Monthly Archives: November 2012

Brilliant Baw Baw

When Chief Executive Stuart Ord was thinking up ideas to promote East Gippsland’s Mount Baw Baw Alpine Resort for the 40 weeks it doesn’t have snow (at 2 am) he wrote down “fly fishing” on the pad by his bedside; then spent the next week wondering what it meant.

Six months after the organising committee first met the inaugural Mount Baw Baw Alpine Resort “Fly Fish Baw Baw” event was a ripper. From the 24 to 26 November the resort was taken over by fly fishers, families and friends and the language changed from après ski, face plants, powder and pistes; to x ratings, stimulators, preferred rod action, and  buzzers.

The event kicked off with a Friday night briefing by Aussie Angler’s Rick Dobson. Rick went into extraordinary detail explaining the different water within day-fishing reach of the resort, how to access the water, how to fish it, and what to fish it with. As far as I could tell Rick held nothing back, years of secrets spilled to an audience of around 60 anxious-to-learn fly fishers.

Rick explained the rivers within reach of Mount Baw Baw vary from small creeks cascading through dense temperate rainforest, to fast and wide freestone rivers. Rick walked us through each in great detail throwing in custom tips as he wound his virtual way down the mountain with the aid of PowerPoint run by son Darcy, and a selection of poster size mud map.  Too much information to repeat it all but some of it included using big dry flies like stimulators, don’t fish too fine a tippet (6 or 7lb would be fine), and maybe start with a nymph under the dry but if they’re rising for the dry take the nymph off.  I hadn’t met Rick before but Peter Morse said to look out for the “blowy in a bottle” and he was right. Rick was full on from the moment he started for a good hour and half – and I couldn’t even begin to remember all the good oil – but everyone set off as prepared as they could be.

Saturday was a weary start. Those who had travelled down on Friday had mostly come down after work and seemed relaxed about a slow breakfast, and plenty of coffee before fishing. I hadn’t particularly planned to fish (although there was a rod in the case) and with an important bit of the event coming up later I thought I should be doing more planning. But after an hour I was bored and sent a text to Phil to that effect.

“Fancy a fish then?” came back the quick reply and fifteen minutes later we were on our way down the mountain, with an eagerly recruited Anthony in the back seat. We dropped about 1,500 feet vertically to Noojee and pulled over shortly afterwards on the West Tanjil River road bridge.  After a “you go upstream and we’ll go downstream” negotiation with another fly fisher who’d also travelled down from the resort, we went downstream.  That meant a hike down the road and a parachute jump off a cliff onto a soft and fluffy bed of blackberries and tree ferns mixed with the odd rock, log and wombat hole (without a parachute I might mention).  We could hear the river from the road and could soon see it through the rainforest canopy, a long way below. Always mindful of the tiger snakes apparently (perhaps more fancifully) to be found sunning themselves on top of the blackberry bushes we plunged further down until we found the really cool river – in both ways. It was hot, mid 20’s, and humid.

The river was in typical spring flow with a light tannin colour. We worked our way back up from the drop-in point to the road bridge and probably fished a dozen or so good pools and some great runs in between.  The fish were small and plentiful and loved a small nymph under a big dry, especially on a slow drift. Phil speculated in a river with quite low food supply the trout saved energy by not moving too far or too fast for their food. The location was exquisite, the fish small but feisty and cooperative, and three blokes fishing a small river never seemed too many.  The pictures will say more than I can but some things they can’t show are two fish chasing the same fly; a fish taking the nymph then attacking the dry; or watching fish glinting in sunlit patches of water, and then watching an expert Phil casting to and catching them.

On Saturday night I took up station as facilitator and MC. We kicked off with an ideas workshop with 80 fly fishing club representatives and fly fishing personalities listening to New Zealand guide Mike Davis from Rotorua and Phil Weigall from Victoria presenting views, opinions and facts to stimulate an ideas think tank session.  The tables rapidly generated ideas about “ideas to raise the profile of fly fishing in Victoria”, “ideas to increase participation amongst fishing Victorians”, and “ideas to encourage stay-at-home fly fishing tourism”. During drinks on the deck we ranked the ideas and presented them to Fisheries Victoria. The two highest ranked (summarised) were support for fishing clubs to run try fly fishing days; and stocking more metropolitan lakes. I’ll leave it to FV to report in full.

