I learned to fly fish 23 years ago, on the beautiful Bundara River at Anglers Rest in North East Victoria. The learning process took a while, as I lived in Brisbane but I enjoyed the rugged beauty of Australia’s south east and the romance of pursuing the wily brown trout with a fly rod.
I had been fascinated since I was a young man watching fly fishermen, gracefully looping out their fly lines over a big dam stocked with rainbow trout, near our property in the Adelaide Hills. After they left, I’d turn over a few rocks, dig up a mud eye and catch dinner with my telescopic poacher’s rod. Maybe I felt a bit guilty, but I resolved to try it the old fashioned way when I next got the opportunity. This ended up taking another decade or so, when the good voters of Queensland decided I needed to take an involuntary break from politics.
The first chance I got I was there on the Bundara, with my new fly rod kit in hand and absolutely no idea of what to do next. Fortunately Frank Jones was on hand to provide some cheerful advice but I still had to master reading the water, picking the fly, spotting the trout, delivering the cast, mending the drift, setting the hook and then netting uncooperative and very cranky brown trout. It took me a year to get to the netting stage, as it’s a bit hard to learn each stage before you’ve mastered the previous one.
Over this time, the hardest part was actually delivering the fly on the micro pools and drifts of the upper Bundara. Apart from the streamside brambles and overhanging willows to limit the arc of your cast, there was limited stream access across wombat holes into very shallow tailing water, where the slightest unnecessary movement would spook the wary trout feeding in the lower end of the pool. It would then swim upstream casually, telling all its mates that the idiot from Queensland was back.
The good part however was that, if you could fly fish for trout on the Bundara, you could fly fish for trout and salmon pretty much anywhere in the world. So I did and I still am.
The problem with this is that is you get spoiled by the eager guides and their default selection of the easiest runs containing mildly suicidal salmonoids who really like getting their photograph taken.
A little while back I found myself back on the Bundara and losing a lot of flies on the same brambles and overhanging willows that used to frustrate me 20 years ago … and the trout also seemed to have become a lot more cautious, especially in the longer pools where I knew the local catch and kill crowd regularly trailed the dreaded unweighted worm from a fixed line. Was it time for yours truly to head back to piscatorial prep?
The opportunity to answer that question arose recently when I had to fly home to Brisbane from Melbourne and I found I could take a Rex flight out of Melbourne to Albury early in the morning and then catch the late flight out in the afternoon. The in between part was work of sorts, but when you own the company, it’s easier to justify to yourself.
Which was how I found myself partnered up with Scottie McPherson recently on the lower reaches of the Mitta Mitta River in north east Victoria, re-learning all I’d forgotten.
Scottie runs courses for old farts like me called “Short Line Fly-fishing”. In his own words:
It is about having only a few feet of fly line out the end of your rod and using mainly just the leader and tippet with the minimal casts and getting the longest drag free drifts from your single or twin flycombo.
A good buoyant dry fly with a nymph dropper below is my favourite rig.
I like to keep the cast to one or two false casts at most, then stopping the rod with the rod tip high and only having the tippet and flies land on the water.
Using the rod tip to follow the drifting flies with enough slack so that the fly can drift drag free but not too much that you cannot easily lift the rod tip and set the hook if the dry is taken or dips.
With practice you can cover a section of stream very effectively with a minimum amount of casting, but making sure that your nymph is bouncing along the bottom of the stream where the fish are.
You can also easily reach over fast water to fish the slow deeper pockets on the far side.
Scottie runs weekend sessions on this style of fly-fishing all season long but suggests an early start, so you can get the best value for the rest of your season.
Towards the end of session, my rusty short casts were repaired and my flies stopped getting jagged on the willows. I kept my fat feet out of shallow pools and found myself shooting my fly in from the banks with bow and arrow casts zinging in through dartboard sized gaps in the brambles. After lunch, my virtue was rewarded and I ended up hooking a six pound brown in a riffle about six inches deep.
What happened to that six pound brown trout is between me, Scottie and his landing net, but I’m over it now and heading back to Albury and Scottie’s place in the first few weeks of the next trout season on my home waters away from home.
The moral of the story is: small streams hold some big fish and they’re not easy marks for the live bait boys, such as your humble scribe in his younger days. So don’t pass them by.