Winter at Great Lake

Craig Rist
Many anglers pack away their rods come the end of trout season and then start counting down the days for it to reopen again in August. If you find it hard to wait until then, as I do, there is some great shore based fishing to be had at Great Lake if you're prepared to brave the cold. Apart from Tods Corner, and Canal Bay, the remainder of Great Lake is open to trout fishing twelve months of the year.
By the time I have finished a few jobs around the house at the beginning of winter I start to think about those brown trout feeding up in the shallow bays of Great Lake after their annual spawning run. These trout are hungry and in the need for a quick protein hit. The resident paragalaxias are on the menu, as are the ever reliable stick caddis and Great Lake shrimp.

Shore based fishing
When fishing from the shore I find it more interesting to go in search of fish rather than fishing from a fixed location. Wading is a great way to locate fish in the shallow bays of the lake. By fishing this way you will cover the fish that are slowly cruising the deeper drop offs and shallow margins as well as the fish that have stationed themselves in amongst the rocky edges or fallen timber. When fishing water 300 mm and less you will often see a swirl or charging bow wave as a fish responds to your presentation, resulting in an exciting hook up or a disappointing refusal that may prompt a change of tact. This visual aspect is another reason why I like to fish these areas.
Shores that have the cold winter wind blowing into them may not look too appealing but can produce some great fishing. The constant wave action can stir up a soup of aquatic insects at times. Many trout will take advantage of this to feed on these dislodged insects. By wading out and fishing back into shore you can comfortably fish the water with the wind at your back and side to assist casting. Even in this stirred up water it is still possible to sometimes catch a glimpse of a dark elongated shape slowly mooching along in the discoloured water, or the sight of a fin for a split second, as the waves suck the water off the trout's back.
Polaroiding in winter isn't something you hear too much about, but is by no means out of the question. The weather at this time can dish out some pretty miserable conditions. It can also produce the odd blue-sky day with light winds. These are the days you can sneak in some early season polaroiding. Even in less than perfect conditions, you can see more with a good set of polaroids than you can with the naked eye. If you haven't spotted a fish after scanning the water out to the extremes of your vision, you can then locate any submerged rocks, logs and depressions that have the potential to hold fish, giving you something to cast to, along with the anticipation of a take in such likely lies.
Shallow shores that quickly drop away into deeper water are also worth some time. Trout seem to like the security of the deeper water close by so they can move in and out of the shallows with a degree of safety from predators. Fishing these drop offs, with most techniques, will often produce fish.
There's nothing like spending time on the water to better understand a fishing destination. Some bays will hold more fish than others, depending on the conditions, as they do during summer. With the water levels still low, many areas have weed beds close to shore. Where there is weed growth there will be aquatic life, and trout to feed on them. Combine these areas with rocky shores and a few dead trees and you have a good place to start.
Rising water levels, however, can make a once productive area fishless, leaving the established weed beds and the trout food that live in them, out of reach to the shore based angler. If the newly flooded ground has no food available for the trout then there's little incentive for them to be there. When you find your self in this situation, the steeper shores will be less affected by the rising water giving you access to established weed beds. Places such as Swan Bay, Dud Bay, Beehives point, Ducks Point Bay, Reynolds Neck and Elizabeth Bay, to name just a few, are all worth a visit.

Fly Fishing
Fur flies and woolly buggers seem to fish very well early, with a variety of retrieves. Anything from a slow figure eight to fast strip will work at times. The key is to mix it up through out the day to find the retrieve that works.
Another useful piece of information is to know the actual sink rate of each fly you use. This can be done very simply by counting down the time it takes your fly to hit the bottom in say 300mm of water. Once you have this information you can use the count down method to be sure your fly is going to be at the right depth before starting the retrieve. This is particularly useful when you want your fly to be travelling just under a submerged log, in sight of any trout that may be holding up under there.
Winter can bring on some rough fishing conditions. These can be managed by picking the right shore to fish and using the best cast for those conditions. In very rough windy conditions, long difficult cast are not needed when wading. Fish a shore with the wind blowing along or into it and wade the shore in a direction that will have the wind blowing the fly line away from your body when you cast. With a strong wind at your back, high back casts will be over powered by the wind, making casting uncomfortable and creating tangles in your leader. A more relaxed cast is made with a low powerful side cast to cut into the wind behind you and then rolled over into the normal forward cast. Short manageable casts allow you to quickly cover the water in front of you before wading the length of your leader and casting again. Fishing a short line will also make it easier to see any unnatural movements in the water from a fish responding to your fly as it lands in the water. Fishing two different flies at the same time will often shorten the time needed to find the right colour, size or type of fly that works on the day.

