CHEAT SHEET: -A Season On the Goulburn

Read on for a basic month by month guide of what to expect when fly fishing the Goulburn River over the course of a season.



Unless the lake is completely full, the Goulburn River will be running at a very low level with a minimum riparian flow of 400 ML/D (Megalitres a day with a megalitre being a million litres; the equivalent of one Olympic swimming pool of water). This is so that Goulburn Murray Water (GMW) can capture as much water as possible to sell to farmers when things are dry and hot throughout the summer. Lake Eildon is the source of much of central Victoria’s irrigation water, and the plan is to let it fill from May to November and then use this stored water once the spring rains cease and the demand from farmers for irrigation water increases. Typically, most of our rain comes in August, September, and October.

Heavy spring rains falling onto a soaked catchment can see up to 100,000 ML/D coming into the lake from its feeder streams, such as the Big, Upper Goulburn, Jamieson, Delatite, and Howqua Rivers. Many people mistakenly believe that snowmelt plays a major role in the amount of runoff and the level of the lake each spring. This is incorrect. Heavy spring rain, at weekly or fortnightly intervals, is the key to seeing the lake fill. It is at this time of year that releases of water into the Goulburn River below Lake Eildon are all but stopped.

The fishing in this month is a mixture of streamer/nymph and dry fly, about 75:25 subsurface to surface. The Goulburn is often the only fishable river in the state as the natural flowing rivers are in flood and either too discoloured or too cold. The minimum flows of the Goulburn River ensure good fishable conditions, and water releases from deep in Lake Eildon ensure clear/warmer water for the river when compared with naturally flowing streams in the region.

Clear water can almost be guaranteed between Eildon and Thornton, but as you move further downstream, more gullies and gutters enter the Goulburn and cause some discoloration as they join the river. Also, as we move downstream of the Rubicon confluence, the water is much colder and therefore less likely to offer up good hatches or very active fish in September.

The fish can be very wary in the low, clear flows of early spring. A lot of the browns will line the inside of river bends, feeding in shallow water and sitting still, waiting to ambush prey in these exposed spots. This is demanding fishing that requires great stealth and precision. As a result, blind fishing with nymphs in the faster runs is a more productive option, as is stalking the flat pools armed with long leaders of 12-15 feet and tiny imitative dry flies, mostly midges and small mayflies.

Evening rises are usually slow at first, but they build in intensity from week to week. There is an observable improvement from day to day at times. Despite the emphasis on tiny dry flies, there will be a smattering of larger duns popping off most nights, even on opening day. Most years, we see hatches of quite large duns as early as August 20. I cannot recall a trout opening where these large, pale duns haven’t made an appearance. As the month progresses, the hatches will dramatically increase in intensity, with caddis showing up in greater numbers and numerous other mayflies also appearing in larger concentrations as we near the end of the month.

Low water conditions in September


If the weather is cool and we are getting regular rain, i.e., normal conditions, the river can remain at 400 ML/D for the entire month of October. Seasonal weather of weekly rain events and cooler temperatures will ensure that there is little or no demand for irrigation, and if the farmers are not buying it, the river will stay low. In a warmer year like a La Nina, drying conditions combined with the need to sustain optimal growth in agriculture along the river can see water levels rise as high as 3,000 ML/D. Generally speaking, you can expect to find the river between 400 and 2,000 ML/D.

By now, water temps have increased, and the first significant hatches have begun. My diaries show it happening most often sometime between October 1 and 7. Huge hatches of caddis will persist throughout the day, and duns will make an appearance in the evenings. The fishing throughout the day on caddis pupa patterns can be ridiculously good. Cricket score fish days are relatively common, and the river is often in perfect condition, easily wadeable with fish actively feeding from the surface all day.

As the month progresses, we start to see larger insects and more of them. Grannoms begin to appear in great numbers, crash landing on the water’s surface as they make their way upstream. Caenids begin to hatch in huge clouds, and this will continue for several months. These hatches are by far the biggest emergence on the Goulburn, rivalling anything we’ve encountered worldwide. By 8 or 9 am, there are literally millions of them in the air and on the surface of the water drifting.

Again, stealth and presentation are key, so long fine leaders and tiny flies are in order. Catching these fish is more about presentation than imitation. Getting in sync with the fish and putting your fly across the fish’s nose at the exact right moment is key. The best days occur on a river running <1500 MLD after a cold, clear sky night. You can expect some world-class dry fly fishing when this hatch is happening.

