There are a lot of smiling faces around the Canberra-Monaro region. We've had a fair bit of rain and although the snow was late coming, there have been some decent falls and there is now a lot of snowmelt and rain runoff going into lakes and streams.
Lakes are still rising and most streams are running well, although some are high and discoloured. Water levels overall are much higher than at any time in the past 10 years and we could believe the drought is over. We won't relax yet, but we are optimistic.
Most of the Monaro streams require stocking each year because natural breeding is insufficient to maintain a decent trout population. The fingerlings are produced at Gaden Hatchery from wild fish trapped in local rivers, then stripped for eggs and semen before being released.
Stocking is undertaken by NSW Fisheries staff at the hatchery and by volunteers from the Cooma Trout Acclimatisation Society and other branches of the Monaro Acclimatisation Society. President Bob Jones reported that there was a successful stocking in mid-Winter of two of our most famous trout streams, the Maclaughlin River and Bobundara Creek, and a succession of other stockings have followed.
There was one small glitch when the Gaden staff were unable to use one of their most productive fish traps on the Thredbo River. NSW Occupational Health and Safety officials deemed it too dangerous to access the trap, presumably because of high flows of icy water and an unstable river bed.
But enough wild fish were trapped and stripped at alternative sites on Gang Gang Creek and the Eucumbene River to produce the required number of fingerlings for the stocking program. A high survival rate is expected if we get continuing rain although there will be the normal losses through predation by darters, cormorants, herons, kingfishers, eels, water rats and larger cannibalistic trout.
This year also we may have to consider the growing threat of predation by redfin and carp. Redfin are notorious predators and we've seen carp swallowing live fish so there is no reason to assume they won't eat small trout.
The increasing numbers of carp in previously carp-free streams highlights the danger.
All trout streams in the ACT and NSW are now open to fishing and fly, bait and lure anglers will be out in force.
High and discoloured water, common early in the season, is testing but there are a few tricks.
Fly fishers will benefit from fishing smaller patterns, especially nymphs, small Matukas, Stoneflies, stick caddis, Nymbeets and Coachmen. Most fish wets because there is little terrestrial insect activity at this time of year.
Bead heads and added body flash are useful in highlighting the fly in dirty water.
There are some exceptions to this rule and I know one good angler who opened the season every year with Muddler Minnows. He took some great fish.
Much of the fishing is across and down, rather than upstream, and long casting is rarely required because the fish aren't as easily spooked in the discoloured water.
Slow retrieves give the fish plenty of time to see the fly and catch it.
The fish are usually in prime condition and very frisky, with even small specimens providing a lot of fun.
Lure anglers usually fare best with smaller, lighter and brighter lures that still work at low speeds. Favourites include small Celtas, Mepps, Wonder Imps and Rapala or Strike Pro minnows.
Larger lures tend to frighten rather than attract fish and get snagged a lot because of the difficulty of seeing weed and other obstructions in the dirty water. Slow retrieves again are the order of the day.
Bait fishers have a few problems in fast water so quieter runs and backwaters are more favoured. Top baits include scrub worms and tiger worms but bardi grubs are worth a try and increasing numbers of anglers are trying PowerBait in streams as well as lakes. Baits can be fished under a float or on a small running sinker rig.
Just be sure that the stream you intend to fish permits the use of bait.
Lake fishing also has its attractions. Most of the browns and many of the rainbows are back from spawning and feeding heavily to regain condition. They commonly work the shallows looking for food.
Fly fishers can have fun polaroiding for fish in the shallows and making long casts to them with cased caddis, small nymphs or other wets.
Lure anglers can lure cast from the shore or troll small to medium-sized minnows, Flatfish, larger Celtas and Wonder Spoons, on flat line or with lead core.
Bait fishers commonly score well with PowerBait, scrub worms and bardi grubs, with the best fishing usually late afternoon or just after dark.
Use light tackle with small sinkers and tiny hooks – fish don't like picking up a heavy sinker, line or large hooks.
Some of the rainbows have not yet spawned and those encountered in the lake or more commonly in the stream should be treated gently. It's considered poor form to deliberately target a spawning fish and given that they provide minimal sport and are useless to eat there is no point in fishing for them.
They are late spawners, still going about their business and deserve to be left alone.
Fish are slowly waking up in the lower country streams and lakes.
Redfin are usually feeding by now, although most should be good ones until the hordes of little ones show again. Lures and worms should be effective, with bait preferred in discoloured water.
Golden perch should be on the move in Burrinjuck, Blowering, Wyangala and Canberra's urban lakes. Yabbies and scrub worms are the preferred baits and shinier lures such as Wonder Spoons and spinnerbait should work best in discoloured water.
The Murray cod season is closed until December 1 so these fish should not be deliberately targeted. They will be caught accidentally, however, and anglers are duty-bound to release them as quickly and gently as possible.
Using single rather than treble hooks on lures and nimble fingers with a pair of long-nosed pliers will help minimise damage to accidentally hooked fish.Reads: 1975