Autumn On The Eucumbene

The Eucumbene is one of Australia’s finest rivers. A journey of contrasts, it weaves through open alpine plains, slicing a path between rising mountain slopes and travelling through jagged rocky runs. Wild brumbies roam through its surrounding grassy plains, and the middle reaches are thick with eucalypts. It’s a rich tasting plate of some of Australia’s most beautiful flora and fauna. And also, a great place to fish.

While the Eucumbene can produce some outstanding summer fishing, it’s what happens during autumn that gives it legendary status.
79eucumbeneDSLOW & CLEAR
I’d heard some good reports and had been waiting to plan my getaway. As April days start to cool, brown trout gather in the Eucumbene Arm of the lake and commence their journey up the river on their annual spawning run. Heavy autumn rain had caused the river to swell and the browns were on the move.

The idea of catching fish on their early migration up-river to spawn is not everybody’s cup of tea. But if you abide by the rules and are considerate towards the fish and other anglers, this time of year can be productive and rewarding if approached the right way. Excited about the possibilities ahead, I turned on my ‘out-of-office’, packed my thermals and 5-weight, and headed south.

The temperature dropped as the landscape changed from suburban streets to alpine bushland. I arrived early at the Denison area along the Eucumbene flats, just up from Providence Portal where the river meets the lake. There were very few campers or cars. You beauty, I thought, we’ve got the river to ourselves.

The air was surprisingly mild, and before the sun had even topped the hills, the river appeared lower and clearer than expected. We worked the deeper runs with the usual Glo-bug and nymph combination, but overall the action was slow.

Pushing further upstream I decided it was time to get rid of the Glo-bug and go for a double nymph rig. Approaching a deep run I noticed a few fish in the depths, and my first cast was guzzled by a very willing 6-pounder. “That’s what we came for!” I declared, as we unlocked what became a great day’s prospecting and sight fishing in some of the shallower runs.

Next morning we woke to freezing temperatures, making my four thermal layers feel like a thin sheet against my skin. The car thermometer registered -7°C, a reminder of the downside of alpine fishing. Loaded up with sandwiches from the local bakery, along with a few extra layers, we made our way to the river. Ice had built up around the edges of slow moving pools and frosty grass crunched under our boots.

With the river lit up by the early morning sun, I soon spotted a dark coloured brown hiding behind a boulder. I fumbled a cast upstream, landing my fly much further left than I’d intended. The fish, however, spotted my nymph and moved almost two metres to engulf it. After an excited strike and some gentle coaxing to the shore we got to see him close up — a well-conditioned fish with a deep copper shine, and weighing a healthy 8 pounds. Releasing him back into the water, my hands were completely numb and white, but it was well worth it for this magnificent fish.

HIGH & DIRTY
A few weeks passed and I had the urge to return. Whether it was the memories of big trout in clear water or big steak dinners shared with fellow fishermen at the local Snowgoose Hotel, I knew I would have to go back soon.

I’d been watching the forecast since our last trip, waiting for heavy rainfall to bring up another run of fish. A good drop was predicted so I gave my mate Kurt Kiggins a call to come and join me.

The rain pounded against our windscreen all the way to Adaminaby, and when we reached Denison the river was high and dirty. “I guess we should be careful what we wish for,” I said as we stared at the river through the beam of our headlights.

Next morning the river was higher than we had hoped, but we were sure that fresh fish would have moved up. To combat the low visibility we attached some of the brightest Glo-bugs and flashiest nymphs in our kit. Some guys we ran into were having good success on bright red nymphs, and we knew that in these conditions it was all about getting down to the bottom. We needed a ‘bomb’ style nymph to sink deeper, or a good dose of split shot to get through the fast currents.

Once our flies were on the bottom, the fish started to come. On that day alone we landed twenty browns between us. But the best was yet to come. By the second day the river had dropped, and the clarity improved. And the fish just kept on coming.

By this stage half of Australia’s trout fishing community had descended upon the river and then into the pub. Adaminaby’s local drinking spot became a national reunion as familiar faces popped up everywhere. We met up with Ben Wagstaff and his mate Perrin Kwek and decided to fish together the following day.

