Stream time

While it’s been a very good winter/ early spring on the lakes, streams have a pull of their own. With a few clear days, I decided to see what (if anything) I’d been missing.

The first of two parts of my mini road trip, started late last week down the Otways with Max. The forecast threatened, but with this likely to be a Spring of wild weather, I decided… if not to forget the forecast, then at least to work with it as best I could.

Cool but mostly dry on an Otway stream.

Anyway, the showers promised for day one basically held off, and it was a real joy to spend my first few hours on some genuine freestone streams. They were a little high, a little cold, but a well-drifted nymph was a chance for a take, even if the dry above was largely ignored.

If we got off lightly on day one, on day two, the weather gods decided to square the ledger. A black wall of rain chased us up the coast, and caught up. Then, when blobs of wet snow appeared at sea level, my thoughts turned from fishing, to making it home over the Otways some 600 metres above. I bid Max a hasty farewell, but even so, I barely made it across the top. Under the weight of dumping snow, small trees and branches were falling across the road, almost blocking it on several occasions.

A snowy drive over the Otways.

After that weather experience, I again found myself questioning part two of the trip: which was to join JD for some sessions on the Goulburn River and, if we were lucky, maybe some natural stream fishing as well. The forecast said no, but the diary said yes… so I went.

A white Mt Torbreck looming over the Goulburn Valley.

Good decision. It was full wind-stopper jacket cold at first, with heavy snow on the mountains.

Even many of the small streams were raging.

Most streams too high for comfort, and even the Goulburn was disturbingly discoloured by turbid tributaries. And yet a couple of local streams were in fact fishable, and we caught plenty of small trout before lunch on the first day – including a few on dries.

Yet early success.

Then it was time to bite the big river bullet and head to the Goulburn itself, always the main game for this trip. Maybe our few hours on the creeks, with only a few spits of rain, would have given the river time to clear?

Or maybe not. Let’s be honest, the Goulburn was milkier than either of us would choose. But too milky? JD and I exchanged attempts at morale-boosting anecdotes as we walked down the riverbank – my evening on the Indi years ago when, despite a muddying thunderstorm, the Kossies still hatched and the trout rose everywhere. JD meanwhile, attempted the measured tones of a fisheries scientist to explain the extraordinary ability of trout to find food in the murk. You know, human assessment of discolouration versus trout assessment – that sort of thing.

Trout don’t mind a bit of colour in the water.

Well, we needn’t have worried. Starting with swinging wets (me a Woolly Bugger, JD a pair of soft hackles), we soon had a couple of decent browns and rainbows to the net to take the pressure off.

A quality wild Goulburn rainbow – no need to hide the tail!

Then came the rises. Though sporadic at first, it didn’t take much to persuade us to change to dry flies. Third cast ‘blind’, and my Shaving Brush was attacked by a fish which I struck at too soon in surprise. (What was that about milky water?) Then the insects increased; mainly caddis initially, followed by duns later. Good sized duns too: size 14 to 12. The trout responded and we soon had hundreds of metres of river to run up and down. (Like kids at a birthday party, we evening-rise fishers always worry there might be even more lollies in another room!)

JD onto a good brown on his Shaving Brush, early in the rise.

Well, it was great. Many’s the Goulburn evening which has confounded me as the trout change from one insect to the next; or even focus on some tiny, obscure bug whilst ignoring the big, obvious ones I wished they’d eat! Not this time. The hatch wasn’t especially heavy in the cold 10C breeze, but maybe that was for the best: less real insects competing for the attention of our flies. In any case, by the time it was all over 90 minutes after we first changed to dries, it took all of the walk back to the car in the last purple light, to recall how many trout we’d actually landed. A lot were good fish too – a couple of pounds, even one that was an honest weigh-net three: one of the best wild rainbows I’ve caught in this river on a dry fly.

Evening magic.

The next morning was about as beautiful as the Goulburn Valley ever gets: a paradise of vivid green under a deep blue sky, with a white frosting on the mountains to top it off. Still, as if the Goulburn River wanted to stop us from taking it for granted, it was back to its more enigmatic self. We caught fish, and a couple of good ones, but despite plenty of big bouncing caddis and even the odd early dun, I could count the rises I saw on one hand. Maybe the trout were still full after the previous evening – or maybe (and more likely) we weren’t good enough, or persistent enough.

Looks aren’t everything.

In a sense, I guess I was still living off the previous day’s fishing – which to be fair on myself, was about as good as it gets. With commitments back home, I had to leave after lunch and therefore I missed out on whatever evening had in store. But I couldn’t complain. My few days of stream time – blizzards and all – were as much as I could have asked for.