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Has the drought broken?
  |  First Published: December 2004



It's always hard to know if and when a drought is over. We've just gone through four years of horrible dry weather and most of the regional streams and many of the lakes have dried up or dropped to drastically low levels.

Many brown and rainbow trout in the lower-country streams and lakes died and the survivors were mostly in the big mountain impoundments and the cooler high-country streams.

Thank goodness there was a good population of fish in these locations, otherwise we would have been permanently fishing for natives, carp and redfin. Not that the latter are poorer quality sport, it's just that after a century or more of trout fishing in the Canberra-Monaro region it has become an integral part of our fishing lifestyle and we would like it to continue.

But maybe, just maybe, we are turning the corner. Rain arrived in dribs and drabs in recent months and although it has been erratic and patchy, most of the region has been covered by reasonable falls.

In November the rainfall was greater than the long-term average for the first time in about five years. December looks like it could do the same and we are now heading for February, traditionally the wettest month of the year in this region.

So maybe the drought is easing and has, perhaps, broken. That could mean an opportunity to restock the region's waterways with fish that are more likely to survive than any of those we stocked, with a level of scepticism proven correct by hindsight, during those past four years.

We lost a lot of resident fish, a lot of first, second and third restockings, but maybe this time we will be successful. Anglers are, if nothing else, great optimists.

All we need now, apart from more rain, is a good crop of rainbows and browns from the Government hatcheries at Ebor and Gaden and from private hatcheries, enough taxpayer's money to breed or purchase them and a bunch of willing volunteers to distribute them.

Money raised from angling licence sales will be an important component of that financing, so make sure everybody you know purchases one.

MOUNTAIN LAKES

Because of the drought, the mountain lakes have been crowded right though the year. So crowded in fact that in easily accessible locations at Eucumbene and Jindabyne there have been almost more anglers than fish and catch rates have dropped alarmingly.

Conversely, fishing has been excellent in the less accessible areas and catching limit bags has been commonplace.

Bank anglers have fared well with scrub worms, bardi grubs and PowerBait, especially at night and in the early morning. This should continue during January and February.

Catches have comprised both browns and rainbows and recent big browns include fish weighing 2.7 kg and 3.2 kg, taken as part of a haul of 18-fish for two anglers overnighting at Kalkite on Lake Jindabyne. Three fish were retained for the barbecue and the rest were released.

That was not only sporting but also sensible, because DPI Fisheries inspectors lately have been checking angler's bags on site at the lakes and also on the highways when the anglers are on their way home.

That should put a stop to the villains who hide their legal daily bags of five fish in the freezer until the last day, then head home with 30 or 40 fish in possession instead of the legally-allowed maximum of 10.

Trollers also have done well, with good fish on flatline early mornings and late afternoons and lead-core line or downrigger in the middle of the day.

Goldfish look-alikes have lured some big browns in Jindabyne and a lot of good-sized rainbows have been taken on small minnows, Wonder Spoons, Pegron Minnows and yellow-winged and frog pattern Tasmanian Devils.

In Eucumbene fishing also has been good with a lot of fish picked up around flooded trees and steep, rocky banks. Mudeyes at night have been sensational, providing a quiet alternative to the more energetic daytime lure fishing.

Night fly fishing also has been enjoyable, with a reasonable mix of rainbows and browns working the shallows for food. The old favourites are still scoring night after night and most anglers will start with variations of Mrs Simpson, Craig's Night-time, Hamill’s Killer, spider or couta mudeye, sometimes fished with a nymph or small Tom Jones dropper.

I've had fun with the so-called Bryan Pratt mudeye, which is really a Western Mudeye, fished very slowly with a bead-head brown nymph dropper.

Daytime fly fishing has been harder because of high light intensities, but we have had some success with Olive Matuka, Black and Red Matuka, Black and Red Fuzzy Wuzzy and Hamill’s Killer, each with a nymph dropper on sink-tip line.

Occasionally we have been lucky enough to be there when there was a hatch of caddis or black spinners to fish to but the real fun with dries will start this month as the grasshoppers start plopping on the water.

TRAGIC LOSS

On the sadder side, two more lives were lost when a boat sank in high winds on Lake Eucumbene, reminding us once again of the power of the environment and our fragile mortality. The two men were from Sydney and neither was wearing a life jacket when their bodies were recovered at Brookwood Bay.

ADDED VARIETY

Snakes, seen in seemingly unprecedented numbers, have spiced up fishing for many visitors to the streams and lakes. Possibly there are no more than normal but the lack of vegetative cover since the January 2003 bushfires certainly makes them more visible.

Several people have been bitten and there have been a lot of scares but no fatality has been recorded to date.

That's probably more because of luck than good judgment because it appears that country hospitals are notoriously short of antivenene. In a typical case a fellow who was bitten by a snake near Bowral had to be urgently transported to a Sydney hospital because Bowral Hospital's antivenene was out of date.

It's frightening to discover that many rural hospitals don't have adequate supplies of antivenene for common snakes such as red-bellied blacks, browns, copperheads, death adders or tigers because it is ‘too expensive’.

What the heck is the antivenene all doing in Sydney if we are going to get bitten way out in the scrub?

REGIONAL LAKES

We have had a brilliant run of large redfin to 2kg, lots of golden perch and a fair sprinkling of Murray cod in the local urban and regional lakes. It was particularly good on lures when there was good visibility but since the rain the lakes have become discoloured a bit and bait fishing with scrub worms and live yabbies has been more productive.

In coming weeks it should be good for lure and bait as the warmer weather keeps the fish active.

Burrinjuck Dam has been reduced from near 40% to about 14% in recent weeks because of downstream irrigation demand but fishing has remained good. Best results have been with slow trolling or casting Smak lures, Golden Child, Brolga, Tournament and Blitz Baga, and the rippers from Custom Craft, especially the deep-diving Extractor, Fish Stik and Hammerhead.

The same lures have worked well for cod, golden perch and even a few silver perch in Wyangala and it is pleasing to see just how successful the local Australian-made lures can be.

BASS FIRING

It's the height of our bass season at the coast and if you listen carefully you can almost hear the daily hiss and plop of fizzers, buzzers, spinnerbaits, poppers, paddlers, Spaddlers, Jitterbugs, Hula Popprs, Sputterbugs, Cicadas, Tiny Tads and flies in all of the prime bass habitat, well-known as secret sites numbered 1 to 95.

It's great fun and local anglers really will pass on information on the best locations if you are down this way.

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