Risty's Fur Fly
Fly tying goes hand in hand with fly fishing. There's something very satisfying about catching a fish on one of your own creations. The flies you can tie with the countless fly tying products available these days are limited only by your own imagination.
Fly tying is a big part of my fly fishing. So much so that I will often tie up a few new flies the night before a trip. Some of these new creations will get to stay in my fly box while others will go into the recycle jar that sits on my fly tying bench.
One fly that has gone through the test of time is a fur fly I tied 15 years ago to catch the frog and galaxia feeders in the Western Lakes. Inspired by Rob Slone's Fur Fly, it is tied with the black tail fur from a brush-tail possum and then a bunch of wild rabbit fur to represent the lighter under belly of a frog or galaxia. The thorax is black ostrich and the head is tied with yellow thread as was in Sloane's Black Fur Fly. I liked the idea of the yellow head as this makes the fly resemble one more major food item, the stick caddis. The first time I used this fly in the Western Lakes will be one I will never forget. The native galaxias were being savaged by a trout out in the middle of a shallow bay, at the time I was the only one wearing waders. My old fishing mate, David Catlin urged me to hurry up and catch the fish so we could continue on our walk further back into the Western Lakes. This fish would appear once with a huge swirling, and then reappear in a totally different area. By now I was standing knee deep in the middle of the bay with a forty foot cast out in front of me, waiting for the next sign of this fish. Suddenly the water erupted behind me as the fish chased down some more galaxias. I turned, lifting the line off the water and delivered the fly a metre in front of the fish. The fish surged over nearly parting the water to take the fly. I set the hook and quickly lowered the rod with the first burst of power and speed as it charged out towards the middle of the lake. A long tense fight followed with the heart stopping sight of a fish that must have been 10 pound, rolling out of my net. Luckily the hook held giving me another chance. This time the fish stayed in the net and weighed exactly 10 pounds, my first double figure brown trout. That fish has now gained pride of place on my wall with the original fly along side it. Since that day, this fly has been successful throughout the seasons and has saved me from having a fishless day more than once.

Risty's Fur Fly
Hook: sizes 10 to 6
Thread: black
Tail: black possum tail
Body: black thread over two wraps of lead wire
Under body: wild rabbit fur
Wing: black possum tail
Thorax: black ostrich
Head: yellow thread

Bait Fishing
A lot of fish are caught using bait, throughout the year, in Great Lake and winter fishing is no exception. Many people use worms and grubs with set rods along the shores with great effect, enjoying the social aspect as well as the fishing. In my early days of trout fishing I found it hard to stay in one spot for any length of time, waiting for the fish to come to me. I was soon to be introduced to a devastatingly effective form of trout fishing by David Catlin and his son Grant. They used a fly rod to cast and retrieve an unweighted bait, usually a cockroach, to constantly fish new water by wading or walking the deeper shores. The fly line, on a fly reel, was replaced with 10 pound monofilament, as the momentum of a fly line through the air would soon see the cockroach tearing from the hook. A more effective way was to cast the cockroach with one smooth action and releasing the loops of line in your hand just before finishing the casting stroke. Worms and grubs can be used in the same way, but trout have always responded well to cockroaches, finding them hard to refuse.
Last year I returned to fish Great Lake at the beginning of July with Simon Hedditch. Simon and I fished together when we were kids. Using cockroaches was a big part of our trout fishing back then. Simon still enjoys cockroach fishing and was keen for an early start to the season after hearing of my success at Great Lake a week earlier. We could hear the ice braking up in the water filled wheel ruts as we drove into Cramps Bay to try a new area of Great Lake. We were the first to drive this track on that day and would more than likely have the whole bay to ourselves at this time of year.
We stopped to collect a few cockroaches under rocks and fallen timber and soon had enough for several hours fishing. We fished 2 kilometres of the southern shore, with little sign of life amongst the timber and rocks. I eventually spooked a fish out from under a log, but that was it. We decided to walk over Cramps Sugar Loaf to Elizabeth Bay. It was now eleven o'clock and the clear blue sky allowed us to wade-polaroid the shore, Simon fished out deep, while I fished the shallow knee deep water. Simon systematically lobbed out the cockroach in front of him and retrieved the line with long slow strips waiting to feel the slight bump or pull through the line as a fish grabbed hold of the cockroach. It wasn't long before Simon had his first grab and was allowing the fish to take a small amount of line before setting the hook. After the hook-up the fish quickly pulled the remaining coils of loose line from Simon's hand and he was now fighting the fish from the reel. Simon soon landed a very well conditioned trout that had not been short of a meal after spawning.
Fish started to materialise in front of us as the height of the sun made it possible to see further ahead. Once a fish was located it was simply a matter of landing the cockroach near the fish and watching it move over to the sinking cockroach and picking it up. The line would move off, giving the sign to set the hook. The next three hours saw eight fish caught between us. Most of these fish were spotted before the cast, while others were picked up searching the water out past the limits of our vision. Changing locations from a deep rocky tree lined bay to one that had a gradual silty bottom with weed growth, rocks and submerged trees had paid off on this particular day.

Lure Fishing
There are so many different actions, vibrations, rattles and colours available in lures today, it makes buying one a daunting task. Your local tackle dealer will be up with what's working from the most popular lures he is selling.
When using lures you still have to think about the water and the type of lure you are about to fish. Casting directly into a strong wind out into deeper water is best done with the heavier spinners and wobblers or by wading out and casting shallower running lures along the shore. Using the wind from behind you will always be the easiest way to cast the greatest distance, but this will not help you catch fish if the shore has little to offer a trout in the way of food and shelter. Casting over and along drop offs, any dead trees or prominent rocks, and weed beds are all good places to start. Brown trout will search for food in water that is barely deep enough to cover them. How many times have you approached the water thinking "there wouldn't be a fish that close to the edge or that shallow" only to see a bow wave of a fleeing fish charging out to deeper water? They're only the ones you can see disturbing the water on their way out. Covering the water with a cast, before you get too close to the edge, may just give you another chance of landing a fish. Once at the water's edge you can fan your casts around to the shoreline, covering any fish that may be in close before moving along to that area.
The ability to fish a lure through the entire depth of water is always going to be a big advantage. This is one of the reasons soft plastics are so successful and the fact that they can be made virtually snag proof to probe all of the likely areas. Carrying a range of lures that will cover all depths and conditions will give you more flexibility and a greater chance of success.

Whatever method you choose, fishing Great Lake during winter can make it a little easier to wait those extra months for the remainder of the trout waters to re-open.

Craig Rist

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