Early on in the event’s organisation we’d decided to ban discussion on regulations. For two reasons. First, regulation is such an emotive topic we feared people wouldn’t get past that to think about other ideas; second, to be frank if you want better trout fly fishing everyone knows you need some dedicated fly and lure only water; and for some of them to be put and grow fisheries. If you catch and kill all your fish you just won’t get the maximum economic benefit. There’s a lesson there for both NSW and Victoria if we seriously want to compete with Tasmania and New Zealand.

Showing the importance placed on the event by the Victorian Government we were honoured to have the local member and Parliamentary Secretary for Forestry and Fisheries Garry Blackwood and his wife Fritha in attendance, as well as Benalla MP Bill Sykes in his capacity as Parliamentary Secretary for Primary Industries.

Before dinner Mount Baw Baw Alpine Resort Chief Executive Stuart Ord acknowledged the traditional owners the Gunaikurnai who identify the Baw Baw National Park as their Traditional Country; Executive Director Fisheries Anthony Hurst welcomed guests; and Gary Blackwood spoke on behalf of the Victorian Government.

Then the Baw Baw hospitality crew really turned it on.  The workshop venue was transformed into a delightful dinner setting with tablecloths spread, centre pieces positioned, and candles lit. The dinner was superb, a selection of entrees on the deck watching the sun set through the clouds and over the ocean; great steaks and whole rainbow trout, wonderfully cooked and presented, with cheese platters and chocolate desserts.  The evening was mellow and social and increasingly noisy as the crown relaxed and tales of fish caught and not were regaled by the State’s finest. Mike Davis showed us his collection of big NZ fish pictures and wet more than a few appetites with his fishing adventure stories and at a time when purse strings were at their most relaxed we started the charity auction. Small collections of flies from the state’s finest fly tiers including Mick Hall were sold off for amounts that represented their true artistic value. A book donated by author and fly fishing guru Peter Morse, and other goodies from the Aussie Angler, all sold raising around $1000 for the evenings chosen charity “Evolve – Keeping Kids on track” www.evolve.org.au

Whilst all this was going on there was a feature presentation of Nick Reygaert’s Rise Film Festival for those not attending the dinner. Nick allowed the films to be shown for no charge, just a donation of $10 from each adult to Evolve.

Sunday was the food and trade show. Local businesses turned up to show off their cheeses, wines and smoked trout. Demonstration fly tiers sat huddled over magnifying glasses and vices, and casting instructors flogged the purpose built casting pools into a froth as kids and adults alike either cast for the first time, tried to grab a few self improvement tips, or just tried the array of rods on display from the wholesale trade.

 

The whole event had such a great feel, the venue forced you into a state of involuntary relaxation, and at the end it was difficult to get in the hire car and head back for the airport.  Once again I was forced to reflect on the great things that can be achieved by volunteers as well as those being paid for their efforts who go the extra mile to make it work and make it enjoyable. By the time I boarded the flight back to Canberra it already seemed like a brief but good dream.

(Special mention for Fisheries Victoria’s Julia Menzies diplomacy and organising skills)

Tight tippets (www.icic.net.au for workshop facilitation or your organisation’s team building and planning days)

French fish

It’s been an interesting and international week.  Working backwards I went to the Elton John concert in Canberra last night.  Awesome fun. Yellow Brick Road was one of those defining albums in my early teens and the words all came back – I even learnt some words like “it’ll take me a couple of vodka and tonics” for heaven’s sake it doesn’t sound anything like that on the album. I’m not sure, now I’ve heard the real words, I can remember what I’ve been singing for the last 35 years – but it was phonetic and sounded OK I’m sure.  What a nice man he is in real life. He and his old-crony band members leapt around like spring chooks; he told little stories and limited the “songs off the new album” to two. And he looked awesome in a sequinned turquoisey-blue jacket with “FANTASTIC” emblazoned across the back, and with the one exception of the costume malfunction when a bit of tele-tubby-tummy was temporarily exposed it was a superbly rehearsed and executed gig.  Two Croatian lads played cello, as a duet and then with the EJ band. Hearing ACDC’s Highway to Hell blasted out in screeching cello would make Jacqueline du Pré squirm I imagine but it sure got the crowd going.

