Run of outs

The Fish River

Fish River, O’Connell

Fishing these days is limited to snippets between toddler demands, which would be fine if I lived on a trout stream but the Cooks River is the closest I get. Those dumped shopping trolleys are harder to hook than you might think.

So with the mother-in-law in town and happily assuming my share of child duties I escaped for a morning out to the Fish River at O’Connell.

Luckily I didn’t get out too early because the fish didn’t appear until about 10am. They fed actively, but evidently not on dries. A lack of fishing practice was my biggest hindrance at this point. I lined a fish that surprised me by porpoising on the surface parallel to where I stood.

Eventually, with the casting arm warmed up, I hooked a one pounder on a prince nymph at the head of the pool but the tippet snapped almost immediately. Testing the tippet after (Rio 6X Flurocarbon), I was able to snap it at almost every attempt. Time to invest in some new tippet.

After a beautiful, still morning, the wind picked up at 12pm and the fish shut down. So I set off on the drive back to the Cooks River.

Monaro streams

We rented an Airbnb on a high country property while visiting family in Cooma over the Easter. With family commitments pulling me every where but where I should be (on the trout streams), fishing here was limited to hit and run expeditions while the toddler had her midday nap.

On the first morning I sat on the balcony, coffee in hand, admiring the views of the Monaro plains and googling ‘trout stream near me’ when I realised there was a creek in the valley right in front of me.

Enquiries put to the Airbnb owner revealed the following:

  1. Yes there are trout in the stream
  2. Yes you can access it, it’s public access, Torrens Title
  3. It’s fly fishing, catch and release only
  4. Point 3 is the owners rules. He doesn’t have any jurisdiction to enforce it, but he’s evidently a good bloke.

Rain the prior week, and warm sunshine this week, meant there would be prime fishing time during the evening hatch. The owner had seen some decent fish on his evening constitutional with his wife.

However I was expected at family dinner in the evening. So instead I hit the stream at midday, during toddler nap time. It was a typical Monaro stream with clear, slow flowing pools. And with the sun high, the fish were hiding. Never mind, I told myself, I’ll get down for the evening hatch later in the week.

Snowy River

During the next day’s toddler nap I ventured a bit further afield to the Snowy River. This was another clear, slow flowing stream, so I was surprised to find a trout tailing in the midday sun. I only had about half an hour to spare before said toddler was due to wake up though and this was not enough time to lure that trout into a trap.

The Snowy River
The clear, slow flowing water of the Snowy River

Eucumbene Trout Farm

Yes folks, you read that title right. Instead of the planned venture to fish the evening rise, I found myself with niece and nephew minding duties. And for better or worse, over the years, time with Uncle Jodi comes with the expectation of a fishing trip.

An earlier expedition to the creek with niece and nephew ended in many sticks, stones and children throwing themselves in the water. Conditions entirely unsuitable to stalking trout. So instead I took them to the Eucumbene Trout Farm.

This is about as close as trout fishing gets to fishing for yellow tail off a jetty and therefore entirely suitable to the limited attention spans of eight and ten year olds. Although hooking a trout on powerbait, in a pond the size of a backyard swimming pool with about 50 fish in it, is harder than it sounds.

The real challenge was not jag hooking them, but at the end of the day, two trout were landed and niece and nephew went home satisfied. While Uncle Jodi went home with his wallet considerably lighter and, well, there’ll always be another evening rise.

Gundowringa fish out

Gundowringa homestead

Gundowringa is located half way between Goulburn and Crookwell and is famous for fat lambs and potatoes. What has this to do with fishing? Nothing.

But based on recent stocking figures and the proximity to Sydney, we had to give it a go. So in early March Lakeside Fly Fishing Club descended upon Gundowringa.

