Written by Luke Warren
Over the Easter long weekend, Dad and I made our way down South to the always beautiful Gungarlin River, and as expected we were not the only people on the roads. The Monaro highway, in particular, was packed, with an almost endless line of holidaymakers also making the journey south to sneak in one last holiday before the cooler weather arrives. Short of peak time in ski season, I don’t think either of us has ever seen the main street of Cooma so busy, it was almost gridlock with a steady stream of traffic meandering through. Unfortunately for us, our lunch plans were thrown out the window, as we soon found our regular pitstop destination The Lott was closed. Fortunately, it didn’t take long to find a decent alternative and after thankfully remembering to refill our 20-litre water bottle, which we discovered had leaked between Bathurst and Gunning, it was time to hit the road for our final leg.
We soon turned off onto Rocky Plains Rd and started heading West towards the mountains, the countryside was dry, but with a surprising amount fo feed around, especially compared to the Bathurst region. Seems like most farmers in the region had started to de-stock early in the summer. Grazing land soon gave way to twisted gums and a bumpy Nimmo Rd, which was in a very average condition, with many trees down across the road with just enough room to narrowly pass them.
We both secretly hoped this meant it would be quiet, but as we came down the Island Bend Firetrail and got our first glimpse of the campsite, it quickly became clear that we wouldn’t have the place to ourselves. 10 groups were spread out along the length of the more accessible and flatter edges of the river, ensuring it wouldn’t feel quite as secluded as usual. But the weather was stunning and the overall reports for the mountain streams were positive, so we didn’t mind sharing it.
Once we had decided on a nice protected spot amongst the gums and had the camp more or less setup, it was time to rig up and hit the water. It was a warm, clear afternoon and we could see several hatches already in full swing, with an abundance of small mayfly’s floating above the stream and some other smaller insects we couldn’t clearly identify. I decided to attach a small parachute Adams to the end of my 4lb tippet, and set out towards the bridge with my trusty Epic 4 weight, my go-to rod on the streams over the past two years. As I made my way downstream on the opposite side of the river, I found dad already stalking a few small rainbows which were energetically leaping out of the water chasing anything that flew within 6 inches of the water. I was eyeing off a few rises in the large pool below him, that looked like some decent size fish. A fellow camper was flicking a few lures from the other bank casually trying to catch dinner, but it didn’t seem to be scaring the fish, who were feeding very deliberately.
After covering a couple of rises, I finally got a take as a medium sized feisty rainbow, shot up and across from the deeper water and nailed my parachute Adams in the slower, backed up waters where the water started to run back upstream against the current, collecting a lot of the spent mayflies. The fish immediately took off out into the middle of the faster-flowing water and gave a few decent runs, trying to get free as quickly as possible. After creating a decent bend in my rod, it soon decided to change tack and headed straight towards me, leaving me stripping line in like a crazy person to keep tension on it. Unfortunately, it knew the water well and had soon taken me straight through two weed beds, before stopping basically at my feet, having threaded my line through a combination of weed and submerged sticks. I reached in and managed to get my hands around him and somehow slipped the fly out of his mouth with him still in the water (God old barbless hooks), but with a quick shake he was soon free and heading back out to join his friends and get back to chasing real mayflies. I almost had my first fish for the trip on the bank…
As the sun was starting to set, we decided it was time to head further upstream towards the bigger holes, where we did really well on the final night of our previous trip. We were hoping for a solid evening rise, and I had some new Caddis patterns I had tied and wanted to test. As the sun started to disappear, the first few Caddis started to flutter along the surface of the water, unlike the last trip, this time these were mostly natural brown coloured caddis flies not snowflakes. Thankfully that's what I had been tieing and experimenting with, so I tied on a new creation and started covering a few timid rises.
