Category: Learn

It is hard to determine what made me a fly fisher. I have early childhood memories that are mostly vague, yet there are moments of absolute clarity.

This was truly a noble creature. I listened while I gazed into the firelight as stories were told of epic battles, the infinite fighting courage, the innate cunning and intelligence of this sterling opponent. It was even claimed that the best way of capturing one was to lie on the edge and feel under the bank until you could feel a fish, then by stroking its underside it would become sufficiently paralysed to be able to be lifted from the water.

Better even than this was the story of Uncle Dick and his battle with a leviathan of three pounds that had smashed the tip of his beautifully fine split cane rod that was worth vast sums of money. It was a glory to behold this rod. Every interval bound with claret bindings and fine snake like runners on a mellow golden material called split cane. It tapered to the finest point. This rod was so special it was kept in a wooden case. It was, in fact, a form of magic wand. A tapered woven silk line and fine leaders of silk gut to which tiny brightly coloured flies could be attached, completed the outfit. The rod had been sent from England and was considered to be very valuable..

I had to wait another year before our holiday coincided with the arrival of Uncle Dick. He came in a Minnie, an Austin Seven with a canvas hood, wire spoked wheels and carrying a precious cargo of rods. The car was driven without the canvas and perspex side windows, so the wind blew in your face. It wasn’t much more than a glorified pram and even looked a bit that way. Dick was to take ‘Snow’ fishing. Every small boy with a shock of platinum white hair was referred to as ‘Snow’. I wasn’t to speak, except in whispers. We were to creep up onto a pool just on dark, so I spent the whole day willing the sun to go down so that we could start. The pool was above the bridge over the road, somewhat downstream from the farm so we set off down the dusty road in Minnie as the light was fading.

Sunset and evening is a special time. The transition from daylight to dark brings a heightened sense of awareness. The atmosphere and sky is charged with a constantly changing brilliant show of colour, which slowly fades to blackness that invokes all the senses of sound, sight and smell. Crouched on a sandbank overgrown with bracken and a spreading black wattle to cover the fading sky, we put in our baits. Soon there was a splash in the darkness and a blackfish was brought struggling to the bank. Crouched on our knees Uncle Dick pointed out tiny dimple rises that spread across the pool.

He used that rod and soon another blackfish came to the basket. In the darkness I guessed he had dragged a fly near a dimple and the fish had hooked itself. He showed me how to use a bracken fern to pass through the gills and out of the mouth to put the two fish on a stringer. I was first into the kitchen and amid amazement and admiration, the fish were paraded around. Dick knew what he had done. I was forever intoxicated by the verdant smell of river banks and soft light and brilliant colours of sunsets and the bristling senses of darkness. I was at one with nature. I was Rousseau’s proverbial ‘child of nature.’ The primitive urges of the hunt and the capture of prey had been unleashed and the sensory flood had overwhelmed me.

Later that week, after Dick had gone back to Melbourne in Minnie, I was out with Uncle Bill and Ted who were engaged in cutting bracken with their fern hooks as a task between milking. This was common practice in the farms of the Gippsland hills that had been carved out of the rainforest wilderness. Heading off downstream on the little creek, I saw some activity in a shallow section. Waves were charging up and down the pool. I practiced what I had learned from Uncle Dick and soon I was peering through the grass at my first mountain trout. He was gently finning on the current, gills pulsating and an occasional stroke of the tail to hold equilibrium in the current. I was captivated by this wild creature unaware of my presence.

Soon he was spurred into action and departed upstream creating a small bow wave as he headed off to patrol his shallow run. What happened next was inevitable, but something I now feel a bit sheepish about. Bill and Ted were called and soon two men and a small boy were in the creek with the fish. Stones were piled up to block off the run top and bottom and after a brief tussle it was hoisted out onto the grass flapping and struggling, but soon to lie still. I could hear Bill and Ted chattering away up the paddock as they rhythmically stroked at the patch of bracken. Snatches of conversation included, ‘Snow’s first mountain trout…..’

I knelt over the fish. It was everything I had believed it would be. A bar of pure silver, veiled with gold down the flanks and every scale a point of light. The Loch Leven spots of red had halos of white and the large brown spots broke down to mottled patterns across the back. Soon the jewel began to fade and despite frequent washing in the creek it had lost a great deal of its colour by the time we got home for lunch. Never the less it was rolled in flour and cooked on the spot so that everyone could taste it. The crispy edges of fins and the brown fried points of contact in the pan providing contrast to the firm white flesh. My boyhood was complete.

Living in Bendigo, far away from the deep green pastures and hills of Gippsland, was no barrier to my fishing exploits. No redfin was safe. I had a pushbike and could travel anywhere and every dam or reservoir was explored, even down to ornamental lakes in the parks. We rode miles to test a new water and it was often late when I arrived home with a damp Hessian sugar bag half full of good sized redfin.

One day I saw a fly fisherman casting off the stony bank of Spring Gully reservoir. He caught a fish about a pound and I promptly told him that it was a mountain trout. I knew about mountain trout. I waited for him to leave and quickly moved into his spot where I caught more redfin on worms, yabbies and my favourite hogback spinner, but never did I see another trout. I did see spreading rings on the water that I concluded could have been trout.

Another favourite spot for redfin was the Municipal Baths. This man made lake had wooden buildings on piles, constructed over the water that shelved from shallow to deep where a rickety ten metre diving tower tested the courage of every twelve year old boy. A jump from the tower was the rite of passage to manliness. Sooner or later we all made it.

Behind the tower was an island, overgrown with pampas grass and a bank with willows. Casting short and low, the copper hogback lures would flutter down deep and throb their way back to the bank, to be nailed hard by a big rolling strike of a redfin right next to the edge. It was at this time that a further dimension was added to my fishing. The adventure of camping out overnight for days at a time. Trips to Barham and Koondrook, Laanecoorie or south to Coliban or Lauriston, and all points between. The Loddon and Campaspie became familiar haunts and yellow belly, bream and cod fell victim along with the usual redfin.

Despite the joy and excitement of fish filled days and campfire nights, I still had persistent dreams about mountain trout. In retrospect I think that they were given this title after small native trout like galaxids that originally inhabited the streams before clearing ruined their habitat. The small trout with their tiny spots and parr blotches down their sides were thought to be mountain trout because they only existed in mountain like small streams. I don’t think that there was an adequate understanding by my uncles that these small fish were some how connected to the leviathan that had broken one of the two tips to Uncle Dick’s fly rod. There seemed to be no adequate explanation for a fish over about eight inches long. Never the less they were known to be there and they could be caught on flies.

My father was then promoted to his first branch manager’s job at a tiny township on the upper Murray called Walwa. Consisting of a butcher’s shop, a bank, a general store and a pub, the population totalled about one hundred and fifty people. We lived behind the bank in the ‘Residence.’ In truth it was a house on the intersection with the banking being conducted in the front two or three rooms. It was a short bike ride to the Murray River and the area was laced with lagoons and billabongs and smaller creeks, nothing short of paradise.

Once again I came in contact with trout. This time they were big. I witnessed dozens of fish over six of seven pounds taken from the Murray on farmers’ set lines baited with scrub worms. Usually they were brought into the butcher’s shop next door and cut into steaks to be distributed around the town. Similarly with cod, huge fish hanging on hooks to be cut up and given out to the locals. The trout were taken in the spring, their spawning urge bringing them up from Lake Hume as far as Khancoban to run up the Geehi, but alas the Khancoban Dam was soon to block their run. These huge wild fish infiltrated the waters of the Upper Murray and are the stuff of legends.

Once the Snowy Mountains scheme was completed at Murray One and Two power stations above Khancoban, the waters were tamed forever.

At twelve to fourteen years I was travelling to school thirty miles away at Corryong, on a badly corrugated dirt road that ran parallel to the river and crossed Jeremal Creek, Cudgewa Creek and Pine Mountain Creek, as well as countless other little watercourses. The Murray splits into the Swampy Plains and the Indi above Bringenbrong bridge and the Tooma river that collects the main range watershed drains into the Murray from the New South Wales side below Tintaldra.

At fourteen I caught a few of these fish on bait or a Devon but I still have vivid memories of large dark shapes lying in pools or under overhanging branches. These were not mountain trout, these were the real thing. The Geehi Wall was a mountainous track that led back to the base of Mount Kosciusko and over Dead Horse Gap to Thredbo. Dreams still haunt me when I hear their names. Leatherbarrel Creek, Bogong Creek. Murray Gates. Tom Groggin. Davies Plain.

