Goulburn Valley Fly Fishing Centre
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Goulburn Valley Fly Fishing Centre

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It’s the middle of August as I write this and Spring has well and truly entrenched itself in theGoulburn Valley. While many of the state’s fly fishers contemplate their first outing of the new season, most of the obstacles they face, be they actual or perceived, are largely unimportant to me. You see, the Goulburn River runs right by my backdoor and I am one of the lucky few that have quality water available all year round. This is because the Goulburn is a tail water and this means cool, clear and most importantly controlled releases of water are a day-to-day reality. While the rest of the state’s streams are swollen, funnelling snow melt and spring rains; a little piece of paradise exists a mere two minute’s walk across the paddock.

Many anglers are not aware of just how good this fishing can be. They either dismiss the Goulburn as being just a little too close to civilisation or just a little too accessible or perhaps just too damn hard. It can indeed be one or all of those things but it can also be some of the best fishing you will ever encounter. Steady hatches of caddis that seem to stretch forever with countless fish rising until day’s end. Other days it is the duns that draw those larger fish from wherever it is that they live. Spinner falls on the flatter water that have us either boasting in the pub later that evening, to anyone who will listen, or more likely tearing our hair out looking for that perfect imitation or trying to get that absolutely drag free drift, courtesy of a cross-stream, negative curve cast. That is what spring time fishing is all about in our little valley.

Those of us that are more familiar with this phenomenon are all too often ‘cagey’ about sharing hard earned info. While the Goulburn is seen by most as a huge river with unlimited resources the areas suitable for great hatches are limited to the first thirty kilometres of river below the dam. As a result, details of other’s successes can be hard to obtain and forget trying to find out just where they were fishing when they saw that four-pounder!

From the outside looking in it would be easy to dismiss good results by simply stating ‘Oh well. He/she/they obviously get into areas that no one else can’. Nothing is further from the truth. Almost every inch of the Goulburn is accessible from public access points and some of the best fishing and fish, come from within sight of the car parks each season.

From my point of view as a local, it is clear that there really are no secret spots. This is a realisation that perhaps only comes from living in an area and fishing it every day for as long as you can remember. I know most of you are saying ‘yeah right’, but it’s the truth. Finding the better fish comes from adapting to the conditions as you find them rather than knowing about that one spot that never fails. Getting to know any river over a period of time allows you to develop a range of skills that will in the end, be the difference between success and failure.

The huge amount of time that we spend on the river each year has given us huge insight into the where, when and how. Being able to dismiss areas because the wind will be blowing across that particular drift line or that particular side channel will be spewing chocolate filth into the system is the part of the method to consistent results on this river. You would be amazed at how many times you would find us fishing at the main access points like Thornton Beach or Gilmore’s Bridge.

Much of this is reinforced every season when for some reason you can’t get to a particular stretch of river you think will be good and have to try somewhere else. Either time is limited and you can’t get there before dark, or someone else is there, or maybe you just don’t want to lead the rest of the world to your ‘secret’ spots! So you settle on somewhere you think may be good but you are not completely sure because you have never fished the rise there and guess what?  It is as good as or better than the preferred location. This happens so often that I have come to the realisation that there is not necessarily better water, just better days.

One evening on a stretch of water will give the angler the impression that perhaps several stunted pilchards are the only resident fish and that only the immediate intervention by the Fisheries Managers and the stocking of a hundred thousand yearlings can save the river. Two nights later the hatch is so intense that upwards of fifty individual fish can be seen rising and some are ‘not too small at all’. While you could believe that they had been there all the time and either you just weren’t good enough, or you could insist that they were new fish that have returned from spawning in the last 24 hours, as there is just no way you would have drawn blank otherwise. It’s surprising how often in the heat of the moment you can actually believe it’s the latter.

Spring is the best time to acquire an appreciation for the numbers of fish in this river. High summer flows can severely restrict hatches in all but a select few sections and this will mean less visibly rising fish to most of the anglers who will fish it. This is not the case in springtime. As there is no demand for irrigation until about mid October each year and there is no money to be made by releasing water when no one is paying for it, the Goulburn is run at what is deemed to be minimum riparian flow (MRF). MRF is 130 Megalitres a day. About the same amount of water you use on a half flush in your bathroom!

Effectively this means that while all the other ‘natural’ rivers are high, cold and possibly discoloured when the season starts, the Goulburn is low, warmer and clear as can be. A month of consistent low flows allows fish to settle into their lies and by the time October starts and the real hatches begin they have sought out and acquired the prime positions. This makes finding the better fish easy for anyone with reasonable streamcraft skills.

