for trout on the Goulburn requires a lot of time and
effort. It is a challenging river with varying levels
and fishing that borders on being called technical due
to the fish's tendency to focus on small, hatching insects.
It is because of this that many otherwise successful
anglers steer well clear of its banks, preferring the
easier fishing in the creeks and rivers that run west
off of the Great Dividing Range. Rivers where the conditions
are more predictable and the fish are less fussy.
Rob has been coming up
our way for about five years now and only gets in short
trips in what is a pretty hectic lifestyle. He is a
good fly fisherman whose home waters include Hat Creek
in Northern California and regularly fishes the Flaming
Gorge on the Green River Utah for large fish from drift
boats. My point is that he knows how to fish and in
a wide variety of locations.
The Goulburn however has
always promised more than it has delivered for him.
A few hours here and there has not allowed him to sample
just what it can be like and it was after his last visit
on closing weekend that I made a deal with myself, to
show him just what it is all about next time we had
the opportunity. This happened about a month ago.
The phone rang and Rob
was on the other end to let me know that he had twenty-four
hours this time. But just as you would expect from a
James Bond type it was that evening and the following
morning. Not a full day per se but rather a few hours
snuck in between other commitments. Less than ideal
but then beggars can't be choosey.
He arrived late, only about
40 minutes before dark and we were already fishing our
lakes. A great termite fall was in progress and it seemed
as though every fish on our lakes was rising. It was
very hard to leave them and go out into the wild with
only a few minutes of light left. But Rob was keen and
a few others who had dropped by for flies/advice were
yelling from the back verandah for service, wanting
some of the flies that were hooking a fish every other
cast in our lakes.
Arriving at the river the
termites were still thick in the air and there were
a couple of people already there. We got the waders
on and hurried down the bank to a spot where some larger
fish were known to be living. Getting termite patterns
on post-haste and then finding two fish rising in the
same backwater we decided to run downstream another
500 yards and fish back up to the car, picking out the
best of the action.
We made it down to where
we wanted to fish and a cold breeze shot up the river.
It got steadily stronger over the next few minutes until
there was not a termite to be seen anywhere. Most of
the fish disappeared with only the odd one mopping up
here and there, nothing like what had been happening
for the previous hour and a half. The one chance to
get Rob into some great fishing seemed to have slipped
through the fingers and we were all a little disappointed
that evening having missed out by only a few minutes.
That night we were speaking
about what might have been and Rob asked what flies
might be suitable for a dawn sortie. After running through
what could be expected I offered to come with him. Not
guiding, just fishing together. He was happy for me
to come as long as it did not muck up my day at work.
We had no guiding until after lunch and so that was
not an issue. Then I suggested that we take the raft
and fish a short section of river known to hold a good
head of larger fish. They should be rising at first
light and once the sun comes up the sight fishing could
be worthwhile too.
Getting out of bed at 5am
is not pleasant at the best of times. Especially when
the wind has been blowing most of the night and you
are doubtful of the conditions. However fortune does
favor the brave and the wind had long since stopped,
giving us perfect conditions. The plan was a very short
drift and so we took no food or drinks hoping to just
tangle with a fish in the three or four hours that we
The first kilometre did
little to raise the level of anticipation. There appeared
to be nothing happening despite the odd caddis coming
off and lots of midge buzzing about. The river was a
sheet of glass which would betray any movement and yet
we saw nothing while drifting. Approaching a favourite
backwater we proceeded with a fair degree of caution
knowing that a fish could be cruising anywhere in it.
We watched and watched,
looking for any sign of fish. Nothing showed in any
of the easy places. Then from the corner of my eye I
spotted a slight ring dissipating from under the fallen
tree. Just typical! The fish had to be in the hardest
to reach place from bank or raft! We settled in behind
him and got used to the rhythm of his rises hoping for
a shot. A few drifts short of him did not result in
a take and we decided to wait for the fish to drop back
from under the canopy in the open.
