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How to Catch Winter River Trout

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By Mark Gercovich

The Western District offers some excellent river trout angling. However, it is a different scenario, particularly in winter, to what many anglers expect when they go trout fishing. Don’t expect clear flowing streams, well-populated with small fish, as you might expect in the highland trout fisheries of North Eastern Victoria.

Water quality is poor with minimal opportunities for sight fishing. There is often a lot of dirty water between the fish, but they are usually good quality. Most fish are between 1.2  to 1.8kg with enough 2kg plus fish around to keep the thought of a real trophy fish as motivation in the back of your mind. Compared with most other Victorian river trout fisheries these are excellent sizes.

The Victorian 2020 trout closed season on rivers and streams begins 12:01am on Tuesday 9 June and lasts until 11:59pm on Friday 4 September. However, with The Moyne River and Mt Emu creek being open this season along with the Hopkins and Merri River (which have been open in their entirety during the traditional closed season since 2018), means most of the prime local trout waters are fishable all winter. There were a number of reasons for this, firstly it allows for anglers to target the trout in what is the most productive time to fish these waters.

The higher water levels and cooler water temperatures of winter usually produce the most conducive trout fishing conditions. Also, all these South West coastal rivers are reliant on annual fish stocking, with research showing very little, if any natural recruitment, thus reducing the need to “lock-up “the rivers to protect spawning fish at the best time to be fishing them.

Fishing winter water is a different scenario, one that is particularly foreign to many trout anglers who would usually turn their back and go home if they encountered such discoloured water at their favourite trout stream.  For most of the year these rivers have a fairly insignificant flow, yet a good supply of food. The trout can spend most of the year cruising around the deep pools and growing more like lake trout would. However, once the rain comes the river environment changes.

The trout begin to behave more like river trout and begin to hold in shallow runs and riffles where fish can hold behind rocks out of the current waiting for food to come past. This tends to concentrate the fish in certain areas. It allows for an angler to use stream fishing skills and techniques, but with the chance of catching trout more of the proportions expected by lake anglers.

Of course with minimal visibility and plenty of dirty water between fish, you need to identify likely holding positions and fish them thoroughly. It can often take several casts to a productive looking holding location before the lure passes that position that draws a strike from a fish. Look for shallow runs and riffles where fish can hold behind rocks, foamy backwaters, anywhere where the fish can lie in ambush out of the main river flow. In fact, most of the time you find the fish right at your feet, hiding next to a rock or an undercut bank.

For anglers used to a lake fishing scenario and casting long into the distance this be hard to get your head around.  Best tactics for fishing the rivers when they are running high and dirty is to lure or fly cast to shallow runs and undercut edges where fish can hold out of the current waiting for passing prey.  Minnow style soft plastics or natural colored minnow style lures like the Daiwa Presso Minnow are the go when the water still has some degree of clarity. A larger lure like the Duo Realis Minnow 80SP comes into its own as the water starts to dirty up.  Once the water dirties right up, and is running hard, big lures like the 95mm Daiwa Double Clutch or the old 95mm TD Minnow come into their own.

As stated before the trout you encounter are of a decent size and with violent head shaking strikes near your feet, and rocks and boulders often present, a good abrasion resistant leader like J-Thread fluro in 8lb is a minimum.  You can even go up to 12lb when the water is really dirty. 

This season we have been running the new Rebellion rods and have found them a treat to use. The 641 MLX-ST is a shorter 6’4’’ rod that has been perfect for tight stream work whilst the 682ML FS is a longer 6’ 8” that is perfect for open larger streams or lake work. The fast actions are light enough to cast well with, but have enough stopping power when connected to a big rampaging brownie. The Airfoam grips are the perfect shape for what I like in a casting rod and aesthetically they are an awesome match to your TD Sol or TD Silver creek.

It is a wonderful opportunity to still be able to target quality trout locally in the depths of a Victorian winter when virtually all other angling options would be curtailed by the weather, dust off the wet weathers, and get out and give it a crack.

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