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Hope amid the gloom
  |  First Published: June 2003



As the impacts of the drought and Summer bushfires become more pronounced and entrenched, we are now becoming aware of the full effect on regional trout and native fish streams.

Mostly it has been a disaster, with streams still choked with ash and other assorted debris. Some waterways are just sludge drains, barely moving and seemingly devoid of life. There have been major kills of trout, Macquarie, silver and golden perch, Murray cod and trout, two-spined blackfish, redfin and even European carp. Even with planned restocking, it obviously will be a long time before regional fish populations develop even remotely near to the level of previous years.

There have been a few bright spots, however. Where there has been water flow, either from dam releases or the meagre intermittent rain we have had, some fish have survived and appear in excellent health. In the lower reaches of the Murrumbidgee, some golden perch and Murray cod have shown. There have been small trout seen in tributaries of the Goodradigbee and Murrumbidgee rivers, with larger fish in the Thredbo, Eucumbene, upper Murrumbidgee and Delegate rivers. All of these are high growth-rate streams and some have excellent spawning facilities so we can expect at least some natural recruitment by the end of this year. A glimmer of hope in a blasted landscape.

Regulations confusing

It is also that time of the year when the more confusing of the trout stream and lake regulations come to the fore. Currently there are seven categories of regulation to consider, so it pays to carry the rule book with you and to read and digest it before you fish. Take note, for example, that the Eucumbene River, previously open for fishing along its length with a bag limit of two per day and a legal limit of 25cm suddenly from May 1 has become a spawning stream with a size limit of 50cm and a bag limit of one fish per day over 50cm. Read carefully!

Incidentally, a colleague has just fly-fished the Eucumbene River, hoping for a trophy fish. His score was 25 fish, the largest 13cm. He reckons the big ones must see him coming a mile off in the now wide-open, burnt landscape with no bush or tree cover.

New regulations also apply to Murray River crayfish this year. Crays can be taken only during May to August inclusive, have to be 9cm along the carapace and only one over 12cm along the carapace can be included in the daily bag of five. Blowering Reservoir is the traditional place to search for crays but because it is only a tiny puddle at the moment, we will have to look elsewhere for these tasty critters. The lower Murrumbidgee below Gundagai could be a good place to start.

Local lakes

The urban Canberra lakes have been a Godsend during the past few months, mostly because they have been almost the only place to fish. Predictably, anglers who never really thought about fishing on their doorstep have discovered that there is some surprisingly good fishing to be had. Some nice cod, goldens and redfin have come from all of the lakes and the small Lake Tuggeranong has been especially bountiful.

Some big cod have haunted a local road bridge and taunted local lure-tossers to the point of distraction. Rick Lee hooked and played one monster for 30 minutes before his rod broke. Scott Butler then tried and had a cod smash open a Bill Norman deep diver on its second cast. He went back the next day with a 15cm lure and hooked up again. After a few minutes, his rod broke in half. He has now moved to another part of the lake to catch smaller fish.

A third angler who tried the fish finally landed one of them and it weighed 22 kg. A nice fish indeed and a good example of what you can achieve by stocking an urban waterway.

Mountain lakes

Eucumbene and Jindabyne have been the major lifelines for lure, bait and fly-fishers looking for trout during the traumatic past six months. Despite some burnt areas in the region, it is still a wildly attractive and inviting area to visit and there have been some great rewards. Fly anglers have done well on Woolly Worm, Alexandra, Hamill’s Killer and red Fuzzy Wuzzy, with an array of mudeye patterns at night. Joan Fisk has been one of the stars with a brown weighing 3.6kg from near the mouth of the Eucumbene River.

Berkley PowerBait has also accounted for a lot of fish, commonly outfishing mudeyes, scrub worms and bardi grubs, resulting in great hilarity among one group of bait-fishers and muttered mumblings among another.

The big fun, however, has been with the annual feast of goldfish. Goldfish, the proper common name for any carp that aren't European carp, have been in the lakes since they were first constructed and trout love them. They are particularly common in Lake Jindabyne and when the trout are feeding on them and with the right lure or fly, it is like catching tailor. There are numerous goldfish look-alike lures but the most outstanding has been the Humbug. It is a perfect copy of a small carp and one group recently cast and trolled with them for a score of 13 fish to 3.6kg. Fly anglers can also join in the fun with Steve Williamson's superb goldfish fly, which looks a bit like a light Hamill’s Killer with a centre bunch of gold fibres. Well worth a try.

Yabbies galore

The other fun has been with yabbies. Jindabyne and Eucumbene are full of them and, curiously, they are active right through the year, even when the lakes are freezing and have patches of ice on them. They are numerous, they are large and they are tasty. So much so, that many anglers are now yabbying first and trout fishing second.

The law allows each angler to use five drop nets and take a bag of 200 yabbies. Opera House nets are banned because of the danger they pose to water rats, tortoises and platypus. The catches have been phenomenal. One club group recently ate yabbies for three days at Cobrabald Bay and even then brought 1800 home with them.

Two others at Frying Pan caught 400 at the rate of six per minute and that was even competing with the pelicans, which were picking up and gargling down yabbies as though they were going out of style. Great fun for a great feed and a welcome distraction from the woes of the rest of the world.

Captions

1

Rick Lee with his rod which broke after 30 minutes of fun with a big Murray cod in Lake Tuggeranong.

2

Tim Pratt looks happy to find a healthy golden perch which took a Burrinjuck Special in the lower Murrumbidgee River.

3

Adrian Lindsay, of Canberra, entered the Mallacoota BREAM Challenge and tried a 5 cm soft plastic lure on his brand new Daiwa Samurai reel, hoping for at least one or two good bream. He missed out on the bream but wasn't all that disappointed. Up in The Narrows he landed the catch of a lifetime, a 29.5kg mulloway. The fish was 1.6 metres long and was caught on 4lb Fireline with a 3kg Drennan tippet. He is unsure whether he will push his luck and fish the next round of the BREAM series.

4

Sean Brodie with yet another bushfire victim, a huge brown snake which used to live on the banks of the Murrumbdigee River near Canberra.

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