Despite the drought, or possibly even because of it, fishing in parts of our region have been pretty good lately but it's been a bit of a love-hate relationship.
Most of the trout streams, for example, are in hopeless condition. Many have minimal or no flow, the water is hot and deoxygenated and most of the fish have migrated or died. Few streams have been considered suitable for the annual stocking from hatcheries which means that even when the drought breaks we will have few stream fish to look forward to during the next season.
There are exceptions, however. The streams of the higher country, especially those connected to the big storages, have fished extremely well. Because of the drought many of the browns and rainbows that should have spawned during Winter didn't make it to suitable spawning water. Instead, they ran up rivers such as the Thredbo, Murrumbidgee and Eucumbene in early and even mid-Summer, gathering in unexpected numbers in all of the easily-accessible locations.
They were easy, albeit questionable targets for lure and especially fly anglers and some of the catch-and-release figures looked like cricket scores. One angler, for example, fished three runs in the Eucumbene River for 42 fish on a Saturday and 38 on the following Sunday. Many other anglers reported similar catches.
Although some anglers found the fishing exhilarating, others expressed concern about the unwitting deaths that would have occurred despite the catch-and-release attitude and also the number of eggs that would have been dislodged and killed by anglers wading through the redds.
It is a difficult situation to analyse and presumably we won't know the answer until conditions return to some degree of normality – whatever that is going to be these days – and we see what fish stocks we still have.
There have been some unexpected fish kills. Because of the intense spawning urge, many trout in Eucumbene moved well upstream in some of the tiny feeder creeks, then became trapped in pools and runs where they died from heat stress and deoxygenation. Anglers reported that in one creek near Tolbar there were hundreds, possibly thousands, of fish dead and there were similar reports from other areas.
Some of the fish would have survived had they turned and gone back downstream but they could not overcome that incredible sexual urge that kept pushing them upstream to oblivion. Maybe there's a lesson for some humans there, too.
The fishing has been outstanding in the major storages, despite some precarious levels.
Jindabyne has been OK, remaining steady around 57% of capacity. Shore-based anglers at one stage complained about the difficulty of fishing with lures and bait because of thick weed and algal growth but soon found a way around that by lure-fishing in selected clear areas or bait fishing with floats instead of on the bottom.
The best baits have been scrub worms, bardi grubs and PowerBait, with mudeyes starting to show as the warmer night fishing begins. Anglers fishing some of the quieter bays have reported browns to around 2.4kg and many rainbows around 800g. They have also caught an occasional brook trout and Atlantic salmon with the best salmon recorded lately 5.1kg.
Lure fishers have learned to beat the weed by using smaller and lighter lures such as Imp spoons, Celtas, Strike Zone Pygmies and Predatek Min Mins, which work over the weed beds rather than through them. You need light line to be able to throw them effectively but that just means your fishing can be a lot more fun, especially when you hook a big fish.
Fly fishers have had little trouble with the weed but have had to face some difficult conditions with near-constant high winds and at times screeching alpine gales and, in mid-November, blizzards.
Best times have been very early mornings and late afternoons but night fishing is coming into its own as the weather warms up. Polaroiding has been difficult because of the wind but is worth a try during calmer times. Best patterns have been cased caddis, bead-head brown nymph, beadhead Tom Jones, small Woolly Worms and larger Woolly Buggers, Mrs Simpson and Steve Williamson’s Goldfish.
Boat launching has been easy because of the firm banks and trollers have done reasonably well using Flatfish, Celtas, Rapala minnows and the Tasmanian Devils in Canberra Killer, Anglers Arty and Brown Nosed Bomber. Lead-core line has been useful.
Lake Eucumbene is down to 23% and rapidly approaching the 1983 record low of 18% in. The exposed banks have hardened and it is now a lot easier to get to the water without getting bogged but access is still limited.
Boat launching is generally difficult except at four locations: Buckenderra, Old Adaminaby, Anglers Reach and the dam wall. The biggest hazard has been the incredible dust and sandstorms whipped up by ferocious winds blasting cross the bare lake bed. I actually had to turn back on several trips because my 4WD was being pelted by sand and other debris and I couldn't even see where I was going.
On the up side, the fishing has been remarkable, with limit bags of rainbows and a few browns the norm for lure, fly and especially bait anglers. I have fished the area six times in recent weeks and bagged out each time. Mostly I have landed nine to 15 fish in a two- or three-hour session and although some of the fish have been in poor condition I have kept a few nice ones for the smoker and they have gone down well.
There are many happy stories associated with the lake but a recent one is worth relating. A Canberra mate decided to introduce his new fiancee to the joys of alpine trout fishing, buoyed by my stories of success at Lake Eucumbene, but the trip turned out to be memorable for a variety of reasons.
Firstly, he was booked for speeding by an unmarked police car on the way to Cooma. Then they arrived at the lake just on dark to be met by one of the most ferocious storms of the year, a screaming alpine gale that made it almost impossible to stand up, and a fire was out of the question.
The temperature dropped well below zero and there were frequent snowfalls. They decided to tough it out on the bank in their swags and had a pretty hard night. In the morning our hero inexplicably decided to climb a big tree to get a Cowbell he saw swinging there, fell out of the tree and tore open a good pair of trousers and split his boot.
And the up side? With another couple, they caught 24 fish, all rainbows and all on PowerBait. And the fiancee said it was a great trip and she wants to go again!
Clear water in Canberra's urban lakes has resulted in some excellent lure and bait fishing.
Large redfin have been common in all of the lakes, with fish to 44cm taken on yabbies, scrub worms and Hogbacks with and without a trailing worm, spinnerbaits and Burrinjuck Specials.
One of the big redfin was landed without even being hooked, after it swallowed a small redfin that had taken a worm bait.
Golden perch have been active with lots of kilo fish on bait and lures and two recently that weighed 3.9kg and 4kg, both caught on spinnerbaits.
Several Murray cod have been caught and released. One in Lake Burley Griffin weighed 26kg and another was just over 1m long.
The good fishing is expected to continue as long as the drought lasts and the water stays clear, so even in adversity there is a little silver lining.Reads: 707