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Amazing what water can do
  |  First Published: December 2011



It's amazing what a bit of water can do to the landscape. And to the fish.

With the 10-year drought behind us and one full year of El Niña weather since then, the Canberra-Monaro district is looking glorious.

The grass has grown tall and although it is now haying off for Summer, there is still a reasonable amount of green at ground level.

Trees and shrubs are in full leaf, many are flowering and buzzing with industrious bees and other insects; birds have finished or are still nesting and fat young are showing everywhere.

Frogs are croaking at a variety and volume not heard for many years. Snakes and lizards are out in good numbers; aquatic and terrestrial insects abound.

The bogong moths and the first of the grasshoppers have arrived. The Summer bushfires are still waiting to start.

Above all, the streams and lakes are carrying excellent heads of water. It's trickling and gurgling after each rainfall, spilling into and boosting lake levels to unexpected heights.

The fish are enjoying it immensely and fishing is as good as it has been at any time in the past 20 years. There are a lot of satisfied customers in the region.

That's what a bit of water can do.

SMALL STREAMS

It is most interesting how trout have re-invaded the many smaller streams, many of which haven't carried trout for years.

They're back for several reasons. They can get access which has been denied them in past years and there is unexpected room and food for them in the newly-flooded waterways.

They enjoy their newfound freedom and food and seem confident that water levels will remain high enough for them to settle permanently or semi-permanently.

If not, later in Summer they can always fall back to the larger, permanent rivers.

Small streams can provide exciting and productive fishing for browns and rainbows. Some of the streams are just a couple of metres across and vary in depth from 30cm to a couple of metres.

They tend to be overgrown and partially enclosed by grass, reeds and shrubs and run clear for much of the season.

Fly fishers with a good eye for accuracy and distance can plant a nymph, small wet or dry fly upstream in a small creek and have a lot of fun with fish mostly 20cm to 30cm long but occasionally larger.

Upstream fishing is preferred because most of the fish are facing into the current and the angler is positioned in the fish's only blind spot.

Lure anglers also can do well with small minnows, spoons and spinning-blade patterns.

Again, accurate upstream casting and stealthy movement are the keys to success.

Bait fishing in these small waters is not an easy proposition for most but recently I met a colleague who has perfected upstream casting with a single heavy scrub worm, using 1kg braid and a fly rod. It sounds ungainly but he has a lot of fun with it and catches plenty of fish.

He says he enjoys the feeling that he is truly hunting, not just worm-drowning.

LARGER STREAMS

The larger trout streams also have been a hive of activity. In many the trout that would normally have migrated downstream as water levels dropped have stayed upstream, confident of continuing water supply.

Anglers working the upper reaches of the Murrumbidgee, Tumut, Goobragandra, Eucumbene, Snowy, Thredbo, Moonbah, Cotter, Goodradigbee and others have all come back with the same reports – the fish are up there in good numbers and size.

They have had plenty of food, as the conditions have led to a marked increase in insect numbers and variety. Lots of insect movement in and over the water results in lots of active fish and that makes for good fly and lure fishing.

Early in the season most of the fishing was with wet flies but now the balance has shifted to dries.

Top performers include all of the traditional patterns – Royal Humpy, Hairwing Coachman, Greenwell’s Glory, White Moth, Iron Blue Dun, March Brown, Coch-y-Bondhu and the like. For traditional fly fishers there is a great sense of satisfaction in taking fish on these ageless classics.

For lure tossers the same feelings apply to established patterns – minnows from Strike Pro, Rapala, Baby Merlin and others, Celtas and Rooster Tails; Imp, Crocodile and Wonder Spoons and even Tasmanian Devils in the larger streams.

LAKES

The mountain lakes are producing unprecedented numbers of fish.

In Eucumbene, Jindabyne and Tantangara, rainbows to about 1.2kg are everywhere and can be taken with relative ease on PowerBait, scrub worms and bardi grubs fished from the shore, especially at night.

The larger browns mostly have been mostly caught on scrubbies, bardi grub s and small yabbies.

Fly fishers have done well, with a lot now fishing loch-style, with long leaders and the legally-allowed three flies. Fly patterns vary day to day but there have been some good fish taken on the Red Ant, Black Ant, Bivisible, Humpy, Royal and Hairwing Coachmen, Mrs Simpson, Craig’s Nightime, Hamill’s Killer and especially on Woolly Worms and Woolly Buggers.

Trollers have fared reasonably well with Tasmanian Devils and larger minnow on flatlines in the mornings and lead core later. Slow trolling at night with outsized deep-divers has become increasingly popular for the big browns in Jindabyne.

LOWLAND BUZZING

In the lowland lakes fishing generally has been satisfactory. Canberra's five urban lakes have fished well for redfin, carp, golden perch and Murray cod with bait but less so with lures because of lingering turbidity associated with housing and other development.

Burrinjuck has produced plenty of golden perch on bait and lures and some excellent cod have been reported. Shrimps caught on site, yabbies, scrub worms and bardi grubs have all been effective.

Lure fishers have fared best with spinnerbaits, blades, bibless minnows and deep divers.

Turbidity again has been a problem but that's the result of ongoing rainfall. It's a small price to pay for some of the best fishing we have had for many years.

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