Destination Southern Highlands

Joshua Hutchins explores trout streams close to Sydney

For those who are looking for trout fishing near our largest city, most would think of the Blue Mountains as the closest option. But there is a lesser-known area, closer to Sydney and an easy day trip from Canberra, with lots of trout potential. The birthplace of Donald Bradman and current residence of Nicole Kidman, it’s the beautiful and sophisticated Southern Highlands. And if it’s good enough for Nicole, I think it’s good enough for us. For the sake of this article we decided to cover several different locations within ten minutes to an hour of Moss Vale, New South Wales. And why Moss Vale? Because that’s where Angus Reynolds lives, a specialist in the area. Angus wasn’t going to give up all his local secrets, and I won’t be naming rivers, but even from the outset I was surprised by how many options existed in this somewhat forgotten trout district. FARMLAND STREAMS It was early season and I met up with Angus and his close friend Tom Madigan to begin exploring some of the region’s largely unknown streams. We made our way to a small creek, no more than fifteen minutes from Moss Vale and known to hold some good-sized rainbow trout. We slowly stalked the banks and it wasn’t long before a two pound rainbow came cruising along. Not one to waste time, I snuck into position and placed the trap. The fly landed a metre in front of the fish and it quickly consumed the offering. Wow, I thought to myself. This is a cool spot. In the next pool we saw another rainbow but spooked it before having a chance to cast. The creek wound its way down the valley, and we followed its path, looking for cruising fish. The water varied between shallow sections, bends and a scattering of deeper pools. And in one of those pools, a buttery three-and-a-half pound brown trout came as a welcome surprise — a phrase that soon began to reflect the Southern Highlands fishery as a whole — a very welcome surprise. Fast forward a month or so and it was time to explore some water further afield. Angus had been racking up the kilometres in his Land Rover exploring the whole area and was excited to show us around. Mickey Finn, Angus and I made our way out early from Moss Vale, stocked up on much needed coffee, and travelled west. Having arrived at the stream it was easy to see that today was going to require a different form of fishing. Long and slow moving pools held the prospect of cruising trout and the hope of rising fish. It wasn’t long before we connected, but the first few fish escaped without photo proof. At first we only spotted rainbow trout, of about one to three pounds, but then the brownies showed up. Despite their modest size they were some of the hardest fighting trout I have encountered. After a few missed opportunities, Mickey landed a beautiful three pound brownie. As we released the fifth fish of the day, I couldn’t help but say out loud, “This is some awesome fishing.” It had been years since I’d made the effort to fish the area, and it was clear that I’d been missing out. JUNGLE WATERFALLS The Southern Highlands district is a well-known tourist spot, offering the perfect weekend escape for people from Sydney, Canberra and Wollongong. With cosy, country-style accommodation, up-market cafes and boutiques, historic villages, wineries to explore and plenty of bushwalks in beautiful national parks, there’s something for everyone. And that now includes fly fishing fanatics. I met up with Angus in December for another completely different Highlands experience. The day was forecast to be warm so we set off early. A short hike and a series of cascades in a clear running creek eventually led us to a breathtaking waterfall. The views from the escarpment were world class and it took a lot to pull me away from the camera to get back to the fishing. The small stream was lined with ferns and vines, and even on that very hot day the jungle-like foliage gave perfect cover for the water below. “I want to quickly show you a spot,” Angus said as we were driving back to have lunch. We stopped on the bridge and Gus proceeded to search for his ‘bridge-fish’. “He’s not here today, let’s take a look at the next pool.” Working our way twenty or so metres upstream we came to a small pool. The water was clear but with a slight tannin stain. We could immediately see three nice sized rainbows cruising around near the surface looking for bugs. Gus made several casts in the path of the cruising fish, but to our surprise they inspected and rejected every dry fly. I watched one closely through my camera lens as it sized up its next slurp. It began to rise, mouth wide open, aaandd… “Gus it just ate a leaf! How dare it reject your fly then eat a leaf!” We both laughed. “Try a simple Royal Wulff,” I said. “It’s obviously after something bigger and brighter.” First cast and without hesitation, Gus hooked up. That leaf-conquering achievement began a series of successful encounters. Some days it doesn’t need to be too difficult, and that day it felt everything was laid out for us on a platter. BOULDERY STREAMS It seemed impossible to expect any more variety in one district, but after exploring deeper into the surrounding national parks, we found a third backdrop — beautiful bouldery streams. Lined with casuarina trees and full of native wildlife, these waterways were a stark contrast to the pastoral creeks. We felt fully immersed in the natural surrounds, spotting lyrebirds, dingoes, deer and even pigs. Clear water, good sized trout and plenty of snakes, these streams offered a true Aussie bush experience. By now I had a number of rivers and creeks in the Southern Highlands on my ever-expanding ‘Needs Exploring’ list, and several of these paid big dividends. On one particular day, I invited Sydney saltwater fly-guide Justin Duggan to come and experience some of these newly discovered rivers. I knew the trout fishing would have to be good to impress such a dedicated saltwater man. We started early and after an obligatory coffee hiked our way into a remote piece of water. Working through the pockets of this bouldery playground it didn’t take long to connect. In short, Justin had a field day. “This fishing is just too good,” he said, “I’m happy to be on the camera for the rest of the afternoon.” He was completely content with the day, and we hadn’t even made it to lunch. There is great satisfaction in fishing new waters, especially when they have been right under your nose. While Sydney may still not be seen as a top ‘trout mecca’ it does offer a number of year-round options. Whether it’s a day trip, or a weekend escape a few hours from Sydney, there is always a lake or a stream where you can swing a fly in search of a trout. And now I can convincingly say that the Southern Highlands is one of those places. And a good reminder for us all, in 2018, that there is always somewhere new to explore.

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