Kosciuszko Kids

Greg French leads a new generation astray

More than two decades ago Frances and I invited a dear friend of ours, Bronwyn, on a short overnight bushwalk to O’Dells Lake in Tasmania’s Nineteen Lagoons. Frances’s brother Stephen happened to be visiting us, and he came along too. That night under a dark, cloudless sky, we were witness to the best aurora that any of us has ever seen, and I like to think that it helped transform an easy friendship between Bronwyn and Stephen into something much deeper. Their daughter Zoe is now 17 and their son Connor is 14. Recently Connor sent me a beautifully tied nymph. “I just joined my school’s fly fishing club. What do you think?” It was the first time he had given any indication that he had more than a casual interest in angling. His Christmas present to me had been a zip-lock bag of ‘bellybutton fluff’, though it looked suspiciously like the stuff you’d scrape from a washing machine filter. In any case I sent a text saying that I would now tie him a fly, and that I’d make it from an unguessable material. He and Zoe had fun guessing the unguessable. Among their suggestions were the said belly-button fluff, steel wool, milk carton, Christmas tinsel and old man’s chest hair. Anyhow, the finished patterns looked great in their display case. Frances and I flew from Tassie up to Gladesville (Sydney) and presented the gift in person. Naturally I took the time to give the kids some casting lessons in the local park, and at the end of the day they could lay out 5–10 metres of line with admirable accuracy. “Now we need to go on an actual fishing trip,” Connor insisted cheekily. “How about Kosciuszko?” Bronwyn said. “A friend of mine owns a part-share of a small ski ‘lodge’ at Perisher. We’ll have no trouble booking space in summer. We might even have it to ourselves. And we can take our mountain bikes.” PERISHER So we piled into the Gladesville Gang’s big 4WD and began the six-hour drive south. It was great fun reminiscing about previous long drives together when the kids were small, and making up silly songs, playing number-plate games, interrupting Stephen’s driving with plenty of exaggerated I-need-to-pee’s, I’m-bored’s and Are-we-there-yet’s. Perisher Valley is sub-alpine, though rivers of cold air flow from the mountain tops, so tiny Perisher Creek is flanked by open moorland. Connor and Zoe had no trouble spotting rising trout from the car window, and insisted that we go fishing immediately. Their casting was a bit rusty at first and some reminders were in order: stop the rod vertically, wait for the line to lay straight out behind, make the forward cast with smooth acceleration, extend the arm fully forward, snap the wrist. And soon they were catching fish. We took several home to eat, and Connor seemed to enjoy learning how to slice boneless fillets as much as he enjoyed the fishing itself. Then, after dinner, it was card games: Five Hundred, Canasta and, best of all, Killer Bunnies. UPPER SNOWY Early next morning we drove a few kilometres uphill to Charlotte Pass and walked 1 kilometre downhill to the Snowy River. We encountered literally dozens of day-walkers, many of whom were doing the alpine circuit incorporating the spine of the Great Dividing Range between Carruthers Peak and Mount Kosciuszko. But we left the track at the Snowy crossing, and 50 metres upstream we had the fishing – indeed the entire valley – all to ourselves. The upper Snowy catchment is an alpine habitat unlike that on any other continent – stunted eucalypts instead of conifers, wombats and echidnas instead of placentals – and the fact that it’s steeped in iconic national folklore just added to the thrill of being there. Wading across the riffles proved to be easy, and with no scrub to impede the back-cast the kids soon got into the rhythm of upstream fishing. I got them to tie on large dries (mainly #10 Royal Wulffs) and we soon found that any good cast was likely to elicit a take from an eager half-pounder. Most fish were brown trout, but the odd rainbow provided welcome variety. It didn’t take long for the kids to see how excess flyline on a tail-out would cause unnatural drift, and how drag was unacceptable to most, but not all, fish. They quickly learned to avoid drag by high-sticking, laying line over boulders, casting diagonally across the riffles, even by performing crude mends. And they literally counted the benefits of good casts versus sloppy ones. CLUB LAKE Next day we walked 4 km along the Main Range Track, and enjoyed many distractions. The last vestiges of snow proved ideal for long bum-slides and snowball fights. The mist sweeping up from the northern slopes provided an opportunity for Zoe to practise photography, and the ‘dangerous’ rocky outcrops seemed custom-made for enacting mock accidents to post on Facebook. At Carruthers Peak we left the track and gingerly made our way downhill to Club Lake. Despite perfect visibility there was not a trout in sight, not even a rise, and the kids quickly went into sleuth mode. Would schools of galaxias swim so brazenly over the silt flats if they shared the lake with a big population of predatory trout? Were there any redds in the fine shingle at the mouth of the inflowing creek? Which of the waterfalls on the outflow might provide a barrier to upstream migration from Club Creek? We fished Club Creek itself on the way back to the car park, but Zoe’s heart wasn’t really in it: she had an English assignment to finish and wanted to discuss it with me back at the lodge. I realised then, belatedly perhaps, that Zoe and Connor were no longer children. OTHER LAKES The next day was wet and windy, and we all agreed that mountain biking would be preferable to bushwalking or fishing. Frances and I could have hired bikes from Crackenback, and used its shuttle service too, but we figured that the Gladesville Gang would be better off avoiding the scheduled shuttle times. Accordingly we drove them around to the beginning of the Thredbo Valley Track, and then waited for them some 15 km downstream at the Lake Crackenback Resort (renamed Crackenbackensack by Connor, naturally). After we regrouped, there was still plenty of afternoon left, and we made a last-minute decision to do a short walk (barely 1 km) off the Kosciuszko Road to Rainbow Lake at the head of Diggers Creek. There were a few fish rising when we arrived but a thunderstorm forced us back to the car. Then, suddenly, the storm was over, so we drove a short distance back the way we came to Sponars, another small dam on Diggers Creek, where the fish began rising in earnest. Unfortunately a band of dense weed meant that the closest risers were 15–25 metres off shore, but rather than become despondent, Zoe and Connor simply resolved to learn how to double haul. Anyway, there was still time for a quick look at Spencers Creek. The fishing there remained relatively technical, but Connor eventually managed to land some good browns before dinner. LAST CASTS On our last day we walked from Guthega along the banks of the Guthega Pondage to Pounds Creek. Along the way Bronwyn received a text to say that one of the lodge ‘directors’ and his wife would be joining us that night, and we had hilarious fun practising how to be polite to one another during a heated round of Killer Bunnies. That afternoon there was another thunderstorm, and we rushed back to our lodge for an early dinner. By evening the director still hadn’t arrived, and Connor convinced me that we had time for a last session on Perisher Creek. I could scarcely believe how much Connor’s casting had improved over the last few days. And he could scarcely believe how much easier it was to hook fish when, on the first cast into any pool or run, the fly landed exactly where it was meant to go. The dozen fish he landed included the six biggest of the trip, with one weighing well over a pound. The director and his wife were ensconced by the time Connor and I returned to the lodge, and impressed by Connor’s success. “I thought fly fishing was supposed to be hard?” A lot of people feel that way, of course. But Kosciuszko is the perfect place to prove the naysayers wrong. I can’t think of a better venue anywhere in Australia to teach fly fishing, certainly not to exuberant youngsters who crave instant gratification.

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