Category: Short stories

The corner is an artificial formation caused by the collapse of willows into the main current on a long, slow bend in the Goulburn. The water backs up and the current boils deep as it strikes the obstruction. A reverse current comes off like a billiard ball with backspin. Over the years it has deepened and nibbled away at the bank, creating its own circular bay before the current is backed up depositing a line of floating scum and debris, and then is sucked back into the main river to continue its journey.

The Goulburn is a special river, rising in the steep mountainous spine of Victoria and twining inland, making its way across the flat lands to join the mighty Murray at Echuca. As the river leaves the steep gullies it is arrested at a narrow gap by Lake Eildon, which spreads its arms out all the way into the mountainous gullies of the Big River, Jerusalem Creek, the Delatite, the upper Goulburn and Jamieson. Here the water is held in its pristine quality, clear and deep and cold. The river then emerges from the base of the dam wall where, from three hundred feet down, the nutrient rich and freezing cold water discharges into the Pondage dam which then regulates the flow of water across the Goulburn Valley and into the Murray where it is used to water the farms producing fruit and milk and wine in the food bowl of inland Victoria and South Australia.

Here in the corner, a concentration of food is narrowed into bubble lines that circulate around the corner and build up into the scummy floating debris. Here he lies, concealed by the floating detritus.

The Goulburn is unique in that the cold clear water has been created by an artificial obstruction as much as the willows in the corner and the large trout that live there have been transported from the temperate latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere. Similarly, trout exist in South Africa, Tasmania, New Zealand and Chile and Argentina.

Everywhere the English colonialists spread around the earth they took their trout to acclimatise them to the New World.

The Goulburn is the perfect habitat. This is not without loss of course. The dams and the cold water have interrupted the breeding cycles of the natives but in their place we have been bequeathed a fabulous fishery.

He inched his way out to the front of the scum line and angling upwards in the current by planing on his fins, he rose to the surface. In one action he opened his gills and mouth to inhale the insect stuck and struggling in the thickened water surface. Down it went as the point of his nose dimpled the surface making a barely audible click as the water closed the gap leaving a tiny bubble and ring. I froze. The fish had risen almost at my feet.

I was kneeling to keep my profile off the sky, so the sound had come from behind and to my right. Any movement of my right arm would spook him. I waited.

Click, there he was again, the dimple spreading to where I could see it now.

He rose again further across so it was plain he was actively patrolling the whole front of the scum line pushed up in the corner. I backed up awkwardly, avoiding bumping the bank and then came up onto my knees again.

Another tiny kiss gave him away and out shot the line across the grass and angled up into the current. The fly began its drift into the trout’s position as the leader compressed back onto the line and the fly made its way backwards and settled in the scum. The current stopped, creating a little ripple of pressure, before folding under the tangle of debris. He rose again two feet to the right of my fly which was now beginning to be pushed under the front so that only a few hackles could be seen protruding through the surface. This was the point of tension. Should I lift and risk frightening the fish or wait long and hope I wouldn’t get hooked in the rubbish and scare the fish on the next pick up as the hook dragged through the debris?

Focusing on the compressed leader, I gave it a couple of seconds longer resolving to pick up if the leader showed signs of drag. I saw the leader move and when I looked for the fly it was under. I lifted as gently as I could to re-cast. The big fish bucked and burst through the water as he came out in a headlong rush. He bored deep into the corner where the vortex of current had deepened the bank. I could feel the solid thump of his tail as he drove into the deepest part of the corner. He had taken my fly as it had protruded below the surface sufficiently to call sunken.

I hadn’t actually seen the take, he had sucked it into his mouth below the surface without any movement save that of the leader.

Slowly the throb of his tail weakened and after several turns around the pool returned with his head down deep against the bank where he began to give. On his next turn around the corner I drew his head up to the surface and held him high with the rod on full side strain until he gave and his head surfaced.

Soon his runs lessened and his head remained up and I reached for my camera awkwardly with my left hand while I held him on a shortened line over my rod hand index finger. A hasty shot as he drew towards me, and the camera went back in the vest replaced by my little disgorger.

A small plastic disgorger has become a regular tool of mine. Studies in England and America have shown that catch and release can have a high morality rate unless the release is very careful. A break in the slime coat will allow fungus to form and spread and kill the fish over a couple of weeks. I shudder when I remember grasping a fish hard and holding him firmly to my chest while I recovered my fly with brutal treatment causing bleeding and bruising. I wonder how many fish I returned died as a result. I now prefer to keep a fish that is badly hooked or handled rather than return them to die slowly as a result of their injuries.

Slowly he drifted back into the corner and with a flick of his tail was gone, untouched by human hands. I would estimate his size at about two and a half pounds, a good Goulburn fish. The fly was a size fourteen beetle with green reflective back material pulled over a chenille body palmered with ginger cock hackle. This fly sits low in the film and will sink if not false cast a couple of times between presentations. It was a couple of swishes like this to wash off the slime and refloat the fly that drew my eye to the box. It was sitting on the stony bottom, partly buried and at first it looked like a squared off rock but it was too regular in shape.

