Despite the continuation of dry conditions throughout the Tablelands and surrounding slopes, the local angling has been excellent. The key to success has been a willingness to range farther afield and adjust usual tactics to suit the lower water levels.
On the trout front, the Ebor region continues to be the best bet. I’m not going to keep saying it every month so listen carefully: Walcha and most of the western streams have experienced two consecutive Summers of low, warm water. Ebor has experienced two consecutive summers of steady rain and mild conditions!
This month anglers should continue to focus on the dry fly which should produce excellent results. Although it can be quite productive to fish throughout the day, I’d suggest you sling a hammock in the shade and pick the eyes out of the streams at first and last light.
Fly patterns should be similar to those outlined last month although I suggest the inclusion of some emerger patterns; a Shaving Brush or seals fur are ideal in size 14.
You can expect fish to be rising freely of an evening with few exceptions and spinner or emerger patterns generally draw their interest.
I’ll take a stab at weather predictions and suggest that February should produce some periods of afternoon storm activity along the eastern trout waters. Moist air rises up the escarpment to condense and shower the high country.
If you are lucky enough to be on the stream, take note of the growing thunderheads; the fish will go nuts for the half hour before the change hits. The only caveat is if the easterly winds freshen. If they do pack up and head home.
Lure anglers will be well advised to stick to Celtas in smaller sizes, colour isn’t a major priority. Fish light, maybe 2kg to 3kg tops, and slow down your retrieves. Don’t be afraid to work around midstream cover such as boulders and rock shelves.
In the eastern gorges the bass have been slow in coming. That said, some exceptional fish that are large and full of fight are being dealt with by Tablelands anglers willing to keep driving east past Georges Junction. This campsite at the foot of the range is a popular jumping-off point for New England’s large band of bass aficionados.
Unfortunately the fish are late in running back up the gorges and the lack of fish is definitely a result of continuing low flows. However, I firmly believe that during February and March the bass fishing will pick up in the higher reaches.
To date quality fish have regularly been recorded in the area between Willawarrin and Lower Creek. Many fish in the high 40cm-plus range have eagerly been attacking surface lures and bass chasers are ranging farther downstream to hit the action.
If you are keen on tangling with gorge fish during the coming months there are three locations that offer terrific access to some of the roughest country on the continent. Although a group of diehard locals continues to sneak down steep ridges to hit the more remote bends of the upper Macleay, anyone with a 4WD will enjoy the ease with which the river may be reached.
The highest access to the river is possible at the Riverside Rest Area, east of Walcha. Here a steep trail leads down to a delightful campground on the mid reaches of the Apsley River.
The gate at the top of the gorge is locked but a key is available from Apsley Motors in Walcha. Bookings are essential and should be made through the National Parks and Wildlife office in Armidale on02 6738 9100.
Farther downstream, below the confluence of the Macleay and Apsley Rivers, lies West Kunderang, a private property where campsites and cabin accommodation have been developed.
Any visit to West Kunderang is a total wilderness adventure. The road in is a lengthy drive but the destination offers proximity to the heart of the wild rivers. Guided fishing or self-guided options are possible and the tariffs to camp are very reasonable.
This is a ‘cheat’s ticket’ into the heart of Aussie bass country with no equal. For an information pack phone Cindy McRae on 02 67781264.
Continue downstream and you’ll reach East Kunderang. This pastoral lease is now part of the National Estate, controlled by the National Parks Service. A magnificent restored 19th-Century homestead is available for rent and combines history and bass angling in one glorious package. Contact the Armidale office for tariffs and further details.
At this time of year gorge bass are suckers for small bladed spinners. Yes, I know since the ‘revolution’ that only old-timers and village idiots ignore soft plastics but plenty of bass, bream and other fish were caught before the heavens opened in the mid 1980s!
Remember the flash of spinnerbaits? Well before they arrived on the scene, bass anglers here and in the US regularly kicked butt with the simple in-line spinner. Twitch, flutter and walk a Celta or Rooster Tail through the bush-lined shallows and you’ll soon put an arc in your favourite stick.
The cod fishing has also been very positive since opening back in December. I’ve been fortunate to enjoy excellent popper angling with the fly rod and can attest that the cod are very active and fit. Most fish have been from 4kg to 5kg. The cicada hatch this season has been lighter than normal although I’d expect the surface action to continue.
On my first trip this season I had numerous hits during daylight but few hook-ups. It wasn’t until I downsized to some poppers more suitable for oyster-lease bream that I began to regularly hook up solid.
The rivers are indeed low at present and weed is prevalent. Forget your deep-divers for the moment and work poppers or sliders. The water is clear and the fish will rise up from a fair way down.
Low-water popper work calls for accurate casting, slow retrieves and patterns with minimal ‘bloop’ action. I’d suggest Crazy Crawler or Jitterbug styles rather than cup-faced designs. Fish will move into the shallows after dark or where structure and weed beds line the drop-offs you’ll fish during the day.
Reports of good cod are coming from far and wide. The Namoi, Severn, Gwydir and Macintyre rivers are all producing the goods with fish up to 10kg. Some locals recently enjoyed an afternoon cod bomb-up near the downtown bridge within Inverell’s city limits.
Regional impoundments are very low. Split Rock and Keepit have been practically drained dry to satisfy the hungry sponge of intensive agriculture downstream. However, good angling is still continuing.
My choice for this month would be to couple fresh shrimp, small floats and the shallow margins after dark. Low, warm water combined with extensive weed beds will be leading to an explosion in shrimp numbers and the fish will be keying onto the shrimp.
I’ve had reports of some huge cod bust-ups at Copeton Dam. Long held as our premier cod impoundment, Copeton offers plenty of trolling options at present. Slow, shallow trolling with big lures would be a great start to the month.
During the day I’d be searching regional impoundments for baitfish schools holding in the mid depths. They’ll be balled up like never before, given the huge reductions in impoundment levels. Slow cruising with an eye on the sounder will be the best option.
Jig bibless lures or fresh yabbies deeper than the school and you should be on the money.
March heralds opening of the deer hunting season so I’d better go and sharpen some arrows. Meanwhile, despite the big dry, adapt your fishing techniques – there’s still a heap of angling on for the coming months.Reads: 747