Fish bonanza at a cost
  |  First Published: June 2012

Winter has finally arrived in the Canberra-Monaro district and all the signs are that La Niña has departed, for the time being, at least. Now it's time to take stock of what has happened during the past year.

La Niña had a remarkable impact on the regional environment. Creeks, streams and rivers have been running full right through the season and are still carrying good heads of water.

Lakes have overflowed and are still high. Trees, shrubs and grassland have been washed clean and are the picture of blooming good health.

Snakes and lizards have been more abundant and more active than in past years, bird populations look pleasingly healthy, frogs and toads have shown in great numbers and there are insects everywhere. Life is blooming and booming. And it's all because of water.

There have been other impacts, however. The rain was welcome, especially when it fell in reasonable volumes spaced over many days.

But there were times when there were immense storm-charged flows and floods that tore through the landscape with a ferocity not seen for many years.

Streams and rivers changed course, shrubs and trees were torn from the ground, banks were eroded and farm property damaged. The character of many rivers has been changed dramatically, not always for the better.

The Goodradigbee River was a good example. This popular, easily-accessible, gentle-flowing trout stream to the west of Canberra issues from the depths of Kosciuszko National Park, flows through the historic and picturesque Brindabella Valley and drains into Burrinjuck Reservoir through pastoral and wild bush country.

It received on one occasion 300mm of rain in a few hours. The raging torrent tore the landscape asunder. Bridges were damaged or disappeared, huge boulders were dislodged and relocated all over the countryside, trees and shrubs were carried away, stream banks were massively eroded and gravel, sand and clay beds were gouged out, destroyed or relocated.

Roads, tracks and picnic and camping reserves have been obliterated. The damage is so extensive that the main road from Canberra has been closed indefinitely and locked gates prevent access.

This is just one stream that we won't be fishing for a while. It's a sobering leveller amongst the otherwise happy thoughts about the rain.


The news is more pleasant on other streams. Early in the season the trout somehow figured out there was likely to be plenty of water in small and large streams right through the season and stayed in place after spawning or moved into the upper waterways in search of room and food.

Fly and lure anglers have enjoyed some of the best light-tackle stream fishing for many years.

All over the region fly anglers have revelled in the often unaccustomed use of lightweight rods – 3wt and 4wt – with double-taper line and light 3.6m leaders, fishing small dries, nymphs stoneflies, stick caddis, ants and grasshopper patterns to browns and rainbows of very respectable size.

And the fishing will get even better now as the first of the pre-spawning browns move upstream from Jindabyne, Eucumbene and Tantangara, where they will be more easily accessible.

Lure anglers also have had a lot of fun with small Mepps and Celta spinning blades, Imp spoons, small minnows and vibrating blades.

Working the smaller streams in particular requires a lot of skill in avoiding snags and not spooking fish in shallow, clear water, so there is a lot of satisfaction in each fish caught.


The mountain lakes have been bounteous and levels rose dramatically throughout the year.

Eucumbene and Tantangara kept rising over new ground and Jindabyne even overtopped for many days, sending vast volumes of water down the Snowy River to Marlo and the Southern Ocean.

The fishing has been superb. Lure fishers have caught excellent trout on Tasmanian Devils, Rapala and Strikepro minnows, Baby Merlin, Attack lures, Wonder Spoons, Flatfish and a host of other patterns. Trolling and bank fishing have been successful.

Fly fishers have had continuing success as the rising water levels meant many of the fish continued to feed close to shore on grubs, beetles, worms and other critters flushed from the soil. Many patterns have been successful but the best of them have been midge balls, grasshoppers, Woolly Worms, Woolly Buggers, Mrs Simpson, Craig’s Nighttime, Royal Humpy, Red Tag, Hairwing Coachman, Elk Hair Caddis, White Moth, Iron Blue Dun and various mudeye patterns.

The prime times have been early morning and late afternoon and evening but on occasions fish were available at all hours of the day.

Bait fishers have had a tremendous run. Excellent fish have been taken at any time of day on all varieties of PowerBait but especially lime twist, all varieties of Gulp but especially Chunky Cheese and the new Salmon Eggs.

Mudeyes, which arrived late this year because of the mild weather, have been deadly fished under a bubble float.


Grasshoppers, too, have been a standout bait. Just recently two little old ladies fishing at Yens Bay on Lake Eucumbene gave fellow anglers a lesson in catching big browns.

Firstly, they prowled the paddocks with a long-handled net, catching a whole jar full of big yellow grasshoppers. They then rigged each fat hopper with a bubble float and a small sinker to keep the hopper just slightly submerged and cast it well offshore.

Within minutes they were fast into a big brown, which they landed, then went on to bag out right in front of a very appreciative, mostly male audience. Round of applause!


Native fish also have been great fun. For a fair while they were hard to find because of high and dirty water in Canberra's urban lakes, Googong and Wyangala but as conditions eased and the water cleared there were some spectacular catches.

Many fish were taken on scrub worms, yabbies and shrimps bobbed or left sitting in prime locations against steep rock faces, flooded trees and alongside weed beds.

Others were taken on lures, especially spinnerbaits, deep divers and bibless minnows.

Most fish came from deeper water but in recent weeks a lot of the golden perch and some of the Murray cod have moved into shallow water and are feeding right through the day.

It's been a great season so far and we can still look forward to some good fishing before we are enveloped in another Canberra-Monaro winter.

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