We first met the Wild Kid on a trip to Eucumbene. The Citroen had been playing up, the generator had not been working and the battery had gradually drained until we limped into Corryong. Unable to buy a generator, even if we could have afforded it, the battery was given a rapid charge and we continued on our way, determined that nothing would stop us.
Unseasonable early snow flecked the windscreen and we drove only into the daylight so as not to use lights. Easter at Eucumbene or anytime onwards can be freezing cold with ice forming in your rod rings and inner crust around the waters edge, spreading out to paper thin glass in the bays. Days can be gin clear with a biting cold wind ruffling the lake and cracking your lips. Sunburn comes easily in that clear air and wind. The cold triggers the biggest trout into action. In readiness for the spawning season they eat heartily and their aggression rises as the time for mating ritual approaches.
Our favourite bank was on the Hughes Creek side of the Providence Portal arm. You could still cross the Eucumbene River bridge because it took some years for the lake to fill.
The bank rose quickly out of the lake and continued behind us on a slope until it flattened about eight feet above water level.
It was possible to cast with this behind you because it was devoid of bushes and you could sometimes bounce the point of your hook off when you failed to steeple cast high enough.
The wind howled down the lake at right angles and if you could unroll a loop across the water, the wind would pick it up and lay a curving cast down the wind. A few seconds to allow the red and black matuka to sink down a bit, and then start the retrieve. The next minute or two spent retrieving by short strips or handover method, would have you with your heart in your mouth.
A hump would appear behind where the fly should be, followed by a a crashing strike and a blistering run. If it was a big rainbow the run would continue accelerating until a crack denoted the parting of the leader. A brown would on the other hand would start his slogging battle, short runs with head down deep and the best part of a full line out.
On a later trip we were to witness the ten and twelve pound rainbows when we volunteered to assist the fisheries officers measuring, scale sampling and recording the growth rate of fish held in wire pens on Swamp Creek. We carried these doped fish up to the recording table, and then returned them to the holding pen. Their heads and tails hung over our outstretched arms as we carried them. It was clear that these were the express trains that didn’t stop once you hooked them. We could only have held them with much heavier tippet than the six pound we used.
Despite frozen fingers and wind that cut right through a balaclava, Rick and I took fourteen fish between four and half past six, when the fading light and biting cold finally beat us. These fish ranged in size between three and six pounds and we both released big fish towards the end of the session. It seemed that one of us was connected to a fish the whole time. These were the Halcyon days of Eucumbene. It wasn’t always like the day described above, many days were fish-less and I remember a trip of five days when not a scale was touched.
The snow was building up on the roads and concern about the generator triggered our decision to leave. The boom gate on the Khancoban road could come down at any time as the snow got deeper. The top road past the Cabramurra water supply dam was out of the question. This dam will have a story of its own at a later date, but it had become part of a ritual of the trip home to stop and have a few casts here, before leaving the high country.
The road winds steeply downhill towards Cabramurra through tall alpine ash forests. The snow made the going tough and to our dismay, the old Citroen started missing and ran to a stop on the side of the road. Now we were in real trouble. We disconnected the battery and started walking down the road towards Cabramurra, taking turns to carry the battery.
The light was fading fast as we trudged along when we heard a truck coming down the hill. In the cabin were two teenage boys, a middle aged driver and an old man. They were driving an old tip truck loaded with cut blocks of firewood that were piled up in the back. When they stopped and offered to help us, having seen the stricken and abandoned Citroen, we were very grateful. The Wild Kid was ordered out of the cabin by the boys and told to ride up on the load to make room for us in the warmth. As he climbed out I noticed that he was not so old as he first appeared, but had terribly weathered features and red rimmed sagging eyes. His movements were slow and shaky and his clothing old, dirty, and reeking of alcohol.
The wood dump was in a disused gravel pit cut into the hill below the road and uphill of the Cabramurra township that consisted of a few workers’ huts and a central workers’ mess, that doubled as a place to eat with a bar up one end. Most of the men who worked here were single and had accents that were thick and unintelligible, they were very rough diamonds indeed.
The truck was backed up to the wood dump and the tipper was slowly raised. A muffled yell was followed by a fading high pitched stream of obscenities. We had forgotten that the wild kid was on the back. He rode that load of wood all the way to the bottom where we found him half buried in wood and snow, and somehow unhurt.
The battery was duly hooked up to the charger in the workshop on slow charge and we adjourned to the workers’ mess to warm up the Wild Kid by the pot belly stove. We purchased some beer and rum for our rescuers, who had also offered us the hospitality of their camp for the night. We returned to their camp in the bush down a rough track off the road. Here they had an old school bus set up as their home with a kitchen down the back and seats turned sideways for beds.
