Goulburn Valley Fly Fishing Centre
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Goulburn Valley Fly Fishing Centre

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Click for full size image:.
Eddie with a lovely brown taken after dark
Photo 1: Eddie with a lovely brown taken after dark

Peter with yet another great brown which took the BMS
Photo 2: Peter with yet another great brown which took the BMS 

David just before he lost his torch. Notice the open pockets!
Photo 3: David just before he lost his torch. Notice the open pockets!

Night Fishing the Goulburn

Just mentioning night fishing to a group of fly fishers can start off the most fearsome of debates. Usually the argument consists of two factions. One group that think fishing at night requires no skill and little moral/ethical development (see Evolution of FishingMAN) and another who see the former as snobbish, purists who don't catch all that many fish. I can say that at different times I have been a borderline member of both groups. Over the years as my skill level improved and I moved to Thornton allowing me to fish whenever I wanted, I found night fishing to be of little interest. However in the past few months I have had a re kindling of the fires and now enjoy getting out most evenings for a bit of a flick.

Fishing after dark does not require any real stealth. Leaders are usually shorter and tippets much thicker. Fish are not line shy in the dark. Using 6-8lb tippets as a minimum is required as you are never sure what you may hook and not being able to see the snags and other hazards means stopping them ASAP is crucial. This is also not the place for small flies. While we have success fishing small nymphs on certain nights the majority of situations will call for something big and black. This also reaffirms the need for short leaders and heavier rods with anything under a 5 weight considered under gunned. Casts are rarely long with about 15 metres considered a huge cast. Most fish are caught within 5 metres of the rod tip.

Choosing your water is not too difficult for those who understand the game. First off you don't want anything too shallow or too fast. Anything less than two feet deep is largely a waste of time as is water faster than walking pace. At times of high flow this means backwaters and the margins are the best choice while the colder months see the slow glides and pools producing more fish. Before fishing be sure to scout out possible locations during the hours of daylight. While you may be able to see quite well on those brighter nights most of the time having a good picture of the area in your mind is important. Knowing which sections to fish and which are more marginal will save you a lot of time and also a lot of flies. Snags in the river and trees stretching out from the far bank are important obstacles the angler should be aware of as well. As with most things a little research pays off in the long run.

Fishing these pools is pretty simple. The angler generally picks a point from which to start, usually at the top end (upstream end) of the pool or glide. Casting slightly upstream and across allowing the fly to sink a little and then starting a retrieve, as the fly swings downstream. Retrieves should vary depending on the fly being used and the depth and speed of the water. Usually a slow, jerky, stop-start retrieve will take fish. If in a pool or backwater devoid of current a very flow figure of eight will often work well. The style of retrieve is one of the most contentious points to arise from fishing after dark but what it comes down to is this. Experiment. Try different retrieves at different depths. The fly is more often than not the least important part of the equation at night. Be prepared to move on after searching an area for a good 15-20 minutes. Eventually you will develop your own 'sixth sense' for what should work and more often than not be rewarded for it. This 'sixth sense' is nothing more than accumulated wisdom or in layman's terms, experience. Being out there, thinking about what you are doing and getting positive reinforcement builds this self-confidence.

Another critical part of night fishing is the way the angler holds the rod while retrieving. Many fish are missed at night even when doing everything else right. If you don't have the rod at the correct angle to the line you will be lucky to hook any fish. So what is the correct way? Keep the rod tip low to the water. If you are wading deep even better as the rod can remain parallel as well as low to the water. Keeping the rod tip low allows you to keep a tight line between fly and fisher as we are not going to the see the take but rather feel it. If there is anything that interferes with this basic principal many fish will be missed. Also try and keep the rod tip and fly line at a slight angle. In doing this you allow the rod to do its job by absorbing the take when the fish hits. Keeping the rod pointed at the fish will mean many missed fish as the trout hits it on a tight line with no give and pulls the fly from its mouth. So don't forget. Keep the tip low, line tight and rod and line at a slight angle to each other.

