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.


Wallerawang fly fishing meet 2017

Fly fishing Wallerawang

Fly fishing clubs converged at Wallerawang in May for the annual NSW Council of Freshwater Anglers (CFA) inter-club meet.

A super group of David Screen, Uncle Jim Screen, Bill Toorak and twin terrors Robert and Alan Steege represented Lakeside Fly Fishing Club (LFFC), pitting their skills against seven other fly fishing clubs. LFFC were confident with the local knowledge of Bill Toorak, our great advantage. But Bill earned himself the moniker of the PHANTOM over the weekend because he wasn’t sighted by his team members (busy with family commitments, Bill did fish on the Saturday and turn up with his catch sheet).

Robert and Dawn Steege had won a voucher for one nights stay at Rocky Waterhole BnB overlooking Lake Wallace at Wang which the brothers Robert and Alan took advantage of. Rocky Waterhole BnB is a very nice facility that we can highly recommend and no, Alan didn’t have to wear a dress.

Rocky Waterhole B&B Wallerawang
Rocky Waterhole BnB

On the way up Alan and Rob fished the Coxs River off Mckanes Falls Road for a few hours but aside from spotting a five centimeter monster, they didn’t spook a fish. After a few drinks at the old pub in Wang they invaded Peter and Dot Drinkall at the BnB, providing a nice bottle of red consumed by all, then retired for the night.

When the fog cleared after breakfast the next morning, Alan and Rob fished the Coxs river just below the Dam wall on Peter’s property. They spotted two fish but couldn’t tempt them. So Peter took them through the nearby national park to another section of the Coxs. The nice clear water looked promising, and a few small rainbows were granted a ‘long range catch and release’ i.e. nothing landed. Still,  it was a great location and nice of Peter to take the lads down there.

Lake Wallace, Wallerawang
The view of Lake Wallace from Rocky Waterhole BnB

On Friday night the official welcoming festivities were held at the Blackgold Motel in Wang and LFFC fraternised with members from other clubs, many of whom were familiar faces from club meets past.

The main day of competition dawned on Saturday bright and sunny. At least that’s how it was when Rob and Alan took to the water after most of the keen anglers had left.

Most fishos hit either Thompsons Creek Dam or the Fish river. David and Uncle Jim made for the Kowmung, a rather steep drive suited to David’s four wheel driving skills, and they both caught a few small rainbows.

Peter Drinkall let on that there were some good fish in the SECRET RIVER which also had a fair percentage of carp. The brothers Steege wrongly decided not to go to the SECRET RIVER and headed instead to the Duckmaloi where a farmer ordered them off his land, even though they gained access along the river bank.

So they checked out other stretches of river and this time they sought permission at the farm house. No one was home but points were earned for trying.

Despite low water levels a couple of decent rainbows were spotted in a deep run and Alan floated a dry right over the biggest fish’s nose, to no avail. The big fish then followed some streamers but ultimately refused.

Hedging their bets, the lads made for a proven spot on the Fish river and broke their ducks with a small rainbow each.

The clubs convened back at the Blackgold motel to share fishing stories around the barbeque. Most reported catches of small rainbows. The best fish caught was a 65 centimetre rainbow in, you guessed it, the SECRET RIVER. The largest impoundment fish was a 53 centimetre rainbow.

Sunday was land activity day, distance and accuracy casting with nine foot leaders. Competition casting is usually done with six foot leaders and LFFC gun caster, Uncle Jim, couldn’t adjust.

Fly casting Wallerawang
Robert Steege casting the distance

All the lads competed but trophies were elusive with LFFC finishing a respectable middle of the ladder. Neil Nelson from sister club Illawarra Fly Fishers snuck in some practise before hand and snagged the trophy. Well done Neil.

All up, Wang treated the LFFC lads to three days of excellent weather and good camaraderie. They’ll return next year determined to reclaim the inter-club trophy.

Skills night 2017

Fly tying at Lakeside fly fishing club
Warren tying flies

Skills night 2017 was great fun with Warren and Trevor sharing their fly tying skills, Don educating us on skagit lines and John showing off the slim beauty knot. At least that’s what it looked like but it was so slim and beautiful it was hard to see. Either that or it was too hard to see the monofilament. Next year John will be back tying the knot with something more visible.

Tying the slim beauty fishing knot
John tying the slim beauty knot
Fly tying at Lakeside fly fishing club
Trevor tying flies
Fly tying the black nymph
The black nymph

First club meeting of 2017

Brown trout in the Snowy Mountains
Australia day chubby brown somewhere in the Snowy Mountains
Welcome to what I hope will be a great fly fishing year. I hope you all had a restful break, either fishing or tying flies, or just relaxing. I want to start by thanking everyone who attended our Christmas Dinner and party at the club in December.
What a great night it was and my special thanks to everyone who helped out, particularly Don and David, and Alan and Robert. A particular thanks to Juan Del Carmen for his generous major raffle prize, luckily won by David Screen. The meal was fabulous.
We have a busy year ahead, with the closing and opening of the season, the CFA event, and my first President’s Challenge, as President. On a personal front, I head off to New Zealand for 2 weeks’ fishing on 3 February, and am also looking forward to a week in Patagonia, fishing with David and Uncle Jim.

Speaking of Patagonia, over the Christmas break I visited the Patagonia shop in Kent Street. As well as having some fly fishing clothing downstairs, they also run a clothing repair service, to repair rips and tears to jackets, etc.

Whilst they prefer to repair Patagonia gear, they will repair other brands. So if your gear is looking a bit worse for wear, consider giving them a go. They sponsor Josh Hutchins, a good friend of the club.

See you at the February meeting.

John Vernon


Wednesday 1st February:
First club meeting of 2017 and a screening of Complete Casting with Lefty Kreh
Grandviews Bowling Club
821 Forest Road

Goodbye 2016. Happy 2017!

fly rods

For those who are planning a fishing trip over the break, please stay safe. Recent statistics place middle-aged men at the apex of accidents around water– although often associated with alcohol, so we’re probably a little bit safer.

However, take care, tell someone where you’re going, or better still, go with someone else. Also, don’t forget your EPIRB and snake bandages. My recent camping trip to the Snowy showed me how active the snakes are at this time of year.

Speaking of places to go, my camping trip also showed the general improvement in the waters around the Eucumbene, and in particular, the Yarrangobilly, where a lot of good fish were caught. Of course, the fishing pressure over the break may put paid to any good fishing, but the waters are up and flowing well.

We’ve had a great year, with great guest speakers to our meetings, and an increased turnout for which I’m grateful. Our move to Grandviews has really paid off, and I want to thank the management and staff of the club for allowing us to meet and use their facilities. They have gone out of their way to make us all welcome.

Again, have a great Christmas and New Year, and I’ll see you all at our meeting in February.

John Vernon