It's an ironic feature of the current drought that the lack of inflows to local waterways has meant some spectacularly good fishing for native species.
The reasons are pretty simple. There is less water to have to search to find fish. Then, because the water is so clear, the fish can find baits, flies and lures with ease. On top of that, the water is warm so the fish are at their most active.
In many areas, too, food that normally would be washed into the waterways is in short supply so the fish are hungry.
It’s been spectacularly evident in Canberra’s urban lakes. For aesthetic reasons they are held at near-constant levels but with little inflow from feeder creeks and streams they have been uncharacteristically clear and this has provided anglers, many of them new to lure fishing and new to native fish, with an opportunity to catch that dream fish, a golden perch or a Murray cod.
There are five urban lakes, Tuggeranong, Burley Griffin, Ginninderra, Gungahlin and Yerrabi. They are stocked every two years with cod and goldens and although the fish do not breed in the lakes they grow well and are great sport species.
The lakes have few of the traditional ‘natural’ structures such as flooded trees, stumps or logs and there is only minimal rock outcropping but the fish soon learn to congregate in favourite hidey-holes along formal rock and concrete walls, under jetties, around overhanging trees, under bridges, around the edges of deeper weed beds and, of course, at the rocky dam walls.
Anglers, too, soon learn of this distribution and target the fish accordingly. All of the lakes are in the middle of heavily populated city and suburban areas and it is an interesting experience fishing for natives as the afternoon or morning traffic whizzes by.
Some of the fishing trips are a little different from what might be thought of as a ‘normal’ trip. Shane Wheatley, for example, lives in suburban Belconnen about 4km from Lake Ginninderra.
Waking recently at 4.30am and unable to get back to sleep, he went for a ‘walk’ all the way to the lake with his fishing gear. At the dam wall he hooked, landed and released a 14kg Murray cod on a spinnerbait, missed a big golden which took a swipe at his lure, then went home and back to bed.
In another session a couple of out-of-town construction workers relaxing after work near their job at Lake Ginninderra drowned a bardi grub while they settled down with a beer and were rewarded with a cod weighing about 18kg.
There have been some funny aspects to some catches, too. Near Scrivener Dam on Lake Burley Griffin, visitors were becoming alarmed at the shrieks and shouts emanating from a young lady fishing with her boyfriend until they discovered that she wasn't being assaulted or otherwise attended to. Far from it – she had just caught her first-ever golden perch and was pretty emotional about it. It weighed around 3kg and I think she is still hugging it. Fishless boyfriend, by contrast, is still muttering darkly.
Andrew Lemmey also had some fun with a golden perch he caught on a Predatek Boomerang in Ginninderra. It was the largest specimen he had caught and was on his own but wanted a trophy photograph to show his mates before he released it.
While he was fiddling with the camera the fish swam away and all he has now to tell his doubting mates is his side of the story. To his credit, though, he has a stack of photographs of other cod and goldens he has caught recently in local urban lakes and in Googong Reservoir.
Some the catches have been harder to understand. Nathan Walker managed to obtain a rare purple Burrinjuck Special lure and showed off to his mates with a beaut 3.5kg golden in the Molonglo River above Burley Griffin. He then impressed them further with a 10kg cod on a spinnerbait in Tuggeranong. His mates, not to be outdone, went out and caught, at Tuggeranong, a larger Murray cod on, of all things, a lump of bread.
It has been interesting to watch anglers’ preferences for particular types of lures in recent months. In previous years most of the cod and perch have been targeted with deep-diving lures.
More recently the trend has been towards spinnerbaits and similar types of flashy lures. The most successful of them have been AusSpin's spinnerbaits, Codspin and Chatterbait and they have now been elevated to the ranks of favourite lures alongside the traditional Custom Crafted and Hot ’N Tot deep divers.
Anglers have enjoyed catching redfin, which this season have been far larger than expected. In a normal year most of the redfin are tiny 50g to 60g pests that grab any lure that passes by. This season, however, there have been many fish from a kilo to 2kg and even a couple of monsters that were 44cm long and weighed more than 2.5kg.
They are great fun fish to catch and excellent to eat – the best eating of any of the local fish and are especially good filleted, skinned and grilled with a little butter or margarine.
The number of carp taking lures continues to be of concern. Blake Swadling recently tossed a Chatterbait, a good perch and cod lure, into Ginninderra and was rewarded with 7.5kg carp which fought like blazes. A week later, using redfin-pattern soft plastics, he caught four carp over 3kg in one hour.
Another lure fisher, Dooley, caught a 10kg carp while chasing goldens. Numerous other anglers have reported similar hook-ups and the point I continue to make about this is that if the carp take lures so easily and so readily they also are likely to be preying heavily on small real fish such as redfin and hatchery-raised golden perch and Murray cod used for stocking.
It could be that we have a major predator on our hands and that we are just beginning to appreciate the threat it poses to other species.
Local anglers also have been travelling, looking for greener pastures. Some have fished Wyangala, catching nice silver perch on worms off the bank, small goldens and small cod on lures and bait and small cod trolling. Others have been to Hume Weir for small bags of redfin and not much else.
Blowering has yielded some nice golden perch and huge bags of big redfin taken down deep on jigs and bobbed worm baits.
Burrinjuck has been a hive of activity and has fished well. One angler caught and released nine cod in one day and numerous others have been taken on lures. Most were caught on spinnerbaits or deep-divers but it was nice to see Greg Clemson take a 58cm cod on one of Australia's old favourite lures, an Aeroplane spinner.
There have been plenty of golden perch around, too, taken on lures and bobbed yabbies in the Goodradigbee and Murrumbidgee arms off the Main Basin.
Members of one group are still talking about their venture to the Mulwala Cod Classic. On the way there they camped overnight on the Murray but had the misfortune to meet Australia's hungriest and cheekiest kookaburra. It got into their bait supply and ate an estimated $100 worth of precious bardi grubs and yabbies, which they had to replace before they could fish the competition.
Most trout streams of course, with the exception of the upper ones such as the Eucumbene, Thredbo, Goodradigbee and Murrumbidgee, are dry or near-dry and mostly devoid of fish. It's a grim scene that will take years to repair.
The lakes are a different scene. Jindabyne still has plenty of water, boat launching is easy and plenty of browns and rainbows are being taken trolling. Flyfishing just on dark has been productive and bubble float fishing with mudeyes has yielded some good fish.
Baitfishing with worms or bardi grubs on the bottom, however, has been difficult because of intense weed and algal growth.
Eucumbene is just over 20% capacity and still fishing a blinder. Small rainbows are easy to catch from the bank on small brown flies such as a Red Tag or Coch-y-Bondhu and some larger fish have been taken on big wets after dark. PowerBait, scrub worms and bardi grubs also have been deadly.Reads: 1966