Fish stocking 2017:

  • Pejar: 5,000 Brown Trout; 10,000 Rainbow Trout; 4,200 Bass
  • Todkill: 2,000 Rainbow Trout
  • Redground: 4,000 Rainbow Trout; 5,000 Golden Perch

Accommodation at Gundowringa consists of shearers’ quarters accommodating up to 18 people, shared non gender washroom/toilet block, communal sitting, dining room, wood fire, kitchen, industrial fridge and BBQ. As there were only six of us we each had our own room, and at $30 per night it was a bargain.

We had access to Pejar Dam, Todkill Dam, Redground Dam and two private dams on Gundowringa.

Pejar Dam NSW
Jim Screen in action at Pejar Dam (he’s the little speck just off the point)

The lack of rain has made fishing challenging and this was reflected during the weekend. Pejar Dam was picture perfect but the other two dams need a flush out as they could not be fished due to the weeds. The catch rate was disappointing but fine weather and good company made the weekend a great success.

Dinner at Gundowringa
Trevor gets on the sauce

On Saturday night it was planned to have dinner at the Willowvale Mill restaurant. Upon trying to book the restaurant we were advised by the owner that the restaurant would not be open as he was taking his lady friend to the Blue Mountains.

Alex asked if we were invited but he said his friend would not approve. So we all ended up at the Commercial Hotel in Crookwell for dinner.

The Commercial Hotel Crookwell
Jim celebrating the landing of the only trout for the weekend.

Who caught what?

  • Jim Screen – 2 pound trout with beautiful eyes.
  • Alan Steege – a turtle with attitude.
Lunch at Pejar Dam
The Steeges enjoying lunch at Pejar Dam

Jurassic lake

Lago Strobel, or Jurassic Lake rainbow trout

One trip to Lago Strobel is the fly fishing experience of a life time but going twice must be close to visiting fly fishing heaven.

David Screen has visited Lago Strobel in Argentina twice in the last two years. But the fish still have to be caught and landed just like any where else and like any where else the special conditions of the fishery have to be managed.

In this particular part of the world cold and wind prevail to a very large extent, in a very rocky landscape. The lake has no outlet but is fed by a constant flow of water from the Barrancoso River that rises in the Andes Mountains.

Where does the water go, you might ask. Well the wind takes care of that and just blows the water away. One has to make sure when making a cast your line goes downwind otherwise you will get a very quick reminder to come to the Club’s casting days.

For those interested (envious) David’s caught and landed statistics from South America are:

2017 – 204 fish landed, 44 fish over 10lb
2018 – 207 fish landed, 106 fish over 10lb

The largest fish was 15.5lb caught in the river followed closely by six 15lb fish, including one caught on a dry fly.

David is Lakeside Fly Fishing Club’s presenter at the club meeting on Wednesday February 6th 2018 at 7:30pm. Come along to hear his tales of Jurassic Lake.

Lago Strobel, or Jurassic Lake Rainbow Trout
David Screen with a Jurassic Lake Rainbow Trout in Argentina.

NSW Trout Strategy Workshop

Eucumbene river in the NSW Snowy Mountains

My brother Robert and I are long term members of Lakeside fly fishing club; Robert also being a member of Monaro Acclimation Society and living part time in the Jindabyne region.

We are both passionate trout fly fishermen concerned for the future viability
of our sport. Over the last decade we all have noticed a steady decline in the amount of fish, particularly rainbow trout in the Monaro region in general.

Another concern is the increasing amount of sand particularly in the Thredbo River, damaging spawning gravel river beds; the levels of sand being the result of the devastating bush fires over a decade ago.

Sand extraction companies have indicated that they would pump sand out of the river at no cost and possibly a small royalty could be obtained. One such location to remove the deposits at minimum environmental impact would be Paddy’s Corner.

The traditional rainbow trout spawning run in early spring has become relatively non existent in recent years, by comparison to say a decade ago.

What are the reasons for this considerable reduction in fish numbers?

Recently while on a fishing trip to the Ebor region our group visited the Dutton trout hatchery and were shown around the extensive facility. A very helpful person answered many questions and advised that all the rainbow trout released in the NSW rivers and dams were produced at that hatchery.

