Alternatives to hibernation
  |  First Published: July 2006

Mid-Winter is a funny time of the year in our part of the world because many anglers honestly don't know what to do with themselves.

The weather, of course, is the dominant factor. With night temperatures sometimes dropping to -6° in Canberra and perhaps -12° in the mountains and day temperatures that sometimes just stagger above freezing, there is a great incentive to stay home inside a warm house and do nothing.

And that's what a lot of anglers do. As soon as the native fish slow down for Winter and the trout streams close in June they put the gear away then hibernate for a few months, citing heavy snowfalls, blocked roads. alpine gales with a wind chill factor of -30° and the need to put your grog in the esky to stop it from freezing as reasonable grounds.

The rest of us regard them as wimps. We kid ourselves into believing that Winter is a short burst of some of the most exhilarating weather of the year, a minor irritation that puts a few obstacles in the way of some interesting fishing and an opportune time to test innovative ways of catching fish that at times do not seem interested in being caught. We are the ones who fish all year round, accepting small catches as well as large catches as just part of the game.


All of the native species are at their lowest level of activity in mid-Winter. Golden and silver perch and most of the Murray cod by now have left the streams where they spent their Summer and have retreated to the nearest downstream reservoir. There they take advantage of the different temperatures in the deeper, stratified water column, moving to the layer they find most comfortable in terms of heat and ease of oxygen extraction.

They feed intermittently, but not often, living to some extent on stored body fat and not having to chase food as they would in Summer.

Catching them on lures is a bit of an art; almost stunt fishing. They can sometimes be tempted to take a deep diver but only if it passes right in front of their nose. They are reluctant to chase anything very far because they really aren't all that interested.

You can help them make up their mind by repeated casting to the same fish, hoping that in the long run it will grab a lure out of frustration or irritation. Hard fishing, perhaps, but certainly more fun and more rewarding than sitting at home watching the idiot box.

You can increase your chances by targeting more exactly the spots where fish are most likely to be resting. These include the bases of flooded trees, deep down on a steep rock face or in any deep water close to the bottom. You can home right in on these spots with deep divers but are likely to be more successful with spinnerbaits or weighted bibless minnows which can be sunk vertically.

We've had modest success with golden perch and Murray cod by jiggling flashy quad spinnerbaits and noisy bibless minnows in these locations and also by jiggling the lures near the bottom in a boat drifting across a reservoir. Yes, it is slow fishing but even a single fish in a day is great reward for an innovative effort.


Bait fishing can be productive. Yabbies are a tantalising bait to use for golden perch and cod but are impossible to obtain around Canberra in mid-Winter because they hibernate, burrowing deep down in the mud. That means that you have to have an indoor fish tank full of the critters left over from Summer, or, if you are clever, go to Lake Eucumbene for a supply.

I've often surmised that the yabbies in Eucumbene are different from the ones in the lower country around Canberra. They are sometimes a different colour and but more significantly, even in mid-Winter some can be found wandering around the bottom at night.

Even though this is declared trout water you are still able to fish for them with two-ring drop nets and can keep up to 200 per day. They transport quite well and can then be used as live bait in the lower country reservoirs such as Googong, Burrinjuck and Wyangala.

Shrimps are another option. They can be hard to find in mid-Winter but with a good trap and a nice bait such as bullock liver or a lump of Lake Burley Griffin mud marlin, a.k.a. European carp, it is often possible to get just enough for a few baits. They can be very tempting to even the most disinterested resting fish and are always worth a try.

Worms, too, are a good, especially for silver and golden perch. Scrub worms are generally favoured because of the powerful scent they give off but I have done exceedingly well at times with tiger worms, especially fat little ones I have grown in my own compost heap. A useful trick I have learned for Winter fishing is to berley a spot with chopped worms mixed with handfuls of dirt, then fish near the bottom with just a single worm on a small hook on light line. It's been a good technique for perch but I have hooked an occasional cod this way.

Bardi grubs and wood grubs are among the top baits because when pierced by the hook they release a massive amount of obviously tasty goodies which native fish love. A fat grub often saves the day when nothing else works and are always available.


Trout in Winter are easy. All you have to do is dress in a manner that allows you to survive on Eucumbene and Jindabyne and the other lakes that stay open year round and you can lure, fly or bait fish.

Bait fishing is a passive sport which means you don't move around much and thus stand a good chance of freezing to death. On the other hand, you can have a fire and can wear more clothes than if you are wading for fly fishing or trolling. The best baits for Winter are the same as for Summer, namely PowerBait, scrub worms, bardi grubs, wood grubs and tiger worms. Mudeyes are usually unavailable and yabbies, although commonly found in fish caught, rarely seem to catch a fish when used as bait.

Fly fishing is often limited by the fly line freezing in the rod guides, the discomfort of wading around in near-freezing water and the lack of insect activity that would otherwise stimulate the fish to feed. It can be very productive, however, and I have had some great sessions polaroiding fish in the shallows and targeting them with small wet caddis, bead head nymphs and even Glo Bugs.

I've also had some productive sessions dragging the bottom with rabbit flies, Tom Jones and Jindy Horror, using an intermediate sink line.

Lure fishers often do well with slow-worked Flatfish, small minnows, Celtas or spoons such as the Wonder Spoon, Wonder Crocodile or Pegron Tiger Minnow, flatlining or more preferably on lead-core line. The essence of Winter trolling is to work the lure slowly and deeply and give the fish every chance of seeing and intercepting the lure. Move it too fast and the fish lose interest, preferring to wait on more sedate prey to come by.


So in essence there is life after death in Winter. As well as trying innovative techniques for native fish and traditional techniques for trout, this Winter we are going to check out the bass in Brogo Reservoir. We haven't had the opportunity of trying for impoundment bass in Winter on the South Coast previously so it could be a lot of fun. We will report in due course.


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