Beyond Gaden

Andy Bodsworth is nourished by a day on the lower Thredbo River

Hi, it’s Ian. Ummm unfortunately I can’t make it to work today; I feel terrible”…“Three days’ bed-rest,” I suggest loudly in my best medical baritone. He hastily covers the phone… The blacktop snakes up another rising curve and we crest another hill. This time we’re greeted by Lake Jindabyne spreading out big, calm and blue below us. Grey green folds of the main range beckon in the distance. “Feeling better?” I ask the patient. It’s a cracker of a morning as we roll down the track to Gaden Hatchery. The grass is golden dry but the big Herefords look well nourished. Keen to trade the car for the river we quickly agree to fish up above the hatchery exclusion area for a few hours; then fit in an afternoon session higher up above the Ranger Station, where I’d found plenty of willing hopper-munching rainbows the previous weekend. Ian’s a seasoned campaigner with plenty of Australian and New Zealand trips, and many fine fish on his resume. I feel like a bit of a rookie in the face of his no-fuss efficiency. Particularly when my new magnetic net-release fastens itself (and my vest) stubbornly to the car again. About to depart, we’re smoothly intercepted by a local NSW Fisheries officer for a licence check, and we take the opportunity for a fishing report. It seems the rivers are in reasonable shape for summer. A mix of resident browns, and a growing number of 1 and 2-year-old rainbows in the river from recent spawning. She reminds us of the hatchery exclusion zone upstream, and the need to keep rods un-rigged until we’re clear of that. The ‘why’ becomes pretty obvious as we approach the river. Low sun and crystal clear water delivers a viewing portal into deeper areas near the pond outflow pipe. As eyes adjust we start seeing fish… Solid, muscular-looking rainbows cruis- ing the deeper water, several in the 2 kg plus range. They materialise and disappear across the shadows, visible crossing the dark green filamentous weed thriving in the nutrient-rich slow current around the hatchery. Over the fence stile and into the fishable water I’m keen to see our account opened. Ian starts probing the good water with a bead head nymph (actually peacock herl, black Rottweiler fur body and golden pheasant tail fibres!). There’s the usual tea tree flytraps along the bank, and a low spreading eucalypt guarding the airspace above the prime area where current slows from a tumbling rapid. He orchestrates smooth casts into the zone. Despite the look of the water, and some spot-on casting there’s no sign of action. The first tempering of my optimistic imaginings of how the day would unfold start creeping in! Is this see-saw of our fishing expectations and cold hard reality a hallmark of our kind? Hope and optimism bring us back time and again for another highly anticipated trip. And the dud days, rather than a downer, become the fuel for learning, or a catalyst for buying gear that we don’t really need. A hundred metres further, in a deeper glide where the river collides with a jutting rock ledge, a small fish rises to my Humpy, batting it experimentally and briefly suspending below. But the fly drags and the fish disappears. It takes properly on the next drift though and I’ve soon released a feisty little Thredbo rainbow to christen our morning. Things seem surprisingly quiet as we fish our way up. The riverside scrub gives way to green lawns and an incongruous Spanish looking abode sprawls along the bank — all stucco and wisteria vines — overlooking several hundred metres of prime river frontage. That’d be hard to take… A bit further up and things start to improve about the same time Ian reports his GPS telling him that it’s almost prime fishing time — based on the Solunar Tables! Tide change on the Thredbo… I manage a half decent cast with a good drift on the next fishy looking glide, and watch a chunky little fish slide across and up, intercepting the cocky Humpy. It pauses, suspended, before sucking it down. And so runs fly fishing’s sequence of satisfaction. The day starts with wondering and hoping. Then streamside tuning in — watching and quiet walking — before spotting, another pause and a plan. Then careful casting, poised for action with a laser focus. A rise and the strike. But will I miss — too hasty on the uptake from unmanaged excitement? Too much coffee on the drive down? More Zen and less zest is required. The story will often diverge from the script. This time the sequence plays out smoothly and there’s satisfaction. A brief but spirited tussle and a chunky little brown comes into the shallows, glaring at the frumpy Humpy in its jaw. Our spirits are rising along with the temperature, with early doubts dwindling. We notice more bugs. Small tan hoppers in the dried grass. Dipping damsels, and bigger emerald green dragonflies helicoptering around the river. Things are looking up, including the trout. Just upstream the river focuses into a narrow swirling glide, deep rocky bank, tea trees and shadows, before spreading into a shallower boulder strewn pool. Our