Autumn sippers and hoppers

Autumn on the fastwater streams can seem like the final chapters of a Tolstoy novel. You have this great fishing – in fact almost as good as it gets at times. And yet, in the back of your mind, there’s the melancholy thought that it’s all just weeks away from being over.

After two days on the streams of the Goulburn valley with JD, it’s the latter thought which sticks with me. At 1.30pm today, we both had to walk away from a long run on the Goulburn River itself where dozens of trout were sipping.

JD changing flies on a Goulburn run filled with endless sippers.

Sippers are one of my favourite stream targets, and calm autumn days are prime time for them. Sippers are often difficult to catch, feeding on very small and often invisible food (to us), drifting in contrary, pulsing currents. Getting a drag-free drift over a trout that may be swaying two metres up, down, and from side to side, is a mindful challenge like no other. Hours can evaporate in an almost trance-like state as you wonder whether to change fly, presentation, or position.

Sipper success on an ant pattern.

Usually, there is no perfect fly. However, if you’re honest enough to be your own hard critic, a perfect bubble-matching drift will often get an eat… eventually.

It can drive me mad, but I bloody love it.

If the sippers get to you, there are still hoppers about. In fact strangely, I think I’m seeing more now on the riverbanks than I did at the height of summer.

Hoppers are surprisingly abundant.

There’s something refreshingly basic about plipping a nice big hopper pattern down beside a grassy bank, and watching a trout drift back underneath it, before confidently inhaling it.

Hopper feeder.

And if all else fails, nymphs are an excellent fallback. While that sentence may come out as if nymphing is somehow an inferior way to fish, of course it’s anything but. Some of our best trout this trip fell to caddis grub patterns, or PTNs with a dash of flash or colour.

Nymph action on the Acheron.

If you really can’t stand the idea of missing out on dry fly fishing when the seasonal clock is ticking, simply hang a nymph beneath a nice visible floater.

A prime wild Goulburn rainbow on the nymph.

So I sit at my desk, only hours after fishing for trout in flowing water, yet missing both already. Although I hope there will be another stream trip or two yet this season, I also know that autumn will soon fade into the frosts and fogs of late May. And then winter will mean the end of stream fishing altogether. But then the rebirth of spring will arrive, and before we know it, we’ll be bouncing summer hoppers along the steep banks crackling with dry grass.