“The river is only good for fishing worms, son!” That’s how my 93 year old neighbour greeted me from his front veranda last Thursday, which overlooks the Ovens River just below Bright in north-east Victoria. (He meant the real worms, not fly imitations.) I had already followed the BOM river level data: that trusted source to make, and possibly change, our fishing plans. So, I had known what to expect, and although the river was indeed flowing hard, it was quite clear. I thanked my neighbour for his advice and said I would give it my best shot anyway.
Early season fishing in La Nina conditions… we should be used to it by now. Philip’s recent feature about fishing flooded conditions was a good summary, and a timely reminder that there is rarely such a thing as bad fishing conditions. This special long weekend though, I was hamstrung by only having the all-wheel drive, when the 4WD would have been much preferred (needed) to venture up the remote mountain trails. I was also fishing on my own, which added up to ‘bridge fishing’. This translates to driving to the furthest bridge you can find, then hoofing it up from there: being adventurous; whilst staying in range of Bright’s creature comforts.
I decided to drive up Harrietville way. Like chess players, flyfishers all have their favourite opening strategies. Mine was simple: find slow water, and Czech nymph it with as heavy a fly as needed for the conditions. I had tied some ‘Torpedo’ nymphs the night before for the upcoming Calder Fly Fishing Association event, and I had promised the team I’d catch a few with them the next morning. No pressure! With the water as high and fast as it was, there was one benefit, which is huge for us. Fish concentrate in the slower pools and once you find that water, you can basically stand and deliver. I found several such pools (between significant walks) and put the Torpedos to good use!
I drove up the intimate Wandiligong valley, home of (usually small) Morses Creek. With high flows though, the same approach to finding the right water was not as easy. Casts had to be shorter as trees (and blackberries) lined the bank in many spots. Yet, when the right water was found, fish would be there. I saw one nice slow seam at a drop-off, and I bow-and-arrow casted my double nymphs into it. The line came up tight in an instant, and a beautiful brown jumped up and swung past me! My line grabbed some blackberries along the way, and I was untangling line from the blackberry bush whilst the fish was frantically trying to escape. You can only laugh at such times, and the fish will either come to the net, or it won’t. We can all be philosophers until the fish gets away, I guess! But luckily for this philosopher, I could untangle my line before the fish came off, and it was a lovely trout.
I ventured up the Buckland River. The campsite I drove into was empty – a bonus, as the other campsites in the valley were at least 50% full. The first run was super productive and just as I was thinking how good this was, I saw bits of toilet paper, then some toilet rolls and then the actual ‘mess’ that “campers” had left behind along the edge of the water. This really ruined the morning. I mean, who does that?! One further consequence was, I decided not to drink from the river, filter bottle or not. There is a lesson in taking a bottle of water with me as soon as the campers are out and about. Too bad, but that’s what it is. I moved up and away from that campsite and the fishing just got better around each bend. The fishing and scenery were in equal parts stunning. In addition to the ‘slow paced’ water, there were good fish, including browns (the quintessential slow water dwellers) in the faster water. I can only describe the speed as ‘vigorous riffles’, and they were fished productively by letting the nymphs tick the bottom. It shows how browns and rainbows use rocks for cover and they sit there happily eating their day away. Don’t discard the faster water.
I only had a few hours to fish as a long trip home loomed. I decided to grab the rod and for the heck of it, just fish right between the tourists in the middle of Bright. Around the playground, the bridges and the main swimming pool and diving area. The sun was coming out, the temperature rose to 20C, and small mayfly danced in the air. And the fishing in town did not disappoint. If you are okay to fish with onlookers, cast to the sound of a band playing in the park, and show fish to little kids who are eager to see the trout you just put in the net, you’ll be fine. It’s not exactly serenity, but it is kind of fun for an hour or two. And both the variety of fish (was that a little tiger trout?) and size, were great. And of course, at the last bridge I hooked, played and then lost at the net a whopping brown trout I estimated at around 3 pounds. I dove after it in a futile attempt to net it when I realised the hook had popped out. I got dunked – to the delight and light applause of some of the tourists!
As I sat there by the river, wet and quietly gathering my thoughts on what could have been, three of flyfishings’ great truisms came together:
- The best fish lives under the bridge in town,
- The biggest fish was the one that got away; and,
- You can safely ditch the worm-fly. (Okay, that last one is mine.)
As I drove home that afternoon, I couldn’t help smiling when thinking of how lucky we are with the quality of fishing in Victoria. The long drive also offered me the chance to make a mental list of new flies to tie, and to plot ideas for upcoming trips. And yes, no matter how adventurous those plans may be, I’ll make sure to include that bridge!