Mitta Sippers

When I first started fishing the Mitta Mitta River between Mitta Mitta township and Tallandoon in the 1970s, I recall being surprised that such a good-looking stream wasn’t more productive. At the time, I was only vaguely aware that the giant Dartmouth Dam was being constructed upstream, and prior to its completion in 1979, an emaciated flow was all that was being released downstream.

It wasn’t until well into the 1980s that regular large releases of water began to occur down what I now think of as the Mitta tailwater, and the fishing exploded. A highlight was oversized trout – both Hume migrants and river residents – feeding on Coloburiscoides mayfly: the giant Kosciuszko dun.

In subsequent decades, the fishing (and hatches) have fluctuated from just as good, to hardly worth bothering with – a low point being the catastrophic power station accident at the dam in 1990, which mucked up water releases for years.

Overall, the Mitta tailwater continues to be at its best for trout and mayfly production when large quantities of water are released for months on end. Ironically, this is most likely during dry periods in the Murray-Darling Basin, when Dartmouth water can be called upon to boost system flows. Get a couple of wet years, like the last two, and the lake’s stores are pretty much ‘saved’ for when things get tough again.

Still, the Mitta tailwater is rarely a write-off, and even if autumn Kossie dun hatches are subdued following low flow years, there’s usually a nice little secondary event in the form of trout sipping a mix of terrestrials and smaller mayfly, caddis and midge in the quiet tail-outs and glides. It was Michael’s post on the FlyStream Forum that reminded me this autumn is slipping away, so yesterday I made the detour on the way home from another trip, and went sipper searching.

An idyllic-looking sipper site.

It was the perfect sipper afternoon: calm, overcast, and with the 2 days of rain I’d escaped from further north reduced to an occasional sprinkle.

Sipper action is never evenly spaced on the Mitta, nor is it consistent. It often takes a closeup inspection of a likely pool tail or glide to even notice the subtle dimples, and you have to give any spot time to allow for the pulses of activity: there might be nothing rising for a few minutes, then a dozen trout could start up as you turn your back.

My first look was at a pool I like near Tallandoon. There were a few sprats up, plus the odd decent fish, but after half an hour, I decided I could probably do better, and headed further upstream.

Good call! My next pool tail had a couple of respectable trout rising (I could tell by the snouts, backs and fins) and as I stared, I began to notice further rises in the soft light, including a few beneath the willows which would have been easy to miss.

From the second spot.

I tied on a size 16 red parachute spinner, while understanding this sort of fishing is often more about repeated perfect presentations than nailing the ideal fly choice. It took a few casts to get my eye in, but eventually, I had what I thought was a drag-free drift, beginning a metre above my target and bang on line. The tiny speck of the fly drifted with a few bubbles and autumn leaves… then clip, it was gone, and I lifted into a 2 pound silver maniac.

Looking downstream from the tail of the prime tail-out.

It’s always great to get that first sipper, and especially, to confirm confidence in your fly and technique. From that point, the pressure was off, and it was pure delight to fish for the next couple of hours while moving only a few metres in the ankle to knee-deep current. While I caught no bigger fish, another was about the same size, and none of the remainder were less than a pound. Not the thickset trout from the high-flow years, but not slabs either – reminiscent of sea trout in shape and colour.

The para spinner did the job if presented just right.

So the Mitta tailwater presently seems full of sipper promise, and the 15C water is very clean and comfortable to fish. Any ‘stagnant’ feel is gone, with Dartmouth releases contributing around half the total 850 ML/d flow.

The front of my car after driving out of the Mitta valley last night. No wonder the trout were rising!

If you want to test your skills and enjoy hours of April entertainment, it looks like the Mitta sippers are ready to provide both.