The other Eucumbene

David Anderson looks forward to summer on the Eucumbene River.

When John Gierach, one of my favourite writers, perfectly summed up what I love about small stream fly-fishing by writing, “Maybe your stature as a fly fisherman isn’t determined by how big a trout you can catch, but by how small a trout you can catch without being disappointed,” he was obviously not talking to anyone fishing the Eucumbene River during the May melee that is the annual brown trout spawning run. No, this isn’t about flicking subtle little dries at fussy little trout; this is a big-meat adventure war fought shoulder-to-shoulder with heavy nymphs, Glo Bugs and hardware anglers, where the chances of becoming a social media superstar are greatly enhanced by the river potentially being full of large brown trout, the easiest to catch anywhere in Australia. It’s also way too crowded for my liking. Of course, I’ve been a few times, and once even managed the best and worst fishing days of my life on the very same day. It was the best for being time on the river in the chill mountain air with my good mate and fellow photographer Peter Morse, and worst for the fish being so easy to catch that it actually became boring enough that we ended up arguing about whose turn it was to fish and whose to be photographed. Seems we both wanted to be the photographer. While I have no objection to occasionally catching a trout bigger than my size-13 boot, thankfully for most of the season the Eucumbene River is a wonderful trout stream, as beautiful and varied as it is uncrowded and rewarding. The best thing about this other, less socially savvy Eucumbene River is access. Being closely followed by the Snowy Mountains highway and having its entire length above Lake Eucumbene within the Kosciuszko National Park also frees it of any private property issues. Yes, there’s still plenty of walking up and down steep country and long stretches well away from road and trail for those that seek adventure, and plenty of water that sees few anglers through the season, but in my experience, even the busiest parts of the river can fish well through summer. ACCESS Where the river actually begins is very much dependent on the level of Lake Eucumbene. At low levels — the case more recently — there’s a lot of easy, open freestone water between Providence Portal and the campground at Denison, but at higher levels it can start another kilometre or more further up the arm, making access more of a bush-bashing affair. Although this stretch gets the most attention for big browns in autumn, it is worth a look early in the season for smaller bullet-like, lake-run rainbows as well. Yes, their numbers are way down, but definitely not out. For me the good water, as much for scenery as anything to do with fish, begins at the flying fox that crosses the river approximately 3 km upstream of Denison. The start of the inbound road shares the same access off the Snowy Mountains highway as the campground road, but runs to the west for a short distance before a locked gate at Alpine Creek. From here, it’s a roughly 2-km walk to the river, first up, then down the big hill that’s just steep enough to keep the chumps out. The river here is an awesome, fast, bouldery pocket-water with occasional deep pools and big scenic bends in the dense forest. It fishes well with buoyant visible dries that can be bounced in and around the rocks or drifted through the open runs at the end of a long cast. On hot, clear and low flow days in late summer, fishing through the whitewater pockets can be most productive, even if the takes are hard to see. Before committing to the walk it would be well worth considering the water levels, as travel along the banks is hard and wading in high water nearly impossible if you intend to go upriver. A further 8 km (roughly) up the highway, the relatively mild Four Mile 4x4 track leads in from the Sawyers Hut rest area and winds a bit over 3 km down to the river at a ford and locked gate. A long walk downstream from the ford there’s a steep-sided gorge with deep, dark water where, if you’re careful, big cruising fish, easier seen than cast at, can be spotted from the high rocks above. The gorge also marks the point where the river enters the forest from the open country above and also the point where the almost ever-present wind can blow hard enough to make fly fishing all but impossible in the open valley. Above the ford there are braids and side channels well worth a few casts and some very long flat pools that, while seeming lifeless during the day, can boil with activity at sunset. A couple of kilometres further up the highway there’s a steeper and rougher unnamed 4x4 track that runs down river at the junction of Four Mile Creek. This, from about a kilometre downstream, right up to the Kiandra Bridge some 3 km upstream, is my favourite stretch of the Eucumbene in the latter parts of the season. Although dry flies are quite easily fished through here, nymphing can also be extremely productive and is easier than anywhere else on the river because of the long, straight stretches with consistent depth and flow. On more than one occasion I’ve also been totally cleaned up by big rainbows through here in October while nymphing for their 12-inch cousins. At Kiandra Bridge, 4x4 tracks follow the stream downstream and up for a short distance and provide easy foot access if nothing else. Here I tend to walk past a lot of the slower water and seek out the deeper, faster glides and brief patches of white water. Above the turnoff to Cabramurra, the Eucumbene, now just a stream, becomes a classic tussocky mountain-meadow experience with plenty of bends, undercut banks and the occasional deep pool. It’s generally slower water and easily fished, though there are some long reaches of shallow, featureless water that aren’t worth much effort. The meadow water can fish extraordinarily well after a wet spring when huge numbers of small alpine hoppers become a readily available food source, particularly when the wind is up. PRACTICALITIES Outside of the autumn spawn-run scrum or high spring flows where a powerful 5- or even 6-weight will help with heavier flies, a 4-weight or even a longer 3-weight is perfect for the Eucumbene through the rest of the season. Whatever rod you have and whatever line, wind needs to be considered because it can blow like hell up there for days on end, usually staring into your face while working upstream. My fly box for the Eucumbene doesn’t differ much from anywhere else in the Snowies, though this is, without a doubt, Stimulator water and I always have an extra tin of them in a few different sizes and colours for the upper river. In general, orange-bodied versions with a natural wing in size 14–16 are totally deadly and some newer patterns like Manic’s ‘Bum-fluff’ Stimulator or the various silicone legged versions also do the job. Size 12 or under is generally better as most of the natural hoppers around here are quite small. Generalist deer-hair dries that plop on arrival and sit flush in the film, like Daniel Hackett’s ‘Scruffy’ are also a must. For nymphs, on clear days I use dull Hare and Copper or Pheasant Tail nymphs with black beads and limited flash, and more recently a new favourite is Manic’s Anato-may nymph (tan) in size 14 and 16 when the light and water levels demand a bit more flash. For accommodation and a feed, there are a lot of options in the nearby town of Adaminaby including the Snow Goose Motel, or in the more distant towns of Tumut and Cooma depending on where you’ve travelled from. Closer to the water, there’s lots of excellent informal camping and very good facilities at both Denison and the very pretty and brook-trouty Three Mile Dam.

Current FlyLife Subscribers can login to read the full article.
To access this article, back issues & more Subscribe to FlyLife today.