Over the High Plains

“We’re heading to God’s country”, said Max, and no truer words were ever spoken. After another lockdown and the pressure of being stuck inside, it sparked a desire to go somewhere I’ve never been before; to search for new water, new experiences and new memories. So when Elsa, Max, my brother Riley and I planned a weekend fishing trip, nowhere was more appealing than a journey into the valleys of the upper Mitta catchment in north-east Victoria. This was a first for the three of us, but just another in a list of decades of visits for Max.

Through Alexandra, past ‘Kelly country’ and up into the Bogong High Plains. “Oh my god’ and ‘Get the camera!’ were just a couple of the statements from Riley as we drove through some of the most picturesque landscapes Victoria has to offer. Barren emptiness, vast undulating scenes, thick mist and softening light.

We were truly in the high country now, before descending into the deep valley of the Mitta and its tributaries. The long drive was all worth it as we pitched our tents at a beautiful spot by a stream, all quiet and calm… until a very unwelcome crack of thunder heralded raindrops the size of golf balls. With lightning too close for comfort, we forgot about fishing and made a beeline to the nearest pub, which under the circumstances, was easily the cosiest and ‘pubiest’ pub in all of Victoria.

The weather seemed to have a mind of its own in these mountains, and that was okay, we were in ‘its’ country now. The storm passed and we found ourselves back at the campsite, stoking the fire and enjoying some incredible cooking from Max (his world-famous soup).

Calm night after the storm.

Of course, our tent was wet from the storm, but after a damp night’s sleep, we woke to the smell of breakfast by the river. Sun shining and rods rigged, we had a good feeling about the day ahead. The stormy rain and now muggy weather seem like an equation that equaled trout!

As Elsa and I headed towards the river, our wading boots kicking through the long grass stirred hundreds of hoppers. It seemed like a no brainer to tie on a hopper, right? So we did exactly that, but with the lack of rising fish, it was the bead-head nymph which found us our first trout.

Early success for Elsa.

We continued upriver, swapping pools and fish. At lunchtime, and we linked up with Riley and Max who had also found a couple of good browns.

For the afternoon, Max headed off with Elsa while I fished with Riley. Now, there’s always a level of banter between mates on the water, but fishing with your sibling is a whole different thing, there’s truly no holding back: small fish jokes, making fun of wonky casts… Still, the banter faded a bit as we fished some great water with little luck. Then, as the afternoon wore on, trout began to rise. At first it was small fish on hatching insects, then the odd better one patrolling the shallow banks for hoppers.

Riley with a good brown.

Riley and I worked our way around a perfect bend in the river, a mix of shallow riffles and deep drop-offs. This is where we got our first shot at a ‘God’s country’ fish. I watched as Riley drifted his dry where the river went from light shallows to dark depths, and from those depths rose a good fish to eat the dry… he was on! I was almost more nervous than Riley as I was tasked to net it. After a solid 5 minute fight up and down the river, we had it in the net, a stunning brown.

It was my turn now, and it didn’t take long to find a fish of my own.  A very slow and subtle dry fly eat, and I was on. A solid bend in the 5 weight and my heart was racing. Riley and I both knew it was a nice fish, after a few long runs and a couple of failed net attempts (you’re lucky Riley!) we landed it… bloody stoked.

And one for me.

Soon after, we pulled into our campsite. For this second evening, Max’s olive pasta was on the menu. (Certainly beat the cold canned ravioli Riley and I are used to eating when camping!) As the sun set behind the mountains and we stoked up the fire, the sound of sipping trout made us dash for the rods once more. Elsa and Max took turns casting to the rising trout and caught another brown on a caddis.

Fishing by the campfire.

It was now our last day, and we set out to get one more session in before the journey home. A smaller stream made for a relaxed morning, polaroiding fish and taking turns between us all, catching a mix of well-fed rainbows and some small browns.

Too soon, it was time to hit the road for the long trip back to Melbourne, though the trek was eased a little as we talked about the great weekend we’d just had.

Already memories.

I think flyfishing is all about the epic places it takes you, the people you’re with and maybe some new characters you meet along the way. This trip wasn’t short of any of those things, and it was topped off with some fish we won’t forget.