fishy imagination gets another boost. Ian suggests I try from the opposite bank, getting closer for a short cast into the prime water. I think he’s been watching me cast… I cross downstream and make a small detour around the side of the pool, into position behind a lump of granite and some tea tree. I notice deer prints in the sandy gravel, and a very sizeable paw print too… A couple of not quite there casts before hitting the spot, and a nice drag free run for the now slightly bedraggled Humpy. Zen overrides zest for once and a subtle take converts to a noticeably stronger and deeper lunge from a bigger fish. Rainbow revealed; it shoots vertically from the water three times in succession. I fumble with loose line, caught several seconds behind the play. Then a dive with the current into the shelter of a mid-stream boulder and it somehow extracts my fly in the process. The sequined acrobat has finished and the show closes twenty seconds after opening. While I love my fly fishing, the last few years have placed plenty of other demands on precious fishing time. These days my expectations (blame troutboynz and various other mouth-watering videos and FlyLife articles) often exceed my skills. Now, trying to find the time to get on the river more often, an opportunity to fish with a good-humoured mate like Ian is gold. He’s a keen observer of nature with a strong hunting instinct, a skilled fly-fisher and a natural fishing innovator. A past and distinguished (read suitably irreverent) member of the WA fly fishing team no less! As we fish our way upstream, me finally putting the bedraggled Royal Humpy out to pasture and trying a succession of other creations, Ian sticks with his bead head Hare and Copper under a small foam indicator. He starts pulling fish out from places where my dry had floated down unmolested — albeit occasionally resembling a champion swimmer skating across the surface courtesy of the dreaded drift. On a couple of occasions, after a suitably competent approach and cast there’s interest from a better fish. One a nice brown that comes up from a deeper run, chasing the hopper downstream briefly to take it. Unfortunately for me excitement overcomes judgement and Ian, from his vantage point watching the downstream take, reports that I’d pulled the fly clean out of its unclosed mouth! The average size of his fish is noticeably larger too. While I enjoyed catching fish up to 12 inches or so, the bigger ones are either missed on the strike, pricked briefly, or hooked and lost. Might need another trip to work on my fish catching skills… At one point he’s crossed to the other side of the river to a nondescript looking shady run alongside a large boulder. And then, the slightly anguished “Oh, that was a BIG fish. That was BIG.” An order of magnitude bigger it seems, 5 lb plus of wild (and very alert) Thredbo rainbow, sitting discretely in a spot that, on reflection, had all the pre-requisites — current flow, shelter and shade; and a nice big pool below for some night-time frog hunting. To rub it in, Ian proceeds to pull out a smaller rainbow and then a smaller one again from the same general spot. Just upstream from Ian’s big fish lie, I spot movement on the water. Swimming fast, down and across with the current is a slender neck and small head, with a disturbingly large sinuous body propelling from behind. The snake crosses the cold river amazingly fast, landing just upstream from me and sliding into the rocks and tea tree. Like two curious kids we walk quietly up, peering cautiously into a sunny spot behind a small tea tree just back from the bank. Sure enough, two beady black eyes fix on us, and a little over 6 feet of very healthy looking thick bodied brown snake flicks it tongue before sliding quickly away and up the bank. Note to self for the walk back — both a large fish and a large snake live here. As the day progresses, a succession of smaller and slightly larger fish come to play. Others are spotted and stalked – and plenty probably spooked. We succumb, time after time, to the lure of the next run. So much for ‘the plan’ of a few hours fishing this lower stretch… Unprepared for a full day on the river, meagre rations of a few dried figs and one of Ian’s rock cakes are the only things stopping me gnawing on an exposed tea tree root. Eventually, even the unknown water around the next bend gradually loses its lustre and at about 5 p.m. we turn around for the walk back. The only distractions are a quick re-visit to the big fish lie (no fish), and a patch of ripe blackberries that Ian doesn’t seem to notice but I happily devour. Quietly past a slowly snuffling echidna getting his dinner, and we’re eventually back to the no-fish zone near the hatchery. A glimmer of interest raised on sighting the mooching rainbows in the darkening water, but we’re basically walked out and fished out. Empty of food, but full of the nourishment that a day exploring this special river can provide.

Current FlyLife Subscribers can login to read the full article.
To access this article, back issues & more Subscribe to FlyLife today.