From the ashes…
  |  First Published: March 2003

There is not much good news for fishos around this area at the moment.

On top of the worst drought in many years we have suffered the biggest bushfires since 1983. The destruction of bush and farming land is massive, quite possibly the worst since European settlement. Access to many areas has been severely restricted as the fires continued to burn an ever-increasing area. There is little chance of the fires being put out unless there is very substantial rain for a few days at least. Weather forecasts are not promising.

From a fishing point of view, the effects of this diaster will last for many years. The heat of the fires has been so intense that all the ground cover has been burnt from large parts of the catchment areas. The most immediate effect is the destruction of a lot of the terrestrial life that forms an important part of the food chain for fish and other aquatic animals.

The other major concern is that when rain does come, millions of tons of soil, ash and nutrient will be washed into the waterways, causing siltation and choking of the smaller streams. With this nutrient boom there will also be a burst of algae growth that will further devastate the waterways and retard the natural regrowth.

The effect will ripple through to the larger rivers and catchments and the end effect is not going to be good for fish. What the long-term effects will be is not known and cannot be predicted with any certainty, as there has never been such an ecological diaster of this scale.

The environmental impact of the disaster will be massive and require a great deal of scientific work by the government departments, along with a huge injection of funds to restore the bush and waterways as soon as possible. There will also be a need for volunteer work through agencies such as Land Care and fishing clubs with restocking programs.

As anglers, we have a responsibility to restore and protect the environment that we love. Over the next couple of years there will be much to be done and much that can be done by clubs and individuals to help the recovery process. Please do your bit wherever you can.

The problem is much bigger than just the fishing: Farming, tourism, forestry, regional business, whole towns have also suffered badly with the losses expected to run into the billions. If you want to get an overview of just how big these fires are go to [url=http://www.nre.vic.gov.au/] and follow the links to the satellite maps of the fires. You can also access the fishing rules and regulations at this site.

And if that isn’t enough to ruin your day we now have health warnings for blue-green algae for Lake Hume, the Murray River between Lake Hume and Lake Mulwala and the irrigation channel out of Lake Mulwala. This problem does fluctuate in severity and restrictions on water activities vary but fishing is usually still possible. Check with local authorities, tourist bureaus or tackle shops for the latest reports.

Now let’s look at what we can do despite all the bad news.

Combing Mulwala

There are still places to catch fish. The prime location will be Lake Mulwala and the river below the weir wall. Murray cod, yellowbelly and redfin are all abundant here. You should expect quite a few fellow anglers. The lake is best fished from a boat but there are good spots for shore-based anglers.

The most popular and productive method is fishing with lures, trolling or casting. Fish can be caught all day but the prime time is from sunrise through to about midday during daylight saving. There are large areas of drowned timber and the western end of the lake is a large, open basin.

Trolling in the open water is best done with large deep-diving lures that can get down to around eight metres. The Stump Jumper and Oar Gee lures are among the most popular for this depth. Use a fish finder to locate the deeper holes and original river course and fish these.

Braided lines are excellent for this type of fishing as they allow the lures to get down deep with less line out. Monofilament lines shouldn’t be heavier than 10kg as the drag from the thicker lines can prevent the lures from reaching their maximum depth. Mono line around 6kg is more than adequate. Trolling speed should not be any faster than a slow walking pace.

When you have located a suitable spot, give it a good work-out. A fish can be annoyed into striking a lure that it wouldn’t bother with if it just passed by once. If you have a hit, go straight back over the area again and hopefully you will get a hook-up. When you retrieve your lure to change it or move on to another spot, work it slowly right up to the boat. Cod will quite often follow a lure right up to the boat and take it just as it’s being lifted out of the water.

When trolling in timbered areas there are two options. The first is to follow the river course through the timber, working the lures along the edge of the trees and down into the riverbed. Use the same lure type and trolling speed as for the open water. I find it is better to work a section at a time, say no more than 200 metres, and go up and down at least a dozen times before moving along.

