Alpine Trout

Mick Fletoridis revels in late season dry fly fishing

Late April seemed pretty late to expect good dry fly fishing in tiny Snowy Mountains creeks, but sometimes you have to go and find out — especially after hearing a good report. Neil Sewter (Sooty) had called me from Jindabyne about the stream fishing he had just experienced in balmy late April weather. ‘Got 53 yesterday and lost plenty more,’ I recall him saying, although shock may have blurred my memory. ‘WHAT?! That’s insane!’ I said, or words to that effect. Up until that call I was on the fence about driving up from Canberra for a day-session. Local overnight temps were starting to drop below zero and I couldn’t imagine much insect life still leaping around creek banks near the snowfields. ‘What… on dries?’ I asked Sooty in a more accusatory tone than intended. ‘Yep, on my foam hopper!’ he’d chirped before adding, ‘it’s nothing special.’ The fly might not have been special, but the fishing sure sounded it from the response to my interrogation. I had to get up there: ‘See you tomorrow arvo!’ Arriving in Jindy earlier than expected, no doubt due to Sooty’s call, we soon both nursed beers and perused Google Earth for nearby alpine creeks. The more we looked, the more possibilities popped up, provided we thought small. Being more used to fishing the region’s big lakes of Eucumbene and Jindabyne, tramping the banks of creeks and runs you can jump over would be a nice change, and something I hadn’t done for way too long. RIPPLES & RISES Next morning Sooty steered his Ranger 4WD high into snow country. Only a smudge of the white stuff could be seen highlighting a couple of the distant peaks. The highway was quiet, apart from work vehicles carrying ladders with fluoro-wearing drivers. A couple more months and the area would be buzzing with ski traffic and have a different, busier feel. We parked on the side of the road not far from Perisher Valley where Sooty pointed to a couple of flowing pools 50 metres away, glistening in the rising sun. As we climbed out of the car the mountain air was crisp. Breath rose from our mouths. Donning waders we assembled 3-weight outfits and talked options. There wasn’t a lot of visible water as the best of it was hidden by tussock grass, granite boulders and hills. With the natural habitat providing ideal trout cover, we needed to be especially mindful of using a stealthy approach to have any chance of success. Ready for action we trudged down a dirt road to where crystal clear water flowed over tyre-formed mounds in a knee-deep pool. Several small yellow-winged grasshoppers took to the air as we made our way. It looked promising. Sooty readied himself for the first cast of the day as I fished out the camera. Before I’d switched it on he was hooked up. The first fish of the day was a spectacularly colourful rainbow with a larger than normal dorsal fin, reminiscent of an Arctic grayling. Hardly eight inches, the fish had aggressively smashed Sooty’s ‘nothing special’ hopper as soon as it splashed down. After a few pics the pretty rainbow scooted back upstream and we moved on to find new water. An indication of how close to winter it was, the next small pool we reached was unfishable, its surface layer frozen to about 5 mm thick. As so often happens when a fish is caught early on, the next took longer. There were also new obstacles to overcome as the day unfolded. We’d taken turns at crawling on hands and knees to the edge of pools to avoid spooking fish. With not a cloud in the sky, sun beaming down and no breeze to ripple the water we would be easily spotted by any resident trout. Being upright, we also risked dropping a leg down a concealed wombat hole and at best taking a comical tumble, or serious ankle damage at worst. As he often fishes creeks alone, Sooty always carries a PLB with him, just in case. Once in place, careful deliveries with minimal back casts could be made, taking care to avoid the trees or dreaded fly-grabbing tea tree behind you. Not really the venue for a regimented ‘10–2’ style — if you can steeple or bow-and-arrow cast you’re well ahead of the game. In many cases it’s almost impossible to lay out a cast without fly line or leader hanging up on bankside bush or grass, or the fly annoyingly snagging above a tiny window of water. Contending with drag too can be difficult when mends can’t be made due to a lack of water. Sometimes, poking the rod tip through the brush and lowering the fly down is the only way to go. After eventually putting a few good casts into some bigger pools it was obvious no catchable fish were home. We only sighted a few tiddlers darting into shadows. Their bigger siblings may have travelled further afield following recent heavy rain. It was that time of year. FRESH WATER Sooty reckoned we needed to explore elsewhere. I agreed, and going by his recent bonanza day I wasn’t arguing. We didn’t have to drive far off the beaten track to find some more nice flowing clear pools. Sooty kindly offered me first shot. Crouching down I surveyed a narrow run fringed by overhanging grass, 10 metres or so upstream. The first cast saw the fly land short but sit high on the surface before sailing back my way untouched. Pulling more line off the reel, I tried again. The second cast splattered the hopper fly down in shaded water at the pool’s head. It drifted a foot and disappeared. Lifting the rod saw an acrobatic trout take to the air, a flash of gold in the sun revealing it as a brown. Gently palming the small trout as Sooty shot a photo, I was taken by the fish’s amazing colouration, with bright red, orange and pink spots highlighting its modest flanks. A quick flick of its tail and it shot back into the pool. I couldn’t remember being that satisfied about catching a small trout! By late morning it was warming up, and walking and crawling along the rugged tussocky banks had us sweating. After removing the required layers of an early frosty start we got back to exploring the water for these obviously abundant mountain trout. Sooty soon struck gold with a much better than average brown that gulped down the Nothing Special and charged around the tiny pool. Sooty had to get in the water to turn the fish as it made a beeline upstream. Eventually safely landed, photographed and released, the brown would’ve been an honest pound-and-a-half and a beauty for the skinny water it came from. It wasn’t the only exceptional trout we came across, unfortunately spooking another brown that would’ve easily given a couple of pounds a nudge. In that tiny water it was like a shark in a goldfish bowl. We speculated as to whether they’d managed to get up this high to spawn from a Lake Jindabyne tributary after heavy rain. It reminded me of seeing five and six pound fish many years ago in some tiny tussocky creeks around Lake Tantangara. RESPONSIVE TROUT As the sun got higher, the bite ramped up. There were a lot more insects around, midges and caddis mostly, and grasshoppers were ever present. The trout seemed in tune with the surroundings and very responsive to our presentations. While Sooty had been keen to keep count of numbers of fish caught, we definitely lost count of those we missed. In the middle of the day, which traditionally would be a quiet period especially for fishing a dry fly, we enjoyed countless missed takes, dropped fish and jump offs. It was a blast and a reminder of why I love fishing a dry fly whenever possible. After driving along a bush track not far from the Perisher ski fields, we stopped above a small stretch of creek strewn with large granite boulders. After a quick bite and a cuppa we took it in turns taking strike on each bit of upstream water we could drop a Nothing Special on to. While we didn’t spot any cruising fish they were as responsive as ever when the fly kissed the water. We fished as far up that creek as we could safely negotiate without shredding waders or falling in wombat holes. The tussock grass had made way for thick tea tree bush, and sadly in places the snow gums ravaged by recent bush fires also bore scars of the wood-boring longicorn beetle that has wreaking havoc in the region. Our last stop was an indicator of how far off the beaten track you don’t need to go to enjoy small creek trouting in the Snowies. As the sun began to drop behind nearby peaks we found several trout rising to a backdrop of workmen installing chair lifts for the upcoming ski season. With the workers oblivious to our shenanigans, we called it quits with about an hour to dark and the temperature plummeting. Sooty reckoned our tally was 31 trout landed. Numbers aside, it had been a great day’s dry fly fishing, and something I’ll be keen to emulate as soon as possible when the next ski season wraps up.

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