Illawarra Flyfishers Club

Wollondilly River

by Andrew Susani

Best time June to late August; best on weekdays

Species available Rainbow and brown trout, carp
Gear to take 5-7wt outfit; WF floating line; indicators; floatant; lead wire or putty;
Flies to use Nymphs in a variety of weights; glo-bugs
Travel time 1.5hrs from Wollongong
Nearest town Mittagong

The Wollondilly River starts it's life west of Goulburn, and is in fact the little creek that dribbles into the top of Pejar Dam. The river then comes out of the dam, below the dam wall, and continues down through the state forests of the Southern Tablelands until it spills into Lake Burragorang, Sydney's main water supply, north-west of Picton.

The main access point is where the river crosses the Wombeyan Caves Road, at Goodman's Ford. This is a very popular camping spot, so you are best to attack this place on a weekday, when crowds are minimal or non-existant.

For most of it's length, the Wollondilly is a freestone river, with long pools leading into rapids of some form. There is a big variety of these, which you would expect in such a long river. The longest pool I have come across would have been about 600m long, but there are probably longer ones. I wouldn't know how deep some of these pools are, but on average you should be able to cross each of the rapids at some points.

Best time to fish

Although there are resident fish in this river, the numbers of fish are definitely higher during the winter months, when the spawn run trout from Burragorang make their way up in search of gravel beds and mating partners, not to mention the abundance of tasty eggs floating around.

Another big factor in making a trip worthwhile is the height of the river. Spawning trout rely on rainfall to raise river levels so they can progressively move up the river. Apparently they leave most of their upstream movement until after dark, but will also move through the day if there is cover of dirty water or if they are desperate enough. Now there is nothing worse than travelling for a couple of hours only to find that there has been rainfall upstream and the river is high and dirty, so a couple of days before embarking on a trip to the Wollondilly, go to the River Heights section of the Bureau of Meteorology website and check out the Wollondilly River at Jooriland reading. You want this to be around 0.60m and steady or falling. I have been to the river when it is at 0.70m and falling, and it has been too dirty to fish, so it is a fairly fine line between being high enough for the fish to move upstream, and low enough so that it is clear enough to fish.

The best advice I can give is to plan a trip in June or July after some decent rainfall up to a week before, and keep a close eye on the River Heights web page.

Finding fish

You will do well in this place if you remember 2 things:

Without a doubt, the best way to fish this place is to use the upstream nymphing technique using a floating line with a weighted nymph and glo-bug (or a second nymph) and some sort of indicator. This set up is quite simple:

The basic idea behind upstream nymphing is to cast the indicator and dual fly rig upstream and throw slack into the drifting flyline (mending) so that no tension at all is put onto the drifting flies. If you pull up tight to the flies, they will lift off the bottom and out of the strike zone. Now the trick is to keep enough of a short line to the flies so that if a fish does take it, you can strike effectively without having too much slack line to manage. If you find a good looking section of water, it pays to really cover is well using this method.

I haven't heard much about catching carp in this river, but I would imagine they would be more commonly found in the slower sections of the pools. I can't say that I have ever seen one, but friends who have fished this river during summer or periods of low water say that carp are fairly common.

Where to fish

Except when moving upstream, the fish will always take position in a spot where they can have a bit of a rest, but also be in the path of any food that happens to drift along. Rocks in midstream are a very likely area for fish to hide behind, so these should really be covered well. To put it in perspective, I once found a nice big rock just downstream of a set of rapids and thought their should be a fish in there somewhere. After about 20 drifts past this one rock, the indicator dipped underwater and I was into a nice rainbow. Almost exactly one year later, I picked up another similar fish from the exact same spot. I guess it proves that persistence pays off, but also that a good location is going to attract fish all the time.

Flies to take

Since these are spawn-run fish, glo-bugs should always be taken - a realistic imitation can be found here. Weighted nymphs are good 'point' flies, and sometimes a dual nymph rig is a good option if you find that fish are consistently taking the nymph fly. For this sort of fishing it pays to carry a wide range of weighted nymphs, as it is imperative for the flies to be as close to the bottom as possible. This might mean that you need a really heavy nymph for fishing fast water, and a more lightly weighted nymph for the slower sections. Don't get discouraged if you get the odd snag either - it just means you're getting down deep enough to be bouncing the bottom, which is a good thing!

Tips and Tricks

Fluorocarbon is handy leader material to use, not because it is commonly thought to be "invisible", but because it has a higher density than normal monofilament, and therefore sinks a lot faster. Believe me, this is a big advantage as it gets your flies in the strike zone quicker.

Carry mucilin or floatant with you - when you get to a shallow section, you won't have to trim the leader, just grease the leader below the indicator so it sinks a bit slower. I have found my flyline tip sometimes needs a bit of help floating too, as can be the case for older lines with cracked outer coatings.

Indicators can range from polypropylene yarn to small foam indicators, and the size of the indicator usually depends on how heavy your flies will be. Usually I like to use a polypropylene indicator, formed by doubling over a piece of yarn and wrapping thread around it to form a loop (see picture below). The key step is to then seal the outside of the yarn by spraying it with a sealant like Selleys Water Shield. This makes it less prone to getting waterlogged and losing it's buoyancy.