Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Snowy Mountains, Australia

When I think of Australia one of the first images that springs to mind is the vast expanse of the Outback, and that immensely spiritual red rock, Uluru. It’s a dry continent, the driest on earth and not one you would readily associate with trout. Ask any local about trout and most will forlornly shake their heads and mention the drought they have experienced for the last 20 or so years. But  the trout are there, clinging to life against the odds - if you know where to look. Leaving aside Tasmania, the severe shortage of water in mainland Australia has made the trout’s existence extremely tenuous, shrinking their range to all but the smallest areas and leaving former trout hotspots such as Cooma in New South Wales completely barren of trout.

I asked about trout when passing through the Blue Mountains, near Sydney, and again received the same sad shake of the head in reply, but I did find them in the Snowy Mountains. Being December the mountains weren't snowy at all but they made a nice change from the drab eucalyptus plains of the goldfields in the state of Victoria. I had stopped at a tackle store in Jindabyne, and was relieved when the store assistant confirmed that not only were trout growing to large proportions in the lake, they were also to be found in good numbers in the Thredbo River, which flows through the Kosciuszko National Park, past the winter ski mecca of Thredbo, before emptying into the lake near Jindabyne. The best stretch of the river to fish, I was informed, is about a kilometre above the hatchery “but watch out for the snakes!”

I drove to the river late in the morning, excited by the prospect of fishing. I had been looking forward to fishing for trout in Australia, perhaps because I had found very little information on the internet, making it an unknown quantity. I had watched a movie starring Gabriel Byrne called Jindabyne, in which he and his pals went on a camping and fly fishing trip in the Snowy’s, catching bags of trout before the fly fishing scenes ended all too soon and my interest waned. That movie made up the bulk of my research.

It was a fine, hot day with hardly a hint of cloud or wind, and surprisingly few flies. If you've visited Australia you will have a good idea how annoying the flies can be, boldly buzzing about the corners of your mouth, nose, and eyes, but thankfully they were few and far between on the day. Well, not the biblical proportions you encounter in the Outback that have you running for your fly head net (or "tourist hat" as some of the habituated and disapproving locals call them). But just enough to have you squinting every now and again to keep the flies from the moisture of your eyes whilst concentrating on your dry fly drifting down a likely looking run, using your only free hand to strip in the fly line bobbing back to you on the current. I wonder how many trout have been spooked by the pale palm flash of an irritable fly swat?

It was a fair walk from the hatchery to the public access water and on the way I met two fly fisherman who were walking back to the car park, having called it quits for the day. They reported catching a “little fella” between them and overall didn’t seem too impressed with their morning’s fishing. Other than that I didn’t see a single other person the entire day and I had the river to myself. It’s a beautiful, secluded valley that the river flows through, thickly forested with bush and trees, with some of the eucalyptus trees eerily white without bark and leaves, like skeletons. The river made a pretty picture, running over silt and boulders with a brown tinge. The first pool where fishing is permitted is long, deep, flat and slow moving. A couple of trout were rising in the pool, only ‘little fellas’ by the look of the splashes, but they were clever little fellas too because they had enough brains to feed where the riverside bush made it impossible to cast. I lost a few flies trying before moving on.

A similar thing happened a short way upstream. In a run too deep to wade a trout was rising consistently at the head of a pool, near the far bank. Frustratingly, it too was holding a position impossible to cast to thanks to a well positioned tree. As I said, these were smart trout.

A little further up I hooked a fish on a bead head Hare’s Ear but it came off easily after a second or two. I started to think that it might just be one of those days when things don’t go your way, and I kept thinking about the two nonplussed local fisherman I had met earlier, formulating my excuse that the river hadn’t exactly been cooking in trout for them either. I moved to the edge of the river and then up on to the bank, and froze. I was about a metre away from the ugliest snake I have ever seen, which had been moving in my direction before it froze too. We eyeballed each other for a fraction of a second. I think I might even have emitted a high pitch yelp and the snake may have flicked out its forked black tongue in reply before it slithered off into the nearest bush. I don’t know what it was, but it looked lethal. It was pitch black down the entire length of its metre and a half long body, had black eyes, a mean looking coffin shaped head, a black tongue and its underside was a bright lime green. After taking a few minutes to recover I moved up river, putting some distance between the snake and me, except this time I was deliberately stamping my feet hard as I walked to scare off any of its friends.

Very much at odds with the wild feel of the river and valley, I came across a large pink double story house, set in a large garden with a tennis court and manicured lawns running down to the river bank. I had been told by the store assistant to look out for it, that the house owner apparently owns ‘half the town of Jindabyne’ and that it was OK to walk through the lawns to get to the river upstream. If it wasn’t for the snakes I’d quite fancy living in a house just like this, on the bank of a trout stream (although I’d paint over the pink).

Just above the house I came to a delightful looking run that had trout written all over it. It was starting to get late and I didn’t fancy making the long walk back in the dark with snakes around, so I gave myself 10 minutes to fish the run. A few casts went untouched before, on my last cast of the day, a feisty little 8 inch brown trout took the #16 bead head PTN, and I got it to hand to admire the brilliance of its spotted scales in the setting sun before it swam off without even a breather, as little fish seem to do. Any fish, even a little fella, can lift your spirits after a hard day on the river and instantly turn a bad day’s fishing into an enjoyable one.

On the walk back to the hatchery, the sun set at my back, turning the sky and water orange and then pastel shades of pink and blue. It’s a beautiful thing, fly fishing.


  1. Thanks for sharing this story Justin. I lived 5 years in Australia, 2004-2009.

    Including 2.5 years in the Blue Mountains, and there are some nice twigging streams in the Mtns, I think that you'd like. As well a small stillwater that I may put on my blog some day.

    Some nice still waters just over the Blue Mtns on the West side too, with nice wild Rainbows and browns up to almost 10lb to be caught.

    Have you read Flylife magazine? The best mag I've ever seen, and all NZ and Ozi fly-fishing. It has many stories of Victorian twigging streams too that are great.

  2. Hi Nick - the Blue Mountains are spectacular! Just a pity I didn't have more time to explore and do a bit of fishing.

  3. Well, on a world scale it's not 'superior' fly fishing, lol!

    So it's not like you missed out on Patagonia or something... like I lived in Argentina for a Summer in 2000, and didn't know that it was a fly-fishing destination for example, but that's another story!

    Great last 3 photos you took, magazine worthy!