What a great relief to be going into the New Year with a bit of water around and some good fishing for trout and natives in the offing.
For the past couple of months we have seen consistent weekly or bi-weekly rain squalls throughout the region with some heavy falls that together have replenished river and lake levels and given us the best water conditions for about five years.
Eucumbene, Jindabyne and some of the other mountain trout lakes have been especially productive with limit bags of rainbows and browns commonplace.
Whatever NSW Fisheries have done in the past year or two certainly has paid off, because the fish are in splendid health and I have heard more favourable comments about the firmness of the flesh, the rich colour and superb taste of fish prepared for the table than for some time.
That's been helped, too, by an increasing number of anglers catching and eating their fish on site, using small portable smokers, picnic-site barbecues and camping stoves. Nothing quite beats a trout, caught only minutes before, being cooked and presented on a plate, rich and warm, for a meal. It's a rare privilege that would be hard to find anywhere else in the world and people should appreciate that they can enjoy this for just the price of a licence at $30 a year.
Trolling has been the most favoured way of catching trout this season. Most anglers have realised that if they troll at a slow speed in prime locations, perhaps changing lures every 20 minutes or so to find the most useful pattern, they will catch fish. They've discovered also that it they try flatlining early in the morning, then switch to lead-core line or downrigger as the sun gets up, they maximise their chances of catching a fish.
Slowing down boats with bigger motors has long been a problem for trollers, with many anglers realising that they are trolling too fast for fish in most locations but unsure of what to do about it. In recent years four-stroke motors have been easier to trim down than traditional two-strokes and the increasing use of baffle devices such as the Trollmatic have been beneficial.
Anglers increasingly are using electric motors for trolling, achieving quietness, manoeuvrability and the right trolling speed at the same time.
Many anglers also have realised that trolling in some locations at certain times of the day means covering a fair bit of dead water. It can be boring, time-consuming and simply unproductive because the boat and the lures are in the wrong position. There is no point in trolling wide around a group of trees or a rocky outcrop to avoid running aground or hooking up on a snag if the very fish you are after are all close to that location.
Obviously in these locations it is better to cut the motor and drift into casting range or use an electric motor to come in close, then cast a lure or fly into likely spots. This isn’t exactly rocket science but it is surprising how many anglers haven't thought of it or just won't do it because they haven't got the right casting gear skills.
It isn't easy to cast a light trout lure with distance and accuracy with most of the baitcasters used for trolling unless you have one of the special models such as the Daiwa Pixy. You can do it with ease with a threadline reel.
Lead-core line and downriggers, used to get lures down close to where the fish are, are now considered standard equipment. Lead core is easy to use if you have an outfit dedicated to that use and nothing else.
An outfit like this, with perhaps four or five colours of 8kg lead core line and some backing costs about $170 and is worth its weight in gold. It will take most lures down to about 6-7 metres and although it is not regarded as a ‘sporting’ outfit it is a great meat technique. Once you have your fish you can then decide whether to kill it or release it.
Downriggers are a little more cumbersome but have the dual benefit of enabling you to get lures down very deeply, perhaps to 20 metres or more, and allowing you to hook and play fish on your standard outfit.
Bait fishers also have had a good season with PowerBait, bardi grubs, wood grubs, small yabbies, mudeyes, tiger worms and scrub worms each filling a role. Because of the high light intensity and air and water temperatures, bait fishing from now on will be most productive during early mornings, late afternoons and at night.
Choosing deep-water locations close to shore will maximise chances during the middle of the day.
Fly fishing is getting better day by day. There have been some good insect hatches, especially falls of flying ants which bring fish to the surface in droves. Mudeye patterns at night have been productive and traditional big wets such as Hamill’s Killer, Mrs Simpson, Craig’s Night-time and some yabby patterns are proving useful.
Late afternoons and early evenings have been the most favourable times.
Stream fishing generally has been modest at best, partly because of the lack of fish in many streams previously affected by drought and partly because of crowding on those streams that do carry fish.
The Eucumbene, Thredbo, Goodradigbee and upper Murrumbidgee have been heavily fished and although they were productive early in the season, catch rates have now fallen away.
The native fish season has been excellent. We've had good water flows into Googong, Wyangala, Burrinjuck and Canberra's urban lakes and the golden perch and Murray cod have been very active.
One of the more pleasing aspects of this season has been the behaviour of anglers during the closed season for Murray cod. We spent many years helping NSW and ACT fisheries managers devise an appropriate catch-and-release and closed-season strategy for this fine Australian fish.
The big problem is that during the main breeding period, September to November, cod are likely to strike at anything that moves. I've even caught them on tiny red Celtas, Imp spoons, Wonder Spoons, small minnows and even on wet flies.
To avoid undue harvesting of the fish we have concentrated on having a closed season on them and also encouraging a culture of catch and release of the species whenever and wherever it is caught, at any time of the year.
My observation this year is that this dual strategy has been eminently successful and that the vast majority of the cod taken during the closed and open seasons have been released as unharmed as possible.
I think anglers have earned a pat on the back for their thoughtfulness and consideration in this regard and it demonstrates a level of maturity that I wasn't sure we could expect in such a short time.
For the next month or so we can expect good fishing for trout in the mountains and for natives in the lower country. Keep your fingers crossed that the rain keeps coming, the waterways stay full and that the new attitude of releasing fish instead of killing them continues to spread and becomes the norm.
It doesn't mean you can't take a fish for a feed. It just means that you take only what you need and leave the rest to grow bigger and better and provide more fun for the next angler to come along.Reads: 500