The Yarrangobilly River

Henry Delves shares an unforgettable experience in Kosciuszko National Park

The Yarrangobilly River is my favourite Australian trout stream. In my mind, nothing comes close to it. The river starts its journey on the far western edge of the Kosciuszko National Park, running off Kennedy Ridge and Fiery Range, and twists its way down off the mountains to Talbingo Reservoir, carving astonishing limestone formations as it goes. The vegetation on this western edge of the National Park is quite different to that on the eastern side — fewer wind-battered snow gums and more towering mountain ash trees. You really are tucked away in a quintessential, untouched Australian bush forest when down on the river. Our trip would have us starting out at the Yarrangobilly Caves, then working our way upstream along the river to Yans Crossing, relying on finding a decent campsite somewhere in between. However, the stretch of river directly accessible from the Caves is an awesome little spot to fish too. The fishing is fast paced, with plenty of smaller trout eager to hit just about any dry fly or naturally drifted nymph. Royal Wulffs, Pheasant Tails or Hare and Copper nymphs always work well. The best thing about this area is the diversity of offerings. The Caves themselves are truly spectacular, with 440-million-year-old limestone formations forging large chasms that have to be seen to be believed. The walk into the South Glory Cave is spectacular and easily accessible. Further along, the Jillabenan Cave provides a 2-million-year-old field of exploration. This spot is a stand-alone highlight of the New South Wales high country, and can be enjoyed by families and anglers alike. To get to and from the Caves you have to traverse some of the best day walks in the Kosciuszko National Park — the Yarrangobilly River walk, following the river down low, or the Bluff Lookout walk. Above the tree line, there is a great diversity of views and landscapes to experience. Fairy wrens, flame robins, king parrots and maybe a lyrebird will keep birdwatchers busy. After a day’s worth of fishing, walking and exploring caves, the Yarrangobilly natural thermal pool offers a relaxing option. Being situated right next to the river means you have the perfect mix of hot and cold to alternate between. The thermal pool also offers the ideal meeting point in the event one half of a group wants to fish the river and the other to explore the caves and walks. I’d recommend that you meet up, have lunch and spend a lazy afternoon sitting around by the thermal pool reflecting on the day. You won’t regret it. UPSTREAM OF THE CAVES We entered at the end of the Castle Cave walk, via a steep bush-bash down to the river, first wetting our lines at 10 a.m. Not a bad effort considering one of our party had been caught out by Anzac Day road closures leaving Canberra, and I had come across from the Riverina the same morning. With no decent fall of rain in recent weeks the water was running gin clear. Little to no wind and a cooling yet very accommodating 12°C made for beautiful conditions to be out and about in the high country. The beauty of fishing with friends on a stretch of water is that you can each run different rigs to work out what the fish might be doing. With that in mind, two of us started with a dry/dropper combination, the third with just a single larger dry fly. As well as testing different fly patterns, we also ran our nymph droppers at different depths. This is a handy little ploy when fishing a high-country stream where depth and current speed varies between the runs. I used my deeper dropper rig in the slower, deeper runs, and when we came across faster, shallower runs Andrew had the shorter nymph ready to go. By doing this, we were able to cover all the water thoroughly while not having to burn time changing rigs. The sun was high, and the water crystal clear. This led to our party constantly underestimating the depth of river crossings and finding ourselves waist deep in the fresh mountain water, vindicating my decision to wear waders as the other boys shivered through the late morning. These conditions also meant that the fishing was very slow for the first two hours, and having committed to this fairly taxing two-day walk, we were getting a little nervous that the fishing might not justify the effort. As is often the way when the fishing is slow, a concerted effort to find positivity is mandatory. Thankfully, in this environment it wasn’t difficult, and we had time to really take in the Yarrangobilly River and surrounds. It is a beautiful area, with sharp limestone cliffs lining the riverbed. When down in the valley it’s easy to feel a million miles from civilisation. Once you’ve worked your way