The West Branch

David Anderson profiles a favourite stream in North East Victoria

The West Branch of the Kiewa River squeezes itself out of a deep, narrow and very wild valley between Mt Fainter and Mt Feathertop in the Alpine National Park. Its headwaters in the Diamantina Creek are only a few kilometres south of the Mt Hotham ski area and in the middle of the highest mountains in Victoria. The river drops rapidly, an endless bouldery pocket-water with occasional deep pools for its entire fishable length of a little over 20 kilometres between the Diamantina Creek junction and the diversion dam at Simmonds Creek, where the water is siphoned off for power generation. It’s as beautiful as it is relentless and as relentless as any other trout river I know. While the water, with a slight malachite tinge, is as cold and clear as any in North East Victoria and, in some ways, reminiscent of New Zealand, the size of the average fish wouldn’t cause a stir over there. Sub-12-inch rainbows and slightly larger browns to a pound, in an almost equal split, are common and there are always rumours of the occasional larger fish to four or even five pounds, though I have yet to see one myself. If you’re after lots of fish, you’ve arrived, but if it’s only big fish you need, save yourself the long rattling drive and head to the Mitta Mitta instead. Wading the West Branch is, without trying to sound overly dramatic, bloody hard work in most places and after any long day out my lower body always feels flogged from traversing the wobbly cobbles, climbing over the fallen trees and skirting around deep water over boulders. A bit lazy, not steady on your feet or ready to be put down? You’ll have a much easier day on the flat, friendly and gravelly Ovens or Buckland to the west. Fishing the West Branch According to my friend and River Escapes guide Cameron McGregor, the river is ‘not technical’, and his regular approach is based on searching likely holding water with attractor dry patterns with or without a nymph dropper. Sight fishing is not uncommon, with the superb water clarity lending itself to spotting fish. Rising fish are a prominent feature with regular hatches of stoneflies, mayflies and caddis as well as summer terrestrials such as hoppers, cicadas and beetles available to the fish. Trout holding deeper, typically in runs or pools and reluctant to rise to a dry, are best approached with a deeply fished nymph by itself or with an unweighted dropper. Cam’s favourite patterns here include the Parachute Adams in sizes 18–12, Cam’s Humdinger 14–10, Stimulator 16–12, Cam’s Tungsten Possum Nymph and Cam’s Riffle Caddis Nymph 14–16. Another friend of mine, Bob Norris, with whom I recently spent a day on the upper reaches of the river, tied on one of his new possum emergers and didn’t change patterns, or stop catching fish all day. If I weren’t jealous, I would say the pattern is awesome and a class act on the water, but I am jealous so I’ll just call it blind, dumb luck. No, he didn’t give me any, but I hope to scam some next time. My favourite flies this past summer on the Kiewa have been rubber-legged Stimulators (from Manic Tackle) with their easy-to-see white wings, in size 14 for general use, Bruisers Bugs from Riverfly as a hopper pattern, and size-16 Fastwater Duns (also from Riverfly) for anything sighted that rejects the first two. In tackle terms, this is hyperactive 4-weight dry fly water and the very liquid definition of fast pocket water. I guess one could argue that a 5-weight would be more at home in the bigger water near the diversion dam, and that a short rod would be a better bet up at the twiggy end, but in reality, with the ample casting room the river has, any trout gear will work fine. Being mostly pocket water, a medium length leader, say 10 or 12 feet in total length, is about right, except on the rare long pools where a decent drift might require even longer. If you’re after some small-stream action, the Diamantina Creek at the top of the valley is a classic North East Victorian twigwater and won’t disappoint, being equally full of small trout and casting challenges. It’s definitely only short 2- or 3-weight water and only accessible from the top bridge or the horse yards a little further up the road, but well worth a long walk upstream and then back again. ACCESS Though the roads follow the river quite closely, and there are several side tracks to the water, the West Branch, like many other Victorian waters, is now a blackberry hell in places and getting to the water can be a penetrating experience, particularly lower down the river. I always work out my days based on parking at an access, fishing upstream to the next exit point and then walking back down the road to the car. Road access to the east side of the river valley is via Big Hill Road and then onto the West Kiewa Logging Road a few kilometres up the hill towards Falls Creek, out of the village of Mt Beauty. It’s roughly 25 km to the first river access at the crossing to the Dungey Track and then a further 10 to the end of the road at the Diamantina horse yards. West Kiewa Road splits a couple of times into high and low options and can be confusing without a map. Stick to the high road to avoid the river crossings if you’re heading to the top end. Road access to the west side of the valley starts in Mt Beauty at the Simmonds Creek Road that takes you to the diversion dam gate and a short walk to the river. This is the only real access for a two-wheel-drive vehicle on the entire river. Running off the Simmonds Creek Road around 2 km before the intake, the Pyramid Hill Track leads onto the Dungey Track and eventually crosses the lower river to join the West Kiewa River Road around 6 km above the intake. Both these tracks are 4x4 only and quite rough in places — best avoided in the wet. Any river crossings should, of course, be carefully considered before driving through and totally avoided in high water. All these roads are subject to seasonal closures with locked gates through winter. Mt Beauty, the nearest town, is a terrific spot and has a full complement of food and accommodation options and also sports a tasty micro-brewery called Sweetwater, where I think I left my last FlyLife hat after trying all their beers. If you find it there, please let me know. There are some really nice camping spots in the valley and though none are serviced or formal as such, they do come with spectacular views. Cameron can be contacted at www.riverescapes.com.au

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