Fly Fishing Australia's Millbrook Lakes In The Cooler Months

Millbrook Lakes is a private catch and release fly fishery in Victoria, Australia with over 30 trout lakes holding brown and rainbow trout while some dedicated lakes are also home to tiger trout. This species are a hybrid of brown trout and brook trout. The brook trout is from the Char genus and commonly lives in colder water, making the brown and brook hybrid a great winter option when other trout are sluggish or in spawn mode. Tiger trout also feed up top during the warmer months.

The Millbrook cabin lake lies in a quiet valley 20 minutes east of Ballarat. The lodge consists of three very private log cabins nestled beneath towering gums on the lake’s edge. Only one group stays at the lodge at a time, so during your stay you have exclusive use of the cabins and the lake. There's a choice of self-contained or serviced accommodation for up to 12 guests, and a huge river-rock open fireplace is there to greet you after a long day on the water. Millbrook Lakes also caters for guided fly fishing days. Your guide will provide all the gear you need.

MAY TO OCTOBER AT MILLBROOK LAKES

The cooler months are still a great time of the year for hunting and sight fishing. From early May through to October we see trout feeding on a variety of insects, bait fish and amphibians, like frogs. A lot of fly fishers get lost in the mayfly action of spring, well, we all do, but the cooler months fish just as well. A quick look into the fly box and a change in tactics can put a bend in your rod. Everything from tailing trout in the shallows, shovelling through inches of water, to bust ups along the reeds on smelt. Even slow subtle swirls from a subsurface midge feeder or high bank sighting for the stick caddis sippers.

Trout Fisherman Hooked Up With Sunset In Victoria Australia

A Classic Millbrook Lakes Moment

Midway through the year, cool wet conditions see all the lakes, both public and private, rise to full, flooding the shallow margins. Grass and reeds provide cover for small bait fish, smelt, galaxias, tadpoles, frogs, plus variety of nymphs and larvae - the perfect hunting ground for a hungry trout. Early mornings and dusk being the preferred times to target these fish in low light conditions.

GENERAL TROUT TACTICS

Taking time and moving slowly, you can stand back and target these trout without spooking them due to the shallow water. Sometimes blind casting doesn’t work, but lining fish is easy in such shallow water. Crouching down and watching, waiting to see that tail slowly rise out of the water as the trout buries its head into the weed feeding.

Take a moment to determine which way the fish is facing. Use flies that suit the depth the fish is in, such as a Dodger Damsel, Tom Jones or an unweighted pheasant tail nymph. Greasing up your tippet with Loons Payette Paste helps keep tippet and fly from the weed and in the trout’s view.

Lead the trout by not much more than a foot or two, leaving leeway for wind (or a bad cast…aka me), but in the trout’s zone. Wait for the head tilt. A small strip to get its attention. Mouth open and fish on. Trout in shallow water always dance and jump trying to spit the hook so let them run.

In the same shallow water scenario we find trout cruising, sometimes with their backs fully out of the water, which is a dead giveaway. But you have to be watching - they are silent, causing little, if no, water disturbance. Sometimes just reeds parting as the trout cruises through. When they are doing this, opt for a booby fly (great frog imitation) leading the fish by four or five feet due to fly slap on the water (larger heavier fly).

Wait until the fish is three feet from your fly then start working it with short sharp strips, creating a small wake but somewhat large bloops with pauses. Think like a frog. A lot of the time it will result in a long bow wave from the trout steaming in and getting the eat.

GAMBUSIA AS A FOOD SOURCE

A lot of local lakes are home to Gambusia. These small fish were introduced here in Australia as a biological control for mosquitos, which of course didn’t work. But trout love them. Gambusia, or mosquito fish feeders, are a tough one to crack.

Unlike smelt feeders they sit and hunt, waiting for that one juicy meal rather than smashing the pack. They, like us, sit back and wait for the right opportunity, then pounce.

A problem for us as fly fishers is spotting a fish that isn’t moving. Walking slowly a few feet from the bank helps not to spook these fish, positioning your body and walking so as not to cast a shadow into your spotting zone. Keeping your ninja trout-spotting eyes meters in front.

Waiting & watching for that one thing that looks different - it’s casting a shadow, it's laying different than the past 49 bits of bark you thought were fish, it has a tail (dead giveaway), a white flash from its mouth opening. The earlier you see the trout, the better chance at a cast or catch.

Tom Jones From The Manic Fly Collection

Tom Jones From The Manic Fly Collection

Gambusia are a short, at times fat, fish. Translucent through half of the body, small smelt patterns will work, as well as flies like a Tom Jones. A deadly fly in this situation is an unweighted damsel nymph. Right profile. Right sink rate. Similar colour. Take time to think about the right fly, adding all the sums before making the cast.

Remember, you’ve got time, don’t rush it. The fish live in the water, they’re not going anywhere. Long leaders are a must so as not to line the trout. And watch your back cast.

Another excellent fly here is an unweighted stick caddis or unweighted Black Nymph. Neither imitate a mosquito fish, but are still a huge source of the trout’s diet. If you have a refusal on the damsel or Tom Jones, and are lucky enough to not have spooked the trout, change flies.

MIDGERS

I find it hard to write the word “Midge” or “Midge Feeder”. I’m not sure if I want to throw my laptop and go to the pub, or get in the car immediately so I can be at the lakes for the evening rise. It’s controversial, but is maybe the most exciting lake trout fishing you’ll do. Or you’ll give up, eBay all of your gear and buy a jet ski. Could go either way.