It appeared that mature rainbow stock held at the hatchery are stripped of milt and eggs to produce the fish that are then released at various ages by fishing clubs and also sent to Gaden Hatchery for their release program.

Why are so many of the rainbows in particular, not living to maturity? I have heard 1 in 1000 survive to that stage. Is it the method of release and their age at that time or are such factors as being spawned from hatchery and not wild trout that has an effect?

We all know that rainbows are easier targets for cormorants and predators other than brown trout. Maybe rainbow and brown trout should not be released until they are older to obtain a more acceptable chance of reaching maturity.

Also releasing fish in broad day light at boat ramps with cormorants present, seems a contributing factor to the very low maturity rate of these fish.

Surely releasing fish at numerous places on the rivers and a higher percentage released at night would increase the maturity rate. I am sure many of the fishing clubs would be happy to assist in the distribution of hopefully larger say 25 to 30cm trout.

The fishing industry is of major importance to the tourist industry and the economy in general in the high country regions of NSW. Something must be done to rectify the current situation.

Alan and Robert Steege

Update: Robert and I attended the Jindabyne DPI Trout Strategy Workshop on the 17th May. Ninety people attended, 75% of whom were recreational anglers each with up to sixty years experience fishing for trout in this region.

The DPI recognises that fish numbers, particularly Rainbow Trout and also current stocking practises require review.

The department has employed a number of scientists to assist this study, they tended to blame a lot of the problem on climate change.

The fishos who spoke talked about current stocking practices, particularly the release of fry and fingerlings which has a very poor success rate. Generally the consensus of participants wanted larger say 25-30 cm fish released and controlled releases including night time to allow a greater chance of survival.

Gaden Hatchery were not in favour of a change in release times, saying the costs of night time releases were prohibitive and the weaker fish would be the ones at most risk.

It’s difficult to predict the outcome of this trout strategy, money is being provided by DPI, so hopefully there will be some positive results.


Billy T’s monster brown

Brown trout caught in central west NSW

Even though I have for various reasons been unable to attend meetings it does not mean I no longer fish. Quite the opposite I now consider myself a fly fishing addict !

The fish in this picture was caught by me a few weeks ago in ‘my river’. I have been trying to catch this Monster, 4lb / 50cm brownie for more than a year.

The waters out west are very low and whilst it is easier to see them the reverse applies. There is bugger all visible flow and most of the fish have reverted to doing beats in pools, rather than sitting in non existent flows.

This of course makes catching them even harder than it normally is. The story has a sad end as I was in a situation I could not revive him, no flow, inhaled fly, difficult to land (reeds etc).

It was therefore with great sadness I took him home and we feasted on him with my neighbours who have been nagging me anyway to bring some catches home!

Tight lines, hope to see you soon at next meeting.

Bill Torok (Billy T ).

Lakeside and Woolly buggers descend on Ebor

Trout stream in Ebor, NSW

After a BIG breakfast at Raymond Terrace and lunch at Bellingen members of Lakeside and Woolly Buggers Fly Fishing Clubs arrived at Ebor in the New England National park.  We had National Park accommodation in The Residence, with ample room, air-con plus outside fire pit and bbq in a very pleasant bushland setting.

The Residence in the New England National Park NSW
The Residence

We had tea at the Ebor Pub, which was the right price and quite tasty. Warren had crumbed fish because he likes anything crumbed. I suggested crumbed greens, but he declined, preferring smokes and Pepsi max.

Next morning at gentleman’s hour (timed for the morning rise ) we set out for Coutts water, where the group had success last year.

Coutts water at Ebor NSW
Coutts water

We stationed ourselves on various sections of this pleasant stream, which was running fairly clear, anticipating a big catch.

My day got off to a poor start by slipping down the bank head first into cool water.  My clothes eventually dried out but my waders and booties stayed wet all day. Fortunately things improved and I caught some reasonable size browns and rainbow trout to brighten my dampened spirits.

