Through chilling grey mist
The last autumn leaf
Drifts deserted banks
The Goulburn towards the end of the season can be a dank, lonely place. By 5.30pm the sun has well and truly gone, the air is cold and rapidly getting colder. Last year’s spring opening with its angler optimism, warming weather and ever-increasing hatches, is long forgotten. So are summer’s high flows that allowed stalking backwaters and polaroiding the edges. Gone too are the willow grub and grasshopper feeders under shaded canopies.
It’s the start of winter now. The river is just a fraction of its summer flow and as the mist settles in, it looks almost lifeless, with muddy banks flanked by bare-branched trees. Things are shutting down. The lack of a significant evening rise sees many anglers long gone before the light dies. The carparks at the bridges and access points can still get busy—I counted 12 cars at Gilmores Bridge last Sunday—but come evening, they have vanished and the quietness of the river returns.
I should go too. The fishing is not frantic, not by a long shot. But for me, it is hard to leave. I find I like the deserted river late in the season, I find it calming, I find it peaceful, I find that tranquillity substitutes somewhat for productivity. Near the end of the season, I like wet fly fishing. Drifting nymphs or swinging wets has a slower pace, working each part of the river methodically. While some risers can be found, the food is often small and the fish can be extremely discerning (read frustrating!). The evening rise is mostly a non-event and, if trout do come to the top, they don’t stay there long. At this time of the year, using wet flies is relaxing and doesn’t have the stress that often accompanies an evening rise, with the pressure of trying to work out, and/or and keep up with a potentially changing food supply, while trout are rising all around you.
And at this time of the year it is not about numbers. I lower my expectations. Yes I want to catch fish, but I’ll do it on my terms and it’s my decision not to use the most effective method—if I so choose. I choose not to fish French or Czech nymphs, probing along the bottom with no fly line. Yes, I agree it is effective and technical, it demands an intensity of concentration and lots of people like it— but I’m not in a competition. Swinging wets has that tactile component, with the expectation of a tug on the line signalling an interested trout. This tactile aspect can put you in a different fishing mindset and allows your eyes to be busy somewhere else. Using a wet fly means I don’t have to squint into the gloom, seeking to track a tiny dry. I now have time to look around. I have time to notice and enjoy the season changes. Watch the leaves fall and drift on the water, watch the platypus and water rats go about their business, and hear the ducks’ wings whistle as they fly just overhead.
Winter isn’t the end of trout fishing and I have to remind myself that it is only the rivers that are closing. The lakes are still there, and some of them hold trout! Maybe I should be relieved that the distraction of the rivers won’t be an issue when I’m deciding where to fish. Maybe I shouldn’t be so river-centric. But I can’t deny that the rivers in winter still have a pull, and it’s not just about the fish. I’ll miss them. Right now, the river is a relaxing, contemplative place which gives you time to reflect on the season gone, to enjoy your own company, and to think about next season.
So here I am on the Goulburn River in winter at season’s end. The evening is cold and getting colder. Night is falling, the fog is coming in and the fishing is really, really, slow. I know I should go, but I stay.