As the Murray cod season opens on December 1 the new minimum legal length of 55cm comes into play. That means that if you really do want to kill one of these iconic Australian native fish, then it has to be a fair-dinkum 55cm – not 54.5cm with its head stretched, either.
Having said that, it is pleasing to see how few cod are killed these days. Most of the anglers I mix with prefer to catch and release their cod on the basis that they are an important fish and that the one you release today could be the bigger and better one you catch next time.
A good example of that has just happened in suburban Lake Ginninderra. Some months ago a visiting construction worker, new to Canberra, asked for advice on where to fish, We sent him down to the police jetty, a prominent and easily-accessible feature on the lake shore, right across the road from the busy Belconnen Mall shopping centre.
He drowned a bardi grub while sipping a beer in the middle of the day and was pleasantly surprised to land a fat Murray cod that looked from the photo to be about 18kg to 20kg.
Last week another visitor to Canberra drowned another bardi grub in the same location and caught a cod which we were easily able to identify as the one caught previously. It also has been released and no doubt will brighten some angler's day again.
It was a great thrill for each of these anglers because it was their first-ever cod and even though I explained that their second native fish, when they catch one, could well be disappointingly smaller, they were tickled pink.
It was good value, too, for a fingerling that probably cost about 70 cents when it was stocked by the ACT Government in the lake around eight to 10 years ago.
It was interesting to note how many cod were caught, accidentally, during the closed season. Most anglers tried to support the intention of the closure, reducing the chances of catching a cod by using mostly smaller lures and avoiding bait fishing where possible. Inevitably, though, some cod were caught.
One in particular was caught by The Bastard. He gained that name because he fished in a spot on the Murrumbidgee that had been revealed only to a mate by another angler. Who passed it on to another angler. And so on.
So he fished and he caught a cod about 20kg. He was fishing, of course, in all innocence and he is a nice bloke, but he immediately became known as ‘the bastard who caught my fish’. Hence the name, which I hope he likes.
Although most anglers made genuine attempts to release cod unharmed, at least one nice fish was lost. An angler caught one big enough to be the fish of a lifetime and in the excitement of the capture it was taken away to a car park to be weighed and photographed. Unfortunately it was left out of the water for too long and died, even though it was placed back in the river and swum around by hand.
It weighed 26kg and was a tough lesson for the angler and the fish. In future he and his mates now know to handle, weigh and photograph a fish only at the place of capture. And to do it quickly and gently and to get the fish back in the water as fast as possible.
Keeping fish out of the water for too long is something I have harped about for ages. You see it all the time on TV. A fish is held for the camera for an inordinate of time and then placed back in the water with a reassuring ‘there you go, another fine release’ from the presenter.
Except that the fish, heavily stressed from lack of oxygen and build-up of lactic acid, then disappears into the depths and dies – out of view of the audience, of course.
If you want a general rule of thumb as to how long you should hold a fish out of water, try holding your own breath. That's how long a fish should be expected to do the same thing.
Give it a fair go. Don't bring it out of the water until you have your scales or camera shot-ready and be prepared to dunk it in the water from time to time for a prolonged shoot or weigh-in. Put yourself in the fish's place and it starts to make sense.
Redfin in the local lakes have been behaving strangely. Normally there are hordes of small fish around with just the odd big one and they are the first to come good after our cold Winter.
This year, though, they have been surprisingly quiet, with a few outstandingly large ones caught but with little sign of the hordes of juveniles we expect. There is speculation that the EHN virus, which commonly knocks the population down in late Summer each year, may have somehow overly reduced the population but we will have wait and see when the warm weather arrives and the fish become most active.
Carp also have been slow starting this year. Only a few have been taken from the local lakes although more have shown in the rivers and about now the last of them should finish spawning.
Although most have been taken on bait a fair proportion have been taken on lures, including spoons and deep-divers, again reinforcing my belief that if they will do that they are likely to be predators of other small fish that these lures represent.
Fly fishing for carp has been the new holy grail for some anglers around here. The fish will take a variety of flies but bread flies, Glo Bugs, beadhead nymphs, Montana Nymphs, brown or green beadhead mudeyes, chironomids (Buzzers) and small cased caddis all have been popular.
The trick is to put the fly right in front of the fish and wait for it to suck it in before setting the hook. As soon as they are hooked they go like the clappers and put up a powerful tussle. A 3kg fish could take up to 20 minutes to land on 3kg tippet and larger fish can take an hour or more. It's good fun and it's great to see at least some anglers getting some use out of these scaled rats.
Golden perch have been our favourite native species this season. They came on the bite reasonably quickly after Winter and some nice specimens have been taken on bait from all of the local lakes and especially from Wyangala and Burrinjuck.
At Wyangala the fish mostly have been small and the best locations have been around the dam wall end of the lake. They could be caught easily by bobbing yabbies or scrub worms against flooded trees or steep rock faces, especially late in the afternoon or at night.
At Burrinjuck the new craze has been to fish for them with green saltwater prawns. They have been an excellent bait, whole or peeled, and have been a pleasant surprise for many people using them for the first time.
Despite that, live yabbies have been hard to beat. One group recently fished the Murrumbidgee Arm of Burrinjuck, working yabbies in deep water off a steep bank. Starting just after dark they landed 17 fish, the two largest weighing 4.5kg and 5kg.
Those that were kept were top tucker. My wife and I had some skinned, defatted, boned fillets done in egg and breadcrumbs with a fine Clare riesling. It was the first time we had had golden perch for a year or so and it was a great meal.
The trout season got off to a frightful start back in October. Early anglers were met with a mix of snowstorms, hailstorms and dust storms, depending on where you fished, and screaming mountain gales exceeding 110kmh. Since then the weather has been just as erratic and not particularly conducive to good fishing.
The mountain streams will continue to run as the snowmelt and seepage works its way down from the heights but drought still reigns supreme in the lower country.
The lakes, notably Jindabyne, Eucumbene, Tantangara, Talbingo, Jounama, Tooma and Island Bend, have fished well and this should preserve our sanity until this rotten drought finally breaks and we can get back to stocking the streams again.Reads: 500