Brown trout caught in Coutts Water NSW
Coutts water brown trout

Tuesday was our Murray Cod excursion, after getting the good oil from the Manager of Dutton Hatchery we headed on a long journey to the Severn river west of Glen Innes.

Severn River, Glen Innes NSW
Murray Codless Severn River

We fished the stream pictured above but there was no sign of anything. Heading further west ending at Pindari dam after a lot of dust and dirt roads, I guess I got what I deserved wanting to look for cod – a flat tyre.

Thanks to all the group for their help, especially Keith, I managed to continue the holiday with no spare, thankfully getting home okay.

Back to the trout around Ebor, the fishing got harder, but we had great meals, bacon and eggs breakfasts followed by steak and veg dinners plus plenty of beer, wine and spirits to help to fortify our fishing excursions.

Coutts Water NSW
The gang at Coutts water

To be honest the others were far keener than me, fishing well after dark, with some rewards.

Thanks for the great company fishos, an excellent holiday, well organised Alex, hopefully a few more fish next time, not sure about chasing those Cod again.

Happy Angling, Alan Steege.

Southern Highlands Adventures

Fly fishing Southern Highlands trout stream NSW

Many of you will have read the excellent article by Josh Hutchins in the Autumn edition of FlyLife about fishing in the Southern Highlands. I had never considered this area as a place for trout fishing,  having always concentrated on either the Snowy or the Oberon areas in NSW. My interest was piqued by the article, so my mate Simon lined up a day of fishing down there.

I drove down in excellent Autumn weather, taking a tour of the Highlands area, including Don Bradman’s birth place, arriving at Moss Vale in the afternoon. After a late lunch, I checked in at the Moss Vale Caravan Park, a little way out of town, where we’d booked a cabin. It was just as well we’d booked, as that was also the weekend of the Scottish Gathering at Bundanoon, and the place was packed with grey nomads.

For those who don’t know it, Moss Vale is a lovely little town, with all the facilities you could want, including great restaurants and clubs. After Simon had spoken to our guide Angus about arrangements for the following day, we headed up to the local RSL club for an excellent dinner.

At 8am the next morning, we met up with Angus and his Land Rover Defender in the McDonald’s car park. After a brief discussion, we followed him in our car to a local creek. This was a lovely little creek, but very closed in, and we had to follow an ill-defined ‘track’ a fair way along before we had our first go at the water.

Southern Highlands fly fishing
Angus setting up. Just the other side of him is a sheer 75 metre drop, straight down. That’s why I’m standing this side of him.

Angus showed us the ‘bow and arrow’ cast, which we both used a lot, as it was extremely difficult to get a proper cast in. It was mainly high stick, short line, nymph fishing with small bead heads and some dry fly action thrown in.

There seemed to be a lot of time between being able to fish, as it was always walking through brush, over and under and around logs, up and down hills, and fording the stream backwards and forwards. On one of those occasions, I went for a very cooling swim, stepping off a log straight into a deep hole, but luckily only wetting my fly boxes.

Southern Highlands NSW fly fishing
Tight water

While I didn’t see any fish, Simon managed to catch two, one a nice size for that area. However, I did manage to ‘catch’ a few leeches. Luckily no snakes were sighted, although Angus said not to worry as they were only red belly blacks.

Rainbow trout caught in the Southern Highlands of NSW
Simon’s fish

Around 1pm, we arrived back at Angus’ car. He’d run off earlier and fetched Simon’s so we had the two together. After a very welcome lunch of quiche and fruit, we followed Angus to another local creek on private property. The going was a bit easier here, with better access to the water. Bow and arrow casts, and some ‘dapping’, although we were able to get some proper casting in too.

Again, while we saw a few rises, I didn’t see any fish. Angus reckoned you had to be there on a good day when there was a hatch on, and then the fish go mad. I would have loved to see that on the day.

As we were quite tired, hot and sweaty, we finished up around 5.30pm at beer o’clock, and said our farewells to Angus to drive back to our accommodation.

