Tantangara Dam – A shore based angler’s playground by Peter Jung

When people talk about fishing the NSW Snowy Mountains lakes, the majority of the chatter is about Lake Eucumbene or Lake Jindabyne. The pre-spawn run in the Eucumbene and Thredbo rivers, the huge amount of fish that are stocked or that naturally recruit in both lakes, and the facilities and access have always been well documented.
I am the first to admit that I have spent many an hour fishing both lakes from the shore and from a boat. I was well aware of Tantangara and the quality of fish in it, but a lack of adventure on my part, and a poor first experience at the dam, meant that I gave it a wide berth. Wind the clock forward 20 years and an opportunity to revisit Tantangara on a work trip was too good an opportunity to miss.
Construction of Tantangara Dam commenced in 1958 across the Murrumbidgee River as part of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme, and was completed in 1960. Situated northeast of Lake Eucumbene, near the township of Adaminaby, access is via Tantangara Road from the Snowy Mountains Highway. This is an 18km-unsealed road that takes you to the dam wall itself.
From here access to the shoreline and fishing is via a number of trails and tracks that I will cover in more detail later in this feature. The dam is entirely in the in the Kosciusko National Park and has limited facilities, so if you are intending to check Tantangara Dam out for yourself then you need to ensure that you have everything you need (firewood, food, etc.) and ensure you take all your rubbish and leave the area clean for others to enjoy as well.
There is limited access to the western shoreline via the Quarry Trail. This is a 4WD trail only and also has a closure period (June long weekend to the October long weekend). It takes you along the ridgeline of the western side of the dam and has a number of tracks that branch off it and take you down to the water. The track in general is in good condition, but does have a few low spots that can become treacherous if there has been recent rain, so take care.
On the other hand, the eastern side of the dam has better access due to the quality of the roads and trails that can be used. Pockets Saddle Road crosses the Murrumbidgee River below the dam wall and meanders high above the reservoir itself, taking you towards the top of the dam to the Port Phillip and Tantangara E trails, which lead to the shoreline of the waterway.
Again, care needs to be taken, particularly if there has been recent rain. Low lying areas can be very soft underfoot and you are a long way from anybody coming to help. Once on the shoreline it is generally firm and you can find yourself a prime location to have a fish.
If you continue along the Port Phillip Trail, you'll find the dam trail. This leads down to where the Murrumbidgee River enters the waterway. This can be a prime fishing location and is a beautiful part of the dam.
As mentioned, my first experience fishing Tantangara was a shocker. I had three very cold days there and didn't even look like catching a fish. I remember thinking at the time that my mate Andy must have caught his 8lb trophy brown trout elsewhere and he was leading me down the garden path. That experience ensured that prior to this visit I did a little bit of investigation into the waterway and how it fishes. I discovered a few key things while doing this.
Firstly, Tantangara's water levels are prone to quite a bit of fluctuation, particularly when it has large inflows. Earlier this year the rain event that provided many areas much needed drought relief also saw Tantangara reach 75% capacity - a level that I don't ever remember seeing. Fishos rejoiced because the fish in the lake took full advantage of the freshly flooded areas and the abundance of food they provided. The fishing was exceptional and the fish were in great condition.
As quickly as the dam rose, water releases ensured it fell almost as quickly, and anglers who had experienced the highs now found the fishing very tough, and access to the shoreline treacherous. This is the extreme end of the dam's water fluctuations, however it definitely pays to keep an eye on what the water levels are doing when planning a trip. Periods where the levels are stable or when a rise has occurred are prime times to head there. Quickly dropping levels are more than likely going to result in disappointment.
The other thing I found interesting was that I couldn't find any record of the dam being stocked. Natural recruitment seems to be the only way the fish stocks replenish, so dry years around the brown and rainbow trout spawning periods will see gaps in the year classes of fish caught. This hasn't been a problem in recent years, but it's something to keep in mind. If it has been very dry, fish numbers will be down and the fishing more difficult.
On this trip the dam had been at 20% of its capacity for an extended period, and rain had ensured a great spawning season for the dam in 2016, so my and Andy's expectations were high. As we were based at the northern end of the dam, our fishing exploits also began there. Our starting point was at the top end of Mosquito Creek.
Like most of the foreshore at Tantangara there are tracks leading to the water off the main trails. We took one of these once we crossed the creek on the Port Phillip Trail. Although the dam was only at 20%, there was still a lot of shoreline to fish from. In a situation like this, narrowing down where to start is very important.
We looked for areas with steeper banks leading into the water (deducing that deeper water would be along these banks), as there are lots of shallow areas all over the waterway and these deeper banks tend to be like highways for the trout, bringing them within casting distance. We then set about exploring the area on foot using the following methods.
My preferred style of lure to search new areas like we found at Tantangara are small diving minnows. Most major brands have a lure that is suitable to do this. They just need to be 3-5cm in length and run around 2-5ft deep. My preferred lures are either the Bullet Five-O minnow or the Rapala CD5 minnow (both also have 3cm versions). Both have great castability and a range of colours to suit most conditions and times of year.