As much as I like fishing in faraway places, whether it be a remote river in my home state Victoria that requires many hours of driving, or perhaps an overseas destination like the South Island of New Zealand, there is something about venturing to my well known ‘home’ rivers I find deeply satisfying. By home waters I mean those that are day trip distance from my Melbourne home; waters I fish regularly.
I’ve developed an affinity with the headwaters of two rivers over the years, and I decided it would be fun to fish them both during the one fishing trip. With the weather forecast looking ideal and a couple of days off work arranged, preparations were quickly made, and soon I was driving up the highway.
The first river is one I really like to fish at this time of year, and also later in the season when dun hatches can be prevalent. Mate Chris met me en route. It was great he could join me at short notice as we’ve fished this river together a number of times with success. We arrived at the top of the ridge to warm summer air, and the sound of cicadas ringing in our ears. It’s a fair drop down to the water so double and triple checking of all gear makes sure nothing important is left behind. After a half hour scramble down the steep side of the ridge and lots of bush bashing, the rushing water is finally heard in the distance, and it’s not long till we are standing at the water’s edge.
It has pretty much become a tradition that I ask Chris to fish first at this spot, and then joke about the nice brown he will catch immediately, something he seems to do without fail. He doesn’t disappoint. Within minutes he is hooked up to a very healthy brown of right on two pounds. It takes a nymph a longish length of tippet under a dry, just like the vast majority of the better-sized browns do on this river. The productive start to the day proves to be a good omen. Low, clear water sees us working all likely lies in a methodical fashion. Many browns are brought to hand and the average size seems to be up on previous seasons. Smatterings of rainbows also provide entertainment. It’s the browns that I am in pursuit of on this stretch of water though, the best of which tipped the scales at 4½ lb a couple of years back.
I’ve always found this river to be quite enigmatic with respect to the feeding habits of the fish, the browns in particular. Feeding patterns are not as obvious as for other rivers I fish frequently. Most of the time, I like to fish a size 12 nymph with a bit of flash in the body under a large bushy parachute dry. Preferences for nymph or dry seem to change almost hour to hour at times, and so it pays to hedge the bets. Altering the length of the nymph dropper is paramount to success, and although a three foot dropper does the job most of the time, I extend it up to six feet when appropriate.
We finished the day quite content with the previous six hours. The beautiful surrounds, the solitude, and the well-conditioned fish taking our flies with gusto. Close enough to a perfect day. Chris had work to attend to the next day so we bid farewell as I readied to set up camp. Late into the night, as I drifted in and out of sleep, I continued to reflect on this great river I have come to enjoy so often. I feel it still has a lot of surprises to throw my way and I will never really come to know it so well that I take it for granted. And that is more than okay with me.
I woke to a crisp morning. Clear skies overnight meant a blanket of dew covered the grass, the tent and the gear I had left out. However, it had already begun to evaporate as the sun rose steadily overhead. I pack quickly and got moving to another valley where a smaller river awaited. The trout there are smaller too, but my excitement was just as big as the previous day. It’s the type of stream where a short three weight is more than enough rod. A place where the vast majority of fly presentations are executed via roll casts, bow and arrow casts, and gentle little flicks at short distances under the many overhanging trees. It’s also where the dry fly always seems to dominate during spells of warm weather, and as a result I haven’t bothered with nymphs for years. For me, this river is all about the take on the dry fly, and bringing any fish to hand is just a nice little bonus.
Each visit to this river is like reacquainting with an old friend. It’s one where I cut my flyfishing teeth on so many years ago and it holds a special significance.
The valley is devoid of people and I feel like I have the whole forested wilderness to myself. I start fishing and within a half dozen casts a beautifully coloured half pound rainbow takes the dry in the most assertive way. The next run produces a brown of about the same size. That first ten minutes set the scene for what was to be a dry fly fishing feast. As I approached familiar pool/run sequences I recalled fish caught in those very spots over the years. I wonder if those same fish might be there, going about their business and waiting for food to drift by. I arrived at one pool when the sun was washing through a break in the tree canopy. It lit up the water and I could see five fish at various locations in the pool, all actively feeding. I cast the dry to the one closest and watched as it ever so slowly worked its way over, inspected the offering and then delicately opened its mouth for the take. I released the fish and sat there watching the pool for a while. I didn’t bother casting to the other fish. Sometimes it’s nice to just sit, watch and move on. It’s not like it will be the last time I drop in to say hello.
Knowing the river so well, I noticed the changes since my last visit the season prior. Certain runs and pools that were seemingly locked in stone have now been altered substantially by flood events and fallen trees. It’s a reminder that these places we hold sacred continue to change.
There is an old saying about how familiarity breeds contempt. While that may be true for the relations between members of the human species, flyfishing and the familiarity it engenders with our favourite fishing locations instead breeds respect and admiration.