My father’s next branch was bigger and in a less remote area of Victoria The move to Alexandra broke my heart. I was truly sad to leave the remote and wild country of the upper Murray, referred to by anyone who has been there as, “God’s own…” Within a week I was being diverted from my sorrow. The year was 1958. My trusty pushbike soon revealed a huge river very much like the rivers of the upper Murray except that it ran in reverse, high cold and clear throughout the summer and low as a trickle in winter. It was a tail water from Lake Eildon, itself a great fishery. Draining into the Goulburn river belowthe lake were some smaller streams which reminded me of the Nariel and Cudgewa creeks. They were the Rubicon and Acheron. Countless smaller streams fed into this system and I found trout everywhere. My bicycle ranged far and wide and late into the night.

When the obligations of a football match or other activities prevented daylight fishing,then I would engage in night sorties. Frogs, particularly the large green bellfrog, were everywhere. Every pond was full of tadpoles and in order to fish at night you only needed a torch. Enough frogs could be gathered off the river bank to provide for all of your needs. Frequent stomach analysis of fish showed the remains of partly digested frogs.

We fished with big ones, it was more fun waiting five or so minutes for a fish to swallow a big frog. Further more a big frog was easy to cast and untroubled by a small chromed suicide hook through the back leg, they would swim around and around a big backwater until the commotion attracted the biggest fish in the hole. Frogs were great fun and the verdant, stickiness of hot summer nights was orchestrated by the wall of sound created from thousands of frog calls. Tiny crackling to the loud ‘Bobonk!’ of the bell frogs. Fish were often found in the flooded drains and swamps, pushing through the weed in search of them. 

The only frogs left on the Goulburn today are the tiny grey tree frogs. They are the only survivors of the mystery disappearance of our frog population. I have heard all sorts of theories, to explain why our frogs have vanished. Viruses, increased UV radiation on the tadpoles from a depleted ozone layer, pesticides sprayed along the riverbank to combat blackberries, thistles and noxious weeds, climatic change in the form of different rainfall patterns, and a host of explanations of dubious scientific merit.

One thing is certain though. Without large items of protein like frogs, fish do not grow as fast or as big. This may go some way to explain the ‘good old days.’

Perceptions that fish do not grow as vigorously as in times of yore may have some merit. I arrived on the Goulburn after the second Lake Eildon Wall had been built and the famous Dome hole had been covered by the new lake. New lakes always have a period of spontaneous and rapid growth as the water absorbs the nutrients of the newly flooded ground. At the top of the food chain the trout’s growth rate is accelerated. So it was with Eildon.

I bemoan the present year round fishing and curse the unenlightened administration that makes the excuses for implementing and sustaining it. I recall an opening day when I was just a callow youth. Rolly Miller was a bit younger than I was. He wasn’t called Rolly because he was thin, so when he asked to join me on opening morning, I cautioned him that I planned to walk into Italian Gully down a very steep ridge off the Skyline Road. Rolly declared himself fit enough to have a go.

I roused my father at four thirty in the morning. He drove me around to pick up Rolly and we were delivered to the ridge top while it was still pitch dark. Loaded with all our gear we started the decline into this bush clad steep gully, wherein lay a small but virginal stream, totally inaccessible except by those crazy enough to walk in off the ridge. We hooked and lost many fish that day. All rainbows that had not fallen back into the lake after their spawning run, but that had taken up residence in the small pools to regain some weight before returning. Lake trout are often more silvery and salmon looking than occupants of rivers and streams.

Rolly and I kept nine fish that day (a bag limit is 10). We caught them in gin clear bath tub sized pools overgrown with tea tree and tree ferns that blotted out the light.

Further up the gully it was like a ladder with tiny waterfalls between pools. We would creep up and look over the edge to see these beautiful rainbows on the fin and ready to feed on our offerings. The walk out was a nightmare. Loaded with fish and our gear we dragged our feet up out of the gully on to the track and it was hours later that we finally met my father at the top of the ridge on the Skyline road.

Despite the exhaustion, we were ecstatic. Opening day had been a triumph and for fifteen year olds to be able to say we had bagged nine good fish was nothing less that brilliant. Some of these fish had been taken on my new Fenwick spinning rod but I had mounted an old fly reel with a shortened level line and a straight tip of nine pound leader. On the end of this was a cheap gaudy wet fly and I dapped through the bushes to take some of these fish. I thought I was a fly fisherman. I had read about it and I had caught fish on the fly and with the certainty of youth I declared to myself that fly fishing was easy. I could do it with a spinning rod.

In truth I was a master with a lure, a worm, a grasshopper or cricket, a mudeye or scrubby or yabby, but it was drawing a long bow to imagine I was a fly fisherman just because I had caught a fish on a fly.

About this time (1960), I visited Lake Eucumbene for the first time. I had heard it mentioned in hushed tones whenever fishermen gathered to talk. Stories about trout gorged with mountain worms who still took your bait, with the worms trailing from their mouth, proved true. To get your bait you only had to turn over the matt of floating grass on the edge of the rising water to expose the mass of worms. Later the hatch of mudeye (dragon fly larvae) was almost a freak of nature. Every floating log or stick washed up on the edge was inhabited with hundreds of the spider mudeye. The lee side of trees in the water was encrusted with layers of empty shucks of the hatched dragon flies.

The growth rate of the trout matched the food supply. As a young man, the urge to proof of potency was to kill as many fish as you could, much like the hunter bringing home enough game to feed the whole tribe. Vast quantities of trout were killed. I am sure that this is an innate and natural urge and when you are young, it is a source of great pride and incentive. The same is true of the desire to achieve a great trophy and this sometimes lasts a lifetime.

Once  St George has slain the dragon it doesn’t always follow that he can claim the maiden. Sometime he feels sorry for the dragon that once he feared and respected. It is in the battle that character is formed, not in the kill. I still keep a few fish to eat, usually fish that have been hooked in the gill and who are bleeding, or fish that have knocked themselves around badly on a rocky beach or have been mishandled prior to release.

These circumstances provide an adequate supply. The flesh of fish that are spawning or slabbed out after spawning, or stressed by drought, is just about inedible. Another reason for maintaining a closed season.

Rick Furlong was in my class at High School and cursed with the same affliction. All waking thoughts dominated by when he would next go fishing. Where to go was not a problem. The supply was limitless.

After school every night, weekends, and sometimes midweek when we could coerce a parent to provide an absence note the next day. Sometimes our gear would be smuggled to school and we would abscond down the nearest creek, returning with muddy wet shoes in school uniform. On one occasion we were hitchhiking and a car stopped to pick us up. Yes, you guessed it. The driver was the school principal. We had absconded from a sports afternoon.

So began a fishing friendship that would take us on some wild adventures into remote and inhospitable places where legendary trout abounded.

Rick and I talked long and hard about fly fishing. We consumed everything available in books and magazines, but our efforts lacked a focus denied to us by key points of knowledge through practice and application. Our gear was totally inadequate; either hollow or solid fibreglass rods designed for spinning, old bits of worn out silk fly line and no knowledge of leaders. The fish caught were rare.

Nevertheless we had gained the most valuable skill of all. We knew about trout. We could detect the slightest movement. We could see fish clearly when others could not. We could second guess the fish, picking the most productive positions of each pool. We could induce a strike on a grasshopper or a lure in a pool that appeared lifeless. We were in tune with the cycles of the seasons and what each one would bring, and it was reputed that we could catch fish in a puddle.

Many big trout fell to our efforts and countless thousands of miles were traversed up and down streams and the country side. Such was a misspent youth.

Confronted by the need to make our way in the world, Rick and I went our own ways to Melbourne only to discover that we were both in Teacher Training. At different Colleges and courses, we would arrange to meet in the city at lunchtimes or between lectures so that we could pore over the gear in Turvilles or Hartleys, even Melbourne Sports Depot had a fly fishing section then.

The fly fishing section of the sporting goods department of Myers was located just beside the steps on the ground floor in Lonsdale Street and was managed by a loud, florid faced man who confronted customers in a pompous voice if they were at all indecisive. His name was Bluey Powell.

Bluey was an engaging wit who could be cultured and charming as easily as he could be confronting. He was immensely generous and Rick and I immediately fell under his influence.

We had never been able to afford a purpose built fly rod, so our early efforts had been doomed to failure through inadequate tackle. Bluey soon put a stop to that. When we handled beautifully crafted Hardy rods and shuddered at their price tags, he saw two young men trying to survive in Melbourne on studentship allowances and he took the rods from us, placing them back in the racks. That night we were at his home planing blanks he had selected for us from his vast store of Tonkin Cane under the house, in his workshop.