Earlier in the day I did Strategy and Risk for Directors with the AICD and got into a healthy debate with (lethal) Lisa the facilitator about brainstorming.  Its complicated, but did you know that the most creative companies have centralized bathrooms? That brainstorming meetings are a terrible idea? That the color blue can help you double your creative output? If you don’t know all that then Imagine by Jonah Lehrer is a ripping yarn (if you can get past the fact he’s in a spot, well a lot actually, of bother for making up Bob Dylan quotes – well who hasn’t?).  The point is (he says) companies who have really good ideas aren’t nice to people in brainstorming sessions who keep suggesting dumb things. I’m a bit old and cynical and I like that – probably because I was never very nice to people with dumb ideas anyway.

By now you’re all asking whether I actually did any true naked-trout work this week at all, what with all that activity as well as a healthy dose of consulting for the National Marine Safety Committee. Well I did actually and spent the weekend with David – a young French man on holiday who’s fallen in love with the place and is applying to stay. A passionate hunter, diver and fisher, he’s had four casting lessons and was ready for an assault on some decent rainbows.  Very passionate and excited, as you would expect from a young man from that nation – great English but with a fantastic accent!  Anyway, I did the best I could to manage expectations; “these fish can be fussy; really good fishermen don’t always catch fish, blah blah blah”. And I took him to Snaggy Dam which is a bit coloured and where I though I could fine tune his casting and stream-craft  for the clearer lakes.  I think it was only the second or third cast and he was onto a ripper, screaming line off down to the backing – what looked like the fish of a trip, in the first fifteen minutes of a two day trip. He didn’t quite get the play the fish thing completely and held on just a little too tight and ping….. expletive etc.

Now, how do you follow that?  Well of course within another half an hour he was onto another one and this one came to the net and was duly released.  We fished hard for two full days and got fish in every session, in four of the lakes. Snaggy, Spring, Midway and Dixieland. We fished Rodney George but didn’t touch a fish; a nice brown followed the fly right to our feet at the Caddigat Lake boat ramp. The biggest fish was the last cast of the trip; a fly nailed by a rising fish as soon as it landed. A grande-finale!

The weather was kind, no rain, nice breezes, warm most of the time. A thunderstorm skirted around us on the second day and we were back in Canberra via the back road shortly after 6 pm.

Flies. A black nymph tempted a spinner riser right by the bank on Spring; some blingy-WBs were effective; and the final fish was on an unweighted firey brown nymph.

A highlight of the weekend was the day two sunrise and early morning light – simply too stunning for words.

Work again tomorrow then back to the big lake!

Tight tippets!

Brown trout bonanza

Whilst the rainbows are surprisingly scarce, Eucumbene is turning it on for lovers of brown trout – in their thousands.  The Snowy Trout Festival has over 600 registered entrants and the place is abuzz. It took the Melbourne cup to get even a few of them off the water and into the pub despite the torrential downpours on Wednesday. For fly fisherman fishing remains tough but the trollers (a name in common usage long before twitter users had reason to fear them) have been “brainin-em” – unfortunately from my personal perspective, quite literally.

For Gerry, Mark and Michael a three day trip to Eucumbene and Caddigat Lakes started on Sunday evening. Gerry, a retired surgeon from Kew in Melbourne was the team’s elder statesman regaling us with yarns from twenty years of fishing at Arnie Crows when the lake was flooding in the 60’s and 70’s. He told us they’d stayed in the old Eucumbene Station and fished for 5lb rainbows amongst the drowning ornamental shrubs of the station gardens. I’d never wish my life away but I’d pay a handsome ransom to be teleported back to those halcyon days when the snowy lakes were flooding, or even Lake Pedder in Tasmania.  Somewhere I’ve still got a Betamax video of Lake Pedder given to me in the early 80’s which I am sure is at least partially responsible for my migration.

