Photos: Bushwhacking and Browns on the Erskine River

Written by: Timothy Nash

Here’s a healthy-size brown, especially for a small stream, by Australian standards.
All photos by Clara Williams Roldan

As the winter fishing season continues in North America, the Southern Hemisphere trout streams are just reaching their most productive time of the year. Most people know about the trout angling mecca that is New Zealand, but far fewer know about fly fishing in Australia. Around Melbourne, at the southern end of the mainland, we’re blessed with a plethora of small, rocky streams that hold impressive numbers of brown and rainbow trout. Though the trout are small compared to other parts of the world—the vast majority of fish I’ve caught would weigh a pound or less—the vigorous strikes, the beauty, and the sheer numbers of trout more than make up for their lack of size.

The Erskine River is about a two hour drive south of Melbourne.
Image via Google Maps

When it comes to fishing these tiny rivers, you won’t need more than a 3- or 4-weight rod, some very light tippet and a handful of dry flies. Fish in these waters aren’t fussy eaters, and will generally have a go at any well-presented morsel drifted over their heads. A size 14 Royal Wulff is usually the go-to for me, but a small stimulator, Elk-Hair Caddis, Red Tag, or hopper imitation can be equally effective. Do bring a healthy supply of spares though, since the strikes are often so aggressive that your fly will be mangled beyond recognition before too long. There really is nothing like pulling a good-sized fish out of ankle-deep riffles, or tempting a strike from a pool you could step over.

And even if the fishing is terrible, you could do a lot worse than spending an afternoon in some of the most beautiful terrain the country has to offer.

As you can see, Erskine Falls is a popular tourist destination, but I thought I’d bring the rod along just in case. At worst it would be a nice day sightseeing with the girlfriend.

We pushed downstream away from the crowd at the base of the falls. Well, most of the crowd.

A feisty brown smashed my Royal Wulff on the second cast of the day; the fly had barely touched the water before he inhaled it.

I’ve started using barbless hooks. This is so much easier now. Haven’t noticed any drop off in hookup rates either.

This was typical of the terrain: often the river was little more than a meter across, running through a steep and overgrown gorge. You could step over it with one stride in most places. Then, occasionally, it opened up into wide, shallow pools with almost zero current. We found fish, all browns, in both the riffles and the pools.

Wet wading and bow-and-arrow casting were the orders of the day. Overhanging wilderness made overhead casts nearly impossible in most places. We got most of our fish within two meters of where we were standing.

About half the fish we caught were tiny little browns like this, but their numbers more than made up for their size. They were everywhere.

There were dragonflies everywhere, and the fish were gorging themselves on them, often leaping a foot or two clear of the water to bring them down. A big, hairy Royal Wulff was the closest thing I had in my box; luckily it was good enough.

At the end of a quick day, after about 90 minutes of hiking and fishing, we headed back to the base of the falls to see that most of the crowd had left. We thought we’d give the “big” pool at the base a quick shot before we left.

The pool at the base of the falls proved the most productive of the day: we hooked into four pretty decent fish in about 30 minutes of fishing, and missed several more strikes as we were distracted by the passing tourists.

The fish here were the biggest we’d seen all day, but still no more than about 25 cm. All told, we caught eight fish and missed a bundle more in a little over two hours. They were all released and swam away strongly, and there were plenty more rising when we left.

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