Earlier this year I retired from my regular gig as a fishing reporter right across all magazines. For a couple of months I twiddled my thumbs, but then I was offered the opportunity to write a trout opening feature – I pounced.
For many people, Bathurst weekend is a special time for them; others love the AFL Grand Final; many love the Melbourne Cup – for me, my favourite weekend of the year is trout opening weekend. I enjoy cod opening each year as well, but trout opening weekend is my favourite and one that I look forward to with anticipation many weeks in advance.
This year, trout opening is Saturday 5 September. It's always the first Saturday of September, as opposed to cod opening being in the 1 December regardless of what day of the week it is.
Unless I write this article 3 or 4 days in advance, it is almost impossible to know what the conditions will be like, so I will write it with ‘average spring conditions’ in mind, that being cold and damp with slowly increasing warmth in the sun.
Cast your minds back to the bumper 2011-2012 season. Leading up to that, we had massive amounts of rainfall in September 2010, December 2010 and then again in March 2011. There was water everywhere. Trout were free to swim wherever they liked as every little gully and seasonal creek was flowing for lengthy periods of time. Food was abundant and trout growth rates were phenomenal. This lead to the 2011-2012 season being one of the best trout seasons in living memory. Everybody that went trout fishing caught trout and the fish just appeared out of nowhere once conditions became favourable.
The following season was nothing short of devastating. There were no fish. Some streams fished okay but overall the decline in trout numbers was widespread and immense. I formed a belief that it was like a ‘boom and bust’ type cycle. The previous season being a boom, and the new season being a bust.
Some people blamed fishing pressure, some blamed cormorants, some were so spoilt in 2011-2012 that they forgot what the fishing was ‘usually’ like and got a bit of a reality check. Victorian fisheries at the time believed that it was a combination of numerous things, with birds and fishing pressure having a minimal effect as trout have such high growth rates and can grow from fingerlings to pan size in a matter of weeks if conditions are right. Their main concern was low flows and higher than usual average water temperatures, both of which were backed by scientific evidence and field-testing.
Anyhow, for whatever reason, the 2012-2013 season was appalling. Towards the end of autumn 2013 there were some encouraging signs with numbers of smaller trout on the increase.
We headed into the 2013-2014 season with higher hopes, thanks to the number of smaller fish at the end of the previous season. This new season shaped up OK. It was not great, but was better than the previous season. Trout were caught on a regular basis, but not in great numbers.
Last season, 2014-2015 saw a marked improvement in trout fishing across the region. Once again, it was not as good as it can get, far from it, but the gradual improvement in trout fishing after the disastrous 2012-2013 season has continued. Some streams still offered poor or no trout fishing potential all season, and some fished 100% as good as they get. It was easier to find trout last season than it was the season before, and many anglers caught good numbers on a regular basis.
This brings us to the new season, the 2015-2016 trout season, which is upon us now. Will the improving pattern in trout fishing continue? This is what I predict:
My prediction for the new season is a slight improvement on last season. I am tipping that it will be quite a similar season to last year, but may possibly be a little bit better. As mentioned, trout numbers in general have picked up in recent seasons and when last season closed things were looking good. Prior to the closing of last season, we had some very good widespread rain in April and May, just in time to put more water into the rivers and creeks to allow trout to swim upstream and spawn much easier.
At the time of writing this article, it is difficult to know exactly what will happen with trout sizes as I do not have a crystal ball to tell me how much rainfall we are going to receive. Trout are a very fast growing fish, capable of growing 2-3kg in a single year if there is an abundance of food. These insane growth rates are usually only seen in lakes, particularly lakes that have filled for the first time, drowning plants and shrubs and providing a never ending food source.
In the rivers and creeks they still have the potential to grow quite quickly though, and last season’s small 10cm trout may well be up around the 30cm size provided we get enough rain. The rain is essential as a large part of the trout’s diet in streams during the colder months is worms. These worms enter the system when the rain washes them in. During the warmer months, trout have all types of insects, grasshoppers, crickets to chew on, but these are not around in the middle of July. Worms are around, but we need the rain to wet the ground. The wet ground brings the worms to the surface, then the heavy rain washes them into the system. At that point, trout growth rates increase.
