It’s a case of not knowing what you have until it’s taken away. During Melbourne’s Covid-19 restrictions, it was difficult to imagine a more testing time for outdoor enthusiasts like us flyfishers. The pandemic restrictions brought into clear focus the importance of outdoor activities like flyfishing which benefits physical and mental health, and helps create a sense of self-worth and achievement.
Going back a number of years, a good friend Mark put together a simple video of our Mallacoota estuary fishing exploits. Mark’s main aim was to show his family and friends what he gets up to during numerous fishing trips. After watching the video on YouTube, I realised this was an aspect of fishing which could greatly enhance my experience of a day on the water; something to look back on. The video angle changed my perspective, and since then, I’ve created similar videos to remember past trips. During the long lockdown, I happily watched some of my old videos to help stay motivated.
Two years ago, my mate Ross asked if I wanted to join him on a birthday camping and fishing weekend. I jumped at the chance to get away and suggested Woods Point, at the top of the Goulburn River catchment, as the destination. Ross and his newly-acquired Toyota Landcruiser collected me on Friday after work for the 3½ hour trek from Melbourne into the Victorian high country.
Woods Point township was founded in 1862 to service the gold diggings in the area after the nearby Morning Star gold reef was discovered. Its picturesque landscape is still scattered with remnant gold digging equipment, and three mines operate in the area to this day. Driving through this tiny township, it’s very hard to imagine that at its peak, it had 36 hotels and was divided into five different suburbs!
However, the main drawcard for us was the stretch of the upper Goulburn River that runs through the township. I had fished it more than a decade earlier, and recalled being impressed by the large population of hungry (if small) trout. The river also has campsites along its banks, most of which require river crossings to access.
By nightfall, we’d arrived at the Comet Flat, where, after setting up camp, we tried to sleep off the excitement of the day. There’s nothing like nodding off to the gentle burbling sound of running water.
We awoke to find gentle rain was falling. Along this stretch of river, there’s a mix of cleared land and dense eucalypt forest. The anticipation that comes as you round the next bend to a new pool, makes for a wonderful experience.
Ross and I headed off to different sections of the stream. I opted to start the day with a dry/ dropper set-up on a 2 weight 6’6” rod and matching reel. The lightness and delicateness of this outfit seemed to suit the surroundings perfectly.
It wasn’t long before the first of many fish was brought to the net. The early takes were on a lightly-weighted size 14 orange tag bead-head nymph, suspended about 18 inches off the bend of a size 14 Parachute Adams. As the day progressed and the drizzle eased, the dry became steadily more popular. Moving upstream from pool to pool, it soon became apparent that every pool had a healthy population of small fish; mostly rainbows with a lesser number of slightly larger brown trout, and it wasn’t uncommon to land more than one per pool.
For me, fishing this type of water is a meditative process; trying hard to blend into my surroundings, adapting to the stream morphology, and figuring out what the fish are keyed in to. Always wading upstream, I attempt to remain in stealth mode at all times. I find the most important element when wading is slow movement so as not to create upstream pressure waves.
Other than the obvious advantage of not spooking fish in the clear, slow-moving pools, there is the added benefit of being able to quietly observe the local wildlife such as birds, platypus, wallabies and other native fauna, which all enhance the experience. Sometimes while engrossed in fishing, I have to remind myself to capture images of these moments. The reward comes afterwards when I have plenty of material to choose from when making a video.
By lunchtime on the first day, with both of us boasting a double-figure tally of mostly small rainbows, the rain increased. We decided our best option was to move camp just in case the water rose quickly and made the river crossing impossible. We shifted to a soggy camp at JH Scott Reserve upstream of Woods Point. By now the river had turned a milky tea colour, but that didn’t seem to upset the trout: they kept taking our nymphs and dries. I also had success on a small black Woolly Bugger which stood out in the milky brown water.
We rose early on the second day to be joined by Ross’s mate (another Ross!). Overnight, the rain had stopped and the water had become clearer. We quickly packed up camp and headed back downstream of our first camp to try a section we hadn’t fished the day before. While the Rosses fished upstream, I went down. By the time we met up a couple of hours later, I’d caught 17 fish, all on the dry. It turned out Ross’s mate had landed the trout of the trip, a nice brown on the dry fly, all captured on video.
After a very satisfying Sunday morning and tales of numerous fish landed, we headed back to town for a pie and coffee before deciding to travel via Gaffneys Creek towards Jamieson. We crossed the Goulburn at Sappers Track and made our way to Jamieson via this spectacular 4WD track. After a steep climb to the ridge, we took in the magnificent views of a snow-capped Mt Buller and the Jamieson Valley.
Looking back, the size of the fish seems almost irrelevant compared to their abundance and willingness to engulf our flies. Of great importance, I have the video to look back on. When Ross told me he’d watched the video many times and shared it with his family and friends back in the UK, I felt a greater sense of satisfaction. Another flyfishing friend, Dan, who couldn’t make it on this trip, generously offered to write the guitar music score for the video, which gave it a more personal touch.
My smartphone is now an essential piece of kit which I carry at all times in the front pouch of my waders. Not being one for making notes or writing diaries, I set about trying to create videos that are about a sense of place and experience rather than yet another how-to video.
Never more than in 2020 have I come to understand the importance of capturing and preserving these moments with friends and family. I highly recommend as fishos, we take the time to capture and share these stories with the people who mean the most to us.