Fishing or catching?

Day 5 of the new stream trout season dawned, and for various reasons, including simply choosing lakes over streams, I still hadn’t cast a line into flowing water.

I’ve never been obsessed by the idea of fishing a stream from the moment it’s legal again. For me, opening day is more a pleasant realisation that if I want to fish flowing water, I can. Usually though, the appeal of opening is dampened (literally) by high, cold currents and often gloomy early spring weather. And as I mentioned in a recent piece, the argument for streams is not helped when the lake fishing is peaking.

Still, yesterday morning began with sunny skies and the promise of spring in the air, so with a couple of spare hours, I made an impulsive decision to dash to a local stream. And here’s the interesting thing: I honestly knew before I even stepped out the door that I would be fortunate to catch a fish. After the wettest August in decades, the local creeks and rivers are roaring, and many tracks are impassably muddy. My choices in travel time and access were limited, so my modest ambition was to find passably clear water I could reach with a short drive, and then a short walk from the car.

It’s spring… technically.

I arrived to find the creek almost as high as I’ve ever seen it. Normally, even early in the season, you can cross it in a pair of gumboots with well-placed steps. But today in waist waders, it was way too dangerous to ford or wade upstream. I was more-or-less confined to fishing from the banks in the rare spots where breaks in the tea tree and blackberry allowed. At least the water was clear-ish. Meanwhile, the weather had turned cold and grey again, so I decided to fish nymph alone and dispense with the dry.

Trying to cross – that’s far enough!

Following two and a half years of wet, cool weather, there will be a lot of minor trout streams across Victoria and New South Wales which will surprise this season. However, I wasn’t expecting miracles in this case. With minimal connection to more significant trout streams or lakes, and average spawning facilities, I suspected the trout population in this creek would be greatly diluted in the big flows.

So, with no certainty that I would even see a trout, I began nymphing the stream. It felt wintery, and the water was finger-numbing every time I reached in to free my bead-head nymph from flooded sword-grass or reeds on the edge. The soft edges were my focus, the places most likely to hold a feeding fish.

Concentrating on a soft edge.

I fished for over an hour for no action besides some snag false alarms. Still, I was absolutely enjoying being on a stream again. I kept looking hard for likely spots, and I fished them with the same attention to detail as if a 5 pounder was lurking. There was the odd gentle curse as I fractionally misjudged a cast, or the indicator was ripped out into the main current. And I may have even allowed a satisfied chuckle if a cast was spot on and the drift was perfect.

Time had nearly run out and I was reluctantly calculating the minutes needed to walk back to the car and drive to my next (non-fishing) commitment. Then, the indicator dipped on a current edge near a submerged log, and this time I lifted into a living thing. The brown trout that quickly came to the net was nothing special, and it would have comfortably fitted into the mouths of a few lake trout I’ve caught lately. But of course it was special, because it was my first stream trout for season 2022/23, and I had a feeling I’d caught it against the odds.

A bonus.

I drove back up the forest track feeling content for simply having gone fishing on a stream. Maybe there’s something sewn into my makeup which requires stream fishing as a little piece of the happiness puzzle. While it was certainly good to catch a trout, no question, I believe I would have felt much the same without that small success. And yes, I’m looking forward to my next stream session… wherever that may be.