By month’s end, the fishing is one notch off as good as it gets. First light caenids, caddis all day with overlapping hatches of multiple species of mayfly duns, caddis, and spent spinners as well, with a sprinkling of flying ants. Just glorious dry fly fishing!



At this point in the season, we usually have slightly higher water levels as the demand for irrigation increases. This is a welcomed change as the fish have had six months of lower water levels, and they are beginning to develop psychological issues – just kidding. Levels of between 1,000 and 3,000 ML/D bring on some of the best fishing of the season. The terrific fishing is not hindered by even much higher water levels should they occur. There is just so much insect activity, and conditions are perfect.

The intensity of the hatches is building to a crescendo that will occur somewhere between late November and Christmas. Absolutely everything is hatching. Caenids at first light for a few hours. Then caddis will pop through the day, as will several species of mayfly. Beetles are starting to become important, and evenings will be a smorgasbord of duns, spinners, caddis, stoneflies, grannoms in every size shape and colour. Even the cicadas are out. Being prepared for all eventualities is advisable!

On thundery and/or humid afternoons, termites hatch in great numbers in the farmland and wooded areas adjacent to the river. Many of them will end up in the Goulburn, not only getting the attention of the trout but completely mesmerising them. A good imitation is worth its weight in gold when this happens, and you will be able to sell an effective fly to frustrated anglers you encounter for 20 bucks a pop. Some great fish are caught during this hatch each season.

Termites make November memorable

Some nights the Kossie Duns will hatch out, and the fish can be a bit ‘Meh. They can also be a bit, ‘this is my last meal on death row’. Either way, this is the iconic Australian hatch so revered by so many. The biggest mayfly that we have here in Australia. Make no mistake; this is one of the highlights of the year.

Very big duns appear at last light with little indication/warning, and the fish go nuts for about twenty minutes as the light fades. This is a must-experience event with #8-10 mayflies drifting down in the last of the light, and the silhouetted profiles of the fish’s heads, snouts, and backs being the last thing you’ll see before you retreat to the car. These nights have given me some of my fondest memories of evening rise fishing, as well as taught me many lessons about how fish behave versus how our logical brains tell us they should. My advice is to stay late and pick a pool that has a decent westerly aspect to it. There is nothing quite like fishing to Kossie feeders as the light fades in the western sky.

Caenids in flight. google trico hatches for more info on patterns and techniques

Fish love termites and decent falls of this insect bring masses of trout to the surface to feed

Size 22-26 caenid patterns are needed when this hatch is coming off



As a fishing guide on the Goulburn river, I can tell you that summer is here and the river flow can range from 2,000 to 5,000 ML/D, with higher levels during drought years. Fishing along the river edges is becoming more productive as fish seek shelter from the strong currents and look for food in slower water. The bigger fish usually occupy the best spots, less than a foot off the bank. This helps us decide where to fish and what to discard, but there are always exceptions.

In December, the biggest insects of the year start hatching, and the fishing can be fantastic if you time it right. The first days of the cicada hatch are my favorite because the fish seem to be in a feeding frenzy. Small hoppers and beetles also start falling into the water, and green is the preferred color for hopper imitations tied on hook sizes 12-14. Terrestrial insects become the main target during the day, and fishing along the edges is crucial to success.

As the month progresses, the hoppers get bigger, and the flies should match their size. However, there are also good hatches of Caenids and rusty duns that can be epic if you’re willing to get up early. Caddisflies are also important, but they can be hard to spot in larger volumes of water. If the river flows are on the lower end of the spectrum, the numbers of mayfly and caddis will be intense.

Willow grubs usually start in December

Willow grubs become the most important source of protein for our trout around this time of year. The larva of the Sawfly is a game-changer for the fish of the Goulburn as it appears in high-summer when the hatches of aquatic insects are decreasing in intensity. This gives the trout the most abundant and easy-to-capture food source of the year, which they wouldn’t normally find on the surface as often.

The grubs fall from trees all day long, and the fish will rise for hours at a time, reacting to each and every plop on the water. It’s not uncommon to fish for rising fish from 9am to 9pm. The fish go crazy for these grubs, knowing that an easy meal has just arrived and is unable to escape. By the end of the month, we notice more and more large fish occupying the prime spots, and all fish are putting on substantial amounts of weight.

The fishing becomes so easy (most of the time!) that I usually only take a camera and telephoto lens out and leave the rod at home.

