Mitta Mitta – Too Late for Blackberry Pie

Guest Blogger: Mike Cline, Bozeman MT

The Murray River is Australia’s longest—some 1500 miles. The Mitta Mitta, flowing out of the Great Dividing Ranges in Victoria is the Murray’s largest headwater tributary. Hydro schemes, gold mining, dairy farming and logging has long transformed the Mitta Mitta valley into what it is today. Although Australian anglers are quick to praise the introduction of brown and rainbow trout into the Victorian mountains in the 19th century, they are also quick to show complete disgust for the introduction of the European Blackberry, Rubus fruticosus. Blackberries were introduced into the Sydney region in New South Wales in 1830 by early settlers. However, in a fateful decision that continues to plague trout anglers well into the 21st century, in 1851 the Government Botanist in Victoria, Baron von Mueller, and the first Curator of the Gardens at Melbourne University, Alexander Elliot recommended blackberries be planted along stream banks to prevent erosion. It didn’t take long for everyone to realize how bad a decision that was.

Gorge section of Mitta Mitta is choked with bramble

On day two of my trip with River Escapes, we braved drizzly rain and muddy, overgrown tracks to fish several sections of the Mitta Mitta. The Mitta Mitta, or the “place where reeds grow” is one the better known Victorian trout streams. The section immediately below Dartmouth Dam is in a gorge paralleled by the Dartmouth road. Although the river isn’t far from the road, its down in the gorge and protected by a barrier of thick scrub and bramble. Cam, my guide from River Escapes knew the tracks and we slipped into a tight opening that would go unnoticed by most travelers. The trip down to the gorge was another one of those 4-wheel drive adventures through thick scrub and bramble. As we reached a 180-degree bend in the track we had to abandon any further descent by vehicle as nature had reclaimed far too much of the road to go on. After gearing up and a couple of hundred yards walk farther down the track, we were at the river. In the gorge, the Mitta Mitta tail water is a crystalline stream flowing over black basalt. Cam cautioned me that the “black rocks” were slippery. Somewhat of an understatement as wading was treacherous, the water deceptively deep and even the rocks above the water were slippery in the persistent drizzle.

Cam knew his river and there wasn’t going to be much hatch activity in the drizzle. I’d be fishing a couple of small nymphs under an indicator (rigged New Zealand style).

The river in gorge was full of 10-12” browns that eagerly took the nymphs. Fishing was very productive for the two or so hours we stayed in the gorge. Unfortunately, the very productive riffle/run sections were separated by long, deep pools that could not be navigated on foot. They were choked with scrub and bramble right to the water line and the deep, slippery bottom precluded any possibility of wading along the edges. Although we tried negotiating a scrawny trail along the river bank, our attempt to move upriver was eventually thwarted by bramble so thick on steep slopes that we couldn’t move. Cam was cussing Baron von Mueller the entire time. We finally found the overgrown track up the hillside and made our way back to the vehicle. As we walked back, Cam noted that a few weeks previously, the berries were out in full force and many were collected for pies back at the house. But today, we were a few weeks too late for berry pie.

Our next stop was farther down the Mitta Mitta in the valley. The river here was wider, with a more moderate gradient. Cam said it held bigger fish. From my perspective, it looked remarkably like the lower Big Hole river in Montana–dark, wide waters with lots of gravel bars and downed timber. More browns came to hand on the nymphing rig. The valley section of the Mitta Mitta reinforced much of what I’d noticed in the Tasmanian rivers I fished. Browns and rainbows in these Australian rivers don’t face much threat from aerial predators. It was rare to see a heron prospecting the shoreline and there are no Osprey-like raptors to prey on the fish. This allows the trout to roam the shallows in search of food with some impunity. It was not uncommon as we worked our way upriver to disturb big trout working shallows in just inches of water. If you could see them before they saw you (polaroiding as the Aussies call it), you might have some chance of getting a fly in front of them. On one occasion, as I worked along a small seam just ahead of a tail out, a trout caught Cam’s attention. A decent sized brown moved back and forth along the tail out. We were in about six inches of water and while holding very still, the trout eventually moved within a few feet of us. We got a few pictures, but an attempt to put a fly in front of him resulted in his quick departure.

As we departed the river as the evening settled in, it was still drizzly and we decided to stay in our waders until we returned to River Escapes. As we drove through the little village of Eskdale, a beer seemed in order. The pub was deserted, but after some confusion over my English with the bar maid two Cooper’s Pale Ales were in hand. Cam attributed the confusion to my still wearing my sunglasses at the bar. I guess it is something that’s not normal in Australia, at least in tiny Eskdale and the bar maid was a bit flustered. Soon two gentlemen entered the pub, one of which Cam new, the proprietor. He was a bit miffed over the wet floors from our waders. Cam just shrugged it off and told him he should be grateful for the customers. Our conversation quickly turned to the status of the fishing and one of the truths of Australian trout anglers—they are not big catch and release fans. The proprietor and his friend were a bit dismayed that we hadn’t kept any fish for the pot. It seemed a bit un-Australian to them. That was sentiment that just about everyone I talked to in Australia felt. They just couldn’t understand catching fish just for the fun of it.

The Mitta Mitta is approximately 250 miles east of Melbourne. It’s is an easy drive, mostly on a motorway. It runs through a beautiful valley with a fair number of wineries, bed and breakfasts and holiday rentals. There is a lot of public access and in the short time I experienced it, I realized it holds a nice population of fish. For any trout angler visiting Melbourne or Victoria, a couple of days on the Mitta Mitta would be a good bet.

One thought on “Mitta Mitta – Too Late for Blackberry Pie

  1. Tony Young

    I live in this area and found the story to be a pretty reasonable reflection of the Mitta and a good story too.
    The only thing I’d disagree with is the part about Aussies and catch and release.
    It depends on who you talk to but as a general rule fly fisherman tend to practice catch and release for the most part but in the Mitta Mitta part of the country there are also cod and perch which tend to be caught for the pot. Non fly fishermen who catch trout here lump all fish as being fish, same as cod etc and therefore there for the eating. In Australia trout aren’t officially considered as game fish and the rest are course, they’re all fish of the same relative value and have their own seasons but beyond that they’re there for catching.

    Now, it has to be said that for the most part catch and release isn’t even something that’s needed to keep the quality of fishing as it is. That may change in time as all things do but catch limits would just change to manage this.

    Reply

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