Canberra-Monaro anglers aren't exactly running around in shorts and T-shirts at the moment but it is nice to know that we have just passed our coldest month.
September weather is not all that good but August is a real bastard every year. The days are short and the cold just keeps on coming. There's lots of snow, ice and fog about and not a lot to do apart from mountain lake fishing.
The big problem is that if you want to go fishing in the high country lakes, which is mostly the only profitable fishing available at this time of year, you have to share the road with skiers.
Skiers love August and September weather, but then again they aren't a particularly bright lot at the best of times. They wear impossibly huge loads of clothing that would make a fisherman look like an idiot and participate in an active sport that keeps them warm all day until they hit something and break a lot of interesting bones. They ski up and down hills, fall over a lot, yell, scream and holler and then those that aren't taken away by ambulances go home for a noggin.
Even worse, some of them jump in the car and attempt to drive home. The big problem with skiers is that there are a lot of them and they all think they can drive a vehicle properly after a hard day on the slopes. About 2 million of them visit the snowfields every year and their driving record is not exactly what you would call A1.
They have a lot of crashes, put themselves and a lot of other people off the road and don't seem to realise that fog, grog, tiredness and icy roads are a recipe for disaster. Some friends have just returned from a trip where they got one hell of a scare from a car full of skiers coming straight at them sideways on the wrong side of the road. Luckily it missed them and ploughed into a snowbank. In the same week police apprehended a P-plater driving at 180kmh near Jindabyne on an icy road.
Having said all that and having checked my inbox for hate mail and poison-pen letters, I can report that we have had some interesting fishing, despite the weather.
One group that tried Tantangara Dam, the highest of our regular alpine haunts, found some nice browns that had finished spawning and were hungry to put back on condition.
They took them on No 36 black and yellow Tasmanian Devils, Wonder Spoons and Wonder Crocodiles trolled fairly slowly. There was lots of snow and ice around but the access road to the reservoir was passable in 4WD.
They camped overnight and reported an interesting temperature of minus 15° inside the tent. Luckily the beer was in the esky, so it didn't freeze. They had topped up the anti-freeze in the radiator.
In between fishing stints they hiked up into the country where the feeder streams Nungar Creek, Tantangara Creek and the upper Murrumbidgee River enter the lake. They saw lots of wild dogs and horrible spavined wild horses but also found a lot of browns still spawning and first of the rainbows trying to get to the same spawning grounds.
There were plenty of redds full of eggs which means if the flow of cold, clear, highly oxygenated water from snowmelt continues, there will be a significant recruitment of young fish to the lake for the coming season.
Wind can be the big enemy in the high country in Winter. A mild breeze at lower altitudes can be a screaming gale in the higher areas. It was so bad recently that an angler was actually blown off a rock on the lake shore as he was attempting to cast a lure. A fly angler trying to cast a relatively heavy weight-forward fly line also could not hit the water -- the line just stayed in the air, such was the force of the gale.
The one good thing about the wind, however, is that it ruffles the water so much that the fish feel safe to come close to the surface and into the shallows. Often the best place to catch fish is just a few metres from shore where the muddy and clear water meet and mix.
Lake Jindabyne has been a prime fishery this Winter. The level has stayed relatively stable around 58%, which means the banks have been firm enough for good fishing and also for launching boats.
There have been plenty of rainbows around a kilo and a few browns feeding close to shore. Although they have been a bit hard to catch on lures they have been easy with bait bardi grubs, wood grubs, scrub worms and especially PowerBait.
Grubs are good because they can be used over and over again and even the last little bit of skin will suffice. The only problem is that bardi grubs have been hard to get this year and it is a puzzle that nobody seems to want to supply them to tackle shops, despite having an assured sale.
Wood grubs are a bit easier to obtain as they are a nice bonus and source of income for blokes splitting wood for the firewood trade.
Scrub worms are sourced mostly from Tasmania, where they can be legally harvested from some of the cleanest, pollution-free countryside in Australia. They are used to the cold weather and even after they are chucked into an icy mountain lake, they continue to wriggle excitedly enough to attract a fish.
PowerBait is an enigma. It looks like playdough, has no smell, is cheap and readily available, yet it catches remarkable numbers of fish. It comes in different colours either as a paste or pellets and generates furious arguments as to which form or colour is best.
I used to think that colour wasn't all that important but last week a colleague was fishing at Jindabyne and caught six nice rainbows on green Lime Twist PowerBait. A visitor from Sydney, fishing a few metres away with pink PowerBait, mentioned that he had not caught a fish. My colleague gave him some Lime Twist to try and he caught eight fish in a couple of hours. So colour does matter, at least sometimes.
Of all the mountain lakes, Eucumbene has been the most spectacular. The water has been dropping all this year and has now fallen to well below 30%, probably the second-lowest level on record. The fish have been forced into the remainder of the dwindling storage and anglers have been taking repeat bags on every visit.
Fly and lure anglers have fared reasonably well but the majority of anglers have used PowerBait, many of them for the first time. Doubters about the efficacy of the bait commonly have been stunned at the results – throw a bait in at a location such as Seven Gates, Cemetery Point or Old Adaminaby and if you haven't got a fish within a few minutes then something is wrong.
Nearly all anglers have bagged out with five fish and some have done that in 20 to 30 minutes, especially if they are fishing around dawn or just after dark. Some anglers already are starting to wonder what impact the colossal take of fish will have on future years' fishing.
Most of the fish have been rainbows because the browns have been up the rivers spawning. That's changing, however, as the browns return to the lake and the rainbows start to move upstream to their spawning grounds.
The good fishing is expected to continue as long as the water level keeps dropping. No one knows why Snowy Hydro is dropping the level so vigorously but presumably it is for a good reason, perhaps to facilitate work on tunnels or other infrastructure accessible only when the water level is well down.
So if you want some top fishing get in while you can, before the inevitable snow melt brings the level back up again. Just watch out for skiers on the road.
Anglers who fell for the silly stories peddled by the rumour-mongers about losing their favourite fishing spots in the Batemans Marine Park will be delighted at the draft zoning proposals released recently.
Broadly, the park is to be zoned to fit certain categories of use. Most of the park is unrestricted and all forms of picnicking, boating, sailing, skiing, swimming, surfing, etc, will continue as before.
Then there will be habitat zones where professional fishing will be restricted and $8.5 million has been set aside specifically to buy out professional fishers in the park.
Finally, there will be sanctuary zones where all forms of marine harvesting, including professional and recreational fishing, will be banned. Sanctuary zones are designed to give fish some breathing space – areas where they can breed and grow, then flow out to adjoining areas to boost the populations where fishing is allowed.
About 19% of the park is designated as sanctuary zone but few of the more popular fishing spots are included. That’s because the zoning advisory committee aimed specifically at establishing representative habitat and sanctuary zones for continuing scientific appraisal of the park, but without depriving anglers of prized recreational areas.
Detailed maps of the draft zoning proposals are available from local tackle shops. Anglers will have three months to make submissions on the proposals, after which they will come into force. The Marine Parks Authority has stressed that it will happily consider ‘sensible’ proposals.
Most anglers agree that the park is a sensible step in protecting fish stocks on the South Coast and in ensuring good fishing in perpetuity. That should ensure our children will be able to enjoy the same or better fishing than we, our parents and grandparents enjoyed. In particular, anglers will be delighted to see a cessation of some of the more destructive professional practices as pro licences are surrendered and bought out.Reads: 5161