With Sydney now undeniably spreading its metropolis over the Blue Mountains, its growing number of anglers are starting to look towards the many western freshwater impoundments to cure their ever-growing thirst for fish. For many the first stop is Lake Lyell.
Lake Lyell nestles at the foot of the Blue Mountains at the south-eastern end of the growing town of Lithgow. Heading west, a well-signposted left turn at the big BP service station as you come into Lithgow on the Great Western Highway will put you on the road and take you all the way.
For the day visitor there is boom-gate access to the ramp and at the time of writing it operated for a $4 fee. There is a good concrete boat ramp that is serviceable in all but the lowest drought water levels. The camping area runs along the western shore, adjacent to the wall and launching facilities. Camping fees are paid in the kiosk near the ramp and parking area.
Lake Lyell is a mature dam and has offered locals and many visiting anglers a very generous annual yield of brown and rainbow trout for well over 20 years.
Typically, Lyell has its moods and the fishing does have a reputation for being suitably tough, but I believe this reputation has mostly come from disgruntled visitors who aren’t familiar with freshwater techniques and anglers who aren’t willing to change methods and tactics to catch its trout.
Annual stocking rates of brown and rainbow trout dictate that there are always plenty of fish swimming around, with seasonal conditions often influencing size and condition of the catch.
Australian bass have also been liberated by NSW DPI Fisheries and despite a slow start they are now being caught, albeit infrequently. As a target species there is still work to be done but while most are caught on fresh worm baits, numbers caught on lure and fly are increasing.
It would seem that growth rates have been quite poor for these bass, and I imagine this has a lot to do with two things. Firstly, the general competition for food with the high saturation of trout could make the pickings marginal and the often long Winters would certainly increase general shut-down periods for the natives, which in turn would mean more sporadic feeding and growing periods.
There is no doubting that Lyell’s trout are the key drawcard and the guts of this article will be squarely aimed at them.
One of the nice things about Lake Lyell’s trout is that they respond to a host of techniques. The more successful anglers have recognised this when fishing this still water and have reaped the rewards.
Bait fishing at Lake Lyell is very popular with visiting anglers who don’t have a boat in tow. Being bank-bound could be seen by some anglers as a distinct disadvantage but plenty of fish do get caught from the shore by those using live, fresh bait and commercially produced fabrications such as Berkely’s PowerBait.
On the western shore adjacent to the ramp and the camping area, bait is used quite extensively for obvious reasons. But perhaps the most popular and most productive water for bait fishing is the Farmers Creek Arm. To access this location, turn left down Sir Thomas Mitchell Drive as you head towards the dam wall from the Lithgow end.
Ledgering worms on the bottom tends to pick up the resident brown trout and this can certainly be a waiting game. But, in recent years, it is PowerBait that has been the real winner and its effectiveness on the local rainbow population has been very notable.
The key to fishing this artificial bait is to use small, light-gauge hooks and a light trace.
Surprisingly, mudeyes don’t get used very often at Lake Lyell. I’m not quite sure why but they are an exemplary bait for trout and I hope this short piece might spark a few more anglers into giving this natural bait more of a run.
One of the great aspects of fishing Lyell is its narrows that taper towards the main arterial feeder, the Coxs River. Its cool waters create a submarine geography ideally suited to the local trout, with shallow bays and margins for night foraging and deeper bays where fish can cruise open water and feed as they go.
The more toys anglers own, the more fun they seem to have and this is certainly the case with downriggers.
Around as many anglers use downrigging and other controlled-depth methods on Lyell as all the usual methods, such as flat-line trolling and lure casting.
From the main basin at the wall end right up to where the Rydal Road comes in at the northern end of the dam, downrigging can be used to great effect. Successful lures vary greatly when using this method but lures with strong actions seem to be the best choice.
Slender minnow patterns to lures more often used by anglers chasing native species can all work and there is as much science in pulling the lure at the correct depth and at the optimum speed as there is in actually choosing the lure itself.
It is possible to raise your catch rate markedly by increasing downrigger trolling speed up to 30% or more over conventional flat-lining speeds. The reason for this is thought to be the increased water pressure the lures are under at depth, which dulls their action.
Trolling with lead-core line has also really taken off at Lake Lyell and I am certainly an advocate of this method. It can work equally as well as downrigging, if not better at times, with much less fuss attached to it. All your usual trout lures work and we have found that the pulsing of a large Tassie Devil really works well on lead-core line.
Casting lures from one of the many accessible banks around the dam is a great way to search for cruising trout. While Tassie Devil-style lures are popular, casting heavy metal, such as the various spoons on the market, really gets a great reaction from the Lyell trout.
Cast these metal spoons from any of the steep banks and allow them to sink close to the bottom, then slowly retrieve them with an occasional pause to allow them to sink and remain close to the bottom structure.
Soft plastic lures and associated techniques have had little bearing on general trout fishing methods but they do work on these fish. Casting plastics and bringing them back by jigging them along the bottom or simply retrieving them higher in the water column are proven methods. I imagine that the slow retrieve along the bottom will pick up a few more brown trout, too.
