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Fish stir as temperature drops
  |  First Published: May 2004



IT'S FASCINATING every season to watch the way trout respond to changes in water temperature.

In Summer, when the temperature in the big lakes such as Eucumbene and Jindabyne climbs to 25° and higher, the fish have a problem extracting oxygen from the water so they go deeper, trying to find the best temperature-oxygen extractability zone – their ‘comfort zone’.

As the temperature drops in Autumn and early Winter, the fish come back closer to the surface, where they are more easily reached by anglers using lure or fly. In Winter the fish again go back to the depths until they rise again in Spring. Knowing this cycle of events enables an angler to choose the best fishing technique for each month of the year.

When the fish are ultra-deep, say at 15 to 25 metres, they can be reached only with a downrigger or heavily weighted baits. At five to eight metres they can be reached with a downrigger or with three to four ‘colours’ of 8kg lead-core line or most normal bait rigs. A sinking fly line also will reach fish at these depths.

At shallower depths, the fish can be reached easily with shallow and deep-diving lures, floating and lightly-weighted baits and standard floating or sink-tip fly lines.

Anglers who recognise this and fish accordingly can be successful every month of the year but it is surprising how many anglers don't understand. They persist in, say, trolling standard lures on standard gear right through the year when, for at least six months, they are nowhere near their target fish and they catch nothing. That's why it is important to have a mix of different types of fly, lure and bait gear and use it as the situation demands.

SUDDEN TROUT SUCCESS

In view of the above it's hilarious listening now to anglers who, a couple of months ago, reckoned there were ‘no fish left in Jindabyne and Eucumbene’. Now they’re boasting about their good catches and how easy the trout are to take on lure, bait or fly. If they had a thermometer they would have discovered that the water temperature dropped from about 25° in February to 19° in March, then 17° in April and 12° and less in May.

Right now the fish spend a fair proportion of their time in shallow water during the day and after dark, chasing surface and sub-surface insects, frogs, small fish, Daphnia, other crustaceans, worms, grubs and spiders. It's their prime feeding time and one of the best times of the year for anglers to get a good fish.

The browns also have started their annual trek towards the spawning streams, especially the Thredbo and Eucumbene rivers. They move singly or in small groups and will enter the rivers whenever there is sufficient flow but anglers who know the fishes’ behaviour will know the best paces to look for them. It just goes to show that detailed knowledge of fish science can be a one of the most useful weapons in an angler's armoury.

WHERE TO FISH?

For trout it's the mountain lakes, with lure, bait and fly. Best lures will be Tasmanian Devils and small minnows and spoons on flatlines. Best baits should be mudeyes, scrub worms, bardi grubs and PowerBait. Best flies will be mudeye patterns, Mrs Simpson, Hamill’s Killer, Craig's Nighttime, sometimes with a dark nymph or beetle pattern during the day. Most stream fishing will be hard to useless but cunning anglers with good local knowledge might find small pockets of fish. Early browns will be in the spawning streams if we get enough rain.

For natives, try deep in the lakes and leave the mostly-empty river sections alone. Try deep bobbing with yabbies, shrimps or scrub worms or deep-diving minnows worked very slowly.

If you like redfin, try the flashiest, noisiest spinning-blade lure you can find and work the shorelines of any of the local urban lakes.

STREAMS POOR

While things are looking pretty good in the trout lakes, it’s been a different picture in the streams. Three to four years of drought have taken a terrible toll of the trout population and even intensive restocking hasn't done much to alleviate the situation. We are just resigned to the fact that most of our fishing now will be on lakes, whether we like it or not. Many anglers find lake fishing a bit boring and will miss the thrill of fishing a stream just to see what's around the next bend, but that's the way it goes I'm afraid.

RAMP UPGRADE

It's good news that the NSW Government has allocated $28,000 to extend and upgrade boat ramps at Old Adaminaby and Anglers Reach at Lake Eucumbene. These are two of the most heavily-used ramps on the lake and access to the water here and elsewhere on Eucumbene has been a major problem during the past couple of years, exacerbated by the exceptionally low water levels. A pat on the back to the NSW Waterways Authority and the Snowy River Shire Council.

Having said that, it's astonishing just how little money has been spent on visitor facilities at Eucumbene since it was constructed in 1959. A few roads and access tracks have been made and maintained, a few strategic garbage bins and stiles have been provided and a handful of toilets have been constructed in recent years.

When you consider, however, that this is Australia's premier mainland trout fishery, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors a year and worth millions of dollars to the tourist industry, the expenditure has been pathetic. I suggest it's high time that Government faced its responsibilities, socially and environmentally, and allocated appropriate staff and financial resources to keep Eucumbene going as a top-grade fishing and tourist destination. And please, let's not have any more excuses, as I got again from Government this week, that the main problem is confusion over who is responsible for upkeep of the lake. If the Government hasn't sorted that out in 45 years it doesn't really intend to. As taxpayers, we pay it to do a better job than this.

NATIVES DOWNSTREAM AND DEEPER

Golden perch and Murray cod in our region have retreated downstream to larger reservoirs such as Burrinjuck and Wyangala or have gone deep in reservoirs where there is no downstream access. While some of them are still feeding occasionally and can be encouraged to take a bait or lure, they will be hard to find for the next few months as they become more inactive and won't stir again until Spring.

Their survival will depend in part on how much water remains in the lakes and how much is stolen for questionable downstream irrigation projects that cost Australia so dearly. Leave sufficient water in the storages and fish can survive, breed and later migrate to other areas, providing fun, recreation and food for anglers and the basis for a sound inland tourist industry.

Take that water away and we finish up with depleted fish stocks, discouraged anglers and rural communities and towns and the poor bloody cockies degrading the soils and landscape in a vain attempt to maintain a viable long-term agricultural or grazing enterprise.

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