A High Country Christmas Treat – and a Mystery

I’m just back from a glorious couple of days in the high country near Mt Buller, fishing the upper reaches of the Howqua, King and Delatite rivers with JD. It truly is always good just being there; where I first fished for trout as a 6 year old, on streams that were my earliest home waters.

Alpine magic – hardly changed in 50 years.

But this was also one of those trips where the fish had the decency to be active enough and numerous enough to exceed expectations. For several hours one session, it’s no exaggeration to say I could see a rise every 30 seconds – and this during broad daylight under an alpine-blue sky. Within the last couple of years, I’ve observed these streams reduced to bony trickles, and for all my faith in the capacity of wild trout to replenish themselves, I seriously can’t comprehend how seemingly fishless water can return to prosperity so quickly.

Trout everywhere – and all on the dry.

Anyway, at times the fishing was absurdly easy, such as when we first arrived at one stretch and I caught a trout second cast, missed one on the third, then caught another fourth cast.

And yet… there was one quite remarkable thing which I’ll remember for years to come, long after the dozens of trout landed have blurred into other memories which I’ll need to check the diary to corroborate. You see, I started the day not with a cunningly-selected fly, but with a size 14 parachute Adams, left on my leader from the night before on the Goulburn. I’m not a fanatical Adams fan on fast mountain streams, preferring patterns like Stimulators, Antron Caddis and Royal Wulffs. So I remember thinking, it’ll do for now until I decide to change it for something better.

Nothing special about this Adams from the night before?

Well, 15 trout later (I counted out of curiosity), plus maybe double that number missed, I did change the Adams, but only because its black fibre tail had finally fallen off! Meanwhile, JD was acting as a sort of control, fishing one of his favoured and usually brilliant caddis patterns.

It soon became clear this was one of those not-so-common occasions – during daylight on the mountain streams in summer at least – when the trout were being quite selective for a particular dry fly. For example, when JD fished one very appealing run for no response, I followed up with the Adams and immediately rose three. Under normal circumstances, JD’s caddis would have still seemed perfectly adequate, catching enough trout to make a satisfying day. But not this time.

Under other circumstances, this big caddis would have seemed more than adequate.

So, with the caddis outperformed by an order of magnitude, we both hunted the boxes for an Adams that matched mine. And we could almost find one – maybe a bit smaller, or a bit bigger, or a bit lighter or darker. Wouldn’t matter… would it? It did. The ‘other’ Adamses were okay, but no match for the Adams.

I can’t explain why the Adams was so successful. There were stacks of insects on the water – from stoneflies, to ants, to duns, spinners and every kind of caddis imaginable. I suppose we have to accept there are simply times when trout see the world a certain way, and we may never know why.

Is there any better place to be than a Vic high country stream in December?

We came down out of the mountains with the sun still up and a chance for a quick fish off the old logging road (now bike track) above Mirimbah. Here, when I was seven or eight years old, after school was finished for the day, I used to fish worms on a handline from the numerous bridges while dad flyfished the stretches between.

Thong fishing on the Delatite.

After the experiences we’d had, it would be too much to ask for a stroll in thongs to produce anything more than a couple of slashes from tubby little rainbows. But then, the Adams substitute (same size, different colour) went down in a suspiciously quiet rise, and I lifted into the fish of the day – a 16 inch brown. Well that was it. I wound in, looked up at the vast shoulder of Mt Buller on my right, the Pinnacle on my left, and wandered back to JD and the car. Here, my friend produced his third surprise treat for the day – an iced donut. (This followed an icy iced coffee at lunch, and a chocolate bar for afternoon tea.) I silently asked forgiveness from Nick Taransky and bit in. Christmas had come a week early.

Fish of the trip.