We are still in the depths of winter in the Canberra-Monaro region, with night temperatures around –6° in town and –10° or more in the mountains but things are looking better day by day.
We've already had some weakly sunny days and there is a general air of anticipation that the worst of the cold weather is over.
There have been some massive snowfalls this season, with intermittent blocking of access roads, but the snowploughs are quickly on the job and delays are mostly minimal.
We are assured plenty of runoff when the thaw starts and that bodes well for the opening of the trout season at the end of September.
We have had some rain, too, but not as much as we had hoped for. The meteorologists tell us that there are signs of El Nino returning soon and that could mean low rainfall or even drought.
The rain has resulted in some vehicles getting bogged around the big mountain lakes.
Normally you can drive into certain areas with no problem because the ground is frozen. If it thaws during the day you can still drive out again at night when it refreezes.
Rain changes all that and quite a few vehicles have come to grief being driven on ground that should have been frozen but wasn't.
Which reminds me how little some visitors understand about Winter on the Monaro.
We are still chuckling at the antics of a bunch of Sydney visitors to Lake Eucumbene.
They couldn't believe it when their punnet of scrub worms froze while they were fishing. They had to pour a cup of tea over it to get another bait!
They had a great time, though, and caught plenty of fish but the awful truth set in later when they went to clean them – they had all frozen solid.
They finished up taking them home solid and uncleaned, but at least they were fresh!
The trout spawning run in the Thredbo and Eucumbene rivers has been excellent which bodes well for recruitment to the lakes later in the year.
The rain and snowmelt came early in the breeding season and large numbers of browns, then rainbows, worked their way up to the spawning grounds. We had the impression that the fish were bigger and healthier this year, possibly as a result of the good food conditions earlier in the year.
They will provide a good mix in the lakes with the naturally recruited fish supplemented by releases from the Gaden Hatchery of rainbow fingerlings and adult Atlantic salmon and brook trout.
Lake fishing during Winter has been productive for browns and rainbows and anglers generally feel NSW Fisheries has now got the trout stocking and management program just about right.
Most visitors have been able to catch fish on fly, bait or lure and reckon they have got good return for the cost of their licence and outlay on tackle, food, accommodation and transport.
The vast majority of captures have been rainbows from tiddlers to around 1.3 kg, with occasional browns of 1.8kg-2.9kg.
Fly anglers have fared well using dark Woolly Worms and Woolly Buggers, Craig’s Nighttimes, Mrs Simpson, Hamill’s Killer and a variety of dark nymphs.
Most of the fishing has been during the day because it is simply too cold at night and fly lines and rod guides keep freezing.
There have been a few hatches during the day to provide variety and some anglers have done well with Iron Blue Dun, Klinkhammer, small chironomids and midge balls.
One angler discovered that he could catch fish easily using an unweighted Black Nymph fished into the waves when there was another session of the otherwise dreaded alpine gales – the ones that blow so hard you have trouble standing up. On one session he landed a 2.6kg brown and eight rainbows around 1.2 kg.
I suspect he learned the technique from master guide Peter Hayes in Tasmania, where they get weather similar to ours.
Each of the lakes has fished differently. Tantangara has been hard to access because of snow blocking roads but has yielded some excellent browns, especially with loch-style fishing.
Jindabyne also been difficult to access because the high water levels (the lake has been at 80%-100% all Winter) have blocked many access trails and a boat is required.
Eucumbene has been the most heavily fished and also the most productive. It is in all respects Australia's premier trout fishery.
Bait fishers have done extremely well, usually landing 4-7 rainbows and an occasional brown in a session using bardi grubs, PowerBait and scrub worms. Fishing is simple, with just a light running sinker rig with a fluorocarbon leader, fished almost anywhere along the bank.
One couple, Dougie and Tony, have done extremely well berleying with a mixture of Stimulate pellets, sweet corn and tuna oil, then fishing with PowerBait and bardi grubs. On one recent trip they landed about 16 rainbows and every one they cleaned was full of berley.
Lure anglers have taken some nice fish on Tasmanian Devils, especially in brighter colours and various minnow patterns. The recently re-released Rapala Spotted Dog has been exceptionally productive and has accounted for some large browns and countless rainbows.
Lead-core line and downriggers used at slow speed have been useful in reaching the larger fish which sit about 6m-8m down during the day.
Fishing has been expectedly slow in the lower country lakes. In Canberra there has been an occasional Murray cod or golden perch on a spinnerbait or shallow diver over the top of the weed beds in the urban lakes and Googong.
Googong has been at 100% all Winter and should fish well later in the season.
The big mystery is the lack of redfin. Normally they are in plagues but this Winter they are exceedingly hard to find.
Even the most experienced anglers have been unable to catch more than an occasional fish, on lure or bait and there is speculation that the EHN virus may have wiped out a larger than normal segment of the population.
Burrinjuck has yielded a few golden perch and Murray cod but that's all we expect at this time of year; a trip there is a pleasant day out without great expectations and a single fish is a great bonus.
With the Murray cod season now closing until December, the fish will be left in relative peace to spawn unless deliberately targeted by anglers. Do the right thing and leave them alone.
Anglers should also keep an eye out for illegal or improper use of destructive Opera House yabby nets. They are illegal to use in waters where they pose a risk to wildlife.
One found in Canberra's Lake Ginninderra recently contained the bodies of three beautiful native water rats – a sad and unnecessary loss.
If you see one of the traps in the wrong place, remove it and report it.Reads: 1227