One to Remember

Micah Adams counts his blessings on the Monaro

The Monaro, a vast windswept plain in the southern highlands of New South Wales, is one of our mainland’s most iconic trout habitats. It hosts a bunch of tiny chalk-like streams that at times run dry, but in their prime are rich with trophy sized brown trout. As I lace up my tired old wading boots, it occurs to me that lately they are never dry. That’s a good sign. A sign that I’m fishing enough. Further testament to this is the fact that my 4-weight and bum bag currently live on the back seat of my dual cab! It’s mid spring and there’s no reason not to tie on a dun pattern from the outset. Leaders don’t need to be over the top here, just able to present a fly accurately and consistently. Ten feet in length casts well, and a tippet of 4 lb is as light as I dare. Andy and I know this stretch well. We know where particular fish live — some we have weighed on earlier trips this season. We’re already planning which fish we hope to tempt. Sadly, by two o’clock we’ve not landed one fish. We’ve stuffed them all up, bust or jumped them off, and the feeling is decidedly more subdued. Andy suffers another defeat on a fish that was rising really consistently at the head of nice pool. We spook another giant fish that I don’t even want to speculate on, but I’m not prepared to give up on him. The hatch is too good; he was feeding too hard; he has to come back to his station soon. I sit and wait beside the stream and just watch. I notice some black spinners starting to hatch and think this might be the answer. I search my box for the right fly. I have them in size 12. If I had one in size 10, I would tie that on instead! Sure enough, ten minutes later, a brown nose returns to the head of the pool and is sipping in insects like a fish possessed. It takes a few casts but eventually I see that brown nose and my black spinner intersect. Pause, strike, and all silence is broken. Andy slips the net under a magically coloured five-pounder and today’s drought has been broken. For me, the day is complete — one fish. Andy takes a shot at a huge brown that looks to be much bigger. It is rising beautifully but in a tricky spot and on this occasion beats us. Shortly after, I spot another lovely fish sipping in dries at the quiet, still tail of a pool in shallow, clear water. He’s out in the open and I present my spinner to him a couple of times without even a look. Then he takes three insects within a metre and I quickly place the same black spinner a foot in front of his nose and he doesn’t hesitate. This is another spectacular fish that tears the pool to shreds. And, there’s a lot in that last presentation, a secret that my good mate Rene Vaz taught me on dry fly. Don't give fish too long to look at a dry, especially on the Monaro. The shorter the better, especially if they’ve risen a few times and you can land it during this time, while they are distracted and less likely to spook at the presentation. Now I can’t believe my luck. I’ve caught two big browns on dry fly on my 4-weight, and I’ve found the net I made with my father 25 years ago, that we lost here two weeks back! Andy too gets on the board with a nice brown that was tough to tie down to one location. As the sun nears the horizon, I spot another consistent riser, eating flat-out at the head of his pool. One cast with the spinner right on target and the big nose of a male brown protrudes to sip my spinner in. I’m almost blasé now. Andy can’t believe my run, we’re going shot for shot. When this brownie hits the net, he pulls the scales down to six pounds. As we walk back to the car on dark, neither of us can believe our day. It’s world class fly fishing for sure. For days later, all I can see in my mind is that second fish sipping insects all over the pool and then rising in slow motion to take the artificial. This vision is etched in my eyelids! HARD BUT FAIR The Monaro doesn’t suffer fools. I’ve been made to look a fool plenty of times and the journey continues. In fact, the big browns of the Monaro are the toughest I’ve fished for anywhere in my travels. They’re aided by slow moving water, at times almost stagnant, and they have all the tricks. I’ve been handed my arse more times than I’d like to admit on the Monaro and I just know I’ve got plenty more punishment in store. By my reckoning, experienced fly fishers are doing really well to average a fish a day here. I’ve caught six and eight before and I’ve skunked plenty. But, after more than a decade of fishing the place, I average a fish a day. For most, those are terrible numbers. To others who fish for trophy fish, or seek the reward of ultra-sensitive, super-technical dry fly fishing, that one fish is a wonderful day. One to remember. So, when it all comes together and you happen to be there when the mayflies are dancing above the stream as it meanders through that barren landscape, you’ve arrived at a dry fly Nirvana. I can remember a recent day when I spotted a lovely fish sitting in a feeding position in shallow water at the head of a small pool. I was surprised by how perfect my first cast was. The little Blue Quill landed two feet upstream and not a centimetre to the left or right. The same fly had just taken three