around a few bends from where the track leaves the river it really is just you on the water, amongst the trees with (hopefully) the trout. An hour later, as if a switch had been flicked, the trout started looking up. They were all very small fish, but any trout on a dry fly in the high country is special, and to top it off these smaller rainbows had some of the most vivid parr-mark patterning I had seen. From then on we found fish willing to eat in bubble lines and runs — all where they were supposed to be. It was quintessential high-country river fishing. The size became progressively bigger as well, with Andrew landing a nice 2 lb rainbow on the dry in the late afternoon. Whilst this period wasn’t quite what you’d call a ‘purple patch’, it really lifted our spirits. As the sun sank below the towering cliffs and the shadows lengthened to engulf the entire river valley, we turned our minds to finding a campsite. We initially had visions of a glorious high-country meadow with ample space to pitch a tent, preferably with a nearby spring creek flowing into a nice deep stretch of river, providing both plenty of drinking water and the prospect of a healthy evening rise. What eventuated was a cramped pebbly beach where, after some landscaping and removal of small blackberries, we managed to squeeze three tents. We thankfully had prepared for the absence of spring water by carrying some wine and whisky, which proved more than adequate substitutes. Whilst it was uncomfortable camping, it was hard not to fall asleep that night pretty happy with the day. BEYOND THE ‘NATURAL ARCH’ Day Two was spent working our way upstream from a cave, or archway, where the river runs underground. It was an incredible sight that had us marvelling all morning as to how the water shaped the rock formation, and wondering how a major waterway can dive underground for a couple of hundred metres before re-emerging as if nothing had happened. We broke camp at about 8 a.m., just before the sun stuck its head over the cliff face. To watch the mist rising from the river in windless, frosty conditions was phenomenal, and a timely reminder that the joys of fishing are not restricted to tight lines and full nets. Fishing up in the high country is always special, but wading the river in the early hours in those conditions is something I won’t forget. In the very first run of the day we came across a rising fish. Unable to lay eyes on it due to the lack of light we weren’t too sure of its size. Andrew induced the most delicate of ‘takes’, with a barely recognisable riseform, and a beautiful 2 lb brown trout was eventually brought to the net. Thinking this could be as good as it gets, we really enjoyed and appreciated that moment. But we were wrong, in the best possible way. For the next five hours, across a 2 km winding stretch of river, every run we targeted unearthed a healthy brown trout or two, broken up with the odd rainbow, all more than happy to break the surface in pursuit of a terrestrial feed. With fish in the 1–2 lb range, it made for some spectacular fishing. In the slower, straighter sections, one of our trio could get up above the river ahead, using the height as a vantage point to polaroid trout. This culminated in the fish of the trip taking the dry and putting up an action-packed fight. It was there and then we all declared that this was up there with the best day’s fishing we had experienced. Other than getting to cherish the tangential joys of a fly fishing trip, we did have our hearts set on targeting one of the big resident browns that live in the deeper cliff-faced pools. These fish are of such a size that they ‘own’ the pool. It’s a premium spot and they are remarkably territorial. The best way to target these resident browns is with big streamers that, put simply, irritate them. It turns out this section of the Yarrangobilly has plenty of deep pools, perfect for throwing streamers. Nearly every bend we fished would produce an angry brown ready to chase out whatever streamer we threw in. As expected, all these wild trout were fantastically conditioned and put up an awesome fight. The action didn’t stop right throughout that second day, with fish after fish coming to the net. It put us in such a phenomenal mood. We were like a bunch of kids, laughing hysterically at our luck, fishing the day away, enjoying a truly memorable time. We finished the day exhausted, battered and literally bruised. We learnt the hard way that trudging along the riverbed with a full pack is pretty hard work. To then have to hike back up Yans Crossing trail to the parked car at the highway nearly broke us. But if that’s the price of admission, we considered it a bargain.

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