My long list of things to do through the interminable off-season to stave off winter blues included stuff like ‘organise tackle properly’, ‘actually learn to tie knots’ and ‘con wife into cleaning garage’, has been ignored in favour of doing three quarters of bugger-all except watching Australia get lunched by New Zealand in all things rugby and drinking heaps of therapy beers. I may have socked on a little weight as well.
Though aways approached with great enthusiasm, my opening day hit-rate over the years has fluctuated wildly between ‘boned due to flood conditions during blizzard’ to ‘catching them on dries all day long in T-shirt weather’.
This spring, things are looking somewhere in the middle thanks to the last throes of a winter cold snap that’s dumped a lot of snow on the peaks and big rain down in the valleys. Yes, it’s cold, but not freeze-the-nuts-off-an-Eskimo kind of cold and, hell or high water, you have to fish on opening day, right?
Besides all that, there’s also a growing pile of recently arrived gear lying around my office waiting for review including some spiffy new Simms waders, a five-weight Abel reel and four twiggy fly rods. Time to shake off the winter and get back to work.
With no real idea where we were going, I threw all my trout gear, such as it was, in to the 4×4, picked up my friend Dale Pope and headed into the high country at the crack of 9:45. On the way, and after crossing a couple of bridges to check the levels, we decided to have a quick fish over a couple good runs on the Mitta Mitta near Lake Banimboola and hopefully get some fish shots with the new reel out of the way.
On arrival, Dale, who seemed quite organised, volunteered to rig the rods, a Sage five-weight X and a four-weight Radian, to buy me a little more time for sorting out the cameras, my pack vest and tackle. Regular readers will know how much I rate the Patagonia convertible vest and Stormfront pack as the greatest thing ever for schlepping cameras and fly gear around the rivers while fishing and I stand by that opinion—as long as, unlike like me at that moment, you have both halves of the vest—without that, you’re hosed. Bugger. Luckily, after a quick ransacking of the car I found my Fishpond shoulder bag that was full of lake fishing stuff and quickly repacked everything and headed for the water.
Dale wandered downstream a little to fish a deep, slow run into a huge pool and I wandered out across the gravel to drag some nymphs through the shallower meat of the run. The new Abel reel looks absolutely amazing in its matte green finish and I can’t help but feel a bit chuffed with it already, but there’s an early problem: the drag doesn’t seem to work and the spool is very loose.
After a little flailing about and half-assed dismantling, it became clear that, through a combination of common stupidity and terminal lysdexia, I had failed to switch the drag from left- to right-hand wind before lining it up. A shame, but it will have to do for the moment.
Anyway, mind back on the job. I made my first cast of the season and promptly created the single worst, most epic double nymphs indicator rig knot I can remember. It’s amazing in both its intricacy and breadth and trying my already-tried patience to the core. For the record, getting cranky and swinging the rod around like a goose didn’t seem to help. Willing myself to remain calm and after only a couple cuts, a hundred savage expletives and ten minutes of re-tying, I’m happily casting once more.
Then, on the next cast, my second of the season, my indicator starts sinking the second it hits the water.
Normally my NZ-style wool indicators float like corks all day no matter what and I love them to bits, but as some sort of a weird atmospheric payback for being a jerk in all previous lives and half of this one, they’re sinking like fat people jokes at a gathering of life-long Kentucky Fried Chicken fans. No worries, a touch of Gink will sort that, if only I had my Gink. Just then Dale caught his first fish. Bugger.
Inexplicably, after digging around my bag, I found a small pack of foam indicators, of the type common in the previous millennium, when they were probably purchased. With indication no longer… errr… under-cation, I got back to the nymphing, but after another hour, and covering all the likely water, it’s obviously time to move on and we head further down the river looking for new water.
The next stretch lifted my spirits and I settled in on a very long, thin run with a good fast flow and level bottom while Dale fished the tail. It’s all perfect brown trout water and while changing my nymphs again, Dale got into another small fish on his dry dropper rig.
I worked the run hard with a pair of nymphs, slowly and methodically covering both its sides and centre and even switched to a heavier pair of flies for the fastest water at its head, but after at least a hundred drifts, the trout couldn’t have been less interested.
With no fish action to distract me from hunger, I suggested lunch and coffee would get me back on course and we headed for the shop in the sleepy village of Mitta Mitta.
When we arrived the chances of getting a pie and a quick coffee faded as both the pub and the shop were surrounded by a large herd of adventure bike wieners looking like dirty stormtroopers dressed head to toe in black Gore-tex or some such. (Yes, I was also head to toe in Gore-tex, but it’s beige and I looked good.)
Sure, these guys might be dry and warm, but back in my day when we rode we did so in leather and denim, mostly greasy and if it was cold shit weather you cried your icy tears in secret while telling yourself that bikes were sensible, tough-guy transportation.
The inside of the shop is packed and it looks like there’s only one pie left at the counter. Fighting everyone to possess it briefly crosses my mind, but, their lucky day, there’s two, or three, or maybe sixty too many of them. Besides, they all look like criminals, or at least the lawyers and tax accountants amongst them do and everyone knows they never fight fair.
After a short wait, I got my pie and coffee and while looking for places to sit ran into Andrew Behnke who’s looking a little chuffed with himself after having a good morning session on the small streams. To rub it in, he even has some trout photos to show me on his phone. Right, I tell myself, stop your crying, get back to the river and get busy—the day ain’t over!
Dale suggests we hit the reserve below town and it’s good advice as it has some of the best and most reliable water on the river; most of my best fish from Mitta came from this water. If the levels are right, it’s always gold.
We arrived around mid-afternoon with the trout—the small ones, at least—rising through the ripples. Dale, not far away, was getting into them on his dry fly and I probably should have changed over as well, but I really wanted a bigger fish to photograph with the new reel so persisted with the nymphs.
An hour later after three fly changes and several hundred drifts through a hundred meters of some of the best ripple in the southern hemisphere, it’s becoming abundantly clear that the browns, if they here at all, are not even remotely interested in my flies. Stiff cheddar for sure, but maybe there are some rainbows around?
After walking back down to the start of the run, I tied on one of my favourite ever spring rainbow combinations, a heavy Death Metal Hare’s Ear and a tiny unweighted pink glowbug about twelve inches further down the line. This rig has always done well for me on the Thredbo at opening. It’s a solid and predictable combination. I think Dale caught another.
A few casts in, the indicator dips under and to the right and, perhaps with a little too much enthusiasm, I set the hook. A brown, unfortunately not long out of the egg, had grabbed and become my first fish of 2017. Obviously, being a small stream guy, I don’t mind little browns and will happily catch them all day long on some nasty little sub-alpine rill, but out here, on the big part of the Mitta Mitta it’s not even a particularly big small brown—if you know what I mean.
Bugger it, time to bugger it.
Yes sir, if you want to catch a solid fish on the Mitta Mitta there’s not much better than a beadhead Woolly Bugger in green or black swinging down and across on the end of a sink tip line.
I headed back to the car to string up my most beastly rod, a lava red 9’6 Sage Method that, with my new Rio InTouch Streamer Tip line, could easily cast a historic bronze statue, erect it at town hall and then controversially rip it out in the name of political correctness—all on the same day.
Or, at least it might, if the line was not home, an hour away, on my desk newly rigged and ready to be spooled up and the reel it normally lives on empty beside it as useless as a vegan sausage sizzle.
If Dale didn’t have an excellent thermos of coffee and a couple mugs, I would have surely made him walk home.
Welcome to the 2017/18 trout season.