Winter is approaching. Hatches, willingly rising trout and wet wading are fading memories. The rivers close in a week or two to give the trout some space while they get frisky. The estuaries are probably still fishing well (if only I had been fishing them a little more regularly), but will slow down soon. The kingfish bite will slow up in the next couple of months. Warm sunny days will be hard to come by, replaced by cold, fog, mist and dreary days. In the victorian countryside the warm autumn hues, reds, browns, yellows and oranges are slowly fading, to be replaced by bare trunks for the next few months. The winter fishing season is approaching. For some that will mean giving the gear a good clean and waiting for spring. For others a much needed chance to replenish their now bare fly boxes while they watch fly fishing movies on vimeo (if you want a winter movie- Only the river knows is a goog fly fishing flick), dreaming about next season and lands far away where mayflies, salmon flies or cicada are hatching brining all the big trout to the surface. For others, it means a new season, new challenges and new possibilities. So what if its cold, there are still fish to be caught.
Winter is one of my favourite fishing seasons. It gives me a chance to fish in places I usually pass over during summer. While I never get out as much as I do in the warmer months, some of my favourite fishing trips in any given year are always in winter. Sometimes its tough, sometimes it cold, sometimes bed wins, but sometimes the fishing is great and even when its not, a lot of places are at the most beautiful in the depths of winter. The Victorian countryside takes on a softer feel. Mist, frosts, fog and low light washing the landscape in romanticism. Gone is the harsh sun and dry grass. In its place greens, browns and greys abound and I must say, it suits it. The Victorian countryside is an exceptionally beautiful place in winter if you brave the cold . On the coast, once again the sun is a less frequent visitor. Storms rage a few times a year. There is almost nothing better than a hard days fishing around Eden in the middle of winter followed by watching a storm role in over twofold bay while cooking dinner and downing a few glasses of red wine… Listening to the lashing wind and rain outside, warmth, whiskey and a fire to huddle around inside.
The relentless need to fish ALL OF THE TIME is no longer… Winter gives my fishing a chance to relax, to takes its time, pick its moments and focus on being fun and more family friendly than usual. Its the one time of the year when my girlfriend no longer feels neglected when she comes on a fishing trip. The shorter days mean I am always home in time to play a couple of rounds of balderdash, have a sauna and generally spend more time socialising than I would in summer. Gone are the white lies “I’ll be home at 7” only to find me walking in the door at 10pm, excuses at the ready “we started catching fish, I’m so so sorry but I completely lost track of time”, omitting that I knew full well what time it was, I just didn’t want to leave. The weather means I wont be gone for 12-14 hours when the fishing it good, that I will often spend a fair bit of the day at home. While I need to work on my priorities in the warmer months when combining fishing trips with more social holidays, in winter the clash between those two endeavours is never as stark and I like that. My decisions are made for me by the elements and my own aversion to being cold.
So without further ado, below are some of my favourite types of winter fishing.
Trout in the lakes
Last year I had half a dozen winter sessions on the lakes around Ballarat. I was a far inferior fly fisherman then than I am now and I didn’t catch a fish. Lack of fish aside, I had an absolute ball, it was just great to get out and about for a day, as I’ve tried to illustrate above, the Victorican countryside is beautiful in winter. It shines, well shines isn’t the right word, its a more subtle beauty that it exudes, but it just works. Frosty mornings, failing to tempt trout rising to early morning midge hatches. Wind and rain, hours of walking. There is something comforting and old worldy to fishing the lakes in winter. So despite not catching fish, those fishless sessions were loads of fun and I would always come back with a smile on my face, sometimes cold but always contented and happy. For those reasons I cant wait to get out in the cold and rain again. This time though, I’m pretty confident I will actually catch something, which will make the whole experience even better. An added bonus is in some of the lakes, the trout are big. So hopefully over winter I can actually catch a “big” trout, 6-10lbs, something that has alluded me to date. Thats definitely something to get excited about over winter.
Bream in the estuaries
The south coast estuaries slow a little bit over winter, but that doesn’t mean the fish aren’t there and aren’t catchable… The flathead fishing can be great, you just need to be a bit smarter, use a bit mor finesse, you can get good hauls of whiting if you are lucky and tailor are usually around to save quite sessions. But its the bream fishing which has always excited me most over winter. It can be superb. There isn’t much better than flicking the snags as the last of the sea mist lifts from the water on a bright winters day. They are often up the estuary and you often pick up the odd EP or bass moving down to spawn. Remember though there is a closed season for EPs and bass, so make sure you are aware of it and if you start catching them during the closed season, I always prefer to move somewhere else to avoid them to give them the space they need, even if it means catching less fish. Bream fishing in winter has definitely been a highlight of more than a few of my fishing years.
