Mickey explores two huge lakes on the western side of the Snowy Mountains which are often overlooked by flyfishers.
I have a large nose, so sometimes I tend not to see things that are directly under it. On first moving to the Snowy Valleys, my attention was entirely focused on the big tailwaters on the western side of the Snowy Mountains. The Tumut, Swampy and the Murrumbidgee have taken up most of my time over the past few years of exploring. Only recently have I turned my attention to the lakes which feed these magnificent systems. These Snowy Scheme dams on the western side of the Snowy Mountains are not only productive, but beautiful and enigmatic too; each with their own personality and eccentricates. I can target trout in the mornings, and natives in the afternoons and evenings, dive off stunning waterfalls on the middle of a hot summer’s day, and camp out listening to big deer honking on the foreshore. These western reservoirs are remarkable, and I’m glad I took the time to find them for myself; even though they were never really lost.
To start off with, a quick geography lesson. When I talk about the western dams, I mean those lakes on the western side of the Great Dividing Range which are fed by rivers which run west. This sounds straightforward, but when you account for the complexity of the Snowy Scheme, very little flows in the direction you expect! For instance, the first dam on the Murrumbidgee River, Tantangara, is actually fed from the east as the ‘Bidgee runs in a massive spiral. The Eucumbene River runs east too, but is pumped over and out to the west eventually. Effectively, all the water from the Snowy Scheme, whether east or west of the Divide, ends up heading west at some point, except for some riparian flows out through the Snowy River.
Confused? If so, the best way to think of the lakes on the deep Snowy Valleys side, is as the terminus for all of that deliciously cold, pure Snowy Mountains water. The two main terminus points I’ve been focusing on are Talbingo and Blowering. Close to home, they both have trout, natives and pests. However, I could not think of two lakes which are so diametrically opposed in almost every way, yet so close to each other.
The Big Brawler
Blowering is a monster; a massive storage which is currently breaking its banks at a capacity three times that of Sydney Harbour. It contains trout, Murray cod, golden perch, redfin and that mud-sucking demon commonly known as carp. This open, windswept giant has one half in the Kosciusko National Park, and one half in state forest. However, it was extensively logged before filling so there is very little tree structure. There are rock banks, mud banks and massive grass and weed-lined bays, with the occasional flooded tree. My plan for this early season was to spend as much time as possible on Blowering, sounding it out by boat with my new side-scan looking for natives. Although Blowering is stocked extensively with trout, the Murray cod and golden perch are a much more viable option. As the cod do not have extensive ambush cover on Blowering, they tend to cruise the banks and bays, especially at night, looking to take down a mixed diet of crays, fish and anything else that moves that will fit in their mouths!
Blowering is a notoriously difficult ‘trophy’ cod dam. I can see why it earned that reputation.
I spent a few sessions searching banks with the sounder, learning the dark art of electronics (I’m a classic trouty troglodyte!) and even found a cod a two on the screen. I was throwing some nice big articulated flies which have worked for me before on big cod, and I was pretty confident something would turn up. We had a couple of smaller cod chase in golden perch flies which we’d throw when we gave up throwing the big stuff. However, we had no joy on the big models, which was understandable. Big cod require time, dedication and especially at Blowering, more time spent fishing in the dark – so I have many sleepless nights to look forward to!
Sight-fishing the goldens in flooded bays was a fun option and we converted a few on marabou jig-streamers. Compared to the cod the goldens are straightforward. Find a school either on the sounder or individuals cruising the shallows, drop a fly on them and work it slowly through them. My original Blowering plans however, ended up taking a back seat to the real stunner of the Snowy Valleys: Talbingo.
Talbingo is such a split personality of a water. In fact, it doesn’t just have two personalities, it has several. It’s a dam with four species that will actively hunt a fly (but fortunately, very few carp). It has wind-lanes, timber, weed, rocks and so many inlets that instead of naming them I just use a number system to make life easier! Unlike Blowering, Talbingo was not logged before it was filled, with the gorge catchment precluding any chance of getting machinery in there without losing it to the Tumut River. This has left the sides of the dam today with so much dead standing and fallen timber that at any level, there is always an excellent timber bank to search.
