Take me to the river

Fly-fish­ing in­spires a touch of phi­los­o­phy in the Snowy Moun­tains

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Afloat - BRIAN JOHN­STON

MY guide is a char­ac­ter out of a Hem­ing­way novel, face out­doors-gouged, cam­ou­flage jacket stud­ded with fish hooks and knives. His Aussie vow­els are over­laid with a Rock­ies drawl from his years in the US, where he no doubt en­coun­tered moun­tain li­ons and grizzlies.

But Craig Daly is hav­ing none of the stereo­types. His econ­omy of speech is more Zen mas­ter than hunter, and he wields his fish­ing rod del­i­cately, like a con­duc­tor with his ba­ton. Nor is he im­pressed with the hearty way I fling my rod for­ward in the hope of cast­ing my line across the river.

‘‘Don’t cast like a ma­cho man,’’ he says. “Fly fish­ing is like rib­bon danc­ing in the Olympics. See that lovely loop of line in the air? That’s what you want.’’

Star­tled, I cast again, and my line is nei­ther looped nor lovely. It falls down like wet spaghetti and Daly tut-tuts like a vicar in a bawdy house.

“Pause on the swing to make the rod tip bend and throw the line by it­self. Don’t throw too hard. De­liver the fly as if it’s un­teth­ered.’’

He says if I fol­low th­ese prin­ci­ples then I’ll find fly­cast­ing is easy. When Daly casts, it looks ef­fort­less. He flicks his wrist and his rod flexes. The line spools out and drops the fly into the wa­ter, plop, right where he wants it. If only it were a pink rib­bon, he’d win gold.

I think it’s easy too, for a while. We start on the river­bank, cast­ing across the grass. Daly stands be­hind me, grasp­ing my wrist, and soon has my rod tick-tock­ing like a metronome. Swing back, pause, flick for­ward. Yet once we head down to the river, dis­trac­tion and adrenalin take over. There are branches and snag­ging bushes and ed­dies out of which a 4kg trout might emerge. What will I do if I ac­tu­ally hook one? I heave my rod over my head and hurl my arm for­ward in ex­cite­ment. The fly falls to the wa­ter at my feet like a stabbing vic­tim.

“Be­gin­ner’s mis­take,’’ says Daly. “Cast to the side, not over your head. Imag­ine you’re in Queens­land, fish­ing the man­groves for bar­ra­mundi. You have to get the fly in un­der the branches. Cast over­head and you’ll snag a tree, not a fish.’’

Where we are is knee-deep in the Thredbo River in the Snowy Moun­tains, one of the best places in Australia for trout fish­ing. It’s a mod­est river that runs from Thredbo into Lake Jind­abyne, but its tran­quil wa­ters are eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble at var­i­ous spots along the Alpine Way, and you can bag a half-me­tre fish if you know what you’re do­ing.

Those who don’t know what they’re do­ing (such as my­self) can head out with Clear­wa­ter Fly Fish­ing Guides for a crash-course in the ba­sics. I’m given a Scott fiveweight rod, sur­pris­ingly light and flex­i­ble. When I cast it too vi­o­lently it cracks like a stock­whip, alert­ing Daly to my in­ep­ti­tude.

“Women of­ten make for bet­ter begin­ners,’’ he ob­serves. “They pay more at­ten­tion to what I’m say­ing, are calmer and less gung-ho.’’

Daly tells it as it is, but he’s a pa­tient guide and doesn’t take him­self too se­ri­ously. He says fly-fish­ing is about stand­ing on a river­bank try­ing to out­wit a very dumb crea­ture with your in­tel­li­gence and equip­ment worth thou­sands of dol­lars. And then when you do so, boasting about it to your friends.

He also puts to rest any anx­i­ety about se­lect­ing a fly. True, fly-fish­ing is the art of de­cep­tion, and fish­er­men ar­gue end­lessly about which flies to use af­ter con­sid­er­a­tion of the weather, wa­ter tem­per­a­ture, preva­lent in­sects, and the se­lec­tive­ness of lo­cal trout.

“But re­ally, trout usu­ally eat brown things about 20mm long,’’ he concludes as he fits a deer-hair humpy to the line. I’m a lit­tle dis­ap­pointed in its drab­ness, be­cause his vest is lined with boxes full of metal-and-hair hooks like the jew­ellery col­lec­tion of a goth: yel­low-green olive

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