I touched it with the tip of the rod and decided it was not a rock. The clear water of the Goulburn allows you to see the bottom in about eight feet of water. The high summer levels of the river are a result of the discharge of irrigation water from the lake and it brings with its clarity and coldness the best sight fishing of the year.

Needless to say this makes the trout very shy but it also brings them close into the corners and backwaters. Polaroiding comes into its own and the fish range widely given the depth and clarity. This sight fishing brings into play all the skills of hunting, stalking, and eye contact with the quarry. Often the slightest movement or flash of rod is enough to scare the fish and send it bolting off into the deep.

After Easter, with the onset of the Autumn break in the weather, the river level falls away and the flooded corners that were so productive become little more than stagnant side pools. This was how it was when I returned to the corner to fish the bubble line that now by-passed my once favourite high level haunt. The lower river levels bring their own set of problems, and bonuses. Lower levels mean higher temperatures which bring a vast array of insects on the hatch. Foremost are the olive duns and the blue wing olive spinners that drift the bubble lines in a continuous procession. On days of intermittent rain or overcast conditions the hatches come in waves. As the sun comes out the rise drops off and the hatch diminishes only to find an hour later after a brief autumn shower and semi-darkness due to black clouds over the sun, the fish rise again. First to emergers, and then the duns as the hatch, confused by the fading light, starts again. These are glorious times that last for the first month of Autumn.

He was sipping duns from a long, slow bubble line, taking about one in ten of the naturals. It was hard to tell, but he looked a good fish, and as he was the only one I could find I decided to put in some time on him. It took time to position myself so that a back cast was possible and he continued his ten percent showing. Out snaked the line, positioning the fly neatly in the run and down it came along the edge and over his last position. Nothing. Again the cast. Again the drift over the top. Nothing. A rise, tiny dimple and he was back, but only rising occasionally while a trail of naturals covered his lie. Whilst the adrenalin rush of sight fishing liberates, the anticipation felt as a fish takes in full view in high clear water,

the low water, dark sky and slow rise of Autumn challenges the intellect, as matches to the hatch are sought and the careful analysis of food and fly test the ability of the angler. This is the ultimate challenge. Paul Zunica ties a version of the blue winged olive on the loose description of a helihackle, parachute hackle or paradun. This places the body of the fly firmly in the water surface and the wing post is kept above the horizontally wound hackle around its base. These patterns could loosely be termed emergers but to be a true imitation of an emerging fly part of its representation should be under the water. They are an excellent imitation of the dun. The dun has only just struggled free of the nymphal shuck and is therefore still attached to the water surface and they are intended as duns. I sometimes think that the bend of the hook that hangs below the surface could sometimes be seen as a shrunken nymphal shuck still attached to the fly. This could even enhance the appearance of the fly to fish. These are the types of thoughts that flash through the mind when presenting to a sporadic riser. Several passes later I got a distinct rejection. The fly had managed to land in a gap in the line of naturals. A short rise indicated that the fish had risen, inspected and rejected the offering. This was the evidence I needed. Off came the BWO to be re-rigged with an emerger. A frantic search through the boxes that litter my vest and a careful examination of the lambs wool patch failed to turn up a single emerger pattern despite the fact that I frequently use them. I was skint, right out of emergers. The best I could do was use one of Phil’s Sawyer pattern nymphs. These tiny nymphs are tied on barbless hooks with fine copper wire and pheasant tail to make this classic pattern first used by the master of nymph fishing, Frank Sawyer. Sawyer’s pattern came about through the discoveries of the great G.E.M. Skues who so long ago applied the rules of entomology to the flies that fishermen use.

The nymph was tied on the tag end of the knot used to attach the paradun to it appeared as two flies tied right on the end of the leader with about one inch between them so it was suspended directly below the surface where the dry fly sat.

Out it went, the nymph entered the water with a plink and the olive paradun bobbed a couple of times on the surface but remained afloat. This was my substitute for an emerger. Down the drift it came surrounded by naturals. Pop! Down went the fly, not to a rise, but pulled under! Lifting the rod I felt suddenly and securely into a weighty fish that bore off deeply into the main river and laid side on to the current where I felt the solid thump of the tail. He had taken the nymph as the emerger. Full side strain soon took its toll and through the run he came, head up and gulping air when the disgorger slid down and with a click, released the tiny barbless nymph. He lay in the shallows, head upstream his gills flaring and pulsing while he regained his lost composure. Slowly he drifted back into the run and out of sight, no worse for wear. It was then I noticed the box. I had dislodged the caked on layer of silt and weed and I realised I was standing in the middle of the corner where I had first notice the box and touched it with my rod tip. I made a mental note to check it out later but now I was excited by my Sawyer nymph on a one inch dropper under an olive paradun so I set out in search of more risers. Three fish fell to this rig over the next two hours. One to the Olive paradun and the other two to the nymph. The rig is a pleasure to cast and I have employed it frequently since and given the right circumstances it is very productive.

