Sunday 25 August 2013

The Thredbo, Part 1: The Pool

Georgina Swan with a trout
from the pool ... oddly we 

have never taken a photo 
of the pool itself

There is a pool in the Thredbo River, not in the hustle and the bustle of the gorges and rocky flows that characterise its grand escape from the ski resort of Thredbo, but on the ankle of the township itself where it becomes little more than a stream idling gently amidst tourists, holidaymakers, mountain bikers, skiiers, and fisherman of unknown quality.

Here it is almost quiescent; its falls are no more than the distance from fingertip to elbow, its crystalline essence home to stubborn and rotund ducks which plonk themselves at the feet of those that come to eat at the tables that dot its banks and then act the beggar. Only their plumpness gives them away.

And if the ducks were to look at their feet on the occasions they get wet they would sometimes find that even here in the busiest kilometre in the region they have company. For here live suburban trout. Mostly browns, perfectly camouflaged against the brown rock and sand, they move with the leisure of those at home in such a relatively cramped abode.

And while they aren't quite the length and girth of their larger brethren a few kilometres downstream they lack little in attitude. One fisher mesmerised by these little balls of muscle spent an hour floating black midges over them. Several obliged and tried to run away with the prize and when they tired of this game, the fisher switched to a spin rod and flipped small black celtas upstream. This was fun. Some more ended up with stories to tell their less aggressive mates.

Not far away, where the road finally curves up to the village, a bridge sits to the right, crossing the stream. Straight ahead is a church to the right, a golf course to the left. To the immediate left at bridge end runs a path that snakes through the native bush which absorbs the stream. For the next four or five kilometres it is a constant, heard but not seen, friend.

Ready for release back into the pool
A mere 20 metres down this path, lies the pool. It begins with a shallow flat of crenelated rock in which the trout like to sun themselves on those splendid alpine dawns when the early rays take the pinch from the air and melt the frost from the bushes and trees that line the Thredbo, turning the ground into a sea of tiny trickles each seemingly intent on making it to the big stream. With such simple clarity nature endlessly refreshes the waters.

Within metres the rock slips away to the main body of the pool - no more than eight metres at any given point, it stretches just 20 metres upstream. In its depths dash the city worker trout. Not just a few, but dozens, sprinting hither and thither; business on some days has never seemed better in the branch brushed depths. Yet on others, even those when the temperature is a single digit, the late afternoon hatch full and lasting, and the sky an ever deepening hue that eventually ends a radiant gold as the sun sinks below the mountain tops, even then there is nary a ripple. Perhaps, it is a  public holiday in the pool or perhaps the barometer is falling. Who knows? Trout are moody beasts, at best.

But on the days when the urban conurbation is in full tilt, browns and rainbows alike send streamers across the pool as they chase down a flailing victim. And everywhere there is the splish and splosh of trout on the rise. Small, medium, very occasionally large, they compete with gusto to quench appetites that verge on the insatiable.
Mike holds up a brown trout from the Thredbo several kilometres downstream from the pool

Yet despite the madness - the party continues well into the night - these are not feckless or reckless salmonids. They are smart, at the top of their game, able to spot an imitation fly, no matter how perfect it may be, and snub it for what it is.

Thus one majestic afternoon when dusk began to extend a nail, then a finger or two, and beckon, we made our way to the pool. Hatches drifted, small gatherings - here, there, everywhere along both banks. The trout were rocking and rolling. For 90 minutes we cast fly after changed fly into that jukebox.  Many we're summarily ignored. A white caddis, almost identical to those fluttering a few centimetres away, evoked not a ripple of interest. Small hopper patterns were inspected, sometimes at length, from below, and then spurned. Black midges, mayflys, Greenwell's Glory, all either failed the test or at best would evoke a pop, a splash of excitement or a nudge.

Finally, as night crept in and the last light outlined the restaurant perched perhaps 15 metres back from and above the far shore, one overly exuberant rainbow launched itself at a Parachute Adams, missed completely, but moments later, joy o joy, discovered the black beadhead nymph suspended 60 centimetres below. It would eat yet! The Adams sank, I struck, and it ran, wrestled, flipped and flew.

And from above applause rang loud and clear, like the Gods themselves were unified in their approval. The trout didn't care. I was momentarily flummoxed until I realised that the restaurant's clientele had been watching the title fight with passing interest. The feisty fish in hand I took a bow. How strange this flyfishing game can be!

The manager of the restaurant came to the edge of its decking and declared that in two years he had seen many a fly and spin fisherman come to this pool but all had walked away empty handed. It was indeed a glorious victory, of sorts, for fly fishermankind. Or so it seems.

A classic Thredbo pool and run between the two camping areas downstream from the pool
Over the next few days we spent each dusk and the odd dawn tempting the city trout. Another four, two of each kind, fell but none were taken to that mostly grisly of outcomes, the pan, despite their stocky build and perfect 25-30cm length. There are pannies a plenty for the smoker, elsewhere in the Thredbo.

And a word in the wise to our spinning friends - look elsewhere. I have seen lures of all shape and size tossed at the city trout and they react not a twitch. There are much better waters downstream where celtas, soft plastics and, closer to Lake Jindabyne, even Tassie devils come into their own. Here the fly bests all.

Upstream from the pool, the Thredbo wanders kilometre upon narrow, mostly unfishable, kilometre to its source well past Deadhorse Gap. But there is one last abode, not far from the pool. It is almost humble, a few metres that - after the carpark of kids and suburban trout, the city salmonids in their Atlantis - belongs to the elders, the retirees, big fish of perhaps three or four pounds, living a more sedentary existence. Occasionally, a callow youth will visit, get cuffed, and depart whence it came. They can be watched from another bridge, even targeted with a small rod and little back cast. But all this they have seen before. Many times.

And so we keep revisiting the pool. It has been two years and three trips since we last became better acquainted with a resident but it doesn't matter. There is a greater reflection here, even more than that which sparkles on those still summer mornings and evenings. Life is mirrored endlessly, you see. And no more so than in this kilometre where a hierarchy as obvious as that which governs our own restless lives, exists in a community of trout who must all, at sometime, pass through the pool.