Reel seats and corks were glued, ferrules fitted and a couple of nights later, the snake guides were wrapped and varnished. I still have the first cane rod I ever made. It was every bit as good as the big soft wands that Hardy made because its firm action suited Australian conditions better.

It cost a fraction of the price. Suitably armed, Rick and I were ready to join the battle. We were instant purists. Nothing would do until we could catch every rising fish we had seen in our youth and any that dared to rise in our presence from that moment onwards.

Never again did we resort to bait or lure, it was fly or die.

Bluey conducted casting classes each Saturday morning, free to anyone who cared to join him on Ringwood lake. We learned more in one morning than we thought possible. I remember the thrill of double hauling a full line for the first time. Rick and I joined him on trips to the Western District lakes and he joined us on the Goulburn and all the surrounding waters.

In a short space of time we had made the Quantum Leap.

From this point it was constant discovery. Every time we got away fishing, the learning curve became steeper. We honed our skill, improved our gear, tied our own flies, studied the sub aquatic stream life and related it to the activity of the fish.

One example was nymph fishing. Bluey had taken a massive rainbow of about eight pounds out of Lake Linlithgow before our eyes. Twitching a damsel fly nymph alongside a weed bed. There had not been a movement. He had fished it blind to a likely spot. This was the apex of the art, the pinnacle of all skill. He had produced a specimen fish that made the most imperceptible take, a tiny twitch of the leader. Bluey had struck him, holding his head up to keep him out of the weed and played him to a standstill in a small bay choked with hazards.

Within a few weeks we had taken good fish on the nymph over Goulburn gravel beds, weed choked backwaters, small creeks, lakes, in muddy and clear water and yes, even a few that weren’t seen. Fished blind to likely lies, we produced fish that make imperceptible takes on the leader. In a few short weeks we had begun to unravel a whole other method of fly fishing that seemed to have limitless possibilities.

Once our College term was over we joined the casual Christmas staff at Myers, selling fly fishing gear to beginners and experts alike. We rapidly became conversant with all the literature and technical development that was taking place. Ken Steele, a member of the Board of Directors, frequented the counter and soon accompanied us on trips to our beloved Goulburn. He would arrive in Alexandra in his Mark Ten Jaguar, transfer his gear to my rusty and shocker less FJ Holden so that we could beat our way over tracks to Brooks’ Cutting and other remote and almost impassable access points on the river.

I digress too soon because it was Rick who was first to buy a car after we had turned eighteen. Like all the things he has done in life, his first car was a statement of his appreciation of the rare and unique qualities of craftsman built designer products. Like a Pezon and Michelle Ritz Parabolic rod, Rick chose a Citroen Light Fifteen.

This car oozed charm. You could smell the Gitanes, French cigarettes with black tobacco that had an aroma that would get a sniffer dog howling. A dashboard mounted gear change in a gate to hold the lever in position, completed the ambiance. This was the sort of car that you saw on flickering newsreels driven by Vichy French collaborators during World War Two. Nevertheless it was this car that took us all over the Snowy Mountains Scheme chasing trout. Through snow and roads that would cripple a camel we took that car. It was this car that introduced us to the Wild Kid.

 

The corner is an artificial formation caused by the collapse of willows into the main current on a long, slow bend in the Goulburn. The water backs up and the current boils deep as it strikes the obstruction. A reverse current comes off like a billiard ball with backspin. Over the years it has deepened and nibbled away at the bank, creating its own circular bay before the current is backed up depositing a line of floating scum and debris, and then is sucked back into the main river to continue its journey.

The Goulburn is a special river, rising in the steep mountainous spine of Victoria and twining inland, making its way across the flat lands to join the mighty Murray at Echuca. As the river leaves the steep gullies it is arrested at a narrow gap by Lake Eildon, which spreads its arms out all the way into the mountainous gullies of the Big River, Jerusalem Creek, the Delatite, the upper Goulburn and Jamieson. Here the water is held in its pristine quality, clear and deep and cold. The river then emerges from the base of the dam wall where, from three hundred feet down, the nutrient rich and freezing cold water discharges into the Pondage dam which then regulates the flow of water across the Goulburn Valley and into the Murray where it is used to water the farms producing fruit and milk and wine in the food bowl of inland Victoria and South Australia.

Here in the corner, a concentration of food is narrowed into bubble lines that circulate around the corner and build up into the scummy floating debris. Here he lies, concealed by the floating detritus.

The Goulburn is unique in that the cold clear water has been created by an artificial obstruction as much as the willows in the corner and the large trout that live there have been transported from the temperate latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere. Similarly, trout exist in South Africa, Tasmania, New Zealand and Chile and Argentina.

Everywhere the English colonialists spread around the earth they took their trout to acclimatise them to the New World.

The Goulburn is the perfect habitat. This is not without loss of course. The dams and the cold water have interrupted the breeding cycles of the natives but in their place we have been bequeathed a fabulous fishery.

He inched his way out to the front of the scum line and angling upwards in the current by planing on his fins, he rose to the surface. In one action he opened his gills and mouth to inhale the insect stuck and struggling in the thickened water surface. Down it went as the point of his nose dimpled the surface making a barely audible click as the water closed the gap leaving a tiny bubble and ring. I froze. The fish had risen almost at my feet.

I was kneeling to keep my profile off the sky, so the sound had come from behind and to my right. Any movement of my right arm would spook him. I waited.

Click, there he was again, the dimple spreading to where I could see it now.

He rose again further across so it was plain he was actively patrolling the whole front of the scum line pushed up in the corner. I backed up awkwardly, avoiding bumping the bank and then came up onto my knees again.

Another tiny kiss gave him away and out shot the line across the grass and angled up into the current. The fly began its drift into the trout’s position as the leader compressed back onto the line and the fly made its way backwards and settled in the scum. The current stopped, creating a little ripple of pressure, before folding under the tangle of debris. He rose again two feet to the right of my fly which was now beginning to be pushed under the front so that only a few hackles could be seen protruding through the surface. This was the point of tension. Should I lift and risk frightening the fish or wait long and hope I wouldn’t get hooked in the rubbish and scare the fish on the next pick up as the hook dragged through the debris?

Focusing on the compressed leader, I gave it a couple of seconds longer resolving to pick up if the leader showed signs of drag. I saw the leader move and when I looked for the fly it was under. I lifted as gently as I could to re-cast. The big fish bucked and burst through the water as he came out in a headlong rush. He bored deep into the corner where the vortex of current had deepened the bank. I could feel the solid thump of his tail as he drove into the deepest part of the corner. He had taken my fly as it had protruded below the surface sufficiently to call sunken.

I hadn’t actually seen the take, he had sucked it into his mouth below the surface without any movement save that of the leader.

Slowly the throb of his tail weakened and after several turns around the pool returned with his head down deep against the bank where he began to give. On his next turn around the corner I drew his head up to the surface and held him high with the rod on full side strain until he gave and his head surfaced.

Soon his runs lessened and his head remained up and I reached for my camera awkwardly with my left hand while I held him on a shortened line over my rod hand index finger. A hasty shot as he drew towards me, and the camera went back in the vest replaced by my little disgorger.

A small plastic disgorger has become a regular tool of mine. Studies in England and America have shown that catch and release can have a high morality rate unless the release is very careful. A break in the slime coat will allow fungus to form and spread and kill the fish over a couple of weeks. I shudder when I remember grasping a fish hard and holding him firmly to my chest while I recovered my fly with brutal treatment causing bleeding and bruising. I wonder how many fish I returned died as a result. I now prefer to keep a fish that is badly hooked or handled rather than return them to die slowly as a result of their injuries.

Slowly he drifted back into the corner and with a flick of his tail was gone, untouched by human hands. I would estimate his size at about two and a half pounds, a good Goulburn fish. The fly was a size fourteen beetle with green reflective back material pulled over a chenille body palmered with ginger cock hackle. This fly sits low in the film and will sink if not false cast a couple of times between presentations. It was a couple of swishes like this to wash off the slime and refloat the fly that drew my eye to the box. It was sitting on the stony bottom, partly buried and at first it looked like a squared off rock but it was too regular in shape.

I touched it with the tip of the rod and decided it was not a rock. The clear water of the Goulburn allows you to see the bottom in about eight feet of water. The high summer levels of the river are a result of the discharge of irrigation water from the lake and it brings with its clarity and coldness the best sight fishing of the year.