The box was still there when I got back. In the failing light it stood out plainly on the exposed bed of the corner. I picked it up and found it heavily laden with stones inside. The rubber stopper came out easily to reveal a strong plastic box full of stones. The rounded corners made it very strong and wiping it clean in the half light, I could read the vague circular badge embossed on the front. It read ‘Springvale Crematorium’. It was a few seconds later before a smile spread across my face. I realised I was with a kindred spirit, who else would have their ashes consigned to the beautiful Goulburn? Surely it could only be a fly fisher. Was it his fishing mate who had the responsibility of depositing his ashes in the corner? As I walked home across the paddock that night my step was a little lighter. I had found a new friend, I had one of the best day’s fishing for a while and having added a few stones more into the box I had slipped it further into the deepest section of the comer. The technique I had developed to overcome my lack of an emerger pattern was an innovation and a revelation.

I am not superstitious or religious but I had a delicious feeling that the coincidence of the day’s events had a special quality. Somehow they were a connection in an unbroken stream of knowledge and ideas and poignant reminder that in our own way we are as temporary and ephemeral as Mayfly that live their whole adult life in a brief twenty-four hours.

I have shown Paul the corner and Phil had found it b& himself and James from the Hatchery cut his teeth with a good fish from the comer.

The comer is typical of many sections of riverbank on the Goulburn and in any of them you will find fish. The constant creation of forms through the flow and eddy of the stream provide countless rich ecological niches for the better fish to inhabit. The casting is challenging, often overgrown, and the electrifying sight fishing is always possible.

I will fish the corner again when I finish my self imposed closed season. I like the idea of seasons, they relate to the cycles of weather and water, hatches, and the life cycle of trout. Seasons help connect us in~ the continuum of nature and the heightened sense of anticipation that self denial brings. Respect for nature can be ensured by our respect for a vulnerable natural creature such as a trout exposed in its growth cycle at the time of spawning. There seems to be something inherently cruel about catching a fish whose hormones have caused it to behave in a way that abandons all its usual caution and protective behaviour. The urge to procreate being so powerful. The solution in Victoria would be so simple. The last Saturday in May, until the first Saturday in September, for all flowing waters. Lakes and impoundments would remain open but all the rivers and streams could be closed. The definition of “Moving Water” would be sufficient. The only other requirement would be to police the policy. Much of the manpower of the Department of Environment and Resources is available for this task at this time of year and should not be costly to administer.

How did I slide from reverie to Polemic? I find I cannot talk of my sport without a rage welling up inside me. The same rage that is felt by thousands of sporting anglers and club members all of whom have expressed their disgust at the present state of affairs in Victoria. No doubt my friend in the comer felt the same way and we all owe it to him to put this sorry state right. A simple comparison highlights the absurdity. The policy in Victoria allows no closed season, no bag limit, no size limit, for our premier sporting species. Compare it to the policy in New South Wales, Tasmania, New Zealand or other states and guess the odd one out. Then ask yourself, who has the best fishing?

Vale my friend in the corner

During the period from Christmas to Easter, the bookings come thick and fast. This is the time when most people get a holiday. Each morning a new client, a new piece of river and a new set of skills to pass on, be it polarising or high stick nymphing, everyone has different needs.

David and I run a guiding service on the Goulburn River at Thornton. As river guides, outfitters and suppliers; we provide a short-circuit for visiting fly fishers so that they can find out how to fish the river quickly, so that there valuable leisure time is maximised.

Part of this is the Drift Boat service we offer. Inflatable’s rigged with oar frames. Shortly after Easter we found a day in the appointment book that was vacant. The first one for months. I duly wrote in it, ‘Guides day off’, as neither of us had had a real day off since Christmas.

Anticipation enhances the delight of fly fishing and so it was with us.  As the day approached we thought of all the chores we had neglected. The backlog of obligations that had been mounting over the weeks and to divide our time into catch-up tasks seemed a churlish waste of good fishing time.

Conspiratorial glances and….

“Whaddya doing tommorrer?…”

“Goin Fishing”

“Me too…”

“Whaddya say we take the raft below Alexandra for a change?…”

“Ok see ya ’bout nine….”

I had studied the maps and aerial photos and I knew of some connected backwaters I wanted to explore. David must have been mining a similar vein.

Pressing through the cumbungi reeds and crack willow and like two explorers seeking the source of the Nile, we made our way onto the river. As the water became deeper we penetrated the final barrier of growth, the nose of the raft pushed out into the Goulburn. High and wide, fast and clear, the mighty Goulburn was at peak summer flow. Opposite were the high banks and open pastures of the lower Goulburn. Positioning the raft angled into the current, I drew hard on the oars and felt the inflatable keel lift and draw the boat into a rapid ferry glide across the current. As we approached the opposite bank I stood up and passed the oars to David.

