Kiewa Wangaratta Under the Manna Gums

Guest Blogger: Mike Cline, Bozeman MT

The Manna Gum is a rather large and impressive Eucalyptus that dominates the high mountains of north eastern Victoria. One-hundred-foot high trees with massive straight trunks cover the steep slopes of the Great Dividing Ranges southeast of Wangaratta. As you leave the lowland scrub near Wangaratta, Victoria the mountains appear distant and unimposing. It is deceptive. As my guide, Cameron McGregor drove us deeper into the mountains along a rugged 4-wheel drive track, the mountains became steeper, the Manna gums larger and the brambles thicker. We dropped down a very steep ridge and the west branch of the Kiewa river came into view. By the time we reached the river, we were deep in the mountains and the ridges on both sides topped out at 1500 meters, at least 3000 feet above our location—damned near straight up.

I was on a day trip after Victoria trout with Riverescapes, a guide service out of Mudgegonga, Victoria. Operated by Cam McGregor and his wife Katie, the half board establishment is one of those bright spots in Australian trout fishing catering to anglers of all levels and expertise. Both Cam and Katie are trained fisheries scientists with extensive background in Victoria’s fisheries. With a PhD in Fisheries science, Katie works for Victoria’s Environmental Protection Agency in Wangaratta. One of the interesting factoids I learned on this adventure to Australia is that any name ending with an …tta can probably translates into something to do with a river. Wangaratta means “nesting place of cormorants” or “meeting of two waters.” In this case, those two waters are the Owens and King rivers, tributaries of the Murray river. Katie is a native of Sydney, but Cam is one of those home-grown guys that know every bend in every river and stream, all the stories and mostly all the locals. He grew up on a farm not far from Mudgegonga. He’s worked, hunted and fished the Great Dividing Ranges in Victoria his entire life. Cam abandoned the life of a scientist to instead become a fly fishing guide—in one of the most under-appreciated trout fisheries I can think of.

Our trip had originally anticipated floating one of several larger rivers in the Great Dividing Ranges, the Mitta Mitta and Swampy Plain. But through poor luck, Victoria’s hydro schemes were releasing insufficient water into the rivers to have a successful float. I would be wading for my two days in northeast Victoria. The west branch of the Kiewa river is one of those places that even if you knew where it was, you wouldn’t find it. The Kiewa is one of the many headwater tributaries of the great Murray river. By the time you reach the river by 4-wheel drive track, you are deep in the mountains. The slow valley section of the Kiewa is wide, gravelly and holds bigger trout. The west branch is one of those rough and tumble, but placid mountain streams that is a pure joy to fish if you are willing to put in the effort to get there. Even though it was a sunny day, the sun penetrated the canyon for only a short while. As the crow flies, we weren’t really that far from civilization, but the trek in lets you know how remote this little river is.

The river is full of feisty 10-12-inch rainbows and browns that eagerly snatch properly drifted dry flies. Small hoppers, parachute Adams and humpies all brought up fish. Although there are bigger fish in the west branch, especially in the deep, crystal clear pools, I was glad I brought my Scott F703 three-weight glass rod with me to Australia. Cam called those pools “Aquarium Pools” as dozens of large trout could be seen in their crystalline waters. We spent about three-hours along two sections of this beautiful stream and a few dozen trout of all sizes came to hand. As we reached our final pool at the confluence of another feeder creek which doubled the size of the branch, I remarked to Cam that he should name this place Kiewa Wangaratta (or Kiewa meeting of the waters). He chided me as going “Aboriginal” on him.

During the drive out, I admired the huge Manna gums, thousands of them that adored the steep canyon walls. Standing so tall, they have survived countless fires and give the countryside a uniqueness that I will not soon forget. The fishing was memorable, the whole experience even more so. As I drifted a tiny bit of fur and feather down a small seam to watch a trout, imported to Australia over 150 years ago, take the fly in a stream that was unknown to my consciousness for my entire lifetime, I knew I was experiencing something really special. For the rest of my life I can honestly say I’ve caught trout at Kiewa Wangaratta under the Manna gums.

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