Andrew asked that question as we pored over the map last Friday night under solar lights at our friend’s remote cabin deep in the Victorian Alps. We’d enjoyed a solid evening rise and added half a dozen trout to the double brace we’d managed during our maiden mid-afternoon session. “Dandongadale,” I repeated, pointing to a blue line flowing north through extremely remote country from Mt Cobbler to the stream’s ultimate junction with the Rose River. (Andrew’s originally from Sydney and he’s still getting his head around the layout of Victoria’s trout fishery.)
The subsequent spectacular but arduous drive into the middle reaches of the Dandongadale was a highlight of our long weekend, although in terms of actual fishing, it was the least productive stream we spent time on, with only one trout landed and another spooked. Not that I’m jumping to any conclusions about its current status as a fishery. The Dandongadale’s condition was excellent – beautifully clear, clean substrate and a healthy flow. And as much as I might wish otherwise, I’m not a human driftnet. What I see and catch in a few hours on a medium-sized stream isn’t some definitive assessment of what’s lurking beneath the water
Meanwhile the neighbouring streams fished very well; but they were being a little cryptic. We generally caught more trout than we saw and despite seemingly ideal dry fly conditions, nymphs out-fished floaters by about six to one. Even the ‘each-way bet’ of nymph under dry didn’t really cut it. Often, dedicated indicator nymphing was the only way to get a result – at least while the sun was above the ridges.
The importance of not only nymphing, but getting the nymph deep, was reinforced when Andrew fished the last run of the trip. It was a beautiful piece of water and when he drifted a Hares Ear through a dozen times without a touch, he decided that instead of giving up, he’d upgrade to a bigger tungsten-beaded brown nymph, and add another half metre of tippet. Second cast with the new rig, he hooked the best fish of the morning, a lovely 15 inch brown.
Our pattern this trip fitted that of my friends who’ve fished other north-east waters in the last few weeks. For whatever reason, the trout are not showing themselves as obviously as they were this time last year. It’s not enough to hurl a Royal Wulff up into a run and sit back and wait for the slashing rise. But thoughtful, careful searching – often down deep – soon reveals the trout are there, with a good mix of browns and rainbows, and a good cross-section of year classes.
Is every river in the north-east in the same fine shape as those we fished this weekend? Probably not. It’s a rare season indeed when there’s not a poor fishery somewhere in the mountains. But as time goes on and this season hits its peak period, we are learning that more and more rivers which some had written off, are actually holding a healthy population of trout. It’s just a question of catching them and as always, that bit is up to us, not the fish!