With the autumn issue of FlyStream magazine to finish and some significant family events to attend, fishing time has been a little scarce lately. So when two clear days came up at the beginning of this week, it wasn’t a question of if, but where?
When you’ve had a few weeks where the longest fishing trip is measured in hours, it can be tempting to use a two-day opportunity to travel a fair way. But after an overnight mission to the Snowys several years back, I made a pact with myself that I wouldn’t go on any more fishing trips where I spent more time travelling than fishing. It’s a pact I’ve only broken occasionally since. Those trips were a success in the sense that the catching was very good (the prospects motivated the marathon drive in the first place). However, the sheer amount of time in the car – plus the initial couple of hours on the water with part of you still back on the highway somewhere – meant those trips didn’t quite feel like a good trip should.
So with that in mind, Max and I settled on the King River. The drive was just a few hours each way, which even for an overnighter, comfortably met the travel vs fishing requirements. We also knew the river had fished quite well recently; and to seal the deal, Max, with his Italian heritage, has a strong connection to the King Valley community and its food and wine culture.
The valley was looking good; lots of green grass on the flats and the trees and vines bursting with life. One old farmer told us he’d never seen the valley look better at the start of March. He attributed this to a very wet winter/ spring boosting the water table; then a generous summer of almost weekly rain events.
The river looked good too – clear with a healthy if not extravagant flow. As is starting to become a habit for me, we began by targeting Murray cod. This was new to Max so once again I found myself acting as (very) amateur instructor; trying to impart that all-important confidence and belief to my friend, when I’m still not overburdened with it myself! We wandered down to a stretch of river we must have fished a dozen times over the years for trout, and it was weird to be looking at it for the first time as potential cod water. The delightful babbling riffles and runs which we prized for trout, were now hardly worth a cast; while the deep, snaggy and almost flowless pools which were obstacles to be bypassed when trout fishing, now became water full of promise.
Max picked up the cod fishing thing quickly and, miraculously (given he’d never even seen a cod caught) he fished with care and purpose, cheerfully risking the occasional swim to put his fly right in amongst the snags, then keeping it there as long as possible. It was fitting that he was first to hook up – even though he dropped that fish. It was even better when, a few minutes later, Max was virtually dapping his fly in a channel between two parallel logs when he was hit by a nice cod, which this time he managed to land after a rod-buckling tug-of-war.
After that, a strong southerly blew in, scattering the first autumn leaves on the river, and the action seemed to slow down. I managed to catch a couple and miss a couple more, but even the witching hour around dusk was strangely quiet. Was it us, or the cod?
The next morning felt genuinely autumnal and Max and I decided to chase some trout on another part of the King a few kilometres further up the valley. I don’t mean to sound vain, but it felt good to be fishing in a way – and to a fish – I know pretty well. I enjoyed the elegance of little flies, fine tippets and the subtlety of a good mend or drift. When a nice brown appeared under my Royal Wulff as its white wings left the shadow of an overhanging tea-tree, I wasn’t surprised, and I even waited a moment after the quiet sip before lifting the rod. I guess the crashing take of a rainbow in the next decent run had something in common with a mini-cod, but otherwise the experience was very different.
Max and I had split up for this session and as I wound in at the appointed time to go and meet him back at the river crossing, I thought, cod have got me, but there’s no danger of trout letting go.