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A champagne trout season
  |  First Published: December 2008



This year’s trout season just continues to get better. The fish are around in good numbers and are in excellent condition.

Dad and I recently spent a day on one of my favourite creeks. The old fella hadn’t flicked a fly for quite some time but managed to lift 10 on the dry fly and a further 10 on Celta spinners.

Between us we ended with a total of 42 trout for the day, all legal size or better. Although Dad kept one to grill for Mum, we returned the rest, mostly rainbows, to the water.

The water levels across New England have been perfect lately with good, steady flows – not too high or fast.

January often produces unsettled weather, with frequent afternoon storms following a brief but busy period of fish activity. If a storm front is approaching, grab your wet weather gear and get out there!

The fish should continue to rise well of an evening an anglers on the spot with a Red Tag or Dun pattern should take their share.

When fish are actively rising, focus on the heaviest rise and pass a small dry over it several times. If you get no response, slap a chunky hopper imitation down a metre off the rising fish, which will usually stir a stubborn fish to a heavy strike.

Yabby patterns such as Mort’s or a green Woolly Bugger will encourage fish to the take. Forget sinking lines and weight the fly. Alternatively, pinch a split shot about 15cm up the leader from the fly.

Lure flickers should switch to ultra-small jigs fitted with soft plastics in natural colours.

Throughout January and February I’d be focusing on some of the larger western waters around Guyra or down Walcha way. Ebor will continue to produce but if you want a shot at the region’s bigger hogs, take note of the western and southern fisheries.

NATIVES

The local Murray cod population will be well on the chew until April. The storm activity is more regular and the fluctuating barometer results in high fish activity.

A lot of cod pundits like stable weather with a barometer around 1020hPa. This is mostly for trolling, where you need to cover a lot of water and an open lake is not the spot in a storm.

Those of us who walk the rivers can target the cod, often stalking the same fishy snag year after year. An erratic, falling barometer stirs these fish into action and for brief periods that action can be explosive.

This time of year I prefer to hit the cod with large streamer flies fished ultra-slowly on an intermediate line.

If the water is not heavily coloured, I fish yellow, gold or white combinations. If the current is running with colour then I prefer darker flies that push a bit of water.

Lure casters should do well with spinnerbaits in chartreuse or white. Red and black, red and purple are excellent choices when the river clouds out.

Out on the lakes, I’d troll spinnerbaits along the timber and drop-offs a first light. As the day progresses, move into the deeper water, especially where a single piece of structure dominates.

Large bibbed lures with plenty of action are the go here and many experienced cod hunters swear by yellow and black patterns.

All the regional lakes are carrying a decent head of water. I recently spent a weekend at Chaffey Dam, near Nundle.

Although fishing wasn’t high on the agenda, I did find a morning to cruise the shoreline, fly rod in hand. There were plenty of mud puppies on the go and although I blew a couple of shots, I did end up landing a 5kg specimen.

Chaffey has an easily-accessible and kid-friendly shoreline. A bubble float, small hooks and a tin of corn kernels or a punnet of worms will keep any junior angler hooting for hours. Carp are bastards of fish but among the inlands finest fighters!

The only problem is that January is usually a month for blue-green algal blooms. Generally, Chaffey and Pindari get hit the worst with Keepit and Copeton cleaner during the hotter months. I guess it’s something to do with catchment size and available nutrients.

BASS

Bass should finally kick into gear this month. A wet period from late November into early December saw fluctuations in river heights down in the gorges.

Unfortunately, the freshes were mostly cold water and the fish didn’t push right up the system. The better action was to be had below the Bass Lodge.

However, some nice fish recently have started to appear up around Kunderang and even further into the upper reaches.

Drifting live shrimp along the weed beds under a bubble float is a terrific option at this time of year.

Most fishos walk the bank or drift a canoe flicking lures morning and evening. However, the shrimp tactic is a great option at day’s end, perched on the gravel bar at a pool’s head with a cold, fizzy drink.

Most of the bigger fish will come after dark. Small poppers fished aggressively or fizzers twitched over the weeds will do the business.

Start working surface lures with some stealth and up the ante if you don’t draw a response. Often you’ll put a cautious fish down if you get too aggressive straight up.

To access the pick of the gorge bass water you have several options.

The Armidale National Parks and Wildlife Service operates two superb, remote campgrounds that will put you in the thick of it.

However, both require a 4WD with good clearance to access them. The Riverside and Hall’s Peak campgrounds are terrific spots for experienced and greenhorn bass anglers. Contact the NPWS on 02 6776 0000.

If you seek easier access lower down the Macleay Valley, consider grabbing the excellent map published by Australian Fishing Network. Armidale Outdoors 02 6772 7744 carries copies. The map highlights public access points, camping areas as well as a lowdown on hot spots.

The other option is to walk into the gorges with a backpack. Make no mistake, this is serious country but the rewards are huge. The fishing can be exceptional and you could spend a month down here and not see a soul.

So if you don’t get homesick and like backcountry angling, contact the gang at Armidale Outdoors for information on trails into the Wild Rivers heartland.

Overall the post-festive period is a cracking time to tangle with some New England fish.

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