Fishing can sometimes bestow insights beyond that which you might expect and experience in day-to-day life. Whether it’s squatting on a pier in South Australia, talking to an 80 year old Chinese man fishing for squid, trading secrets with the local 15 year-old bream-gun or asking a bunch of buffed-up, coke-fuelled criminals ‘whatdyagetemon?’, it truly is a diverse and universal language and pastime. I had an interesting little session a few months ago, where the full spectrum of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ were revealed to me over the space of a few hours. The fishing wasn’t bad, either.
HW and I were in Eden. The fishing was good, as per usual, and we had been out on the boat chasing kingfish and reefies. Despite being quite content, we had been scoping out some maps of some trout streams on the lower Monaro plains, and decided to head up there the following day to see what we could find. Old forum posts, the odd grainy photograph online, and vague memories of stories about excellent trout fisheries were enough for us to give it a go.
We left fairly early in the morning, deciding to take the Imlay road up towards Bombala. It’s a great little drive, renowned for its wildlife, logging trucks and the odd disappearance, and it didn’t disappoint (with the wildlife, anyway). Within 50 metres of the turnoff on the highway, I spotted what I initially thought were two burnt stumps, before they looked at the car, huge antlers making their identification clear. We continued up the road, hoping not to encounter a huge buck around one of the many blind corners, but were pleased to only have to swerve to avoid a few black swamp wallabies. They seemed typically doped up and stayed put, sometimes taking a slow look up and squinting their beady black eyes as we drove past.
After about an hour the wet sclerophyll forest and monotonous pine plantations gave way to the Monaro. An eerie, ominous fog hung low in the valleys. This didn’t slow HW down (not much does), and I carefully rolled cigarettes for us both as he swerved and braked to avoid the hundreds of kangaroos that had been grazing on the roadside. The fog made it seem a bit like an old-school computer game; like frogger, but we were the cars.
Google maps had started to shit itself due to the reception, but we eventually came across a nameless stream running through a locality, which I think was called Deddick, but my brain felt similar to the weather and I can’t be sure. The stream looked fishy, and despite the numerous willows, thistles and blackberry, quite beautiful through the morning fog, which had started to lift slowly.
Hamish was eager to fish, and before setting up his gear decided to go and have a cast with my little bamboo flyrod. He soon proclaimed that he’d had a follow: a little trout, apparently. I was doubtful, for some reason. Surely it wouldn’t be this easy? Well in the end, it wasn’t, and we walked downstream for a few hundred metres before giving up due to the blackberries and tall, wet grass. I had a few casts near the bridge and hooked a nice redfin on a wooly bugger, but it was trout that we were after.
After leaving Deddick we headed towards the Little Plains river, which until then, I had no idea existed. And it’s actually quite a decent river; long, slow pools and wide in most sections, interspersed with faster riffles flowing over big granite boulders. We walked upstream for a while, discussing how fishy it looked and how many trophy fish we would catch. A rise upstream, so we slow down and watch the water carefully. ‘Platypus’, says HW, and for some reason we are slightly disappointed to see this beautiful native animal, because it’s not a noxious trout. However, we were soon to be treated to a bit of a show, but not before I nearly trod on a rather large and feisty tiger snake, who flattened his head and flicked his tongue, before disappearing down a benign-looking hole (of which on closer inspection, I realised there were many). We found some good access further upstream, and were again thinking that we’d seen a rise, when it became clear it was another platypus. HW got a real show with this one. It swam straight beneath the bank at his feet, rooting around in the clear water for yabbies and other morsels, before I came along and spooked it. HW was pretty chuffed, and so was I, despite feeling a bit sheepish for having rushed over and scaring the wits out of the poor animal. We found another snake upstream a bit further, this time a copperhead, but there were no fish (that we could catch) and we decided to head back to the car to reassess the options.
With a bit of mobile coverage, we were able to see a few little lines of blue on the map, and headed for a random little ribbon a few kilometres away. It looked like the access to the river was good, and we would cross a few other blue lines on the way. We got out to fish one of these, and an old fella drove past in his ute and asked whether we were having any luck. We weren’t, but he assured us that they were in there, but were few and far between. A few casts down the river and I finally saw the first trout of the day; a lovely rainbow of about 1/2 pound who came out to smash my woooly bugger, but turned and spat the hook. Nonetheless, we were pretty pleased that we were getting closer, but the creek turned to rushes shortly after so we decided to continue on.
