Well, we’re back for 2016! So let’s get straight into it.
There was a bit of river that had come to my attention. I’d seen it while flying out west when I arrived in Australia at the beginning of the year, and decided to explore it at the first opportunity I had. Fairly rugged and inaccessible country is a nice change for Central Western NSW and the river that snaked its way through looked fishy enough for me. With a new addition to the canoe fleet to properly christen, I packed the gear and made preparations for a six day journey. This would cover about 65 k’s from a drop off in the hills to a pickup on the edge of the plains where the river dumped out.
Cresting the edge of the river valley was a spectacular enough beginning to the adventure. It was just steep enough to second guess the capabilities of my faithful 2WD hilux. The river beckoned all that way below so a couple of trips on foot would have to suffice to get the gear in. I’ve made plenty of longer portages on more broken ground; but walking downhill on such a consistently steep slope for just over a kilometre made things pretty tough. The second trip down with the big Quetico pack, paddles and rods was only accomplished with fairly frequent stops to turn uphill and let the muscles in my legs change the load.
About an hour and a half of work had me and my gear setting off on the water. With a few hours until dark, I grabbed some bankside blackberries and set up a rod with a stump jumper to do a bit of trolling as I travelled in search of a campsite. I’d only just put the lure out and taken it down to depth alongside a rocky ledge when a vicious strike turned into the first cod for the trip. The fat little fish and I were briefly acquainted for some photos before it went home.
Running a couple of rapids and skirting the edge of some others I worked downstream. The afternoon sun began to cast the river in a warm golden light and the spines of rock jutting out into the stream made me imagine cod lurking in every crevice. Soon enough another fish grabbed hold but managed to get under some kind of obstruction. A sudden splash showed the tail of a cod as it rolled back up to the surface, but that frantic action was enough to throw the hooks.
As the sun sank below the range I drifted to the extremity of a calm pool and made camp on a rocky bank. The pelicans I shared the pool with weren’t too keen and kept their distance, but a platypus came to investigate after dark.
First light found me slipping back into the pool with an Arbogast jitterbug ready to see who was home. Without a breath of wind to ruffle the water it was a perfect morning to creep between likely spots and waddle the little bug through the best of it. Just off a pretty uninspiring stick came the sudden implosion of a big mouth opening and the lure disappeared. Waiting for confirmation that the fish had actually grabbed the lure I saw the line start to veer away and set the hook into a solid weight. After a determined struggle the fish came to the net and I was pretty happy with landing my second biggest Murray cod, especially getting it on the surface! Two other fish tried attacking the jitterbug that morning but their hearts mustn’t have been in it.
Packing camp and having a quick feed I started working my way on downstream, this time alternating between deep divers to work longer sections of bank and spinnerbaits to fish snags and other concentrated structure. One small fish in and the sound of thunder working up from the south had me moving again to locate another suitable camp. The only way to enjoy wet weather in the bush is to have a dry place ready before it gets to you.
Flat ground was in short supply but I found a suitable spot on the sweeping bend of a pool opposite a rock face. Getting the hammock and tarp up just in time, I watched the storm pass to my east and hit me with nothing more than a few lost drops. Typical. But camp was up so I decided to work that steep bank on foot in front of camp. The hole was deep and it took some time for the spinnerbait to hit bottom. This was a likely spot. On my second retrieve past the leading rock spine the lure was slammed close in and drag surged off the reel as the fish dove. Immediately I felt the line working against a log dropping away at my feet and knew I was in trouble. With pressure mounting I tried to steer the fish but was rewarded only with the release of pressure. The leader had snapped cleanly. That was a good fish.
Tying on a RMG I kept working into the head of the pool and pulled another fish out before realising that the storm had changed its mind and was on its way back. Rushing to get a feed cooked before touchdown, I managed to get under the tarp to finish eating just as the storm hit. There was no mucking about this time as I was belted with torrential rain and hail. The wind attacked from both directions and I bucked out the ride in the hammock while holding each side of the tarp down as extra support – thinking at any time the tarp was either going to tear or I was going to get flipped clean out of my swinging bed. Lightning cracked down right on top of me and there wasn’t much else I could do than laugh as I clung on.
About 15 minutes later I emerged from my hide. Wandering to the river’s edge I was just in time to watch a billowing, muddy tongue descend into the middle of my pool. The tributary creeks upstream that were dry 20 minutes ago were now raging, and their load of dirt and debris quickly overran the clear water of the pool. With darkness setting in there wasn’t much more to do, so I settled down for the night to see what things would look like in the morning.
Dawn came and illuminated the fact that I wouldn’t be fishing today. The river was up and clogged with muck, ensuring that any lure was adequately clogged with dry grass, sticks and casuarina needles before it had a chance to interact with anything outside the surface film. Mud clouds pillowed around in the thick soup, effectively reducing visibility to zero. The decision was made to travel onwards in search of clearer waters or the end of the line – whichever came first.
That day was thoroughly enjoyable, despite the fact I didn’t find clear water until I hit the bottom of the slope where the river bellied out into a braided system of shallow sand flats. The scenery was nothing short of amazing. Boulder strewn river bottom grew out on either side into steep slopes, water weathered rock and white box woodland. Wild goats, a pest all the same, roamed about in their hundreds. In the lower reaches, pigs and fallow deer joined the non native ranks of wildlife.
Wedge-tailed and white-bellied sea eagles looked down from above and I spotted several eagle nests. A wrestling pair of goannas let me watch their fight once they decided I wasn’t going to take advantage of the situation. After being thrown into submission, the loser decided I was a good place to get away and had to be convinced not to climb to safety via my body. With that escape route blocked and the victor still on his heels, he made one last attempt at flight and launched out into the river to think again.
The remains of stone huts and constructed pathways lined the river for the entirety of my journey – a reminder of the gold rush days. This was bush ranger country once. Now I travelled it alone, riding swollen rapids as I drifted on downstream.
Another night on the river bank and I slept soundly, only to be woken by the sounds of approaching thunder in the morning. The rain started just as I drifted back into the stream. The two and a half hour paddle to my pickup was wet, to give it a simple description. But by the afternoon I was loading the canoe back onto the ute and planning a return.