“You fish first and I’ll hold you in the current opposite this bank”, he said.

Out snaked the line and the Knobby hopper landed with a plop. It sat there motionless below the bank as the back eddy slowly filled a belly in the line. ‘Clock’!, the sound of the take was an audible clunk of closing mouth in water. I set back on the rod and it went into a full arc. A good fish burst out of the water.

“Three pounds…,” said David as it crashed around.

Photographed, unhooked and released, I sat down to take over the oars.

“Your turn…,” I said smugly.

You have to squeeze every drop out of a situation like this when you hook a great fish on the first cast of the day. There is always a great deal of argey-bargey and banter about who is catching fish and who isn’t, that goes on in the raft.

Once we were in the back eddy off the main current we rowed up the river towards a tangle of snags. The polaroid’s allow you to inspect the bottom. Standing motionless in the front, David was scanning the bottom ahead, when I caught a movement to my left. Drifting off the weed bed and into the dark shadow was a huge rainbow about eight or nine pounds. I saw his spots and a glint of pink side as his pale green form melted out of sight. I told David who repeatedly passed the fly through the shadow to no avail. We made a vow to soon return to this spot and turned the boat into the fast glide to seek out the next good hopper bank around the corner.

David proceeded to catch several good fish. Then we became aware that this was a phenomenal day. Every fish in the river seemed to be up , including the leviathans. I have experienced days like this before, but they are rare, and you are indeed lucky if you happen to be there when it happens.

It must rely on a conjunction of all the factors. Water temperature, insect emergence or food supply, phases of the moon and tidal activity, barometric pressure, rising or falling or stable water level, who knows what the combination of factors are. I once read about a Maori fishing table for New Zealand that had developed from observation over the centuries. This linked cloud cover and fine days to phases of the moon and lunar calendar. First day of the full moon with cloudy sky, good fishing.

Sloan’s solunar table from America and other tables from England all claim to predict the activity of fish. The American tables were devised during the Depression as a money making exercise by someone trying to save his family from starvation. They have been sold ever since and for a fee you purchase them for your computer, suitably adjusted for all around the world. They all miss the point. Fly fishers go fishing despite all the direst warnings from the weather bureau or the least propitious signs from the entrails of dissected chickens. They go because can.

Other anglers view fly fishers with suspicion because of this. What weird rituals do they perform, what drives them to go fishing when clearly the signs say that it is pointless! When asked the eternal question, “When is the best time to go fly fishing?” I reply, “Whenever you can get away…”

This is the only way that you will be there when it happens. If it happens to you five times in a lifetime you have been blessed. After five you had better start watching yourself for the end is surely nigh.

This was such a day because the next fish turned out to be well over three and a half. He was rising in a reverse current under a big red gum. I positioned the raft and did a couple of holding strokes as David cast in his direction. He rose again, further down the bubble line. This fish was a cruiser, an omni feeder, taking anything edible as he mooched along.

David’s Knobby hopper was sitting up nicely when he rose about a metre away, but clearly headed in the right direction. ‘Slurp’, down it went and up came David’s rod with a buck as the hook went home. Under the raft he went and wild panic ensued. A bent rod pointing over the side while a jumping fish clears the water on the other. Shortly after he was subdued, photographed and released and then it started. I had retired prematurely after my first fish and now David had a bigger one, more fish and better fish to boot. My earlier gloating was rearing up to bite me. As compensation I get as big a buzz when someone else lands a beauty assisted by me, as if I had caught it myself, but this thought remained private.

Soon the fishing dropped off and long drifts elicited no response, no risers were apparent. We glanced at the watch, it was surely lunch time. “Four-thirty” said David as we munched on a chocolate bar. We hadn’t noticed the time, the concentration had been so intense.

A bit of rest and refreshment and we were into it again with renewed vigour, but the best had gone. Those few hours have passed into memory but the day had not quite finished with us yet.

We had entered a long slack section of river that was very deep and slow. Overhanging ti-tree from steep hillsides made for black bottomless holes with slow drifts circulating, marked by flecks of tiny bubble rafts.

Lazily we drifted past these corners searching with the Knobby hopper, making it plonk as it landed or bounced in off a tussock hard under the bank.

“There’s one…”

We saw the dimple rise together and David shot a long line across to the bay. A dimple followed and it seemed an eternity before he drew the rod up to a full arc. All hell broke loose as I scrambled for the camera. Under and out the other side he went, around the boat from front to back and then the acrobatics started. Coming from deep down he cart wheeled out of the water going end over end before crashing back into the deep and scorching the line through the water to repeat the jump four times, five times.

