Greek philosophy and flyfishing

The last 10 days flyfishing a bunch of rivers around Bright in north-east Victoria, caused me to reflect on a favourite philosophical statement: “You can’t step into the same river twice, because both the river and you will have changed.” So the Greek philosopher Heraclitus (c. 500 BC), was alleged to have said when he used the river as a metaphor to discuss the concept that nothing endures except change itself. Had he lived through a pandemic I wonder? Not sure, but as a flyfisher, I had to unpack the direct reference to the river and change. Over the 10 days, some north-east rivers dropped dramatically in level, and I fished streams high and low. So, was our friend Heraclitus right?

The first thing to note is that he was right at an atomic level, as every drop of water which somehow finds its way through tiny blackberry holes in your newest waders, is technically always ‘new water’. However, this point is largely irrelevant to the flyfisher. What we look for are similarities. So, could we step into a river which is similar to the one we fished before? We sure can! Looking for those similarities, we start grouping the river condition into similar states. For example, a river can be in flood, high, average, low, or critically low. These states of the river are sufficient description for us flyfishers, and while the river will never be the same, recognising similarities will help us with the next bit: how do we choose the best approach?

Well, depending on the state of the river, a versatile flyfisher could, for example, fish as follows: swing wets, Czech nymph, dry-dropper, or dry alone. And whilst we will evolve our skills over time and become a ‘different’ fisher (hopefully better!), each time we step into the river, it’s the right approach that’s one of the most important factors for success.

Czech nymph worked on a higher-than-usual Ovens.

Let’s start with the backbone of Bright district fishery (in my view), the Ovens River. I fished it in mid-December and normally, that means the river is low. Not so this year due to La Nina – it was actually high, measuring 1.45m at the BOM gauge. That meant changing the ‘normal December’ plan and fishing Czech nymph through all the deep holes and runs. The results were great, and the fish were in prime condition. Yet, when I showed some of my photos to other fishers, the first question I kept getting was, “Did you get them on the dry?” The answer is, I got them on the method most appropriate to the river conditions. Nothing endures but change!

More ‘normal’ Buckland…

Next day, I went high up the Buckland, and although that river was in fine condition, the upper reaches had started to drop and were now moving towards the ‘low’ state. The water was about knee deep with a solid flow. My double nymph set-up from the day before was grabbed by an overhanging branch on the first cast, so I thanked the tree for showing me its wisdom and I switched immediately to a dry-dropper on a short leader. Bow-and-arrowing my way through that river, I lost count of the numbers of good fish which came to the net. I guess about 60% ate the dry, but the small midge below it still got fish in elegant sufficiency!

… equals dry/dropper material.

The West Kiewa the next day proved a completely different scenario. Flowing high and mighty, the main approach here was certainly very simple: do not drown! The rest was a bonus. The river was super clear and very cold compared to the Ovens and Buckland, which I had wet-waded in comfort on the preceding days. Dry-dropper anyone? I switched back to the Czech nymph set-up. I am using small foam spools now to pre-rig droppers and indicator lines to spend more time fishing and less time mucking about on the river. It works, but there is more stuff dangling off the pack. No wonder we start looking like decked-out Christmas trees wading upstream!

The approach had to be further adapted (changed) by searching for slowest moving water. And the fish were there.

Just staying upright was half the challenge on the West Kiewa!

After having had my share of fun, I tried to prove myself wrong. I packed away the nymph rod and grabbed a Tenkara outfit from the pack. I tied on a large CDC stonefly and started to fish with that. I was happy to get four small rainbows on it in the next hour or so, two of them in super-fast water on the lip of a steep drop-off. These were Kamikaze rainbows, launching themselves at the big meal. Success on a single dry with a short leader on a river in that condition, proved the ‘wrong’ approach is a rubbery concept, and good execution can make up for a sub-optimal choice. There is another theory in there somewhere…!

On my last day, I fished the Buffalo with guide Matthew Howell. He scouted our approach and made us slip into the river somewhere, with the promise of a world of pain to get back out. The Buffalo was probably at ‘average’ level, as there were plenty of gorges we had to either swim through or bush-bash around. Typical Buffalo fishing! But then I looked at the debris hanging 2 metres above me and I realised that there was some way to go on that river before it was ‘high’!

Dingo Country on the Buffalo.

The water temperature was comfortable to wet-wade, which is normally a good indicator of the dry fly being an option. And yet, and yet! The pools were very, very deep and the fish kept eating the 3.8mm tungsten nymph point fly, fished deep and slow. All day, we only saw one fish rising steadily. That one promptly took the dropper fly when the double nymph was cast across its path! So we stayed on the double nymph and the bamboo rod that we packed for dry-fly fishing never got a look-in (sorry Nick T!).

As dry fly-friendly as it looked, the Buffalo trout wanted deep nymphs,

The only thing I know for sure is that next time will be different. By keeping an open mind to assess the river for its similarities, we can change our approach to the one best suited to it. I’ll trump Heraclitus here and say, “Nothing endures but flyfishing!”