mighty Goulburn River is a formidable water anywhere downstream
of Lake Eildon. Used as an irrigation conduit, it supplies
the immensely fertile Goulburn
Valley, with a lifeline of water the whole year
round. Large and unrelenting releases of water begin in early summer and end in mid autumn, turning what would otherwise be a dust bowl into a food bowl.
It is becuase of these large, controlled releases of irrigation water, that the Goulburn is seen as such
a difficult fishery. High summer flows which the make the
majority of the river unmanageable to traditional methods
should open the door to a bit of lateral thinking and the unique
fishing opportunities that these high flows present.
summer flows of 8,000 mega litres a day and higher are routine
from late November through until early April. Anything over
a couple of thousand megalitres a day sees the backwaters and edge waters really
start to fill. With this inundation of new ground come the
trout. Fossicking about looking for food, the edges providing
not only a new source of nourishment but also added protection
from predators. Many of these backwaters contain sunken timber and are quite often shaded by trees.
The confidence this a ffords the trout really has to be seen to be believed. Fish
will happily rise all day while an angler perched on a tree
trunk a mere metre above, daps the fly trying to elicit a
response. I have, on many occasions spent four or five hours
on one fish and would not have realised the time spent if
it weren't for the sudden lack of effectiveness of my polaroids!
come in all shapes and sizes. Some are 30 metres in circumference
some as small as a coffe table. Almost all hold trout.
They are the lazy Susan's of the trout world, funnelling a
never ending supply of food to the occupant. All a trout has to do is casually fin in the slow moving water
These reverse currents extend right down into the depths and so
a constant supply of nymphs, stick caddis, snails not to mention
all the bugs found on the surface or in the film are on offer.
Consequently they are locations highly desired by trout.
you come to this realisation you can safely assume that competition
for these places is high and therefore the better, bigger,
stronger fish will occupy them. This is the case. The trout
found in these backwaters tend to be considerably bigger than
those found in the main flow of the river. As I look back
through my diary for the past 5 years I see a distinct trend
whereby most of my big fish came from backwaters. Even in
the past two seasons where we haven't had many real high-water
situations (recent droughts have meant Lake Eildon has been
running well below capacity. This has caused some rationing
of irrigation releases ) most of the big fish of four pound
and up came from the edges and all the true trophy trout that we saw
were all found along the edge.
thing that closely observing a backwater teaches you is the
pecking order of trout. A couple of years ago I spent the
better part of a week in one particular tree! It was during
this week that the Goulburn first swelled to its summer levels
and the fish were on the lookout for new lies. From my perch
I had a great view of a backwater some twenty metres square
and maybe five foot deep. Trout after trout would cruise through
looking for food and the best position. Fortunately the pick
of the water was directly below me on the crease of two reverses
and a pocket of scum rapidly developed. Almost every day a
new and bigger fish occupied this position and it was fascinating
watching these large trout aggressively chase away smaller
intruders. Eventually a four pound fish occupied this niche
and was caught and released twice that season.
the most attractive attribute of this style of fishing is
that it is totally visual. Donning a pair of Polaroid sunglasses
and a wide brimmed hat the angler sets out at around 10.30
most mornings. With the sun at your shoulder, your Polaroid
glasses have maximum penetration through the glare and an
underwater world is revealed. To anyone who is yet to experience
this all I can say is get out and do it. It can be thoroughly
exhilarating and the whole day can fly by in an instant. Gargantuan
battles are fought well before the fly even reaches the water! Finding a fish, working out an approach, choosing a fly and finally presenting the fly without spooking the fish or getting caught in the overhanging trees and grass....
typical session will go somewhere along the lines of this;
after selecting the stretch of water to be fished you have
to work out how you will go about it. Fortunately other anglers
are not a consideration as in all my time fishing this way
I have only ever seen a lone few compatriots. All these backwaters
are best approached from an upstream direction. Now before
you dimiss me as crazy; the reason for the downstream approach is because these edges we are talking
about generally are home to a current reverse and the fish
are facing upstream into the reverse. That means they are
facing 'Downstream' in relation to the main river flow.
with this knowledge the angler picks suitable looking water
and approaches from an upstream position. Keeping a low profile and shadows off the water, using slow movements, wearing drab
clothing and tramping lightly are all par for the course.
This is hunting and you need everything in your favour if
you are to fool a wary, timid trout in such a location. Quite
often you will need to crawl poking only the tip of your nose
over the edge to see what's down there.
the water carefully looking not only for a trout but any irregularity.
