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It’s back to the future
  |  First Published: April 2012



Flooding in early March has enabled us older anglers to talk about a return to the conditions of the1970s, when fishing in the region was at its peak.

Younger anglers are seeing perhaps for the first time just how productive this country can be as long as we have enough water. Until recently all that most of them have seen is drought and generally difficult fishing so today's conditions are an eye-opener.

Murray cod have been the outstanding species this year. They have been the predominant catch in all of Canberra's five urban lakes, in Googong Reservoir and especially in Burrinjuck and Wyangala dams.

The cod have been taken on a variety of lures, mainly spinnerbaits and big Custom Craft, AC Invader, Smak Golden Child, Viking, Taylor Made and StumpJumper deep divers. These have been most effective trolled or cast close to steep rock faces, flooded trees, overhanging shrubs and trees, along the edges of weed beds, around stumps and logs, jetties and anywhere where the fish could hide ready to ambush fish and other prey.

I made the point to some students recently that fish have no eyelids so if they want to keep out of irritating or hurtful sunlight, they seek shelter. Look for that shelter and you will find fish.

To experienced anglers that is simple logic but to newcomers it's somewhat of a revelation.

I made the point also that cod mostly stay deep in the water column, at least during the day when most people are fishing for them. At depth visibility is reduced so to be most effective you need colours that fish can see and recognise – flashy materials that attract their attention and noise-makers such as throbbers, rattlers and vibrators to alert them to your lure's presence.

You also need to slow down the lure to give the fish a chance to see it, size it up, decide whether it is worth hitting, then chase after it and grab it before it is out of range.

To put all this information together you need to think in 3D. The trick is to visualise the scene below the water: where the fish is most likely to be, at what depth, how close your lure will pass by and when to expect a strike.

If you do everything right and you get a hook-up, that's great. If you don't, think of changing lure depth and speed and if that doesn't work try another pattern.

It's amazing how often you will get a hook-up on the first cast or troll with a new lure.

On the other hand, you might like to try the old trick of irritating a fish into striking. In some locations if you are pretty sure a fish is there, you can keep on casting until the fish gets cranky and grabs the lure.

I have very clear memories of doing this successfully on many occasions and the best example was when a mate fishing the Murrumbidgee River cast the same lure 32 times into the same spot until a big cod finally took it.

The bait scene also has been interesting. Most years if you wanted a cod the best baits were yabbies, shrimps or bardi grubs, with lesser numbers on scrub worms and other worms. This year, however, scrub worms have been the top bait.

I've been searching for a reason and I think it's because of the ongoing rain. Rain means runoff and a common component of runoff is worms. I suspect the fish get used to them because of the constant offerings, develop a taste for them and keep feeding on them.

Either way, it has been a cheap and effective way of finding a cod this year. And if you use circle hooks that lodge well forward in the fish's mouth it's easy to release the fish with as little damage as possible to fight another day. Bait fishing for once can be seen as a conservation tactic.

CATCH AND RELEASE

Catch and release also seems to be having an interesting impact on the cod. There are a lot more of them around than in previous years, which I believe is the combined effect of increased stocking, improved spawning opportunities, better food in the form of carp and redfin and particularly catch and release.

In previous years there were a few larger cod and lots of smaller fish. Nowadays there are more larger fish and a pleasantly surprising number of 80cm to 90cm, many of which I suspect have been caught and released at least once.

Perhaps we should be pushing for a tagging and recording program to check this out; I'll raise the matter with ACT and NSW fisheries authorities.

In the meantime, all power to the Government and amateur fishing agencies that are stocking and looking after the cod. Burrinjuck and Wyangala have just been stocked and in the ACT 37,000 cod fingerlings have been added to Lake Burley Griffin.

BIG GOLDENS

Golden perch also have benefitted from the better weather, water and food. They have been big, fat and strong and have provided a lot of fun on lures, mostly smaller versions of those used for cod.

Scrub worms again have been the top bait but good fish also have been taken on tiger worms, shrimps, yabbies and bardi grubs. They also seem to have benefitted from catch and release programs and the average size is markedly larger than in previous years.

TROUT VARY

On the trout scene the picture varies day by day. In the early morning many of the fish are feeding at the surface, gulping down insects which accumulated during the night. They are easy prey for fly and lure anglers.

As the sun gets up the fish move into deeper water where they are harder to reach. Fly fishers can shift to sink-tip or sinking lines and lure fishers on the bank have to make long casts and let the lures sink to considerable depths.

Trollers that were catching fish flatlining early in the morning have to switch to lead-core line or downriggers to reach the target zone. Bait fishers have to move from the shallows to steep banks and deeper water to stay in contact with the fish.

That pattern continues until late afternoon or night, when the fish again return to the surface and the shore.

Interruptions to this pattern happen when there is a major hatch or movement of a particular insect during the day. There could be, for example, a hatch of caddis or mayfly, a fall of ants, a flight of beetles, a surge of midges or an invasion of grasshoppers.

That's when fly-fishing becomes the greatest way in the world of catching trout and taking advantage of nature's benefits.

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