Flyfishing for trout: success on the Monaro

PART 1 – Early November 2012

‘Back in a few hours’, I said, stifling a boyish grin and kissing my then-fiance (now wife!) on the cheek. It was about 1.30pm, and I suspected it would be more than a few hours. However, letting this on wouldn’t have been in my best interests, particularly given the relentless pace of wedding preparations… Anyway, healthy pessimism said that there was a good chance I wouldn’t catch or see a thing, so perhaps my estimated time of return wasn’t completely unrealistic.

I’d left the farm, near Nimmitabel, and made the half an hour drive to one of the Monaro’s ‘blue ribbon’ trout streams. If you know the area, you’ll recognise the photos. If you don’t, then you’ll just have to go exploring!

There are a multitude of nice streams on the Monaro. From what I can gather, most people (including myself to-date) practice catch and release on these streams. However, I’ve heard an interesting argument for keeping the really big fish so recruitment from stocking efforts can continue…any thoughts?

On arriving, I walked a small distance downstream and started casting a pheasant tail nymph into a likely looking run. After a few minutes, I heard the din of a vehicle and a farmer and his son pulled up in a 4wd and said g’day, telling me that the fish were biting further downstream. Thinking I’d been duped (not sure why – I just had that feeling, possibly based on the fact they both looked completely pissed), I walked upstream. On the way past the first few pools I noticed a large amount of insect activity; spinners, mayflies and dragonflies, with a healthy assortment of other miscellaneous bugs and the ever-present sheep flies making themselves known. This was enough to get me excited.

I intended to walk up to the end of the main pool and fish the rapids at the top. I had a few exploratory casts on the way with the nymph, then tied on a Kosciusko dun, but didn’t have any luck. On rounding the next bend, I startled a bunch of ducks and noticed about 6 cows and a few calves drinking, right where I wanted to fish. They soon spooked, kicking up clouds of mud and causing a mighty commotion, and I promptly turned around and headed back towards the car. On the way back, I came across some beautiful blue tongues, who appeared to be mating. Not wanting to interrupt them, but compelled to observe, I sat still with my camera and put the flyrod down for a bit of a break. The female retreated to the long grass, with the male in hot pursuit. After a minute, he came out, presumably thinking I wasn’t there, and wandered right past my feet to check out my flyrod.

It's the things you see when out fishing that make it so awesome!

It’s the things you see when out fishing that make it so worthwhile

I love how when you are standing still by the water the animals often forget you're there. I've had water dragons, antechinus, kingfishers, murray cod, yellowbelly, trout, wombats and a whole host of other animals simply mosey on by, seemingly completely oblivious to me

I love how when you are sitting still by the water the animals often forget you’re there. I’ve had water dragons, antechinus, kingfishers, murray cod, yellowbelly, trout, wombats and a whole host of other animals simply mosey on by, seemingly completely oblivious to me. You often don’t get this experience while bushwalking…fishing forces you to slow down, become part of the environment and notice what’s going on around you

Eventually the male wised up to my presence, and flashed his bright blue tongue before retreating to the grass. While all this was going on, I had noticed a small splash downstream. I was fairly convinced it was not a fish, for I hadn’t seen any other evidence. There are a few other possible culprits in this particular stream, namely ducks and platypus. Nonetheless, I had a few casts with a small dry, but had no interest and saw no more splashes.

Returning to the car, I decided that maybe the drunk farmers were telling the truth, and was once again filled with enthusiasm by the time I found a park a few kilometres downstream. Not far from where I started, I had my first positive ID on a trout. It had been sitting in the shade in a shallow run – less than 20cm deep – and had spooked before I saw it. He swam quickly upstream, changed his mind, then took off downstream, navigating some small riffles and rapids before disappearing from view. Despite spooking this fish, I took it as a good sign and continued upstream. It was also a small fish, of less than 20cm, so in hindsight, this is also a good sign for the future of the river.

Because I hadn’t seen fish rising, I concluded they would be feeding on some sort of aquatic insects, and persisted with a small black nymph for a while. However, as the shadows lengthened, more and more insects took to the air, appearing like droplets in the warm glow of the afternoon sun. With the snow gums lighting up around me, I entered one of those meditative fishing states, and became convinced the fish would start rising.

Warm afternoon sun + spinners + mayflies = imminent rise!

Warm afternoon sun + spinners + mayflies = imminent rise!

Fly fishing porn...read on - it gets better!

