Mountain Blues

Joshua Hutchins deals with hard times in Sydney’s Blue Mountains

Beyond the tourists, scenic trains and tea houses, the Blue Mountains west of Sydney supports an unassuming trout fishery. The region as I know it covers the waters flowing east and west, either side of the mountain range. This includes both the Blue Mountains and Kanangra-Boyd national parks, along with the trouty areas around Oberon and Lithgow. The streams in this area include the Coxs, Fish, Duckmaloi, Campbells, Turon, Kowmung and Jenolan, just to name a few. I have lived and fished for trout in the Blue Mountains for 25 years. I’ve seen it flourish, and I’ve seen it suffer. But despite the varied seasons, there have always been trout to catch if you know where to look. Prior to the millennial drought, fishing in the Blue Mountains was very good. It was nothing to pay a day’s visit to the Campbells River and tick off a dozen 50 cm brown trout. The drought followed, placing a strain on the region’s fishery, but then in 2010-13 after a couple of wet and mild summers, we experienced some of the best fishing the mountains had delivered. Hot summers prevailed, and intermittent rainfall once again made things difficult. Finding Trout in Dry Years This year has been one of our driest years and while it’s deeply affecting our farmers, it also impacts our fishing. In summer, the water is warmer and scarce. Streams can dry up and once thriving rivers look low and lifeless. Everything depends on the rain. When the fishing is tough, especially in the Blue Mountains, location is everything. So how do you find those ‘special spots’ that still hold fish? Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work to book a room at Oberon’s Big Trout Motor Inn and assume you’re going to catch your own big trout in the streams nearby. The best way to find fish in the Blue Mountains is the same way you become a better angler — by spending time on the water. But you probably won’t find fish if you just drive west and follow your nose. It helps to do your research and focus your efforts in the search for fish. We will often check DPI stocking records, study google maps to see if there are any holes we may have missed, and ask around to see what is fishing well. And then you can begin your explorations. I usually start with my well-known spots, but I’ve been surprised how many lapsed locations have become fruitful again after a period of time. If you are one to document your catches and their locations, don’t disregard the spots that have drawn blanks in the past; they may have come alive again. And be careful not to move on too quickly. In some areas the signs of trout aren’t immediately obvious: there may be deep pools but nothing rising. In this instance we would cast some small streamers to see if it creates a reaction. Patience has always been a fishing virtue. The east side of the mountain range allows easier access to the rivers through national park roads, while the west side of the range is better approached by asking landowners for permission. In many places you can’t readily walk the banks without trespassing. THE Seasons Time of year is particularly important during tougher times. With our hot, dry summers we generally don’t do much stream fishing in the Blue Mountains from mid-December to mid-March. With low and warm water, the fishing usually isn’t great. Focusing on cooler mornings and evenings is the best approach for these conditions. After times of extreme heat, we have also noted some fish kills. This is always disappointing to any angler, and alarmingly it is becoming more common. Some trout do survive though, and after these bouts of extreme heat, it pays to explore areas that have deeper and cooler water. October/November and April/May are the most consistent months, and the same goes for many other marginal trout areas in Australia. Lakes provide a year-round option and this region offers some of the best. We’ve braved the cold a few times this season and Thompsons Creek Dam (FL#76) continues to be an outstanding fishery. Despite requiring ten layers and with your hands still freezing over, you can normally find a few trout to scratch your winter fishing itch. Lake Lyell and Oberon Dam despite not being at their best are also currently fishing well. Making the catch October is always an exciting time to get out on the water in New South Wales, when the streams reopen. I was fortunate enough to guide a young angler, Michael, from the US on opening day. I had spent the previous week scouting water conditions in the area and looking for trout. I’d spotted one particular fish with Michael’s name on it. I locked it in the memory bank and looked forward to returning. When the day rolled around, hot coffee in hand, I knew exactly where to go. We headed straight for the river, and got ready to cast. Only five minutes into the day, Michael landed a stunning five-pound brown – a PB – sight cast in a foot of clear water. What a perfect start to the season! We watched it work its beat of the pool before making the golden approach. That is epic anywhere in the world! Later in the season I guided Joey and Clara, a young and enthusiastic couple. New to fly fishing, they were looking forward to being outdoors and experiencing the beautiful and diverse mountains-scenery. We started with the basics of casting, and after an hour or so of refining their craft I told them to forget all that and to try the bow and arrow cast. Two minutes later and they’d mastered the cast. We were ready to hit the water. With most of the day hunting fish in close quarters, the bow and arrow became a well-used skill. Joey managed to tick off his first fish on fly while Clara and I snuck ahead to watch a rising brown in the top of the pool. “Do you see him there Clara? He’s making his way towards us. Get ready for your favourite bow and arrow cast.” With eyes fixed on the fish, Clara loaded up her rod and, on my command, let the Parachute Adams fly. It landed 60 cm in front of the fish. Perfect. “Twitch it!” I said. “Wait, wait, wait…” Time stood still as the brown finally came up and consumed her dry. Clara’s patience paid off with a stunning Oberon brown trout — a great start to her fly-fishing career. I have always been one to move slowly through likely water. But in the tougher conditions, I’ve learnt to slow down even more. In recent years, despite popular fly-fishing belief, I haven’t seen large numbers of fish in the fast-moving water around this area. Most fish, particularly the larger browns, will work the slower-moving pools, meaning a careful approach is essential. A changing environment means we need to adapt in response to the new conditions and make the best of every opportunity. Doom & Gloom Fishing in the Blue Mountains has faced a number of challenges. We have seen rivers dry up, and the removal of willows on small streams hasn’t helped. Trout are often overrun by carp and redfin, and I sometimes long for the good old days of mountains fishing. But it is not all doom and gloom. Despite not being the most resilient of species, we continue to see and catch trout. After many years fishing in the Blue Mountains, I’ve seen the fishery bounce back again and again. Even just one year of more favourable conditions can increase the numbers of fish. Two years and things could be great again. Trout grow fast and big in these streams, particularly in the slow moving, western flowing catchment. Local acclimatisation societies do a great job along with the DPI to restock the waters. And now, we just have to pray for some decent rain. The Season Finale I managed to get out with Max Cunningham, our Blue Mountains guide, to explore a few more days before the June long weekend. We had our sights set on a stunning waterfall that we visited earlier in the season with a mixed bag of results. The water at the base of the falls is very deep and cold, and on previous trips had produced little activity. We dropped in and said G’day to the property manager, and then proceeded to the falls. They were as beautiful as I remembered them. And while I had a good photo capture on my mind, Max was focused on the fish. I told him to get into position for a scenery shot but on his first cast, he hooked a nice brown. And so, the season ended the same way it began: exploring new places, putting in the hard work, and reaping the rewards. Trout may not be rising on every stream or river, and we are still all waiting for some more rain, but the Blue Mountains trout haven’t given up yet. Behind the scenic mountain cliffs, and crowded cafes, is a fishery just waiting to be explored. You just need to know where to look.

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