Needless to say this makes the trout very shy but it also brings them close into the corners and backwaters. Polaroiding comes into its own and the fish range widely given the depth and clarity. This sight fishing brings into play all the skills of hunting, stalking, and eye contact with the quarry. Often the slightest movement or flash of rod is enough to scare the fish and send it bolting off into the deep.

After Easter, with the onset of the Autumn break in the weather, the river level falls away and the flooded corners that were so productive become little more than stagnant side pools. This was how it was when I returned to the corner to fish the bubble line that now by-passed my once favourite high level haunt. The lower river levels bring their own set of problems, and bonuses. Lower levels mean higher temperatures which bring a vast array of insects on the hatch. Foremost are the olive duns and the blue wing olive spinners that drift the bubble lines in a continuous procession. On days of intermittent rain or overcast conditions the hatches come in waves. As the sun comes out the rise drops off and the hatch diminishes only to find an hour later after a brief autumn shower and semi-darkness due to black clouds over the sun, the fish rise again. First to emergers, and then the duns as the hatch, confused by the fading light, starts again. These are glorious times that last for the first month of Autumn.

He was sipping duns from a long, slow bubble line, taking about one in ten of the naturals. It was hard to tell, but he looked a good fish, and as he was the only one I could find I decided to put in some time on him. It took time to position myself so that a back cast was possible and he continued his ten percent showing. Out snaked the line, positioning the fly neatly in the run and down it came along the edge and over his last position. Nothing. Again the cast. Again the drift over the top. Nothing. A rise, tiny dimple and he was back, but only rising occasionally while a trail of naturals covered his lie. Whilst the adrenalin rush of sight fishing liberates, the anticipation felt as a fish takes in full view in high clear water,

the low water, dark sky and slow rise of Autumn challenges the intellect, as matches to the hatch are sought and the careful analysis of food and fly test the ability of the angler. This is the ultimate challenge. Paul Zunica ties a version of the blue winged olive on the loose description of a helihackle, parachute hackle or paradun. This places the body of the fly firmly in the water surface and the wing post is kept above the horizontally wound hackle around its base. These patterns could loosely be termed emergers but to be a true imitation of an emerging fly part of its representation should be under the water. They are an excellent imitation of the dun. The dun has only just struggled free of the nymphal shuck and is therefore still attached to the water surface and they are intended as duns. I sometimes think that the bend of the hook that hangs below the surface could sometimes be seen as a shrunken nymphal shuck still attached to the fly. This could even enhance the appearance of the fly to fish. These are the types of thoughts that flash through the mind when presenting to a sporadic riser. Several passes later I got a distinct rejection. The fly had managed to land in a gap in the line of naturals. A short rise indicated that the fish had risen, inspected and rejected the offering. This was the evidence I needed. Off came the BWO to be re-rigged with an emerger. A frantic search through the boxes that litter my vest and a careful examination of the lambs wool patch failed to turn up a single emerger pattern despite the fact that I frequently use them. I was skint, right out of emergers. The best I could do was use one of Phil’s Sawyer pattern nymphs. These tiny nymphs are tied on barbless hooks with fine copper wire and pheasant tail to make this classic pattern first used by the master of nymph fishing, Frank Sawyer. Sawyer’s pattern came about through the discoveries of the great G.E.M. Skues who so long ago applied the rules of entomology to the flies that fishermen use.

The nymph was tied on the tag end of the knot used to attach the paradun to it appeared as two flies tied right on the end of the leader with about one inch between them so it was suspended directly below the surface where the dry fly sat.

Out it went, the nymph entered the water with a plink and the olive paradun bobbed a couple of times on the surface but remained afloat. This was my substitute for an emerger. Down the drift it came surrounded by naturals. Pop! Down went the fly, not to a rise, but pulled under! Lifting the rod I felt suddenly and securely into a weighty fish that bore off deeply into the main river and laid side on to the current where I felt the solid thump of the tail. He had taken the nymph as the emerger. Full side strain soon took its toll and through the run he came, head up and gulping air when the disgorger slid down and with a click, released the tiny barbless nymph. He lay in the shallows, head upstream his gills flaring and pulsing while he regained his lost composure. Slowly he drifted back into the run and out of sight, no worse for wear. It was then I noticed the box. I had dislodged the caked on layer of silt and weed and I realised I was standing in the middle of the corner where I had first notice the box and touched it with my rod tip. I made a mental note to check it out later but now I was excited by my Sawyer nymph on a one inch dropper under an olive paradun so I set out in search of more risers. Three fish fell to this rig over the next two hours. One to the Olive paradun and the other two to the nymph. The rig is a pleasure to cast and I have employed it frequently since and given the right circumstances it is very productive.

The box was still there when I got back. In the failing light it stood out plainly on the exposed bed of the corner. I picked it up and found it heavily laden with stones inside. The rubber stopper came out easily to reveal a strong plastic box full of stones. The rounded corners made it very strong and wiping it clean in the half light, I could read the vague circular badge embossed on the front. It read ‘Springvale Crematorium’. It was a few seconds later before a smile spread across my face. I realised I was with a kindred spirit, who else would have their ashes consigned to the beautiful Goulburn? Surely it could only be a fly fisher. Was it his fishing mate who had the responsibility of depositing his ashes in the corner? As I walked home across the paddock that night my step was a little lighter. I had found a new friend, I had one of the best day’s fishing for a while and having added a few stones more into the box I had slipped it further into the deepest section of the comer. The technique I had developed to overcome my lack of an emerger pattern was an innovation and a revelation.

I am not superstitious or religious but I had a delicious feeling that the coincidence of the day’s events had a special quality. Somehow they were a connection in an unbroken stream of knowledge and ideas and poignant reminder that in our own way we are as temporary and ephemeral as Mayfly that live their whole adult life in a brief twenty-four hours.

I have shown Paul the corner and Phil had found it b& himself and James from the Hatchery cut his teeth with a good fish from the comer.

The comer is typical of many sections of riverbank on the Goulburn and in any of them you will find fish. The constant creation of forms through the flow and eddy of the stream provide countless rich ecological niches for the better fish to inhabit. The casting is challenging, often overgrown, and the electrifying sight fishing is always possible.

I will fish the corner again when I finish my self imposed closed season. I like the idea of seasons, they relate to the cycles of weather and water, hatches, and the life cycle of trout. Seasons help connect us in~ the continuum of nature and the heightened sense of anticipation that self denial brings. Respect for nature can be ensured by our respect for a vulnerable natural creature such as a trout exposed in its growth cycle at the time of spawning. There seems to be something inherently cruel about catching a fish whose hormones have caused it to behave in a way that abandons all its usual caution and protective behaviour. The urge to procreate being so powerful. The solution in Victoria would be so simple. The last Saturday in May, until the first Saturday in September, for all flowing waters. Lakes and impoundments would remain open but all the rivers and streams could be closed. The definition of “Moving Water” would be sufficient. The only other requirement would be to police the policy. Much of the manpower of the Department of Environment and Resources is available for this task at this time of year and should not be costly to administer.

How did I slide from reverie to Polemic? I find I cannot talk of my sport without a rage welling up inside me. The same rage that is felt by thousands of sporting anglers and club members all of whom have expressed their disgust at the present state of affairs in Victoria. No doubt my friend in the comer felt the same way and we all owe it to him to put this sorry state right. A simple comparison highlights the absurdity. The policy in Victoria allows no closed season, no bag limit, no size limit, for our premier sporting species. Compare it to the policy in New South Wales, Tasmania, New Zealand or other states and guess the odd one out. Then ask yourself, who has the best fishing?

Vale my friend in the corner

During the period from Christmas to Easter, the bookings come thick and fast. This is the time when most people get a holiday. Each morning a new client, a new piece of river and a new set of skills to pass on, be it polarising or high stick nymphing, everyone has different needs.

David and I run a guiding service on the Goulburn River at Thornton. As river guides, outfitters and suppliers; we provide a short-circuit for visiting fly fishers so that they can find out how to fish the river quickly, so that there valuable leisure time is maximised.

Part of this is the Drift Boat service we offer. Inflatable’s rigged with oar frames. Shortly after Easter we found a day in the appointment book that was vacant. The first one for months. I duly wrote in it, ‘Guides day off’, as neither of us had had a real day off since Christmas.

Anticipation enhances the delight of fly fishing and so it was with us.  As the day approached we thought of all the chores we had neglected. The backlog of obligations that had been mounting over the weeks and to divide our time into catch-up tasks seemed a churlish waste of good fishing time.

Conspiratorial glances and….

“Whaddya doing tommorrer?…”

“Goin Fishing”

“Me too…”

“Whaddya say we take the raft below Alexandra for a change?…”

“Ok see ya ’bout nine….”

