In recent years the opening of the trout season has been greeted with mixed feelings. The awful drought had ruined many of our favourite trout streams and anglers were confused whether they should fish, many feeling that the trout had enough without us adding to that pressure.
Rivers and creeks had dried up, the trout population sadly diminished and with seemingly little chance of recovery.
This year, however, anglers seemed to be in better spirits. It seems that we had mostly got over the loss of many of our trout streams and had accepted the inevitable of fishing mostly only the higher country streams where there was an assured flow from rain and snowmelt and where we knew there big fish populations.
That's why there were such big crowds flocking to the Thredbo, Eucumbene and Murrumbidgee Rivers and to some of their creek tributaries, as well as a few of the fringe lower-country streams.
In each of the high-country streams anglers were pleasantly surprised at the good water flow and large numbers of fish.
The flow resulted in part from an above-average snowfall, 10% of which was being claimed by the people seeding clouds in the mountains. This may have an important bearing on snowfalls in future years, especially as they refine the accuracy and productivity of their cloud seeding.
We also had some Spring rain and combined with some warm weather, this induced a sudden large-scale snowmelt which put a lot of water into the streams.
The biggest crowds were on the Thredbo River, with many anglers working the section between Gaden Hatchery and the road bridge downstream. It was a heady mix of fly and lure anglers with the usual mix of camaraderie, bonhomie and occasional inexcusable bad manners.
Most fly anglers opted for a mix of Glo Bugs, Muppets and beadhead nymphs, with occasional other small and large wets. The most successful used a sinking or sink-tip line to get the fly down to where the fish were stationed in quite strong flow.
Lure anglers mostly stuck to Celtas, small minnows, Imp Spoons, Wonder Spoons, Wonder Crocodiles or Pegron Minnows, all of which could be worked deeply and slowly in the strike zone for bottom-hugging fish.
The vast majority of fish caught were rainbows, mostly around 800g but some were larger. Many were still fresh from spawning and although they might have been good fun to catch they were hardly useful as table fish.
Some were still dark, slabby and thin, with pale, unattractive flesh and the wiser anglers who had seen this before had no problems about returning the fish to the water. Others, however, through ignorance or greed, took their bag limit and sometimes even more, sneaking away to hide their catch before returning for more.
Some were chatted to by other anglers, inducing the usual foul-mouthed and bad-mannered response, while others were nicely apprehended by NSW Fisheries inspectors, who mounted a big effort right through the opening.
There were a few browns in the river, mostly larger, stronger and more recovered from spawning than the rainbows. Some were caught and returned while others made a rich prize for the campfire or home table.
The Eucumbene River also saw a lot of anglers but crowding wasn't an especially difficult problem and manners were surprisingly good among anglers of different ages, ethnic backgrounds and experience.
Lure and fly anglers used much the same gear as on the Thredbo and most anglers were happy with their success rate. Several of my fly students fishing their first opening were delighted to catch and release 15 or 20 rainbows in a morning session and take an occasional brown as a table bonus.
Casting was easy on much of the river because although there was some weed and shrub growth along the banks, much of the larger vegetation had been removed by the 2003 bushfires and that meant little on the back cast to worry about.
The big test for these fly anglers will come later as stream flows diminish and the fish become more wary.
We've also had a good run of native and introduced fish in the lower-country lakes, including Blowering, Burrinjuck, Wyangala, Googong and Canberra's urban lakes.
In Blowering there have been some big golden perch coming out on lures and bait. Fishing here should improve as the weather warms and more goldens come on the bite and the redfin become more active after spawning.
Wyangala has been an interesting mix of success and disappointment. Many anglers reported poor fishing early, with only small goldens and an occasional catfish on bait and little on lures. Locals hope that things will pick up with warmer weather but are still concerned that they might have lost a lot of their fish when the reservoir was drained to near-extinction during recent drought years.
Burrinjuck also has been an interesting mix. The golden perch came on the bite early in Spring, then seemed to disappear.
In recent trips anglers have found little success in the Main Basin or the lower Murrumbidgee Arm. On one weekend 21 members of a good fishing club worked hard for just two catch-and-release Murray cod and not another fish.
On the same weekend, another group fished near Wade island for 21 golden perch, all on shrimps and yabbies, which suggests the fish are bunched up prior to migrating up the feeder rivers, the Yass and Murrumbidgee.
There have been a few fish active at night. One group fished Scrubby on the ’Bidgee Arm, using saltwater prawns, scrub worms and yabbies and found a few golden perch, two tiny cod and a couple of redfin. They caught only two carp during the 48-hour trip.
To add to the confusion, on a weekend when virtually nobody else got a fish, a Yass husband-and-wife team fished upstream at Good Hope and took 26 golden perch on Hogbacks. It's hard to understand any pattern to the fish behaviour at present but hopefully they will sort it out with the advent of Summer proper.
The big success story has been Canberra's urban lakes, especially Burley Griffin, where anglers have taken some excellent golden perch on bibless minnows, spinnerbaits and deep-diving Burrinjuck Specials. Most of the fish have been around 1.6kg to 1.9kg but there have been a few whoppers including one fish which was not weighed but which was 62cm long.
There have been some big redfin taken and as soon as the fish have spawned, expected about now, the real activity should start. We're looking forward to it.Reads: 1047