Never Mind the Hoppers

The last time I fished with JD was before Christmas, in the high country near Mt Buller where I grew up. It was one of those trips when everything lined up: gorgeous weather and scenery, ridiculous numbers of trout taking dry flies, and the fish of the trip on the final cast! It was great, no question. But in that slightly superstitious way of anglers (well, this one anyway) where it’s believed everything evens out in the end, I did wonder if I’d plundered the bank of good fortune a little too hard?

So despite JD’s none-too-subtle texts about the hoppers being on around Eildon, and phone pictures of nice trout wearing foam-and-legs jewellery, a part of me held back from getting too excited. I said to JD that I’d simply be happy to get out on a fast-flowing mountain stream; any fish would be a bonus – and I think I almost meant it.

It’s good just being out there.

Well, the first session started in a way which suggested I was wise to temper my expectations. Yes, the river looked a picture, flowing surprisingly cold and strong; and yes, the banks were alive with hoppers. But whether it was the humidity, lack of wind or both, it seemed that the only hoppers getting on the water were those put up by us walking beside the river. (Later, I figured out that an inexplicable burst of rises in a shady corner, which stopped just as I got into position, coincided with JD walking along a steep upstream bank 10 minutes earlier.)

Beautiful water, but…

JD saved face by landing a nice one on a Commonwealth Hopper, and missing another. But when I watched a nice brown half-heartedly inspect a Stimulator, then a Royal Wulff… and then happily eat a nymph, I reluctantly ditched the dry.

At least JD managed this one on the hopper.

An evening rise brought the dry back in favour for 20 minutes and I landed three good browns on the previously spurned Royal Wulff. So it was a good day in the end; in fact truly a good day before the end, wet-wading a cool, beautiful Australian stream under sunny skies, in pretty country. However, I was glad I’d kept my hopes in check, and I did wonder if the tough-ish fishing was balancing the ledger.

Waiting for the evening rise.

The next day, we headed up into the mountains. A smoke haze from distant fires had drifted in overnight; not enough to actually smell, but perhaps enough to encourage flying ants, and to generally soften the light in a trout-pleasing way.

What’s on the menu? JD looking for tea-tree beetles.

Once again, the stream conditions looked perfect: very good flows and just 16-18C water temps on our chosen rivers.

Looking promising… and a rise and a miss to start the day.

At first, the action was again a little slow, but as the day warmed up, so did the trout. The turning point was mid-morning when JD spotted two respectable rainbows sipping in a quiet pool. First cast with a CDC ant, and he hooked and dropped one. Second cast, and he landed its companion. Maybe the smoke and ants thing had merit?

On the CDC ant.

The next few hours were perfection. It wasn’t as frantic as the pre-Christmas trip, and a small dark nymph was still a handy extra under the oft-eaten Royal Wulff. As JD commented more than once, you had to place the fly just so, and drift it just right.

You needed a good cast and good drift.

But every really promising pool/ run produced a take from decent fish, and sometimes a bonus 10 incher too. Yep, unlike the day before, the fish were on. With the air and bankside filling by the hour with beetles, ants, caddis, mayfly and even the odd forest hopper, that made perfect sense.

There were a pleasing number of better fish on the job – and I just noticed the bug on the rock.

We didn’t finish with the biggest of the day, but we did have a laugh-out-loud cast-for-cast in the head of the final pool before the car, where an apparently inexhaustible supply of little rainbows (and one good one) constantly banged our dries and pulled our nymphs – for not a single fish landed. And that didn’t matter one bit.