I had studied the maps and aerial photos and I knew of some connected backwaters I wanted to explore. David must have been mining a similar vein.

Pressing through the cumbungi reeds and crack willow and like two explorers seeking the source of the Nile, we made our way onto the river. As the water became deeper we penetrated the final barrier of growth, the nose of the raft pushed out into the Goulburn. High and wide, fast and clear, the mighty Goulburn was at peak summer flow. Opposite were the high banks and open pastures of the lower Goulburn. Positioning the raft angled into the current, I drew hard on the oars and felt the inflatable keel lift and draw the boat into a rapid ferry glide across the current. As we approached the opposite bank I stood up and passed the oars to David.

“You fish first and I’ll hold you in the current opposite this bank”, he said.

Out snaked the line and the Knobby hopper landed with a plop. It sat there motionless below the bank as the back eddy slowly filled a belly in the line. ‘Clock’!, the sound of the take was an audible clunk of closing mouth in water. I set back on the rod and it went into a full arc. A good fish burst out of the water.

“Three pounds…,” said David as it crashed around.

Photographed, unhooked and released, I sat down to take over the oars.

“Your turn…,” I said smugly.

You have to squeeze every drop out of a situation like this when you hook a great fish on the first cast of the day. There is always a great deal of argey-bargey and banter about who is catching fish and who isn’t, that goes on in the raft.

Once we were in the back eddy off the main current we rowed up the river towards a tangle of snags. The polaroid’s allow you to inspect the bottom. Standing motionless in the front, David was scanning the bottom ahead, when I caught a movement to my left. Drifting off the weed bed and into the dark shadow was a huge rainbow about eight or nine pounds. I saw his spots and a glint of pink side as his pale green form melted out of sight. I told David who repeatedly passed the fly through the shadow to no avail. We made a vow to soon return to this spot and turned the boat into the fast glide to seek out the next good hopper bank around the corner.

David proceeded to catch several good fish. Then we became aware that this was a phenomenal day. Every fish in the river seemed to be up , including the leviathans. I have experienced days like this before, but they are rare, and you are indeed lucky if you happen to be there when it happens.

It must rely on a conjunction of all the factors. Water temperature, insect emergence or food supply, phases of the moon and tidal activity, barometric pressure, rising or falling or stable water level, who knows what the combination of factors are. I once read about a Maori fishing table for New Zealand that had developed from observation over the centuries. This linked cloud cover and fine days to phases of the moon and lunar calendar. First day of the full moon with cloudy sky, good fishing.

Sloan’s solunar table from America and other tables from England all claim to predict the activity of fish. The American tables were devised during the Depression as a money making exercise by someone trying to save his family from starvation. They have been sold ever since and for a fee you purchase them for your computer, suitably adjusted for all around the world. They all miss the point. Fly fishers go fishing despite all the direst warnings from the weather bureau or the least propitious signs from the entrails of dissected chickens. They go because can.

Other anglers view fly fishers with suspicion because of this. What weird rituals do they perform, what drives them to go fishing when clearly the signs say that it is pointless! When asked the eternal question, “When is the best time to go fly fishing?” I reply, “Whenever you can get away…”

This is the only way that you will be there when it happens. If it happens to you five times in a lifetime you have been blessed. After five you had better start watching yourself for the end is surely nigh.

This was such a day because the next fish turned out to be well over three and a half. He was rising in a reverse current under a big red gum. I positioned the raft and did a couple of holding strokes as David cast in his direction. He rose again, further down the bubble line. This fish was a cruiser, an omni feeder, taking anything edible as he mooched along.

David’s Knobby hopper was sitting up nicely when he rose about a metre away, but clearly headed in the right direction. ‘Slurp’, down it went and up came David’s rod with a buck as the hook went home. Under the raft he went and wild panic ensued. A bent rod pointing over the side while a jumping fish clears the water on the other. Shortly after he was subdued, photographed and released and then it started. I had retired prematurely after my first fish and now David had a bigger one, more fish and better fish to boot. My earlier gloating was rearing up to bite me. As compensation I get as big a buzz when someone else lands a beauty assisted by me, as if I had caught it myself, but this thought remained private.

Soon the fishing dropped off and long drifts elicited no response, no risers were apparent. We glanced at the watch, it was surely lunch time. “Four-thirty” said David as we munched on a chocolate bar. We hadn’t noticed the time, the concentration had been so intense.

A bit of rest and refreshment and we were into it again with renewed vigour, but the best had gone. Those few hours have passed into memory but the day had not quite finished with us yet.

We had entered a long slack section of river that was very deep and slow. Overhanging ti-tree from steep hillsides made for black bottomless holes with slow drifts circulating, marked by flecks of tiny bubble rafts.

Lazily we drifted past these corners searching with the Knobby hopper, making it plonk as it landed or bounced in off a tussock hard under the bank.

“There’s one…”

We saw the dimple rise together and David shot a long line across to the bay. A dimple followed and it seemed an eternity before he drew the rod up to a full arc. All hell broke loose as I scrambled for the camera. Under and out the other side he went, around the boat from front to back and then the acrobatics started. Coming from deep down he cart wheeled out of the water going end over end before crashing back into the deep and scorching the line through the water to repeat the jump four times, five times.

In danger of passing out from holding my breath while firing the camera in his direction, I passed David the unfolded net. David was probably practically hyperventilating from the adrenalin rush as he netted him while he still had some vigour. We try to do this so that they don’t become completely exhausted and require reviving before release. A rapid set of photos followed before the hook was extracted and the net lowered into the water. A few moments later a kick from his tail propelled him out of the net into the depths. We were shaking.

The run home to the car pick up point gave us time to reflect on the day. This last fish was in the vicinity of six pounds. Beautifully proportioned, an obvious young fish that was rapid grown to achieve a noble size. The large brown spots patterned his whole flank and under his shoulder. The best photo of the jumping fish shows an out of focus fish going out of frame about a metre out of the water. My reflexes weren’t quick enough to contend with the speed. But I do know that David treasures the shot of himself holding a magnificent brown, and the smile on his face says it all.

We had experienced a fantastic day and we know that it will be unlikely to be repeated for some time to come. It has since proven so, several returns have failed to produce such amazing results. Never the less the fishing has been good and if it was easy all the time,  we wouldn’t bother.

It is this contrast that keeps us going. Everyone has blank days now and then, and these are rewarded when we encounter a day when, rare as they are, it seems you can do no wrong. The fish glide up to your first offering and swallow it as though it is the last feed they will ever have. An endless procession of fish of all sizes are up and feeding and apart from messing up it up yourself, the opportunities are there for the taking.

On blank days you will find me with glazed eyes gazing into the distance on a raft and a river somewhere in my imagination. The memories of these few amazing days, more than compensating for the fish-less ones.

Such was the guides day off. The following day we had to front up and do it all again. Ah well, I suppose someone has to do it. Thank god we get a day off now and then.

We first met the Wild Kid on a trip to Eucumbene. The Citroen had been playing up, the generator had not been working and the battery had gradually drained until we limped into Corryong. Unable to buy a generator, even if we could have afforded it, the battery was given a rapid charge and we continued on our way, determined that nothing would stop us.

Unseasonable early snow flecked the windscreen and we drove only into the daylight so as not to use lights. Easter at Eucumbene or anytime onwards can be freezing cold with ice forming in your rod rings and inner crust around the waters edge, spreading out to paper thin glass in the bays. Days can be gin clear with a biting cold wind ruffling the lake and cracking your lips. Sunburn comes easily in that clear air and wind. The cold triggers the biggest trout into action. In readiness for the spawning season they eat heartily and their aggression rises as the time for mating ritual approaches.

Our favourite bank was on the Hughes Creek side of the Providence Portal arm. You could still cross the Eucumbene River bridge because it took some years for the lake to fill.

The bank rose quickly out of the lake and continued behind us on a slope until it flattened about eight feet above water level.

It was possible to cast with this behind you because it was devoid of bushes and you could sometimes bounce the point of your hook off when you failed to steeple cast high enough.

The wind howled down the lake at right angles and if you could unroll a loop across the water, the wind would pick it up and lay a curving cast down the wind. A few seconds to allow the red and black matuka to sink down a bit, and then start the retrieve. The next minute or two spent retrieving by short strips or handover method, would have you with your heart in your mouth.

A hump would appear behind where the fly should be, followed by a a crashing strike and a blistering run. If it was a big rainbow the  run would continue accelerating until a crack denoted the parting of the leader. A brown would on the other hand would start his slogging battle, short runs with head down deep and the best part of a full line out.

