I have fished some fantastic and exotic places over the past 4 months, but the north-east of Victoria has proved to be an itch that, up until now, I haven’t been able to scratch. Reports of great fishing and regular rain events topping up the systems, have only added to my frustrations. So it was a relief when an impromptu call from friend Dale last week, declaring his availability from the 8th-10th of January, finally put us on track for our first trip of the season to our favourite location: the upper Mitta valley. The forecast was good, and there had been 40mm of rain the previous week to freshen things up. My only concern was the Christmas holiday crowds.
However, as it turned out, our arrival on Sunday afternoon seemed to coincide with everyone else leaving! The valley was deserted – even if the fish possibly retained a hangover from weeks of fishers, swimmers, float tubes and hikers.
We set up camp on the banks of the upper Mitta and soon enough we were on the water. A few hours fishing proved productive, although the trout were clearly skittish. Conditions were warm and humid with lots of insect activity, dominated by sporadic caddis hatches, small hoppers everywhere and dragonflies. Not much was happening as far as rises, with the exception of a large trout or two trying engulf the dragonflies by launching themselves like missiles.
We woke the next morning to hot, muggy conditions, light winds and hoppers active early. We decided to head to one of the local tributaries, hoping for some hot hopper action. To our surprise, despite the hopper “plague”, the trout were not keyed into them. Caddis patterns and small Stimulators seemed to be the preferred flies and we enjoyed a good session, landing several typical stream fish. The river condition and flows were ideal; water temps ranged from 19-21C.
Then, about midday, we heard the first rumble of thunder back towards the Bogong High Plains. Whilst lightning is always a concern during thunderstorms, we also know that the trout can really switch on during these storms. All was going to plan, as the forecasts had predicted the possibility of showers and thunderstorms in spots.
However it appears weather forecasting is an inexact science! Within minutes, a few drops of rain turned into a shower or two, and then it rained and rained and rained. We returned to our tents cold, drenched and facing the prospect of a long, wet and uncomfortable night in the relentless downpour. Fortunately, a bar or two of reception at one spot, enabled a call to The Blue Duck about half an hour down the road, and we booked a cabin for the night. It turned out to be a good call, with at least 60mm of rain falling in valley. (And as we discovered later, the Mitta River near our abandoned campsite had risen almost 2ft overnight.)
Well rested, we woke early the next morning and anxiously looked outside. On the western horizon, the clouds were breaking up, and the Cobungra River below our cabin high but still clear. We decided to do a morning session on the nearby smaller rivers and perhaps have a look at the Mitta later in the day.
We drove to a favourite stretch and Dale and I split up; he went upstream and I went down. The stream had come up to a level I really enjoy fishing. The water was clear, cool and slightly tannin tinged. I tied on a large Stimulator, thinking it could handle the faster water and be visible and tempting to the trout. As I tied off the knot, I noticed a good fish rising at the tail of the run. Not a splashy rise but more of a determined, confident clip. I stripped line off my reel, made a false cast and sent my fly a metre above where I’d seen the rise. A second or two went by and the fly drifted perfectly over the target area. A large brown rose to the Stimi, opened its big jaws and ate it. I was on to my best fish of the trip, a beautiful brown which ended up weighing in at just over 3lb.
I quickly released the trout and took a moment to reflect on what had just happened. The day before, things had gone pear-shaped due to the rain, but we put in place a series of actions and decisions that ultimately led to me fishing this stream and to be on this spot; being where I’d ended my session the day before. This run and its tail had now morphed into the type of water where large trout sometimes sit, exposed and almost arrogantly picking at whatever food source they desire to ambush. I also reflected that this was my first cast of the day!
My reflective trance and feeling of satisfaction was suddenly interrupted by another rise on the far bank. I covered this fish with what was my second cast of the day, and caught it; this time a solid 1½ pounder. I fished my way upstream in a very relaxed frame of mind, catching some more typical stream fish. I eventually reached Dale who was also having a ball.
The fishing on that morning was exceptional. Medium-sized Stimulators and size 16 nymphs worked best. Dale caught lots of fish and a great two pounder. To be honest, we lost count of how many trout we caught. A perfect morning following the perfect storm. The only thing that kept perplexing me a bit was the presence of so many hoppers and yet no sign of them whatsoever on the water. All the takes from the trout were sips or caddis-like takes, with hardly any action along the steep grassy banks where you would expect the trout to be if they were hopper-centric.
What a great trip! I can’t wait to get back after the land has dried out a bit and some wind pushes the hoppers into the water, although you will not hear a peep of complaint from me if my next trip materialises into something similar to this one…
On a final note I just wanted to comment on the fantastic job our river and land managers do up that way. Blackberries seem to be under control, tracks and campsites are mown, safe and accessible and rubbish management is good. Most importantly, even as the seasons ebb and flow, nature is allowed to run its course and replenish our streams, maintaining wonderful populations of wild trout.