Google maps turned out to be a bad thing, in the end, as we followed the ‘public road’ right through a line on a map and onto a crazy, wild man’s property. We had disembarked the car, leaving it courteously off the road, and started walking towards a nice looking piece of water. I think it was still the Little Plain river, but am not entirely sure (thanks again, Google). We’d made it about 50m before I heard an old ute scream down the road and pull up next to our vehicle. Hamish was ahead of me, eager to start fishing, but I decided to walk back and have a friendly chat. A friendly chat was not had. ‘How ya going, mate?’, was about the only thing I managed to say, before I was greeted with ‘WHAT THE F ARE YOU DOING HERE?’ ‘Umm, we thought this was a public ro…’ ‘GET THE F OUTTA HERE. WHERE YA FING FROM’. ‘Umm, Canberra, Melbourne’. ‘AH THAT’D BE FING RIGHT’. Yadda, yadda, yadda, and on it went until we were quickly getting back into the car whilst being treated to a colourful barrage that would be downright wrong to even half-reproduce verbatim on our family-friendly forum. I thought he was about to start swinging, and I wondered how HW and I would go against a madman, but he just kept yelling and waving his arms around. ‘I’VE GOT YA PLATES AND IM GUNNA CHARGE YOU WITH TRESPASSING YA FING ^*@**^#$’. ‘We’re sorry, apologies, we thought it was a public road, have a nice day’. This was the last exchange as we drove off.
Now, I’m generally a pacifist, but sometimes I wish I knew some sort of ridiculous kung fu so I could have taught this guy a lesson. However, kung fu probably isn’t much of a match for a shotgun, and I later agreed with Hamish that it probably wouldn’t have been very helpful. My displeasure and anger aside, it seemed as though we were on his land, despite our assurances from Google that we were on a public road (and intending to fish a ‘public’ waterway that was only 50m from the road). Apart from the ebbing adrenaline and overall annoyance, it was more a sense of sadness that some people can be so horrible, aggressive and unreasonable. I reasoned that the root of his negative emotion was probably fear, and we agreed that he probably had a large marijuana crop up the river somewhere. Fair enough, I guess.
After looking up the NSW trespass laws we were confident that we’d done nothing wrong, as apparently it’s only trespass if you are asked to leave but refuse. We felt slightly better in this knowledge as we rolled some cigarettes and hurtled down the highway towards Delegate, the experience getting psychologically and geographically further behind us. I think we were both a bit over the whole mission, but the day was fairly young and we still hadn’t caught a trout, so decided to head towards the Delegate river to try our luck. We figured that if we fished in the middle of town, we couldn’t possibly get threatened, abused, or shot.
Ever the risk-takers, we decided to go a bit further down the river, and found a little side road leading down to a bridge. Definitely public road this time. We arrived and geared up, and decided to have a bit of lunch, before the rumbling of a four-stroke became closer and we both started getting nervous. ‘Gday fellas, how ya going? Any luck?’ ‘Hey, how are ya mate? Nah, just got here. Looks good though!’ ‘Gary’s the name, where you boys from’ yadda yadda yadda, and before long we figured that Gary had been at last week’s sheep sale with my father in law, that there were some good trout in the stream, including a four pounder just down near the pump station, and that we were welcome to fish it whenever and wherever we liked. What a pleasant contrast, and we were both completely relieved, relaxed and happy by the time we’d finished lunch and started fishing.
I guess this is a fishing blog, so I should say something about the fishing. Well, it was excellent. We only landed two in the end (Hamish got them both), but we saw a ton of fish and had numerous strikes, looks and follows. It was the perfect little stream; just big enough to have a diversity of environments and depths; not too overgrown, but enough to make it challenging; and the fish were feeding on a variety of food sources. The hard thing was that we felt like we were always one step behind the fish. We would see a rise to a spinner, tie on some dries, get a few strikes, then the sun would come out and they would stop. We’d see a splash at the side of the stream, then tie on hopper patterns, get a few hits, then the sun would go behind a cloud and it’d be back to square one.
I guess it was partly the fishing that I remember, but judging by what I’ve written about, it was the adventure with a mate, meeting Gary, experiencing somewhere new, the beautiful wildlife and diverse environments, that made it a great day. In hindsight, the negative experience almost made it better because it helped me to see the wood for the trees, and not take the good for granted.