Autumn Lake Techniques

Tom Jarman provides an introduction to autumn lake fishing in Victoria

Autumn is a fantastic time to explore the many lakes that Victoria has to offer. The air and water temperatures are dropping nicely and our trout become more active, looking to feed and put on condition before winter. Insect life is abundant at this time, with the usual midges, caddis and damsels. Mayflies re-emerge on many of our waters after a long hot summer, and the trout are also willing to chase smelt and other baitfish. And of course, there is still the usual forage such as snails. With so many options, approaching lakes through this period of the year can be daunting, but I have found that the best way to consistently catch trout is to be prepared with a few core techniques that can be applied under a range of conditions. By fishing proven techniques and high-percentage flies in good water, we can put ourselves in the best position to catch fish. WHAT TO LOOK FOR When arriving at a lake, one of the first and often most difficult decisions is choosing where to start. There are a few things to look for, but it is important not to overthink this, as where you start fishing is rarely where you end up later in the day. The first thing to look for is active fish — if we can find fish rising or moving, this is a great place to start. If we can’t see fish feeding, then looking for the food is the next best thing — this can be insects on the surface or schools of bait. Points on shorelines and windward shores are often areas where food will be pushed by wind and lake currents. If we can’t find any signs of fish or food, then identifying areas with structure such as weed, rocks and timber, or ledges and drop-offs is key. Wind lanes, windward shores or current created by wind are also good, as is any sort of colour change in the water. PULLING Retrieving streamers and traditional wet flies is one of the most reliable ways to consistently catch fish in Victoria, or anywhere in the world for that matter. This has been my go-to technique in many local competitions and world championships in locations such as the USA, Slovakia and Italy. It was also the main technique used by teams at the worlds in Tasmania in 2019. Pulling as a technique is effective because it allows the angler to cover lots of water. By constantly retrieving your fly through different water, the chances of pulling it past a fish that is willing to eat are high. This is a great method to employ when you can’t see any signs of fish and are forced to fish blind and search for them. It is most productive in windy and overcast conditions. Mixing up the speed and type of retrieve is very important when pulling — on a given day trout will typically prefer some retrieves to others. I like to include standard strips and long draws, remembering to always vary your speed. I also like to throw in the odd ‘roly-poly’ (the two-handed retrieve) and also a slow figure of eight (hand twist retrieve). An intermediate sinking line is a go-to on most of our waters as it adds the ability to fish a wide range of depths. A true intermediate will sink at 1.5–2.0 inches per second — you can also buy intermediates with slightly slower or faster sink rates. A floating line will do the job, if it’s all you have. It helps to keep your leader simple, and a great starting point is a 12-foot leader with flies spaced 6 feet apart. I almost always use a leader that is straight 3X or 4X fluorocarbon — my flies are often weighted, and when combined with the sinking fly line, you’ll find there is enough power to turn your flies over without a tapered leader. Having a small range of suitable flies will help keep decision making simple. A few streamers in olive, black and brown will go a long way — flies such as Shrek and Humungous are great examples. I like around a size 12 on most Victorian waters. You will also want a few traditional wet flies in a size 14 or 12. Claret Dabbler, Kate McLaren and a Bibio will provide good small fly options, especially if the fish are looking for mayflies and other insects rather than damsels and baitfish. I will often start with a streamer on the point, and a traditional wet on the dropper to help me work out whether the fish want to eat big or small on the day. NYMPHING Nymphing on a lake is a great way to fish in calm conditions or when the fish are keyed in on mayfly, midge and other insects. Unlike pulling, nymphing is a much slower way to fish and as a result covers much less water, however, it makes up for this by being more thorough, imitative, and subtle. It is a very good way to fish when you can see rising or moving fish or know you are fishing an area that holds fish. Nymphing is a great way to catch difficult risers and heavily pressured trout, and to extend your catch before and after a mayfly hatch. The key to fishing nymphs well is having good control throughout your retrieve and keeping in good contact with your flies (staying tight to them), as takes can often be very subtle. A slow figure eight or very slow long draws are the best way to fish nymphs, as actual nymphs do not swim quickly. You can mix up the retrieve with the odd twitch or stop, but nice smooth and slow retrieves will catch most of your fish. I like to fish nymphs on a floating line because I tend to use this technique on shallower lakes or when the fish are high in the water, rising and feeding on nymphs. A tapered leader can be helpful because often both your flies will be unweighted. I will generally take a 9-foot 4X fluorocarbon tapered leader (monofilament tapered leaders are also fine) and cut 4 feet off the butt section (the thicker end); this leaves me with a 5-foot tapered leader. Here I tie a tippet ring, which allows me to easily extend my 4X fluorocarbon tippet from the end. I fish the top fly at least 7 feet from my fly line and I like to have my flies spaced nicely apart, 5 to 6 feet is ideal. Having a mix of styles of nymphs is helpful — seals fur nymphs in black, brown and claret are fantastic on mayfly waters; I also really like fishing Crunchers (nymphs with little hackles around the front); Diawl Bachs are very effective when fish are midging, and your classic Hares Ear nymphs are always good. It is also helpful to have a few nymphs with bead heads to gain some depth if needed, or to anchor your cast in the wind. Black seals fur nymphs with an orange bead are great, as are Hares Ear nymphs with a small gold bead. Size 14 and 12 nymphs will cover you in most situations, but having some in size 16 can be useful too. DRY FLY Fishing dry flies on lakes is enjoyable and can be very productive in the right conditions. On warm overcast days or evenings when there are plenty of insects around, fishing dry flies blind can be effective. However, in general you want to be seeing some rising fish before you fish dries. It can also be a good way to fish to any trout you can polaroid or see cruising the lake edges. Fishing dries is quite straightforward. You can fish your flies static or you can twitch or draw them across the surface. A good rule of thumb is in bright conditions leave your dries still, and in overcast conditions don’t be afraid to move them across the surface. Trout are far more confident to come up and eat off the top when it’s overcast, so you can be a bit more aggressive. I like to fish my dries on a weight-forward floating line. I use a 9-foot 3X or 4X monofilament tapered leader, tying a tippet ring on to the end and then extending this with 4X mono leader material. Fishing two flies 6 feet apart is preferable unless I am sight fishing in shallow water, where one fly and accurate presentations are very important. As always, don’t over complicate fly choice, you just want to cover a few bases with your lake dries for Victorian waters. A parachute style mayfly or spinner is a must-have pattern as is a Possum Emerger. Carrot flies in orange or claret are handy to fish as the dropper in a team of two flies. In addition having some English style hoppers such as a Bibio Hopper, Black Hopper or Brown Hopper will be very handy. All of these flies will draw fish to the surface when they’re eating a wide range of food off the top. Keep It Simple Lake fishing can seem quite daunting, but when broken down it’s really very straightforward: • Find the fish or fish likely water. • Select the right technique for the day’s conditions. • Be prepared to change techniques and use a bit of trial and error. • Remember there is always a way to catch them.

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