Category: Short stories

Looking back at when I first started guiding I almost cringe as to how naive I was when it came to what my role was as a guide.  My perception was far removed from the reality and challenges of what was actually involved, and as I soon learned, there’s a lot more to it than just getting someone onto a fish!  Move forward seven solid seasons with the help and support of some of the best mentors in the country, and I’m ready to try and define what it is that we do and how we do it.

Ego is a Dirty Word!!!

The first lesson I learned as a guide was that ego only gets in the way of learning. Before you go out and spend thousands of your ‘hard-earned’ on gear, you need to take a moment or two to round up any ego you have and put that trip into an old footy sock and stuff it away somewhere that you’ll forget about it, for the weekend anyway. The spirit and harmony that I search for on a river is so far removed from trophies and championship accolades as you can possibly get.  A day on the river shouldn’t be driven by a desire to be competitive, quite the contrary. It’s a chance to get away from that sort of life pressure, while you absorb yourself in nature and become as insignificant as possible.

We’re All Individuals!!!

Who would have thought that all those hours spent bored out of my mind in endless corporate training modules while selling my soul to big Telco’s would have come in handy as a fly fishing guide?  Now it’s the first hat I put on in my role when I meet my clients. It’s almost like a sales pitch where the sale has already been closed.  It’s important now to do an exploration of the person’s individual needs, and manage any unrealistic expectations. There is no ‘one size fits all’ way to guide and this is an ultra-important part of the role. If I was to put every client I’ve ever worked with into the same room, I couldn’t imagine a more diverse audience of people.  The river is a great leveller and this diversity is where the true rewards are in guiding.  Delivering a tailor made unique experience to everyone I take onto a river is what I aim for as a guide, with the goal being to make that person love their fishing a little bit, or a whole lot more, at the end of the day.

Getting a fish or five is just the bonus plan.

We’re Absolute Beginners!!!

The biggest mistake I can make as a guide is to assume that the new client I’m working with, who has been fly fishing for 20 years is going to be an easy day. I’ve done it twice and without going into detail, apart from the headache I created for myself, there is a good five minutes of stand-up in it too. Never Again!!!

The beauty with absolute beginners is that you know the process to make it easy, but people can build up an array of nasty habits if left unchecked for 20 years.  It really doesn’t matter what level an angler is perceived to be at; a simple check of how a client’s gear is set up can immediately provide me with a clue or two, on how to improve things on the water for that person.

I’ve been lucky enough to learn from many clients at GVFFC who have had varying degrees of disability and learning difficulties that the simpler we keep it, the easier it is and the better it gets.  Refocusing on those key basic elements and taking the effort out of it can often be all that is needed to really help someone become a lot more confident (and proficient) on the river.

I See You’ve Been Practising!

As clichéd as it sounds, practice does make perfect! Anyone who wants to be better at fly fishing should make time to at least practice casting on a regular basis, once they have learned the basic skills.  Picking up the rod 2-3 times a season isn’t going to advance your skills a hell of a lot. Some people are happy to hack it out and don’t really care whether or not they catch a fish, that’s cool too. But from a guide’s perspective you’re wasting your time and money if you aren’t prepared to do at least some modicum of homework on the back of a guided session.

It usually augers for a great days guiding when a ‘beginner’ returns for a follow up 1-1 guide and it quickly becomes apparent that they have put in some hours behind the wheel of the rod they bought, at the onset of this disease we call fly fishing.  It’s all about confidence now and helping them to exploit that 9 foot piece of graphite in their claw to the max.  This doesn’t mean unloading the entire fly line, its more about using the energy you can throw out its tip in ways that benefit you on the river and how that 9 foot of extra arm length can give you the reach you need to get at a fish without spooking it.

What’s really important to me is that at the end of the day my client walks away feeling really positive and confident with their fishing. Not in a big headed way, but in a way where they aren’t afraid to experiment, and to make mistakes. There is that breakthrough moment when you just know you’re seeing the birth of a competent angler, as evidenced by their self-diagnosis of a particular error and what is causing it.

Once you reach this point with someone you are not far from finding that sense of freedom that the river affords us in our pursuit of happiness.

So You Think You Can Fish!!

