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All flies except Wigram's Black Beetle tied by Mick Hall
Photography by Mick

With the first Saturday in September we see the opening of the Victorian trout streams.  As I write this article, the future of the long drought in Victoria looks to be on the mend and with a bit of luck, good flows will be back in our streams and some of those lakes that were dry may now have water.
Even with average spring rains we can see some streams running very high, while the others will actually spill their banks, filling backwaters and other low lying areas, including gutters.  Often with this sort of spillage we can find trout out in the flooded margins sourcing many food forms such as beetles, worms, caterpillars and all sorts of good stuff.
A little research and knowing your water goes a long way.  Just about every stream I know has areas where there are floodplains.  Some small, some quite large and a little observation made on a previous trip can make this game easy.
Trout tend to follow the line made by trenches or gutters and then drift out into the flooded paddocks or marshlands.  Marshland with plenty of tussocks is my favourite type of water, a depth of around 20 to 30cm, the odd tree stump or fallen log pile - areas where there is ample opportunity to see any movement made by old speckles as it pokes its nose in here and there.  Heavily timbered streamside areas are difficult as often rain or dew drops are continually falling onto the surface and it can make it difficult to pick up feeding trout but then I suppose it all adds up to the challenge.
Larger trout prefer to stay close to an escape route and these routes are easy to pick.  Look for water with grass stalks sticking up close to areas without the stalks.  This may indicate a channel that is deeper and offers more protection if needed, plus it offers a great escape route.
Fallen trees are great locations to look for feeding trout.  Dead trees are home to a multitude of life forms Ė beetle, ants and even spiders and grass stems often hold bunches of caterpillars which have crawled up to get away from the rising waters.
In my mind the best time to fish these flooded backwaters is as early as possible, just on daylight.  This way you also have a better chance of getting on the water before anyone else.  It is also an advantage if you know the area well.  If you donít, my best advice is to get to know it well because a wet butt on a cold, spring morning is nothing to be fancied.  Mind you if it is an overcast day and there is nobody else around, then it is possible that you could find feeding or cruising trout all day long.
Your approach is the same as when lake fishing.  Move carefully and slowly, all the time searching the water for any telltale signs of feeding trout.  Many times you will spook fish, as often they simply sit doggo and as you approach they take off - often taking a mate or two with them.
Naturally practice makes perfect and you have to get a bit of a mindset on the fact that you are actually hunting these fish.  If they see you they are going to do one of two things; firstly some will dart off or, if you are lucky, they will simply stay where they are and hug the bottom.
In most instances if you can see them there is a better than even chance they can see you.  If you have found a bottom hugger, move quietly and carefully back out of the way.  If you cast to it, it will most probably take off at a great rate of knots and spook everything in the area.  How do you know if it hasnít seen you? Wait a little and if it starts poking around again, you may be in business.  The bottom line is to do a lot of watching and have confidence that there are fish there.

There is a whole range of fly patterns that will work with backwater fishing and just about everyone I know has a bundle of favourites. However, there a few that are very important and should receive a special place in any fly box.  For example, Dick Wigramís Black or Brown Beetle is still as effective today as when it was first developed nearly 75 years ago. Small Woolly Worms and the old Peacock and Black are also mainstays.  If you wish to give a new twist to an old and reliable fly and try a couple of new ones, then the following patterns may be of interest.
The Coq de Leon & Peacock
The Peacock and Black is a very old pattern dating back into ancient history as far as flies go. The pattern is simple  - a small hook, a few turns of peacock herl for the body and a turn or two of soft, black hackle.
Recently Whiting Farms has released Coq de Leon hen capes.  The texture of the feather is soft, with a fair amount of webbing on the fibres, which enhances the feather value for wet flies.  They are a mottled grey/brown in colour, reasonably long in their fibre.  If you are into soft hackled flies then you will be very pleased with this addition to their range.

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Coq de Leon & Peacock
Searching flies for the newly flooded edges of streams and rivers.
"Fly Talk" Freshwater Fishing Magazine #86 Sept/Oct 2007

Hook: Partridge Dry Fly
Size: 16 to 12 (sample shown tied on a size 12)
Body: Peacock herl, two strands for the larger sizes
Hackle: Two turns of Coq de Leon hen hackle, tied in to partially lie back over the body.

1. If you tie the Peacock onto your hook shank with the centre stem facing up and wind away from yourself, you will notice that the flue of the herl actually cups over itself beautifully.
2.  Do not over-tie this fly or make it too heavy as the water you will be fishing could be very shallow and you do not want to get caught up on the bottom all the time.  This is also the reason I selected a dry fly hook - because it is made from a fine wire.
3.  As an option, fine gold or silver can be added as a ribbing.
4.  I tend to fish this pattern very slowly, mostly with a figure-of-eight type retrieve.

Olive Green Shell-Back Beetle

1. A simple fly to make; be careful to make sure that when you tie in the wingcase, you actually tie it above the barb of the hook, for when you pull the case up over the body, it pulls forward a bit.  You need to give it a test before dubbing on the body.
2. This fly is great for shallow water as the foam restricts the fly from sinking too fast.

Olive Green Shell-Back Beetle

Hook: Partridge Dry Fly
Size: 16 to 12 (sample shown tied on a size 16)
Wingcase: Olive shell-back stuck to a 2mm slice of foam
Body: Black/Green Spirit River Diamond Brite dubbing

Mick's Scruffied Woolly Worm

1. In making this pattern, try to keep it all on the skinny side.  The Partridge Ideal Nymph is a fine wire hook as wet fly hooks go.  This again makes the fly highly suitable for fishing shallow water.
2. The body hackle used is somewhat unique and I believe may be difficult to obtain.  You may have to order one in through your local shop.  A number of years back there was a range of fabulous capes on the market out of Hebert Farms.  They featured many rare and unusual colours from what we called natural olive to speckled golden badger. This company was purchased by Tom Whiting and for a number of years these capes and colours were unavailable.  In the ensuing time Dr Tom Whiting has done his trick and they are now back on the market and all I can say is - how good does it get?  If you are into dry flies then you owe yourself a favour to check this new range of colours out.

Whiting Farms Hen Coq de Leon Cape
Whiting Farms Medium Champagne Saddle Hackle

Mickís Scruffied Woolly Worm
Hook: Partridge Ideal Nymph
Size: 14 to 10 (sample shown tied on a size 10)
Body: Scruffy mix, which is a blend of dark olive rabbit fur and black rabbit fur dubbed fine and loosely
Body Hackle: Whiting Farms Medium Champagne wound back along the body as you would do with a Woolly Bugger, about four turns
Ribbing: Silver or gold very fine wire which is used to hold the hackle to the body.

Wigram's Black Beetle.  This fly was actually tied by Dick Wigram.