Probably the most familiar method to inland anglers chasing trout is flatline trolling, where the angler basically pulls a lure behind the boat on a standard rod and reel, be it and light overhead outfit or spinning outfit.
The lure is set far enough back to achieve its own working depth with no aids such as downriggers, lead-core line or various diving vanes or attractors. This method is simple but often fails many anglers simply because the lure they choose is not getting to where the fish are. Many lures are often trolled too close to the surface for daytime fishing.
Lake Lyell has a rich content of natural bait, small gudgeon and other small fin fish plus a multitude of small aquatic insects. When the light begins to fail in the evenings or during that brief dawn twilight, these insects and fish move from their sanctuaries on the bottom or in the weed beds to feed more freely, often moving closer to the surface.
This is the time for employing flat line trolling techniques.
Shallow-running lures such as natural-patterned bibbed minnows and various spoon style lures can cash in on the larger, more predatory, trout that are seeking easy pickings in open water close to the surface morning and evening.
Once the sun’s rays begin to penetrate the surface layers, anglers would do well to change to some of the aforementioned controlled-depth techniques.
On days with heavy cloud cover, flatline trolling may work well into the main part of the day but just remember to be versatile in your approach. If the method isn’t working, change it!
Lake Lyell has always been a Mecca for many anglers toting a fly rod. There are many shallow bays that offer excellent fly fishing after sundown. Fish move into these areas where vast weed beds and myriad aquatic insects thrive.
Catching these fish is never clear-cut but the most successful anglers will work a beat around a bay, casting a twin-fly rig around the fringing weeds. The standard tandem rig usually consists of two traditional wet flies, such as a Mrs Simpson and a Craig’s Night-time or similar. These are fished on a floating line but using the same flies on a full sinking line from a boat in deeper water during the day has also worked extremely well.
Water conditions by and large are suitable for polarising the margins of Lyell and although this is a highly skilled and difficult method of fishing, the kudos given to the successful angler is very much worth it.
Again, early morning seems the best time. Having a boat to take you to a sheltered shoreline with the sun over your shoulder is a real bonus and often several location changes may be needed to find a good bank where fish are working.
Boat traffic can be a problem because wakes muddy the margins but fish can move into the cloudy shallows to forage on anything that has been washed out by the turbulence.
From fly fishing to downrigging to sedentary bait fishing, Lake Lyell is a lake for everyone. It offers a mix of opportunities for the angler. As a seasoned trout water, Lyell already has the runs on the board and its future looks bright and productive, which proves that you don’t have to find seclusion or solitude to catch a freshwater fish – just make a stop at the first-stop fishing shop!
Obviously there are many successful lures that can be used for down rigging techniques but some that have been successful for regulars’ using downrigging techniques on Lake Lyell include, Viking Lancaster, Deception Nipper, Deception Shrimp, Tilsan Bass, Bennett Merlin (wide), Rapala Shad Wraps Small Stump Jumper, Custom Craft Mini Scud, Flat fish. Remember to increase your trolling speed when down rigging. Water pressure dampens lure action so what the lure appears to be doing close to the surface may not be doing beyond the five meter mark. Many of the lures mentions are also preferred as lead-line lures too. For similar reason these lures which retain a strong action at depth seem to work well with this method.
Fish are anywhere
Lake Lyell trout are very pelagic in their behaviour, meaning it is possible to catch fish anywhere. Finding concentrations of fish can be time-consuming, so this map has been marked with personal knowledge and information gathered from many local anglers to help reduce this searching time.
Use this map as a starting point for your chosen method of angling. Some bankside locations may be reached only with the aid of a boat, while others may be accessible by car or a short walk.
Any of the marked trolling runs should be thoroughly worked with various lures and different depths should be searched on each run. Spend plenty of time at each location and remember that one pass generally won’t tell you whether fish are in that area or not. Make several passes and try different speeds, lures and depths until you are confident that it is time to look elsewhere. With such determination in your chosen method failure is not an option. If your confidence begins to wane, try something else or another area of the dam.
Richie Ryan holds up a beaut Winter brown trout that he caught down-rigging.
Trolling for trout at Lake Lyell is just one method of extracting a fish or two.
As the sun sinks the fish begin to rise and search for food. This is definitely the fly angler’s time on Lake Lyell.
Down rigging and lead core lines can be fished in tandem. Being set at various depth and distances allows this to be performed with little concern to tangles and other trauma. Just keep an eye on your depth reading on your sounder.
Chris Hickson holds up a neat Lyell rainbow trout. Note the low water conditions at such times – try to be versatile in your approach.
Casting spoons and other similar lures is a great method of working some of the steeper banks. Being able to work the full water column is the key to this technique.
By keeping lures closer to the surface during low light periods your success rate at Lake Lyell should increase.
Fly fishing at Lake Lyell at night can be very productive. Tandem fly rigs are preferred and generally get a better response from the fish.Reads: 35923