Dismal trout scene
  |  First Published: May 2014

As we move from summer to autumn there is still a great deal of gloom amongst Canberra-Monaro trout fishers. As we reported earlier, something is terribly wrong in our lake and stream fisheries.

Rainbows have been virtually non-existent since the great flood wiped out the spawning run in late 2013, and the few browns we are catching and keeping for the table look to be the mostly larger and older stock – the fish we would normally depend for restocking the fisheries in future years. We are selling the farm, in effect.

Equally worrying, too, is the lack of small fish. Normally at this time of the year streams and lakes are bubbling with small browns and rainbows. They frolic in the shallows, snatching vainly at flies, nibbling at scrub worms and PowerBait and generally providing a sense of life and movement to the waterway. This year though, they are simply not there.

Other age classes are missing, too. Normally if you sat on the banks of Eucumbene or Jindabyne for a couple of hours, drowning a scrub worm or soaking PowerBait or a bardi grub you could expect to land a few 1-2 year old fish for the table. At present you would be lucky to land one or two fish of any age in a 24-hour session. Indeed, many anglers have returned home this season with stories of getting zero or one fish for a two or three-day trip. And these are good anglers fishing in our premier mainland trout fisheries.

Some people have managed a few more fish than others; fly fishers have found an occasional brown in the coolest part of the night, around 2am, but you have to be keen to be fishing then.

Trollers, too, have learned to get down deep with lead core line or a downrigger and fish in the deeper sections of the lakes at the dam wall ends. It's hard going though when the fish are down 15-20m and are only vaguely interested in the lures offered.

Theories abound as to the reasons for the poor fishing. I've looked at them all (cormorants, pathogens, lack of stocking, drought, water temperatures, deoxygenation, lack of food and so on) but none of them are tenable. I would, however, like someone to take a detailed look at the condition of the water – pH, oxygen-nitrogen-carbon dioxide-methane levels and gas pressure effects on small fish. Given also that most rainbows only live for about three years we should take a hard look at the abnormally high numbers of fish caught and killed in the halcyon days of 2010-2013. Maybe we have just taken too many.

Bounteous Local Lakes

While the trout fisheries have let us down the local lakes in Canberra and Googong Reservoir just over the border have provided a reasonable fishing alternative.

Redfin have been active on lures and bait, and although most of them are small they are great fun when you are catching them in cricket scores, and particularly when you are teaching kids to fish. Occasional ones are big enough to eat and they make superb tablefish – the best eating of any freshwater fish around here. The best lures have been Celtas and similar spinning blade patterns, Imp spoon, blades, small minnows, small spinnerbaits and especially small soft plastics.

Golden perch also have been active on bait and lures, with many anglers regularly catching two to six in a session. The best baits have been scrub worms and yabbies, and the best lures have been spinnerbaits, deep divers, Burrinjuck Specials, Wonder spoons and soft plastics.

Murray cod have varied from 39cm tiddlers to 98cm thumpers and have been caught in all five of the local lakes, with larger fish to 1.3m in Googong. The best baits have been yabbies, scrub worms and bardi grubs. The most successful lures have been large spinnerbaits, deep divers, soft plastics and lately the wonderful new surface lures, especially Halco Nightwalkers, Taylor Made Cod Wallopers, Mantas, Koolabung Cod Walkers and Live Target Mouse and Frog. The latter are the new darlings of the lure trade. They are easy to use, you simply chuck them out and retrieve them with a few pauses and twitches and wait for the almighty explosion of air, water and fish when a big one latches onto the lure. They’re great for day and especially night fishing over a weedy lake bed where other lures can't be used, and with no worries about little redfin constantly hanging on to the lure and spoiling its action. It’s the best fun I have had for years.

Burrinjuck Firing

Burrinjuck Reservoir has been really something this season. The lake is around 45% full and visibility has been a delightful 3m, which means good bait and lure fishing.

A lot of Murray cod, with some over the magic metre mark, have been caught, mostly in the Main Basin. The best areas have been around Wade Island then from The Bluff to McPhersons Inlet. The most productive lures have been large spinnerbaits, large deep divers and especially the rare but effective Burrinjuck Specials. Shrimps, bardi grubs and scrub worms also have accounted for some good fish.

Golden perch have been relatively easy to find amongst the flooded trees in the Murrumbidgee Arm, especially in Macys Bay, Scrubby and Little Scrubby. Catches of three to 10 fish per session have been relatively easy to achieve, with scrub worms, yabbies, shrimps, spinnerbaits, Atomic Fat Grubs and Jackalls all working well.

Schools of redfin come on the bite on most afternoons and, as elsewhere, it is relatively easy to catch enough for fun and a feed on worms, blades, spinners and soft plastics.

All up, although the trout fishing scene is pretty miserable, natives and redfin continue to provide back-up fishing opportunities and that will keep us going until the cruel weather of winter arrives.

Cod Walloper.

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