Just on dark Dad called me down to a long curved hole where the fish were really starting to come on, by this stage, I wasn’t sure if this new pattern was going to be very good as it was tending to get a little waterlogged and sit in the surface. My mind was quickly changed though when I gently lifted my rod in response to a swirl near my fly, which had just landed a few meters off the far bank, and the line immediately tightened up. The fish took off abruptly and a decent fight ensued, but it had taken me by surprise and since it was a long cast I had a fair bit of line to deal with and failed to keep enough tension on the fish, so it was soon free. I quickly got my fly back out there and within a few minutes a had another one on, and this time was ready and soon had it up on the bank. By the end of the session we had managed to land 13 fish between us, nothing huge but still decent start to the weekend. The cold mountain air was starting to flow down the valley and the temperature was falling quickly, so we decided it was time to make our way back to camp, doing our best to pick our way through the minefield of wombat holes the size of mine shafts. We finished off the evening with a feed of fresh prawns and would have happily guzzled down a cold beer if we hadn’t got our wires crossed and left them at home. They were sorely missed, but at least we had plenty of coffee for the cold morning that was well and truly going to great us tomorrow!
The next day began with a thick fog, we got started early and fished downstream of the campsite and managed a few small rainbows. After some morning tea and coffee, the fog had cleared and it was replaced by blue sky as far as you could see. Not a single cloud in sight, so we decided to make our way downstream, and fish below the old fjord, hoping to get onto some clear water that had seen less fisherman. Of course, we were not the only ones who had this idea, a group of young kids and their fathers had set off just ahead of us, so it somewhat turned it a race down each side of the river once we hit the crossing below Botherum Hut. By now it was nearing the middle of the day and the sun was high and bright, but we still managed to get 3 or 4 fish each, all on various different caddis patterns. They seemed to be holding very low and coming up a long way in the deepest runs or faster water, and were absolutely nailing our flies, dad managed to get a nice colourful brown on the bank and dropped a few decent sized fish in a bigger hole. We fished back upstream to the big cutting and decided it was time to head back for a late lunch and refuel before we embarked on our evening session.
Unfortunately, the cooler air moved in earlier than the previous day, and while it didn’t get as cold as the night before, hatches were few and far between and the fish didn’t really come on. I managed to get a few nice fish in my favourite stretch of runs above the apple tree upstream before the sunset, but the evening rise was slow to start and never really kicked off. Dad was feeling the effects of a long day of fishing and neither of us was having a lot of luck so we decided we were better off heading back to camp. In the end, it was a much milder night, but the fish seemed to be on more during the day and had seemingly had their fill.
The final full day of the trip was upon us, and it was another cracker, no fog this morning just some wispy high cloud and beautiful sunshine. After a big breakfast, we contemplated how we were going to approach the day and finally settled on the idea of heading upstream as far as our legs would carry us. We walked up opposite sides of the river, with me on the western side heading up over the hills, before I dropped down on the river a couple of kilometres upstream. It proved to be a good choice, as I started to see (Well scare) some larger fish, which oddly seems to be pairing up like they were ready to spawn. Either way, they were sitting in the likely places and a couple were actively feeding. I tied on my trusty new caddis invention, which by this point had landed 9 fish, and started blind searching a very good looking run, just as dad was catching up to me on the adjacent side of the stream. It proved to be a very productive run and before I knew It, I had landed 4 feisty rainbows, each one confidently taking my fly. My faith In the new Ahrex barbless hooks we had recently acquired was quickly growing, each fish was well hooked yet easily returned to the water with minimal effort and most importantly as little stress as possible for the trout. We continued upstream and managed a few more small fish each and scared a couple of bigger ones, with the water level quite low and more or less full sun, the fish were easily spooked.
Some lower cloud was now starting to build up and we decided it was time to head back for some lunch and a relaxing afternoon, before our final evening session. While the added cloud helped to keep the late afternoon temperatures relatively mild, and there were significantly more hatches than the previous evening, we still found it relatively tough going. There was an abundance of insects on and above the water and the trout seemed to go through stages of locking onto one single insect, before changing their mind and chasing something else. We finished up on the large pool up above the main campsite, where the water drops down into it quite quickly from the run of rapids. The water was bubbling with fish rising at times, but never consistently, it was very much ebb and flow. But we managed a couple of fish each, by then I had switched to a light grey size 18 Klink hammer and dad has his Alfie Adams (Using undercoat fur collected from there Kelpie) invention on, both of us doing our best to match the mayfly hatch. It wasn’t as explosive as the first evening but was still plenty of fun and a nice way to end another trip to the beautiful Gungarlin River.