This is something that will be all too apparent in the coming months. Thirty three types of caddis and six types of mayfly. Add to this stoneflies, grannoms and midges and you get rising fish in great numbers. While some nights will be better than others it is not uncommon to have fish rising to the front, side and even in the water you just waded. This fishing will only last for a month or two and it seems the fish, dumb as they are, know it just as surely as we do.

These large hatches of aquatic insects start early most mornings and by 9am many fish are rising to the beginning of the caddis emergence. These insects are largely loathed by anglers who see them only as those pesky snowflakes hovering above the water each night with the legend stating that only small fish eat them! While caddis are found in extraordinarily high numbers in our streams, either little is known about them or they are ignored, left in the shadow by the vain mayflies and their tall, sail-like wings.

In actual fact fish eat more caddises simply through their sheer weight of numbers of the total biomass. Pick up any rock in any freestone river and count caddis as opposed to mayflies. The adult caddis lives for about six weeks as opposed to the mayflies paltry three days. Just the like the world of athletes, it is the sprinters that claim all of the attention with outlandish hair dos, athletic bodies and bright singlets, while the marathon runners just plod along in their gum boots.

It seems we all have a love affair with the Ephemeropteras that stretches back for centuries. Images of fairies and dainty, fragile wings are hard to break. But over time I think we can do it. As not only does the caddis hatch more often than the more fancied mayflies but there are many more species of them here, so many in fact that it would take a team of entomologists several lifetimes to adequately record their details. As such most fly fishers try to avoid having to imitate them precisely and unless you fished rivers such as the Goulburn heavily in spring, as I do, you would have very little motivation to try. But it is without doubt that the caddis deserves more attention from us all.

Perhaps the realisation and acceptance of this ‘fact’ will only come when each and every one of you has stood amongst dozens of fish rising without being able to raise even an eyebrow with your paraduns and no hackles. And for those who think thy have cracked the code….NO, a couple of small rainbows that took your elk hair in the fast water doesn’t mean you have joined the exclusive ‘Caddis Appreciation Society’. As they often say, more research is needed.

One of the big problems in deciphering exactly what is being eaten and in what quantities is that we are now catch and release anglers. I personally can measure in years the time that has passed since my last indiscretion, and rightly or wrongly I am proud of this fact. Some will see this as elitist and others as just plain crazy but at least in the days when we killed a fish you could inspect its stomach contents and find out exactly what it was eating.

While to be honest I am too young to really consider this something I had the ‘luxury’ of participating in. I started fishing for trout after a long apprenticeship of chasing flathead around the river flats of Port Macquarie and the sports fishing ethos had well and truly taken hold before my trout fishing began. As such I reckon that I have killed less than ten trout to date, a number unlikely to increase in the next thirty or forty years.

The good thing it would seem is that catch and release as an ethos has well and truly established itself within the fly fishing fraternity. There are many anglers now who would not even entertain the idea of killing a fish and that to me, is a good thing. From a purely financial point of view a fish is worth X amount of dollars dead. Say $7.00 a kilo. A wild living fish of similar weight is worth a lot more. Say Y equals the petrol to drive to the location and Z equals the amount spent on gear and licences. Then add A which represents the food purchased while enroute to the fishing location and then also add B as the accommodation used while in pursuit of the fish. It doesn’t take many trips to account for a hundred kilos of dead fish! Not a very nice way of looking at things but hey economic rationalism is the in thing, isn’t it? A kilo fish is suddenly a valuable commodity and when you factor in an angler catching and releasing it, the value of it is exponentially increased. I mean that one fish has the potential to be caught several times a season and then on top of that spawn, to further add to the on going success of the species. I hereby move for a trout lead recovery to the oil crisis…..

So without necessarily knowing it, we are all sports fishers, it’s just that some of us realise it sooner than others. We all buy gear, food, petrol, licences!, well most of us do and yet some of us can’t see the point in releasing fish. If these people who measure success as the pure weight of dead fish they can amass thought about their return on investment they would soon stop messing about and just go to the fish market.

It really amazes me that some folk kill fish through the entire season and then call for a closed season to protect the ‘spawning fish’. I often wonder out loud if they see the irony in their philosophical standpoint. I mean sure lets protect the spawning fish as best we can; they are the future of our fishery. But let’s not forget the fact that each and every fish they kill outside this time of year is still one less fish that will make it through to spawn. This point was made to me by a mate who has a knack for seeing through a lot of the emotive dressings of an argument. I had never really thought of it that way and now often enjoy dragging it out when some of these anachronistic fly fishers start preaching over a bottle of red.

Ok I am way off topic and I better stop before I start upsetting more folk.  I think that its time to put down the pen, boil the kettle and put another log on the fire. The opening of the season is just over a week away and I haven’t even cleaned out my vest from the last season. If the weather stays this way we can hope for some good dry fly fishing from the very start. Personally I will be doing a little rain dance in the coming days.



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