Please forgive the angry ‘Kraut’ in me but I want to put this out there…. there is no such thing as a genius when it comes to fly fishing. There are a few blokes out there that might think otherwise, but my best advice for them is to put a plug in it and give their other mouth a go!  There have been times in the last 7-8 years where what I do has been put to question, and even attacked by people who don’t have the faintest fricking idea of what a professional guide does or why people would need one.  This was very apparent when I was working above the lake and was highlighted by a confrontation I had with a bloke during what I had planned as a quiet ‘day off’ fish on the Delatite.

Apparently, my guiding a handful of clients on this particular section of river was going to destroy it, and that people shouldn’t be taught to fish, rather they should learn themselves and take a lifetime to just reach a level called mediocre! I was berated like a child by this bloke who banged on about how knowledgeable and experienced he was, how well he fishes and how much he respects the environment. All this after marching in a straight line for 200 metres with a fairly aggressive posture; just to spout all this crap at me.

It was pretty full on, and to be honest, it rattled me quite a bit at the time. As a result, I probably tuned into the anti-guide radar while getting my head around it and what I reconciled, is that the negative crap comes from a sense of fear or intimidation, and this particular incident went entirely against the grain of why we started fishing in the first place. To chill out, relax and get away from angry arseholes.

I’m pretty much an old Hippy at heart and what I’m selling is more about peace and love and nature and all that good stuff. The river should bring out people’s best; not misguided agro.

There is a real sense of harmony when on a river and I’m anti anything that upsets that.

Bottom line is, I have never had a client rock up and teach me something new or show me how to do something better. There’s a lot of people out there that can cast really well, yet they can’t fish very well. When it comes to catching a trout in a river, casting is about 20% of the entire equation.  50% of it is what you do with your rod tip and line from the time it hits the water and the other 30% are literally one percenters and the ability to learn and adapt quickly to the ever-changing environment of the trout.

The Passion of the Guide.

The work related comment I never get sick of hearing goes along the lines of “geez, you guys are passionate”.  I know it’s different for all of us guides, but at times we do feed off each-other, in that we do get excited and quite animated at times during the course of our work.  It’s hard not to smile thinking about in Bo in full flight during a beginner’s workshop.

Imagine if Steve Irwin was a Serbian Trout hunter with a fly rod in his hand, that’s Bo in full flight, or when thinking about David False casting, while doing commando rolls to make a point to a beginner. That also brings a smile to my face. Or then there’s Antony scrubbing his Drift Boat at 10 pm in readiness for his morning drift clients after finishing up after dark with today’s job. That’s just our passion and dedication being demonstrated and although I don’t see it myself, there have been plenty of times when my exuberance has captured the attention of others, whilst banging on about something pretty basic like a leaders or the virtuosity of catch and release.

We all bring something to the table and try to make it as entertaining as possible for all of our clients, but it’s the passion for the work that we all share which bonds us together as a group.

We all have different roles to play at GVFFC and things work well because of the wonderful dynamic we have between the guides and the operation as a whole. We all have different teaching styles that complement each other and we are continually looking at what we do to try and make it even better. Even Jackie, our cleaning lady, who does a wonderful job of looking after our guests by ensuring the cleanliness and maintenance of the accommodation, adds great value to our overall customer experience.

My best Analogy for what we do is this. When we choose to embark on this fly fishing journey, it’s like opening a box containing a 50,000 piece jigsaw puzzle.  Regardless of whether you have just opened the box or have been working on that puzzle for 50 years, I’m certain we can help fast track your quest.

That being said, the puzzle will never be complete, there will always be hundreds of missing pieces, they’re the ones that we search for every-day we spend on the river. The advantage of a day out with a guide, is that we have enough of the puzzle in place to give you a good look at the big picture.

 

The evening air has a definite edge and this morning’s mists were slow to lift. Like me, the valley seems reluctant to rouse itself from slumber and awakens in slow incremental stages. In the cycle of nature’s rhythms, this is a tranquil and measured time of year, there is an air of unhurried deliberation, a savoring of the moment. Autumn has about it an air of civility and a meandering gentle pace that tends to set the mind to rumination.