Flies are not the most important factor when night fishing the Goulburn. While during daylight hours hatches that trigger selective rises are reasonably common fishing after dark is not often so challenging. Big and black is a good rule of thumb. While there will be some out there who swear otherwise we have been doing this long enough to know it is not that complicated. Matukas, Woolly Buggers, Craig's Nighttimes all work well. Any pattern that has bulk or movement or a combination of the two will be effective. Also many of the better night patterns are black. The reason for this black being so good is obvious as it gives a great profile against most backgrounds even when viewed from below the water against the night sky. If I had to choose one after dark pattern it would without doubt be black in colour.

Sinking lines are not necessary at night although fishing the depths of the pools during the day with one can be rewarding. While trout have great vision even on the blackest of nights, getting the fly to the bottom seems to only increase the number of flies lost and not the number of fish caught. It would seem that the fish take better when seeing the fly from below (i.e. looking up) and because of this moderately weighted flies fished on a floating line seem to work best. Despite this great ability to hunt in the dark they often miss the fly and the angler will be left with nothing but a jolt of the rod and racing pulse to show for the encounter. When this occurs while fishing moving water, the best thing to do is to continue retrieving for about another metre and then pick up and cast to the exact location again. If in a back water a slow retrieve or momentary pausing will sometimes allow the fish a second chance. Luckily for us fish are not as easily spooked at night and continued fishing to a located fish will often bring results.

Another important factor in regards to night fishing is the amount of moonlight. This is very important and the general rule is the brighter the night the slower the fishing. The darker nights are usually better with up to a half moon quite productive. Sometimes a brighter night with either cloud or fog can be excellent. This is something very pronounced when fishing at night. On many occasions we have been out there catching fish when all of a sudden the moon has broken out and the fish have gone off. Within minutes of the cloud settling back in the fish have started up again. At other times the fish will come on and off for no discernible reason. Some time ago I read somewhere of the observations of an angler that the fishing was linked with the cattle feeding in the paddocks along the riverbank. The author noted that when the cattle were feeding the fish were active too. When the cattle were in the shade resting, the fish became difficult to interest. This 'unknown' factor is very real and something we notice with our smaller ponds. You can bet that if the fish in our ponds are active that the fish in the river are also on the job. This is something we cannot accurately explain but it is real. Whether one day we will be able to interpret this event phenomenon, who can say? But it is part of the mystery of fly-fishing for trout and at least partly the reason we keep coming back again and again.

Every so often fish will give themselves away at night with noises. Rising, chasing things in the shallows or just jumping clear into the air. The night-time angler quickly becomes attuned to these sounds and can soon judge the distance to the target and get an accurate cast out to it. It is amazing how many times these noises will result in a hook up, usually within seconds of the fly hitting the water. The standard wet flies will work most of the time in these situations but sometimes, especially in summer a high floating muddler pattern cast out and let sit will take fish. A slow, jerky retrieve may be needed but generally the fly landing on the surface will be enough to interest the fish. This is perhaps the ultimate in night fishing.

The last situation I would like to mention is in relation to fishing on the brighter nights. These can be excellent in that if there is a fall of insects the fish can see them easily and so can the angler. Fishing to rising fish after sundown can be rewarding with flies slightly larger than the naturals allowed and recommended. Some movement can also induce a take especially at that moment when you judge the fly to passing over the fish. Aside from rising fish there is a phenomenon called the invertebrate drift that occurs every evening. This is an instinctual trait of aquatic insects that see some of them leave their homes under rocks and in the weeds to drift down the current and recolonise a new area. It usually happens in the first couple of hours after dark and our own tests in the river behind our property support this. It would seem that there is a great number of mayfly and caddis activity in the Goulburn in these hours and the fish know about it. When the moon is up early you can fish this migratory 'hatch' with a couple of well-chosen (size, shape and colour) nymphs suspended below an indicator. You must choose appropriate water to fish with knee to thigh deep, slow flowing glides the ideal. Low flows are also needed to allow good access to such water and to make sure the fish are concentrated enough to fish small nymphs in the dark dead drift. High summer flows are not worth fishing in this manner as there is just too much water.

So there you have it. Another perspective on fishing in this wonderful river. Although not likely to appeal to everyone it is nevertheless as much a part of fly fishing as fishing the evening rise. So next time your up put some warm gear on and head to your favourite pool with a torch and box of wet flies. I think that you will enjoy it as much as I do.



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