I went fishing last monday, it started out well but almost ended in tears. I normally fish these remote high rivers in mid summer, however I was unable to get away this summer and delayed my fishing until this week. The section of the West Kiewa that I chose is rather long and is rarely fished except for the first kilometre. I left early and with my brothers help parked my car at the end of the section of river that I planned to fish, he then drove me back to the start of the section. It's a long section about 9 or 10 Kilometres and the first five k's are very remote with no roads nearby, the river is in a deep valley the sides of which are about 800 metres higher that the valley floor. After the five Km mark the road gradually comes nearer the river but is at a couple of hundred metres higher than the river.
I was dropped off at the start of the stretch that I was to fish at about 8:30am, I should have been warned then that things were not what I was accustomed too. The river was about six inches deeper than it normally is in summer, the water was also markedly cooler. I really didn't give this much thought and off I went. The fishing was amazing, as the river was still in the shadows I began with a green nymph and caught a lovely rainbow on my first cast. I returned the fish and continued to walk and catch fish until the sun was on the water. I then changed to a Hairwing Coachman, the change to a dry was extremely productive. I don't know if it was the dry fly or the sun on the water but the fish I was catching increased in size, the average on the dry was about 350 to 400 grams however I did get one that would have been close to a kilo. For a small mountain stream to have fish this big is something I did not expect. They were all rainbows in excellent condition, I returned all to the water as I planned to keep one of the last ones of the day.
Then around 1:30pm things began to go awry, I began to get tired. The walking had been more difficult than normal due to to the low water temperature and the higher river level. I had experienced great difficulty in negotiating several of the gorges and had fallen in deep holes several times. In summer when you get wet you dry out again in a few minutes, however the air was cool and I remained wet for most of the day, I really didn't give it much thought at the time. I also had to expend a lot more energy in walking through the water, it amazing how much extra effort is required to walk in slightly deeper water. So in the early afternoon I noticed I was getting tired. I was having a little trouble walking and was slipping a little more than I would have expected. It didn't worry me and I kept fishing.
By 2:30 I was realising that I was in a bit of trouble. I had stopped fishing as I had to concentrate on walking and not falling over. I wasn't sure how much river I had covered and began to look for the road where it came back near the river. Around 3:pm the river began to be shadowed by the high mountains and the air temperature dropped rapidly, I removed my fly reel and abandoned my rod as carrying it was hindering my walking, I was extremely fatigued and was wondering whether I would make it back to the car before dark. I really had to be out of the river by dark as it is impossible to walk in these rivers at night. I considered whether I could spend the night in the bush, however when going through my vest I realised that I had lost my knife and the cigarette lighter I normally carry, they must have slipped out on one of the many falls I took. I knew I would be unlikely to survive a night in the bush without a fire, I was wet cold and hungry. I had no food and my clothes were sodden, I had to get out of the river and get to the car.
You may say 'Well why is he walking in the water? Why not walk along the bank?'. Good question, however there is no bank to walk on, in general the valley sides plunge right down to the waters edge, where there is a bank it is covered in Blackberry, Bracken Fern and thick scrub. So I kept walking in the river and searching the valley sides for the road, unfortunately because the road is so high above the river it is very difficult to see, I didn't want to leave the river until I was sure I could see the road because if I left the river before the road came back near it I would be stranded in remote bush miles from anywhere. Around about 4:15 I thought I could see the road above, it was hard to see due to the deep shadows but I could see the where the hillside had been cut. Then came the next hard part, getting to the road.
Even though the road was only about 300 metres away it was up a very steep slope covered in scrub and Blackberries, there were fallen trees everywhere and the surface of the slope was loose rock. I could see a slight ridge line in the scrub and headed for it. I took about half an hour to get up the ridge to the road, I then walked about another half hour to get to my car, by then it was 5:30. It was about a 45 minute drive back to my brothers house. When I got there I had a hot bath for an hour then something to eat and drink and off to bed. I slept with two doonas, a blanket and an electric blanket as well as wearing a beanie. I didn't begin to warm up till about 3 in the morning.
I am going back there to fish but I'll never make those mistakes again. Just goes to show what familiarity and stupidity can achieve. Here is a photo of my legs after the day.