The Goulburn River is a well known legendary fishery in Victoria, it stretches from the Victorian Alps all the way down to Echuca, where it meets the Murray River. Whilst this beautiful river holds trout, redfin, yellowbelly, cod and other native species, we will be focusing today on trout fishing. One of the biggest hot spots in Victorian trout fishing is the section of the Goulburn River that passes Thornton and its surrounds, this area has met even greater popularity since the stocking of trophy trout by the Victorian Fisheries Authority on opening of the 2018 and 2019 trout seasons. If your goal is to fish this beautiful river in search of pristine wild trout and potentially a monster fish, then look no further, in this guide we will be going into how to fish this river, what lures to use, where to look and when to go. I will not be exposing the best spots in the river to fish, because finding them is half the fun, but I will show you how to search for them.
Finding a starting point
It’s a Saturday morning, you got up at 4am to make it down to the Goulburn river, looking for the beautiful trout you’ve seen posted all over social media. You were up late on Friday night tying your leader, picking out your lures and getting up to date on the latest YouTube clips on fishing rivers for trout. As the mist starts rising off of the water and the first sign of sunrise dawns on the horizon, you’re ready to head down to the water and start fishing. There’s only one catch, the Goulburn River stretches for seemingly endless kilometres, how will you possibly find fish in such a vast area? How are you to know where exactly the secret go-to spot is? Well, the reality is simple, there’s a secret go-to spot 300 metres from you, there’s another one half a mile downstream, and you walked past one on the way down the bank! Rivers like the Goulburn are filled with deep holes, hidden snags and calm pools, where once in a lifetime fish hide in wait for a morsel of food to be trapped in the current and delivered to them. You won’t find your secret spot on Google Maps, you’ll find it with a keen eye and patience.
Finding the Trout
Rivers vary greatly in size, from massive rivers that you can’t see across like the magnificent Amazon, to small streams you can step over, but no matter the size of a river, they will all have similar readable water. As water flows down through the river, it will encounter various roadblocks, these can be bends, rocks in the water, waterfalls, fallen trees or deep pools, these various attributes slow the water, break it up, make it deeper or provide more oxygen. Depending on what you’re fishing for, the characteristics you are searching for will vary, since this guide is focused on trout, I’ll share what they like. Trout are opportunistic fish, they are quite intelligent and have evolved to preserve as much energy as possible when feeding, they even have a specialised fin (the Adipose fin) designed to help them manoeuvre and hold position in running water. Trout most commonly feed by sitting on the edge of locations where faster flowing water meets with a slower patch, this way they can sit in the slower water and sip in food as it drifts down to them.
What to Look For
When you are reading the water, this is one of the key things you should be looking for; fast, rippling water clashing and slowing down, whether that be through deepening, running into a rock or coming off of a trickle. This move from faster to slower water has a couple of tell-tale signs, the first, (in the case of rock blockage or waterfalls) is a bubble trail, a dense trail of bubbles thinning out into a smaller trail, these bubbles identify a path in which food and other items will drift down the river, if you’ve found a bubble trail and it hasn’t already been fished, you’re likely to hook a trout there! The strike rate on bubble trails is excellent. The second thing to look for is still-looking water, if the water is dense with ripples and turbulence, before flattening out to appear still, calm and glassy, it means the riverbed beneath that section of water has a dip or a hole in it. This is very similar to how gutters on the beach appear still. Whilst bubble trails are a tell-tale sign of trout, these still, deep patches are often indicative of trophy trout, a trout will happily spend huge periods of time in these holes and grow simply massive in the process, all of my best trout have come from these still patches of water. Once you know how to read the river and identify where the fish are likely to be, you will have completed most of the trout fishing puzzle! The next piece of the puzzle is lure selection.
Match the Hatch
Most of us have heard the expression ‘match the hatch’, it is a timeless piece of wisdom that will never be wrong, this saying originated with fly fishermen. Fly fishermen tie flies to imitate the chosen food of their local trout, different trout have different preferences, during certain times of the year, insects would hatch, and the air would be buzzing with the sound of mayflies and other insects, and the excited fly fisherman would quickly tie on the fly that best matched the hatching insects of the season. Whilst fly fishing is still hugely popular today, ‘match the hatch’ now has a broader meaning: Use the lure or bait that best imitates what the fish are feeding on. While this sounds more or less like common sense, it is often easily overlooked, you may have an old faithful lure that you always tie on first, but the lure you’re using looks like a pilchard. Sure, the trout will still give it a look and you’ll most likely even catch a couple, but how many fish were missed because they sensed something was out of place? How many more fish would you have caught if your old faithful pilchard imitation was replaced by a realistic brown trout fingerling?
What type of lure?
Ask your fishing buddy what he uses for trout, he’ll tell you there’s nothing better than a spinner on river trout, or perhaps he’ll tell you soft plastics or hard bodies are the way to go. There are so many lures that will catch trout, some will work better than others in certain conditions, I don’t believe that any one type of lure is key, my belief is that colour, depth and retrieval speed are what matter most. You can fish many coloured spinners, target deep holes with soft plastics, or change up hardbodies for something different, but what you use is up to you, as long as the colour, depth and retrieval speed are where they should be. In murky water and deep water, I recommend a bright lure, fished at a medium pace to give the fish a chance to hunt it down. If the water is clear and high visibility, use something realistic, and fish it at the pace of what it’s designed to imitate, a beetle wouldn’t race through the water, and a skittish gudgeon wouldn’t swim at a constant, sluggish pace. Change up your retrieves and experiment with colours, and make sure you change if you’re not getting any interest, even if it is your lucky lure!
If you’re new to fishing the Goulburn, or new to trout fishing in general, it’s worth going over some tackle, as the Goulburn is a larger river, the usually used shorter 6′ – 6’6 rod can be upgraded to a 7′ 1-4kg in this scenario, the longer castability and extra control will come in handy for sure! Match this to a 1000 or 2000 sized reel and you’re almost done, the choice of braided line, single strand polyethylene (SSP) or monofilament is entirely yours, I personally use Black Magic SSP. If you’re using mono, I recommend 4 – 6lb, and if you’re using braid or SSP you will need to tie on a 4 – 6lb fluorocarbon leader.
Timing is everything
Trout seem to follow internal body clocks, they feed during sunrise and early morning, and feed again in the evening, if the fish you are targeting are stocked fish such as the trophy trout released by VFA, they will feed more or less all day, as their previous lifestyle before stocking was very different to the lifestyle of wild trout. Timing with weather is also important, overcast days are a big plus, as is low wind.
Whilst I won’t provide you with ‘secret’ spots for fishing the Goulburn, I will point you in the right direction on where to start, Thornton is a fantastic location to explore, look for roadside parking with river access and start walking, bridges and river bends can also be highly productive as they provide shelter and slow water. If you’re looking for easier access there are various caravan parks dotted along the river that have unique access to some fantastic pockets of water, Breakaway Twin Rivers caravan park is one of these locations, and boasts many happy campers! (Pun very much intended). The key point here is to explore, VFA have done some great work improving what is already a fantastic fishery, make the most of the accessibility and get out there, put in the hard yards and you will see results!
Don’t Give Up!
You will most likely get frustrated, exhausted and tired, but once you unlock the secrets of the beautiful Goulburn river you will be beside yourself with excitement! Myself and the Oz Fish TV Team wish you all the best of lucky with your fishing!