The Buffalo Shuffle

David Anderson spends a hard day on the creeks below Mount Buffalo in Victoria

From the lookout at the top of Crystal Brook Falls, the views northeast across the Ovens and Buckland valleys are mesmerising. The dark, sculpted cliffs form a tight V from which the small creek drops 200 metres straight down and then rapidly descends towards its junction with Eurobin Creek, almost two kilometres further on. It’s one of my favourite places in all of Victoria. ‘We ARE going to fish there THIS summer!’ Ash proclaims like he’s the boss, while pointing with one hand down the creek and poking me in the chest with the other. I resist protesting his tone, because in truth, my mind is in the exact same place. Unfortunately, though, now is not the time for any discussion. Ash is in the middle of posing for his wedding day photos, I’m in the middle of shooting his wedding day photos, and brides, even those as tolerant as Prue, don’t wait. Today she’s the boss. CRYSTAL BROOK Looking at Crystal Brook on a topo map, it’s pretty clear that from the top to our access point, just above Ladies Bath Falls, is going to be steep water and we would have to wait for the relentless spring and early summer rains to piss off for a bit before taking it on. That pause doesn’t come until the peak of summer school holidays and the walking track to the falls, like the pool below, is full of day-trippers. As always, there is that one for whom simply staring in disbelief at our tip-to-toe gear isn’t enough, and he has to ask if we are fishing. Not making a smart-ass reply is the hardest thing I will do all day. For what it’s worth, the easy way, if I dare call it that, is to leave the track on the right-hand side before the little footbridge just below the falls and scramble up the side of the gorge a couple of hundred metres to where you can safely drop to the water. The first few pools are everything we could have hoped for, with that beautiful, green tinted, hyper-clear water that spills off Mount Buffalo flowing in, around and over the jumble of granite boulders and thick ferns. If getting here is hard work, once on the water the casting and tight, short drifts are made easier by the relatively open air above the water. Yes, it is steep and as much a rock-climbing session as fishing, but it’s not what I would call tight. Of course, there are fish — in the dark, deeply saturated tones of wild Victorian brown trout — and though they’re not any larger than what I feel we have earned, they are certainly beautiful, like their surroundings, and entirely willing. However, the fun soon grinds to a halt as we reach one of those not quite waterfalls, not quite a huge, almost vertical collection of big boulders hiding the creek and looking like a lot of work to get past. I’m not keen, but Ash, being such a young punk, doesn’t seem to have connected all the dots between catching a few more fish and getting airlifted out. He’s keen to keep going. Then again, who am I to argue? Telling him I need some shots from below, I sit down and suggest he let me know if there’s good water above, and that if he doesn’t get killed, I’ll run right up. Impressively, he does get almost to the top before turning back, and not saying ‘I told you so’ becomes the second hardest thing I’ll do all day. I’m the boss. With the day getting on, it’s time to admit defeat, scramble back to the road and find more than a football field’s length of fishable stream. EUROBIN CREEK The next closest water, and a beat we’ve fished a couple of times before, is the stretch of Eurobin Creek from the road up to Ladies Bath Falls. It’s a beautiful stretch of twigwater with great views through the tree ferns to the cliffs of Mount Buffalo towering above, and there are lots of little plunge pools and pockets in the fast water, and even some larger pools further up. And though still steep with a lot of boulder hopping, it’s a fun place to swing a little 2-weight. Above the falls, Ash had been having one of those days when he could have probably caught a dozen fish at my house before we left, but it’s pretty obvious that down here, things aren’t so switched on. There are fish, but they’re quite small at first and then turn off completely. Maybe someone’s fishing above us? The real problem reveals itself when we get to the larger pools at the top of the beat, first in the form of joyous voices bouncing around and then in the form of can-slamming bogans, crammed into every available corner of the pools. Half serious question: do trout smell the water or taste it? Either way, I bet they’re reeling from all the bogans now bathing in it. And yes, we did get the looks and stupid questions and no, I didn’t give them both barrels. Bugger, back to the car again. SOUTH BUFFALO CREEK Other nearby options are the Buckland River, the Ovens River, or even the (nearly impossible to fish for its entire length) Buffalo River (not doing this one) around the other side of the mountain. With the day starting to bleed-out, we pick the Buckland, and, as ever, don’t get far before being distracted by another very small stream. I’ve fished South Buffalo Creek several years back and several times, but it was always running thin, and