Last trout season was somewhat schizophrenic. We had some great trips and others were a bit of a struggle. Cormorants in plague proportions started to play on my mind although on one particular day last March, after several hours of not seeing a trout suddenly the fish switched on and how! Between two of us we landed over a dozen good browns in quick time. A bit of head-scratching went on but for me it was a lesson learnt: there is no benefit in overthinking a situation, making general assumptions or doubting the resilience of trout.
For one reason or another I didn’t manage to get to the north-east of Victoria this season until mid-November. November is still relatively early (cold) for some of our higher altitude streams. Compounding this, we’ve had colder than average conditions and several late snowfalls.
Fishing reports across various forums were as bleak as our recent weather, hardly a fish sighted, hardly a fish caught. Last year’s inconsistencies and the current reported demise of our fishery saw me hit some of my favourite systems – the King, Ovens and Mitta with a degree of apprehension: those nasty doubts were starting to creep back in.
Flows were okay, water temperature was south of ideal but it did not take long for any niggling uncertainty to dissipate. Within a few casts on the first stream, a fat pounder took my weighted Cadillac Nymph. The fishing then went on to be a little slow given the conditions (more like early October than mid-November.) But we soon worked out that like early and late season, the middle of the day and short bursts of sun breaking through were the trigger for trout to switch on.
Hatches of caddis, big grey and black spinners, chunky horned caddis, several varieties and sizes of duns, plus beetles were all evident throughout the day, increasing during sunny patches. With a bit of warmth on the water trout responded aggressively to well-presented Kosciusko Duns, Royal Wulffs and Stimulators. The delights of (unexpected) early season dry flyfishing!
During the quieter patches we still managed enough fish to keep our spirits up. Their undoing however required a bit of lateral thinking. We assumed the trout had been scared out of their wits by the wraith-like cormorants that have/had been their tormentors. The strategy that paid off was to cast our flies into lies which a cormorant couldn’t get to. Tight against undercut banks, under overhanging branches or threading the needle between large boulders. We certainly challenged our accuracy and sacrificed a few flies, but it was worth it.
Overall our catch (and release) rate may have been a little below a typical mid-November, but the satisfaction level was certainly right up there. Cormorants are still present but back to almost normal levels I hope. The trout were extremely healthy, fit and none bore cormorant scars. The other positive is that we caught several classes of fish from tiddlers to a fat healthy brown that pushed the net scales to 2½ lb.
The evening rise was slightly muted in the cold breezy conditions, yet searching with a caddis dry produced better results than fishing a full-on hatch often does. In the latter case so much is going on that trout can adapt infuriating selectivity.
Conclusion: despite the gloomy reports running viral on the internet, the trout are there to be caught and numbers seem good. My dilemma now is finding time to get back out asap. My resolution? Ignore the majority of negative reports one might read, just as we did whilst enjoying at times brilliant fishing during the prolonged drought prior to 2010.