In danger of passing out from holding my breath while firing the camera in his direction, I passed David the unfolded net. David was probably practically hyperventilating from the adrenalin rush as he netted him while he still had some vigour. We try to do this so that they don’t become completely exhausted and require reviving before release. A rapid set of photos followed before the hook was extracted and the net lowered into the water. A few moments later a kick from his tail propelled him out of the net into the depths. We were shaking.

The run home to the car pick up point gave us time to reflect on the day. This last fish was in the vicinity of six pounds. Beautifully proportioned, an obvious young fish that was rapid grown to achieve a noble size. The large brown spots patterned his whole flank and under his shoulder. The best photo of the jumping fish shows an out of focus fish going out of frame about a metre out of the water. My reflexes weren’t quick enough to contend with the speed. But I do know that David treasures the shot of himself holding a magnificent brown, and the smile on his face says it all.

We had experienced a fantastic day and we know that it will be unlikely to be repeated for some time to come. It has since proven so, several returns have failed to produce such amazing results. Never the less the fishing has been good and if it was easy all the time,  we wouldn’t bother.

It is this contrast that keeps us going. Everyone has blank days now and then, and these are rewarded when we encounter a day when, rare as they are, it seems you can do no wrong. The fish glide up to your first offering and swallow it as though it is the last feed they will ever have. An endless procession of fish of all sizes are up and feeding and apart from messing up it up yourself, the opportunities are there for the taking.

On blank days you will find me with glazed eyes gazing into the distance on a raft and a river somewhere in my imagination. The memories of these few amazing days, more than compensating for the fish-less ones.

Such was the guides day off. The following day we had to front up and do it all again. Ah well, I suppose someone has to do it. Thank god we get a day off now and then.

We first met the Wild Kid on a trip to Eucumbene. The Citroen had been playing up, the generator had not been working and the battery had gradually drained until we limped into Corryong. Unable to buy a generator, even if we could have afforded it, the battery was given a rapid charge and we continued on our way, determined that nothing would stop us.

Unseasonable early snow flecked the windscreen and we drove only into the daylight so as not to use lights. Easter at Eucumbene or anytime onwards can be freezing cold with ice forming in your rod rings and inner crust around the waters edge, spreading out to paper thin glass in the bays. Days can be gin clear with a biting cold wind ruffling the lake and cracking your lips. Sunburn comes easily in that clear air and wind. The cold triggers the biggest trout into action. In readiness for the spawning season they eat heartily and their aggression rises as the time for mating ritual approaches.

Our favourite bank was on the Hughes Creek side of the Providence Portal arm. You could still cross the Eucumbene River bridge because it took some years for the lake to fill.

The bank rose quickly out of the lake and continued behind us on a slope until it flattened about eight feet above water level.

It was possible to cast with this behind you because it was devoid of bushes and you could sometimes bounce the point of your hook off when you failed to steeple cast high enough.

The wind howled down the lake at right angles and if you could unroll a loop across the water, the wind would pick it up and lay a curving cast down the wind. A few seconds to allow the red and black matuka to sink down a bit, and then start the retrieve. The next minute or two spent retrieving by short strips or handover method, would have you with your heart in your mouth.

A hump would appear behind where the fly should be, followed by a a crashing strike and a blistering run. If it was a big rainbow the  run would continue accelerating until a crack denoted the parting of the leader. A brown would on the other hand would start his slogging battle, short runs with head down deep and the best part of a full line out.

On a later trip we were to witness the ten and twelve pound rainbows when we volunteered to assist the fisheries officers measuring, scale sampling and recording the growth rate of fish held in wire pens on Swamp Creek. We carried these doped fish up to the recording table, and then returned them to the holding pen. Their heads and tails hung over our outstretched arms as we carried them. It was clear that these were the express trains that didn’t stop once you hooked them. We could only have held them with much heavier tippet than the six pound we used.

Despite frozen fingers and wind that cut right through a balaclava, Rick and I took fourteen fish between four and half past six, when the fading light and biting cold finally beat us. These fish ranged in size between three and six pounds and we both released big fish towards the end of the session. It seemed that one of us was connected to a fish the whole time. These were the Halcyon days of Eucumbene. It wasn’t always like the day described above, many days were fish-less and I remember a trip of five days when not a scale was touched.

The snow was building up on the roads and concern about the generator triggered our decision to leave. The boom gate on the Khancoban road could come down at any time as the snow got deeper. The top road past the Cabramurra water supply dam was out of the question. This dam will have a story of its own at a later date, but it had become part of a ritual of the trip home to stop and have a few casts here, before leaving the high country.

The road winds steeply downhill towards Cabramurra through tall alpine ash forests. The snow made the going tough and to our dismay, the old Citroen started missing and ran to a stop on the side of the road. Now we were in real trouble. We disconnected the battery and started walking down the road towards Cabramurra, taking turns to carry the battery.

