Keep your fingers crossed because in this, the Land Of The Bloody Great Drought, there is a glimmer of hope.
In the region in recent weeks we have had some tantalising weather. Ominous rolling clouds each afternoon have staggered up over the Brindabellas, the mountain range shielding Canberra to the west, and although they mostly have kept on rolling to the north and east, hopefully giving some poor bugger somewhere a much-needed drink, we have had just an occasional cloudburst that has brought an unfamiliar sound to the landscape –gushing water.
Unfortunately all of the storms have been gully-busters. One storm in fact was so severe that it flooded Lake Tuggeranong so badly that you could almost walk across the piled-up debris.
The resulting spate that went down the Murrumbidgee was so strong that hundreds of carp and some native fish were left strewn across paddocks many metres from the river. One of the fish recovered was a 15kg Murray cod and there were numerous smaller cod, some trout cod and a few golden perch lying dead among the tussocks.
While we want the drought to break, that’s not the way we want it. We need steady, prolonged, gentle rain that will restore soil moisture levels which then act as a slow-draining sponge to the waterways.
But in these days of drought-induced extremes of weather and presumed climate change, the chances of it occurring seem remote and depressing. Nevertheless, we remain hopeful and the thumping of thunder outside right now may well be the turning of the tide. Atmospheric tide, that is.
The scene in the trout streams is mixed. In some high country streams there has been continuing flow and where there is a connection to a lake, some good fish have either remained in the river or moved up into it from time to time. Consequently, there has been some reasonable fishing in the Eucumbene, Thredbo, Murrumbidgee and Goodradigbee rivers on fly and lure.
Most of the fish have been browns, which are hardier than the rainbows and that’s important given that stream temperatures at present are around 21° to 22°. Best fly patterns have been small nymphs, either fished with a dead drift alone or slung under an indicator pattern such as Royal Wulff, Humpy or Hairwing Coachman.
Red Tag, Iron Blue Dun, Greenwell’s Glory and Snail and Stick Caddis also have been worthwhile. Grasshoppers have been late in coming but most hopper patterns have been useful lately.
Because of the shortage of water in streams in the region these few active rivers have been taking a pounding from anglers, with the result being that the fish are very shy. The fish are touchy for most of the day except for the very early mornings and the last few minutes before dark.
The saving grace has been the hoppers, which have stimulated a bit of useful midday fishing. A few fish have been taken on lures, although because the streams are gin-clear and low and the fish easily spooked, only the tiniest of lures have been successful. Useful patterns have been Celta, Imp spoon, small Rapala and Rebel minnows and the Strike Pro Pygmy.
There has been some competition for the fish, however. Local angler Matt Sosenko was fishing the upper reaches of the Tuross River when he hooked a decent-sized brown weighing about a kilo. When he reeled it in, a cormorant shot out from under the bank at his feet, grabbed the fish and took off with it, Celta and all. That’s what you call hungry.
In many of the remaining streams there is little hope. Many are dry or consist of just puddles between long stretches of weed and dry sand. Many have been invaded by carp which are now sloshing around in appalling conditions. Most or all of the trout are dead and there is no point in considering restocking until there is a dramatic change in stream conditions.
Even some of the small native fish that live in the trout streams and which are considered pretty hardy have died. An angler recently brought me a rare and highly endangered 15cm two-spined blackfish which he found dead, apparently from heat exhaustion, in the Goodradigbee River. It was in a pool full of also-distressed trout which did not seem to have long to live.
Water levels in the mountain lakes continue to drop as the rest of Australia continues its demand for water for power production and irrigation for increasingly dubious crop and animal production activities.
At the time of writing Jindabyne had dropped to 49%, Eucumbene to 19% and rapidly approaching the all-time low of 18% in 1983 and Tantangara was at 5.7% – below the lip of the outflow which normally would drain it to Lake Eucumbene.
The dried lake surrounds, with baked mud, clay, gravel and lack of weed growth, have given the region a surreal look and introduced some new activities. I recently walked up the steps of what I think used to be the Post Office at the Old Adaminaby township, drowned by rising waters in 1959 but now sitting out in the blazing sun like so many white grave markers of civilisation.
I've also driven all over the exposed bed of the lake, taking shortcuts to favoured fishing spots such as from Frying Pan to O’Neills Bay and Seven Gates without using any of the proper roads. It's quite an experience and although to date I have not been bogged, hundreds of others more venturesome than me have been.
Lake fishing has been a variable feast. Shore-based anglers have caught plenty of small to medium rainbows on Power bait, scrub worms and bardi grubs but many of the fish have been in poor condition. They have been thin, undernourished with pale, uninviting flesh and little to see in their stomachs.
They have been poor as table fish and even in the smoker are pretty ordinary. By contrast, trollers, especially those fishing deep with lead-core line or downriggers, have been taking splendid fish, mostly browns. These fish have been in excellent condition with firm bodies and lovely pink flesh that is a delight on the table. Most of them are stuffed full of yabbies, which they seem to delight in eating.
The native fish, by contrast, have been excellent. Water levels in the native streams and lakes have been low but the water mostly has been warm and uncharacteristically clear.
The fish have been hungry and quickly home in on shrimps, yabbies, tiger worms, scrub worms, bardi grubs and wood grubs fished on the bottom or dropped to the bottom and bobbed up and down at varying levels.
I’ve also managed at long last to convince people that saltwater prawns are great for freshwater fish and these are now common successful bait used in areas such as Burrinjuck for golden perch and Murray cod.
Lure fishing has been sensational with hundreds of anglers, many of them first-timers, reporting catches of golden perch and Murray cod . Best lures have been deep-divers such as Hot ’N Tots, StumpJumpers, the excellent Custom Crafted range and AusSpin spinnerbaits.
All of the local and regional lakes have been worthwhile but Googong and Burrinjuck have been outstanding. Barry Goodman recently fished Googong with spinnerbaits and took two cod and a golden perch in three casts. Two days later he backed up with a mate and caught seven cod, six golden perch and a 38cm silver perch, all on spinnerbaits and deep-divers.
At Burrinjuck the largest cod reported weighed 32kg and one party had a magnificent day with 36 golden perch and a 66cm cod in three hours. That's great fishing and not especially atypical of what's happening. At least the drought has done us some favours.
There have also been some great redfin mixed in with the natives, especially in the Canberra lakes. The biggest to date is a 53cm monster caught in Lake Burley Griffin on a Strike Pro Galaxia but there have been a lot of others from 40cm to 50cm. And for those who eat fish, these are considered top tucker, grilled, baked, fried, steamed or barbecued.Reads: 560