Hot in the high country
  |  First Published: December 2014

Before anything, I would like to wish everybody a happy and safe New Year this January. Speaking of January… hot hot hot is what it's all about in the Wangaratta area in January.

January is the hottest month of the year and during the heat the fishing can get tough. In saying that, it can also be very good. The weather really plays a critical role in dictating what the fishing will be like during the hottest month of the year.


January is probably the worst time of the year to go trout fishing in North East Victoria as from the start of the month to the end of the month everything is so damn hot.

Trout are a cold water species of fish, but in order to stay alive they have to eat at some stage. They can, however, go for lengthy periods without eating and this is pretty much what they do when conditions warm up too much. During periods of extreme heat, the trout will sit at the bottom of the deepest holes they can find and pretty much just sulk. They will sit there, starving themselves and losing condition.

At night they may move out into the open a little bit to feed, but even then they can become very picky as to what they eat.

Fish kills are a possibility during periods of extreme heat, and have been observed in several waterways across North East Victoria in both of the last two Januarys when we have had prolonged periods of excessive heat.

If you want to target trout during January, you really have to head up high into the mountains. The Ovens River up around Harrietville tends to be a bit cooler than most waterways in the region and can be worth fishing during January. The Ovens River flows out of the steep shaded valleys around the Northern side of Mt Hotham and Mt Feathertop, and cascades quite quickly out of the mountains and down to Harrietville. This is why it tends to be a bit cooler than most other rivers. The fact that the water is usually a little bit cooler, and the fact that the Ovens River was stocked a few months back makes it probably the most viable trout fishery in the Wangaratta area during January.

The high country, as in Alpine areas, is always worth fishing for trout during January. The Mt Buffalo plateau has two small lakes and a number of small streams that all hold trout. Most of the trout in these higher altitudes are quite small, and usually too small to keep, however they are a fantastic sport fish in the alpine creeks, which are usually small with crystal clear water that stays cool in summer and often freezes over in winter. Fly fishers usually do well in the high country during January.

Other fish

Apart from trout, most other species of fish in the Ovens and King rivers tend to prefer warm water. Redfin, Murray cod and golden perch all bite best when the water is warmer.

In saying that, during periods of extreme heat in January most fish will usually quieten right down. Golden perch tend to handle the warmest water conditions the best, but there are very few of them in the Ovens River catchment these days unfortunately.

Redfin bite well in the heat, especially in the lakes where they can vary the depth of water they are sitting in to choose a water temperature that suits them best. During January, Lake Buffalo and William Hovell are the places to head if you are after redfin. I have a preference for Lake William Hovell as it just seems to hold more redfin, but Lake Buffalo tends to have a few bigger redfin.

Murray cod will bite all January, that is a given. Their level of enthusiasm will be dependent on the heat though. In other words, if we get any prolonged periods of excessive heat, the Murray cod may slow down, but most anglers will still pick up the odd one. If we get a cool change and get a week or so of more modest temperatures, towards the end of that stable period is when the Murray cod will bite best.

Anywhere in the Ovens River downstream of Myrtleford is worth fishing if you are targeting Murray cod. From Myrtleford to Lake Mulwala the Ovens River has a healthy population of Murray cod, and the protected trout cod and will be worth fishing during January.

Last month, Lake Buffalo was a 100% capacity, which will ensure that the Ovens River has a reasonable flow for the entire summer, regardless of weather conditions. Lake Buffalo is not a large lake, so the Ovens River will not be a raging torrent of icy cold water. It is a small 24,000ML lake that holds water for local irrigation. Discharges from the lake just ensure that the Ovens River maintains a flow through drought years from Myrtleford downstream.

In January, try focussing your attention on the low light periods of the day when targeting Murray cod. Mornings and evenings can both be great times to fish, however during periods of excessive heat I prefer mornings as the water may be just a little bit cooler.

In the middle and Lower reaches of the Ovens River, the low summer levels and hot conditions can lead to lower oxygen content in the water which in turn can really slow the fish down. In such times, I like to focus my attention on areas where the water is flowing into the deeper pools, particularly if the water is broken up, like dropping over a log or rock and causing a small splash. These areas tend act in a similar way to filters in a fish tank and put oxygen into the water.

Summer is stinking hot in the Wangaratta area, and the fishing can be tough, but with a bit of perseverance and a slight adjustment to your approach you can still catch plenty of fish.

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