Much as I hate having to keep writing about it, water levels in this part of the world, as elsewhere, are of increasing concern.
Most of our rivers are dry or consist of separated residual pools and the only ones worth fishing in recent months have been the upper and cooler streams such as the Thredbo, Eucumbene, Goodradigbee and Murrumbidgee or the artificially topped-up rivers such as the Tumut.
In one sense it is a relief that the stream trout season has ended and will not reopen until the first week of October. If by some miracle we get massive amounts of rain or snow and the dry gullies again become permanent waterways, we might think seriously about restocking with browns and rainbows but, quite frankly, I wouldn't hold my breath.
Lake levels, too, are pathetic. Eucumbene is at 13%, stunningly lower than this time last year when it was 37%. Jindabyne, at 47%, is down on last year's 57%. Tantangara was dreadful at 6% last year and is the same this year. Hume, Wyangala and Burrendong are all near-empty at 4% and Pejar is still officially empty. The only bright spots are Blowering at 11%, Burrinjuck at 23%, Googong at 37% and Canberra's five urban lakes which are artificially held at 95-100%.
Eucumbene in recent months has redeveloped as some sort of weird tourist attraction. The falling water levels have exposed all sorts of features to public gaze that have attracted hordes of visitors. Old farmhouses and fences are newly-exposed features of many landscapes and the entire township of Old Adaminaby is back above the water. You can walk down the main street, even launch a boat at the end of it and walk around the foundations of buildings that evoke mixed memories for the folk who had to vacate the area when the water started rising in 1957.
Unfortunately not all the visors just come to look. Many have come to souvenir and plunder, openly stealing bricks, farm items, household artefacts, fence posts and even an entire hay wagon. They seem to think it is OK to purloin these items. oblivious to the emotional impact that may have on the former owners, many of whom still live and work in the area.
Some of the collectors have been hilarious to watch. One woman triumphantly emerged from the mud clutching a great pile of bones. Historic bones? No, just old sheep bones, but she seemed happy with her prize.
There have been many finds more of interest to anglers. Dozens of electric and petrol outboard motors have been recovered. Most have been ruined by the mud, water and corrosion but a surprising proportion of the electric motors were restored to life after a bit of cleaning.
Tens of thousands of bits of angling tackle have been found, some by searchers using metal detectors to penetrate the mud and silt. Fence posts and tree stumps have been littered with old line, lures, swivels, hooks, sinkers, bells, Ford Fenders, cowbells and other items we seemingly lose as a routine measure. One searcher found two downrigger bombs caught on the same snag – that would have a story to tell.
Dave Coles also has a great story to tell. Eighteen months after rolling his boat and losing all of his gear at Buckenderra, he was walking across newly exposed mud when he spotted some familiar items – his radio and a much-loved Live Fibre rod and ABU reel combo.
He brought these to me in the hope of refurbishing them and I can announce that both are now again in perfect working order. After several hours work the lump of mud that was an ABU reel is now a gleaming, free-spinning, delightful piece of work with a fully-operational drag and level wind system with everything else in perfect working order. Just goes to show that it you buy quality goods you can expect a win-win situation.
One of the saddest things found is an aluminium boat believed to have belonged to two Sydney anglers who drowned in the lake two years ago. Anglers in Cobrabald Bay had spotted rods sticking out off the water and found the boat on the bottom in shallow water. There was a large hole in the bow and rods were still in the holders.
Curiously, the electric and petrol outboard motors were in the up position. It is possible that if the boat hit an object at high speed, which is believed to be what caused the men to be thrown overboard and drowned, the motor could have kicked into the up position. The boat has been taken away for forensic testing.
Another interesting find was a 1978 Holden station sedan, with a Canberra car dealer sticker on it, exposed by the falling water at Seven Gates. The car was choked with mud, had lots of fishing tackle in the back and the keys were still in the ignition.
When I asked for information about the car in Canberra angling circles, reader John Roberts remembered that not long after the vehicle was purchased it was washed into the lake at Seven Gates by a massive rainstorm. The owner and his mate apparently were sleeping alongside the vehicle and they, too, were washed down a gully by the stormwater but survived unscathed. The vehicle had floated for some distance before it finally sank.
Those who have been fishing instead of fossicking have reported some good catches. There have been plenty of small to medium-sized rainbows off the bank in Eucumbene on bardi grubs, scrub worms and PowerBait, especially lime twist.
Many of the fish are still in poor condition because of the shortage of food but some seem to be learning to eat yabbies, which is about all there is, and have re-developed a more normal body shape and pinker flesh.
Trollers in Eucumbene and Jindabyne have taken some excellent fish on flatline and lead line using yellow-winged Tasmanian Devils, small minnows and flatfish.
Fly fishers have been doing it hard but recently the large browns working their way to the spawning streams have provided some excitement. Most of the fishing has been during the day because the nights are now cold enough to deter even the hardiest waders.
In coming weeks the fishing is expected to remain productive as the browns head to the spawning streams. After that the rainbows will head up to the same spawning waters but will feed heavily beforehand to put on as much condition as possible.
Predictably, native fish have quietened down. Occasional golden perch and Murray cod have been taken on lure and bait but many anglers have put the gear away for a while.
Some have persisted with redfin, which provide a pleasant alternative to the ever-present carp in the local lakes and Burrinjuck, but they also are pretty quiet.
Many have switched to Winter saltwater fishing and the rest of us are spending some productive hours with a corkscrew and glass sorting out our wine collection. Here's to you!Reads: 711