with the exception of the pools, involved a lot of walking shallows between good holding water. When it’s like this, there’s better water elsewhere. That said, a return has been on my mind with all the good rain and the fact that everywhere else is fishing so well. The bulk of South Buffalo Creek runs off the south side of Mount Buffalo (go figure) as Dickson Creek, over an extraordinary series of short drops that must be 700 or 800 metres high in total, and then a flatter 4 k’s to the Buckland River. The first three k’s down from where the creek is too steep to fish is mostly easy, flatter water over cobbles and gravel between small pools. Unlike the boulder-strewn water of Crystal Brook, it’s a more relaxed wade with only the occasional bedrock bar and short drop before you get to a gorge. With a couple of drops and the deepest water on the stream, the gorge is a great visual experience with the possibility of a bigger fish coming up from deep water to slowly slurp a fly. From there down to the junction with the Buckland, the creek slows down a little over a finer bottom with more sand. There are short pools, particularly in the corners, and heaps of trout, but more walking around slower water and climbing over fallen trees. Ash and I were going to drop into the bottom of the gorge and work up, but as we walk in, we hear voices again and, sure enough, find another group of the loud, swim-beer-crowd, so we walk around and go further upstream. If the morning was hard, the afternoon makes up for it with no more bogans, easy wading, easier casting and only a few short stretches of shallow water to walk past. Really, the only problem is approaching the better pools carefully enough not to spook anything before getting at least a couple of drifts through, because that is all that is needed. Casting is blissfully free of overhead snags. I cycle through a few different patterns, as much out of habit as need, before sticking with a high-viz Adams, while Ash sticks with a high-viz Quill Klink and racks up the better numbers. The good news is that the fish have obviously doubled in size since my last trip. The bad? They were mostly 6-inches back then. Still, the bend a 12-inch trout puts in our little 2-weights leaves nothing to complain about. What feels like a full day later, but is, in reality, just 3 or 4 hours, we fish one last pool, then just one more and turn tired bodies around for the slog out. I wasn’t keeping count, but Ash easily caught enough fish for both of us to forget the work-to-fish-ratio of the morning. Sure, I caught a couple, but he’s the boss again and happy to let me know it. PRACTICALITIES Though all these creeks are too small for some to bother with, none of this water is a technical challenge to fish through summer if the levels are normal. A light rod, simple collection of dry flies with some high-viz and chunky terrestrials, and a reasonably accurate cast, usually quite short, is all that’s needed to catch fish. I wouldn’t actually recommend the trip above the falls to anyone sane, but will submit it knowing most of you aren’t, and need to see it for yourself. South Buffalo Creek joins the Buckland River not far below the bridge, approximately 12 k’s up the valley from Porepunkah. Just over the bridge, turn right on the Goldie Spur Track and then right onto the Swamp Wallaby Track soon after. It’s not far to the only bridge over the creek, but private property on the other side. A very rough track follows the powerlines that parallel the creek, though it’s currently better left for walking out unless you hate the paint on your 4x4. You can access this track further up the Goldie Spur Track as well and scramble down to the creek just above the gorge. A 2-wheel-drive will get you near enough, though you might need to park near the Buckland Bridge and walk a bit further. With all the good rain lately it’s worth a look, but probably best avoided for more reliable water further up the Ovens and Buckland in a dry year. Crystal Brook and Ladies Bath Falls are found up a walking track just past the bridge across Eurobin Creek in Mount Buffalo National Park, and great views of Dickson Creek’s epic drop can be seen from the Goldie Spur Track, about halfway up to the top. Both are worthy destinations just for a look. These creeks on their own are likely not worth more than a day trip. If you’re coming from further afield, there’s plenty of great water, big and small, like the Ovens and Buckland rivers to fill out a few days. When not packed to the rafters with half of Melbourne, Mount Buffalo National Park itself is brilliant, with the (straight out of The Shining) Mount Buffalo Chalet, great walking tracks, postcard pretty Lake Catani, and some of the best views anywhere in Victoria. Both Bright and Porepunkah have everything the travelling angler needs to survive, and nearby Myrtleford is now a great place to get a feed, with Tu Vietnamese Street Food for (you guessed it) Vietnamese, Italian pizza at Bastoni’s, and even a new Burgerville restaurant for, ummm, burgers. The Happy Valley Hotel is also now a firm favourite for a steak and a beer or two after a hard day on the creeks.

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