Still fish amid the frost and snow
  |  First Published: August 2007

The region thankfully has been receiving scattered storm activity over the past few months and some recent snowfalls on the higher peaks which have maintained river levels. Admittedly, most flows are still at the lower end of the scale but our regional streams are holding their own despite dry conditions elsewhere west of the Divide.

Apart from the odd snow dump, the days generally continue to be mild although some cracking frosts have defied even the most hardy to venture forth on an early start.

All you cod fanatics are facing the reality of a month to go before the season ends. Reports continue to trickle in of reasonable cod activity though, as one would expect, the fish are entering a dormant period. Smaller fish are still on the go throughout the Tableland headwater streams but most of the larger breeding fish will be retreating to the thick stuff.

Dams such as Copeton and Pindari are probably the better options for one last chuck at the green fish. As mentioned last month, stick close to the structure for your best chance.

Keepit Dam is an interesting one at this time of the year. Overall, it lacks the rock cover found throughout dams within the Tableland granite belt and for this reason most fish will be tucking themselves into the sticks. And at Keepit this generally means the old river bed.

Particularly given the low water levels being suffered at Keepit, you won’t need a sounder to find the old course – just focus on the trail of drowned timber.

Trolling is extremely hazardous at present. Many limbs which would normally be deep are just below the surface and you’ll be well advised to approach any trolling run with care. Snagging up is also a high probability so most canny anglers will cast towards the prominent structure from a drifting boat.

If the breeze puffs a bit, drifting is a much better option than motoring through the timber. It allows a quieter approach and also with the motor raised you’ll get half a metre of extra clearance to poke around.

Jigging or slowly retrieving lightly weighted rubber tails can be a good option. Often the fish may be holding shallow at this time, especially where there are plenty of horizontal limbs just below the water.

Chaffey Dam, near Nundle, is another Winter venue worth a visit. Relatively free of structure, it offers the best option for lengthy trolling.

The cliffs towards the dam wall will produce the odd fish but I’d also consider putting some time in around the island as well as drop-offs along the numerous shallows. Don’t be surprised if a big carp or two throttles a trailing lure; there are some big mud puppies here.

Golden perch have been noticeably absent throughout most regional impoundments in recent months. As a result, many local anglers have been heading down to the smaller Hunter Valley dams and testing their deepwater tactics for a few bass.

While Spring and Summer are a better bet for these fish, those who’ve taken the time to experiment can consistently lift Winter fish here. The key seems to be locating bait balls in mid to deep water and then circle-trolling deep divers, much the same as you’d chase billfish on bait schools.


As a final note, the redfin have been going berserk at Malpas Dam according to some of my sources. Unfortunately this impoundment which provides water to Armidale can be accessed only through contact with the St. Kilda Hotel Fishing Club and, yes, the gate is locked.

Summer usually brings algal blooms which inhibit angling but over Winter the lake is clear and fishes much better. The odd bass and trout also turn up occasionally. Bobbers and the old-style Baltic Minnows work a treat here and in fact are popular throughout all the Tableland lakes.

I have heard of some solid redfin coming from Kentucky Creek, near Uralla, as well as the mid reaches of the Gwydir River. It would seem that while numbers of redfin throughout the region have declined in recent years, if you’re willing to stretch your legs there are some good fish about.

All in all, the next couple of months are shut-down time throughout our region but don’t panic – there are still options if you don’t mind putting on your coat. More next



While the river season is well and truly closed, there are still a few options for those with a hunger for a trout battle. Three private trout fisheries currently operate throughout the region and between now and the stream season opening, I’ll be giving you a detailed lowdown on each of them.

Uncle Billy’s Retreat is the brainchild of Bill and Sue Atkins (phone 02 6779 4216) and is the oldest private trout fishery in the New England. This great farmstay B & B is off the New England Highway 13km from Ben Lomond village, 31km from Guyra, about seven hours’ drive from Sydney and under an hour from Armidale.

I’ve fished the lake over the past 10 years and my annual August pilgrimage is one of the year’s highlights.

The main lake is easily large enough for boating and visitors have access to an on-site tinny. The amenities are superb with accommodation in the two stone cabins for about nine people.

The fishing is largely for rainbow trout although over the years I have pulled a few nice browns and the odd yellowbelly. The lake consists of deep water along the old dam wall and broad flats which will prove a challenging polaroiding option.

The water generally runs quite clear and fishing pressure ensures that this fishery is not ‘shooting ducks in a barrel’. Bill and Sue recently decided to make the place a fly-only venue but the young ones and those who haven’t mastered a fly rod can use spinning gear and a fly under a float.

Fly anglers will enjoy some superb midge hatches, especially during the Winter. Porpoising fish are common, especially for the last half-hour before dark.

Rug up, pack a head torch and be patient. As darkness closes, numerous rising fish move into the shallows and a team of midge pupae or small nymphs such as Pheasant Tails or Diawl Bachs in size 12 or 14 are a great choice.

Once the sun gets up, explore the drop-offs or the dam wall with a sink-tip line and olive Woolly Buggers. Slow retrieves are the order of the day here.

Alternatively, drift fishing from the rowboat along the deeper side of the island can produce some savage takes from sizeable fish. For open-water angling I prefer patterns such as small pink Clouser minnows and English-style wets.

Uncle Billy’s is a terrific family venue with great accommodation and easy access to productive water. For closed-season trout hunting, the venue offers a tremendous escape from the Winter shutdown.

The big plus here is you have the run of the place to yourself. Whether a lone angler seeking solitude or a group of buddies, you’re pretty much left to your own.

Bookings fill pretty fast here so phone well ahead if you intend to give the place a workout. I suggest that you try to book the main lake; a smaller fishery and cabin are also available but lack the opportunities of its larger cousin.

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