Our expert mates at the Weather Bureau tell us that if El Niña still registers strong signals during Autumn then we can expect it to continue throughout the rest of the year. And the good news is that it is registering strongly, so we can look forward to more rain, more full or near-full streams, lakes, creeks and swamps that are the lifeblood of our inland fisheries. Hooray.
Canberra is within easy striking distance of a number of significant lowland lakes, notably Googong, Burrinjuck, Blowering, Burrendong and Wyangala, where fishing is dominated by the thought of catching native fish but where there is also a big population of carp and redfin.
There is some sense of balance in the fisheries in that silver perch, Murray cod and golden perch eat significant numbers of carp and redfin, but because of their greater breeding capacity carp and redfin usually represent the greater part of the biomass in each waterway.
That has been obvious in Googong in recent times, where redfin have made it extremely difficult to catch any other fish.
They pounce on every form of bait and every type of lure, even massive ones designed with cod in mind. That tends to ruin what might otherwise could have been a good day’s fishing unless, of course, the redfin are big enough to provide sport and a feed.
That’s when you go to Blowering or Burrendong, where for some reason the redfin are bigger. Surprising how different each of the lakes can be.
Silver perch can be indicative of that difference, too. If you fish Wyangala you have a good chance of catching one; in the other lakes the chances are almost zilch.
Catfish, too, show up in Burrendong and Wyangala, but are notably absent in the other lakes.
Cod and golden perch have been the big prizes and Blowering and Burrinjuck have been the most productive in recent times.
Cod have been taken mostly on large deep divers or big spinnerbaits, but fishers using yabbies, shrimps, scrub worms and bardi grubs have also taken their share. There have been a few big cod around 40kg this season but most anglers have been happy to catch and release fish up to about 15kg.
Golden perch take the same baits as cod but usually require smaller deep divers and spinnerbaits. Most of the fish are around 1.5 to 2kg but one lovely specimen from Burrinjuck recently weighed 6.1kg. It was the biggest we had seen this year until a Wodonga angler fishing the Murray turned up with a monster at 7.2kg straight afterwards.
The fish have been feeding well all season, relishing full reservoirs and masses of food. They will remain active for a little longer, increasing their food intake as they get a whiff of Winter, but will go into retirement when the really cold weather arrives.
It's been a similar picture in each of Canberra's five urban lakes – Tuggeranong, Burley Griffin, Ginninderra, Gungahlin and Yerrabi. They are regularly stocked with cod and golden perch and yield some good fish on lures and bait.
Just recently they have switched their attention from lures to bait, again probably because of the smell of Winter. It comes pretty early in Canberra and because the fish are at the very top of their altitudinal range, they are very responsive to the falling air and water temperature.
There has been some interesting fishing in the spillways of the lakes, where large numbers of cod, golden perch and redfin were washed out of the lakes following heavy rain in the catchments.
The fish are confined in small pools immediately below the spillways so are easy prey for the meat hunters but it has been reassuring to see other anglers and particularly local kids catching the fish then lugging them back up to be released back into the waterway from whence they came.
Perhaps you can visualise the scene on one particular day at Lake Ginninderra when an angler cradling a 25kg cod in his arms had to negotiate four lanes of high-speed traffic to get across to release the fish. He said the toots, honks and cheers from the traffic were a delight to hear.
On the more serious side, a lady was seen emptying a bucket of live fish into the same lake recently. The identity of the fish was not determined but after the scare of finding an aggressive carnivorous aquarium discard, an oscar, in a local lake recently anglers are predictably concerned about a repeat effort.
We have stressed through local media outlets the need to dispose of unwanted aquarium fish properly, by killing them humanely or by taking them back to a local aquarium shop, so we hope the message gets through.
Special events sometime make you think there is some form of regional contact or specific response to climatic factors among the local trout population, because on the very same day, April 4, I received reports of brown trout simultaneously aggregating in pre-spawning locations on the Thredbo, Eucumbene, Murrumbidgee and Tumut rivers.
The fish formed up in large schools, finning headfirst into the current in all the regular hot spots where we have seen them in previous years, and naturally caused great excitement among anglers, especially fly fishers.
Despite the large numbers, the fish proved difficult to catch. They were line-shy in the crystal-clear water and baulked at every cast and swish of the rod.
Most anglers finished the day without taking a fish but one landed and released six nice browns by using the right technique. His party trick was to cast well upstream using a sink-tip line, then let the fly roll down precisely to the mouth of a fish holding in the current.
As soon as the fly was no longer visible or if there was the slightest increase in tension on the line, he lifted the rod gently and achieved a hook-up. Among a mass of fishless anglers his artistry was a joy to behold.
From now on, anglers will persist with tungsten bead-head nymphs, Glo Bugs and other wet patterns in an attempt to hook a trophy fish but the Queen’s Birthday closure of the trout streams will save lot of fish from further harassment.
During June, July and August the fish will finalise their spawning on upstream gravel beds and then it will be the turn of the rainbows.
The big lakes stay open all year round, so dedicated anglers can still get their fix every week. Jindabyne and Eucumbene have fished well this year, especially for rainbows on PowerBait, scrub worms and bardi grubs.
Recently we have had some superb dry fly fishing on gentle Autumn-Winter days and have seen some good fish taken on the Red Tag, Elk Hair Caddis, Klinkhammer, Hardy’s Favourite, Iron Blue Dun, White Moth and late season grasshopper, mudeye and bogong moth patterns.
Fish of 32cm to 35cm have been common and in superb condition. We have kept a few for the table and the smoker and they have been delicious.Reads: 1930