine wilderness fisheries and you begin to understand why Great Lake often gets overlooked. For every passer-by that turns their nose up, five locals are rubbing their hands together as they know very well that there’s gold in them there waters!

The Fishing

The fishing can be sensational. I have fished from the shore and from boats in winter, during violent snowstorms and had an absolute ball each and every time. Both browns and rainbows usually weigh around 1kg but the rainbows generally account for just 10% of the catch. Essentially, you could probably turn up, throw out and you’re a good chance at catching a fish but there are a few factors that can be the point of difference.

About the Weed

Like many waters, large numbers of fish often congregate around productive weed-beds and this weed offers a reliable food chain for both trout and galaxia and so it makes sense to target these areas. Surprisingly, dense weed beds account for only 5% of the lake bottom and some of the best are located in Swan Bay, Tods Corner, Elizabeth Bay, Muddy Bay, Sandbanks Bay and just south of Reynolds Island. Their size and density changes with the levels but from my experience, many of these spots still hold fish if there’s water there!

On the Edge

It’s like the old story goes – It doesn’t matter which side of the river you’re on, you always have the desire to cast to the other side. In reality, they’re probably at your feet. In the right conditions, trout can be seen herding up schools of baitfish and smashing them in the shallows, much like at whitebait time.

Sometimes it takes a bit to work out a pattern but I know I’ve had cracking sessions from a boat by casting lures right up into the rocks and ripping them back to the boat. Explosive takes can be had as soon as the lure lands and it really pays to search that pocket water from 0-2m.

Got Wind?

Even if it’s calm in the lowlands, a trip to Great Lake usually encounters a bit of wind at some stage. If it’s not a gentle breeze then it’s likely to blow the milk out of your tea. This is good for anglers as some of the most productive shores are the wind-blown ones. It can become problematic when fishing from the shore but the idea is to wander those very wind-blown shores and cast right into the teeth of the wind and working the water in front, while gradually making casts along the bank. If it’s blowing a gale, try heavier lures, jig-heads or the trusty old Ashley Spinner and high-stick them.

Black and Gold Nuggets

I mentioned gold being present earlier and what I meant was black and gold. This colour combination has been dynamite for anglers for many years now, especially in relation to soft plastics. T-Tails, Flappers, Wrigglers, Ripple Shads, Hawgs, Minnows – Call them what you like but as long as they have some black and gold fleck and some movement, it’s just a matter of putting it in front of a fish. Green and orange are productive colours to throw in the mix too.

Rug Up

Remember this is winter at over 1000m above sea level and snow is very common. Be prepared with thermal layering and some waterproof clothing too. Neck warmers, beanies and fingerless gloves are all essential items to either wear of keep in a bag at the ready. A thermos can be handy too. Whether I’m fishing from the shore or in a boat, I’m in full Gore-Tex from head to toe with plenty of layers and I simply can’t afford to let the cold get in the way of my fishing!

I last fished the lake just a few weeks ago and we boated around various bays and edges and saw just two other anglers all day, so you can be certain of some casting room within the many square kilometres. Without fail, I make sure I pencil in at least one trip every winter to Great Lake and for me, it’s one of those events that has to make the fishing calendar.

Not only does it make the calendar, but also makes the season and positively rounds off the fishing year in a way that no other location can.

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