Guthega PondageSnowy Mountains NSW
There’s a little gem of a trout lake perched way up high in the shadow of Mount Kosciuszko that’s often overlooked by anglers visiting the Snowy mountains. It’s called Guthega pondage.
Guthega Pondage is a small, often-overlooked body of cold, clean trout water perched at an altitude of 1,585 m (5,200 feet) in the Snowy Mountains high country, between Jindabyne and the summit of Mount Kosciuszko. By virtue of its location and low profile in the general angling media, Guthega is rarely crowded, yet it’s capable of turning on some surprisingly good fishing at times.
The Pondage lies at the end of a winding track that leaves the Kosciuszko Road less than half an hour’s drive west of Jindabyne township, not too far after passing through the entry gates of the National Park (and stopping to pay for that privilege). The last few kilometres to the dam itself remain unsealed. While able to be easily negotiated even in a small, two-wheel-drive vehicle during most of summer, a relatively light snowfall or sudden, heavy deluge of rain can quickly render the track impassable… And make no mistake about it: at this altitude the weather is extremely fickle. Snow in December is far from unknown!
“The waters of Guthega Pondage are home to both brown and rainbow trout, with wild-spawned browns in the 20 to 40 cm length range (generally under 800 g in weight) tending to predominate.”
Through winter, Guthega becomes a popular ski resort, with deep snow drifts blanketing the surrounding slopes, and the surface of the lake itself periodically freezing over completely from shore to sloping shore.
In stark contrast to this picture of a white-frosted winter wonderland, Guthega Pondage was baking under a surprisingly fierce summer sun when I last visited, with the mercury climbing well into the mid-30s by early afternoon! Such intense heat would hardly seem conducive to great trout fishing, yet so short-lived is summer at this elevation that the deep waters of the dam remain refreshingly chilly and well-suited to the needs of their speckled inhabitant.
Ease of access to the water’s edge at Guthega varies, depending upon any works or upgrades being undertaken at the time. During my end-of-January visit, it was necessary to park several hundred metres away; up towards the locked-up ski lodges, and walk down a steep, grassy ridge to the lake, as the lower road that loops around to the dam wall itself was firmly barred by a locked gate.
There’s no boat ramp or handy launching spot at Guthega, so the options are limited to land-based fishing, or perhaps the use of a float tube or similar minimalist personal watercraft. It would theoretically be possible to man-handle a kayak or canoe down to the water’s edge, but the long drag back up the hill would have been very daunting when I was there last, especially in that energy-sapping high summer heat!
Fortunately, being shore-bound is no great disadvantage at Guthega, as the water is deep and the resident trout seem to spend much of their time patrolling the vegetated edges, within easy lure or fly casting distance of the banks. That’s the good news… the bad news is that large stretches of the lake’s shore are either too steep, too heavily overgrown with low scrub, or both, to facilitate easy access.
Visiting anglers tend to adopt one of three approaches. The first is to remain fairly close to the dam wall itself and fish the reasonably accessible stretches of rocky bank to its south west, as well as the more open parts over on the northern side of the wall. These are especially attractive venues for older and less fit fishers, or those with kids in tow.
The second alternative is to walk across the wall and work your way around the Guthega Creek arm of the small lake, which runs away to the north. The third and perhaps most ambitious approach is to take the Illawong hiking trail to the south west, cross the small bridge over Blue Cow Creek, and ascend the steep incline beyond before descending once more to the lake’s edge in its upper reaches.
Depending upon your fitness level and enthusiasm, it might even be possible to fish right up along this Snowy River arm of the pondage until you reach the inflowing waters of that feeder stream. In fact, it would even theoretically be possible to link up the last two routes described and circumnavigate the lake completely, although this would be a full day’s expedition, and one best tackled by anglers of above-average fitness. Breaking an ankle or suffering some other injury on the far side of the lake is a contingency that deserves consideration, especially in a landscape riddled with wombat burrows! Mobile phone coverage is patchy up here, at best, so consider buying or hiring a personal locating beacon (EPIRB) before tackling any major hikes, and always tell someone where you’re going and what time you expect to be back, especially if travelling alone.
It’s also worth stressing that, despite its elevation, the country around Guthega Pondage is home to both copperheads and possibly even tiger snakes, and these venomous reptiles are often at their most active in exactly the sort of weather that’s also conducive to high country trout fishing. Tread carefully, watch where you put your feet, wear at least long pants and preferably gaiters or waders, carry a compression bandage and know the basics of snake bite first aid. The life you save may be your own!
The waters of Guthega Pondage are home to both brown and rainbow trout, with wild-spawned browns in the 20 to 40 cm length range (under 800 g in weight) tending to predominate. Thanks to its short season of abundance and cold, clear, relatively infertile waters, Guthega is not regarded as a trophy fishery. Instead, it tends to support reasonably high numbers of mostly small trout. However, that’s not to say that there isn’t the odd bigger trout lurking in the depths!
