It had been far too many years since our 'annual' fishing trip to the Eucumbene. Life has a way of keeping you distracted. This year we were determined to make it happen, so we locked the dates well in advance and wouldn't allow anything to push it out.
I wanted The Searched to be a place to drop two wheel adventure stories but in this case I'm happy to make an exception. Many of my good mates live nowhere near me, so all our conversation is via text or Instagram comments, it's not very real. When the opportunity came up to road trip in the car with Raynor for a few days, I jumped at it. In his 4x4 I had a captive audience, and we had a lot to catch up on. An integral part of good friendship is good conversation.
We headed out of town straight after work to make a dint in the long haul to our high-country destination. We pulled in to Tallangatta late, the sleepy town had already shut down for the night. A few street lights buzzed with summer bugs aimlessly flying about and you could hear the distant sounds of backyard conversations over old wooden fences long past their prime. We made camp at the old showgrounds, our tents sat under an amazing clear sky complete with shooting stars, zooming satellites and the celestial masterpiece. The air was so warm I slept under the stars with just the net, it was magic.
Early the following morning we headed out of town towards the high-country village of Corryong, another sleepy town rich in history, the home of the 'Man from Snowy River' and our last stop for supplies. With the 4x4 loaded up we headed east towards the towering mountains. There's a road that heads straight towards the heavens following the path of the huge power lines that are feed by the snowy hydro power station, half way up there's an old wooden sign covered in moss and aged by the sun. It's the welcome to the Kosciuszko National Park sign and it gives me goose bumps every time I see it. It's one of those visual cues that evokes a range of emotions from excitement to fear, adventure and a sense of isolation and danger. The drive is all climb at this stage, passing through dense eucalyptus forest dotted with huge granite boulders, on the other side of the range the road winds down into steep valleys where gigantic walls hold back damns of water for the snowy hydro system. The landscape of the Jagungal wilderness is nothing short of phenomenal. It's wild and pure, and if you look past the obvious you can see little evidence of human interference. There is a healthy ecology here, and as we whizz past eagerly towards the river, we marvel at the purity and talk of future hikes to get a closer look.
The road curves around more mountains eventually finding it's way out of the woodlands and into rolling hills of alpine grassland approaching the deserted town of Kiandra. Once a bustling gold rush town, now just a scattering of surviving buildings, an old steam powered battery, the graveyard and mullock heaps of discarded rock, the scars of industrious mining activity from a century ago. It's at this point that we loose ourselves in the buzz and excitement, we drive over the river returning back to woodland towards the rough track that leads down to the money spot. Two grown men woo-hooing with excited hearts beating in anticipation of what lay ahead. The track down is a bit rough, 4x4 only and it's easy enough to get down, but hard to get back up. It's a steep goat track of lose rocks, sharp boulders and deep holes that will give most 4x4's an ability test. I ran out as a spotter for some of the more challenging sections of track, then ran ahead of Ray's ute, I desperately wanted to spot the camp site from a distance making sure no one had got there before us. Panting like a hot dog I stepped up on a rocky ledge and happily spotted the money spot, empty of humans. I turned around to Rays who was riding the badly eroded track and gave him the thumbs up. I could see the smile for miles.
It's the first time I'd taken Rays to this spot, we normally camp at the edge of the bush in a legal camp site, but this camp is my preferred. It's more remote and close to decent runs on the river. The remoteness and poor accessibility puts campers off which means better fishing.
We didn't muck about and set up our tents, shelter and collected firewood, enough to keep us sorted for the next three nights. As soon as the last loop was tied on the tents we donned the waders and put the rods together for an afternoon on the water. Fly fishing is one of those activities that, in its course makes you do other things. Fly fishing a river like this means a lot of hiking will take place. We set about heading over open woodland hills, down steep heath covered descents, crossing over the water to alpine wildflower grasslands. On the hike you couldn't help but notice the millions of grasshoppers that jumped away from our feet as we hoofed it. Rays being the smarter of the two set up his rod with a grasshopper pattern while I stubbornly stuck with the old faithful Royal Wulff, which has served me for many years on this river. Even though I have never seen so many hoppers at my feet I decided to preserver with the Wulff and it was my downfall. Also I lacked any hopper patterns that resembled anything like what was actually on the ground, all mine were disco hoppers with bright stripy fur and iridescent foam. I did eventually move over to a hopper but didn't have much luck. It goes to show that the person with the closest resembling fly wins the day, and Rays did well landing a few good size trout, while I picked up a nice pound and half brown, the smoker would be full that night!
