Now and then at Hepburn

Fishing is a great memory-maker; nearly every trip creates them. Lessons are learnt and information is stored in the fishing area of our brains for us to ponder, regret or simply reminisce about.

As a young fellow, I grew up in the Bacchus Marsh area of Victoria and spent every spare bit of my pre parenting days on trout water. It didn’t matter if it was a local creek or some faraway trout paradise I’d read about it in a magazine or heard of on the Jack ‘Yabby’ Wells’ radio program, I’d be there – keen, excited and full of hope.

During Daylight Savings, it wasn’t uncommon to have two or three midweek after school/ after work sessions; and of course the better part of most weekends I was out fishing. Winters were restricted to spending hours in freezing winds on some of the Ballarat lakes, but I still loved it.

I remember plenty from those days over 35 years ago, but one memory that really sticks is the thrill when we first arrived at Hepburn Lagoon, and you began the walk through the farm gate and down the track towards the dam wall. This is when you got your first good visual on the lake; and a feeling for what might lie in store.

These days, I’m a middle-aged man living in the Snowy Mountains, and the proud father of three adult children who all love their fishing. My two sons have grown into extremely capable fly anglers, who have a vast array of flyfishing tools on their belts: a function of the constant need for versatility to be a consistently successful angler.

I’d like to think my parenting and fishing ethics have played a role in this, but it’s more likely their own time, effort and dedication that actually progresses their skills. There’s always been a thirst for knowledge that outweighed mine at their age. Often, in our lounge room at home, the TV wouldn’t even get turned on – the conversations about trout were of way more interest than any sitcom! And they always asked, “What was the fishing like back then?” (Like I was some old relic!) I’d tell them of the Modewarre and Murdeduke hey days, the Grampians mudeye feeders, the monsters in the crater lakes, Greenhill Lake’s boom, Bonnie Doon browns and of course the Hepburn days.

Hepburn was a particular favourite. Being close by, it felt like my home ground in footy terms. I knew it well and I had confidence each time I was there.

The boys loved hearing about Hepburn and its fertile waters, and always said they’d like to revisit it one day. Recently, that opportunity arose when we had to drive back from the Snowies to Victoria. Why not go a little further and fish Hepburn? On the long drive, there were more Hepburn memories. What could we hope for, what flies to have close at hand, remember 8lb tippet is minimum, and so on.

We arrived after dark at the Castlemaine motel we had booked, unpacked the car, rigged new leaders & tippets, and organised flies for a no muck around start in the morning.

By 7.30 am we had takeaway cappuccinos in hand and were on our way. As we made the turn at the famous (to the boys) Telegraph Rd and headed down the dirt road, the sun started to burn off the low lying fog to reveal the old familiar landscape. We pulled up and parked in the exact same spot I used to all that time ago. We walked the same track through the farm gate and down towards the dam wall. As the lake came into clear view, the boys were a few steps ahead of me. I got a sense of what my brother or fishing mate and I must have looked like as we excitedly took in the view of promising trout water all those years ago.

I could tell the boys felt that same buzz. In my book, that meant mission achieved already! We got to the wall and decided to wet the flies in case we found something early on, then moved slowly along the spillway to the first pump shed. Just then, a beautiful brown erupted in a spray of water and smelt beside a big thick weed bed. Past experience told me you have to be Johnny on the spot on bright days like this – the trout are usually fast to retreat back out deep. So Ash and I waded out about 10 metres apart and quickly got a few casts angled along the outside of the weedbed. Just as I was fishing the hang, the fish busted up to my left and I got to cover him properly. He took the Micro Zonker with aggression.

After that, it was all about horsing him in over the top of the thick weed, keeping the trout in panic mode. Thankfully, that 8lb tippet kept his head up, and we had him in the net pretty quickly. We admired the well-conditioned fish before a quick pic, and sending him back to wreak further havoc on the lake’s baitfish.

Just like the old days!

By now, the sun had burnt off all the cloud and was high above the water. Any ripple was gone, and a mirror surface seemed hardly ideal, but an early fish and the fact we were at Hepburn kept the spirits up. Over the next few hours we worked as a team, polaroiding for each other, searching likely areas and ganging up on a smelter if one did come in for a ram raid through the shallows.

Another tactic was to locate a happy hunting ground, where fish seemed to appear more often than other places, and wait it out. Some real nice trout were on offer at times, but they were fast and didn’t stay around long. One more rainbow came to the net on a black Zonker pattern.

Successful fly.

It was good to sit back for a moment and watch Ash and Jack enjoy Hepburn. We then headed to the car for a bit of lunch. I smiled as I listened to the boys share their own Hepburn memories with me. How good!

We spent the rest of the day on a couple of other lakes, enjoying each other’s accounts of the day and a couple more obliging trout… but that’s another memory.