A sequence of a solid Goulburn brown eating willow grubs beneath the trees


January is one of our favorite months as fishing on the Goulburn river is amazing, and all the natural streams (undammed rivers) are at perfect levels, offering an abundance of fishing options with dry flies. As the weather gets warmer and drier, water demand increases from farmers downriver of Lake Eildon, resulting in increased water flows between 4,000 and 8,000 ML/D. Backwater fishing becomes crucial, with brilliant hatches when water levels are low and backwaters being the only real option when levels are high.

The willow grub remains the most important food source for Goulburn fish, and January is often the best month to fish them. Fish rise all day and put on a tremendous amount of weight quickly. Hopper fishing with larger flies averaging around a #10 is now the way to go, and cicadas are often the fly of choice. Beetles and small soft hackle wets are deadly in the backwaters, and parachute duns can take a fussy fish that refuses the beetle or hopper.

Trophy browns can be found in close, and the best backwaters are nearly always occupied by a hefty fish. On most days, careful edge fishing can yield at least a dozen sighted and often rising fish. Evenings are not a dead loss as the best backwaters are worth fishing just on last light. Long flat pools offer excellent spent spinner falls in the last two hours of the day for those on a drift boat.

My drift boat......perfect for fishing the Goulburn River

Having a drift boat with a skilled guide on the oars opens up the entire river.


In February, the unique nature of the Goulburn river as a bottom release tailwater river is most evident. While other rivers around it are running low and warm, the Goulburn runs high and cold, which is great for the trout as daytime temperatures can reach up to 40 degrees Celsius.

River levels severely hinder hatches of aquatic insects, with releases between 6,000 and 10,000 MLD resulting in considerably fewer hatches. The focus is now on backwaters and large areas inundated off the river proper, such as billabongs and lagoons. These areas can extend back a mile into adjoining farmland, and fish cruise these areas silently and slowly. Most of these fish go unmolested for the entire summer, and the section from Alexandra downstream is particularly good for this type of fishing.

Willow grubbing is peaking, but populations may vary depending on the amount of rain and temperatures, both daytime and nighttime. European Wasps also start to show up in large numbers at this time, and they have had a huge impact on the willow grub population in recent years. Some years see all the willows denuded of vegetation and grub numbers thinning out, while other years have prime conditions with willows covered in grubs throughout the month. Great fishing can be expected, and some very large fish can be caught.

Big hoppers and attractors like the stimulator and chernobyl ant work well as the fish have become accustomed to everything from cicadas to grasshoppers to beetles to spiders going into the river. Many larger fish will be visibily eating grasshopperss all day. If you get a refusal of your hopper, don’t be reluctant to tie on a tiny dry fly of sizes 18 – 20. The water will be very clear and downsizing can be very effective.

Sunken grasshopper patterns seent to be very effective as February rolls on.



March is not considered autumn in the Goulburn Valley as stable high-pressure systems bring blue skies with a few scorchers thrown in for good measure. Hot weather often persists until early April, and although river levels come down quite a bit, we still regularly see 3,500 to 5,000 ML/D being released. March does, however, bring a glimpse of M.I.A. hatches that were so blunted by the large releases of water experienced during high-summer. Gradually the number of duns and caddis increases, and offers a slither of what can be expected as the water levels further reduce next month.

Backwaters are still fishing very well, with good fish in every one of them. After many months of sustained higher water levels, they are content to work these softer currents. Continually putting on condition as they feed in the easy flows along the edges. Hoppers and beetles are still working, although smaller duns and caddis will catch a fair percentage of the fish on offer. Cicadas, crickets, and the humble soldier beetle shouldn’t be discounted as they can be crucial at this time of year.

Perhaps more than any other month, attractor patterns hold sway. There is such a mix of insects, both aquatic and those originating from land, that taking a more liberal approach to fly selection is often rewarded with the best trout.

Willow grubs will begin to taper off at some stage this month, but don’t bet on it. In recent years the grubs have been hanging in there until after Anzac Day. Our initial observations were that the first frosts were their undoing. But as with most first appraisals, this appears to be incorrect. So, while we may indeed experience a decline in their numbers this month, pockets of them will not only hold on, but get stronger until almost the arrival of May.

Willow grubbers are voracious and you often catch the same fish immediately after dropping it. The second fly in this one was from a break-off the previous day.

 As the river levels fall away, fish once again take up positions in the main current seams, runs, and bubble lines adjacent to willow trees along the outside corners and the tailouts of pools. Regular blind searching techniques will bring good results, but as the month progresses, water levels and air temperatures will decrease, triggering stronger hatches and the resurgence of mayflies and caddisflies.

