Exploring Ebor

Some 20 million years ago, the east coast of New South Wales was alive with volcanic activity. One of the more significant features during this time was the Ebor Volcano which, through half a million years of uplift and lava flow, helped shape the countryside we now know as the Northern Tablelands. These days, all but the central plug of the volcano has gone; the unavoidable combination of erosion and time responsible for its demise. In its place lies a mighty escarpment that stretches from Point Lookout to Dorrigo. The escarpment and its volcanic past are responsible for the unique environment found throughout the region, including the waters which are every bit as distinctive. Gin-clear creeks tumble towards the coast through a thick, wild rainforest that blankets the escarpment from top to bottom. On the tablelands themselves, gently undulating meadows support a collection of slow, meandering, spring-fed streams that wind their way down off the eroded volcanic slopes before eventually falling from the escarpment with such grandeur and beauty, they put most other waterfalls to shame. If what I just described piques your interest then read on, because the good news is that the creeks, streams and waterfalls of the Ebor region all hold healthy populations of fly-hungry trout. It doesn’t matter if you prefer dry flies or streamers, size or numbers, convenience or adventure: these waterways have you covered. EBOR Ebor is a quaint little village an hour’s drive east from Armidale along Waterfall Way. It has a motel, café and petrol station and not too much else. Although somewhat isolated, Ebor is the perfect place to base yourself when exploring the trout streams of the New England Tablelands. The town is in the heart of trout country, providing easy access to the region’s best trout streams. In fact, arguably the most well-known New England trout stream, the Guy Fawkes, runs straight through the centre of the town and holds some very big browns. Ebor is approximately a six-hour drive from Brisbane and just over seven from Sydney. Its proximity to the Sunshine State makes the town a popular destination for Queenslanders wishing to try their hand at our sport’s most iconic and historic adversary. You won’t find too many Sydneysiders patrolling Ebor’s creeks though, as anglers from down south often prefer to travel similar, if not shorter distances to the likes of the Blue Mountains and Snowies. This is a real shame in my opinion, as some of the trout fishing Ebor offers is unlike anything else you can experience in the country. BIG FISH, SMALL WATER My advice for anyone wanting to catch truly trophy-sized trout in the New England is simple: go fish the Snowies. Or better yet, New Zealand. One does not visit the New England Tablelands with expectations of double-digit fish. In saying that though, there are some quality trout to be found in the Ebor region. You just need to know where to look, and how to fish for them. The spring-fed streams that form in the foothills meander their way through the open highland meadows below. They cut narrow and deep through the soft, fertile soils of the lava fields, often giving them a muddy or sandy profile. This combination of slow flowing water and muddy banksides offers the ideal environment for yabbies. These benthic crustaceans absolutely thrive in the highland headwaters, often reaching plague proportions. The trout in these small streams grow thick and fat, as they make the most of the plentiful protein-rich food. Fish towards the 4–5 lb class are not uncommon, and 6–7 lb fish, although rare, do exist. These big trout are smart, and do not fool easily. A prime example of this lies in the previously mentioned section of the Guy Fawkes that flows through the centre of town. The number of brown trout in this stretch of river alone upwards of 3 lb would astound you. These fish get a thrashing more than most, given their location, making them understandably wary. In fact, the planets would have to align before the average punter would even hope to get an eat from one of these fish. The big trout of the New England headwaters certainly are a challenge, but they are not impossible. The key to a big Ebor trout’s undoing lies in their feeding behaviour. If the creek you’re fishing has high muddy banks lined with yabby holes, you’ll have a far better chance fishing a small black or olive Woolly Bugger ultra-slowly along the bottom of the river and close to the reed-lined banks. I have turned water into foam by casting every dry and nymph in my box, only to finally try a streamer and have almost instant success. First light is the preferred time to target the bigger fish on the more pressured waters, such as the Ebor Common. There is a sweet spot of about 30 minutes between first light and sunrise in which big Ebor browns will smash a streamer with reckless abandon. The second that sun comes up though, the game is over. If rising before the sun is not your cup of tea, you can still expect to catch the bigger New England fish by finding less pressured waters. As is often the case, the further you travel from public access points, the better the fishing becomes. I’ve had some unbelievable sessions on fish of 3–6 lb between the respectable hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., by putting in some serious legwork and fishing remote stretches of river that are seldom seen by anglers. Do the miles, get the smiles. RAINFOREST FUN If blind casting streamers in the highland headwaters of Ebor doesn’t excite you, chances are fishing the escarpment’s gin-clear creeks will. These are extremely beautiful, and challenging stretches of water to fish — ultra-clear, fast and tight. Most of the water here is pocket water, and with large fallen