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)