After a difficult day on the cod, where our total results were three misses, JD and I decided we were due a bit more action – namely, some small stream trout. In flyfishing, it can be tempting fate to voice high expectations in advance, but when it comes to small mountain streams in warm weather, the bet is usually a safe one. That’s even more so after a summer of good rain.
First stop was a creek I may never have fished, despite it being within striking distance of my childhood home in the north-east Victorian mountains. If I had ever visited it, the usual recollections: familiar campgrounds, bridges, place names, tracks and even the nature of the water itself, were missing. It occurred to me that’s one of the cool things about small streams: there’s so many of them, spread over such a vast area, it’s conceivable that even a lifelong trout bum like me hasn’t fished all of them; or even most of them.
Although that first session was a short one, it was a lovely foil to our hours of cod-less cod fishing. Without even trying, I noticed rises in the first pool I could see. Resisting the temptation (not easy after a fishless day) I walked down a few bends, and was glad I did. The extra minutes brought me a real appreciation for what was effectively a brand-new creek. I especially liked how so much of it was overhung by swordgrass, with all that bankside cover filling the humblest little run with promise.
I spooked as many fish as I rose, but it didn’t matter a bit. I was on unfamiliar water which clearly held lots of trout, and every step revealed something new. When I caught up with JD, we concurred that none of the trout we encountered on our short stop were big, maybe 12 inches tops? However, we departed thinking that larger fish were a genuine chance; what with all that good habitat and a slight tinge of upper Murrumbidgee-like colour in the water hinting of fertility.
The next day, there was no argument: small streams again please! For something a bit different though, we headed to a rainforest creek. This was a stream we knew quite well, and there was little chance of a big trout: the montane rainforest environment was a sunless refrigerator for at least half the year, and the water chemistry was too pure to compensate. Still, the creek promised lots of fish, beautiful surroundings of tree ferns, mountain ash and myrtle beach, and refuge from the humid heat which was already building on the farmland flats.
We pushed through the understory, and in the tail of the first pool was a little brown, swaying back and forth in anticipation of the next tit-bit. I flicked the fly out, and the fish swam up and ate it immediately. I missed it on the strike because I belatedly realised there was nowhere to strike without smashing my rod tip against a branch. It didn’t matter, the next presentation was eaten by a better fish of about 11 inches. By the time we’d moved ten metres, another half dozen trout had taken the dry.
I wondered if any of those fish had ever seen an angler? That’s another appealing feature of small streams, where the very size of the trout, not to mention the lack of casting room, can send most fishers to nearby ‘proper’ streams instead. The trout aren’t stupid: they’re wild and even without humans armed with fishing rods and fake insects, they live lives under constant threat. A sudden movement or stumbling splash would wreck a section of creek, as would a single spooked trout zooming upstream. So there were enough beautiful pool heads or perfect drifts along half-submerged logs yielding nothing, to make the successes count. And of course we soon adjusted size expectations: a 12 inch trout landed was a beauty and cause for a celebratory back slap.
After a while, we reached the last easy exit point. To fish beyond it would mean retracing our steps later over fallen logs, boulders and plunge pools. It was tempting to keep going, but JD and I decided that we’d instead make the move back to some larger streams down in the farmland. We climbed out of the 13 degree water, and followed a rough deer track up to the road. We were soon back at the car, and fifteen minutes later, we’d driven down into bright sunshine on the edge of the forest, and the thermometer said it was 31 degrees outside.