AFTER 12 weeks away from home and the best part of three days on the road from the Northern Territory, I was certainly looking forward to getting back to Armidale to see my family. The only problem was we had inadvertently booked in a three-day trout fishing excursion starting the day after my return and I really wasn’t looking forward to chasing trout in the cold and wet.
As you may be aware, the New England area has had more than its fair share of trout troubles during the continuing drought of more than two years now, and I wasn’t relishing the thought of dragging miserable, and perhaps fishless, folk around for three days. What a contrast to catching big silver barramundi nearly every other cast, I thought.
It transpired that the three chaps I was to be guiding had varying levels of experience. Two had never caught a trout before, or any fish on fly at all. I figured that at least we should be able to get them a few smallish drought survivors over the three days. That would get them started and then, perhaps, we’d have a chance at a larger fish or two if we fished some deeper pools. It seemed like a plan but not a very exciting one to me.
The first fish came in the opening minutes of the morning session, a rainbow of about 25cm that took one of the new guys’ nymphs but managed to escape before we could get a close look at it. A while later, the other two chaps were farther upstream and I heard them yelling and cheering and carrying on, so I thought I’d better go investigate.
Tom was connected to a huge rainbow that had been giving him absolute curry for about 10 minutes, doing big power runs and jumps and generally tying the angler and his five-weight outfit in knots. Finally subdued, the fish turned out to be a tad over 2kg by my estimation – but I hadn’t even bothered to bring my camera from the car.
A short time later, Warwick was hooked into a similar jack fish from the same hole. I told him to keep the fish in the water while I ran back to the car and got my camera. No worries with that – it took him more than 10 minutes to land it. This was his first ever trout and I felt compelled to tell him that it was going to be an uphill battle for him to catch a better rainbow than that one from an Australian creek.
That was just the start of two very memorable days on that little Ebor waterway. The lads all managed to take numerous big rainbows on fly, many of them better than 1.5kg.
It turns out that the reason there were so many big fish on this property was that the nearby Dutton Trout Hatchery had laid out some brood stock for safe keeping. There are deep, oxygenated waterfall pools and shady, spring-fed runs on this creek. The trout would be more likely to survive there than in the hatchery ponds should the drought continue.
Bless their little cotton socks! I would love to tell you the name of the creek but I guess the idea is to protect the strain. If they need to use the stock again, the hatchery folk will come back and catch them out but, in the meantime, we should be able have a bit of fun with them, catch-and-release style and fly only. We were just lucky to have stumbled onto a trout-fishing Shangri-la.
You could tell that these big rainbows had spent at least part of their life in a hatchery tank because they had rub marks and chunks of fin missing in places. While it might sound second-rate to be catching these fish, they were, for all intents and purposes, wild trout, eating things that wild trout do and proving very, very difficult to land at times.
We lost count of how many flies we lost, mainly broken off during the fight or snagged by the big fish on rocks and logs. Some of the fish were very picky, too, taking only the best flies that we have for that area, mainly Elk Hair Caddis and Royal Wulff dry flies and small black mayfly nymphs.
They weren’t all ex-brood stock either, some of the fish we encountered were wild, stream-reared fish that had somehow managed to survive the intolerably hot and dry seasons past. There weren’t many of them but, thankfully, the hatchery has kept up its fry stocking program and with this rainfall we are having now, it should hold us in good stead for the next few seasons.
Real recovery will be slow, especially on the rivers like the Wollomombi, where the drought was totally devastating to the trout population. We fished that system on the third day of our trout mission and saw only one fish all day – the trio were sick of catching big fish, anyway. So it really isn’t all peaches and cream just yet.
What this region lacks in predictable rainfall it makes up for it in the world-class trout breeding facility that we have in the Dutton Hatchery at Ebor, providing rainbow fry for these highland rivers that truly deserve to be stocked with trout.
Wandering back to the car for lunch on the second day, I overheard Tom say to one of the other guys, “This is better than New Zealand mate”. I can honestly say I have never heard that uttered before and although it was nice to hear, I am always loath to make comparisons like that myself.
In the scheme of things this was, after all, probably the best two days of trout fishing I have witnessed in the New England and maybe ever will. And I’m happy to leave it at that.
At its very best, this area boasts some very fine trout fishing in magnificent country and I would drive 3000km to experience those two days again, especially if it is to be shared with folk like Tom and his two mates, who really appreciate the situation. My faith in the local trout is restored!Reads: 800