brown-trout-xrapThe lower reaches of the southwest Victorian stocked rivers are still open to fishing and recent run-off has got the the rivers flowing hard and discoloured which is a perfect time for some dirty tactics!

Water clarity is often considered to be an integral part of a good days fishing, and its influence is often the subject of intense discussion amongst anglers.

Probably one of the biggest misconceptions about reduced water clarity is that it often puts the fish off the bite and can make visually searching the water difficult. This is certainly true for the latter, but with some lateral thinking being ‘blinded’ by dirty water is not all doom and gloom for trout anglers.

Understanding trout behavior in dirty water
Spring is that time of year when that good looking riffle you’ve been fishing for ages for nothing finally holds a good fish or the backwater or creek mouth fills floods with decent charging fish in the shallows, a time of year that ‘reels’ with opportunity.

The door swings both ways in dirty water, there is limited visibility but on the other hand if you can’t see the fish then chances are they can’t see you either. In both lakes and river dirty water is a great disguise for trout. They are less spooky and will move into position in the shallow riffles from the deeper pools in moving water or move into surprising shallow flooded lake margins and river or creek mouths. This seasonal change in behaviour to ambush predators makes them accessible and catchable and allow anglers to target specific locations in their search for fish. At this time of year big fish are an all day rain or shine option and even in the dirty water will still attack aggressively at dawn and dusk.

The condition of dirty water trout is often exceptional, as the availability of food particularly during the springtime is excessive and with reduced water clarity it’s likely that if the fish can find it they will eat it! In moving water situations food items are often washed to the fish as they take up station behind rocks and logs or they grub around on the flooded margins for whatever is in good quantities. The result is less selective fish which makes them less fussy and easier to fool.


Dirty techniques
A fish’s behaviour will change in dirty water, so for anglers the formula is to simply adapt your technique to match the newly created situation you are fishing.

The true measure of the potential of a fishery is often realised in dirty water, particularly when the reason for reduced water clarity is due to heavy run-off. When you combine the factors of moving or shallow water with big brave fish the results are explosive!

There is often a lot more water around than usual when the water is dirty (usually during the wetter months of spring) which means there is more habitat for fish. This is certainly true for both lakes and rivers, but you can increase your likelihood of drawing a strike by targeting specific locations such as the newly created habitat that spring flows provide, instead of just searching the water as you can do at other times of the year. A change in season requires a change in perspective.

With reduced selectivity trout will usually slash at an artificial lure or fly as they imitate baitfish, which are abundant in southwest rivers and lakes. The galaxias, gudgeon and smelt are all prime seasonal food sources. If trout are hungry and you’re in the right spot a strike will often occur within seconds of your lure hitting the water. I had many situations where I’ve cast and then picked up the line to find a good fish already attached as soon as it hits the water.

I usually go for large lures and flies in dirty water to match the size of the baitfish which are usually average 5-10cm in length. The interesting thing to note is that not all fish are always baitfish munchers and yabbies and even small caddis nymphs are often on the menu. I guess old habits die hard for some fish! Be prepared to experiment, but for most situations large fish patterns will suffice 95% of the time. And if anything the fish are more likely to see a large presentation than a smaller one.


Cover the water and don’t spend too much time in one spot. It’s not a case of how many cast but where you put them is more important. Remember be efficient and experiment. If covering the water doesn’t work then try a proven spot and concentrate on it but don’t reduce you chance by standing still.

When fishing rivers and creeks focus on the heads and tails of pools, areas where fish can take up station in the current and wait for food. Trout are designed for this kind of behaviour so fast water should not be ignored, but neither should the shallow backwaters. I particularly enjoy fishing the flooded creek mouths in lakes and focus on the line of dirty and clear water for best results.

Surface foam or natures ‘cappuccino’ as many call it, is a rich source or food for fish and prime cover in dirty water. Foam is by-product of high suspended solid loads in the water column mixed with the high velocity of fast moving water and it often congregates at in the deeper pools in rivers and on the edges of lakes. Food gets stuck in the froth so a good option is to fish the edges or even get underneath it. Don’t just discount it because you can get debris on your lure every cast. Sooner or later the debris will become a big brownie.


