One of the little pleasures we have during our cold Winters is the Murray River crayfish season. These tasty, white-clawed crustaceans are off-limits to anglers for much of the year but it is open season for them during May to August.
They are widespread in the Murrumbidgee River and parts of the Tumut River, especially in Blowering Reservoir, and some other waterways.
In recent years the cray population was at undue risk because of drought and low water and areas such as Blowering were placed off-limits. This year, however, with better management of environmental flows and water levels generally, all of the areas have been open to fishing and some good catches have resulted.
Anglers can use up to five hoop (lift or drop) nets to take crays and the legal limit is five per person per day. The minimum size is 9cm, measured from the eye socket to the end of the carapace (the shell over the head and shoulders) and only one cray over 12cm can be taken in each bag. ‘Berried’ females, carrying eggs or young under the tail, must be returned to the water immediately.
There are a couple of pitfalls anglers should be aware of with crays. Firstly, remember that with the exception of Eucumbene and Jindabyne, traps and nets cannot be used in declared trout waters in NSW. Blowering is not declared trout water but the immediately adjacent waterway, Jounama Reservoir, is. That means that you cannot net or trap crays in Jounama.
Nor can you, despite how tempting it may be, scoop them out with a hand net when they are clearly visible wandering around in the shallows at night. A few years ago some villains scooped out over 1000 crays from Jounama and tried to sell them around Canberra. They were apprehended and fined up to $2000 each, which only seems fair.
The best baits for crays are bullock’s liver, or any fresh meat, or pierced tins of cat or dog food. Also, contrary to the popular urban myth, dead European carp, but not other fish, can be used as bait. Some anglers have used road-kill kangaroos picked up along the highway but they then run the risk of having to explain to any inquisitive wildlife ranger why they are in possession of protected wildlife.
The big trick to catching crays is to lift the nets often. We have watched crays feeding and often this lasts only for a couple of minutes. After that the cray just wanders off to do whatever else it is that crays do in their off time, so it pays to check the nets every 10 minutes or so – otherwise you could miss out on some prize critters.
Fishing has been generally quiet in regional lowland reservoirs although persistent anglers will be rewarded with an occasional fish. Redfin sometimes will respond to repeated casting with flashy spoons and spinning bladed lures, jig spinners and some soft plastics. Scrub worms and wriggly bunches of tiger worms work well, especially later in the day when the sun seems to warm the water, even though it probably doesn't.
Golden perch and Murray cod may respond when the sun is at its brightest but preferred lures are deeper divers, big spinning-blade lures and large flashy spoons, noisy bibless minnows and spinnerbaits. It pays to target snags such as flooded trees, fallen trees, logs, stumps, rock outcrops and steep rock faces. Repeated casting to the same location sometimes will induce a fish to strike.
Often the best results come from the use of live baits such as yabbies or shrimps caught on site. Bobbing them alongside a likely snag is the preferred technique.
Avoiding unwanted carp is the main aim on most trips. They are absolute pests when fishing with worms but are less keen to take yabbies or shrimps, especially the larger specimens. When they are really hungry, however, nothing will stop them except a baseball bat.
The sensational trout fishing in Eucumbene and Jindabyne this year has certainly satisfied most anglers. Almost everybody who fished with fly, lure or bait in recent months got their bag of five fish, sometimes in as little as 30 minutes, and many went on to record cricket scores, albeit catch-and-release ones.
Since those heady days of April to June there have been a few developments of significance. The browns headed upstream to spawn as soon as rain and snow flooded the streams, initially in June, and if it has been a good spawning there will be a significant recruitment of young fish for the streams and lakes.
The rainbow spawning run usually hits a peak in August and September, with some overlap with the last of the spawning browns. That usually means some spawning fish are digging up the eggs of earlier fish and these eggs then die, an unfortunate coincidence of the breeding cycles of these different fish from Europe and North America.
Some of the hot fishing of Autumn and early Winter may continue, even in the depths of Winter. The fish, of course, are Northern Hemisphere species well-suited to the cold weather. That means that they will be comfortable and feed even when there is deep snow on the ground and parts of the waterway are frozen.
Fly fishers could find fish with big heavy flies and especially with sinking or sink-tip lines. I have had a lot of success dredging the deeper layers of Eucumbene with rabbit flies, yabby imitations and other big wets.
On cold, clear days, however, I have often reverted to small wets, polaroiding the shorelines and targeting individual fish lurking in the shallows. You can do this in any lake but Jindabyne is the preferred location.
Bait fishers commonly do well fishing from the bank with light running-sinker rigs with PowerBait and scrub worms as the prime baits. Fish close to shore if deeper water is nearby or well out if it is shallow. Keep movement on the bank to a minimum and if you have a fire, shield its glow from the water to avoid spooking fish.
Lure fishers can cast a variety of lures such as Wonder Imp, Wonder Crocodile, Wonder Spoon, Celta, Tasmanian Devils or small minnows from the bank and expect reasonable success. Trollers can use the same patterns but also add in Flatfish worked at low speed for maximum success.
Lead-core line or a downrigger is useful on clear, cold, still days when the fish are down deep. A Ford Fender or Cowbell attached to the downrigger bomb adds flash and attraction to the rig and often leads to more strikes on the lures.
One of the delights of trout fishing is smoking the catch. Many anglers on trips to the mountains carry a small stainless steel smoker and they are a great asset. Mine travels in a polystyrene box complete with a bottle of metho, some Alfoil wrap, sawdust and a box of matches.
If I hook a trout on the bank, it goes straight into the smoker while I go on fishing and hey presto! in less than 20 minutes, I have lunch/dinner/breakfast or whatever to go with my icy-cold Chardonnay. Simple Australian peasant tucker, you might say, but equal to any in the World.
Oh, and the Alfoil? That's to wrap the sawdust in. It stops it from spitting bit of charred dust onto the fish, works just as well as open dust in the smoker and is a lot easier to dispose of. It’s neat little idea one of my drinking/smoking/fishing buddies dreamed up. Give it a try.
ACT cray ban
In the ACT there is only a small population of crays and consequently they are totally protected. They cannot be taken without a special wildlife permit and if caught accidentally, must be returned to the water immediately.
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