What a lovely feeling it is to be writing about rain! And hail! And ice and snow. Bucketloads of it. Rain the likes of which we haven't seen for over five years. Massive snowfalls, so heavy that even by the end of June there was more snow in the mountains than had been recorded for the whole of the previous Winter. And then there were major follow-up falls to top it all off.
And here we are sloshing around in it like a bunch of big kids! Staring at rivers running high and dirty, watching lake levels rise to new and exciting levels and listening to the rain whispering or drumming down on the roof for several nights in a row. Not that we really believe the drought is over, mind you. We have had too many false alarms in the past. But we are cautiously optimistic that either it is over or it is about to be over. Either way, we are pretty happy.
Probably nobody is more happy that the people of Goulburn. They have been the media face of the drought for at least the past five years. They ran out of garden water many years ago and faced a critical shortage even of drinking water.
Pejar Reservoir, part of the main water supply, was officially declared empty about three years ago.
I went across to photograph it at the time and it was a pitiful sight. The once magnificent lake that held probably the best population of trophy trout in Australia was down to just a small puddle of dirty green water alongside the offtake tower. The bed of the lake was completely dry and covered with patches of spindly weeds and she-oaks pushing up through the parched, cracked, hard mud. The trout, of course, were all long dead.
This week I went back to look at it again. What a difference! It's over 60% full and still rising. The water is brown and dirty and full of junk but at least it's water and there's lots of it. Perhaps in the not too distant future the authorities might even consider restocking it with trout.
I hope they do, because with the water flooding over new ground there were will be a new level of fertility in the system. There will be worms and bugs and grubs and all sorts of other critters for the fish to eat and plenty of room to swim, so they would grow quickly and once again provide the sport we used to enjoy in this wonderful little lake.
And that sums up what has been happening in our part of the world. The rain has rejuvenated waterways right through the region. Googong has partly filled, Burrinjuck has taken in huge amounts of water and rivers are running again the way rivers should --with a cascading and gurgling sound that is immensely satisfying after years of staring at bone-dry stream beds, vastly depleted lakes surrounded by large areas of dried mud and clay and fish that have been correspondingly lethargic. Or dead.
Burrinjuck is interesting. It was down to a low level and not fishing well, the golden perch and cod had retired for the Winter and all that three friends could catch in a full day's bait and lure fishing was three small redfin.
Then the rain came and, just as some of the older hands in Yass predicted, the golden perch started to feed again. They haven't been around in big numbers but there have been enough to make it worthwhile heading out for a day. They have been taken on scrub worms and wood grubs off the bank and especially on small live yabbies and shrimps.
A few also have been taken on lures, mostly spinnerbaits or big flashy spinning-bladed spoons trolled very slowly along rock faces and around trees and stumps. The fish haven't been big, mostly less than 1.5kg, but they have been in fit and fat condition and a very welcome catch to break up what was an otherwise bleak winter.
Murray cod, of course, will start to act silly and begin spawning anytime now and that's why there has to be a closed season during September, October and November. Some cod will be caught accidentally by perch-chasers but hopefully most or all will do the right thing and return the fish to the water as unharmed as possible.
The same applies to trout cod. They are becoming more common now as stockings from hatcheries take effect and although they are protected, it's hard sometimes to avoid hooking one on a bait or a lure. They are aggressive little fish and that's probably what helped cause their demise in earlier years.
It's been a pretty ordinary Murray River crayfish season, too. The populations of these tasty crustaceans have been badly knocked about by overfishing and the drought and Blowering Dam, one of the most popular fisheries, has been closed to cray fishing for five years.
That put a lot of pressure on other areas and overall catches were pretty meagre. One group fished the Murrumbidgee River well below Burrinjuck for a few little ones but in two trips never saw a legal-size cray. There were a few better ones down towards Gundagai and Wagga but that's a bit far to go for our local anglers.
The mountain lakes have been variable.
Tantangara, one of the smaller and higher lakes, fished well early in the Winter and would have been even better when it started taking in rain and snowmelt later but venturing in there is a risky proposition. It gets a lot of snow and because of the surrounding hills it is hard to see a big snowstorm coming and get the heck out of there. If you get caught in there and the road is blocked, it's usually at least three to five days before the snowplough gets through and that means you need a lot of firewood, food, water, chardonnay and other survival gear if you are going to get out in one piece. Normally we don't start fishing it again until we feel really safe from late snowstorms, around mid or late October.
Eucumbene has been the centre of attention. Australia's biggest artificial lake, it dropped to an unbelievable 10% capacity in June before starting to take in rain and snowmelt in July.
It has fished incredibly well all through the drought and is still producing fish. The best techniques have been to fish wood grubs, bardi grubs, scrub worms or PowerBait on light line almost anywhere off the bank, but especially at Seven Gates, Old Adaminaby or the dam wall, day or night, and sit back to catch five to eight fish in a session. Most of the fish have been rainbows to around 35cm, with an occasional larger fish with a scattering or larger browns in the deeper water.
Access to the water has been difficult because of the mud and launching a boat has been even harder. The best places to launch have been at the dam wall and Old Adaminaby and trollers have done well with yellow-winged Tasmanian Devils and Rapala 5cm and 7cm minnows in various colours. Lead-core line has been useful and slow trolling has been essential.
Jindabyne has sat just below 50% for most of the year and is now taking in plenty of runoff from rain and snowmelt. Access to the bank and for boat launching has been much easier than at Eucumbene and the fish have been larger and easier to catch.
Trollers have taken some massive browns and a lot of medium-sized rainbows right through the day on lead core and flatline. Many of the browns have been taken on large to ultra-large lures such as 7cm and 11cm Rapalas, gold Bombers, Flatfish and big deep-divers normally used for Murray cod.
The rainbows have been taken mostly on Tasmanian Devils, especially my own Y82 gold-wing Canberra Killer, spoons, Celtas and small minnows.
Bait fishing from the bank, especially in the early morning, has been excellent. Best locations have been East Jindabyne, Kalkite and Creel Bay but one angler fished wood grubs from the bank in the middle of town in the middle of the day and landed browns weighing 2 kg and 2.5kg. Some days you just can't pick it.Reads: 683