Rocky Valley

Tom Jarman spends time on a favourite lake in Victoria’s alpine region

In Victoria’s alpine areas, as the snow starts to melt and the ski season draws to a close, people vacate the mountains. Ski lifts swing and creak in the breeze and just as the mountain feels like it is about to fall asleep, it comes alive for the fly fisher.
Well, this is certainly the case on one of my favourite fisheries. Rocky Valley Reservoir is a water storage located at 1600 metres above sea level, near the Falls Creek ski village. The lake is set in a beautifully harsh alpine landscape, surrounded by grassy meadows, snow gums and rocky outcrops. Fed by many small creeks that flow from the surrounding hills, the water is crystal clear, deep, extremely rocky and barren.
Despite this, the lake supports a large population of wild brown trout and rainbows. Most of these fish are a similar size to ones you would expect to catch in a Victorian river. The sheer number of trout in the lake and associated competition for food, tends to keep the average size down. However, the size does fluctuate from season to season and the lake always seems to surprise you with the odd quality fish. In the past, chinook salmon were stocked. Few have been caught since the first seasons of stocking, but there is always a chance that a giant still lurks in the depths!
The main food sources for the trout include midges and other small insects, as well as terrestrials such as beetles. This means the fish tend to look to the surface to feed, making them the perfect target for an angler fishing dry flies or wets.
The cool thing about mainland Australia’s lakes is that they are open to trout fishing all year round. Spring fishing starts slowly, but as the days get longer and warmer the fishing starts to improve. With the increase in insect activity, the fish start to look up to feed off the surface more readily. In warm, still conditions, you will see them rising to midges and other insects.
Summer is the most exciting time on most alpine lakes. On Rocky Valley, you will see a great mix of terrestrial activity. Small beetles will be falling on warm afternoons and large grasshoppers will be blown off the many steep grassy shores. Food doesn’t tend to last long as the fish react to anything that hits the water. The trout will launch at large food items on the surface, keen not to miss out on an easy meal. Hatches of small insects continue through the summer in calmer conditions and in the evenings. There is nothing quite like bobbing around in the middle of the lake in a glass-out, with trout rising 360 degrees around your boat!
The exciting fishing continues from summer into autumn. Fish are actively looking for food on the surface, and calmer autumn days also bring great midge hatches. Winter can be challenging to fish on the lake; one key reason is that the road can be closed due to snow. Cold weather and short days shut the fishing down, but amazingly you will still see the odd fish rise in winter, and even in the snow. I have heard stories of fly fishers cross-country skiing around the lake, then pulling out a rod and attempting to catch rising fish they have seen along the edge.
Rocky Valley Reservoir has fantastic access for shore-based fishing, and you can also launch and fish from a boat. When approaching the water you need to look for a few different things. Seeing rises will tell you there are fish in the area and that some are actively feeding on top. If you can’t see any movement, then fishing to the structure will often find you fish.
On this lake the structure comes in the form of rocky shorelines, points and the odd creek bed. If you are presenting your fly around rocks or drop-offs it will only be a matter of time until a hungry wild brown trout rockets up out of the depths to eat your fly. You may also find them in the slicks, wind lanes or on windward shores. These fish well because the wind and current concentrates food in these areas.
When fishing from the bank I would focus on rocky shorelines with significant points and boulders. It is important to keep moving to find the fish — although they are everywhere in the lake, they may not always be feeding where you are. Fishing from the bank is not a disadvantage here, as the trout love the structure around the edge.
From a boat, I like to drift along the rocky shores or around points where the wind is blowing in or across. Use the wind to achieve a good drift to cover the water effectively. A boat also allows you to seek out any slicks or wind lanes where fish may be looking for food.
I always end up fishing one of two core techniques on this lake. The first one is simply retrieving a team of small wet flies or streamers on an intermediate fly line. This is a great way to cover water and find fish year-round. When the trout are looking to eat
terrestrials or other food off the surface it will catch them, and when the fish are not looking up you can get your flies down to their depth.
As always, try to mix up your retrieve and adjust depth by allowing your line and flies to sink. These wild fish are hungry and very excitable, so remember to give your fly some life to induce a take. Little Woolly Buggers and wet flies such as a Zulu, Kate McLaren or Bibio are perfect. I like to fish small when fishing wet flies and streamers here — sizes 12 and 14 are my go-to flies.
The second approach is by far my favourite, and that is fishing a team of dry flies on a floating line. Fishing dries works better in the warmer months, when these opportunistic trout love to rise to a fly if they get the chance. English hoppers, Carrot flies and possum/loop-wing emergers all work well in sizes 12 to 16. I have even caught fish here on deer-hair caddis and grasshopper patterns from my river dry fly box when I have stopped in for a fish on the way to the Mitta Mitta River. Don’t be afraid to animate your dry flies by giving them some movement to draw fish to them when you are fishing in some wind, or in overcast conditions.
For me, catching beautiful wild trout never gets old, and Rocky Valley Reservoir is a stunning location to do this. It is a perfect place to stop for a couple of hours to have a cast on your way to another destination, or one to plan a trip around with the abundant accommodation and other great activities available in the area. You can keep the fishing simple and relaxing with just a couple of dry flies, or you can mix things up with wet flies or streamers. Either way, you will be sure to enjoy some success on the water.
On my most recent trip to Rocky Valley, Leighton and I had enjoyed a very productive morning in the boat, drifting around on the lake. We had lost count of the number of fish that had eaten our flies, and we thought it might be fun to mix things up and try one of the many small creeks that flow into the lake. We moored the boat at the mouth of our first creek and started walking up through the alpine scrub with high hopes. To our amazement, the creek disappeared beneath the scrub. We could hear the flowing water but had no idea where the creek was, or how we could ever get a fly anywhere near it.
This was not the start we were expecting, so we jumped back into the boat and moved to another bay with an inflowing creek. This stream had much more water in it, and looking up into the hills we could see some nice kinks and turns where we were sure there would be a pool or two not obscured by scrub. We started the walk up the steep valley aiming for the first opening. The bush was so dense that on two separate occasions we nearly lost Leighton down holes where the water was carving its way through the grass and rock. To say the walk was hard would be an understatement!
Arriving at our first good looking piece of water, we quickly ran into a problem. The bush was so dense that the only position where you could make a cast meant you had zero chance of seeing the fly land on the water. This was going to require some teamwork. Leighton volunteered to climb the hill to a point where he could see the water, while I positioned myself where I could flick just my leader and fly into the small
The first few casts were made without a fly making contact with the water. A couple more and I got the thumbs up from Leighton. Two seconds passed, then I heard a ‘clop’ and instinctively lifted the rod and hooked into a beautiful little brown trout! The plan had worked. We were both very chuffed.
Now it was Leighton’s turn. We pushed on to our next good looking section, which came in the form of a pool with a rockface running along the right-hand side. We crept along the flat rock to the bottom of the pool where the first thing we saw was a brown trout cruising up and down, rising to little insects along the rocks and bushes. We both froze. Leighton crouched down, then slowly started pulling line off his reel.
A few tense moments passed as the fish turned and moved back towards the top of its beat. Leighton then made a couple of quick false casts before setting the trap in the middle of the pool. The moment the fly landed on the water, the fish reacted. It turned and charged downstream, inhaling the little Schroeder Hopper, and another lovely brown trout soon came to hand.
It was refreshing to take a detour to fish such a unique and quirky little creek, midway through our day on the lake. It was one of those moments when you remember why you got into fly fishing, and you feel like a big kid again.

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