Time for a behaviour change
  |  First Published: March 2004

THIS is always an interesting time of the year for anglers chasing trout in the streams because it usually signals a change in both fish and angler behaviour.

At the height of Summer in January and February, fish don't appreciate the traditional low water levels, high day and night temperatures and high light intensities. In many of the streams the water is low, gin-clear and the fish more easily spooked than normal. The fish tend to hide under the banks a lot, or in weed beds, emerging periodically to sit with their heads in the rapids or to briefly forage in the tails of pools. They can see an angler coming from a long way away and quickly move under cover or out of range at the first sign.

Commonly, the way to fool these trout is to fish at first light, when they are still cleaning up insects from the night before, in which case the action commonly is all over by perhaps 6.30am or 7am. Or you can sneak up on fish from behind in their blind spot and reach them with exceptionally long, careful casts. This is a testing technique, best achieved with lighter weight gear such as a 5-weight fly rod and extra-long leader or ultra-light spinning gear and small lures. Cautious, slow movement and impeccable fly or lure placement is the order of the day.

Because of the difficulty in finding good fishing, many stream anglers don't bother going out during January and February. Instead, they wait until March, when light intensities and day and night temperatures have declined a little and fish behaviour has altered a little more in our favour.

I've noticed also over the years that certain insect activity commonly is either heightened or more predictable during March and that gives us just a slight edge in knowing what to expect of the fish. I've learned, for example, that if you are fishing every day, small wets such as Red and Black Matuka and Brown Seal’s Fur Nymph, or dries such as Elk Hair Caddis or Hairwing Coachman are among the more reliable fish attractors.

If you suddenly hit a day when these seem ineffective, and switch over immediately to a Stick Caddis or Stone Fly Nymph, it's remarkable how often you are onto fish straight away. Similarly, if you find fish flashing at your standard patterns but not taking them, try my Purple Nymbeet. It's a great turn-on for Monaro fish and often the one fly that puts a fish on the bank for the whole day.

Similar tricks also work with some larger patterns. For example, a Hamill’s Killer retrieved in regular fashion in a stream often brings up a small fish. Try the same pattern during March, but fished in unorthodox fashion by letting it roll on its own down the tail of a large pool, and it often attracts the largest resident brown in the area. Success comes if you know the right technique.

Having said that, stream fish are still pretty hard to find throughout the Canberra-Monaro district. Some of the larger streams, especially those connected to reservoirs, such as the Cotter, upper Murrumbidgee, Tumut, Thredbo and Eucumbene, have consistently provided fish, but they have been pretty well hammered by anglers and fish size and activity has dropped off.

In the others there have been a few large survivors of the drought and bushfire pollution but we are pinning our hopes on the fingerlings stocked throughout the region by Fisheries and members of the Monaro Fish Acclimatisation Society in late 2003. The survival rate of these is not yet known but a few have been spotted and if we get good rain in Autumn and into Winter their chances of maturing into catchable-size fish is good. Keep your fingers crossed.


March also is the month when anglers who have laid low during the Summer start drifting back to the trout lakes. That's because the fish, which have been spending most of their Summer down below the level that most anglers fish, are now steadily coming back closer to the surface. It's still a good time for day anglers to troll with lead-core line and downriggers but increasing numbers of fish can be taken flatlining. The trout also seem a bit more receptive to bait-fishing and reasonable catches can be expected on bardi grubs, scrub worms, PowerBait and, especially, mudeyes.

Fly-fishers also can expect a marked improvement in fishing as the dreaded midge hatches are replaced by more easily-matched bursts of caddis, spinners, moths, beetles, grasshoppers and mudeyes. By now, too, the fish seem to be more accustomed to feeding as soon as the sun goes down and the immediate after-dark action can be quite spectacular.


The real fun during the past two months has been with native fish and this is expected to heighten during March. We've had enough rain to keep the levels of regional reservoirs up, despite the disproportionate amounts going downstream to questionable irrigation projects.

Googong Reservoir has been badly depleted but recently produced some nice golden perch to 2kg and a 23kg Murray cod on lure. There have been lots of redfin also, to keep anglers frustrated or delighted, depending on how you view these active little lure-takers.

The urban lakes in Canberra also have yielded cod and golden perch, together with enormous numbers of redfin to keep the kids happy, and this should continue as long as the water stays clear. The best cod I have heard of was a 39kg fish from the top end of Lake Burley Griffin but I know of an even larger specimen taken in front of the High Court, estimated at 50kg-plus, which took a 1.5kg golden perch off an angler last week. Hopefully it will be a nice catch, photograph and release trophy for an angler sometime.

I've had several trips to Burrinjuck, watching the water go down between visits. Each trip has been successful and last week three of us accounted for four cod and around 30 golden perch, all on Burrinjuck Specials, Hot’N Tots and Knol's Native lures in a one-day session. The carp also gave us hell, taking lures all day in mistake for the cicadas that were falling on the water. On several occasions they beat golden perch to the lure and I even caught my first-ever mirror carp on a lure. Interestingly enough, we never saw a redfin for the entire day.

Wyangala Dam has remained low but some nice cod in the 12kg to 24kg range have been taken on lures and grub, yabby or worm baits.

In summary, March is a good month to get back to stream and lake fishing for trout and lake fishing for natives and redfin. The weather is milder, the fish likely to be larger, the Christmas bills have been paid, the ankle-biters are back at school and the wine just that little more matured and tastier. But watch out for the 15th – the Ides of March – it's the day Julius Caesar copped it and traditionally is associated with bad luck.

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