Back on Deck
  |  First Published: November 2006

The first order of business is to apologize for the absence of the Armidale column for the last three months. When I set off for the Northern Territory back when the August issue was getting laid out I was only meant to be doing a quick stint of three to four weeks. Well, three months later here I am, back at last. At least I got to avoid the Armidale winter and get some fishing done.

One bonus of being away so long (or at least, away for winter) is that I’ve got back just in time for the fishing season to really kick off again. With the opportunely timed rains the bass have had an unimpeded return to the headwaters (for the first time since the turn of the millennium… sounds impressive eh?) and all of the trout streams are looking like they should… that’s like trout streams instead of chains of puddles.

The western rivers are also looking healthy and should, hopefully, be the same in a month’s time when the closed season finishes and we can start fishing for cod again.

While I was in the Northern Territory I spent a fair bit of my spare time chasing the local species available at the different places I worked. For the first six weeks this meant sooty grunter. These little characters are like bass with a bad attitude and many times their behaviour reminded me of the bronze battlers I chase in the headwaters of the Macleay each summer. Although sooties are grunters and bass are a perch, the food they take, cover they inhabit and the way you have to fish for them bears an uncanny similarity. Throw in the same annoying habit of getting a bad case of lock-jaw after you’ve caught a couple from the same pool and I sometimes found myself wondering whether I was back home. A quick glance at the ever-present crocs tended to get my mind back where I was pretty quickly though! The fact that I couldn’t just jump in to cool off whenever I wanted certainly had me yearning for the rivers of NSW again.

Bass are back

With the rivers looking so good at the moment I’ll be sure to do a few walks into the headwaters of the Macleay, as well as drifting a canoe down the lower reaches, before too long.

Reports from down the hill suggest that there are plenty of fish already in the main river and up into the feeder creeks above Bellbrook. While the water is flowing well it pays to spend some time casting into the rapids and fast water at the head of pools as well as the usual haunts around snags and weed-beds.

A soft plastic or spinnerbait tumbled down through the current will often nail some pretty hefty fish waiting for food to be delivered by the rapids, even in the middle of the day. The same lures will also work well dropped down the face of the bank-side weedbeds that are still prominent along a lot of the river (we still need a good flood!). Surface lures are worth a try in the twighlight hours but the best surface fishing won’t really kick off until it warms up a little more and the bugs come out in numbers.

Trout season promise

The trout streams of the New England area (particularly around Ebor) are looking to be in really good shape for the coming season. The western streams also look pretty reasonable but as usual we need some consistent rain to keep them flowing. Predictions of another drought and that dreaded E-word (El nino) have me thinking that it might be prudent to get out there now and make the most of it while it’s still good.

For the first time in a few years I managed to get out for a fish myself (rather than guiding clients) on the opening weekend and I can happily report that there are plenty of fish about. Over a couple of days a small group of us managed to catch and release easily over 100 fish with the average being around 25-30cm. It was interesting to note that we could recognize three distinct year classes that would date back to the worst of the drought years. There were also a few bigger fish (55cm plus) but these are still few and far between and generally found in the deeper waterfall pools where they, no doubt, weathered the tough years.

There were also a few good fish (that I heard of) taken from some of the creeks near Guyra on the opening weekend as well. The fish in this area tend to get bigger much faster than those around Ebor and I’ve heard reports of fish up to 2kg being taken. Even with a little lee-way for exaggeration these are good fish. These fish would be a similar age to the 25-30cm fish we found at Ebor, just fed up on yabbies instead of nymphs. It’s no wonder that Wooly Buggers and soft-plastic yabbies work so well in these streams!

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