On a later trip we were to witness the ten and twelve pound rainbows when we volunteered to assist the fisheries officers measuring, scale sampling and recording the growth rate of fish held in wire pens on Swamp Creek. We carried these doped fish up to the recording table, and then returned them to the holding pen. Their heads and tails hung over our outstretched arms as we carried them. It was clear that these were the express trains that didn’t stop once you hooked them. We could only have held them with much heavier tippet than the six pound we used.

Despite frozen fingers and wind that cut right through a balaclava, Rick and I took fourteen fish between four and half past six, when the fading light and biting cold finally beat us. These fish ranged in size between three and six pounds and we both released big fish towards the end of the session. It seemed that one of us was connected to a fish the whole time. These were the Halcyon days of Eucumbene. It wasn’t always like the day described above, many days were fish-less and I remember a trip of five days when not a scale was touched.

The snow was building up on the roads and concern about the generator triggered our decision to leave. The boom gate on the Khancoban road could come down at any time as the snow got deeper. The top road past the Cabramurra water supply dam was out of the question. This dam will have a story of its own at a later date, but it had become part of a ritual of the trip home to stop and have a few casts here, before leaving the high country.

The road winds steeply downhill towards Cabramurra through tall alpine ash forests. The snow made the going tough and to our dismay, the old Citroen started missing and ran to a stop on the side of the road. Now we were in real trouble. We disconnected the battery and started walking down the road towards Cabramurra, taking turns to carry the battery.

The light was fading fast as we trudged along when we heard a truck coming down the hill. In the cabin were two teenage boys, a middle aged driver and an old man. They were driving an old tip truck loaded with cut blocks of firewood that were piled up in the back. When they stopped and offered to help us, having seen the stricken and abandoned Citroen, we were very grateful. The Wild Kid was ordered out of the cabin by the boys and told to ride up on the load to make room for us in the warmth. As he climbed out I noticed that he was not so old as he first appeared, but had terribly weathered features and red rimmed sagging eyes. His movements were slow and shaky and his clothing old, dirty, and reeking of alcohol.

The wood dump was in a disused gravel pit cut into the hill below the road and uphill of the Cabramurra township that consisted of a few workers’ huts and a central workers’ mess, that doubled as a place to eat with a bar up one end. Most of the men who worked here were single and had accents that were thick and unintelligible, they were very rough diamonds indeed.

The truck was backed up to the wood dump and the tipper was slowly raised. A muffled yell was followed by a fading high pitched stream of obscenities. We had forgotten that the wild kid was on the back. He rode that load of wood all the way to the bottom where we found him half buried in wood and snow, and somehow unhurt.

The battery was duly hooked up to the charger in the workshop on slow charge and we adjourned to the workers’ mess to warm up the Wild Kid by the pot belly stove. We purchased some beer and rum for our rescuers, who had also offered us the hospitality of their camp for the night. We returned to their camp in the bush down a rough track off the road. Here they had an old school bus set up as their home with a kitchen down the back and seats turned sideways for beds.

By the time we had cooked a meal and given the Wild Kid some rum and put him to bed, the bus had warmed up. We had a great night of hospitality and oiled by a few grogs, I got out the guitar and we all sang raucously about, “The Wild Colonial Boy,” our voices trailing off into the still night air and steep gullies in dedication to the “Wild Kid,” who snored away in rum soaked peace.

The following day Rick and I loaded two tipper loads of wood before lunch time and when the battery was returned after the second load, we left them enough fish for a feast, and departed. We made it home all the way on one charge of the battery by switching off the ignition on long down hill runs. The season was over for three months or more.

The sequel to the episode came later that year. Back again in September with a reconditioned generator, we camped on the Hughes creek side, in a sheltered gully. We fished the flooded flats, the high steep banks when the cross winds came, and the still quiet bays when the mudeyes were hatching in the moonlight.

Night fishing on the lake can be just a matter of chuck and chance it, or it can be gripping, with every sensory nerve fibre twitching to sense a noise, a boil, anything. It is a rush as to throw your flies out into the darkness and to feel it connect with a cruising fish.

The pleasure of casting in the black night is intensified because the only measure is the flex of your rod and the quiet swish of the line. Night fishing is a joy as much as it is a different type of adventure. Heading out from the warmth of the camp at ten o’clock at night takes a strong act of the will. The body craves the warmth of the fire or the sleeping bag, but the will to fish is stronger. The lunge of a big fish in the dark seems to be exaggerated compared to full daylight.

In January our days are divided into morning fishing from daylight until about eleven o’clock on the glorious rivers and creeks. Back to camp on the lake for lunch and an afternoon sleep, up in time for the evening rise on the lake. Dinner is late, about nine o’clock at night, and then we go out to night fish any time after ten thirty onwards, returning to camp when the fish go off the bite about one in the morning. Sleeping is not a problem when you crash, because you are aware that the whole cycle starts again at daylight and every moment of sleep is necessary to keep this pattern going for the whole week.

A week at Eucumbene can restore the soul of the jaded office worker or the fishing crazed appetites of the nineteen year old.

Naive nineteen year olds we were, the world at our feet. Before very long we would be burdened with careers and family but for a few blissful years of youth we would enjoy some of the best fishing the world could offer. Wild trout in a remote and wild environment.

After several days we needed to re supply the camp and drove into Adaminaby. After the stores were replenished, we headed for the warmth of the pub and on the steps we met the Wild Kid. We recognised the same clothes and red rimmed eyes. A glazed recognition spread across his face and then he urgently pressed some money on us to buy him a couple of flagons of fortified wine. Despite the hesitation, we did the deed and he asked if we could run him home.

As we let him off at the front gate of a derelict house his wife came out to greet us. She had the same ancient, world-weary look. She fixed us with a watery red eye as the Kid climbed from the car and they went into the house together with their brown paper bags. We returned to the pub and had a drink to the Kid!” a little less sure of the certainty of youth.

Ours was a fabulous existence. We fished Nungar Creek back in the hills, Eucumbene River from Rocky Plain to the Suicide Hole, and Tantangara Creek going in from Kiandra. Over the top into the next watershed at Rules Point and out from Adaminaby to the Murrumbidgee at Yaouk. I recall standing in a huge marsh of ten acres or more, surrounded by rising fish located in the channels of clear water interlacing the vast beds of weed and snow grass. Out of this sponge the water drained into a small creek that fed into the Murrumbidgee.

These fish fell to a hare’s ear nymph stuck in the surface film and they charged up the run to take a Knobby hopper dropped on the edge of the weed. I spooked dozens in the shallow weed and they departed leaving big bow waves as the only hint of their size. I hunger to return to these fields of delight and having walked in the water meadows of the Itchen below Winchester Cathedral on the most famous of all the world’s chalk streams, nothing compares.

If I had grown up fishing the Central Lakes of Tasmania or the South Island of New Zealand, I would have been equally blessed; but the wild gorges and the snow grass plains where I spent my early years were what made me the fly fisher I am.

In between trips to the Upper Murray, Monaro and the great impoundments of Eucumbene, Tantangara and Jindabyne, I returned to my home on the Goulburn for weekends. Many years have passed since these early trips at the start of the sixties, and I have been back many times since, but sweetest of all, like your first trout on a fly, were those cold clear days of youth.

Hindsight, they say, is a wonderful thing. In this respect we all have 20/20 vision. Knowledge and wisdom are acquired from experience, and experience is useless unless we learn from it.

After fishing the Goulburn River for more years than I care to admit, I am able to provide anecdotes and stories that give a structure for understanding how this brilliant river works In the space of a year a few of these will be the highlights of your sea son. Here are a few I have had myself.

Army Grubs

Army grubs first begin appearing early January-these caterpillars are grey/olive with mottled sides. Soon fly fishers notice them in stomach contents and every time a good fish is recorded in the journal kept on the counter of our small fly fishing shop and Guide Centre at Thornton, a stomach analysis is done and kept in a jar of Methylated Spirits while we work out what is going on. Caterpillars (army grubs) are a pest of the grass seed crops that are planted on the riverbanks.

They are called ‘Army Grubs’, because of their habit of ‘marching’ or moving on a front until they reach an obstacle like a river. We first recognised them on about the fifth of January ’95 so it will be worth looking for them to recur about the same time again in ’96, depending on the weather. This is a good method of predicting.

How to fish them is experience and memory. Marching army grubs have the habit of scaling every object by arching their back and reaching out with the head to feel around. If there is only space then they simply release their grip and fall to the ground and continue. This means that when they reach the river they crawl out on a blade of grass or twig, feel out into space by extending their bodies and nodding their head and then dropping with a ‘plop’ on the water.