Fly fishing porn…read on – it gets better!

Sure enough, as I approached the next pool, I spotted a rise. Setting my gear down and resolving to sit and watch for a while, it wasn’t long before I realised this was my first good opportunity at a trout on a dry fly. It was rising consistently. I could see spinners flying around – a localised hatch – and this fish was fixated on a steady flow of spent spinners in a relatively small part of the pool. I quickly tied on a small Kosciuszko dun, double checked my knot, and applied a small drop of floatant. Assessing my approach, I concluded that I would have to walk back away from the river, across a small marsh and cast perpendicular to the bank.

I walked slowly towards my quarry; as far as I would dare. As a recent flyfishing convert, I had left myself a relatively long cast – around 40 feet. Edging closer, I regained my composure, stripped enough line, and started swoffing. My first cast was a little short. The line landed gracefully on the surface, and I saw the fish rise about 5 metres upstream. Being careful not to cause too much commotion, I quickly stripped the dry a to within a few metres of the edge of the pool and picked up the fly.

I hadn’t seen it rise again and I was convinced the fish had spooked. My heart was sinking as I placed another cast – this time a perfect cast – straight into the middle of the pool, adjacent to some lillys where the fish had been focusing its attention. As if in slow motion, I witnessed the fish rise up towards my fly. I was momentarily confused as to whether it had zeroed in on a real insect or my cunning imitation. Within a split second, I had decided on the latter, and, still as if in slow motion, lifted the rod up as a large swirl appeared on the surface. The fish disappeared, then launched clear out of the water, it’s glistening flanks spraying beads of water across the pool. As the fish landed, the rod loaded up, and I had hooked my first trout on fly.

The fight was over quickly, and I reached into the reeds to pull out my fish. Despite being by myself, I still let out a mighty ‘woo HOO!’. Heart still racing, I took a few quick photos (none of which turned out spectacularly), before returning the fish to the water. Due to the immense pleasure I had gained from this experience, I felt intensely respectful towards that trout, and was surprised at my concern for its welfare. I had to revive it for some time before it regained its energy and swam slowly off through the reeds. I think he woulda been just fine.

First trout on fly...immensely satisfying and needless to say, I'm addicted.

First trout on fly…I’m addicted.

I continued upstream, and it wasn’t long before I spotted another fish. This one (or was it two?) seemed to be covering much more water in search of insects. I started casting, first in a small arc in front of me before fanning out further up and across the stream. The fish that was close to me had stopped rising, and I was fairly convinced I’d spooked it. I decided to try a long cast up the near bank. Letting the flyline hurl gracefully onto the surface, I was starting to relax after the excitement of my first fish, when the water around my fly erupted. Similarly to before, but with far more strength and gusto, the fish leapt clear of the water and I was on again.

The second fish was hooked along the left bank

The second fish was hooked along the left bank

I couldn’t believe my luck. After another second or two, this fish jumped at least 3 foot out of the water, and my heartrate sped up even more. It was at least twice as heavy as the first fish – easily 35 and maybe 40cm long. It went bezerk, taking strong runs, leaping again and again and straining towards bits of weed in its efforts to escape, which made me incredibly nervous. Eventually it tired, and I was confronted with the task of landing it. I was standing on an undercut bank, and there was no convenient shallow section in which to beach the fish. I resolved to drag it as far into the weeds as possible so I could reach in a grab it.

I pulled the fish towards me, then bent down. For some reason, which I will always regret, I stupidly grabbed the line instead of the fish. Pulling ever so lightly on the 3x leader and 4lb tippet, one half-hearted tail flap was all it took. I watched the fish swim slowly back into the depths, my only kozzie dun lodged firmly in the side of its mouth, which I could have sworn was smiling at me.

I really need to get a net.

Not too disheartened, I continued upstream. I’d well and truly been more than ‘a few hours’ at this stage, and the temperature was dropping quickly. However, I persisted and spotted a few more fish. The most memorable of these was a large fish tailing in a shallow, granite boulder filled pool. This fish was fixated on something aquatic. It certainly wasn’t rising, despite the similar ‘signature’. It also looked big. The tail was a dead giveaway. I cast another dry at it for a while thinking that it might have a go, before tying on a small pheasant tail nymph. I knew I’d have less chances with the nymph before I spooked this fish, so walked upstream a few metres so I could try for a more accurate cast. No more rises; it had spooked. It became obvious as to why this fish had grown to the size it had.

