Autumn Frost and Smoke Haze, North-east Victoria – Pt 1

Except for the murmur of the rapid a hundred metres upstream, it was breathlessly quiet on the upper Mitta. Even the light was muted by smoke haze from distant control burns. As my boots dislodged the river rocks I felt big, blundering and obvious. There had to be a few good trout in the black, bottomless pool beside me. But how to catch one? The bubble line that had weaved along the rock face when I fished here in November had vanished in the low flows of April. The pool was almost still, and the bubbles and current from the run at its head dissipated within metres of the drop-off.

Trying to stay out of sight isn't easy when the water is low.

Trying to stay out of sight isn’t easy when the water is low.

I began fishing at the drop-off with one of the nymphs Will gave me recently – sort of a Hares Ear variation with a dash of red at the tail, hanging about 5 feet beneath an indicator. Second cast, the white Hi-Vis yarn slid quietly into the dark water and I lifted uncertainly. A brown of about a pound pulled back and seemingly energised by the cold water, the fish took a couple of minutes and more commotion than I’d like to bring to the net.

The pounder. Nice, but...

The pounder. Nice, but…

Once the ripples died down I started casting again, trying to move slowly and keep low. Yet the prime heart of the run in, scored with bedrock slots and covered by a healthy current, produced nothing. Had the splashes of the pounder ruined it? Dutifully I kept fishing anyway, now casting short and keeping my rod tip high to counteract the messy currents. At the very top of the run, where the rapid collided at right angles with the rock wall, it took three casts to achieve a drift that didn’t shoot out of pocket instantly. That third cast kept the indicator swirling in the current for bare seconds, but it was long enough. I assumed the fly had snagged, until the ‘snag’ abruptly took off down river and five minutes later I landed a 2½ pounder in the middle of the pool below. And can you believe it, soon after and just a couple of metres above that hook-up spot, I hooked and landed and even bigger trout! How fine the line between success and failure in these low water conditions, and how satisfying when you get it right.

The 2½ pounder from the very top of the run.

The 2½ pounder from the very top of the run.

And that was basically the story of my first few days in the north-east with Max. On the upper Mitta, Cobungra and Bundarra, the water was low, cold and clear, with water temps ranging from 10 to 13 C. The days began with a frost or close to it, and the fishing didn’t really warm up until mid-morning. By dark the cold air was draining off the high plains into the valleys and there was no evening rise to speak of. During the active mid-morning to sunset period, part of the secret to success was finesse: staying out of sight, fishing short and getting perfect drifts with nymph or dry. Finding Nick Taransky’s ‘adjacent lies’ (see issue 10) – feeding lies near decent sheltering lies like snaggy corners or deep pools – was the other part.

Max fishing like a Ninja.

Max fishing like a Ninja on the lower Cobungra.

It was challenging, but I can’t think of any more rewarding fishing this season. The other great thing was the number of trout sighted in all three rivers. Despite our best intentions, we spooked way more than we caught, particularly young-of-the-year. They’re everywhere!

It doesn't get much prettier than the upper Mitta in autumn.

It doesn’t get much prettier than the upper Mitta in autumn.

Next stop was some fishing on some big tailwaters further north and I’ll report on that part of the trip as soon as I catch up on a hundred emails and some Forum questions.

(Further reading – &