Return to the Nariel

David Anderson welcomes the revival of an iconic Victorian trout stream.

In 2015 a Victorian Fisheries stream survey confirmed persistent rumours that the Nariel Creek, once one of North East Victoria’s more famous trout waters, had been in a hot, low-flow, carp-infested, globally warmed slump for several seasons. Fish and angler numbers, like water levels, were down, while incidents of irrational blame and finger-pointing, like water temperatures, were up. The future looked grim. Of course, the Nariel wasn’t alone. At that time most if not all of the well known lowland trout rivers right through Victoria and New South Wales were suffering from a string of poor seasons; it was only that the Nariel seemed to be suffering more. Though the rains returned by the end of the 2015 season, I regularly drove up the Nariel Valley to fish its boisterous headwater streams, or crossed it while heading from home in Albury to the nosebleed areas of the Snowy Mountains. But rarely did I spare a glance for the river itself. It was down and out and I was ignoring it. It’s a real shame: the Nariel is a beautiful and graceful small river, flowing through a lovely wide agricultural valley that, when at its best, screams: “Come whip me with your big four-weight!” Thankfully the rains continued into the 2016 season. In November I got a surprise call from Victorian guide Jim Jackman, who was shacked up with a couple of mates at Khancoban and needed some twigwater time and adult supervision. I packed my gear and drove straight up. After beating around the high country for a day and a half, struggling with high water levels on the small streams, we drove back down the valley to the Nariel to find some more space and less life-threatening currents. November, after all, is prime time in the lowlands. The river was looking brilliant in its big spring flow, and flipping a few rocks in the runs revealed a good quantity of aquatic trout chow. Unfortunately, after a few hours and only a few small fish to hand, it became clear that the river was still not at its best. I went back to ignoring it, but drove a little slower over the bridges whenever passing by. Three months later I had another impromptu crack at the Nariel when heading home early from a tough day just over the Great Dividing Range on the upper Gibbo River with Michael Young. A storm brewed over the main range as we drove into the valley. There was the humid and charged feel of a big hatch in the air. If nothing else, the light was also great for photos so we stopped at the Willow Crossing bridge to have a look. Again, the river was certainly looking good and the light was awesome, but the bugs didn’t really show and the fishing was still slow for an ‘iconic’ river. After an hour we packed up and continued home. By early in the 2017/18 season it was clear that everywhere was fishing well. Amid the throng of regular reports I was receiving from one end of Australia’s trout country to the other, the name of the Nariel was mentioned once or twice, and not unfavourably. Now, before driving by, I was occasionally stopping at one of the bridges and having a look. Near Christmas my friend David Clarke (who is not at all excitable) called and excitedly told me that the river was firing, and went on to describe in detail the big days he was having. Now, I’ve heard these sorts of stories before and driven to some far-flung fishless locations only to hear the familiar excuse — you should have been here yesterday. David’s not that guy, though. He’s a genuine ‘You can’t handle the truth!’ ex-army officer and not given to exaggeration or self-aggrandisement. He also knows the river as well as anyone because, like his father and grandfather before him, he’s from the area and fished it his entire life. In his words the fish were ‘more bigger and busy’. Fine. I packed the car and decided to give the Nariel one last chance. On arrival, the river was indeed looking as good as I’ve ever seen it and, as David pointed out, was running slightly higher than normal for this time of year. The water was cold and clear, and bugs were everywhere. After sorting a couple of 4-weights, we walked well downstream through rich, feed-filled paddocks scattered with cows and massive poplar trees with trunks as thick as cars. We passed over a small ice-cold running spring, a couple of small feeder creeks and then through a thick layer of willows where the river meets the eastern valley wall. Though it was hot, everything was wet and green and looking great for December. From where we started fishing, the water was mostly knee-deep run and ripple over fist-sized rocks and gravel, with the occasional deeper pool and a few bedrock patches. It looked very fishy to me. David started with a #14 Stimulator tied with a little bit of flash under the wing, and with a small black nymph tied off the back. He was into the first of several rainbows after only a couple of drifts through the first big run. The fish fought well and, once to hand, was around a pound and in a fat, superb condition. The best fish of the day — a brown of about two pounds — came from a long ripple with deep water right next to a bank overgrown with long grass. There were juvenile hoppers bouncing all over the place and the occasional riser hard to the bank. David clipped off the nymph and fished the Stimulator, catching several more. From David’s perspective, the number of fish we caught was about right for a good summer day on the Nariel, but the size and condition of the fish was better than it had been in a very long time. While the Nariel is not trophy trout water, both Jim Jackman and David have talked of the odd three-pound-plus fish they’ve landed over the years, with an average size somewhere between one and two pounds. That being said, when it’s on, it’s about big numbers and easy, low-maintenance fly fishing. David keeps his fly choices simple for his regular summer trips and sticks with Stimulators for prospecting, an Adams parachute for fussy risers and sometimes a trailing black nymph to double up the odds, while Jackman uses classics like the Royal and Ausable Wulff. The river has several easy access points at the five bridges on the Benambra-Corryong Road that follows it closely from Stacey’s Bridge downstream to Colac Colac. Above Stacey’s Bridge is less accessible wild country, but well worth a look if you’re feeling adventurous. Between Stacey’s Bridge and the crossing on Carmody’s Road the river, though now flowing through flatter country, is still quite wild and runs through a shallow gorge with mostly slippery bedrock and blackberry-lined banks that make it impossible to get out of the water to walk around the obstacles. I would have written more about it were I younger and stupider. Below Carmody’s Road, for the 30-plus kilometres to Colac Colac, the river is all flat ripply water that’s easily waded with smooth walking along the banks. Corryong, a small town six-and-a-half hours southwest of Sydney and just over five hours northeast of Melbourne, is a great base that has everything you need to survive, including a pub, fuel and a great community-run bakery that makes good coffee and pies. There’s a caravan park right on the river at Colac Colac (Clack-Clack) a few kilometres east of town, and well serviced camping grounds at the nearby Nariel Recreation Reserve, as well as at Stacey’s Bridge. My old (sorry, Jim!) mate Jim Jackman can be reached through www.wellspringflyfishing.com.au for guiding and tuition.

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