As the sun’s starting to set, it's casting that golden light across the lake, you start to see the slow subtle rises, spotted backs slowly rolling on the surface. I can guarantee there’ll be a little pants party under those waders.

Millbrook Lakes Midge Pupa

Millbrook Lakes Midge Pupa

Trout will feed on midge, also known as chironomids, all year round. They are a small insect with four stages to their life cycle; egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Fish feed on each of these stages. It's obviously not the size of these insects that entice trout to feed on them, but the abundance of them. In the right conditions the lake’s surface will be blanketed with midge. 

A great way to fool a midging trout is by fishing an indicator set up, one or two fly rig, just before the hatch starts, as the midge pupa leaves the bottom of the lake and makes its way to the surface to hatch into a winged adult. A great indication of this is a subsurface swirl from a trout eating this pupa.

A key point to mention here: for the most part, we as fishermen can’t see what the trout are feeding on under the lake’s surface, but due to the sheer numbers of this insect living in our waters, they’ll most definitely be feeding on midge.

MIDGE TACTICS

Start out with one meter of 3x or 4x tippet tied to your 9ft leader. Your point fly should be a blood worm type, like the Sherik's Crawler Harness in blood red, imitating the larva stage of a chironomid. Around 500mm to 700mm above your dropper knot, tie a pupa style fly such as Crystal Chironomid in tan or black. Set your indicator to suit the depth you’re fishing in.

Sherik's Crawler Harness From The Manic Fly Collection

Sherik's Crawler Harness From The Manic Fly Collection

Crystal Chironimid From The Manic Fly Collection

Crystal Chironomid From The Manic Fly Collection

Casting out and giving your flies time to sink, using long, very slow draws lifting your flies up to imitate a midge swimming to the surface to hatch, then allowing time to sink them again. A lot of takes will be on the draw drop technique.

This style of midge fishing is perfect when you can’t see any rises, or right before the hatch when the trout hone in on the small insects floating on the water’s surface.

Once the trout have turned away from the pupa, the water is bleached with hatching midge waiting for their wings to dry as they get slurped and clipped up by hungry trout. In this stage of their lifecycle they’re at their most vulnerable, getting caught in the water’s meniscus, or floating around on the water’s surface.

A Beautiful Brown Trout

A Beautiful Brown Trout

A great way to entice an eat is fishing dry or emerging flies. Covering rises, leading fish and sometimes following fish - walking its beat, waiting for the perfect cast. Or going home frustrated and angry….

But seriously, in this instance, try tying on flies such as a klinkhammer, CDC Floating Midge or a Para Midge. Sizes 14 right down to 20. Pheasant tail nymphs and seal fur nymphs work well with greased up tippets. These allow your fly to stay in that surface zone.

When the adult midge start to ball up, blown together by the breeze, it gets easier to imitate these tiny insects with full hackle flies like the Griffith’s gnat. Slowly drawing or skating your dry flies is a good change in tactics when you can’t get an eat from a static fly.

Fishing flies slightly larger than the insects hatching is another way to make yours stand out in a blanket hatch.

STICK CADDIS

The stick caddis, like all caddis, have four stages to their life cycle; egg, larva, pupa and adult. At the larval stage these caddis find a stick or reed to live in. The ones who went to Tafe or uni decide to build their case from small bits of aquatic vegetation. In a river or stream these same caddis would build their cases from tiny rocks and sand. While the less inventive others have their homes blown down by a big bad wolf.

The caddis we find in our lakes around the Central Highlands and Ballarat district are mostly the stick caddis, occupying a small case ranging from 10mm to 50mm, depending on the age and growth of the larva. The caddis can extend its case during growth, or find a new, larger home.

Muz's Sticky Caddis From The Manic Fly Collection

Muz's Sticky Caddis From The Manic Fly Collection

Colours of the case will depend on the age. As they build from vegetation, the case will rot, therefore changing from lighter greens and tans to darker browns and blacks. This is an import factor to remember, ensuring you have a range of stick caddis flies in varying colours and sizes. I’ve personally seen trout being caught only on one colour, then a few weeks later, eating another.

These stick caddis will move about the lake by sticking their heads out with tiny arms swimming and wriggling. A touch more vertically than horizontal. A touch faster than floating debris. At times just floating or hovering mid water.

The grub itself sticking out from the top of its case, ranging in colours from creamy tan to bright greens and yellows. A perfect imitation for this is a Scintilla Stick Caddis, Muz’s Sticky Caddis or a Horny Caddis.

Buttery Brown Trout From Millbrook Lakes

Buttery Brown Trout From Millbrook Lakes

STICK CADDIS TACTICS

Again, like the chironomid pupa, it’s hard to see fish feeding on these insects, but due to the abundance of them, they’re a main source of food all year round.  Fluorocarbon leaders and tippets will aid you getting to depth, as I prefer unweighted flies here to imitate the natural slow swimming of the stick caddis.

A very slow figure eight retrieve works well to keep your fly from the bottom and the weed, but also keeping constant contact. Another proven method is the same indicator method mentioned earlier.

Fishing one or two flies, setting your indicator to suit the depth you’re in. Change things up, changing the size and colours of your stick caddis, the depth and retrieve, could be the difference between fish and no fish.

This is just a brief touch on the insect activity around the Central Highlands and Millbrook area during the cooler months. But the biggest fishing tip I can give, is just to get out there and go fishing.

ABOUT KIEL JONES:

Kiel guides for Wilderness Fly Fishing and works part-time at The Flyfisher in Melbourne. Kiel is an enthusiastic guide who has a passion for teaching beginners and to take seasoned fly fishers to the next level, his drive for catching fish and having a good time is infectious.