We started with a Sunday evening gentleman’s fishing trip to Caddigat Lakes. Everyone who fishes there knows it’s not always guaranteed to produce the goods, but you’ll see fish, and the access is easy. No giant hikes to reach the best spots, just giant trout lurking.  And so it was as we fished Spring Dam and Dixieland Dam, the usual round of cursing and laughter as flies and tippets were lost to crashing trophy rainbows, and groans as other flies were ignored by fish tailing in water shallow enough to bathe a baby. Gerry showed his patience and craft delicately placing fly after fly in front of fish after fish with swirls and boils I would have sworn were takes, but weren’t.

Monday morning we got off to a good start, launching in a fresh nor-wester at Anglers Reach. I planned to fish Three Fingers Bay, and Hughes Creek, and then drift loch style around Providence flats. Hughes Creek provided the first fish of the day to the old master. I spotted a fish right against the shore. We used the electric to get in position and Gerry tricked a nice brown with just a few casts into the zone.  We saw several other fish and Michael caught a couple of fish on the bank – each time just after he’d seen black snakes as thick as his arm. A good way to keep your concentration up and deter a quiet sit down and relax on the bank in the sun!

When we got to Providence portal it was shut off and I fished my favourite go-to bay where Mark landed a fish within a few casts and Michael hooked two more.  The flats were less productive, with last year’s gun rainbow fishing yet to make a show.  It was a long day and we fished until after sunset with the biggest ant hatch I’ve ever seen. The water was a carpet of insects but with the exception of a few small fish surface feeding close to shore and the odd boil further offshore there were surprisingly few fish enjoying the potential feast. Very frustrating.

On Tuesday we headed for Buckanderra and with a light northerly set off for Wainui Bay. Once again the water looked superb but we fished every bay and soak without reward. As the wind strengthened into the nor-west we headed back into the main run of the lake and surfed our way back to Tri-Villa inlet, dropping off Mark and Michael en-route to fish the northern bank deepwater drop offs. Both hooked up on good browns whilst Gerry and I fished from the boat repeatedly casting to fish chasing dragon flies so close to the bank you’d think they were about to grow legs and walk out of the water. We finished the day with another crack at the Caddigat rainbows. More bust-ups and colourful language before fish started to come to shore. I broke the guides’ rule and had a few casts myself and oops, caught a very nice fish for my trouble.

At 4 am on Wednesday morning the tin roof rattled in the heavy rain. I wondered whether we’d fish at all that day before falling asleep and waking at 6 to a misty light and steady rain. I hoped the team wouldn’t bail out but they were as determined as ever and we set off for Old Adaminaby fully clad in waders and wet weather gear. Despite the rain it was hot under all the layers at least until we headed south for Cobrabald and got a bit of wind chill turning raincoats into mini fridges.  The long shores looked inviting and we resumed the previous day’s tactics with Michael and Mark on the banks and Gerry and I in the boat. After two hours of fishing without sighting a single rise we headed to pick up Mark who waved us away as he pursued a giant fish cruising a beat from a high bank in deep water. As we neared Mark he’d just landed another good fish. Sticking to the plan we fished near Crow’s camp site and then Copper Mine before throwing in the very wet towel and calling it a day, wet, cold but everyone seemed happy.

All in all not spectacular but as Gerry hypothesised, the determination of Mark and Michael linked to their German and Dutch extraction made the difference to what could have been a lot worse trip.

In terms of techniques and tactics we fished super long leaders with teams of three flies when drifting loch style, using every style of retrieve we could imagine. Big heavy woolly buggers on the top dropper to get the flies down, teamed up with smaller WBs, Tom Jones and a variety of nymphs. Working the shore line with the electric or from the bank we used single or double fly rigs and quickly settled on large black WBs with plenty of bling for the cruising and rising browns. I mixed it up with a few other patterns but the big WBs seemed to do the trick more often than not.