trees, mid-stream boulders and low hanging branches to contend with, it’s often very tricky to cast and present a fly. Thankfully, if you finally do manage a decent cast, almost any dry or nymph will be met with gusto by the local trout population — provided you don’t spook them, of course. Spooking is a real possibility too, as the thick rainforest prohibits any sort of bankside stalking. Instead, you’re forced to walk up the middle of the creek, which is often both very shallow and clear, so a slow, cautious approach is encouraged. Given the dense rainforest canopy, a wide variety of terrestrials make up most of what the trout eat in these small, clear waters. This is great news for the angler with a penchant for dries, as 1) the fish are almost exclusively looking up for a meal; and 2) they are not fussy in the slightest. I have had sessions where, to prove a point, I have tied on every dry fly pattern in my box, and caught fish on every one. For simplicity’s sake though, I’ll begin most of my sessions with a Red Tag or Royal Wulff tied to my tippet. The creeks that run through the New England National Park’s rainforest are so beautiful and serene, I could honestly go fishless and be completely fine with it. However, that’ll never happen, because these creeks are absolutely loaded to the brim with trout. On good days, catches of 30–40 fish between two anglers are not uncommon. These fish won’t break any records though, with the average size being around 20 cm. There are some bigger fish here too, especially if you’re fishing the creeks below the Dutton Trout Hatchery, but they are few and far between. Catches are almost an even split of rainbows and browns, with the rainbows preferring the tops of the pools up in the rapids, and the browns often hanging right back at the very ends. Therefore, it pays to cover all water thoroughly before moving up. If you have a 4WD, I strongly suggest exploring Forest Way, which forks from Point Lookout Road after crossing the Little Styx River. The road affords numerous access points to the Little Styx, such as Wattle Flat, and to the Serpentine Creek, from where you can base your rainforest adventure. CHASING WATERFALLS Fishing the waterfalls around Ebor is a very enjoyable, and effective, way to catch trout. Casting dries to rising fish is just so much more dramatic when there are megalitres of water crashing down in front of you, the deafening force of which blows a fine mist, or sleet if it’s cold enough, up into your face. The pools directly below the waterfalls are often the widest, and deepest sections of the streams. They act as safe havens for the fish during floods and droughts, and almost always have a population of better-calibre trout in them. In fact, the more hard-to-reach the waterfall is, the bigger the fish generally are. I know from experience that the waterfalls along Serpentine Creek have some absolute behemoth rainbows beneath them. Getting them to eat is quite easy, given the sheer remoteness of their location. It’s the getting there in the first place that poses the biggest challenge. Serpentine Falls aside, there are many waterfalls around the Ebor region that you can fish, the easiest probably being Ebor Falls themselves, which offer some great dry and streamer fishing to the adventurous angler. Some waterfalls are privately owned, like Moffat Falls, and only available through private lodging. From what I have heard though, it’s usually worth it. In my experience, walking downstream along almost any creek from its intersection with the aptly-named Waterfall Way will see you come across a waterfall sooner or later. TACKLE CHOICES If I had to pick just one outfit to fish Ebor with, it would be a 5-weight. This set-up handles casting streamers and dries against the mild breezes that sometimes plague the meadows around the town, and affords a little extra stopping power should I come across a better-quality fish. While a 5-weight would be perfectly at home on the rainforest creeks, I often prefer using a short 3-weight outfit. Not only does the lighter set-up provide plenty of fun on the smaller run of fish encountered in these creeks, but the 7'6" length is a godsend when casting in amongst all that rainforest thicket. A good-quality trout tapered line, such as Rio Gold or Scientific Anglers Mastery Trout, and a 9 ft, 4–6 X leader will ensure your flies get to where they’re needed with the right amount of stealth and precision. On the fly front, I would carry a dozen or so Woolly Buggers in dark olive or black, with varying weights to suit everything from the slower creeks to the more turbulent waterfalls. Red Tags, Royal Wulffs and Chernobyl Ants in a handful of sizes will keep you in the clear when throwing dries on the rainforest creeks. Finally, add a few bead head and Hare and Copper nymphs to the mix and you’ll have a well-rounded Ebor kit that’s ready for anything. FINAL THOUGHTS Fishing a new region is always daunting, especially one with so many options. If you are struggling for a starting point, I would encourage you to visit the Dutton Trout Hatchery on Point Lookout Road, about 15 minutes out of town. Not only will you see some enormous trout (some of which are liberated into the local waterways each season) but you’ll also be able to get up-to-date advice on where the fish are biting. While it might not be as highly regarded a fishery as the Snowy Mountains, the Ebor region of the New England Tablelands is a fantastic trout fishery in its own right. I have fished the region for over four years now and feel as though I have barely scratched its surface. It is well worth taking the time to explore, and enjoy, everything these unique volcanic creeks have to offer.

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