Three weeks ago, I was invited to visit a friend up in the hills. Partly to celebrate his birthday, partly because I hadn’t seen him for months due to Covid restrictions – and of course to fish his local streams. The weather forecast was horrible, rain, rain and more rain.

I decided to go. At least we would catch up, cook some great food, and drink some good wines.

I practically aquaplaned to his cabin. Relentless heavy rain from Melbourne to Mansfield; probably the most treacherous conditions I have driven in. I was convinced the rivers would be liquid chocolate and raging. Then, as I approached my destination, the rain eased to a drizzle, and I noticed that there weren’t a lot of puddles or pools anywhere along the road. Could the rain have bypassed Mt Buller and surrounds? To my delight it had. The next few days of fishing was great. Fine weather, the streams were up but clear and the healthiest population of browns and ‘bows took a liking to our offerings. The food and wine were great and the company exceptional.

Despite the forecast, stream conditions near Mt Buller proved ideal.

But if this had been planned as a dedicated fishing trip, and I had relied on the weather forecasts, would I have gone?

Early last week, another trip was put into jeopardy by a less than favourable forecast on the back of a huge amount of rain the week before. A report from a mate didn’t help: ‘The rivers are high and brown.’ With a lot more rain forecast, I felt pressure to cancel the trip.

Now this was no ordinary getaway as I was travelling to a favourite north-east Victorian valley with my daughter Elsa, her partner Cale and his brother Riley. All super-keen flyfishers with skills to match their enthusiasm. Boy did I feel pressure. This was my turf, and the trip was over four days, we were camping, and the prospect of a complete wash-out was very real.

I scoured every weather forecast, forensically studied river levels, weather maps and radars but above all I prayed a lot.

Knowing this region well and cognisant of its unique microclimate (anything can happen!), I called it. We are going.

I knew the river, which flows through pristine forests, would be clear enough, at least to start with. And although it would be high, some sections and pockets would be fishable (fingers crossed behind my back).

The weather forecasts leading up to last Thursday, the day of our departure, were bad but also somewhat ambiguous with some charts forecasting up to 70mm of rain on the Saturday and Sunday, but others showed a lesser probability this would happen.

Heading over the mountains with snow patches still in the hollows, I wondered what we would find.

Well, we made the right call, the rain simply did not manifest. Maybe 5mm Saturday night and Sunday, which we had basically written off, was fine and sunny. Go figure!

The river was cold and crystal clear, flowing high and very fast. Crossing the river was pretty much impossible anywhere. But we did find sections that were tempered enough to allow good drifts. The insect activity was impressive. Caddis, duns, beetles and ants bursting to life in between gale force winds and during little breaks in the cloud cover.

The river was flowing high and hard, but the trout were there to be caught.

Now, we have all been on a river somewhere where hatches are on, but trout are not! This weekend, when the insects came alive, the trout went ballistic. Taking dry flies aggressively, without hesitation. Surprisingly considering the high flows, deep nymphing was ineffective. Mind you, as soon as the surface takes started, nymphs got the snip!

Cale and Elsa with dry fly results.

Fishing was very good if you focused on the slower water which was often in pockets on the other side of the river. This meant short drifts (and quick striking if you got a take) before the fly got swept out into the strong current. Thankfully, we had lots of shots at rising trout poking their noses up or outright smashing caddis in the middle of the river. A few monsters also rose from the depths: breathtaking stuff!

As an aside, we all noticed how physically demanding this the fishing was. Sore wrists, blisters, and fatigue. after constant rapid casting into strong winds.

The evening hatches (as the wind died down) were impressive three nights in a row. I lost count of how many fish we caught with the glow of the campfire directly behind us.

Evening shadows creeping over our camp, and Riley with a virtual fireside catch.

Big flows, big fish? Our rivers and the forests seem to be in fantastic condition. A few years of cool summers and good rainfall seem to have our trout population thriving. Perhaps reduced pressure due to restricted travel may have been a factor too.

We found the fish size to be impressive, with some “stonks” as the young guns (top guns) I was fishing with call them. Mostly, these big fish had the best of us in the raging currents, but a few came to hand.

What a memorable trip! The moral of the story? When faced with the question ‘To go or not to go?’, don’t rely entirely on weather forecasts. Use your instincts, be adventurous, call a local, take a punt! More often than not, you will be rewarded.