Snowmelt sets up season
  |  First Published: November 2012

Picture the vast Snowy Mountains, stretching from the ACT to Victoria, blanketed in a huge mantle of snow, in some places up to 2.4m deep.

That was the situation after some of the heaviest snowfalls in recent memory and that's why anglers are getting excited as we move further into the Spring thaw – the event in which huge volumes of water surge down the mountain creeks and streams through the trout country, then beyond to the lowland lakes and streams where the native fish live.

It's an annual event that is the lifeblood of our inland fisheries and it’s taking place right now.

Runoff from thaw operates at two levels.

At one level the snow melts, runs across the land surface into the streams and is on its way to downstream destinations. Flows are high, visible and commonly discoloured because of dust and other organic material caught up in the snow.

At the second level the process is far more subtle. Water from snowmelt sinks into the ground, which can absorb vast volumes of water, especially in specialised locations such as alpine bogs, then releases it slowly over many months.

This is the water that sustains the streams long after the initial rush that we see early in the thaw. Usually it is crystal clear because it has been filtered through various levels of soil and vegetation.

The groundwater becomes the only source of flow until there is rain and if there is sufficient rain, the whole process starts over again – initial higher-speed runoff, then varying levels of replenishment of the groundwater supply for longer-term release.


Streams directly involved in the thaw are running high and discoloured. Many of the other streams also are in the same condition if there is enough early-season rain.

Fishing them can be difficult because the fish cannot easily see a lure or fly and because it is too difficult to put the lure or fly in the right position to attract and hook a fish.

Because flies are lighter, they are preferred over lures and I particularly like fly fishing tea-coloured fast water. I use mostly smaller flies such as a Black and Red Matuka, Purple Nymbeet, Stick Caddis, Stonefly Nymph and brown Pheasant Tail Nymph, which don't easily get swept away in the current.

I fish them well to the head of a pool then let them work in an eddy, then gradually bring them down to get full coverage of the water. If the water is especially dirty I might substitute a bead-head pattern to increase the visibility of the fly.

In the slower-running tails of the pools where the stream widens I get great success switching to larger patterns such as Hamill’s Killer or Mrs Simpson or even a Muddler Minnow, working it on a dead drift right to the end of the pool.

These are techniques that I have refined over many years of fishing the thaw; I've practised and rehearsed them until I got them right and that's why I can usually bag out on a day on the stream.


The major Snowy Mountains trout lakes also obviously benefit from the Spring thaw. As runoff fills the lakes and water moves over new ground, the fish move in to get at all the goodies flushed from the soil – spiders, crickets, beetles, worms, grubs and other critters that the trout love.

This pattern of behaviour has several benefits –it keeps the fish in a feeding mood and it keeps them close to shore where anglers have easy access to them. That's why if you fish Tantangara, Eucumbene or Jindabyne right now, you should do exceptionally well.

Bait anglers should fare best with bardi grubs, scrub worms or PowerBait and Gulp fished close to shore on a light running sinker rig. The new artificial Trout Bait from Rapala, just coming onto the market, could also be worth a try.

Fly anglers should fare best with a small Black and Red Matuka, Woolly Worm, Brown Nymph, Purple Nymbeet, Craig’s Nighttime if fishing wet, or a midge ball, Stimulator or Klinkhammer if they are fishing dry.

Lure anglers should concentrate on small minnows such as Baby Merlin, Min Min, Attack, Taylor Made, Strike Pro, Rebel and Rapala, spoons such as Imp, Wonder, Crocodile, Wonder Minnow, vibrating blades and spinning-blade patterns such as Celta, Mepps, Insect, Juro Sonar and Trollcraft. And if you can't catch fish on those, give the game away.


Canberra's urban lakes are still cold and discoloured but a few fish are starting to stir at long last. An occasional golden perch has been caught on scrub worms or yabbies and several unwanted closed-season Murray cod have been caught and dutifully returned to the water.

One angler landed 30 redfin to 1.5kg from Lake Burley Griffin using scrub worms and yabbies fished in a berley trail of chicken pellets laced with the sensational appetite-stimulator Ultrabite.

Googong Dam also is slowly stirring to life. The reservoir is 100% full and golden perch are being caught on scrub worms and yabbies along the shoreline. The water looks to be clearing nicely and there should be some good lure casting and trolling from now on.

Some big cod are expected as the season opens, so polish up your Mudguts and Outlaw spinnerbaits and big Stumpjumper, Custom Craft and AC Invader deep divers.


Burrinjuck has been close to full for several months and is starting to look interesting.

A few golden perch have been taken on trolled spinnerbaits and on worms and yabbies from the shore and are expected to become more active as the weather and water warm up.

Small redfin and large carp have been the usual problem for bait anglers but that's the price you pay to get a decent fish.

Anglers have generally respected the closed season for Murray cod and returned accidentally-caught fish. I was particularly proud to hear of one long-term avowed cod-killer who apparently has seen the light and returned a 15kg cod he caught on golden perch gear at Taemus Bridge. Such a conversion is very heartening.

The news from Wyangala has been mostly good. One angler who went to the big Grabine Classic competition and watched his tent and tarpaulin disappear into the distance during a big storm vowed never to return. He has since relented and has been catching good golden perch on scrub worms and yabbies off the bank.

Trolling has been slow but should improve as the water clears.

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