fish previously and as it passed overhead I was dumbfounded when he didn’t poke his nose out to sip it down. Knowing how wary these fish are, I knew I had to fish the drift out. The fly had drifted about five feet for maybe 30 seconds when the fish turned and pursued it downstream. At this point I thought he would take it — as he rose up towards it I was certain. Then, after literally touching the fly, he slid away, spooked for the day! The fact that the fish turned down a perfect first cast, and a fly that perfectly represented what was hatching and had fooled previous fish on that day, is one thing. What blows me away is how he’d obviously thought for half a minute about that fly he’d passed up, and then reconsidered his decision, only to object again. These fish are smart. Oh so smart. As I walked barely ten metres to the next small pool, only minutes later, I spotted another fish, mid-pool, sipping insects off the top. I cast the same Blue Quill about five feet in front of this fish and with reckless abandon it raced to eat the fly as it landed. That to me perfectly sums up the Monaro — quiet pools, big browns, very few casts and fish that can drive you insane, defying logic it seems. TAMING THE RAGE As I said at the beginning, I’ve fished the Monaro consistently for the past decade and I finally feel like I’m getting a handle on the place. Ready to pen an article! There are a few tricks I’ve learnt here, and taken from visits to New Zealand and the like, that have helped immensely. Crazy kiwi Simon Chu invented the phrase ‘fish raging’, and I’m certain he named it after me! I used to be a classic fish rager, but I’ve reformed. And, if there’s ever a place not to practise this evil art it’s here on the Monaro. These fish do not handle multiple casts well at all. A standard strategy for me now would be to put a dry fly over the top of my fish. If I think he’s seen it and hasn’t moved I won’t cast it again. If there’s any chance he hasn’t seen it I’ll give it another drift. First casts really count here though. If he has seen it, I’ll change to another dry and the time taken to tie it on will allow the fish a moment to rest up — the last thing you need is to show them lots of flies in quick succession. If the second dry doesn’t get a look then it’s straight to a wet, fished just under the surface — Hayes’ Stick Caddis is my choice. If this doesn’t work I might try a 16 Brown Nymph again just below the surface, or I’ll look for a rock to throw at him! No, just kidding, I’m a tenacious bastard so I’ll sit there for ages and try to work him out. Generally my first dry is imitating what is currently hatching, so it’s going to be a pretty solid first choice. The second dry is just another alternative, though not a smaller size of the same pattern. One of the most important things I’ve learned, again with Rene Vaz, is to watch the fish’s body language during the approach and presentation because there are subtle but also obvious shifts in behaviour that tell you everything about their mood. When they’re feeding happily, their body is loose in the water column with a wide free-swimming action. When they become suspicious, their body tightens right up. They don’t move or spook but they are definitely onto something — one bad move here and it’s all over. The key to this stage is not making another cast when they tighten up. Sit back, relax, and tie another fly on. Another trick to keep in mind is that these fish are very territorial, and creatures of habit. They take up residence in certain pools and will feed in specific areas at particular times of the day. As an example, in the mornings, when consistent hatches are less likely, they can often be doing their ‘beat’ around the middle of the pool searching for food, both wet and dry. During the middle of the day and afternoon they often sit closer to the current line at the head of the pool, holding station and sipping dries. One particular brown has quite literally done my head in recently, and still eludes me now. On three separate occasions I have found this trophy fish sitting at the very head of a really shallow, rock-shelf pool. It actually doesn’t make sense that he’s even there but he clearly loves the spot. There’s a tiny inflow and he sits right at the head of it. It presents a really difficult drift because the flow is only inches wide and the water around it dead still, so your dry tends to hold up in the current and spook him. Out of three attempts, I have spooked him once and bust him off twice. The last time was an epic fight with most of his huge, fit body out of the water more often than in it. Minutes into the fight my 4 lb tippet breaks — we suspect he rubbed me off on the rocks. And we think we were being conservative with our eight pounds call! This probably summarises my recent memories of the Monaro. Despite the fact that my 2016 spring was the best I have ever experienced, with multiple fish days and a healthy average size, I still lament the ones that have beaten me, including many that I’d fooled — the hardest part! Still, I sit here in awe of just how good the Monaro can be when it’s good. And planning my return and revenge on the task still not complete.

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