Moffat Falls Fly Fishing

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Well kept secrets…

Moffat Falls’ fly fishing guide David Thompson is surprised, but somewhat thankful that the trout fishing in the New England area of NSW is still something of a secret.

Many of his clients comment that they don’t usually think of the New England area as a trout fishing destination, yet are pleasantly surprised when they get here. Queenslanders in particular, often make the long haul to the Snowy Mountains or Tasmania and are relieved upon discovering that they can get amongst great fly-fishing within a five hour drive of Brisbane. This makes a weekend of fly fishing an achievable prospect.

The up side of the areas relative obscurity is that fishing pressure tends to be lower compared to well-trodden destinations. It is quite common to spend a whole day flicking the fly around without seeing another angler, even in public access areas. Guides provide access to private property water, further increasing your chances of exclusive fishing.

Fly fishing school

The Moffat Falls Fly Fishing Schools have combined their experience of David Thompson from Fly Fish New England and Matt Graham and Glen Michell from Matt’s Sports Safari, to offer a unique fly fishing adventure weekend. “Our guides have been guiding in the New England region for more than ten years and have progressed numerous first-timers from fly-cracking thrashers to landing their first trout on fly” said Lorraine Smith, Managing Director of Moffat Falls.

“Our guides say they have climbed their fair share of trees to extract mis-directed casts, and point out that tree hazards are par for the course on many New England streams. Spending all your time throwing perfect long loops on wide open streams or lakes won’t prepare you for success here. You need to learn short, accurate casting in narrow spaces, be able to slide your fly in under vegetation and roll cast if you want to make the most of the opportunities. Lost flies and tangles go with the territory. It can reduce a big fish, big water Kiwi to tears, but there is considerable satisfaction to be had in extracting a 30cm feisty, fighting fish from an impossible spot” commented Ms Smith.

Moffat Falls Weekend Fly Fishing Schools are designed for the complete novice. This includes anyone who has never thrown a fly-line before, or those who have just started waving the long wand and need a little more guidance.

The schools teach the introductory aspects of overhead fly-casting and roll-casting, enough to give the beginner a realistic shot of landing their first trout on fly. Casting practice takes place on grassed areas and on a stocked dam, before moving on to fishing several local streams.

Stream-craft is also covered and the guides agree that most beginners cruel their chances of landing a trout well before they start to cast, simply because they fail to understand the basics of stream-craft. Many people start with a perception that they are on land and the trout is in water, so the fish can’t see them and they can bowl up and start casting. Nothing could be further from the truth. One of the first tasks is to shatter the ‘blind fish’ myth and impart some stealth.

Other topics covered over the two day weekend course include fly selection, basic tackle set-up, playing a hooked fish, catch-and-release methods and fly-tying demonstrations. The schools are inclusive of all meals including scrumptious three course dinners, complimentary drinks from the bar and lodge style accommodation at the award winning Yaraandoo Eco Conference and Function Centre at Point Lookout off the Waterfall Way, 75kms east of Armidale.

The New England Fly Fishery

The New England region offers some excellent rainbow and brown trout fishing, both in natural streams and stocked dams. There are hundreds of kilometres of trout streams in the Armidale, Ebor, Guyra and Walcha areas and trout numbers are replenished annually through the excellent voluntary work of local fishing clubs. The majority of the fish are sourced from the NSW Fisheries Dutton hatchery near Ebor, or the hatchery established in Walcha by the local council. There are also several farm-stay operations boasting private stream access and/or stocked dams.

A real asset is the diversity of fishing opportunities on offer and the scope for widening your fly fishing knowledge through the need to practice a range of techniques. It is easy to get locked into a single approach to fly fishing and this tends to limit success. Anglers who explore different parts of the New England will learn fast that some flexibility is needed.

Techniques

Dry fly fishing is often most effective when chasing the smaller rainbow trout in the eastern flowing streams around Ebor. These fish tend to be opportunistic feeders and a well presented beetle pattern often works. Even so, enough seem to have learned that a royal wulf can contain a nasty surprise and refusals are common.

Many of the Ebor streams are tight and lined with tea-tree. A 25cm rainbow can be a handful in these confines and Ebor rainbows have a habit of running straight at the angler to put slack in the line, or wrapping leaders around a low branch.

Thompson notes that for beginners, getting little rainbows to take the fly is rarely the problem. The challenge is staying attached to the fish for more than three seconds. Having said that, he adds that sight fishing to rainbows holding on station in the crystal clear shallows can be nerve testing. The temptation to lift the rod tip before that flash of white mouth closes is over-whelming for some.

Other times, the fish won’t give your perfect beetle imitation the time of day. The rainbows (and occasional lunker brown) in the Guy Fawkes become extremely selective when there is a good hatch of black spinners. Without a decent spinner pattern in your fly-box, these fish will drive you mad.

Those throwing celtas and minnows may as well pack up and go home when the spinners are on the wing. More than one frustrated spin fisher has left shaking his head in disbelief as a novice fly-thrasher bags a Guy Fawkes rainbow, while his perfectly cast lure remains untouched.

Around the same time you figure that you have the Ebor trout sussed, you inevitably come across a nympher. For Moffat Falls guide David Thompson, these are a favourite quarry.

Often, these fish working under low light conditions, early and late or on overcast days. Many anglers actually miss the subtle disturbances of the water these fish make and as a result, miss the best fish of the day. Observation skills are a core part of the learning strategy at the Moffat Falls schools.

The tactics required to bag nymphing fish take time to perfect. A small black nymph with gold ribbing is a good option, but casts need to be accurate. Long fine leaders, with a 1kg tippet will maximise your chance of a hook-up (and the likelihood of being snapped off). This is one situation where longer casts do pay off, particularly on open streams.

Even with perfect presentation, actually detecting the take requires a sixth sense. Usually, all you see is a small bulge more or less where you think the fly is, or a short pause in the drift of the leader. This is the signal to lift the rod tip and set the hook.

Then there is the conundrum that if you see these bulges in one of the western flowing streams in the Guyra area, tactics change again. If you find yourself in this situation, give the one kilo tippet a miss or a bust off is inevitable!

As well as feisty rainbows, some streams in the region hold brown trout. With the exception of the rainbows in the Wollomombi system where 2-3 kilo fish are common, the browns reach a larger average size (around a kilo) than the eastern rainbows, though they do tend to run hot and cold. On a hot day, fishing a caddis pattern or black nymph, you can hook-up every half hour or so. On a cold day, you could swear there are no trout in the stream.

Tackle

In terms of equipment, it is best to leave the seven and eight weight outfits at home. You will catch fish on heavier gear, but it is much more fun doing battle with New England trout on a four or five weight rod. Shorter rods of 7-8 feet (2.1-2.4m) are better to get under and around the vegetation and will result in less tree climbing.

In general, floating lines are the best option though for some of the stocked dams and deeper sections of the Wollomombi system, sinking lines or leaders can be essential, particularly under hot conditions.

When it comes to flies, there are a few have-to-haves including dry flies like the royal wulf and red tag, black and brown nymphs, gold bead head nymphs when the water is fast and dirty, woolly buggers and black spinners.

However, experience has shown the Moffat Falls guides that an array of patterns will work. They are consistently amazed at the contraptions coming out of clients fly-boxes that would look at home atop the Christmas tree, yet still bag a trout.