Covid 19: Can I fish the Snowy Mountains?

Eucumbene River

The Eucumbene River earlier in the week with good autumn flows – it will be much bigger now!

Can I go fishing in the Snowies? Oh, a dollar for every time I’ve been asked that question in the last month! The answer, of course, is it depends. What follows is not legal advice, but it is all gathered from available government information. This is a fluid situation, so ultimately it is up to you to always check the current situation through a government website, and not take unnecessary risks that put yourself or others at risk during the pandemic.

If you are a NSW resident and want to go fishing, that seems to be presently okay, with the following provisos:

  • It has to be a day trip, and if you do go, fish, and go home.
  • Do not go visiting other people, and minimise contact.
  • I can’t see any way that it is legal to carry a second person in your car or big 4WD, other than a person from your own household, or if working.

All NSW National Park campsites, and private caravan and camping grounds, are closed other than a few very tight restrictions – that do not include a fishing trip. Camping, or overnighting in your vehicle, on private or public property, does not meet any of the ‘other than’ exemptions, so you should not do it.

If you are from interstate and want to fish in NSW, the first thing is whether you are following the rules for your own jurisdiction, and for crossing borders, and for getting home. You must check. If you do decide it is okay to come to regional NSW, it definitely can’t be on a holiday (that’s not lawful, fishing or not, no matter where you come from). If from interstate you need a lawful excuse to be in NSW. My research on all this is below, with links to NSW, ACT and Victorian government websites.

Alpine Creek

Alpine Creek. Green banks and burnt trees.

Following all the laws and guidelines above, I had a trip to the Eucumbene River. Lo and behold, there’s a carload of ACT guys, and a 4WD from Victoria. Later, another 4WD from Nowra with more than one person. The lure is just too great I guess. Then I saw two 4WD’s fully loaded with camping paraphernalia and mountain bikes turning into Tantangara Road. And I’m not the only person watching. It was all the buzz back in Adaminaby where no doubt the local constabulary will be made aware.

Though the bushfire damage is less blatantly obvious than a couple of months ago, the river still looks different to normal. The banks and gravel beaches are layered in soot-stained sediment; what would have been wadeable last year is treacherously soft and deep. The bottoms of whole runs and pools are thick with the same black sediment. I took the video below from upstream of the Alpine Creek junction earlier in the week, and before all the rain which I expect will have it in semi-flood.

I have to admit, I cried when I first saw the post-bushfire landscape; animal bones; much of the hillside devoid of ground-stabilising vegetation; the sewage smell of the ash-affected rot.

The fish seem okay however. Even though I saw less than I expected, downstream on the Providence Flats there were 13 pelicans clearly enjoying the fishing as an early run of spawning browns came in from the lake – undisturbed by the usual hordes of anglers. The pelicans are never wrong.

I fished some likely water and caught the rainbow pictured by swinging a Woolly Bugger in some really fast water. Clearly confused; unlike the browns they rarely get into spawning condition this early. I’d caught a few fish on a tiny black nymph but at this spot there was a massive quantity of small pieces of black bushfire litter in the current and I really lost confidence that my small black fly would be picked out from the crowd of non-food. On the other hand, the Woolly really stuck out.

Fine rainbow from a fast deep run on a swinging Woolly Bugger.

Snowy Lake Levels

Lake levels are interesting. Tantangara is at 12% and rising after all this rain. The portal was on for a few days but was then closed and is now open again. Water levels are apparently being held low to permit Snowy 2.0 operations. Lake Eucumbene is at 26% and has been rising steadily for 3 or 4 weeks; presently it’s rising even faster as massive amounts of rain and snow fall in the catchment. Lake Jindabyne had been falling steadily since Christmas was at 61% (it was 80% at the end of December), but it has shot up to 62% in the last couple of days.

Bank fishing on Lake Eucumbene is the pick of the fishing at the moment.

Incidentally, the two sticks in the foreground of this picture used to point the way to a hidden entrance in the dense undergrowth. I put them there as a signpost and an end-of-session meeting point years ago. Now they’re just charcoal – and redundant for the time being!

Eucumbene river

Sticks that pointed the way.


Providence Portal April 2020.

Stay safe

Wherever you go, stay safe, and follow the law.


The official line from NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller is that: “If you do need a break and if fishing is your exercise, than do it sensibly and do it quickly and return home”.

But, all the other safe distancing and other rules still apply. You can only leave your home for the purpose of:

(a) Obtaining food or other goods and services.
(b) Travelling for the purposes of work or education if it is not possible to do it at home.
(c) Exercise.
(d) Medical or caring reasons.

The we get into the question of gatherings which states a person must not participate in a gathering in a public place of more than 2 persons. Exceptions include:

(a) gatherings of members of the same household, and
(b) gatherings essential for work or education.

The next question is, can I go with someone?

If you are with someone from your household that seems OK, but other than that you have to be able to maintain the 1.5 metre social distancing rule.

If you are getting there by car?

Well, in my Pajero, head-to-head with someone in my passenger seat is 0.8 metres; for the rear passenger side seat it’s 1.4 metres but the kid’s back seat in the cargo area is well over 2 metres. However, in NSW a vehicle is included in the definition of premises. So that means you need a minimum 4 square metres per person; maybe unless you can argue you are from the same household. The Pajero interior space is less than 6 square metres.

What about overnight stays?

Well taking a holiday in a regional area is not a reasonable excuse. What is a holiday? There is nothing defined in the legislation, but a dictionary definition is: “an extended period of leisure and recreation, especially one spent away from home or in travelling”.

What about Victorian residents?

The Victorian government restrictions website currently states there are only 4 reasons to be out (and note that Victoria remains the only State where there is currently an explicit ban on recreational fishing):

  • Shopping for what you need – food and essential supplies.
  • Medical, care or compassionate needs.
  • Exercise in compliance with the public gathering requirements.
  • Work and study if you can’t work or learn remotely.

What about ACT residents?

The ACT government has stated that “If fishing for food or as a form of exercise, people should abide by the regulations set out in the Chief Health Officer’s directions for public gatherings.”  The general ACT government website direction is: “Everyone should stay home unless you are: shopping for essentials, receiving medical care, for compassionate reasons, exercising, or for work or education, only if they cannot be done remotely.”

PS: Saltwater Flyfishing?

If you’re interested in a flyfishing charter on Sydney Harbour, Flyboat is back. With clarification that they can take one passenger; or two if from the same household. Fishing has been amazing; the kingies fight as hard as ever – other than on the ANZAC weekend when Stephen reported more boats on the Harbour than he could ever recall seeing, and the fish just disappeared. He couldn’t even catch a squid; maybe it was the noise and activity!