Solo trip into the Northern Snowies

“You should take your mountain bike and head downstream from the dam,” Philip Weigall said, “There are lots of good fire trails there, and they lead to some great stretches of river.”  Not a bad idea, I thought to myself, gazing dreamily out the office window in Canberra.

A week later and I was pulling my mountain bike off the car roof rack and checking the spares in the saddlebag – tube, pump, tools, patches… it’d be a long walk back otherwise. Same for the rest of the gear – food, first aid kit and a few emergency bits and pieces went into the backpack along with waders, an old pair of trainers that suffice in lieu of heavier wading boots, a small fly box, tippet, net and camera. Nestled conveniently in the side pocket was a decent topographical map. Leaving a note on the windscreen explaining my expected time of return, I was off.

On the way.

On the way.

It was a great pleasure heaving the bike across a locked gate and starting up the track, knowing that I was about to get a crack at a stretch of river seldom fished. Not only was the location remote, but unless you’re a ranger or on horseback, there’s no way to get there without working up a sweat. Roughly 7 km of rocky, undulating track lay ahead.

There was also some nervous anticipation about this one. The past two fishing trips I’ve taken into the northern Snowy Mountains had seen me return empty-handed, a bit morose and questioning my (admittedly limited) ability. “Been a tough season,” one similarly dejected fishing friend had commiserated the week before as we’d trudged back to the car empty handed. “The fish in the Eucumbene (river) are moving around a lot,” Philip offered, after I’d explained to him my frustration following a day spent fruitlessly flogging a particularly trouty-looking stretch.

A pretty sunset the previous night, but no fish.

A pretty sunset the previous evening, but no fish.

The night before this latest expedition, in fading light as I’d arrived at my campsite, I’d yet again caught nothing but the sunset. Okay, the sunset was pretty, but still…

However a calm, clear late summer morning and a punishing climb to commence my journey pushed those thoughts away. The view from atop the hill was stunning, expansive and devoid of man’s mark. A high-speed downhill encounter with a surprised mob of brumbies and a deceptively deep creek crossing en route added to the sense of adventure. Thankfully it was a warm morning.

A couple of obstacles en route!

A couple of obstacles to get past…

Arriving at a spot which looks promising on a map but you’ve never actually laid eyes on is perhaps a bit like a blind date – you’re well aware there’s a distinct chance of disappointment but you wouldn’t go to the effort without at least the hope of success.

I could scarcely believe it as I pulled up to see a glass smooth stretch of river, swirling gently past reedy banks, narrowing slightly over a fishable riffle before spilling into a promising pool. My wistful gaze was punctuated by a confident slurp near the bank in front of me… time to get fishing!

Worth the ride!

Worth the ride in!

The day was warming nicely, but with barely a puff of wind the hoppers weren’t particularly active. I tied on a Shaving Brush and trusty black nymph below it.  The third cast under a likely overhang saw a silver flash and the Shaver disappeared, dragged under by a beautifully conditioned 2½ pound rainbow which had seized the nymph. Obligingly, instead of taking me into the tea-tree, it ran up and down the wide pool behind its lie for several minutes, before succumbing to the net and a date with the baking tray that evening. Finally, trout-drought broken!

A beauty for dinner.

A beauty for dinner.

Hoodoo-free, I moved upstream and as midday ticked around, the hatch kicked up a gear. In the pool below the riffle, two more healthy rainbows were netted, fooled by the Shaver. One was kept, the other quickly on its way. A third take was missed.

A quick meal of leftover pizza and with a bit more breeze I decided to try the banks and a hopper pattern. One brown was game enough. Soon after coming to the net it was free, darting quickly back to the (relative) safety of the overhanging bank.

This one went back.

This one went back.

Time was ticking. I checked the stomachs of the two fish I’d kept and was surprised at how different the diets of two trout caught within 100 metres of each other were. The larger, better-conditioned fish had a veritable gutful of big black beetles, several of which were two centimetres long! The second rainbow’s belly contained a couple of small hoppers, but they’d been ground down almost to a pulp – the fish had gorged on so many stick caddis, squeezing its intestine felt like squashing a sandbag.

Hard to leave.

Hard to leave.

Wrapping my catch, re-stowing my gear and swinging the pack back onto my shoulders, I looked longingly up the bank at what seemed like the perfect campsite. Next time!