Snowy Lakes New Year Update

Lake Eucumbene. View from the Providence campsite with the lake at 46.5%.

Pre script:

Having just read Mike Van De Graaf’s Stream post on Greek philosophy and fly fishing I feel as if the last two weeks have been wasted on my obsession. Now I have to ask what does it all mean? Did I get it wrong? Is there really a fish god and am I pleasing him? Can I be objective or is everything subjective? Do fish really exist? Is there any order in fishing at all or is it all chance?

Lake Eucumbene is on fire

There are rarely times when I will give Lake Eucumbene a miss in favour of another spot. It’s a bit of a drug to be honest, an addiction. I love Jindabyne and Tantangara too, but my relationship with these two (and other lakes) lack the commitment I have to Lake Eucumbene.

Check out the size of the paddle on this fish – compared to its body size.

Eucumbene fish fight so hard, especially so the rainbows when the lake has been rising quickly (as it has) and the fish are fit and well fed (as they are). And there’s the extra challenge of the submerged thistles yet to fully decompose. My unvalidated theory on why Euc fish fight so hard is that their power comes from the challenges they face to find food and avoid predators, and to the consequential muscle to fat ratio – and the size of their caudal fin which at times seem disproportionally large in comparison to their body size and torpedo shape. These fish are lean and athletic, not the footy-shaped rainbows of more fertile lakes. How a 1lb rainbow can pull so hard is a mystery. How a 2lb rainbow can rip off a fly-line down to the backing in just a few seconds is simply a phenomenon.

Is there anything more enticing than freshly flooded grass leading into a tadpole-loaded soak? When the lake reaches 50%, the whole of Providence Flats to the right of this picture will be under 2 metres of water.

Like many, I remember the big fish I’ve lost with a lot more clarity than many of those I’ve landed. In October 2020, as a harbinger of this year’s great fishing, I had a boat session when I landed five rainbows in the middle of the day – on the October long weekend. At the time, it seemed to have been a long while since I’d had that level of success. Back again the next weekend, I hooked a massive rainbow which screamed line off the reel, ran parallel to the shore and smoked me in the boulders – with Stephen as my witness. It made me recall the tuna I caught casting a Surf Candy on a coral drop-off in the Solomon Islands in 2005, which did me in much the same way. Now, as this season has unfolded as one of the best I can recall, I feel surprise if I don’t have a five fish session, and end up with a least one fish on the backing. On the rare occasions it doesn’t happen, I start to over-analyse on fly choice, leader length, tippet diameter, and aftershave!

The power of these broad shouldered horse-browns on a size 16 pheasant tail nymph has to be experienced to be believed.

The season so far

We’re now a third of the way through the season and the New Year has kicked off with the same good form. On 1 January, Stephen and I had one last evening session at the end of a six day family camp at Buckenderra. Two hours, and I’d landed five rainbows and a chunky brown and missed as many more, before we were heading back to the ramp just before full dark trying to beat the approaching thunderstorm. It just seemed right; auspicious even, that the New Year in 2022 had started in much the same way the new season had in 2020.

The last fish of the first session of 2022, just before we ran from a thunderstorm.

The bugs have been different this season. With the lake rising over fresh ground, we’d expected more midge. Not that there haven’t been plenty, but the dense midge ball action hasn’t been as common as last year. The stick caddis haven’t made much of a show yet, and the mudeye shucks that should be covering the boulders and trees aren’t there yet. I suspect the cool weather conditions that have left my tomatoes and beans stunted, may also be impacting the bugs. But they will come!

The 1 January thunderstorm that flashed and banged all around Middlingbank.

Lake levels are all good, and I’ve had reports of excellent fishing throughout. Jindabyne is at 98.7% after spilling in December; Eucumbene is at 46.9% and is still creeping up ever so slowly: and Tantangara is at 23.6% and bouncing up and down a bit with the Portal into Eucumbene still running.

Two hours after I took this photo at Tryvilla Inlet the midge were as thick as I’ve seen them all year. The one night I forgot my buff – and I nearly choked!

In terms of what’s next, I wouldn’t leave home without a few stick caddis, hopper, and mudeye patterns. A few weeks of hot dry weather, and there could be a lot of hoppers around. Whilst they don’t like the wet, there are plenty around. They hatch all summer and a few weeks of nice dry growing conditions, anytime between January and April, will make a huge difference. And read Philip’s article and heed the advice to try, “tiny flies – often a single, small, basic nymph – with a painstakingly-slow retrieve”. Add to that a bit of advice from me which is to watch for the twitch take, that slightest tick in the fly-line as a fish investigates your curious-looking morsel – advice I am sure applies to every lake in the system.

Size 16 scruffy brown PTN with a glass bead, 12 foot leader, 4X tippet, long slow draws with 10 second pauses, and strikes on any twitch in the line. Lethal!