More flyfishing porn: a big fish rising near some spectacular granite boulders

More flyfishing porn: a big fish rising near some spectacular boulders

Making my way back to the car, I felt completely content. I was also, and still am, feeling completely addicted to flyfishing. In particular, fishing with the dry for such a wily and exciting sportfish has to be one of the pinnacles of my fishing experiences to-date. Enhancing one’s ecological literacy, understanding fish behaviour, the hunting and stalking component, the creativity of tying one’s own flies and the beautiful environments in which you find yourself feels like a pretty good combination to me.

PART 2 – Mid-November 2012

Hopefully you’re still with me after one of my longest ramblings on the blog thus far! Stay with me…the best is yet to come!

Part two happened about 2 weeks after part one. I’d had one eye on the weather, and managed to time this outing with a warm nor-wester. I’d also negotiated a slightly more realistic curfew: about 7.30pm, so was feeling pretty relaxed and also quite confident that I’d spot a fish or two.

In the two weeks since the first successful mission, I’d been thinking more about flyfishing for trout, and resolved to spend the brighter part of the day fishing with wets in the hope I could rustle up some un-sighted fish. However, walking along the bank, it didn’t take me long to spot the first fish, which was a healthy brown of about 35cm. Unfortunately, I’d basically walked right on top of it, and it was quick to spook, swimming swiftly out of sight. I slowed my pace, thinking I might spot some more cruisers.

The insects were out again on this occasion, but I hadn’t seen any fish rising. I had my first success with a green wooly bugger. As an aside, I know that this may not be considered ‘pure’ fly fishing, but it seems like an effective way to cover ground and catch a few fish while you wait for the evening rise 🙂 I really need to learn more about using nymphs, indicators and dry/wet rigs, but that’s another post in the making.

After a forceful cast into the breeze, I had been stripping quickly in and felt a small bump. I thought it may have been a stick or a rock, but as the bugger neared my feet, I saw a good brown cruising behind. About a metre from the bank, he turned and took off back to the depths of the large pool. Next cast, and he was back, this time striking the fly hard within a few strips of it landing in the pool. After an excellent fight, with numerous jumps and runs, I had him by the bank, and carefully reached under his belly to pull him out, being careful not to repeat the loss of my second fish.

This was a spectacularly conditioned fish, with beautiful markings. I’ll leave the photos to do the talking…

My first trout on a wet...this fish took a green wooly bugger with a lead core and bead head

My first trout on a wet…this fish took a green wooly bugger with a lead core and bead head

This was one of my self-tied flies, which just adds so much to the enjoyment of fly fishing

This was one of my self-tied flies, which just adds so much to the enjoyment of fly fishing

The next few hours were some of the most memorable and exciting of my fishing experiences to-date. I persisted with the wooly bugger for a while and had three massive strikes and instant bust-offs. I was, to be honest, in a bit of shock. I know the fish in this river are of a good average size, but being consistently busted off on 3x tippet has me pretty excited about some of the fish in there.

I was questioning whether it was me or the fish…perhaps I was striking too hard? However, I’m fairly certain that it was the fish. I would give the line a strip, then all of a sudden a shock would transfer through the line, up the rod and into my hands, usually resulting in me striking so that a bunch of flyline and leader, fly in absentia, would fly at high velocity into my face and ending up draped over my shoulder.

I have to admit I was childishly humbled by the experience, feeling a mixture of sheepish disappointment and giddy excitement…

Anyway, enough about that. To the end of the post!

The fish started rising.

I tied on a dun.

Then this happened:

One of those fish I'll never forget...

One of those fish I’ll never forget…

Anyway, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from me and the boys and fishinginsoutheastaustralia.com. Thanks for your support during 2012…it’s been a busy year but a great one for all of us, both in terms of the blog and in our lives in general. We hope you’ve enjoyed the content and managed to apply some of the tips and techniques, identified with some of our random philosophies and escapism, or just enjoyed a bit of a read. Good luck with your own piscatorial pursuits for 2013 🙂

Cheers

Lee Georgeson, December 2012

P.S. Now that I’m back from honeymoon, I’ll be going fishing almost daily for the next two weeks, so watch this space 😉

P.P.S. Sorry for the quality of the video! I had the camera hanging around my neck and decided to press record as I witnessed this fish rising, hence the shoddy quality. See if you can spot the fish rising at 0:19 seconds 🙂

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