The light was fading fast as we trudged along when we heard a truck coming down the hill. In the cabin were two teenage boys, a middle aged driver and an old man. They were driving an old tip truck loaded with cut blocks of firewood that were piled up in the back. When they stopped and offered to help us, having seen the stricken and abandoned Citroen, we were very grateful. The Wild Kid was ordered out of the cabin by the boys and told to ride up on the load to make room for us in the warmth. As he climbed out I noticed that he was not so old as he first appeared, but had terribly weathered features and red rimmed sagging eyes. His movements were slow and shaky and his clothing old, dirty, and reeking of alcohol.

The wood dump was in a disused gravel pit cut into the hill below the road and uphill of the Cabramurra township that consisted of a few workers’ huts and a central workers’ mess, that doubled as a place to eat with a bar up one end. Most of the men who worked here were single and had accents that were thick and unintelligible, they were very rough diamonds indeed.

The truck was backed up to the wood dump and the tipper was slowly raised. A muffled yell was followed by a fading high pitched stream of obscenities. We had forgotten that the wild kid was on the back. He rode that load of wood all the way to the bottom where we found him half buried in wood and snow, and somehow unhurt.

The battery was duly hooked up to the charger in the workshop on slow charge and we adjourned to the workers’ mess to warm up the Wild Kid by the pot belly stove. We purchased some beer and rum for our rescuers, who had also offered us the hospitality of their camp for the night. We returned to their camp in the bush down a rough track off the road. Here they had an old school bus set up as their home with a kitchen down the back and seats turned sideways for beds.

By the time we had cooked a meal and given the Wild Kid some rum and put him to bed, the bus had warmed up. We had a great night of hospitality and oiled by a few grogs, I got out the guitar and we all sang raucously about, “The Wild Colonial Boy,” our voices trailing off into the still night air and steep gullies in dedication to the “Wild Kid,” who snored away in rum soaked peace.

The following day Rick and I loaded two tipper loads of wood before lunch time and when the battery was returned after the second load, we left them enough fish for a feast, and departed. We made it home all the way on one charge of the battery by switching off the ignition on long down hill runs. The season was over for three months or more.

The sequel to the episode came later that year. Back again in September with a reconditioned generator, we camped on the Hughes creek side, in a sheltered gully. We fished the flooded flats, the high steep banks when the cross winds came, and the still quiet bays when the mudeyes were hatching in the moonlight.

Night fishing on the lake can be just a matter of chuck and chance it, or it can be gripping, with every sensory nerve fibre twitching to sense a noise, a boil, anything. It is a rush as to throw your flies out into the darkness and to feel it connect with a cruising fish.

The pleasure of casting in the black night is intensified because the only measure is the flex of your rod and the quiet swish of the line. Night fishing is a joy as much as it is a different type of adventure. Heading out from the warmth of the camp at ten o’clock at night takes a strong act of the will. The body craves the warmth of the fire or the sleeping bag, but the will to fish is stronger. The lunge of a big fish in the dark seems to be exaggerated compared to full daylight.

In January our days are divided into morning fishing from daylight until about eleven o’clock on the glorious rivers and creeks. Back to camp on the lake for lunch and an afternoon sleep, up in time for the evening rise on the lake. Dinner is late, about nine o’clock at night, and then we go out to night fish any time after ten thirty onwards, returning to camp when the fish go off the bite about one in the morning. Sleeping is not a problem when you crash, because you are aware that the whole cycle starts again at daylight and every moment of sleep is necessary to keep this pattern going for the whole week.

A week at Eucumbene can restore the soul of the jaded office worker or the fishing crazed appetites of the nineteen year old.

Naive nineteen year olds we were, the world at our feet. Before very long we would be burdened with careers and family but for a few blissful years of youth we would enjoy some of the best fishing the world could offer. Wild trout in a remote and wild environment.

After several days we needed to re supply the camp and drove into Adaminaby. After the stores were replenished, we headed for the warmth of the pub and on the steps we met the Wild Kid. We recognised the same clothes and red rimmed eyes. A glazed recognition spread across his face and then he urgently pressed some money on us to buy him a couple of flagons of fortified wine. Despite the hesitation, we did the deed and he asked if we could run him home.

As we let him off at the front gate of a derelict house his wife came out to greet us. She had the same ancient, world-weary look. She fixed us with a watery red eye as the Kid climbed from the car and they went into the house together with their brown paper bags. We returned to the pub and had a drink to the Kid!” a little less sure of the certainty of youth.

Ours was a fabulous existence. We fished Nungar Creek back in the hills, Eucumbene River from Rocky Plain to the Suicide Hole, and Tantangara Creek going in from Kiandra. Over the top into the next watershed at Rules Point and out from Adaminaby to the Murrumbidgee at Yaouk. I recall standing in a huge marsh of ten acres or more, surrounded by rising fish located in the channels of clear water interlacing the vast beds of weed and snow grass. Out of this sponge the water drained into a small creek that fed into the Murrumbidgee.

