The Wild Kid
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 Corrowong. 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.
Unseasonal 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
Our favourite bank was on the
Hughes creek side of the providence portal arm. You could
still cross the EU 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 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 blistering run would continue
accelerating until a crack denoted the parting of the leader.
A brown would then 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 out 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 light and 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 someone 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
fishless and I remember a trip of five days when not a scale
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 downhill steeply 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 the truck coming down the hill.
In the cabin were two teenage boys, the 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
and 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, 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, and purchase some beer and rum for our rescuers who
had 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 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,
and a rush as your throw in the dark connects with the 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
Ours was a fabulous existence.
We fished Nungar Creek back in the hills, Eucumbene River
from Rocky Plain to the suicide hole, 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 often 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 grow-n 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.