The Last Resort

David Anderson offers a fallback option in the middle of nowhere

I first visited this part of the Tumut River in the mid ’90s while fishing with Jill Blackman, then owner of the Outpost Lodge. While it was spring, and the conditions shouldn’t have surprised me, all the great water between Adaminaby and Yarrangobilly was unfishable. We drove from one end to the other with no luck. Everywhere was blown out by high, dirty water. Always the optimist, Jill then suggested that Three Mile Dam near Mt Selwyn would at least be clear. So we pushed past Kiandra towards Cabramurra only to find the weather had gone from bad to worse, with high winds driving sideways sleet — the kind that feels like it’s ripping your face off, one tiny pinch at a time. The day felt lost, as even fishing the small lake was not worth the suffering. Jill then jumped back into the car, smiled and announced that we were going to ‘the last resort’ at Sue City. No, I had never heard of it either. Maybe there would be beer and a warm fire? On first view, coming down the road from Cabramurra, the Tumut Valley looked massive, deep and impenetrable, and I was sure it would also be flooded. However, as the last few bends started to level out and the Tumut River finally came into view, I was relieved to see a beautiful, mostly clear creek running through a narrow, flat valley floor. It seemed impossibly small water given the size of the valley. As it turns out, what Jill knew and I didn’t, was that the Snowy Hydro Scheme basically steals most of the river upstream and diverts it elsewhere, and what’s left is not prone to the same level of flooding as the more undisturbed rivers above. That, of course, is why we were here — it was the last resort. We pulled up not far above the lake where a long, fast ripple entered a deep pool, and in just a light drizzle we suited up and went to work. It was still cold, but 600 metres above sea level cold, not 1500. While Jill ventured upstream, I tied on a gold- beaded Hare’s Ear in size #14 under an indicator and was immediately into lots of feisty and fat 8- to 12-inch rainbows. What remained of the day was saved. Since then, I’ve returned to this area on many occasions after literally being blasted off the mountains above, and even a few times when I got sidetracked while driving through on my way to or from Kiandra. It’s now become a fair-weather destination as well, particularly early in the 21/22 season when you knew before looking that everything else, including the roads, might require an outboard to navigate given the record rains. THE RIVER Without getting into extreme adventures, the most easily accessed fly-fishing water I mention here is only a small part of the Tumut’s full 180-kilometre length. It starts just above the junction with Section Creek, where the road leaves the river and starts the steep climb up to Cabramurra, and extends down to the top of Talbingo Reservoir where the river flows in, some 11 river kilometres downstream. Through all of it, the road criss-crosses the river over five bridges and is never far from the water. It is all beautiful and easily fished and waded compared to most Snowy Mountains streams, certainly less physically demanding than the more remote reaches above Tumut Pond Reservoir and much easier on the eye than the huge tail-race water below Blowering Dam, though both of those would definitely offer more opportunities for big fish. Richly spotted rainbows with dark backs have always dominated my catches here, but browns, normally of a duller variety, are always present. In terms of size, fish from 8 to 14 inches can be expected, but there are larger ones about. Working upstream from the lake, I’ll break down the beats into the lower third, middle, and the top beat. I don’t really have a favourite stretch, but I most often fish around the middle when lazy and tired from other adventures. The lower beat, from the first bridge immediately above the dam to the third bridge upstream, is excellent water very early or late in the season. It is lined with ear-high grass and sometimes denser bush towards the road. Swampy bits, old gold diggings and old watercourses can make walking treacherous in places, though if getting to the water is occasionally hard, once there the reward is the easiest wading on the river, with the most casting room and the best chance for bigger fish. It is generally slower paced with long, sandy-bottomed pools and some excellent glides between. There are also some lovely stretches where braided water in and around the tussocks and well worn rocks can offer hopper fishing as good as anywhere. I have spooked some larger browns here, by not paying enough attention to the side channels I walked through while concentrating on the main currents. Even if the upper reaches of the river clear quickly after heavy rain, this lower beat can still be coloured for a couple of days longer with dirty water entering from New Maragle or Pinchgut creeks, running off the high country between here and Tumbarumba. That said, this can still be excellent nymphing water even when running high and a little dirty. The middle beat, between bridges 2 and just past 4, is the best water most of the time. The long grass is still sometimes present, but the pools and runs quicken up and take on much more character. There are more short drops, rapids, long runs and excellent stretches of tussock water around well worn larger rocks with plenty of cover. Some short sections do have more overhanging brush than on the upper or lower beats, and it can get tight along these stretches, though not even close to nasty since the fires of 2019 went through. Above the campground at the 4th bridge, up to where Section Creek joins, is defined by more large rocks with some faster pocket-water between. There are a couple of brief, very pretty stretches with massive boulders and some awesome pools with fast runs between. By the top the creek straightens up and there are wonderful little pools in the faster water and lots of pockets and undercuts along the low but steep cliffs in the last couple of hundred metres. As pretty as it is, in low water this last bit is a waste of time. I have never bothered above the last bridge, though it looks good and on several occasions when driving home from trips much higher up the mountains I have seen some rises in the long slow pool just above the bridge. Also, while doing some research for this article, I came across a blog post by someone doing the length from here to the bottom of the Tumut Two Pondage. Apparently it was very hard going, but produced some good trout. Last — and with an admission that I learned this the hard way — before you bother, very early in the season Section Creek itself can look a million bucks in the narrow gorge along the road, with its teal-blue water, tree ferns and postcard good looks, but the rest of the time it’s almost dry from being stolen by the hydro scheme much further up, and devoid of fish. If all this sounds great, know that as streams in the Kosciuszko National Park go, this one would get a runner-up mention were it a beauty contest, and a pass with distinction for ease of access and wading, but I wouldn’t call it a favourite. It can be incredibly frustrating in low water and on very clear days, and seem all but fishless with a big low-pressure system passing through. Sure, when we shot these photos Ash caught fish all day long and it was probably our best day yet, but know there have been a few hard sessions where even catching a couple of small fish felt like an accomplishment. However, as destinations of last resort go, it can be as good as it gets and certainly better than hiding in the car from foul weather at Kiandra. PRACTICALITIES If you’re coming from Sydney or Melbourne, this corner of the Snowy Mountains and Kosciuszko National Park is probably best accessed from the west through the town of Tumbarumba. You can also come through Kiandra via Tumut or Cooma, though it’s a bit further. Both roads offer spectacular scenery. Really, it’s kind of the middle of nowhere, and I like that. One travel note though, the road through the high country between Tumbarumba and Talbingo is filthy with wild horses. On one night I counted 24 on the road, where they seem to gather with lots of attitude and little regard for burnt-out fly fishermen in utes. All the roads mentioned are sealed, and the tracks into the informal camping areas, even though they are gravel, are 2-wheel drive accessible. If you’ve not been to Tumbarumba, I can highly recommend it as a place to hang out, feed up, or stock-up properly before or after a trip. There’s good pub food and burgers, and I’ve done the hour-and-a-half drive home to Albury while stuffing my face with pizza from either the take-away or the Nest Cinema Cafe many times. If camping is more your bent, there’s an excellent formal area on Talbingo Reservoir at Sue City, near where the river enters the lake, and plenty of informal options near the bridges along the road to Cabramurra. Also, for what it’s worth, my favourite small lake in the world, or possibly the only one I really like — Three Mile Dam — is not all that far up the mountain and a great spot to camp in summer if you don’t like the heat lower down the range. In the very early or late season it’s more suited to people who don’t like warmth, and you won’t find me there.

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