The Goulburn, tributaries, and termites

Through sheer luck, the only spare days I had recently, happened to coincide with near-perfect weather conditions for some stream fishing in the Goulburn catchment. And it was handy that JD had some time off to join me. The air was humid, and with the thermometer peaking in the mid 20s, it was warm enough to contemplate wet wading for the first time since last autumn. I didn’t – the water temps were around 11C – but I was glad to be wearing waist rather than chest waders. Even a farmer mate who hardly fishes, commented that, “The trout will be loving this buggy weather!” And he was right.

King Parrot ‘River’

The downside, if you could call it that, was the sheer volume of water in the natural streams. Some of the mountain creeks were almost solid whitewater: it was a challenge to find a couple of fishable pockets per stretch. King Parrot Creek at Flowerdale was more King Parrot River, and still holding a milky tinge. The Acheron looked daunting, and you had to pick your spot to cross the Rubicon.

One from amongst the mountain creek whitewater

However, as I’ve said forever, you want your mountain streams a bit inconveniently high in spring. Idyllic fishing flows in late October, can be a harbinger of dire low levels come late summer.

A big but fishable Rubicon.

Short of a catastrophic flood, trout thrive in high flows, and the ones I landed were looking great, even a little chubby. You had to work for them, picking the soft edges and using enough weight to get nymphs down. But there was sufficient surface interest to swap indicators for dry flies, and be rewarded by at least the odd rise.

Stoneflies were out in numbers, together with mayfly, caddis and termites.

Given the big flows, the fact the trout were looking up at all on the natural streams reflected the abundance of insects. Stonefly, mayfly, caddis and (drumroll…) termites, were out and about, and building in the late afternoons.

Tubby rainbow.

But if you wanted dry fly action, the Goulburn River itself was the place to be. In contrast to the natural streams, this tailwater was running at a very comfortable 400 ML/day, plus significant contributions from each downstream tributary. I don’t recall ever seeing so many respectable fish rising on the Goulburn as I did on Thursday evening.

A rare miss on the strike for JD.

Four years ago, I reported on the ‘game changer’ switch of Goulburn minimum winter flows from 120 ML/d to 400ML/d. Scientific modelling prior to the increase predicted a substantial improvement in the river’s fish stocks. This made sense: one limitation to the quantity of trout a given river can carry is its regular minimum flow.

As buggy as it gets.

Fast forward, and it certainly seems that for the last two years especially, the quality and quantity of Goulburn tailwater trout has been as good as I’ve experienced. Has a Covid reduction in fishing pressure played a part? Maybe. I guess the only way to objectively measure either effect is through scientific research. Wouldn’t that be nice!

In the meantime, you can take or leave my subjective assessment that the Goulburn is presently fishing like a North American ‘X-thousand trout per mile’ river. Selfish sentiments aside, it’s good to know this wonderful (if slightly flawed) fishery will be available to all my Melbourne friends within days – along with countless other Victorian lakes and streams. It’s nice to have exclusive use up to a point, but that novelty has been wearing a little thin over recent months, especially as some of my best fishing mates live in Melbourne.

Termite twins… without moving a step.

A couple of the fish JD and I caught were clearly fin-worn stockies, but dozens of others were lovely wild fish. How either category will cope with the onslaught over coming weeks, time will tell. In any case, for now, there are very high numbers of trout. I trust all FlyStream readers so inclined will enjoy fishing for them, and maybe go easy on taking too many out. Remember, catch limits include only two fish over 35cm, and a lot of Goulburn trout are longer.

Rigging up prior to hitting the Goulburn. Will the fly – and setup – be correct?

By the way, this is the Goulburn, and even last week, there were periods when I briefly doubted how many trout were in the river. Then the termites fell, and up they all came, leaving me slightly embarrassed with how (relatively) few I was catching in the quiet times. On the Goulburn, some things never change!

Spectators! Better have the right fly on.