March is a month of slow transition


April can be one of the best months of the season, with the river often sitting somewhere between 1,000 and 3,000 ML/D and terrestrial fishing hanging in there as the return of the aquatic insects becomes evident. While April once was dominated by the maylies and caddises, the lower flows of recent summers has seen more aquatic insects hatching right through the summer, so there isn’t a huge backlog effect during April. What is noticeable is just how important terrestrial fishing has become. I would go so far as to say that April is the best month of the season

While it’s true the aquatic insects are getting smaller in size, there are still lots of hoppers, ants, beetles and crickets. The fish are very familiar with larger insects and willing to eat them. So, April is a month for the both the technical match the hatch addict, as well as the run and gun fisher of rubber leg patterns.

Of course, the fish are biologically programmed to feed heavily at this time of year in anticipation of spawning in the coming months. As the day’s get shorter and the night’s cooler, this survival imperative to consume as many calories as possible only increases in intensity. Hatches are usually met with solid rises from the trout. Small parachute duns, especially in rust, grey, or olive, will work very well. Emergers in dark browns and even black will also draw a favourable reaction from the fish.

Of course, as with all things in the natural world, there is a catch. Nature’s curveball coming in the form of tremendous kossie hatches on last light most evenings, which may only last 10 minutes but will attract bigger browns that rise to them. Spinner falls of this mayfly will occur any time from 5 pm onwards, and large rusty spinners should be carried for just such an event. When this hatch comes off, you can throw away most of what I’ve said about small imitative flies.

By the end of April, the river will start to drop in level, and the days will get much shorter. Overnight frosts or early morning fogs may occur, but generally these happen a few weeks from now.

Either way you look at it, autumn proper has arrived and it won’t long until things really change drastically.

goulburn river fly fishing


Every year, from about the third week in April until mid-late May, there is a glorious period that lasts for three to five weeks. It is the most pleasant time of the year and brings about some of the most enjoyable fishing experiences on the Goulburn. Cool, crisp mornings give way to the bluest skies imaginable, and days of little or no wind and rising fish. The river is usually running low between 1000 – 1,500 ML/D and stays this way throughout the winter/early spring period as rainfall is captured in Lake Eildon for the following summer’s irrigation releases.

This is the time of midges, blue wing olives, and light gear. It is also requires careful wading and approaches to feeding fish so as to not send them scurrying for cover as your entrance to the water is noticed. Fish will often rise from about 8:30 am throughout the day. On foggy mornings, the start is just a bit later at around 11 am. Regardless of the start time, the good fishing endures. The most pleasant memories of fishing on the Goulburn are during this time period with the weather as close to perfect as it gets.

Sometime later in the month or in June, the weather changes significantly, although often the first major rain events are not until at least mid-June. The days are shorter, and the hatch and rise occur in the middle of the day with less emphasis on the last hour or so.

About the end of the month, the first browns start to spawn and should be left alone as catching these fish requires little to no skill and is not sporting. Please leave fish that are in spawn mode to their efforts. There are plenty of (not yet spawning) fish still actively feeding, with only the early run fish involved at this time of the season. This usually occurs in the last 7 – 10 days of May.

The one surprise that we sometimes encounter is that kossies continue to hatch on last light right throughout this month and into June. In May-June 2013, we saw Kossies hatching most nights on dusk, long after we would have expected them to have stopped. This is worth keeping in the memory bank as most of us are not expecting to be fishing # 8 dry flies at the end of May.

Anomalies aside, this is a month for stealth and precision. Careful observation and stalking are mandatory, but the rewards of catching fish in prime condition on such picture-perfect days, make our endeavours worth the efforts.

goulburn river fly fishing



The end of the trout fishing season is heralded by the Queen’s birthday weekend in mid June. This three-month period of closure allows the trout of our rivers to spawn unmolested, keeping within the sporting ethic of fly fishing. This is the perfect time to tie flies, plan trips, head to Idaho/Montana with us. The adventure never ends.


I hope this overview gives you a better understanding of what goes on here on the Goulburn River. While this write-up is comprehensive, there’s a lot I didn’t cover, including some things that change from season to season like our stonefly hatches, black ant falls, and other significant events that most people won’t encounter.

If you need flies for an upcoming visit, feel free to order a fly pack from our online shop or stop by the shop for some flies, a mud map, and up-to-the-minute advice from our staff of guides.

Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions. You can contact us in the shop anytime at 03 5773 2513 or on my mobile at 0418 995 611. Of course, we’re available for guiding, tuition, and drift boat trips every single day of the season.




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