Only a minute or so later
the fish fell back from under the tree and gave us an
opening. A perfect cast under pressure saw the dry fly
alight on the water no further than a foot up from the
rising fish. 'Blip'. The fish barely broke the surface
with his nose to pluck the tiny dry from the top, the
hook was set and Rob played out what proved to be a
nice brown of around 1.5lb. Photos followed by high
fives and plenty of backslapping marked the occasion
and we started drifting again.
Less than 100 metres on
a fish rose in the middle of the river. A cast was made
and allowed to drift towards the last known location
of the fish. Another take and another fish of similar
size. We had been on the water less than an hour. The
day was starting to look promising.
Then Rob declared that
he was rowing on the flat sections. "You are not
guiding today, and I have a coupe of nice fish, so it's
your turn". I resisted, but knowing Rob's background
it was only a matter of minutes before I relented and
got in the chair. The next three fish were not in their
usual lies and ended up swimming right up to the boat
and being spooked. Not a good start.
Coming into a particularly
tricky section of water I took over on the oars and
got the boat into the next maze of backwaters. There
was a 'huge' fish cruising and occasionally rising in
a seam that happened to be in about 15 feet of water.
The sun being on such a low angle did not allow us to
see him from distance and so we played a game of cat
and mouse, knowing that eventually the fish would see
us if we did not catch him quickly.
The fish was well over
3lb and probably just shy of 4lb. We had a couple of
shots but it was difficult in the extreme to see into
the early morning water. Eventually we got a fix on
the large fish and were distressed to see another one
of about 2lb swimming head on into him. They met with
a fright and the large one chased the intruder out of
his area, which co-incidentally took him right under
the boat! What a shame to miss out on such a great brown.
By this time the sun was
up a bit and we moved into the edge to polaroid some
on the shallow banks. Two fish were immediately found
on station and the first quickly examined the fly before
taking off. The second was under the overhanging willows
swinging back and forth in about a foot of water taking
nymphs. I used the standard dry fly and set about bringing
him to the surface.
Once I was in position
the fish started to rise and was a dead certainty. First
drift he came up and took it, I lifted and felt nothing!
Small flies with lots of hackle often see this happen.
The good thing was that he continued to rise, seemingly
unaffected by the close encounter. Next cast was about
two feet up the drift from him and he again came over
and took the fly, as confidently as the first time.
This time I set the hook
and played a nice brown to hand on the light tippet.
It is an unusual feeling catching a fish when you have
been rowing the raft. As it was not a guided trip I
felt OK but I still got the odd twinge of guilt! Something
that is normal for most guides.
Drifting on, Rob wanted
me to catch up and fish for a bit longer. With a long
slow section of water ahead I agreed. Within 300 metres
a tiny dimple was noticed in close to the bank, in water
we had just passed. A cast back up to what may have
been a hundred things other than a fish, saw the dry
get taken and another excellent brown on. Again a good
fish, photo and release. Now Rob could get back in the
chair having guided me into two nice fish on his first
morning as a 'Goulburn Guide'!
The rest of the morning
was excellent. More and more fish were found rising
and we were able to pick them off one at a time. One
bank had three fish between 2-3lb in thirty metres of
bubble line, all rising and clearly visible through
polaroids. We got each one of them. Swapping places
after each fish. The fishing was so good in fact that
we went right past the car/take out point and drifted
a further 8 kilometres coming out at 2pm. The fish were
rising all the way and we ended up with about 5 or six
quality fish each.
It was a great morning
by anyone's standards. We could have been in the Western
USA or even on the South Island of NZ, instead we were
only a few minutes from home on the mighty Goulburn
River. By the time we got off the water we were tired
and hungry. Rob had (willingly) missed an 'important'
family function in Geelong and the stream of voice mail
messages on his phone suggested that he was in some
sort of trouble when he finally made it back. Also the
boys had gone guiding and the shop had been closed for
an hour or so when it should have been open (sorry to
those of you who dropped by!).
They say that when you
die your life flashes in front of your eyes. While I
have been lucky to accumulate many images in my short
30 years I know that the morning drifting with Rob will
surely be on the highlights reel. It was definitely
a morning that neither of us will ever forget.
the fishing report of the day