The grubs are shocked when they hit the cold water and coil into a hard round ball as they react, but they only drift a few metres before uncurling to full length, giving a weak struggling wiggle.

There was a rise. There was another. Two fish were rising steadily and there was no doubt they were taking grubs. I had nothing in the box even remotely like a grey green caterpillar, but a quick strip of an olive Matuka gave me an elongated green body roughly the size. Unfortunately it wasn’t likely to float, so much dressing and false casting was needed to keep it anywhere near the top. It drifted past the first trout a couple of centimetres below the surface. Nothing.

More drying and casting and the same thing again. Nothing. On the third cast I allowed it to drift downstream to where the second fish had been rising and as I raised the rod to pick up I was solidly into a fish that walked on the surface tail first for a metre much to my shock. Learning from this, after putting back a fat little brown about half a kilo, I moved upstream to where I could actually see the riser.

A nice fish of about a kilo was rising to every caterpillar that was drifting past. Sighting upstream I could see the dimple plops of grubs going in, so I thought that despite being pressed for time I would have an hour of fantastic fishing. Twenty minutes later and countless refusals, I had put him down. At no time was he going to take a sunken fly. The heavy hook of the Matuka had beaten me.

The next few days were bliss with many fly fishers taking advantage of the fact that the army grubs were ‘on’, if were prepared to walk and look for the places where they were falling in the river.

It didn’t take long at the tying bench to develop a range of caterpillar patterns- the best one proved to be olive chenille with a twist of deer hair for flotation clipped and trimmed. A tiny hackle a front from a ginger Metz cape and were ready to test it out. It worked like a gem and soon it became a feature daily report. It is now carried in our boxes from Christmas day onwards, ready for that moment when the river runs high, the days are hot and ‘army’ comes marching by.

Hopper Season

The second entry of note that typifies months of the fishing on the Goulburn through January and February is hopper season. It begins in late December when small immature ‘hoppers swarm around the edges of the high flowing river. Paddocks with cattle in them are best.

Fish seem untroubled by stock on the banks hut a human shadow or profile on the sky will spook them fast! Trout love to hear the splat of a ‘hopper on the surface. They peel off the stony bottom and come up looking for the hapless ‘hopper. As the hot north wind blows from the centre of the Australian continent down across the southern states and the dry grass crackles in the heat, locust hopper converge on the green strip that is the edge of the Goulburn. Damp and cold is the ‘hoppers enemy, they become lethargic and die. Hot and dry is the grasshopper’s delight. Flying in clouds they clatter out over the river, banking and turning in the wind, losing altitude as they struggle against the wind to make it back.

While they are at their peak in January and February most can make it, except for one or two that hit the water with a ‘splot’ and drift helplessly downstream alongside the hank, kicking and struggling until that big dark shape rises up underneath them, and in a second is gone leaving only a swirl and spreading rings to show where he has been.

Grasshopper feeders are as selective and consistent as those that sip baetis or blue winged olives. When God created deer hair he put it on a deer so it would grow and be nourished in order to be ready for the ‘hopper season. This is its primary purpose. Australia was introduced to deer hair flies in the late 1950s when a fly called a ‘Missoulin Spook’ appeared. This huge deer hair fly was closely followed by the ‘Muddler Minnow, which had a clipped deer hair head.

Using the Muddler as a grasshopper was only a short step and then tying our own version with grasshopper wings, head and legs with a yellow chenille body saw them in wide use by the early 1960s.

Various patterns have emerged since but the original Knobby hopper’, still ranks as one of the best flies for the Goulburn in summer. Tie them big and put them down with a plop. Most ‘hopper ties hear little resemblance to the big locust hoppers that inhabits the green fringes of the Goulburn as it runs hard and high, clear and deep. There are many ‘hopper patterns and they continually develop as new materials provide foam bodies and plastic wings hut the deer hair ‘Knobby’ with its low but unsinkable buoyancy places its part way through the surface.

Dun Flotillas

The third notable event that occurs on the Goulburn in the spring and autumn is the huge hatch of duns. These large immature mayflies hatch from their nymphal shucks and emerge on the water’s surface where their ungainly wings flutter as they crawl out through the surface skin. Like hundreds of sail boats they float down the runs, awkwardly taking flight only to crash-land a metre or so away. Pale and creamy in colour they are the duns of the orange and red and black spinners.

The fish prefer these dons to the mature adults and once the rise is on they will settle down to slurp the duns with gusto. Like the start of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, a flotilla of upright little sails drift down the bubble line only to he sipped off the surface by active little fish, or sucked under with a dimple rise by a monster lurking hard against the bank.

They start in November and continue on until the higher levels of the irrigation season in later December when the water levels rise and become colder despite summer temperatures. These duns are always present on the Goulburn but the halcyon days for them are in spring. After the summer irrigation season is over and the levels fall, the duns appear again in vast clouds. There is the end of March through to April to look forward to. From the Pondage through to Alexandra, the dun hatch offers an exciting time with the greatest concentration being between Thornton and the Breakaway. These times are brief but the fishing is equal to anywhere in the world and this is rightly ranked with the caddis hatch on the Shannon Rise, the Green Drakes on the Madison in Montana or the Iron Blue duns of the English chalk streams.

Sedges provide some really exciting fishing as they entice the trout to reveal their position in the run. The mature sedge or ‘Grannom Moth’ is a large pale brown fluttering insect with two pronounced antennae. They have the habit of ‘dipping’ on the water. This happens twice. Once when they are hatching, when they fly upstream for about a metre only to crash with a flutter on the surface, drift hack, and then take off again.

This behaviour continues fluttering further and further upstream until they achieve full flight. The second stage is when they are egg laying. They dip down onto the water over a fast run and appear to bounce themselves up and down on the surface. Closer examination reveals a bright green egg sac attached to their rear from which eggs are deposited into the water by this action. These grannoms send the fish crazy by this activity. They take them as they hatch, as they skate along trying to take off, and as they are egg laying.

A quiet trout may be lying on station minding his own business when one of these grannoms will start his activities directly overhead. You can almost hear him grinding his teeth, rolling his eyes and trembling his lip until he can stand it no longer and makes a wild slashing snap at this tantalising insect. They incite rainbows of about half a kilo that have developed the knack of jumping clear of the water to snap them in mid air. Goulburn fly fishers love it when the grannoms are on. They stalk the fast runs watching for the slashing risers as well as fishing blind across the likely lies. Using a large March brown on a size 10 or 12, they plop it down like the behaviour of the natural. Tied with partridge hackle the big March brown or Hardies Favourite can be improved with a green ball of dubbing at the bend of the hook.

Despite the sedge having wings that fold down flat the March Brown appears to be fluttering still at least that must be what the trout think because they take them with a ‘chomp’. Often methods develop that work well despite not being strictly according to theory. It is better to build on and further explore things that work rather than stick with a theory that doesn’t produce a thing. The skating caddis is a good case in point. The elk hair caddis is an excellent pattern to take fish that are on caddis, but it works much better if it is placed beyond the rise and dragged into their line of vision before allowing the drift to continue across the rising fish. A drifted only fly will hardly take a fish, whereas a skated fly will more likely induce a strike. By the way, an elk hair caddis tied large with a green dubbing ball on the tail doubles as a grannom moth too.

Polarising and Poking Around

Clear high water allows you to use polarising sunglasses to see into the Goulburn to depths of two metres or more. This quality is unique as the Goulburn is a tail water that delivers water from the bottom of Lake Eildon where sediment has long since settled. When the Murray Darling basin demands irrigation water in the height of summer, the Goulburn flows at its peak. As the river rises up the banks to meet this demand the fish follow. Poking into flooded backwaters and drains they seek out drowned insects and grubs.

Hot, dry weather brings out the gum beetles as they emerge from the pastures and around the bases of the red gum trees that line banks. The air fairly hums with beetles as the cock open their wing cases and buzz around the trees in swarms. Awkwardly they crash into each other or obstructions that see them fall into the water only to buzz in vibrating circles until they are washed downstream under the willows and along the high banks.

Gum beetles, tiny little iridescent blue beetles, soldier beetles with bright yellow abdomens and thoraxes with a steel grey glistening helmet and coat, Scarabs and dung beetles, Christmas beetles and tea-tree beetles, all share the same fate, to be washed into a corner or backwater.