The next few weeks will be a bit slower on charters as the Pajero goes under the knife for roo-repairs.

Tight tippets!

 

A tale of 2 charters

I fuelled up the boat and Pajero and left Adaminaby early on Monday morning, heading up the highway to Tantangara Reservoir.  I was meeting Chris and Michael at the boat ramp at 9.30. The 18 kilometres of dirt road in to the dam is a bit of a bone rattler at the moment so I arrived shaken, but not stirred. The lake seemed to have visibly shrunk since my visit a week earlier with a wet muddy scar on the shoreline.  Almost down to 20% of its capacity the lake takes on a bleak featureless aspect until the shore line dries out and grows some grass in 3 or 4 weeks, and the weed beds fire up in another month again.

I watched the lake for several minutes without spotting a single rise on the calm surface.  A chap was cleaning a nice 2lb brown by the boat ramp, his solitary prize for the morning so far.

I’d launched the boat when Chris and Michael arrived and we headed north up the lake. Michael had an express wish to fish Nungar Creek.  The lake forks to the west to reach entrances to both the Murrumbidgee and Nungar. Before that is an island that becomes part of the mainland at a little below 20%. Here hundreds of cormorants and pelicans stood on the shore indicating they’d had their morning feed and perhaps more importantly there might be fish here.

We fished loch style for an hour or so, seeing the occasional rise but not drawing any to the boat. The lake had the look of a water where the fish should be there but probably weren’t. The fishing birdlife just stood there, stoically resigned to the situation whilst we flogged away relentlessly.

The Murrumbidgee inlet offered a chance at redemption.  Some bank fishing from lea shores into shelving water should do the trick, or so I thought.  I put Chris and Michael onto a hot looking shore and walked a kilometre or so further down, staying a long way up on the bank to get elevation for polaroiding. The sun was high, the water clear but not a fish to be seen and I would have put money on spotting a small rising rainbow or a cruising brown.

And so the day continued with Michael at least opening the score with a slim rainbow from the shore between the Murrumbidgee and Nungar.  We called it shortly after 3 so we could get back to Eucumbene for the evening, and launched at Anglers Reach heading across the lake to one tree and the adjacent bays. Plenty of midging fish to cast to, a modest termite hatch that didn’t come to much and a mid size brown and a few rainbows. More missed than caught.  It was well after dark by the time we drove the boat onto the trailer.

We debriefed the following morning, traded flies and talked about casting and strategy and I don’t think anyone had come up with something we might have tried to improve prospects.  Just one of those days.

That afternoon I caught up with Steven and Julian again wanting to try loch style. I gave them fair warning the fishing was tough but none the less felt confident a few hours at Providence and fishing the twilight from the shore would bring results.  I put Steven in the bow seat on the casting platform whilst Julian had amidships.  We fished under the drogue drifting across the bay along with up to 4 other boats, ultra long leaders, intermediate and floating lines, and a variety of big and small woolly buggers, Tom Jones,  and smaller nymphs.  Both Steven and Julian had fish hit or come to the fly, on the hang, right at the boat, and both had hits on the retrieve, but neither converted into hook ups. A modest improvement on the previous day and a good teaching/learning exercise. I didn’t keep count but I think Julian hooked Steve’s hat or other articles of clothing with wayward forward casts on five occasions! We fished the evening from the shore and surprisingly they didn’t land fish – I didn’t dare mention the small rainbow I tricked when I walked back to get the boat. Again it was after dark when we hit the ramp. Another one of those days I don’t much like.

I left Adaminaby early in the morning heading to Canberra sticking to 80 km/h aware of the wildlife risks, but still managed to clip a kangaroo on the way to Cooma. A big one which has done a small amount of damage to six components – grill, headlight, bonnet, wing, valance, and nudge bar. I sympathise with the roo, but I need sympathy too! NRMA have been great so far.  DRIVE CAREFULLY!

Tight tippets

Fly Fishing and Accommodation in Adaminaby