Early season in north-east Victoria

Like the novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’, we have this complicated relationship with our love of flyfishing, which is now being further complicated by coronavirus. Usual issues with the sport include how we balance our devotion to it, with our love and devotion to others. That is complicated. So on face value, a lockdown, where there will be no visitors allowed for dinner (meaning you have the evening rise all to yourself) or being seen as doing the right thing by social distancing all day on a river with a fly rod, all sounded great. Unfortunately, the restrictions also meant I couldn’t get to the north-east to fish as soon as I would like.

There appears to be this imaginary, linear relationship between the length of lockdown and the numbers and size of fish that will rise in your local river. So, with many restrictions for regional Victoria finally lifted, I was keen to explore some of the north-east rivers to see if indeed the fish were all 2lb heavier and rising freely, as they had hardly been fished to since January 2020 (when the bushfires kicked off this year-to-forget). How good would that imaginary river turn out to be?

Hmmm, maybe not twice as big, although that’s a decent tail!

The first sample suggested pretty good, but not especially better than previous years. With one caveat: my ‘sampling’ would suggest that most fish were just that bit chunkier, which means that in a few months they may well indeed on average be heavier than pre-coronavirus. There has to be a silver lining!

Nice condition for early season.

September on the rivers often means nymphing, and for those nymphers among us, there was plenty of great sport to be had. The water levels were high but not crazy. Maybe the reduced snow cover in the catchments had held flows to wadeable levels. But the water temperature was cold and there was only the odd half-hearted rise from smaller fish in the backwaters.

The Ovens was up, but not out of control.

On the shallower sections and in some of the nearby Ovens River tributaries, the ‘dry-dropper’ was a good option. For the dropper, the fish ate both a black and orange buzzer, as well as what I can only describe as a ‘nothing nymph’ – just black dubbing and a gold bead. Super simple to tie and deadly. That’s a great combination. I had to take time to adjust the dropper so the fly went deep enough. This is always a bit of a challenge with the old dry-dropper.

Two successful dropper patterns.

Yet the Ovens had ‘Czech Nymphing’ printed all over it in neon letters. The flows were fast and the water was cold. As long as the nymphs ticked along the rocks, a fish was never far away. One fly that did well for me when the wind started to really pick up was a Perdigon-nymph style on a Hanak Body Bead (3.8mm). This fly bombs down and fish sometimes grab it as the fly hits the water, but mostly as you just lift it up from the bottom of a deeper pool.

Perdigon result.

Like the novel, our complex love affair with flyfishing will soon reignite post this lockdown. The rivers and lakes are still there, and the fish are in great condition. Make sure you use the time to plan ahead while you can! The only other tip I can give is to work out the self-timer on your camera, as we may be fishing in ISO for just a bit longer yet!

Still figuring out ISO photography!