I’m guessing it would probably come as a surprise to most of my fellow trout fishers in Europe, Asia and North America that, despite being the driest continent on Earth, and better known for deserts, reefs, beaches and a vast collection of wildlife that includes humans in the food chain; Australia also has an alpine region with plethora of brilliant wild trout water.
The best part of which; the Victorian High Country, cover around 20 percent of the state of Victoria with the main range running for roughly 250 kilometres to the northeast from Australia’s second largest City Melbourne to the New South Wales border.
While we proudly call them ‘mountains’, on a world scale, the highest, Mt Bogong, at just under 2000 metres, is probably not going to attract many hard core mountaineers and their sherpas. However, the valleys do host thousands of kilometres of beautiful, heavily forested streams and small rivers easily accessed by countless forestry and four wheel drive tracks running through mostly public land where you’re free to wander and explore.
Even on private land, you have the right to fish your way up or down a water course and its immediate banks as long as you access it from public land (like a bridge) and not across private property. That said, even though I’ve never had a problem, the farmers can differ in their views on anglers on their land and I like to ask permission where possible.
Crowds? No, they must all be at the beach risking sunburn and shark bites because through an entire season I probably see fewer than a dozen other anglers on the waters I regularly stalk. Obviously, the more easily accessed water can be busier during the holiday periods or on long weekends, but it’s still never that hard to find your own quiet stretch and, as ever, a short walk from the nearest car access will almost always guarantee peace and tranquility.
Our trout are predominately browns with a smattering of rainbows and even the odd rare brook trout. Almost all of them, thanks to excellent management by the Victorian Fisheries Authority, are wild and stocking is limited to the lakes and a few stretches of the main river systems as needed. In size they fall behind Tasmania or New Zealand on size averages, but it’s a trade off I’m happy to make for the excellent numbers of well conditioned fish and quality of the experience.
As a dedicated 2- and 3- weight fly rod fanatic I spend most of my time on very small streams and think this is the most unique fly fishing experience in the High Country. The trout are not particularly large and most I catch are between 10 and 14 inches; in good numbers though! Occasionally, I’ll be both blessed and surprised by a monster and over the years I’ve had a few heart stutters when trying to land a 2+ kilo fish on ultra-light gear.
On the larger rivers, especially the two big tailraces, the Mitta Mitta below Dartmouth Dam and the Goulburn below Lake Eildon; much larger fish are assumed as normal and whilst also holding good numbers of trout, these waters can produce trophies worthy of any mantlepiece.
So why come to the Victorian High Country over anywhere else ?
Well, besides great trout fishing in very wild and scenic water with endless views and thousands of kilometres of four wheel drive tracks that criss-cross hundreds of rivers and streams, the Victorian High Country, unlike so many other destinations the world over, is largely public land where you are free to roam, fish and explore without the crowds.
For maps, I love the detail and notes in the Rooftops Maps that are available in a lot of local outdoor shops and petrol stations and HEMA also make great maps and detailed books for 4-wheel drivers. They can be obtained through many on-line map suppliers as well.
A Victorian Fishing licence is required and, along with local regulations, can be obtained on-line at: https://service.vic.gov.au/find-services/outdoor-and-recreation/buy-a-victorian-recreational-fishing-licence
The Victorian trout season opens early September and runs through till early June, with the best time being November-December for the lower altitude waterways and main rivers, with december, January, and February for the higher stuff.
That said, the quality of fishing here is greatly determined by rainfall and, in drought years, the fishing can be affected by low water levels and high water temperature once mid-summer hits in January. Sure, I always find somewhere to go, but weather is everything and needs to be considered.
Tackle for the Victorian high country need not be complicated and the heaviest fly rod I ever use is a #5 and then only on the two bigger tailraces, the Mitta Mitta River and the Goulburn River, or for stalking the lakes. Most of our rivers are perfect 4- weight fly water and a 7 to 8 foot 3-weight is all you would ever need for any of the streams.