Here is where the fun starts. Occupying this rich ecological niche where food is concentrated, is the typical Goulburn trout. While the babies race around jumping in the fast runs and the kilo fish hang in the glides and bubble lines, the bigger fish plus cruise a beat in these backwaters. Lazily they drift through the still water, with an occasional twitch of the tail to propel them slowly, or hang motionless under the bank, their gills the only movement to give them away, until a beetle, suspended on a greased leader and tied with peacock hurl, drifts ever so slowly into their window. The heart pounds and the adrenalin rises, even before he has noticed the fly. This ‘window fishing’, or ‘aquarium fishing’, is a Goulburn delight that requires stealth and eye ball contact with the fish. You must not pound the bank as the slightest bump is transferred to the water. Shadows and profiles must be positioned so that none hit the water.

Fishing can be in pairs with one calling the shots from a vantage point with only a nose and the polarising sunglasses over the bank.

Cast for cast leaders are tangled or flies are hung up when shot at the metre square opening that is not overgrown. Finally when one gets a cast in, the philosophy is, ‘Get ’em on first and worry about getting them out later,’ Inhaling the size 14 beetle by expanding his gills, he hangs motionless as, ‘He’s got it,’ causes the caster to raise the rod and set the hook. Pandemonium.

The Goulburn is a glorious river. Big and fast at its peak in summer, low and clear in autumn, brilliant in spring. These brief episodes are only a taste of what the Goulburn has to offer. Beetles, caddis, stonefly, and countless others continue to provide great sport as they hatch and develop and the fish find them.

The Stimulator is a Stonefly pattern used in the western states of the USA. The Royal Stimulator has a band of red in the centre of the body like a Royal Wulff or Royal Coachman.

The Royal Stimulator We use this fly as an indicator rigged above a #16 Beadhead Flashback Pheasant Tail Nymph. We have arrived at this combination after years of trials and elimination by our three full time guides. By comparing notes between the guides and constantly refining and developing both the techniques and flies selected we have arrived at what we think is the best working combination.

The Royal Stimulator is threaded onto the leader. Past the point of the leader down through the eye of the hook. This allows the fly to sit correctly on the water with the bend of the hook exposed should a fish take it. Then add a metre of tippet by tying a double blood knot to the end of the leader. At this point the Royal Stimulator is sliding freely up the leader above the knot. After you have attached the tippet, trim the tags on the knot. You can leave a couple of short tags as these help to stop the sliding stimulator over the knot. If you are using a #12 or larger you will need to leave these tags about 2mm in size. Tie on your flashback pheasant tail nymph. It should have a old plated bead to be most effective. We use a #16 as it is life-sized to the majority of nymphs in the invertebrate drift. The invertebrate drift takes place every day The Flashback Pheasant Tail Beadhead Nymphas the hatch gets going. The nymphs leave the safety of the underside of the stones, crawl up the leading edge and let go, being swept away by the current. They will recolonise another stone or if they are ready to hatch they will head to the surface. To do this they spit their shuck or cell exuding a bead air which then changes their neutral buoyancy to float them up the surface as they are swept downstream in the current. Some nymphs swim vigorously towards the surface to assist their ascent to the top. Meanwhile the trout takes up station and move left and right taking nymphs as they drift past.

The pheasant tail nymph pattern realistically represents the size, shape and colour of the natural nymphs. The beadhead sinks the nymph into the food lane and strike zone. The flashback and gold bead reflect the light in the same manner the bead of gas exuded split shuck shines as a mirror of light. Incidentally if you were to observe the invertebrate drift with a face mask and snorkel, the nymphs shine like a headlights of a car when this bead of gas reflects the sunlight.

The Royal Stimulator does two things. First it represents a grannom, or large long horn caddis which are common on the Goulburn and are eagerly taken by the trout. When it is cast upstream in a searching manner it arrives in a fish’s vision with a plop. Often inciting a fish to take even when it is not rising. The florescent tied through the hackle of this fly also attracts their attention and often induces a fish to rise. More often it focuses the fish’s attention and they then see the drifting nymph a few seconds later. We frequently see a fish rise to inspect the Search the runs,glides and riffles methodicallyRoyal Stimulator and reject it only to turn and take the nymph as it passes. Those who wear a good pair of polaroids like spotters will see this happen often.

Should a fish take the stimulator which occurs reasonably often but less frequently than the nymph, then you should strike as you would any dry fly take. Having set the hook the stimulator will slide over the knot down to the bottom of the tippet so you don’t have loose line with the nymph on it being dragged around by a fish and catching on the nearest snag. People often ask how the stimulator works to set the depth the nymph sinks to. When you cast forward the stimulator simply slides down the leader and sits on the knot. Then the metre of fine tippet allows the nymph to drift down towards the bottom. We prefer runs about knee deep, casting upstream and watching the stimulator drift back towards you. The nymph sinks back on an angle (never directly below the floating X denotes the casters positionsstimulator)and as result any signal that you have a take is delayed. At this point you must strike quickly or the fish will have rejected the fly. This is demonstrated on our video, An Introduction to Fly Fishing the Goulburn River’. The rule about striking is this, strike at every hesitation the dry fly makes. Often takes on the slow drifting nymph are barely noticeable so strike at everything, one hundred per cent. Don’t assume it has touched the bottom or hooked on weed, tighten to see if it is a fish. You will be surprised, often it is.

Repeated casting upstream in a searching pattern starts with a short line. About a rod length plus the leader. Then gradually extend the cast in the next search pattern by the leaders length only. Remember, your leader is nine feet long (about a rod length) plus a metre of tippet, about twelve feet in total. The temptation is to start false casting and reach right up the pool or run to get the longest drift possible. This is fatal because when the fly line lands you have scared every fish in the run. Search slowly and gradually upstream extending your cast by the leaders length each time. We call this leapfrogging the leader, or overlapping the invisible bit, that is the monofilament leader and tippet. Avoid laying the fly line on the water you are searching until you have several drifts over it with the two flies on the leader and tippet. The shadow of a fly line will spook any fish present particularly in the beautiful, gin clear waters of the Goulburn River.

Use a search pattern to thoroughly cover the run with gradually extending line length ensuring Line management techniquethat you have prospected the whole area thoroughly before taking a couple of steps forward to start the whole process again. Casting upstream you should retrieve the line over your index finger of the rod hand in strips (see photo), picking up the slack as it drifts back towards you.

I like to carry the line in large coils in my left hand so that it is easy to shoot on the next cast. If it does wash down behind you in the current this is no big deal. The important thing is to strip the loose line back over your index finger so that you can strike at the tiniest hesitation of the fly. Striking is not a violent action only a tightening to test if a fish has taken the nymph, the rod can be lowered again allowing the drift to continue. As the fly drifts back strip the line over your index finger pointed the rod at the fly. Prevent a belly forming in the line which may drag the dry fly and nymph making them behave unnaturally. As the drift comes back past your previous casting position I like to raise the rod, roll the line forward with a roll cast and then pick off the water with a back cast and shoot the forward cast up so that the leader lands over a new unfished section of water.

Ensure that you fish at a depth that will maximise your chances. I like to wade just over knee deep casting ahead over water no more than a metre deep. Deeper than this and the nymph is not close enough to the bottom. Look ahead as you fish and seek out the darker green pockets that indicate drop offs, pot holes, boulders or any bubble lines, current concentrations or current sea,s. This we call ‘structure’ so fish the structure, visualising your nymph drifting through these pockets whilst watching the floating fly to detect any hesitation. Remember that there is sufficient biomass to support a trout every five square metres. They will not be evenly distributed so search the structure. There are plenty of fish as evidenced by the success detailed in recent reports, most of which were taken throughout the day before the hatch and evening rise took place.

You can vary this two fly rig by using larger heavier nymphs in rougher, faster water with deeper pockets to search. The palmered hackle and the elk hair keep the stimulator riding high all day if you remember to gink it well before you start. Saturate the stimulator with the silicon oil of your choice and it will ride high all day. This rig and combination has worked well in Geoof explaining how the rig worksTasmania, New Zealand, Patagonia and North America. The same rules apply.

The sliding stimulator combines dry fly fishing and upstream nymphing that exploits the surface and subsurface drift. The job is fly fishing. This is why we fish this way. Chemical fluorescent dough, big balls of pink fluff, polystyrene bobby corks with adhesive tabs and sheep’s wool with swivels are not fly fishing and we prefer to fish with flies. The stimulator represents the big fluttering sedge called a grannom, the mayfly nymph by the pheasant tail flashback, each performing a task. It is then down to you. Visualise that fish every five square metres and seek it out. Remember this is only one way to fish. There are dozens of them and we will bring them to you as timing determines which ones should be applied.

Geoff Hall