Howqua River how-to

Casting many of the deep pools along the Howqua River in the hunt for trout.

by Brendan Mather •

The Howqua River flows through the Alpine National Park in the shire of Mansfield, Victoria. The river flows through the picturesque Howqua Valley and eventually joins with Lake Eildon. The river is 66km long, flowing down from the alps and the water is cold and frosty in the early mornings, especially after the snow season. 

      The area I tend to fish is Pikes Flat, deep in the Howqua Valley behind Mt Buller. The drive into Pikes Flat is magnificent; one minute you’re winding your way through one of the spectacular valleys and the next you are driving across a scenic part of the Howqua River.

      The river is wide for those long fly casts and close to knee deep, great for wading up stream. The main species in the river are brown trout, rainbow trout, blackfish and English perch (redfin). This part of the river is a self-sustaining fishery after being stocked by Fisheries Victoria over a long period of time. The size of trout varies with anything from fingerlings right up to decent size adult fish. You can spot some big fish in this waterway. 

One of the many little brown trout that can be found in this healthy river system.
The river is wide for long fly casts and close to knee deep, great for wading up stream.
Birds eye view of the picturesque Pikes Flat, Howqua River.
Wading upstream along the Howqua River in the search for trout.

      Before breeding season, which is June-July, you will notice there are bigger fish around as the adult breeder fish are bearing their eggs. The younger fish are active and on the hunt for food more aggressively. 

      September right through to early November is a great time to go as there are fewer snakes out and you are able to walk up stream without the ridiculous heat. The river flows quite fast at this time of the year as the snow from the alps has melted and made its way into the river systems. During these months the sightings of trout are incredible as most of the fish are returning from spawning. Their colours are brighter and they are out from their holes and thriving with energy. 

      Anytime is a great time to visit but my favourite time is from late May to early June when the grass is crunchy underfoot on those crisp autumn mornings as the fog rolls off the river. Even when the fishing is slow it allows you time to soak in all that serenity, that’s why it is such a special place for me.

      If you are lure fishing, there are some great holes along the banks with weedy edgings and big rocks for those trout to hide behind. There are many different lures to use, and your lure selection is going to depend largely on the time of year and river conditions. 

      My favourite technique, when the river is flowing a bit faster than later in the season, is to cast using a 7g orange Tassie Devil. Lots of people say Tassies are better for lake fishing but I find when using the right technique I get great results in the river. I cast the lure into the weedy banks with a deeper pool and let it sink, then with a slow retrieve past the great under growth and big rocks. If the river is running nice and slow, I would use a little 55mm StumpJumper or a bladed spinner, with the same retrieve. 

      If you’re fishing with bait use a hook the size of your nail and let that drift downstream slowly past those great habitats. 

      For fly fishers there is a massive range of flies and nymphs to choose from, which will all depend on what the fish are feeding on. When they are feeding on the top, they’ll be targeting moths, grasshoppers and other small river insects. When they are feeding off the bottom your chances are better using a nymph. 

      Study the fish before you have a cast, you will notice where the fish are feeding from, which is crucial for any fishing success. Watching their pattern, you will know where they are coming from and where they tend to sit in the river to feed.

      My fishing kit for the day is a pair of chest waders, backpack for my drink bottle, tackle and food. I like to take plenty of snacks that are easy to eat on the go. I also keep a dry bag with my phone and camera gear in my backpack, just in case I slip over. 

      I also recommend fishing this area with someone else, especially wading, as mistakes can happen. You are deep in the National Park and fishing with a partner is just common sense.

      I attach a small trout landing net to my vest or waders, so it’s easily accessible when landing a fish. 

      Wearing polarized sunglasses helps, as you don’t get any glare reflecting off the top of the water. And the amount of trout you will spot waiting for food to come downstream is incredible, along with a lot of follows. 

      I don’t just love the fishing up there, the scenery is amazing, the sound of the birds and water trickling down, where else would you want to be? As a 17-year-old who is passionate about fishing it gets me outside and keeps me active, I highly recommend it to others. 

      The Howqua Valley is very popular for four-wheel drivers, campers and other anglers. Everyone respects the Alpine National Park by picking up their rubbish and leaving it in a good condition for the next family or group of mates to enjoy this wonderful area. So, if you’re looking for somewhere to take the family to get some fresh air, pack the camping gear and head up there for a weekend. Easy fishing from the banks for all age groups and experience levels and great memories to be made with your family and friends that you’ll never forget.

I cannot imagine life without fishing, and we should be grateful for the beautiful areas we have to visit right on our doorstep.