The next method is to troll through the timber stands and work the lures around the stumps and logs. Pick the snaggiest spot you can find and give it a good going over. Smaller lures are better for this method. Knol’s Natives in 75mm and 50 mm are my favourites. No 2 Stump Jumpers, smaller Oar Gees or similar are also ideal. Be prepared to get snagged frequently and don’t be surprised if one of the ‘snags’ starts to swim away!

A tackle-retrieving device is essential. By holding the rod in you hand at 90° to the boat, you can minimise snagging by dropping the rod tip back towards the stern, allowing the lure to float over the snag or at least reducing the degree of ‘stuck’, making retrieval easier. Depth is not so important around the timber – big cod have been taken from as little as one metre of water.

My preferred method on the lake is to drift among the timber and cast lures and spinnerbaits into snags as you go. The Kokoda range of spinnerbaits has proven to be excellent, as they are made with Australian fish in mind. Some of the cheaper types just don’t stand up to the monstering that cod and yellowbelly can give them.

If the drift is good, you can pepper a likely-looking snag with at least a dozen casts as you go past. Spinnerbaits have a better degree of snag-resistance and work especially well when the water is more turbid than usual. Working along the northern shoreline of the lake casting into snags against the banks is also very good. An electric motor to push you along quietly is perfect for this type of fishing.

Lure-casting from the shore is best around the southern side of the lake along the willow trees. You can walk the banks and cast from under the trees into holes and under overhangs. A threadline reel is better for this type of casting as you will not need to cast more than a few metres. Once again spinnerbaits are recommended for snag-resistance. Remember to work them very slowly, and gently jig the rod tip as you retrieve.

From the bank

If you’re bait-fishing from the bank, use a strong, secure rod-holder. Leaving the rod on the ground or propped on a stick is a sure-fire way to lose an entire outfit in a split second. A good rod holder will set you back around $10 and is money well spent. Losing an expensive rod and reel to a carp is not the funniest of things, unless it happens to your mate.

Fresh shrimp are the ideal bait and are easily caught around the roots of willow trees or steep overhanging banks. Bait shrimp traps with green gumleaves. Try using them where you caught them, that’s where the fish look for them.

About half an hour before sunrise until the first direct sunlight on the water is the prime time, or try about an hour after sunset. Bardi grubs, worms and yabbies are also good bait. The stronger the bait’s scent, the better it is. A bubble float is a good way to present the bait, keeping it just off the bottom and out of the snags.

South of the border

Lake Mokoan, about an hour south of the border on the Hume Freeway between Benalla and Glenrowan, has been fishing very well lately. It has good stocks of yellowbelly and cod as well as a few redfin and carp. It is a shallow lake and very turbid, especially on windy days, and is best fished with bait. Worms have proven to be the most successful.

Any type of worm will do, even those horrible red wrigglers that are full of yellow gunk. The scent trail is what brings the fish to the bait. The lake is fairly shallow and has areas of open water and thick drowned timber patches. Old fence lines along submerged roads are good spots to fish. Anchor the boat fore and aft and give each spot 20 minutes or so before moving on.

Berley can make a difference. There are many commercial brands on the market that have been formulated for native fish or you can make you own with a mixture of dried cat food and chook pellets.

Lake Hume is down to 5% capacity and boating speed has been restricted to five knots. There are still some good redfin and yellowbelly being caught around the main basin.

Bait-fishing from the bank is good with easy access in most areas. Small yabbies and worms are the choice here. Lure-casting from the bank is OK as well because the water clarity is quite good. Take care if you are fishing from a boat, both launching and on the water –there many dangerous snags close to the shore.

Towards the end of the month water levels in the Mitta Mitta River should start to drop and we will get a late-season run at some good fly- and lure-fishing. Most of the other waters in the area are no-go due to the fires. You will need to check before heading to the mountain lakes at Falls Creek and Dartmouth. Email me for an update if you are thinking of heading down this way.



Adam Robson of Melbourne with a mixed bag from Khancoban after an early-morning spinning session in the trees. All were caught on a black Jensen Insect spinner.


Stephen Robson of Melbourne with a huge redfin from Lake Hume, caught on a trolled Jensen Hotlips lure.


Adam Robson of Melbourne with another monster Lake Hume redfin that couldn’t resist a trolled Jensen deep-diver.

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