Along with the timber, there are deep rock walls and shallow bays with weed-beds. These are out there for anyone who has the time and petrol to burn (or solid paddling arms).
Because of all this structure, plus it’s many inlet points both large and small, it’s quite easy to suffer from ‘structure-shock’ when first exploring Talbingo. There are a few styles of fishing which suit this dam better than most trout lakes, and some key methods and patterns to keep in mind.
Firstly, get a boat. There are some limited shore options, but due to Talbingo’s steep wooded sides, it’s basically a boating fishery. If you don’t have a boat, it’s simple – fish Blowering, Talbingo is not a ‘traditional’ trout dam, so don’t fish it traditionally. I’m not saying throw out your drogue and pack a stick of dynamite (well I sort of am saying that but bear with me). However, if you don’t adapt on this dam, you will come up empty-handed more often than not.
Next, you must have a good electric motor and practice using it; the edges of Talbingo are not the wind-swept bowls of Blowering and require some tight navigation. A drogue is a useful backup to have aboard, but I can think of maybe one trip this season when I really should have used mine. Talbingo does develop some delicious wind-lanes, although they haven’t been my main temptation… so far.
My main game on Talbingo is the edge bite with big streamers. (There’s the proverbial stick of dynamite!) It’s outwardly a very simple game; cruise the edge, throw big flies, retrieve them aggressively and then stick the fish hard when they eat. Of course, we all know it gets a lot more complicated than that. For someone who has never fished this dam or this style before, it’s better to start smaller, a medium-sized single hook streamer like a size 4 Woolly Bugger, sculpin, or crayfish variant. It’s also key to keep in mind that you’re not just throwing your flies, they need to land in the exact spot to be retrieved through the ‘kill-zone’ that a trout will be hunting through on that day. Depending on the conditions, that could be an inch from the edge, ten feet back into the trees or thirty feet back depending on the bank. There’s no way to find out without searching every part of that area until you do turn a fish or a get a grab.
I do enjoy fishing a large articulated streamer, like a Dungeon or a Cheech Leech, because they pull fish from distance, so you cover more bank efficiently. Although you’re mainly targeting big browns with this method, Talbingo also has big rainbows which will quite happily destroy a well-placed streamer, as well as golden perch and a small population of totally protected trout cod.
The only downside in Talbingo is the redfin population that plagues it. However, as annoying and destructive as they are, redfin also provide an excellent baitfish source and there’s no question what the big browns are feeding on (plus big redfin make a delicious bycatch).
The natives remain high on my list for the western dams. Unfortunately, as river trout season rolls around, I have a lot of days on the rivers fishing for trout; a terrible problem to have I know! However, after the Christmas/ New Year, the bustle dies down, the ski boats disappear and night fishing becomes a rather comfortable option when it’s 38 degrees during the day! I should be able to spend the required time on Blowering to find a decent cod.
Meanwhile, during those blustery days of summer, the Talbingo wind-lanes will be turning on, full of cicadas, caddis and the odd mayfly, so I’ll actually take the drogue out of its storage space in the boat for once. I’m also very keen to work with Fisheries to better understand the role trout cod can play as a recreational target in Talbingo (for catch-and-release only of course). As far as I know, you cannot target trout cod. Fisheries use these dams as genetic ‘banks’ to squirrel away important local strains of this beautiful fish. However, there are some lakes which now allow the active targeting of trout cod and it seems their future as a viable recreational species is on the rise. For anyone who’s caught a few of these fish, you’ll understand my excitement at this prospect.
Overall, I think my fascination with the western dams is based on the possibilities. Will we one day have a metre-plus trophy trout cod fishery, which also produces some of the best brown trout on the mainland? I hope so, because it’s just down the road from my house and right under my oversized nose!