Rain and rainbows in the Ovens Valley

Rain. It’s yet another irony of flyfishing that we need it for trout fishing to exist in the first place, but we generally don’t want it during, or just before, our actual trips.

After a 6 week ‘flash drought’ (as some in meteorology circles were calling it) the storms which drenched Victoria on the weekend had part of me thinking, ‘About time!’ – and partly wishing they could’ve held off for just a bit longer. This was because the very next day, Max and I were finally heading up the road on an overdue north-east Victoria trip. Around 3 inches of rain had fallen ahead of our arrival, and even as we approached the cloud-shrouded mountains looming over the Ovens Valley, snow was falling on the peaks. Images of settled autumn days, blue skies and streams as clear as glass, were being replaced by a grey reality.

Then we drove across the Ovens at Gapstead and our spirits lifted. The river was merely a dark tannin colour, not muddy, and the flow was healthy rather than high. A little later, we arrived at the stretch we planned to fish first, near Bright. A quick jog down the deer track and through the dripping tea tree revealed that our luck was holding. This upper section of the Ovens still had that tinge of tannin, however the flow was manageable; almost ideal in fact. True, the 12C air temperature and total lack of sunshine dampened our expectations of dry fly action, but otherwise, this was looking like the perfect ‘fresh’. I imagined the trout, which had just put up with a month-and-a-half of steadily declining currents and living space, rejuvenated by the pulse of cold water.

Despite gloomy skies, Monday revealed a perfect fresh on the Ovens. (This was the ‘nymph sacrifice’ pool described below – you can understand my thinking!)

And this wasn’t simply a fisher’s wishful thinking. Objectively, nearly everything about this rain event favoured the fish. As drift feeders, stream trout thrive in currents that are neither too strong nor too slack – and now they had that ‘Goldilocks’ flow again. To make things better, the surge in flow would have dislodged plenty of streambed bugs, and the rain had probably washed in a few bonus terrestrials too. On top of it all, the water had stayed clear enough for the trout to easily spot food at a reasonable distance (and, conveniently, to be able to find our flies)!

I had my first trout, a little rainbow on the Green Drake nymph, three casts after starting. Two more rainbows followed in the next 15 minutes, each a little bigger than its predecessor. The third trout came after I sacrificed my last Green Drake to a snag rather than wading in to retrieve it and ruining an idyllic pool. I took a deep breath, snapped it off, changed to a Cadillac Nymph, and caught a pounder immediately. Sacrifice justified.

Worth the sacrifice.

It wasn’t all easy fishing on the Ovens. There were the usual explicably quiet, unproductive spots; and of course the misses – mostly bigger fish of course; or so it seemed. Meanwhile, Max was doing very well, including actually managing to land some of those better trout. By mid-afternoon, both of us had some fish come to the dry fly (a size 14 Royal Wulff) and late in the session, Max even added a pair of solid browns to what until then had been exclusively rainbows.

Sunnier skies on Tuesday morning, though still pretty cold.

The next day, the sun burned off the last of the cloud left over from the storms, and a bluebird autumn day followed. An almost frosty start seemed to subdue our morning fishing on the Ovens, although we still caught some nice fish, including my best for the trip – a 2 pound brown on a little black nymph.

My best fish for the trip.

A shift in the afternoon to the Buckland River, found it running New Zealand clear and much lower than the Ovens. Although there was evidence that this stream too had enjoyed a flush of sorts, the catchment must have received less rain overall and the level was on the skinny side.

The Buckland – still a little skinny, but teeming with small trout, and holding the odd better one too.

The standout on the Buckland was how some sections simply teemed with young-of-the-year trout of 4 to 6 inches; mostly too small to eat the fly, although they tried! With some pools and runs holding dozens of these little fish, the future looks bright for the Buckland. And there were better trout present too, up to a pound or more, if you could get your fly past the littlies.

The sort of fishing environment that’s hard to leave.

The trip was over too soon, and it wasn’t easy driving away through valleys lined with new autumn colour, and fields already tinged with green grass from the rain. It’s not just the streams that have had a fresh, and I can’t wait to get back to the north-east when the diary permits.