We fished the river hard that afternoon and into the evening. It's tough going with slippery rocks, snakes, gusty valley and march flies that bite with a sting even through clothes, all part of the adventure really. We worked our way upstream into the evening, parts of me already starting to feel tender and in need of recovery. As the sun dipped the temperature dropped rapidly and our fire crackled along warming our bodies and (*inserts cheesy ness) our hearts. Spirits were high that night, I reckon we drank more than we should, we were caught up in the excitement of a ripper day of road tripping, hiking, camping and alpine fly fishing. Under a clear night sky I hit my head on the pillow, hoping to hear the howl of dingoes. Alas the dingoes were quiet on this night.
Waking up knowing we had another two full days on the fly on this beautiful river was a ripper way to start the day. After a hot camp coffee and a bacon and egg sandwich, we began the hike all the way down to the pond in the river, our intention was to fish a bunch of unknown runs. I'd never been down that far before so it was all new territory to me, and it was exciting. We climbed up and down the mountainous country through more grassland, open woodland and patches of bright yellow everlasting daises. In the valley below we kept a close eye on potential good runs of water, while a pair of Wedge Tail eagles kept an inquisitive eye on us from above. One flew low to the ground with an impressive and foreboding shadow rippling its way over the features of the landscape. In the distance, we spotted the pond and began the decent off the high ground down to the water. At the end of the pond was a small run that I lay a few casts in to and pulled out two small rainbows. It seemed like the day could be productive after all!
We often fish with a tag team system. I'll fish and Rays might spot for me, then we swap. It's also a good system to be able to talk to each other about the runs and where might be the best place to present the fly to. It's one thing knowing how to cast a fly line, another to know where the fish are. Stream craft is a necessary skill for any half decent flyfisher-person. So I'd taken the first cast for the morning fish and now it was Raynors turn. On a run of fast shallow water he layed down his first cast and a dirty big brown trout decided to get itself stuck on the in of his line, right on the hook too. I quickly grabbed the net and we cautiously landed the 2+ pound beauty. That was pretty well much the remainder of the day, Rays catching good size fish while I got missed strikes and landed small fish.
Later in the afternoon we met up with Hatto upstream, he'd come up a day late for reasons unknown but was a welcome sight fishing water upstream. The three of us fished the remainder of the day all the way upstream to camp. Exhausted I cracked open a coldie and rested my old man aching feet, what a ripper of a day! I butterflied the largest fish and we grilled it over hot coals on a wire fish rack and smoked the two smaller trout, which we served with fire roasted spuds, home made relish and plenty of chilli sauce. We ate like kings and almost drank like lords. I could hardly keep my eyes open, a bit knackered from the big day so hit the hay pretty early.
The final day of fishing is inevitable, like mortality, you just have to accept it. There was a real buzz getting up with the sunlight, preparing a camp coffee and a big feed to fuel us for another massive day on the water. Over the woodland hills again, across the river, scaling the grassy alpine rises and pretty bunches of yellow paper daisy. It's such a sight to behold up there, it's uniquely Australian, and because it doesn't get many human visitors, it's pure, so clean you can drink the snow melt water all day long. We started out at the pond away down stream from camp and fished all the good runs. The hoppers dominated all day, Raynor filling his vest with good size trout. Just after lunch Hatto and I spotted some trout in a nursery of slow water on a side run. Hatto started flicking a fly right on top of the fish while I spotted Raynor in the corner of my eye hooking into yet another decent fish. I may have secretly rolled my eyes in disgust, then I saw the fish head peak out of the water and I realised it was a big one, well a big one for this small size river. He had landed the most beautiful brown, he was shaking with excitement, a happier bloke I couldn't imagine.
That evening we ate more fish, we grilled the monster, shared stories, cold beers and plenty of laughs. I don't really believe in luck, everything is just a mathematical probability, there doesn't seem to be any magic left, but I do feel fortunate to have good mates that share a love for fly fishing and spending time out where we feel we belong.
I first came to this river six years ago and I was a very different person. A lot has changed since then, but the river remains the same. Each time I visit, however, I leave a different person. This river tests me, it literally hurts me, my feet, knees, legs all sore from slipping on rocks and down steep embankments. The heath, prickle and brush scratch me, the sunlight burns me, the wind taunts me, snakes want to bite me and the march flies sting me, but it's breathtakingly beautiful and I enjoy every minute I'm up there. So many times I just have to stop to take it in, amazed that I'm in such a magnificent place. When I leave, I feel a great sadness, I know it will probably be another year until I return to fish the water, and that sucks. But the memories of each visit do not. They make me smile when I'm down and cheer me up. You can beat an egg, but you can't beat that.