After endless fishing tales, and the same number of beers, our third and final day arrived. With not much sleep and another freezing morning, we made it to the river by 6 a.m. — along with everyone else. But before the sun had stretched its rays along the river, we were presented with our first catch. Ben was setting up his cast, asking about the best approach, when “Strike!” he had already hooked a healthy 4-pounder.

We knew this was a good sign and within the first hour the four of us banked countless fish from two runs.

We’d been hooking mostly brown trout until, to my surprise, I landed a beautiful 5 lb rainbow to add a splash of colour to the trip. Perrin, still hazy from last night’s whiskey, offered to net the precious catch. Once the rainbow was in the net, I ran to grab the camera, telling Perrin to keep the fish in the net because the barbless hook had fallen out. No sooner had I uttered those words than I turned to see Perrin somehow let him go!

The afternoon crept in and we made our way back to the car. With the strike rate sometimes being five fish from five casts, we struggled to remember each catch. It was one of those days when the elusive sport of fly fishing seems so simple and so clear – the rain fell, the fish moved and we just happened to be there to catch them.

TECHNIQUES
We found the fishing at Eucumbene followed a simple rule: get your flies to the bottom and you will catch fish. This needs to be regulated depending on the flow. On our first trip the water was low and clear, there was no need for split shot and at times we got away with reasonably light nymphs. In some of the deeper pools a heavier nymph was more effective. But when the river is up, you need to get down. Split shot and heavily weighted nymphs or Glo-bugs make this possible. Do your best to find the sweet spot: too much weight can result in snagging the bottom or foul hooked fish.

If you are familiar with short line nymphing styles (Czech, Polish), these are extremely effective and give you the best depth control and feel as your rig makes its way through the run. At times there are so many fish in a single run that long casts are not required. The other option is to fish a simple two-fly rig with indicator on top.

Over the past few seasons I have tried to adapt something in between these two styles. By having a leader of around 10 to 12 feet and a movable indicator, I can easily Czech nymph the runs going purely by feel as the nymphs tumble over the rocks towards me. I picked this up watching local legend ‘Mudeye Mick’ vacuum the runs with short precise casts, working every rock and ripple. By having the sliding indicator attached up high I can also manoeuvre it into place to make a longer cast and fish completely reliant on the indicator. This rig has worked well for me and covers just about every base. I have been fishing this on a 10-foot 5-weight, but anything from a 3 to 6 can get the job done.

For this rig I tend to fish a combination of two nymphs, or the standard nymph and Glo-bug rig. I recommend a mixture of Glo-bug colours from orange to peach to pink, but in general I don’t think it matters too much. Interestingly on the days of clearer water a simple brown weighted nymph has accounted for more fish than any of the flashy stuff, although I do carry plenty of coloured beadhead nymphs from simple Hare and Copper variants to Pheasant Tails with a range of bead colours in gold, orange and red.

For the extra keen, the river mouth provides good fishing during the early mornings, evenings and after dark as the big trophies first leave the lake and make their way into the river. Swinging big wet flies, or big nymphs, has proven most effective.

CONSIDER OTHERS
For most of the year I do my best to avoid other anglers. Eucumbene’s end-of-season fishing is a necessary exception to that rule. By the weekend, 4WDs line the river like an extended parking lot. I’ve never seen so many trout anglers gathered at one spot.

As a result it’s important to respect other fishers, and don’t expect to keep the river to yourself. Exercise the usual etiquette by joining a pool behind those who arrived first.

Before fishing the Eucumbene, be sure to read up on the regulations. These change on May 1st every year and are in place to protect the fish, while giving anglers a chance to catch a trophy trout up until its closure on the June long weekend. It’s illegal to walk on or to fish for trout on their spawning redds, so keep this in mind when wading the river.

This kind of fishing isn’t for everyone, but if you don’t mind sharing the river, it can be a heap of fun. There are more than enough fish for all to enjoy, and it’s the camaraderie from fishing side by side with like-minded anglers that brings people back for the Eucumbene pilgrimage each year. If you haven’t already, it’s time to enjoy this rising legend and get yourself a trophy.

From FlyLife Issue 79