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Goulbourn River Trout

As floods and generally horrid weather swept through Victoria at the start of spring, I didn’t make the annual journey to Victoria’s Goulburn Valley for the opening of trout season. That made it three years in a row I had missed trout opening (thanks to lockdowns) and almost two years since I’d been trout fishing. To be honest, I hadn’t really missed it, or given it much thought. It’s one of those quirks of fishing that a species and location can excite you and take up a lot of your mental fishing space – and then you move on. 

When the floods swept through the Goulburn Valley, I monitored reports and images across social media of the devastation caused for the local towns and surrounding landscape. I was seeing images of the Goulburn River lifting roads and swallowing farmland and 15ft tall treesI once stood under as Lake Eildon spilled over and washed through the valley. 

I sincerely felt bad for all those affected by the floods: the farmers whom I have stopped and spoken with over the years walking the banks. They’ve let me camp on their land and they’re good, honest hard-working people. So it was with a slight sense of guilt that I couldn’t help but think how amazing the fishing was going to be once everything settled. Nature sometimes needs a bit of a reset, and from river to sea we’re seeing some amazing fishing post-floods in both fresh and salt. 

I wasn’t surprised to hear that the Goulburn was fishing amazingly well as the weather settled in late November. They had dropped the outflow from Lake Eildon down to 400 megalitres and these low levels attract a lot of anglers. The less experienced appreciate the slow flow, the ability to cross the river with ease and the ability to easily navigate the river’s edges without having to walk the narrow fence lines of the banks that now have waist-high grass (and plenty of snakes hiding in it).

The reports kept coming and this spiked my interest – and trout took their place back in my thoughts where there was some room left from snapper. Melbourne weather has been atrocious, with full weeks of wind in excess of 20 knots then one day of respite and another week of wind, so I started planning a trip. My good old friend and gun fly angler Rob Gee and I had been communicating and he expressed how good the fishing had been. I was as keen to see the river and how it had changed as I was about catching fish, but everything about it was exciting me. 

By the time we picked a date I had wrangled another good mate, Kozi Sekino, who had recently switched to the dark side and started fly fishing and a day was set. Rob ran into car trouble and couldn’t meet us, so it was just Kozi and me. Nearing our fishing day, there had of course been rain and Lake Eildon needed to increase outflow as it was getting close to breaching 100 per cent capacity. It’s never great fishing just as the flow changes, and you always want to give it a few days to let the fish settle and start feeding again. But as my fishing luck would have it, a few days before our planned trip they bumped it to 3000 megalitres and as the day of our trip arrived, they opened the taps to 4500 megalitres. Now don’t get me wrong, I love it when it flows at these levels; it fishes very well, and though it’s harder to navigate it’s still fishable.  Driving up was a strange feeling, as it was early summerbut the car’s temperature gauge said 7 degrees as I made my way up the highway.

As I arrived at the river Kozi was waiting and we geared up.  The surrounding banks of the river looked amazing, lush and green albeit with definite signs of flood. Any bank of trees had piles of dead trees and timber stacked up against it, under the bridges were stacked with dead timber and the odd fence post, stray canoe oar or farm hose, but it looked amazing. You could be in Montana, New Zealand or Canada – it was just beautiful lush landscape. 

Now I’ve set the scene, let’s get to the fishing. I gathered from speaking to other anglers that the floods had caused a few of the trout farm’s stock to spill over into the main river, so there were large numbers of good-sized rainbow trout on offer, the brood stock release from trout opening was still around in great numbers as the bad weather had caused minimal fishing pressure, and there were plenty of wild fish about if you could get through the stocked fish and the farm escapees.  Based on this I opted to kick things off with a Berkley T Tail minnow rigged on a 1/12th jig head. Kozi left his fly rod in the car and brought out his spin outfit and started off with a Duo Spearhead Ryuki (a deep diving jerkbait). Our plan was to fish deep as that’s where we thought the fish would be holding. On my third cast I hooked a small rainbow, Kozi soon got on to another and then another. I got a beautifully conditioned wild brown and our spirits were up. We both hadn’t caught trout in a while, and we were loving it. The wind was light, it was overcast and no rain was predicted until the afternoon. Aside from a few bait anglers staying close to the carpark, we had the river to ourselves. Things went quiet and we agreed it was time to navigate some thick scrub to get to the next section of river that was fishable from our side. 