The two best ways to tackle Guthega are to fly fish, or to spin with relatively small lures and a light casting outfit. Mobility is a major key to success. Covering ground (and therefore water) tends to produce better results than planting yourself in one spot. In my book, the perfect option would be to carry a multi-piece No. 3 to 5 weight fly rod and a two piece or telescopic light spinning rod together in a tube strapped to your backpack, swapping between these versatile weapons as conditions and fortunes dictate.
Because of the amazing water clarity (well in excess of 3 m when I was last there), sight-fishing is almost a given and, for this reason, I regard Guthega as a prime fly casting destination. During summer, the visibly cruising fish will often come up for any small imitation of a terrestrial organism such as a beetle, caddis moth, mayfly or grasshopper. However, these fish are “bright” in every way — not just visually attractive and stunningly spotted, but also extremely wary and switched-on to their surroundings. Relatively long, accurate casts with lengthy leaders carrying ultra-fine tippets work best, and diminutive flies in the No. 16 to No. 12 size range are generally more productive than larger patterns. Wearing drab coloured or camouflaged clothing, moving slowly and carefully and staying below the skyline to avoid silhouetting yourself against the sky are also critical keys to success.
If fish are refusing to rise to your dries, switch to a very small, lightly-weighted nymph or a soft-hackled wet fly instead. Get this offering down to the level of an approaching fish and try imparting a tiny twitch to the fly when the fish is still a good 2m away. One of two reactions is almost inevitable: flight or bite!
If the weather is mucky, the fish are down and visibility limited, dredging with a wet fly such as a Woolly Bugger or Matuka on a sinking line may well produce results. However, to be honest, when those conditions prevail I’d just as soon pull out the ultra-light spin gear and do exactly the same job with far greater efficiency and much less time spent picking leaders and flies out of the shrubbery behind. Sometimes it pays to put the pragmatist ahead of the purist!
Spin fishers have things a little easier than their fly casting colleagues. They can cast from much tighter spots, even with dense vegetation right behind them, and are able to shoot their offerings well out into deeper water and count them down into the depths, as well as prospecting up along the shorelines, effectively covering the water both horizontally and vertically.
That said, lure casters also reap the benefits of increased finesse at Guthega. Fine main lines and leaders (ideally nothing over 2 kg), long casts and small, discretely-coloured lures are definitely the go.
Little in-line spinners, tiny spoons, metal vibes, hair-dressed micro jigs, small soft plastics and naturalistic minnows or mini-plugs all work well at Guthega, with the emphasis on neutral or darker colours. Avoid excessive flash and brightness unless conditions are very murky and dull indeed.
Guthega Pondage is probably not the type of destination keen trout fishers living in Sydney or Melbourne spend their long winter dreaming about, nor would many be likely to pack their cars and head here at the exclusion of all other locations. Instead, it’s a great back-up, add-on or alternate day trip venue if you’re already up in the high country fishing Eucumbene, Jindabyne, Tantangara or the many streams in between… More of a “Plan B Spot”, if you like.
Guthega Pondage is also not a place you’d want to visit during inclement weather, nor generally too early and late in the season. However, when the sun is shining, the birds are singing, the mercury is climbing and conditions seem almost too pleasant and summery for prime trout fishing elsewhere, Guthega is exactly the sort of little high country gem that just might prove to be a trip-saving ace up the piscatorial sleeve.
Situated some 40 km west of the township of Jindabyne, in the direction of Mount Kosciuszko, and perched at an altitude of 1,585 m (5,200 feet) above sea level on the headwaters of the Snowy River, Guthega Pondage is part of the vast Snowy Mountains Scheme (better known today simply as Snowy Hydro).
Completed in 1955, Guthega is actually the oldest, highest and one of the smallest dams in this entire network of inter-connected impoundments, tunnels, diversions, aqueducts and power stations.
Water from the pondage is released down massive pipes from the dam at times of high power demand to drive the turbines at Guthega Power Station, located a couple of kilometres downstream along the Snowy River. When demand is at its lowest, this water is pumped back uphill again. As a result, the level of Guthega Pondage can vary quite rapidly. Fishing here tends to be at its best when it’s filling rather than emptying, but there can be exceptions to this rule.
It should also be noted that the Snowy River below the power station and downstream as far as the backed-up waters of Island Bend Pondage are sporadically subject to very sudden and potentially dangerous rises in level and flow rate during periods of power generation. In the past, anglers have been trapped on the far bank of the river, sometimes overnight, by these dramatic fluctuations in river height, so be careful!