So we're praying for rain this winter to get a better grade of trout for the new season. On all but the driest of drought years, July, August and September usually provide enough rainfall in the mountains to wash worms into the system, so there will be trout growth of some description this winter, but how much will they grow? This all depends on what the rain gods send us.
Come September 5th, it will be pretty safe to say that there will be enough water in the streams to warrant using worms as bait. I love bait fishing with worms early in the season – it is so much fun! Just a small size 8 hook, and couple of garden worms and a split shot sinker or two to assist with casting distance and you can’t go wrong! People rave on about scrub worms, but I think they’re a bit over-rated. Granted they are a dynamite trout bait, there is absolutely no doubt about that, but I think that garden worms are just as effective on trout, particularly early in the season when there is usually a fair bit of water about. Any sort of worms will do. Garden worms, scrubbies, tiger worms… in fact, I reckon you could probably get an intestinal worm out of a dead kangaroo resting on the side of the Hume Highway and it would probably still work... although I wouldn’t advise doing that! Seriously though, any type of worms will work when the water is a bit higher.
If you’re planning on lure fishing, try using something shiny and metallic. Something like a silver or gold Celta is a great starting point. The Celta is a great spinner and has proven itself over time as a fantastic trout spinner, however I think the more modern spinners like the Super Vibrax is a bit better as it is heavier and can cast further. On top of that they are also a more reliable spinner. It’s very rare to have problems with them spinning properly. The Rooster Tail is a great all round trout spinner as well, and has an incredible knack of inducing strikes when other spinners are just getting follows, however to the best of my knowledge they do not come in full metallic shine, which is why I recommend the shiny silver or gold Super Vibrax.
Be mindful, there are a lot of cheap knock-offs out there of the Super Vibrax, particularly on the Internet. When you buy a cheap lure of any kind on the Internet, you may not always be getting what you’re paying for. My best advice is to support your local tackle store and make sure you buy the genuine products.
Small minnows can work well early in the season as well. Trout love to feed on small fish of any kind. Whether it’s a minnow of some kind, a small blackfish or even a tadpole, it doesn’t matter. If the trout are hungry and they see something small and swimming they will attack it. Most of these smaller minnows are a dark colour. For this reason, when using minnows early in the season I have a personal preference for natural colours. Those dark green Rapala minnows with the orange belly are a very reliable fish taker, but that’s just an example. There are literally hundreds of different lures and different manufacturers and importers in the country these days. As long as it is small, dark and swims OK you are in with a chance!
I am predicting that the Ovens River will fish well all season. Last season it fished quite well. A few years ago the upper reaches of the Ovens River were devastated by a bushfire, which was quickly followed by a flash flood, which washed all sorts of ash and debris into the river, choking the waterway and leading to massive fish kills.
For several years after that event the trout fishing in the upper reaches of the Ovens River could be best described as poor.
Last season, 2500 mature brown trout were stocked into the river following a lot of campaigning from various angling groups. On top of this brown trout stocking, the rainbow trout that have survived in the many tributaries had moved back into the river once conditions were again favourable. The end result is an improved trout fishery in the upper reaches of the Ovens River, which should see great trout fishing throughout this upcoming trout season. Personally, I think the Ovens River from Bright upstream will be the best river in North East Victoria to head to this season if you’re targeting trout.
It will be quite high and very difficult to wade early in the season as it always is, but heading into late spring the water levels should subside as the last of the snow melts off the back of the great dividing range and the river should become much more user-friendly in time for the summer holiday period.
The Kiewa River has been quite disappointing over the last few seasons. The trout fishing has been quite slow, and will more than likely continue to be slow this coming season.
In saying that, trout were caught all last season, but not in the numbers that the Kiewa River is famous for. There were some larger trout caught, indicative of very good conditions for trout to survive and feed, but unfortunately the numbers have been down and look to stay down for some time.
Personally, I would love to see 3000 trout per year stocked into the Kiewa River for 3 years, and then 1000 per year after that for a further 3 years after that, but that is highly unlikely to happen. The powers-to-be seem to think that nobody likes trout and everybody wants to see only native fish stocked, as the Kiewa River is one of many Victorian rivers to have Murray cod stocked en mass each year with zero trout stocked.