I prefer a light 2-4 kg spin outfit for general use, remembering that you could hook a trophy fish at this time of year. As for the line I’m still torn between braid and mono. In the craze for longer casts and higher sensitivity we’ve lost something special – the stretch and flexibility that mono can give you. For big fish in fast water the stretch is a good thing let me tell you, and it is easy to rip the hooks out of the mouth of a big fish with too much sensitivity – try it for yourself though!


Bibbed Lures
Dirty water can be expensive on the tackle front when you don’t know whats under the water. I prefer floating diving lures to cover shallower water and they give you the flexibility of drifting over objects in the river or fishing the shallow margins of lakes.

When using lures in the shallow margins of lakes don’t just cast and retrieve, cast your lure in and let it sit, twitch it and mix it up. The longer you lure is in the strike zone the better.

One of the great benefits bibbed lures is they impart a strong action and can make a bit of noise so lure with rattles are a good option. Go for the good brands in fast moving water the good quality brands are quickly differentiated from the cheap equivalents.

I prefer Rapala CD5’s and CD7’s in a variety of colours, but I tend to like a bit of black or gold to make a good silhouette and impart a bit of flash on a bright sunny day. Other producers are Rebel Minnows, Min Mins and Tilsans. If your finding your missing big fish remove the trebles and use a couple of large single hooks you may be surprised by the success of the hook-up.

Soft plastics are also a good option to be well explored and minnow in 3”-4”sizes and paddle tail fish patterns are worth a go. These give you the opportunity to experiment with the weight of the head, are versatile and are very effective when you need to get down deep quickly I fast water. Likewise these can be floated and twitched in the shallows in the lakes.


Fly fishing
Fly-fishing in dirty water is something that many people believe is a waste of time. Sure its not a visual ‘dry fly’ type scenario, but in fact it is the most exciting time of the year to catch large fish in ‘interesting’ shallow water situations on the fly rod.

The tackle is to use certainly not the lightest possible. I prefer a slightly heavier rod than usual depending on the water I’m fishing. I prefer an 8-10wt fly rod for general use, particularly to allow the casting of large heavy flies tie on number 2 hooks to resemble gudgeon and galaxias in the fast water. Likewise unweighed similar patterns work well for searching the flooded lake margins and generally attract an aggressive strike. Large Woolley buggers are also a great pattern to search with for this style of fishing.

Although many would regard the use of heavy gear for trout as ‘shocking’ a simple relatively short leader with a 8-10 pound tippet, a large heavy fly (if you can call it that!) and heavy rod will enable you to extract 6lb plus brownies from fast snaggy water. In the lakes you can afford to fish lighter, but remember when it blows it blows down in the southwest so the heavier gear does have its advantages! In some of the southwest lakes a 10 pound brown is a real possibility so be prepared!


Characteristically dirty water lake trout options occur where lakes are seasonally fed by run-off from small creeks or drains and include Lake Purrumbete (north creek mouth), Lake Hamilton, Lake Aringa, Lake Cartcarong (Winslow), Lake Gillear, Wurdibuloc Reservoir, and also Lake Modewarre & Lake Murdeduke (when they both recover). Many of the Ballarat region lakes such as also provide dirty water options depending on the amount of run-off they receive.

There are many rivers in the Southwest that are stocked annually with brown trout. Close to Geelong, the Barwon River is an ideal option and further to the west the Woady Yaloak, Hopkins and Merri Rivers and Mt Emu Creek are good options seasonally.

There are plenty of coastal rivers and streams in the southwest which hold self supporting populations of brown trout. Some of the Otway Rivers, in particular the Aire, Ford and Gellibrand Rivers can produce trophy fish in the lower reaches.

The lower Merri River cutting is looking primed for the next few weeks for big brown trout1

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