Poking up local streams

Summer-like conditions are finally here in the Central Victorian Highlands. With the shift, there are opportunities to explore local creeks which have returned to something like normal after months of constant floods.

The irony is, the floods were essentially a good thing – at least as far as the fishing is concerned. Throughout the small and relatively dry catchments in the Central Highlands, exceptional rainfall is all but a prerequisite for stream trout populations to reach fishable levels. So, while part of me has spent the last 6 months wishing the rain would stop and allow the streams I recognise to emerge from beneath muddy maelstroms, another part wanted the rain to continue. The more soaked the catchments, the longer fishable water would prevail once a more typical climate returned.

It’s remarkable how quickly overt signs of the floods are disappearing.

Now that I’m walking through dry grass instead of marsh to reach the streams, it turns out that yep, we didn’t have too much rain. Although subjected to similar streamscape-altering floods to those in north-east Victoria and the Snowy Mountains – and most of south-eastern Australia for that matter – the creeks have already cleared, dropped back into their ‘usual’ beds (whatever that means) and are flowing at what I would normally consider a healthy late spring level. And except for debris halfway up the bankside trees and the odd bridge that’s gone missing, there’s surprisingly little sign of the floods. Even the briefly-scoured blackberries are clawing their way down the banks towards the water with triffid-like speed.

The big question is, what about the trout? Well, they’re back in pleasing numbers… but before you come racing up to some half-forgotten Central Highlands stream, there are a couple of things to note.  

The trout are there, but…  

Firstly, the trout have quickly remembered that, without the cover of all that dirty water, they’re small stream fish once again which need to master the art of hiding to survive. Therefore, they are very hard to find in any water that’s open and comfortable to fish – except perhaps as the kookaburras are calling goodnight, and it’s becoming very difficult to distinguish a rise from the disturbances of the local rakali.   

Which brings me to the second and third points: the parts of these streams where daytime trout can be caught, often require a scramble and minor bush-bash to reach (I have the scratches to prove it). And once on the water, it can be very difficult to get a cast to a trout without simultaneously spooking it.

It takes a combination of stalking and bush-bashing to fish water where the trout are catchable.

This is the sort of fishing I grew up with, and I like it – even love it occasionally. The reward of a successful stalk, then a fly placement a rod length and a half away without the trout knowing how it got there, and finally the miraculous eat… It’s almost enough to compensate for the many more fish that are only noticed because of their fleeing bow-waves or shadows. Or which you see without scaring them first, but there is no possible of way of getting a fly to them – unless perhaps with a tiny and expertly-flown drone.

Fortunately, it’s double the reward when a decent fish actually takes the fly.

So the local streams are presently good fun in a slightly masochistic way, and for the time being at least, I know I can cast (flick?) a fly on a number of different creeks within a 40 minute drive and be a chance of catching a trout. It’s a nice thought, and I’ll continue to do it when the mood takes me. But I’m also glad it’s not the only kind of fishing available.