The leaves of the willows and poplars in the valley have already turned, decorating the river banks and backwaters with their fallen leaves. These heralds of the approaching close of season float bravely out in the currents, delineating the bubble lines and eddies that meander down between banks swathed in green and gold. Their colours are heightened by the soft afternoon light that baths the valley at this end of the season. It bathes the valley with gentle warmth and imbues the surrounding hills with a golden glow.

The aerial ballet of the swallows and swifts seems less frenetic than usual, as they sweep, glide and pirouette above the water. Occasionally one makes a swooping pass at my fly as it drifts, but is never fooled by my clumsy imitation. Lucky for me my quarry often possesses a less discerning and critical eye than these feathered acrobats.

The rains are late this season and the tributaries and smaller streams are low and slow, tantalizing and tough. Their usually boisterous flow has ebbed to a sedate trickle and the glass smooth pools have become testing and somewhat unforgiving arenas. It’s a time of long leaders, fine tippets and tiny flies. Engrossing and exasperating all at once. Perhaps it’s a form of masochism, but it’s at times like this and in places like these that an angler’s skill is truly tested and it’s through this testing that we all continue to learn and develop.

For myself it’s the ones that get away, the fish that kick your butt and scorn your best efforts, these are the fish that keep bringing me back. Amongst the sharpest memories from any season are those that come from encounters where my spotted adversary has been victorious. As the years have gone by I’ve come to accept these defeats with a semblance of grace, I don’t rant, fume and throw rocks anywhere near as often as I used to. Doubt not that I have sworn and plotted bloody vengeance on many occasions. But I must confess that on those occasions where the return engagement has gone my way, the elation is tinged with a disquieting feeling of something important lost.

It must be autumn that sets the mind to wander down paths such as this; its pace allows ample time for reflection on the season past. A review of fish caught and lost, new waters explored and old haunts revisited. Mental notes to return and explore that creek, stream or stretch of water that time didn’t allow this season. It’s an extensive list, that last one. A list that would probably take at least three lifetimes to exhaust as it now stands. Strangely this stark fact never seems to stop me from regularly adding to its number.

We anglers are an optimistic breed by nature. Neither logic, nor even a growing awareness of the limits of ones mortal span can seriously diminish this rampart optimism which is the identifying characteristic of all true anglers.

There are few bugs about on the water today so I reluctantly remove the dry and start search with a nymph. Waiting for the hatches that I just know will start any minute now. Truth is it’s still a bit early for the Olives and Sulphurs, the headline hatches of this time of year. But then, when has anything as mundane as truth swayed the mind of an angler on the water?

On queue a fish rises in the bubble line. It’s a splashy energetic affair, most probably the work of one of the many fat little rainbows that dash and dart about this stream. These belligerent bundles of pure energy are normally the first to get onto an insect hatch, but they are just as likely to rise once or twice then vanish without a trace. Today it appears to be the latter, but hope springs eternal and there are still many miles of river before me.

The gravel crunches softly beneath my feet and the crisp air has an earthy autumn river smell. It’s a very different scent to the heady perfume of spring, with all its vibrancy, promise and vitality. This autumn smell is tinged with elements of sadness and finality. For just as surely as the cycle of the seasons shall return again next year, this season is already on its way to becoming memory.

~Mick McBrien

Between the embers of summer and the close of the season, there occasionally appears a window of exquisite blue-sky clarity. Some seasons it doesn’t happen, a cause for some sadness. In other years it’s missed due to work commitments, a tragedy.  But sometimes, ah yes sometimes, these crystal bright days line up like a jewel necklace. Still, bright and clear days.  Illuminated days, like childhood memories of summers past.

The early morning fog glides through the hollows, a ghost river tracing a memory of its ancient course, over the season’s first fields of silver dew. The willows and poplars that line the riverbank have changed their livery, heralding the shortening of the days and the imminent arrival of winter. All of these are signs and portents, that remind those who take time to study them, that its olive time.

Expectation starts to build when the air and water temperature have dropped, signalling that the larger Mayfly and Caddis hatches are mostly over.  When the swashbuckling exuberance of Summer Hopper fishing has become a fond memory……

But all is not lost; the season still has a few cards left up its sleeve for students of its patterns and moods.

