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