By the time we had cooked a meal and given the Wild Kid some rum and put him to bed, the bus had warmed up. We had a great night of hospitality and oiled by a few grogs, I got out the guitar and we all sang raucously about, “The Wild Colonial Boy,” our voices trailing off into the still night air and steep gullies in dedication to the “Wild Kid,” who snored away in rum soaked peace.
The following day Rick and I loaded two tipper loads of wood before lunch time and when the battery was returned after the second load, we left them enough fish for a feast, and departed. We made it home all the way on one charge of the battery by switching off the ignition on long down hill runs. The season was over for three months or more.
The sequel to the episode came later that year. Back again in September with a reconditioned generator, we camped on the Hughes creek side, in a sheltered gully. We fished the flooded flats, the high steep banks when the cross winds came, and the still quiet bays when the mudeyes were hatching in the moonlight.
Night fishing on the lake can be just a matter of chuck and chance it, or it can be gripping, with every sensory nerve fibre twitching to sense a noise, a boil, anything. It is a rush as to throw your flies out into the darkness and to feel it connect with a cruising fish.
The pleasure of casting in the black night is intensified because the only measure is the flex of your rod and the quiet swish of the line. Night fishing is a joy as much as it is a different type of adventure. Heading out from the warmth of the camp at ten o’clock at night takes a strong act of the will. The body craves the warmth of the fire or the sleeping bag, but the will to fish is stronger. The lunge of a big fish in the dark seems to be exaggerated compared to full daylight.
In January our days are divided into morning fishing from daylight until about eleven o’clock on the glorious rivers and creeks. Back to camp on the lake for lunch and an afternoon sleep, up in time for the evening rise on the lake. Dinner is late, about nine o’clock at night, and then we go out to night fish any time after ten thirty onwards, returning to camp when the fish go off the bite about one in the morning. Sleeping is not a problem when you crash, because you are aware that the whole cycle starts again at daylight and every moment of sleep is necessary to keep this pattern going for the whole week.
A week at Eucumbene can restore the soul of the jaded office worker or the fishing crazed appetites of the nineteen year old.
Naive nineteen year olds we were, the world at our feet. Before very long we would be burdened with careers and family but for a few blissful years of youth we would enjoy some of the best fishing the world could offer. Wild trout in a remote and wild environment.
After several days we needed to re supply the camp and drove into Adaminaby. After the stores were replenished, we headed for the warmth of the pub and on the steps we met the Wild Kid. We recognised the same clothes and red rimmed eyes. A glazed recognition spread across his face and then he urgently pressed some money on us to buy him a couple of flagons of fortified wine. Despite the hesitation, we did the deed and he asked if we could run him home.
As we let him off at the front gate of a derelict house his wife came out to greet us. She had the same ancient, world-weary look. She fixed us with a watery red eye as the Kid climbed from the car and they went into the house together with their brown paper bags. We returned to the pub and had a drink to the Kid!” a little less sure of the certainty of youth.
Ours was a fabulous existence. We fished Nungar Creek back in the hills, Eucumbene River from Rocky Plain to the Suicide Hole, and Tantangara Creek going in from Kiandra. Over the top into the next watershed at Rules Point and out from Adaminaby to the Murrumbidgee at Yaouk. I recall standing in a huge marsh of ten acres or more, surrounded by rising fish located in the channels of clear water interlacing the vast beds of weed and snow grass. Out of this sponge the water drained into a small creek that fed into the Murrumbidgee.
These fish fell to a hare’s ear nymph stuck in the surface film and they charged up the run to take a Knobby hopper dropped on the edge of the weed. I spooked dozens in the shallow weed and they departed leaving big bow waves as the only hint of their size. I hunger to return to these fields of delight and having walked in the water meadows of the Itchen below Winchester Cathedral on the most famous of all the world’s chalk streams, nothing compares.
If I had grown up fishing the Central Lakes of Tasmania or the South Island of New Zealand, I would have been equally blessed; but the wild gorges and the snow grass plains where I spent my early years were what made me the fly fisher I am.
In between trips to the Upper Murray, Monaro and the great impoundments of Eucumbene, Tantangara and Jindabyne, I returned to my home on the Goulburn for weekends. Many years have passed since these early trips at the start of the sixties, and I have been back many times since, but sweetest of all, like your first trout on a fly, were those cold clear days of youth.