Spring comes late to Canberra and the Monaro. We look forward to it like kids at Christmas, noting with satisfaction each signal that our long, hard Winter really is over.
There are signs like the first blowfly of the season, the blooming of the wattles that signify that native fish are on the move, the happy chatter of grouped-up crimson rosellas along the riverbank, young magpies endlessly beseeching mum and dad for food, the first sign of yabbies excavating their burrows, hatches of caddis and mayflies at Eucumbene and Jindabyne, the reduction in traffic as the last of the skiers leave the mountains and, of course, the opening of the trout season.
The native fish have been pretty inactive for the past couple of months, mostly lying low in the deeper reservoirs and not feeding much. But now they are on the move.
Golden and silver perch have started heading upstream in the Murrumbidgee River above Burrinjuck and the Lachlan and Abercrombie Rivers above Wyangala in what is a most notable annual migration.
There also should be some movement in the other regional impoundments such as Blowering and Talbingo as well as Canberra's urban impoundments Burley Griffin, Tuggeranong and Ginninderra, and at nearby Googong. The fish will work their way upstream as far as water flows and natural rock and man-made barriers allow, feeding and putting on condition as they go.
Hopefully some will breed and add to the local populations but each year the level of recruitment of new fish is most uncertain. We know that silver perch will breed in some impoundments and feeder rivers but not in others. Similarly, surprisingly little is known of the overall breeding regime of golden perch and Murray cod.
We know, for example, that silver perch and Murray cod will breed in Burrinjuck and Wyangala but it seems there is little or no breeding in the colder lakes at higher altitudes around Canberra.
Similarly, it seems unlikely that there is any or significant breeding of golden perch in these regional lakes. That means that the populations have to be maintained by stocking with hatchery fish, with Government and private organisations providing stocks.
The success of stocking varies each year. Silver and golden perch and cod fingerlings travel reasonably well and can adapt to a variety of water conditions. Unfortunately they are easy prey for predators such as redfin, rainbow and brown trout and even carp. Carp are not normally thought of as predators but for some years there has been mounting suspicion about their capacity to run down and eat young fish. On several occasions partly-digested fish, suggestive of recently killed ones, have been found in carp stomachs and I have caught them repeatedly on lures whilst fishing for perch and Murray cod.
All this indicates that instead of thinking of them just as bottom-sucking sludge feeders they may just be a more active and possibly important predator than we have given them credit for.
The adage that native fish come on the bite as soon as the wattles bloom is probably true, even though there are dozens of wattle species and they all bloom at different times of the year in different parts of our region. Certainly recent events have been encouraging.
Good golden perch have been taken from Burrinjuck, Blowering and Burley Griffin on lures and bait and there have been some nice silvers to about a kilo taken on bait in Wyangala.
One group walking the upstream end of the Murrumbidgee in the ACT, where the water is still cold but flowing strongly, found some excellent golden perch to about 2.5kg. They were all taken on medium-deep divers in water no more than 2m to 3m deep.
This group also found cod to about 4.5kg on deep divers, mostly in deeper pools immediately below rapids. They didn't encounter silver perch, which are now a rarity in rivers around here.
At Googong, too, anglers have bobbed some great golden perch using live yabbies, spinnerbaits and lipless ratters. On several occasions they accidentally hooked redfin which were sometimes followed all the way to the boat by monstrous-sized cod, one of which snatched a redfin from the hook only about 3m from the rod tip. It was heart-attack time but it spat out the fish without hooking up.
The conundrum of catching cod during the closed season of September to November is interesting. The fish are expected to be protected because it is their prime breeding season. On the other hand, this is when they are at their most aggressive, so the chances of hooking one while legitimately lurefishing for perch are that much higher.
In fact the best chance you have of hooking a cod is during the closed season. When I first wrote about this some time back, some readers predictably accused me of encouraging people to fish illegally for cod. What they didn't seem to realise was that I was pointing out the bleeding obvious and warning people about just that situation.
So how do you resolve the dilemma? All I can suggest is that you don't fish at all in cod waters during the closed season or have a plan ready to deal with any cod accidentally hooked. That means having a non-damaging enviro-style landing net, a good pair of fish grips ready to hold the fish and a game plan for quickly and safely releasing the cod as unharmed as possible. Treat the fish with the care and respect that it deserves and you might not unduly harm what could well be a prime breeding fish.
There have been some good cod around, too. Just before the closed season two construction workers on a short-term visit to the ACT, Robby Morris and Chris Settree, landed a cod of about 18kg on a wood grub in Lake Ginninderra. The fish was duly photographed and sent on its way and the boys have a great trophy photograph to show their mates back in Gosford.
The streams are opening for the 2006-07 trout season from the start of the holiday weekend and many of us will relish a return to those streams that still have water and fish. Apart from the Thredbo, the Eucumbene and the Murrumbidgee, however, they are few and far between as the continuing drought has wiped out most of the other waterways and their treasured trout. We'll bring you more news on that next month after we have surveyed the situation.
The big mountain lakes, Jindabyne and Eucumbene, have been the mainstay of our trout fishery for the last five years during the drought and look set to retain that status until we get water and fish back in the streams.
Water levels have been low, especially in Eucumbene, but the fishing has been spectacularly good. Boat anglers have not fared too well because it has been difficult to launch through the mud but bank anglers have repeatedly taken limit bags of five fish, using scrub worms, PowerBait, bardi grubs and wood grubs.
Fly and lure anglers also have bagged out on many occasions, especially on rainbows from 800g to 1.5kg and browns around 1.5kg to 2kg.
The weather in the mountains has been, and is still cold, as many people have found out when they became bogged in the mud at Eucumbene.
We have had a few scares with people missing temporarily. We had one fright when a veteran angler, an 85-year old Finn, went missing at Eucumbene. Apparently he caught his bag of trout in the first 90 minutes and went to head home, using stone markers he had planted in the snow to guide him out to a main road. Unfortunately he mistook an old fireplace for one set of markers, ran off his track and became bogged in the snow and mud. His son, with police from Cooma, Adaminaby and Jindabyne, eventually found him after three days, cold, hungry and a bit disorientated but otherwise OK. He's a tough old fellow and is now back in the same area, happily fishing. What a great spirit!Reads: 1008