These fish fell to a hare’s ear nymph stuck in the surface film and they charged up the run to take a Knobby hopper dropped on the edge of the weed. I spooked dozens in the shallow weed and they departed leaving big bow waves as the only hint of their size. I hunger to return to these fields of delight and having walked in the water meadows of the Itchen below Winchester Cathedral on the most famous of all the world’s chalk streams, nothing compares.

If I had grown up fishing the Central Lakes of Tasmania or the South Island of New Zealand, I would have been equally blessed; but the wild gorges and the snow grass plains where I spent my early years were what made me the fly fisher I am.

In between trips to the Upper Murray, Monaro and the great impoundments of Eucumbene, Tantangara and Jindabyne, I returned to my home on the Goulburn for weekends. Many years have passed since these early trips at the start of the sixties, and I have been back many times since, but sweetest of all, like your first trout on a fly, were those cold clear days of youth.

During the busiest periods at peak holiday times, situations can arise where our rivers and streams can become congested. Compared to other countries, there is significantly less of a problem here in Australia, and even less in Victoria, where the rivers are not privately owned. Plenty of access points help to spread the crowds and disperse fishing pressure. If there are too many cars at one access point, I will simply seek out another. less crowded one.

Nevertheless there are days when there are plenty of fishermen about and avoiding them is impossible.

The protocols for such an encounter apply equally to all. It matters not if you fish with bait, lure or fly. First and foremost, etiquette dictates that the first person on the spot has the right of way. Whoever is in place fishing has the right to expect courtesy from anyone who comes along later.

If you arrive to find someone else fishing you must defer to their preference every time; and it works like this.

Approach quietly and stay well away so that you do not interfere with their fishing. When the time is right, after they are aware of your presence, do the usual conversation stuff….How’s it going? … Doing any good?….What are they taking? Etc.

You cant then can say something like ‘what’s your preference? Where do you intend to fish so that I can give you a wide berth?’ After they’ve nominated their intentions, you should suggest what you might intend to do. This gives them a chance to review what they have said in light of what you are offering. Usually people are generous, aware that today is busy, and you may even get an invitation to fish in the same vicinity.

The problem arises when you happen to be first, and fishing carefully, only to have someone come blundering in you and the fish you have been patiently stalking for an hour.

Although it is difficult, try not to be angry, but be firm. Explain carefully and calmly. Question them to see if they understand the protocols first and then if it is obvious that they don’t, then clearly, firmly and without confrontation; point out that there is a process that they should have followed. The conversation starter should go something like this….

“Excuse me, I’m fishing to a fish here, could you please stand back a bit?”…..

“Do you mind not coming any closer until I have finished with this fish?”….

“Are you aware of the normal streamside courtesy? Normally I get to nominate what I intend to do first and then you offer a suggestion of how you would like to proceed”….

This is the normal protocol we use to share the water on any given day. Most people will understand that this is the best way for all involved. While there are many small rules that we can delve into, if this one is applied it would solve 90% of grievances that arise on the river bank.

Sometimes people are amazed to discover that there is in fact a proper procedure and a friendly discussion will ensue as they learn about streamside etiquette, and generous sharing of the resource is often the outcome. You must volunteer to lead this discussion if the other person is obviously unaware. Never back someone into a corner, humiliate them or be aggressive. Rather try to be firm and fair.

If, after all of the explanations they continue to behave badly then feel free to give them a tongue lashing, as publicly as possible. Everyone on the river within earshot will then be aware of the rude bastard who just blunders in on people.

I will never forget the day I was guiding on the pondage and a bloke stepped in between my client and myself and then proceeded to flick his lure across the water we were casting into. I gave him a serve. He looked stunned when I let him have the “Oi, Oi, Oi…Don’t you know what good fishing manners are mate?” I shouted at him. He looked confused, he obviously didn’t know.

“You’re supposed to talk to us first before you do that” I said referring to the lure wobbling its way in. “What you mean?”  he said. Five minutes later the shock subsided, oi, oi, oi was replaced by an invitation to come and do a fly fishing lesson and a brief description of the protocol.

I still see him from time to time. He gives me a smile and a wave as we pass. He did come and do a lesson and is now a competent fly fisher, and now and then we have a laugh about how I picked on him for not knowing the streamside etiquette.

The Mates Guide to Etiquette – The Art of Sledging

Whenever two Australians see flies crawling up a wall, they will want to bet on the outcome. Such is the nature of men. Suddenly there is a competition. We will bet on the outcome of anything, cricket, football, ferret racing, the dogs. You name it, we will wager on the outcome. And so it is with fly fishing. And as expected, the worst offenders when it comes to competing with you, will be your best mates.

Just as the fish opens its mouth to take your fly your ‘friend’ mentions the upcoming airline strike. Then as you lift the rod and feel nothing he will make a remark about your premature problem. At this point you are a trembling mess of jangled nerves and all attempts at coolness or control have been totally lost.

Having hooked the tree for the third time your so-called friend implies that you are “casting like a B-Grade movie” or “swinging like a rusty gate”. Just to boost your confidence.

