It was late autumn 1997 when I arrived in Canberra to fish with the late Chris Hole, fly-fisherman, author and painter. Chris offered to take me to some of his favourite trout streams that snake across the Yaouk Valley and feed into the fast-flowing Murrumbidgee below Tantangara Dam.
The bowl-shaped Yaouk Valley is fine grazing country, 1100 m above sea level, where Merino sheep and Hereford cattle vie for snowgrass with eastern grey kangaroos and common wombats. The surrounding ranges are covered with snow gums messmate, peppermint, stringybark and alpine ash.
Chris was fond of small, sweet- water (crystal clear) streams. Fly-fishers crave the challenge of stalking skittish trout in clear, shallow water. The streams of the Yaouk Valley, which alternate between shallow riffles, deeper pools and glides, fit the bill nicely. In most places, they are just over a metre wide and less than a metre deep and the brown trout that thrive here feed on a variety of insect life, including nymphs, mayflies, midges, caddis flies and grasshoppers.
Chris preferred to fish with dry flies that float on the surface, favouring patterns such as the Adams, Red Tag and Royal Wulff, rating Humpy’s well during the autumn grasshopper season. Fly-fishing is about matching the conditions; when the trout feed in the meniscus (surface film) they are taking insects such as mayflies emerging from the nymphal stage into winged adults, or duns. If the trout are feeding below the surface, then nymph patterns are used. Chris’s favourite wet flies included brown nymph, brown emerger, and a Hare and Copper.
For our sojourn, Chris produced a five-weight fly outfit and tied on a brown nymph. Working upstream, he flicked his line high on the back cast to avoid the shoulder-high tussocks and grass. On his first cast, Chris set the nymph down in a small pool at the bottom of a riffle and almost immediately a small brown trout shot out from its hide and inhaled the fly. Chris set the barbless hook, the prick enough to send the trout ballistic as it tried to dislodge the counterfeit nymph. According to Chris, the action was typical of these waterways.
‘During the early part of the season you can catch and release 40 or 50 trout in a day,’ he said. ‘And despite the small size of the stream, there are large trout, up to 2.5 kg in the deeper pools.’
After lunch we concentrated on the Murrumbidgee River. The trout we caught weighed up to about 500 g. Spring is a good time to catch them, but Chris said the best time was early autumn when the fish are fat and at their prime.