The Mitta Mitta River downstream of Lake Dartmouth was an absolute pearler of a trout fishery last season. This large river had seen a succession of quiet trout fishing seasons, similar to the Ovens and Kiewa rivers, and then last year that all turned around with large volumes of cold water being released from Lake Dartmouth providing very good conditions for trout.
The trout returned from various tributaries, to the Mitta Mitta River to thrive in the colder water. Areas of the Mitta Mitta catchment that were known to be densely populated with trout saw a thinning of trout numbers as these small trout living in pockets of deeper cooler water spread out and fed like no tomorrow, gaining condition and providing a wonderful trout season for all who ventured up there fishing.
This season I am predicting great trout fishing in the first few months of the season. What the fishing will be like after Christmas will largely depend on the volume of water released from Lake Dartmouth.
The Buckland River is another river that has ticked over for the last few years. It has not provided any red-hot fishing, but has seen a steady number of trout caught in various sections of river. This upcoming season should be no different with mid to late spring time being the best when the water is still very cold and flowing well, before summer arrives and the flow in this natural flowing mountain stream reduced to a small trickle.
One of my favourites, the Buffalo River seems to provide at least reasonable fishing each season. Wet winters tend to lead to better trout fishing in the warmer months in the Buffalo River, whereas dry winters seem to lead into shorter trout fishing seasons as the Buffalo has a tendency to run very low after Christmas.
The best trout fishing is usually upstream around Abbeyard. Closer to Lake Buffalo, the Buffalo River has quite a few small redfin, 88 gazillion river blackfish and the odd Macquarie perch. It is also extremely hard to wade in this area due to dense bankside vegetation. Upstream around Abbeyard, there appears to be no redfin that I know of. There are still plenty of blackfish, a few Macquarie perch and better numbers of trout.
Huge trout are not common, but the odd Buffalo River 4 pounder turns up from time to time.
Don’t bother wasting your time if you are wanting to fish for trout on the downstream side of Lake Buffalo, as the lower reaches of the Buffalo River are very well known for the fantastic Murray cod fishing that exists down there. There was great trout fishing down there many years ago, but these days the Buffalo River trout fishing is all in the headwaters.
The Rose River is just a small version of the Buffalo River really, with the same fish species, same deep granite pools and same type of trout fishing dynamics. As with the Buffalo River, the Rose River tends to fish best for trout after a wet winter and spring period.
The last few seasons have seen quite poor fishing in the Rose River, however a few trout have turned up. I am expecting this coming trout season to be a similar story. In fact, unless some of our fishing licence revenue gets reinvested into the Rose River by way of trout stocking, it’s quite hard to imagine the Rose River picking up 100%.
If we get a wet winter, then the Rose will be worth a look in early in the season.
Just like the Buffalo River, the King River is all about the headwaters when you’re talking trout fishing.
Murray cod have pushed all the way up as far as Lake William Hovell these days and trout numbers have dropped so far that it is barely worth fishing the King River downstream of Lake William Hovell for trout. That’s OK though, at least we have fishing of some kind. Where we use to have trout, we now have cod. That’s a far better set up then hundreds of the smaller creeks around the region. Where we use to have great trout fishing, we now have NO fishing whatsoever because these small streams never get stocked.
So if you’re wanting to fish for trout in the King River this season, make sure you head upstream of Lake William Hovell, the further upstream the better.
There are plenty of trout up there in the headwaters of the King River. In fact, it’s one of the better trout fisheries in the region with the section right up high being the best, from Pineapple flat upstream.
North East Victoria is littered with small streams. Some streams run through forest only, others run through farmland. Some have trout and some don’t.
It can be a game of hit and miss when targeting trout in the small creeks around here these days. My best advice is to fish them early in the season when the water flow is still good, particularly the rural flowing streams, which have a tendency to get lower and warmer quicker than the creeks that flow through the forested areas. Get in early, be prepared to explore and try different creeks, and most of all, don’t write a creek off if it doesn’t produce any trout because many of the small streams have ‘pockets’ of trout, or good populations of trout in sections of the creeks, not the whole creek.
Good luck to everybody heading out trout fishing this 2015-2016 season. May your drags scream and your lines stay tight.Reads: 1967