Rainforest Jewels

As the beginning of September isn’t the most inviting time of year to be fishing streams (see JD’s recent report), I tend not to partake in the Victorian Trout Opening ritual on the day itself. Still, there’s no mistaking the sense of occasion when, at some point during the month, I find an opportunity to travel to a stream which coincides with tolerable conditions.

I’m captivated by lakes and enjoy fishing them through winter as much as any of the time I spend with a rod in hand, so I don’t sit at home crossing off the days in anticipation of my river chance. It tends to be more a pleasant realisation that the next few days of fine weather might provide an opportunity to legally fish flowing water which isn’t too high, cold or discoloured.

The last two days provided that window, conveniently aligning with (another) break in lockdown for regional Victoria. I knew many of the streams I like to fish would be running a banker, and probably discoloured – which is the way it should be. (Low, clear mainstem rivers in September are a worry for what the coming summer might hold.)

The drive up to the north-east mountains showed just how wet it had been. Even usually insignificant creeks were sizeable streams, and when I crossed King Parrot Creek near the Goulburn, it was a muddy torrent, with flattened bankside grass and fresh driftwood telling of a recent flood.

The pattern of brimming milk coffee-coloured farmland creeks continued all the way up the highway until I rendezvoused with JD. It reinforced what we’d already planned: head up to the mountain tributary streams for clearer water and more manageable flows.

Leaving the lower valleys behind.

In some ways, it seemed counterintuitive to leave the springtime warmth of the river flats and drive up into the ranges. As we climbed above 1000 metres, flattened tree-ferns and roadside grass were evidence of recently melted snow.

We dipped only a little way down into temperate rainforest, left the car beside the track, and wadered up. Despite the fine weather, the air up here had a bite that was absent from the land of lush grass and blossoming wattle several hundred metres lower. We walked through moss and myrtle beech to the stream, the sound of rushing water getting louder by the step.

Some small streams hold secret promise of a smattering of large trout among the ‘pannies’, trout that shock you from your daydreaming drifts with little rods and dainty flies. Maybe they’re spawners from downstream that migrated late, or decided to stay a while. Or perhaps they’re residents that have found enough food and fertility to grow bigger than expected.

But in the rainforest, big ones are not part of the deal. Simple biology works against their existence. While the streams are cold, clear and never dry up (good), they are starved of sunlight and the winters must be excruciatingly long (bad). The convenient grip of the streambed rocks as you wade, is because the film of algae common on many rivers and creeks (and food for all sorts of nymphs and larvae) is missing. Meanwhile, the steep drop down to the lowlands blocks the trophies from moving up.

Pretty, but a hard environment.

From the Barrington Tops in NSW, to Tasmania’s West Coast, there must be hundreds if not thousands of kilometres of streams like this scattered through south-eastern Australia. But they’re all but ignored by anglers who either don’t know they exist because of their hidden remoteness, or they don’t make the effort to explore because there is no rumour of good fish; not even a decades-old sniff.

So JD and I were in the rainforest in full knowledge that, aside from a one-in-a-thousand gnarly cannibal, we would be fishing for trout which even at several years of age, might be only 10 or 12 inches long.

Old timer.

However, we knew these trout had their own specialty: each one would be as beautiful as a Japanese painting.

Climbing over boulders, balancing on old logs and flicking nymph/dry rigs into plunge pools and along soft edges, it soon became apparent that the trout, while no doubt plentiful, were half asleep in the icy water. (My nymph snagged early on, and it was a race against time to reach in up to my elbow and pull it free, before my hand went numb in the 6C water.) The trick was to fish the flies as slowly as possible, to give the trout plenty of time to catch them. Twice, I was just plotting my recast with the flies drifting behind me, when I felt the soft pluck of a fish.

JD hooked up.

Besides the odd fly caught in the undergrowth, it was all quite peaceful and contemplative. No smashing takes or searing runs here. Although JD and I were often only several metres apart, conversation above the roar of the stream was impossible, so we mostly fished in silence.

Rainforest jewelry.

After a couple of hours, we decided the walk back to the car was about far enough, so we wound in and followed a lyrebird track up the hill and back to a waiting drink and sandwich.

And some more.

Later in the day, we enjoyed the space and relative warmth of the streams lower down, but I didn’t regret a moment spent chasing the small jewels in the rainforest.

As I write, I can see from the radar that snow is falling once again on the stream we fished. Partly I’d like to be there to see it, but the fishing reality might be less appealing. Think I’ll rest the rainforest until it warms up.