Switching Tactics

Trevor Holmes has some great ideas for the trout angler, new or seasoned! Switch it up if they aren’t biting!

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As the colder winter days move through, the tactics employed by the serious trout anglers change to suit the seasons. Being land based or aided by a watercraft doesn’t change the fact that the trout vary their methods of feeding to suit themselves and fishos who observe what happens in the water are usually the best rewarded.

Knowing an individual waterway is a huge advantage and often time spent without a rod in hand can be the biggest learning curve of all for that body of water. Observations don’t fully sink in or get absorbed to the brain whilst angling as we are solely focussed on hooking up and landing fish. Walking the banks and taking in what happens in, on and around the water can be valuable learning tool which often increases catches and tells you when is ideal conditions. I’m not saying my principles apply in all cases but after 45 odd years of fishing a lot of the Wimmera and Western Victorian lakes, here is some  helpful hints that may apply.


Using the wind to your advantage for casting purposes at the time seems only too logical but truth of the matter is the downwind side is the place to be in winter, and normally the bigger fish will congregate here. Summer we look long and hard on the upwind edges where trout often gather waiting until a hatch emerges or feed gets gently blown in. Winter is different all together as the hatches slow to virtually non existent. The roaming trout congregate and feed freely on the edges where stronger, colder winds push the feed to like minnows, gudgeon, smelt, snails and other minuscule inhabitants end up. Often roaming the drop offs and ledges they swoop in, sometimes in numbers, and herd bait briefly before escaping back to the secure, deeper, darker water. Using that downwind edge to your advantage will more than likely put your plastic, lure or bait well within the strike zone.

Cold and wet, working the wind lanes produced this lovely Buck Brown trout for Pete Kalinakos on a OSP bent minnow.
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In this day and age of mono v braid etc it’s often a tough choice of what I spool up with to tackle a head wind. If working off the boat I prefer to use braid for extra distance and to keep in touch with the lure or plastic. Bank fishing or wading  I prefer the mono for its stretch capabilities but always carry both. Sometimes when working the wind, especially a side wind the braid isn’t ideal for controlling lures as wind floatation takes over, rendering casts virtually useless. My preferred method of working a head wind from the bank is sideways. In saying this I mean casting out into the wind on say a 45degree angle and allowing a little for wind drift which will in most cases put your lure in the range/zone of the drop offs where fish lurk waiting to pounce.

Many times I’ve hooked up before realising as a unsuspecting trout launches at the said lure upon sensing it land. Staying in touch with the lure or plastic is often difficult and many fish are hooked within the first few cranks of the handle. Being on your game and prepared for that impulse strike can be the difference between a good day and a  fishless day of near misses.


Often overlooked as just an area where suds, weed and debris wash up these places can hide even the bigger versions of trout where they feel more secure than in clear, calm water which is often adjacent to the wind lanes. Cruising up and down these areas provides refuge as well as a prime vantage point to stalk and ambush unsuspecting prey. Washed up debris hard against the edges often hold surprise fish that sit in wait for a cheap feed. Many times land based have I walked banks or rock walls settling into a new location and in the first couple of retrieves been startled by a trout, usually a brown, flying out from virtually under your feet to smash or ambush the retrieved lure of choice. Use the cover to your best advantage and never underestimate what lurks below your feet !

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One thing that is often overlooked by many trollers falling for the trap of “Old Faithfull syndrome” whereby they run the same lure that worked last time or in past trips. Given that winter time is partially spawn time for the trout  it’s imperative to run what are known as the aggression colours. Bright lures on bright days and even brighter lures on dark days is my choice throughout these lakes. This theory is derived from years of field testing  and successful days on the water. The aggression periods of trout vary dramatically and frustration can creep in at times with half hits, tail swipes and chasing without grabbing being very common.

To turn this behaviour into actual strikes there’s several different tactics to try. Boat speed variation can often produce a hit as will the occasional flicking the bail open and letting 3-5 metres of line out. Many times I’ve witnessed big buck Browns “shepherding” lures out of their zone but with a flick of the bail and sudden change of direction it’s enough to entice a hit. Scent applied to the lure or plastic can also change their way of thinking and construct a strike.

Another principle I firmly believe in is that the direction of rotation of the boat particularly on circular lakes or pools. Proof of this was a full rotation of one of the pools on Toolondo without even a hit or swipe only to change direction and land 5 or 6 fish within half the distance covered ! Talking to other anglers and they have experienced the same especially on clearer,  not so deep lakes. Downwind trolling has always produced well for me over the years adjacent to the wind blown banks or tree lines.

Trolling speed is also critical and I’m often asked what’s ideal. My response as always is to tie on your intended lure and run it beside the boat getting a visual on the action and then running it at the speed which is optimum. Big buck brown trout landed in less than 6 inches of water right on dark by the writer on a fish arrow soft plastic.

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I’ve briefly touched above on the bright colours on bright days theory and firmly believe that the key colours during spawn time are the pinks, whites, oranges and lumo colours in the tassie Devils and diving lures as their aggressive coloration is what initiates the strikes. If surface casting the natural colours of minnows, smelt and gudgeon you can’t go past as the trout replenish themselves on the high protein offerings. OSP bent minnows have dominated the catches of the surface in my region. Other good options are shallow running hardbodies and soft plastics matching the natural feed colours.

Plastics wise it’s hard to go past the Fish Arrows in 2, 3 or 4 inch versions and once again in the natural colors. Brightly spotted hardbody lures also do very well as their “lit up” appearance gives the aggressive appearance to the often territorial trout. Ray Rogers was delighted with his big hen brown taken Lake Wendouree in Ballarat trolling a Nories laydown minnow hardbody.


Winter time in Victoria can be tough going for anglers on bait but those persisting and doing their home work on feed patterns/locations will produce good fish. The hardest thing in winter is to be able to present baits under floats at the bottom end of the lake. It is achievable by rig alteration and a small ball sinker running the main line above your float. In effect, you cast as normal and the float is pulled under initially by the sinker but re surfaces and the float is anchored in place by it. Effective way of into the wind fishing that produces some great fish by presenting the bait in the zone normally not achieved. Mudeyes and minnow can be fished in this manor with good success.

Other winter/spawn time baits that do well are powerbait in Orange and pinks that replicate a dislodged trout egg. Rigged usually on a running sinker the floating powerbait presents above weed or bottom growth that normally hides it. Worms fished in the dirty water account for many winter trout especially bigger fish as they forage the edges for unsuspecting prey and offerings that have washed in from rain and runoff water. Given the dirtier water offers feed as well as security it is often overlooked as a option by anglers but those in the know have taken many from these hidden habitats. A big winter/spawning  rainbow trout taken on a mudeye fished under a bubble float at Lake Toolondo.

Whilst these days can be very uncomfortable for us above the water in a boat or wading the cold shallows we have to keep in mind that these are the ideal days that trout are at their best. Work hard on these days and the rewards will come. Often the hard days are the best days fishing with many big trophy fish landed throughout the whole winter !

Trevor Holmes

About Trevor Holmes

Trevor has a lifetime of experience with both freshwater and saltwater fishing. He offers you a relaxed attitude, great humour and willingness to pass on tips and techniques. Trevor is a fully accredited Coxwain and operates a fully compliant and insured craft. http://www.victorianinlandcharters.com.au/

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