Again, the delights of the town came to the fore, and we found an excellent seafood restaurant (if you can’t catch them, eat them) for dinner, before going back to our accommodation for more drinks.

All-in-all, I thought it was a valuable learning experience, learning some new casts, and seeing a new part of really close in fly fishing I hadn’t really considered before. Possibly, ‘twig fishing’ might not be for everyone, but I think it’s worth a try, particularly if you get a good day when there are hatches on and the fish are really feeding and aggressive.

Angus is a great guide, a member of the local Acclimatisation Society, and having grown up around the area, he knows the streams like the back of his hand. He was always available to demonstrate a cast, tie on a fly or lengthen or shorten tippet.

Southern Highlands trout stream NSW
Angus and John surveying the stream

If you’re interested in a trip, you can book through Josh at Aussie Fly Fisher, as he’s always been a good friend to the club.

John Vernon

Another great year of fly fishing

Jurassic lake trout
David Screen at Jurassic Lake

Welcome to what looks like another great year of fly fishing.

Thank you to all of you who attended our Christmas party at the club. Although numbers were down on the year before, everyone I spoke to said they had a great night, with great food, and looked forward to this year’s. The club’s prize giving was exciting, with a few surprise winners. David Screen was again the winner of the major raffle prize, a Simms G3 Guides Vest.

On a different note, David, Uncle Jim and I had a great end to last year in Patagonia, catching a lot of very, very large rainbows. You’ll hear all about it at our meeting with our presentation, but we’ve included some pictures to whet everyone’s appetite.

I know it’s been very hot so far, but hopefully, rain will come and freshen up the streams in NSW and elsewhere. As I write, there’s an intense storm through the South Island of New Zealand where I’m heading with David on Friday for two weeks.

As always at this time of the year, with it being hot, be aware that there are a lot of snakes about (except in NZ!), so make sure you take bandages, an EPIRB, if you have one, and let people know where you’re going.

If you can, don’t fish alone. By the way, the club has an Epirb you can borrow if you need to take one on a trip.

Muscle memory

Fly casting practise

In a practical sense, the essence of good fly casting is the ability to consistently and accurately land your fly on the precise spot you intend it to go, not once, not twice, but five out of five times in succession. If you think that’s easy, just try it some time using a variety of distances.

Our club target casting results repeatedly reveal that many casters struggle with accuracy and some of them consistently miss many more times than they hit the intended target. This presents a handicap in a fishing sense such as casting to a sighted fish, or simply trying to land your fly in a spot that your eyes tell you is the perfect lie.

Fly casting
Jim Screen won first place at Lakeside’s President’s challenge

This is where our club target casting can help, it’s the ideal tool we can use to highlight faulty technique, and instigate remedial action. It can teach you to land your fly on the precise spot where your eyes are focused. Over the years I’ve noticed a pattern with many casters, as soon as they can manage to get their fly out there on to the water and subsequently succeed in catching a few fish, that’s good enough, any casting glitches become an accepted part of fly fishing.

This situation reminds me of an old saying, “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink”. Repeatedly we can extol the benefits of our club casting facilities, but casters have to want to improve their casting technique, it’s always up to them whether they are prepared to make the concerted effort required to modify their technique. The facilities are there for our members and skilled help is available, it’s just a matter of asking.

Lakeside fly casting
Neil Nelson inspecting the hoops

Rest assured, improved casting can only come from improved technique. Modifying old grooved in technique involves getting rid of old muscle memory and creating new muscle memory. There is no quick fix, and without regular monitoring we quickly revert back to old habits. One-off sessions don’t work, it has to be an on- going work in progress. Regular practice is essential, but it has to be the right kind of practice otherwise it’s counter productive.

This is where our regular casting days provide the ideal forum to allow us to monitor a caster’s progress. Our target scoring method provides us with a very simple yet effective method of measuring improvement and has the effect of inspiring confidence as casting scores increase, it’s the confirmation we need to hear. All casters scores can plateau from time to time and the only way to break this cycle is to fine tune technique.