At 4500 megalitres, there is no safe river crossing. We had to walk through long grass, thick bush and then go down a six-foot mud slide (where I almost lost it) into a back water that led to a feeder creek and a picture-perfect part of the Goulburn. Kozi worked the feeder creek for a nice wild brown and I headed for the river. Fish were rising and I switched to a large 90mm jerkbait and started my attempt at a big wild brown. That’s always my main goal on the Goulburn and when the river is at these levels you’ll generally only find these fish by casting very close into structure as they’ll be out of the main flow, aggressively protecting and hunting their little section of backwater territory. Fly anglers can successfully, and with much skill, target these browns from the side of the bank they’re standing on, in among the trees and thick structure by imitating prey but spin anglers like me need to cast to the other side ofthe river into structure and try to entice a reaction strike from these highly territorial fish. This isn’t easy, either; I’ve coined the term ‘reverse backwatering’. It has caught all my personal best fish, it’s exciting when it works, and you lose a lot of lures of doing it. You need the right rod to cast the distance and I was pushing the new Daiwa Presso combo I was testing (reviewed elsewhere in this issue) to its absolute limit. 

While I was struggling to get a strike, Kozi was having a great time landing a heap of rainbows that were feeding on the edges of the riffles. I decided to give the ‘reverse backwatering’ a rest and target rainbows as I was getting FOMO from all the fun he was I switched to a deep-diving crankbait (an Ecogear SX60) and started catching fish instantly. We moved further up the river and were averaging a fish every few casts, mostly rainbows that seemed to be escapees from the farm but beautifully conditioned fish.  For every three rainbows we would get a beautiful wild brown. We moved a little further up where there wasa small tree island that was stacked on the downstream side of the river with dead trees and branches. It really told the story of the recent flood. We went on catching fish, with Kozinailing a few bigger rainbows that saw bent rods, lots of aerial displays and screaming drags. That tree island was surrounded by nasty submerged structure and I knew that the fish I was looking for had to be in there. I cast the SX60 as tight to the structure as possible (it was a good cast) and after a few revolutions of the reel it was dead weight and a big run. “Walk it back, walk it back” came the call from Kozi as we saw the fish run back for the structure. I managed to turn its head, get it out from the flow and slowly worked it back towards the shallows, where after some frantic circle work, Kozi landed it with a great net shot. It was a big beautiful wild rainbow buck, hook-jawed and anatomically perfect with bright pink fins and vibrant colours. The next best thing to a big wild brown was this fish, and we were stoked. We made it to the next section of fishable river by traversing some farmland, keeping a watchful eye out for snakes. At this next stretch we went on to catch countless more fish, both rainbow and browns. All the fish fought hard, jumped, ran, pulled drag, ran up and down river and frantically fought in the shallows – these fish were all in excellent condition.

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We were both hungry and thirsty so decided to head back to the car. The sun came out, it was hot and we both wore too many layers from the cold morning but we were happy on the fairly long and difficult trek back downstream. I’ve been fishing this river since I was 10 and it’s never fished this well. 

After a quick drink and bite to eat at the car we headed downstream of the car and within three casts had a double hook-up. Kozi went on to catch a nice brood stock hen and a big brood stock buck that both put up a great fight; after a few more fish we called it quits with perfect timing. As we finished packing away the boots and waders at 2pm the heavens opened and it rained heavily on the drive home. 

It was an amazing day’s fishing we won’t forget and I believe it will keep fishing this well for some time. If you get the chance, get up to the Goulburn and have a crack – it’s fishing at a world-class level and the surrounding environment is at its best.

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