Salmon and tailor off the rocks and beaches
This was the mainstay of my fishing as a kid. Throughout the year, but with a focus on Autumn and winter when the estuaries were slower. Back in the day it was pilchard baits, either unweighted or on a paternoster rig. As I evolved as a fisherman I moved to metal slugs and plastics, eventually bringing dad with me. In winter salmon and tailor are a mainstay on the south coast and they will save more than the odd trip. They fight hard, treated well they taste good (IMO) and they are just fun to catch. I’m looking forward to some winter sessions, hopefully continuing the evolution and getting my first salmon on fly 🙂
Drummer, drummer, drummer
As a kid, winter drummer sessions off the rocks always excited me. Dad, his best friend Al and I would head off down the coast regularly in winter, camping and fishing the rocks and beaches depending on the swell. When the swells were low and dads favourite drummer platforms were safe to fish, we would collect some cunji, take a couple of loaves of white bread along and have a ball going toe to toe with the cage fighters of the the inshore wash. Drummer fight hard and dirty and thats what makes them so fun. Its hand to hand combat style fishing, pure and brutal. Hopefully over winter I’ll get a chance to get into a few, this time on the fly rod, but if that fails, the old small running sinker with a cunji or bread bait will be the go.
Carp around Melbourne
If I was a serious carp fisherman, winter would probably see the carp season winding down. But I am not. So for me, it generally sees me carp fishing more than I do in the other seasons when there are more options and when getting out isn’t quite so much effort. Way back in the day I used to use bait- dad would take me down to Lake Burley Griffen in Canberra, we would berley up and sometimes catch a carp or two. I lost more than one rod, getting distracted and leaving the rods unattended while I followed water rats or ducks or made a cubby but that was part of the fun. As a teenager, carp on plastics was my thing for a while and while it was probably the worst time of year for it, winter saw me walking the banks searching for carp to cast at, the distractions of natives and redfin no longer so pressing. The fact is if I don’t get on the water for a couple of weeks, I get a bit tetchy. I need to get out fishing regularly, its been like that since I can remember. Carping has always given me that option without having to make much of an effort. In Canberra Lake Burley Griffen was always just done the road. These days its fly fishing the creeks in and around Melbourne. What carp fishing means to me is that if the itch strikes instead of driving for an hour or two, all I need to do is put the fly rod, a bit of tippet and a few flies in a bag and ride or drive a few minutes down the road and I can get my fix. It isn’t idyllic, it isn’t my favourite kind of fishing but it scratches the itch. Any day where there is a bit of sun, sightfishing for carp in the creeks around Melbourne (or Canberras lakes) is an option and that means there are ample opportunities to head out for an hour or two. The carp are a bit harder to tempt, but they are there and they will eat. Even if they don’t its a good excuse to have a few casts and make sure I’m not too rusty when I venture out on my next “real” outing…
Other options in winter
There are loads of other options of course. Around Eden the snapper and morwong fishing can be superb. Sand flathead are always catchable if the baying hoards demand dinner and your hail mary Kingfishing or Jewfishing trip has failed to deliver. In fact, you can catch most south coast fish in winter. Natives can also be caught throughout winter, you just have to put in a lot more hours. So don’t limit yourself to the few options above. Some of my best kingfish jigging sessions have come in the middle of winter in 12 degree water, made sweeter by how hard such days are to come by. Unlike spring, summer or autumn, you often have the place to yourself and while its sporadic, there is something great about the only boat out there and being constantly hooked up to meter plus fish for a couple of hours. Its rare, but it does happen. In winter you usually have to work a bit harder, a good kingfish day is 3-4 fish not 20 or 30 like when things are really on in peak season, but that still makes for a fun day. There are plenty more options outside the ones above, its really only limited by your imagination and your persistence.
In any case, I for one am looking forward to the winter season, it may not be the peak time in terms of fish caught but its always a favourite part of my fishing year. Even if you don’t get out, at least your gear is in top knick, your fly boxes are full to the brim, your next big trip is planned better than you could ever have imagined just a few months ago and your enthusiasm is through the roof for spring and that in itself is often something to treasure.