Feeling the back cast

Due to a long association with tournament fly casting, I’ve seen a great many casters in action, enabling me to watch countless fly line loops travelling backwards and forwards in the air. When I see a good fly caster, I see smooth narrow loops uniformly constructed in both directions without ripples and waves in the line. The leader rolls out straight and the fly does not re-coil back.

When I see a botched forward cast, it’s almost always due to what happened in the back cast. Whether we’re aiming at a target or a fish, it would be impractical and a total distraction to our focus to have to continually look back over our shoulder to see what the back cast is doing, so we must very much rely on a sense of timing and feel in managing it . The more line in the air, the longer it takes for the fly line to straighten, so our brain needs to adjust our timing accordingly, at the same time we feel for the load dragging the rod tip backwards. That is the signal to come forward. This fundamental simple casting process is so widely understood by casters everywhere and yet many still struggle to get the timing right.

It’s not that they can’t do it, it’s just that they don’t do it with consistency. Largely this is a lack of practice to groove in a rhythmical casting stroke to embed into the muscle memory bank. When we cast to a fish or target, we’re focused on where we want the fly to land, so we’re not thinking how to cast, it’s a memorised automatic process. If you have grooved in sound technique, you should consistently get a good outcome.

Fly fishing casting practise
Ken Trench at Lakeside club casting practise

Starting the forward cast too soon

By far the most common fault of casters is a tendency to start the forward cast too soon before the leader has straightened out behind them. This robs the forward cast of power because some of the forward movement of the rod tip is used in pulling slack out of the fly line instead of loading the rod. This usually results in a wayward forward cast failing to roll out straight as line and leader collapse from lack of energy.

Casters should be able to recognise immediately if they come forward too soon as they will not be able to feel the full weight of the line. Contributing to this tendency of coming forward too soon, is the failure to impart sufficient power in the back cast, particularly as distance increases.

Many casters I see, can cast quite well up to a distance of 30 to 35 feet but are unreliable beyond that distance because there is insufficient power in their back cast to straighten it out before they come forward.

When casters struggle for distance, they further exacerbate the problem by reaching forward with their casting arm on presentation. This is like thrusting the butt section of the fly line forward instead of stopping it so that the energy imparted by the rod tip can be transferred along the line and leader in the roll out process. Thrusting the arm forward robs energy, so to avoid it, we need to make the presentation stroke finish with exactly the same chopping action as in each of the previous false casts. Don’t change the action on presentation.

Fly casting practise
Steegey casting smiles

Towing the straight line

Most serious casters have heard the expression, “the fly line goes where the tip of the rod goes”, it’s a bit like a trailer being towed, the trailer always follows the path of the towing vehicle. This means whatever path is described by the tip of the rod, the fly line will faithfully follow the same path. The significance of this is that if we want nice tight narrow loops, the tip of the rod needs to travel backwards and forwards in as near to a straight line as possible. This straight line path of the rod tip can be achieved by raising the elbow slightly for short distances and higher for longer distances. Many casters do not elevate the el-bow and consequently tend to get a rounded path of the rod tip and opens up the loop size significantly.

Allowing the rod to drift too far back beyond the vertical is one of the consequences of not raising the elbow. It causes a downward dip of the rod tip, which when coming forward needs to retrace its path curving up and over. Likewise, casters who don’t use a vertical casting stroke, but cast out to one side suffer the consequence of line and leader following a curved path to the target or fish.  Fly and leader have a tendency to flick to the left for right handers and to the right for left handers.

If you want accurate casting, it is best achieved with an overhead cast, which gives better focus of hand eye coordination following the line to the target.

If casters recognise any of these or other symptoms in their own casting, maybe a trip to any of our club casting days could be a simple solution to have someone else observe and help eliminate any troublesome issues. It’s worth remembering that the longer we reinforce bad technique the harder it is to modify it, the muscle memory keeps wanting to revert to old grooved in habits.