The bright, still and clear days of low clear water set the stage for what some consider to be the highlight of the season.  With the addition of the last key ingredient, diminutive duns, you have a recipe for what is euphemistically referred too as “technical fishing”.  Translated that means exasperating, challenging and totally absorbing.  Those who “know” it, savour it, like fine wine or good single malt, its flavour lingering in memory down through the years. These memories, of great days and exceptional hatches, are afforded the status of holy relics, recalled from the vault on those occasions when acolytes gather to compare notes, beseech the weather gods, and make plans.

Bit players throughout most of the season (often masked by more showy Caddis hatches) these exquisite little duns come into their own as they take centre stage in this autumn drama.  It’s a performance appreciated by the dedicated and the obsessed with spooky fish and long fine leaders. The tiny flies, coupled with the need for precise presentation mean far more refusals than takes.  Just tying the little duns, 18’s through to 24’s, requires a dedication and determination bordering on obsessive.

The fine wire hooks demand very fine tippets. No bullying tactics here, too much pressure or an over exuberant strike (an embarrassing personal affliction) and the day becomes one of what might have been.  It’s a dilemma, caught between the needs of finesse and utility.  But if, like me, you’d rather loose a fish than kill it, you fish as heavy as you possibly can and accept defeat as a consequence of fair play.  Such fish that “assist” in their own release, become the stuff of myth, legend and the basis of most good fishing yarns.

This time of year has its own rhythm; a stately and dignified economy of movement seems to pervade everything, including the river currents. Being able to tune in and adapt to this gentle rhythm can make all the difference between joy and exasperation.

The fish hang in the seams and glides, drifting languidly, feeding apparently at random.  But hold still and watch; slowly a routine begins to emerge.  I have no doubt that the phrase “learn to be still” was coined with this sort of fishing in mind.

The rise forms are subtle, gentle dimples as the fish dine in a steady and refined manner.  In this sort of fishing the fly must not only be in the right place, but must arrive at the right time.  Too early and the fish isn’t looking, too late and the fish has already selected another target.  Patience, persistence and precision are all required in abundance and the reserves of all are tested. It isn’t called “technical fishing” by virtue of being easy.

Perhaps because of these trials, success, when it comes, is doubly sweet and belies measurement in mere numbers.  It belongs to that class of mysterious intangibles, instinctively understood by all dedicated practitioners of the art, yet unintelligible to all those outside of it.  It is a simple, childlike joy that defies any rational explanation.

The fish at olive time have begun to take on the hues of spawning. Rich burnt gold flanks and arteriole red spots, with butter and cream fins.  It’s a dress code in keeping with the gentle, muted tones of this time of year.  These are the colours of “the” brown trout that swims down through the seasons of memory, a part of the magic of this time of year that seeps into your bones.

James came in a while ago. He’d caught a few small fish but wanted to improve his skills. James is young, he is still at uni, first year I think. I took him to the Goulburn to show him how to find fish, how to see them, how to confine his casting to a known fish rather than casting randomly and hoping for the best.

We had a great day. The great man-god in the sky was really kind to us. Each time I explained about how fish take up station or how fish boil to emergers or cruise a beat around a backwater, one would turn up right on cue and perform perfectly. James was gob smacked. I was being cute, playing the perfect guide, predicting, instructing and demonstrating. James stepped up to the plate and started hitting homers.

The first exercise was upstream nymphing under an indicator fly, a sliding stimulator. No joy. I pushed him hard making him cast longer for longer drifts and line mend to prevent drag. We worked over a delicious patch on a big slow corner. The water was knee deep, rippling over the freestone bottom. He had never fished this way before and I am in his ear, bossing him around, making him do everything right to ensure that he would pick up a fish. Twenty minutes on and we had not drawn a scale, not a sausage, nought, nil, nothing!

Moving upstream and leaving the glide behind I decided the best thing to do was look for classic positions, and sit and wait until a fish revealed itself. ‘Five minutes’ I said and on four minutes fifty the fish rose! Right on the current seam in a strong reverse. We only had to wait for him. James cast as the fish settled into rising several times. He rose and took the fly but James struck too soon, just rolling him over as he came off.

The next bank was the same. We stood and watched and sure enough a riser moved beside a weed entangled snag. ‘Wait’ I said. He will come to us. Soon he rose again, closer and then again right under us. He swung around and propped right on station.

