As I write this, I wonder will some of you, as I would, assume that honesty is not the first priority in this overview of Victoria’s mighty Mitta Mitta river catchment in the interests of keeping the best bits to myself? I certainly assumed that when reading Fly Fishing North East Victoria by Mr. North East Victoria himself, Phil Weigall where he states that “Even when everything looks perfect, the action can be frustratingly patchy” about the top of the Big River as the upper Mitta Mitta is sometimes called. Surely a ruse, surely the best trout water in North East Victoria ?
Being new to the area I bought all the maps and laid them out in front Al MacB and ask was it possible that Phillip is full of it? On paper the river certainly looks the goods where it flows out of the highest and wildest part of Victoria in the Alpine National Park. Al hummed and then shuffled his feet a bit before telling me that the river has been slow for several seasons and is wall to wall snakes. We might be better off below the bridge where the Omeo highway crosses? Defiantly a ruse then – let’s go.
We made our plans and did the homework for a drive into the last 4×4 accessible sections of the river near the park border. The Pajero is packed worst case scenario with traction mats, a hand winch and Al’s monster chainsaw at the ready and loaded for off-road bear. Driving up the Snowy Creek Valley from the Village of Mitta Mitta to Mt. Wills was spectacular and untroubled with other traffic unless you consider deer other traffic and the hour or so drive off the main road to the river, though very steep in places had been recently cleared of fallen trees and thankfully offered no great challenges – had it rained recently, things might have been different.
The river itself here is VERY beautiful, easily the best looking trout water I’ve seen in the state and everything you could imagine it to be. There’s long clear runs, longer ripples, deep pools and perfect pocket water flowing swiftly through tall trees surrounded by towering mountains. Seriously, if there’s fishier looking water in all Victoria, I’m yet to see it. We fished hard that morning for a kilometre or more at a slow and careful pace trying everything we had from the deepest dredging nymphs to the lightest and most fussiest of drys for absolutely no fish. Not a rise, not a follow not a chance. On that day, if trout fishing was rugby, we were the Reds. I’ve been back to the top of the Big river twice since, once on my own and the other time with local guide and accomplished fly angler Scott Macphersonfor much the same result except that we saw more snakes than I’ve ever seen anywhere at any one time. So with a respectful wave in Phil’s direction I leave the wilder sections of the upper Mitta Mitta for you to pursue if you wish – you won’t see me there again.
Above Dartmouth Dam.
With a catchment of over 10,000 square kilometers and a length a bit over 200 K’s, the Mitta Mitta is basically too big to cover in its entirety in any great detail so I’ll just mention the places I’ve been so far and leave the rest for you to explore.
Starting at the Junction of Hollands creek, about seven K’s above the Big River Bridge on the Omeo Highway, the Big river is flanked on the east by the Kangaroo Creek Track and normally accessible with a little bush bashing. The track along the flat from the highway is suitable for soft-roaders and maybe even a car if it’s dry and care is exercised – once the road starts up the steep hills that no longer applies however. The fishing here might be less reliable than the lower river, but is still much better than the water above and just as pretty. Spring flows can make for hard wading however and it might be best left till later in summer. Being heavily wooded, this section is also a good option if the wind is making life hard further down the valley. Below the bridge, the river flattens out more and the takes on a friendly, less hurried character with mostly shallow water over larger gravel and cobble. There’s lots of endless and excellent ripples through here that are easily waded and great fun to fish with a nymph under an indicator or with a big dry. Fish are numerous and willing though generally not large.
All my best fishing was had in the deeper runs in the middle of the day, and in the faster ripples at the top of the pools near days end.
From Fitzgerald Road down to Anglers Rest the river has more long and deep pools and it’s not uncommon to see them boil with rising fish while driving by on evening. Access is still easy enough, though wading might require long legs or a bush bash to get around some of the deeper water. Below anglers Rest to Dartmouth Dam the river is best left to the Whitewater crowd unless you’re feeling particularly adventurous or desperate to escape humanity – I haven’t been there yet, but from what I hear it’s wild!
Major upper Mitta Mitta tributaries, Middle Creek, the Bundara River and the Cobungra River flowing in from the high country to the west are all highly regarded trout waters in their own right and worth an explore as well.
Below Dartmouth Dam.
This is why the river is famous and where things get interesting.
From the first time we met, my friend and Eskdale guide Scott (Scottie) Mcpherson told me over and over how great the Mitta Mitta tailrace is. Over and over and over. Right through my first spring and well into early summer living in this area I was regularly hammered with tales of the epic Kozzy Dun hatches, massive caddis hatches on dark and the huge numbers of brown trout.
The problem with the river here though, is it’s a slave to the unpredictable nature of water releases from the dam and all this last spring and summer it was at such high levels that fishing was way too hard and the upper river or tributaries were always a better option.
That changed one day when Scottie called up and said the river had been dropping and it was fishing very well. I met him at his place in Eskdale and we went to the river not far above the village of Mitta Mitta.
Though not as spectacular in scenery as the wilder river above the dam, the water below is top quality trout fishing with easily waded and fished gravely runs through beautiful flat farm land. There’s an abundance of fish up to a kilo and the odd wary monster over.
As you get closer to the Dam, the river runs through gorge country and though not hard to access off the Dartmouth road, it is harder going due faster flow, bedrock and deeper pools.
The best way to fish the tailrace is to keep an eye on the river levels through websites like https://riverdata.mdba.gov.au/system-viewv and make the trip when the conditions are right. It’s also worth keeping an eye out for when the flows are low through late spring and early summer months when the big duns might appear because they send the fish nuts. Though there’s trout throughout the river from Dartmouth dam all the way Lake Hume, the water quality bellow Tallandoon starts to deteriorate thanks to intensive dairy farming.
Scottie’s guiding and lodge business is called Indulgence Fly Fishing for good reason because he’s both a guide and a chef. The food he makes is top shelf and trust me, you won’t go hungry on a day out with him. He can be reached at www.indulgenceflyfishing.com.
All along the upper river there’s abundant camping spots both wild and well organized or accommodation with cold beer and hot food at the Blue Duck Inn at Anglers Rest. Both the Mitta Mitta and Eskdale pubs are awesome as well if beer is your thing.
My copy of Phil Weigall’s book ‘Fly Fishing North East Victoria’ has been as busy as a bagman at a liberal party fundraiser. It’s the absolute best starting point for planning any trips to new water in the area and I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s available from the Flylife on-line shop as well.
The ‘Bright-Dartmouth Adventure map’ from Rooftop Maps is everything you need to get around if you’re not familiar with this area and is available from outdoor shops and on-line – I highly recommend it.
First published in Flylife Magazine 2015