Sledging is a time-honored method of destroying your competition. Use a camera. Stand closely behind and click it next to his ear just as the fly drifts into the perfect spot. This is enough to cause an involuntary strike that drags the fly enough to put any fish in the vicinity down. This one is great in the age of digital cameras as you can capture the moment of failure as an added bonus.

Leave a little bit of grass on the hook after generously climbing back up the bank to untangle your friend’s poor back-cast. This is a great one as no self-respecting fish will even look at the fly with an ugly bit of detritus hanging from it, the added bonus being that your friend will not suspect a thing, instead assuming that they fouled their hook on a subsequent cast. The benefit of this method is that there will be no repercussions. You can even rub it in and reaffirm your own innocence by saying that their casting is shocking anyway, citing the previous help you gave them removing their fly from the bush as proof.

Yes, anything goes in love, war and fly fishing. Try playing tennis with your friend’s fish so that it gets off before you can net it and get a photo. Particularly if it is bigger than anything you have caught that day. Sometimes this can happen unconsciously, your innocence is assured as he has probably lost the previous four fish due to your earlier sledging; yet he blames himself.

Encourage your mate to have a go at an impossible cast. Once he is hooked up on the low branch on the far bank you can casually fish on past him and through the best part of the pool. Catching a fish at this point will surely break whatever spirit remains. A flippant remark implying that ‘the last fish really belongs to him’ is what I like to call the icing on the cake.

A sure fire way to get him twitching is to vaguely hint at infidelity with his wife, or mention that the stick at his feet looks ‘awfully a lot like a snake’. These are but a few of the tried and tested methods I have come up with and I am sure you all have many of your own to share.

You must however exercise a degree of restraint in order to ensure that you do not ruin your own day. Once the rot has set in, a gentle sledge from time to time will keep him on the edge, but not boiling over. Should a boil over occur. then you have lost the game. A state of collapse will ensue, you will inevitably have to assist him back to the car, thus putting an end to the day’s fishing and negating the purpose of the tactic in the first place.

The new season is now here. This represents a great opportunity to sledge, as a fly fisherman just coming out of hibernation is prone to a higher percentage of missed strikes and short tempers, without any help from his mates. Personally I am going to save my sledging for a friendly NZ trip this November. There is a brown of about 15lb we are going to be chasing with a camera crew and I reckon seeing David stuff up in high definition widescreen is just too good an opportunity to pass up.

~ Geoff

The Ten Commandments of Fly Fishing

The prophet Geoff has just returned from the mountains with two stone tablets. While he was there a huge rush of wind parted the ominous clouds. Down came a giant finger in a shaft of light, etching into the slabs of stone.

A booming voice commanded him, saying ” These are the ten commandments of fly fishing….now go forth and multiply” or words to that effect! We have brought these commandments to you exclusively. Here is what is writ in stone.

1/ Thou shalt never drop thy shadow on the water. Seek ye the south bank in the morning. Seek ye the bend that puts the shadow on the bank and not on the water. Seek ye the ways of the skulker, the sneaker, dissembler of shadows on the water.

2/ Thou shalt not move suddenly lest ye shall spook the fish by movement. Fishes live in moving environments with eyes that train to detect movement against the background. Spook and ye shalt not catch.

3/ Thou shalt screen thyself with foliage green. Seek ye the camo screen of leaf and branch. Leave not yourself openly seen to the fish if it is possible to otherwise break up your shape and outline. This is when the fish shall reveal themselves on beat, whence you are not known to them.

4/ Thou shalt not expose thyself. Avoid ye the silhouette upon the sky whereby at low level fish can look upon the sky and see a human outline. Furthermore ye shalt be arrested, raincoat and all.

5/ Thou shalt not lay the line, nor the leader nor even they tippet across the fishes gaze.Cast ye not the shadow of the line across waters wherein lies the fish.

6/ Thou shalt not false cast with monotony. Remember that the fly must be on the water in order to catch a fish.

7/ Thou shalt not covet thy fishing partner’s wife’s ass, nor his wife’s goat nor her other features such as ginger hackles, fly reels or other covetous objects of desire!

8/ Thou shalt not reveal to the world the Holy Grail. Mankind has sought the perfect fly that always catches fish. We know you have it so to reveal it would render the fly box to contain only one, thus ruining my day.

9/ Thou shalt not drag fish upon the bank but rather carefully handle gently without removing from the water. To harvest fish is against the holy law.

10/ Thou shalt not drag the fly upon the water. Drag is an abomination. The Sodom and Gomorrah of fly fishing. Mend thy ways and thy line, for evil is the way of drag. Cast the line with a stop and drop but drag you must not teach.

Thus spoke the piscator grande to his prophet Geoffrey, who finding his idolatrous congregation worshipping the unworthy graven images of loch style, glo bugs and boobies, smite the stones upon the earth.

Geoff Hall