The East Branch

David Anderson fishes that other Kiewa River

Flowing off the flanks of Victoria’s Falls Creek ski area as Rocky Valley and Pretty Valley creeks, the East Branch of the Kiewa River then runs straight and fast to Mt Beauty where it slows right down, joins the West Branch (see FL#89) and becomes one of Victoria’s best lowland fisheries. While words like ‘wild’, ‘beautiful’ and, errr, ‘wildly beautiful’ are hard to skirt past, if I had to quickly and more realistically describe the upper reaches of the East, it would be as ‘physical’. Seriously, fishing here is like doing cross-fit but without all the hipsters and pillow fights. From the first steps down to the river below the only bridge crossing on the road between Mt Beauty and Falls Creek, you’re into the boulders, and when I say boulders I mean proper big, silly old photographers get all kinds of hurt if they fall off them boulders. The first half kilometre or so up to Fainter Creek involves as much climbing up, over or around them as it does fishing. Add to that, lots of sizeable downed trees, slippery bedrock everywhere and thumb-thick blackberries in all the otherwise easy walk-around options on the banks, and you’re hopefully getting a picture. Oh, but wait, there’s more! Thanks to three hydro power plants and two regulation dams along its short course, there’s also the risk of a rapidly rising river with no easy exit. No, I’m not trying to scare anyone off — much — but I will say, the more user-friendly and amazingly beautiful West Branch is just over the hill. I wish I could say the trout here were equally as rewarding as the scenery in size and numbers, but truth be told, while I’ve caught my largest stream trout of the season above Clover Dam, I’ve also run up the most doughnut days in that very same season. It’s really one of those heaven and hell rivers that seem to follow me around Victoria. If all that sounds daunting, know that the East rewards the hard work with fly-water that has as much character in that first hundred yards above the bridge as some rivers can muster over their entire lengths. And, as often as not, this is where I end up when heading out to fish Northeast Victoria with no agenda other than getting out of the house and perhaps stimulating my senses. ACCESS Though roughly followed by the Mt Beauty/Falls Creek Road, access can still be limited by the very steep and densely forested terrain. Starting from the bottom up, I’ll share my three favourite beats. I will also repeat the caveat that the East Branch is controlled for power generation for most of its length and there are water releases that need to be taken into account. Finding information on this is difficult and I suggest readers do some serious research with AGL Energy before setting off. I access the lower river from a gated (like ‘do not enter’ gated) management track that runs off the main road about a kilometre above Clover Dam. It’s a fairly quick walk to a small bridge, with some slower reaches below and more wild bouldery stuff above. I’ve only managed to fish here a few times when the river wasn’t a raging white-water from power generation. Its level is easily seen from the road on the drive past. The appeal is all the little pockets around the well-scoured river bed that, while generally small, are both challenging and seemingly home to most of the river’s small trout population. Being the most open section of the river, stealth in the form of longer casts, or hiding behind boulders for shorter work, is required for any success. The beat up to this track from the top of Clover Dam is also a unique half-day fish, and equally solid workout. The middle reaches of the river are best accessed by fishing up from the road bridge, with the Fainter Falls walking track offering an easier return than heading back down the river on the way out. This section, in the right light, has crystal clear blue-green water that sometimes looks like it’s been transported directly from backcountry New Zealand. Unfortunately, whoever brought the water seems to have missed all the big fish, but if you can live with modest trout, it provides some of the best scenery on any river in the state. There’s a good, relatively level stretch above Fainter Creek, though it becomes quite vertical after just a few hundred metres. The top of the river, by now more of a creek, is accessed via a 3-ish kilometre walk along a good sealed road from the locked gate at the head of the road to the Mt McKay underground power plant. Thankfully there’s no sudden rush of water above here, but the scrambling over rocks is ever present and progress up the creek, though quite open, is still slow. Similar to the lower river, but on a smaller scale, the appeal of this beat is all the pocket water between the short, sometimes deep pools. It’s perfect light-rod dry-fly water. Downstream of the power plant, the river is accessed via a gravel track that follows the parallel power lines. The bush is very dense in places and cutting cross-country can be fraught, but you won’t care once you’re on the water. Here there are many small waterfalls through narrow and shallow bedrock gorges, and plenty of climbing. TACKLE The East Branch is where my fast-ish Scott Radian 4-weight regularly gets the dust blown off. At 8’6”, it’s long enough to quickly lift a lot of line off the rocks between me and the fish, and powerful enough to make the sometimes long casts over more open water. Around Mt McKay power station a 3-weight is an option, though I would still go longer than 8 feet to take all the rocks and the pocket picking between into account. Yes, it’s the right kind of water, but after the first couple of trips, I started leaving the shorter and slower twigs at home. Leaders and tippet will absolutely get abused by the rough surface of the boulders anywhere on this river so I stick with my Maxima Chameleon leaders and 3 or 4 lb tippet, and try to keep the full length between 12 and 14 feet for both the accuracy required and to make line management less of a burden. While there are some technically challenging drifts to excite the nympher, there are very few gravelly runs and this is much better dry fly water just for the sheer complexity of it. For flies, I always go for size over subtlety and one of my favourites is Daniel Hackett’s ‘Scruffy’ in orange for its excellent visibility and all-around floatiness (don’t bother looking that up in the Oxford dictionary yet, I’m adding it soon). Early in the season local guide Cameron McGregor’s ‘Dirty Worm’ is an absolute must, though getting it on the bottom will require proper line management and perhaps a pairing with a tungsten nymph in the higher water. Last, I will say that spotting trout in the East seems much harder to me than anywhere else in this corner of Victoria, and I always fish over any obvious water between doing my best to see fish. PRACTICALITIES Running between the villages of Mt Beauty and Falls Creek, and in a high tourist area in general, there are endless venues to sleep, eat and frolic near the river, and it’s also one of the more family friendly areas for a holiday. The easy trip up the walking track to Fainter Falls from the car park near the main bridge is a must. That said, the East Branch is, in my opinion, not the sort of water to bring beginners or young children to, as it is genuinely hard work and potentially dangerous with sudden changes in flow. Before fishing the East Kiewa, check water releases and levels with the appropriate authorities.

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