Calm before the storm in the Goulburn Valley

Often, towards the end of April, I feel a sense of quiet urgency building to fish the streams before it’s too late. Not too late legally – the true end of the stream season is still many weeks away – but before the frosts, fogs and clammy cold of approaching winter steal away the insects and general sense of life that’s prevailed on the creeks and rivers for the last several months.

This year, a mostly mild, settled autumn has seen the end point sneak up on me quicker than usual. So with May two days away and the promise of settled, 20C weather in the meantime, I headed for the mid-Goulburn and tributaries.

Good mate and local, JD, liked my timing – the Goulburn itself was due to fall from 3200 ML/d to a somewhat more stream-like 2500 ML/d. The tributaries were mostly flowing quite well despite the prolonged dry – and clear of course.

Bow-and-arrow on a small stream.

Yesterday began on the small mountain streams. Steep and bouldery, these can be hard work at normal flows and the fishing actually benefitted from somewhat less water – the pockets and pools were more defined and good ‘mini drifts’ were easier to achieve.

Small stream rainbow.

JD was able to join me mid-afternoon and we had a ball with Wulffs and parachute dries, swimming a small dark nymph beneath. At first the dries were basically indicators, but then the trout suddenly seemed to favour the fly on top – including some very nice fish for small water.

Next came a short detour to the Rubicon in glorious late afternoon light, which produced a matching pair: a ‘stream-sized’ brown and a rainbow. Before we knew it, evening was almost upon us and we made a dash to the Goulburn for a hoped-for rise (we both like a falling Goulburn for hatches).

Beautiful Rubicon.

In the event, although there was quite a nice hatch of small grey duns with the odd Kossie mixed in, the response from the trout – at least on the surface – was muted: a rise here and there rather than anything steady. Early on, I missed one good brown on the strike and we eventually landed a few modest-sized rainbows. It was good fun, if not a spectacle. And it was nice to fish until dark and still be sitting down to one of JD’s superb steaks at a civilised hour (unlike a couple of months before!)

Evening on the Goulburn.

Today I was on my own. While sorely tempted to return to try for a couple of good fish I missed yesterday on the small streams, I instead started on the Acheron near Taggerty, which was looking about as good as this stream can. And yet… the action was subdued, with just one small rainbow from the 10C water on the Wulff, and a miss on the nymph.

The Acheron looking good.

With the sun now high in the sky, I decided to try polaroiding the big river. At first this seemed like a bad decision, with several good views along decent edges revealing nothing. But whether it was the increasing trickle of those small duns, some bouncing caddis, or the general effect of late morning warmth, I suddenly started to spot trout: the odd rise, a flicker over waving weed… and then, right in front of me, a true Goulburn beauty, gently holding in the current and taking the odd subsurface morsel or insect off the top.

Without a ‘spotter’, I marked the trout’s location near a wattle snag and snuck downstream to a less conspicuous casting position. To cut a long story short, the fish had the decency to rise twice just as I rolled a short flick forward in preparation for a longer throw. First nervous cast with the size 16 red para spinner was two feet off line to the right, but the second almost scraped the snag and the fly was gone in the tiniest sip. To my great relief, the best Goulburn brown I’ve hooked in years ran straight out towards the middle of the river and hung there in the current for at least a minute. Then, just as I was planning the victory pics I’d send JD, the trout turned and ran straight back towards the snag. It made it over the outer stick as I applied all the side-strain I dared. I could still feel it; yes! And then nothing. The spinner was still there, but the hook had opened.

Afterwards, I managed a much smaller consolation rainbow (at least it was on the dry) and missed another respectable brown on the strike, before the increasing wind and decreasing time sent me back to the car.

Autumn colours.

The gathering wind was the first sign of an approaching cut-off low pressure system that’s forecast to drop quite a lot of rain over the district for the rest of the week. This will of course be welcomed by most, including the trout. (When making small talk with the bloke behind the counter where I filled up the car in Alexandra, I said that this might be the last nice day for a while. He replied, ‘Let’s hope so.’) What happens after the rain is anyone’s guess, but whether or not I get one more patch of ‘proper’ stream fishing before I turn to stillwater and salt, I can’t really complain.