In getting around, a 4-wheel drive unlocks a lot of water in the Victorian High Country and would absolutely be the best option for hiring a vehicle when fishing and exploring. Though a regular car will still get you to a lot of great spots.
It’s very hard to generalise about the 4-wheel drive tracks as they change from year to year depending on maintenance, weather and traffic, but I can say that most of the better known ones are not difficult beyond being very steep on some tracks. A modern 4x4 with low range gearing and adequate ground clearance will be more than adequate in the hands of an experienced driver and be a lot of fun as well. That said, the tracks can go from mild to difficult after a lot of rain and I generally stick to the better maintained forestry roads early in the season and after prolonged periods of bad weather. A search of ‘Victorian High Country 4x4’ on Youtube will bring up a lot of videos showing the sorts of conditions and tracks we have. Tyler Thompson stands out as a favourite channel.
Keep in mind if hiring a 4x4 that the various companies have different rules and insurance considerations about use in proper off-road conditions. Also, some vehicles are properly prepared with all-terrain tires and snorkels while others are more road based and light duty only.
Like any alpine area, the weather here can change rapidly and the temperature differences between the low altitude valleys and higher country can be big. I always have my rain jacket with me and, sometimes carry a warmer layer if the weather forecast is anything other than mild. Early and late in the season, snow is always a possibility.
For overseas Travellers, inland southern Australia is a pretty safe option as we don’t have all the creatures that lunch on humans found up north in Queensland or the Territory, though anyone new here needs to be aware of the snake situation. That is - In a list of the top 25 most venomous snakes in the world, only 4 are not found in Australia and the three most common in the High Country, the Brown, Tiger and Copperhead, while highly unlikely to bite you or cause you anything other than the odd fright, might cross your path and need to be respected
More information on our slithering friends can be found at: http://www.anaesthesia.med.usyd.edu.au/resources/venom/snakebite.html
Please visit David Anderson's Blog: twigwater.com and his facebook page for more great content.
About David Anderson:
David was born in Sydney, Australia, but grew up in America after his father, a geologist, moved the family to Boston in 1965 to attend Harvard and thence to Champaign, Illinois two years later where he taught at the University of Illinois.
David’s first serious fly fishing experiences were on one of his dad’s summer field trips to Wyoming at the age of eleven or twelve when one of the professors loaned him a rod and reel and showed him the basics of trout fishing with a fly on the Wind River. It’s been a serious addiction and never far from the front of his mind for over forty years.
The photography thing started during a trip to Egypt in the early eighties when his mother, a Middle Eastern news correspondent, loaned him a Nikon, a couple of rolls of monochrome film and just enough instruction to make it a lifelong pursuit.
David returned to Australia at age twenty in 1984, flyrod in hand, on a six-week holiday where he found people of a like mind, very interesting long-lost relatives and excellent trout fishing not far from Sydney on the Turon River and somehow never got back to the United States.
After a few years working in Sydney music stores as a guitar salesman by day, and part-time rock and roll photographer by night, David started full-time photography in 1989 and was soon working for several record companies, music magazines and local bands.
By 1995 David’s career had expanded to include work for most mainstream Australian magazines and many others from around the world and he was soon working all over and shooting anyone willing to stand still including the Queen Elizabeth II, The Rolling Stones, Pink, U2 and John Farnham, as well as a large collection of local movie and TV stars and many of Hollywood’s finest. This work can be viewed at www.dsaphoto.com
Fly fishing photography was, of course, always there, but with the launch of Flylife Magazine in 1995 there were new opportunities to shoot both locally, in Tasmania or in New Zealand. With encouragement from editor Rob Sloane and a lot of help from good mate and fellow photographer/writer Peter Morse, David wrote his first article ‘Cryptic Creeks’ on small streams of the snowy mountains in 2005 and many more have since followed.
Nowadays, David lives a quieter life in Albury, NSW very close to the trout-infested 4x4 paradise that is the Victorian high country with his wife and three children, and writes and photographs for Flylife Magazine and his own small-stream fly fishing blog www.twigwater.com