‘I can see him!’ said James. Sure enough a fish of about a pound rose right under his rod tip. We could count the spots on his back as he slid to the top to take an emerger in the film. To attempt to cast now would surely spook him, even the slightest movement would. Soon he rose further up, and taking a chance, James got his fly in position on the water. Sure enough the fish returned on his beat sliding up and scoffing a tiny dun right beside his fly. James was blown away by this intimate encounter and seconds later the fish was back gulping down his size 16 Klinkhammer emerger.

The look on his face was enough. Triumph. A fat pounder was admired and released. “Just before we leave, put one up by the weed draped snag”. Up went the Klinkhammer a few inches short. Up it went again to be greeted by a nice, dark snout. James struck tight into a 2 pounder that carted him downstream peeling line off the reel. Soon he was to learn the awful truth of what happens when a fish gets downstream and starts to thrash. They parted company.

James was in danger of dragging his bottom jaw through the mud, it had fallen so far. I was trying to contain myself. I couldn’t have scripted the last hour better if I had tried. This beats a few small fish in the Murrindndi. Walking back to the car I suggested that we revisit the first fish he rolled over. He didn’t need encouragement. This time I sat back. It was all James. He walked up and waited, screening himself in the trees at the reverse end of the backwater. The timing was perfect.

Within a few minutes the fish rose against the bank in the bubble line. James covered him with his first cast unfazed by the high bank and willow tree obstructing his back cast. Down the bubble line came the Klinkhammer. He rose to take the semi-submerged emerger with the tiniest of dimples. When James struck he lifted high and held the fish out of the snags. Blood red spots with white halos adorned his golden flank. The mottled brown spots giving way to the dark olive of his back, as James held him face into the current to allow him to recover.

He didn’t need much, flicking his tail rapidly as he slid into the depths.

This beats uni lectures any day. Been there done that. Who wants to be an accountant? Bugger the business studies, James was on fire. Rolling down the road we dissected each encounter. I hammered home the lessons; I took each point and set it in stone. I sounded like I knew it all, its best to keep this illusion, James will learn the hard way soon enough.

Slipping in behind the island we set up for the evening rise. As the sun’s rays lengthened across the water, the first few duns arrived. James was a keen observer; no doubt I had a firm grasp by now. Leading him would be no trouble. A size 14 Bushy’s Emerger in grey was the perfect match.

No casting was allowed while we waited for the first fish to rise. It didn’t take long. In the middle of the run we saw a head and back appear just ahead of the reflection of a tree trunk in the water. This fix gave him the bearing to aim his fly. Two casts later the head and back emerged to gulp the fly down and a chunky pound and a half rainbow cartwheeled all over the run. This time when he got downstream and started to thrash the rod came over to the side to turn his head and angle him back into the current. Twice he had to do this before the fish came to heel, and after being quickly released, regained his freedom. I am sure the quick release was hurried on by the second fish that was chomping away at duns with a loud splashy whack of a rise.

Yes he landed that one too.

It was black dark as we stumbled back across the paddock to the car. James was back. He called in at the shop. He revisited the scene of his success and caught another one off the high bank again. This time all by himself. More lectures skipped.

Mick met James out on the river last night. They struck up a conversation. James asked if he could tag along and watch, no problem, he watched Mick take a couple of small risers. “There’s one!” said Mick “Have a go at him”. James stepped up and took him nicely, only small but taken with confidence and consummate ease.

“These were the good ole days” James will say in ten years time. “I remember when I first started fly fishing I met these two old timers who showed me how to fish the Goulburn. There were fish everywhere. We used to get five or six a day”. By this time James will be married with two kids, a mortgage and a partnership in an accounting firm. I should also mention the family Labrador that tends to slobber.

James will look up from his computer and gaze out the window. A small nostalgic pain will grip him, “I remember that old bastard warned me, he told me these are the good old days”.

-GEOFF

I saw him off the bridge, he sat in an eddy behind a rock in shallow water. He was easy to see, dark in colour against the stones on the bottom. Scuttling low I clambered off the bridge and waded out to get a good cast at him. Carefully I put the fly down, casting a metre upstream of him, approaching on an angle so as not to line or drop a shadow across.

