Hoppers and an ex-cyclone on the upper Murray

When a tropical cyclone called Yvette hit north-west Australia on Christmas Day, the news seemed hardly relevant to our pending trip to the upper Murray 4000 km away. As Yvette made landfall, she quickly faded to a tropical low. But in this form she still packed a punch. Carrying record amounts of water from a steamy Indian Ocean, she drifted south-east across the continent, turning Uluru into something resembling Niagara Falls, then flooding Adelaide and cutting power with wild storms.

Nick casting to bacwater sippers.

Nick casting to backwater sippers on the first afternoon.

By the time Mark, Nick and I arrived on the afternoon following Boxing Day, Yvette was still to reach the upper Murray Valley, although we could sense she wasn’t too far away. Full cloud covered the sky, capping temperatures but not the humidity. This made wet-wading blissful, although any exertion (like walking back to the car after a long session) felt like a stroll through a sauna; except in the company of a million black flies.

Another on the trusty Stimulator.

Another on the trusty Stimulator.

The fishing was good; sometimes really good. Although it felt strange to fish this area in midsummer for a few days while scarcely sighting the sun, the trout didn’t seem to mind. More of a challenge was the continual increase in the height of the Swampy Plain River, and by default the upper Murray. Already way too big and powerful to cross when we arrived, both continued to swell to a truly monstrous 8000-odd ML/day by the trip’s end. We caught some nice fish on Stimulators and Wulffs hard in on the steep edges; had some success swinging double tungsten nymphs, and fooled sippers with Red Spinners on the soft edges and backwaters early and late in the day. However our options diminished with every inexplicable dump of water through Snowy Hydro turbines. (I’m sure my Eucumbene friends were equally bemused to see their lake dropping fast.)

Nick swinging heavy nymphs on the Murray near Towong.

Nick swinging heavy nymphs on a very big Murray near Towong.

Fortunately, the upper Murray area is rich in that key ingredient for many a successful trip: options. There are numerous natural creeks and rivers within easy striking distance, and as the big rivers became harder, we spent more and more time on these nearby streams. While they were flowing very strongly for this time of year, after the Murray and Swampy, they seemed delightfully accessible and manageable.

The natural streams in the upper Murray valley are in prime condition.

The natural streams in the upper Murray valley are in prime condition.

And the trout were really on. The dry fly fishing was magic with Royal Wulffs; and then, as we discovered belatedly, hoppers. Never mind the dewy grass and more and more frequent bursts of rain as the remnants of Yvette moved closer, there were so many hoppers, the fish were committed to them. Mark was standing on a high bank one afternoon casting to the head of a pool, when Nick told him to freeze and pointed out the 2 pounder immediately below him, feasting on the hoppers Mark had disturbed. Mark dropped his fly in off the rod tip and promptly caught it.

The Wee Creek Hopper was very successful, despite the intermittent rain and humidity.

The Wee Creek Hopper was very successful, despite the intermittent rain and humidity.

Along another fishy edge, I plopped the Wee Creek Hopper down a foot from the grass and watched a nice brownie shoot out and grab it. After a splashy fight, I landed and released it. Feeling very satisfied, I was about to move on when I wondered, was the edge worth another cast? I plonked the Wee Creek down about 2 metres further up the bank and received a carbon-copy response. Two on two casts!

Mark and Nick fishing the Indi as the rain increases.

Mark and Nick on the Indi as the rain increases.

The rain finally set in properly on Friday morning. We missed the deluge which dropped 6 inches on Mt Hotham in 12 hours, but there was still enough rain locally to raise the stream levels and discolour the water. It seemed like a good time to head home… at least for the time being. With the water table already charged and the latest freshen-up to start the New Year, it looks as if this summer will keep producing some fine fishing on the upper Murray.