A shadow on the bottom, the white of a mouth as the trout
eats something down deep, anything that doesn't quite look
right. More often than not it wont be too hard. The fish will
be on station and making regular patrols on a 'beat' whereby
he will cruise his backwater/patch. It is important to note this
as I have seen a number of people spook fish by casting thinking
the opportunity is about to be lost. This is not the case
and as long as you haven't done anything to alert the fish
he will return to his spot within a few minutes.
that many of these fish will sit hard against the bank or
in the undercuts. Although you wont see all of them in time
its is definitely worth carefully scanning this water. I remember
spending 20 minutes in a backwater that I knew contained a good
fish. As I went to move, a fish of around seven pound shot
off from right beneath my feet. Also of interest is the fact
that these trout will remain in such areas for as long as
the water levels are up, falling back to the main flow when it drops.
They will return however as soon as it rises again and it
is not out of the ordinary to find the same trout in the same
backwater, season after season.
hardest part of this style of fishing is getting the fly to
the fish without spooking it. What I would flatly state is
false casting is an absolute no-no. In 90% of my backwater
fishing only the leader and maybe a few feet of fly line are
through the tip. Coiled on your hand you must be ready to
present this with as little disturbance to the water as possible.
Flick casts, bow and arrow casts and all sorts of other unorthodox
deliveries will be called for; all that matters is you get
it over the fish. Sometimes you may have to
present to a fish at a greater distance and may even have
room to do so, but keep false casting to a minimum and as
low to the water as possible.
can be expected while fishing these edges but I would like
to share a few secrets with you. Firstly, a refusal isn't
a problem, as although you cannot afford to rip the fly off
the water as you will spook the fish, all you have to do is
wait for the fish to go off on its regular beat. You can then
retrieve the fly and change it. As Arnie would put it 'he'll be back'.
What I've found is it's best
to keep your arm movements against your body while changing
flies or in other words only use small body movements, that
way not alerting the trout who may come back on station half
way through this process. Quite regularly a lack of interest
will be taken as a refusal but this is not always case. These
fish will sometimes swim very close to the surface and therefore
their field of vision is greatly reduced. Remember if the
fish is near the surface he won't see your fly unless it is
right on his nose. Also in regards to this 'hand to hand'
combat, watches should be taken off and kept in a pocket or
vest. Its quite frustrating for an hours stalking to be ruined
by flash from a watch catching the sun. I wear mine upside down and usually with a long sleeve shirt.
you've done everything right. You've picked good looking water,
approached from upstream in a commando like fashion with leader
coiled in your hand all at the ready but what fly should you
have on ? These is the easy part. I have found the majority
of these trout are feeding on small terrestrial items. Small
beetles, leafhoppers, ants, caterpillars, grasshoppers and
cicadas are frequently on the menu. The fly of choice for
me though is a number sixteen or eighteen Cochybondhu. This
rather innocuous Welsh pattern is a real gem in such water.
I have watched even the most selective trout in a variety
of bug falls rise and sip this fly like it was the 'proverbial'
last feed he was ever going to have.
Also worth noting is that it is often only a matter
of going down in size rather than changing patterns that is
the key to success when a fish refuses your offering. On a few rare occasions patterns as small
as a twenty four have proved the undoing of picky trout. In
the more open backwaters with no tree coverage a small paradun
will also fool most fish.
Most beetle patterns, ant patterns
and in season grasshoppers will take trout. Perhaps those
taken on grasshoppers are the most exciting in that unlike
the beetle and ant sippers who seem content to leisurely sip
them from the film the trout taking the hopper more often
than not slam the artificial from the top witha crash.
Sub-surface presentations are sometimes required
and can be very difficult to get them to the fish as they show little motivation to move much for underwater items.
Fortunately they will come to the top on most occasions but
if not a small green nymph works enough of the time for me
to recommend it. However the sheer joy of fishing the dry
and seeing the take override the desire to fish below the
surface and make something more difficult than it really should
be. But no matter how you do it this close up 'eye ball' fishing
really gets the blood pumping and the heart racing.
I say the hardest part of this fishing was presenting the
fly without spooking the fish ? Well I lied! The hardest aspect
is landing the fish. Guide Geoff Hall is notorious for clichés
such as " get 'em on first, worry about getting 'em off
later" and I am a firm believer in this 'Geoff'ism'.
Four weight rods and four pound tippets are not necessarily
the best equipment for stopping a large trout from finding
refuge in the sunken log just two metres from where he took
the fly. But this is what you are looking at. Locking the
fish up from the word go is of paramount importance if you
want to retrieve that pattern and not have to re-tie your
Most of the water is inherently 'snaggy' by nature
of its location and getting their head up earlyon in the fight is the only
hope for landing such fish. Many trout will be hooked and
lost but it is surprising how much pressure you can exert
with such gear. Hooking some four pound tippet onto your back
fence and testing exactly how much pressure you can put on
this mono is a great confidence booster before putting that
expensive graphite wand through its paces in amongst the snags.
Nevertheless all things going right you will still lose more
trout than you land.
there you have it. Sight fishing with the dry fly to the largest
fish in the river. Not back country New Zealand, Alaska
Patagonia but two hours drive time from Melbourne.
So go on, give it a go and see why those in the know keep
returning to the Goulburn River summer after summer.