The Knobby hopper bobbed its way down the ripple and passed clear over his head. Unperturbed, he continued to fin on the current. Somewhat perplexed I waited until the leader had traveled clear of him and picked up. This time shortening up, I put the Knobby in a bit closer so he would see and hear it fall on the edge of his cone of vision. This time it went down with a gentle plop and spreading rings mingled with the broken rippling wavelets. He didn’t budge. Only a little flick of his tail indicated that he was aware of its presence.

Mild confusion was aroused, earlier in the day every fish I covered had fallen to this technique. I retreated to the bank and sat in the shade to give him a rest and consider an alternative. A small emerger pattern might do the trick, so off came the hopper and on went the blue winged olive paradun. Five minutes later I was back on the bank. Several faultless passes had not evoked even a twitch, so rather than frighten him, I retreated to nurse my bruised ego and reconsider. Here was a good sized fish fully visible, sitting in a likely run and totally disinterested in anything I had offered. With my confidence dented I resorted to an unweighted nymph that drifted past his nose in full view without an eyebrow flicker. Now I had my back up.

I changed to a bead head and plonked it nearby and retrieved hand-over in such a delicious way I could have bitten it myself. I edged closer, rattling a few stones as I waded; but still he lay on the glide. I could see him clearly now and despite the broken surface and refraction I could see his mouth open and close in the way that fish take nymphs. Frustration began to gnaw away causing careless and reckless abandon.

Once the leader had been dumped on him, further good presentation didn’t seem to matter. Now I was about a rod’s length away, and despite him twitching now and then, he refused to bolt out into the current and the safety of the deep green depths of the pool. I touched him on the back with my rod and he moved to one side. I touched him again and he re-positioned himself again. He objected, but didn’t leave. I slid my hand under him, easing him gently out of the water, before he gave a kick and a splash and returned to his station. I could see his eyes. They were both grown white with cataracts. I left him there, still finning away in his pocket, unprepared to swim away from his little patch that he could sense. He was a slab, slowly starving away, a victim of the eel-worm parasite. Eye fluke or eel-worm are always present in the water as parasites, but only when a fish becomes old or weak or stressed with high temperatures do the eye fluke migrate from the gut to the rear of the eye causing blindness to develop.

Only a fairly low percentage of fish are ever caught by trout fishers, many of them die from old age or natural causes.

It was almost a year later that we returned to fish the Swampy again and this time Dennis and Anthony were desperate to come. Anthony is a young blood, the zeal and enthusiasm of youth barely able to be contained. Dennis on the other hand had come to fly fishing with maturity and experience but the glint in his eye burnt fiercely. The river had risen overnight and the fish weren’t cooperating and a long fish-less session that had been punctuated with some monsters sighted but spooked and lost, meant any fish would be welcome. Anthony had soloed on ahead and managed to find a big one in an impossible tangle of branches that defied capture. Soon he called to me from the bridge, “I’ve got one! Come and look at this. I have thrown everything at him but he won’t take. You have a go at him!”Blind Freddy

I waded under the bridge and Anthony acted as spotter, calling the shots as the fly covered the fish in the run. “Yes! You are right over him…. He has to take it…. The fly is right on his nose. Give him another one… a bit to the left this time….”I could make out the fish vaguely in the distance but soon the recollections began to filter through. He was dark, burnt black as his pigment reacted to the constant sunlight of the shallow run.

“I know this fish Anthony….It’s blind Freddy!” “Aw..Bulldust!…How?”

Anthony fishes with us every chance he gets because each time he learns something, it is a revelation, a constant journey of discovery of techniques, and usually an adventure to some wilderness of nature or the mind.

Down he came off the bridge and we walked up to blind Freddy. He eased off his lie and slid to the left to hold in the current. When we had taken some photos we had to leave and beat our way aback to the plane as the light would soon fade. As we crossed the bridge we could see him easing back, little by little towards his favourite position. He was still thin but over twenty inches long at a guess. He had survived the winter and Anthony was incredulous at his story. We saw Dave and Dennis on the other bank, and to much raucous laughter we recounted how Anthony had met blind Freddy.

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.