Urban lakes are goldmines
  |  First Published: June 2004

CANBERRA'S urban lakes are proving to be immensely valuable fisheries during the drought, which has now plagued our region for nearly four years.

Because of lack of stream inflow the water in the lakes – Burley Griffin, Ginninderra, Tuggeranong, Gungahlin and Yerrabi –has remained uncharacteristically clear and near-perfect for bait, lure and fly fishing. And because the levels are maintained artificially at the near-maximum level, fishing has been good.

The lakes are stocked every two years with golden perch and Murray cod. The fish can't breed in the lakes but grow rapidly and provide good sport. There also are large self-sustaining populations of redfin and European carp.

The carp may be useless to eat but at least they provide an opportunity for junior and senior anglers to have some fun on bait and fly. And when conditions in regional streams are so poor that there are few trout to be caught, you might as well get some fun out of whatever else is available.

Carp may be a pest but even a pest has some value. Ask anybody who grew up in the lean years of this country, when just about all we had to eat was rabbits – bloody rabbits and bloody carp, but that's life.

The redfin have been a wonderful asset, despite their undoubted predation on fingerlings of cod and perch stocked in the lakes. The kids have a ball with them each day on spinning bladed lures, spoons, flies, worms and soft plastics and although most of the fish aren't very big, they are still a lot of fun to catch.

Redfin also are excellent to eat. They are the best eating of any of our local fish. The tricks to catching ones large enough for the table seem to be to fish deeper than normal, to keep working from spot to spot until a school of larger ones is located and to try some ‘special’ locations.

Some of the ‘special’ locations have been interesting. In Lake Burley Griffin there is one particular bay with a number of jetties and pontoons and the fish there regularly exceed a kilo. They presumably gather there because of food and shade. Other big ones can be found under the buoys marking out a rowing regatta course and some are under bridges. The best of them, however, hover around the spray radius from the famous water jet near Commonwealth Park. Alison Cork and partner Andrew Morrow fished there recently for some stunning redfin to 58cm.

Others gather under overhanging trees, around ornamental structures in the lakes, near weirs and near dam walls. A positive spin-off is that because the kids have to search for them to find the largest ones, they are unwittingly developing a nice sense of fish behaviour which they can then apply to the more elusive, but highly valued, golden perch and Murray cod.

Golden perch seem to occupy a wide range of habitats in the urban lakes, often staying close to structures but, at other times, straying into open water. One trick the kids have discovered is to use small to medium-size deep divers during the day, especially in chartreuse or black and gold, and fish very close to the shoreline rather than out in the deeper areas. They also have had some success using dark-coloured, slow-moving lures for at least one to two hours after the sun sets – when you would have thought the fish couldn't even see a lure.

Cod are more predictable, although harder to find because there are fewer of them. They stick to structure – rocks, logs, stumps, overhanging trees and the like. The biggest of the cod in the lake are around 45kg and are worthy trophy fish.

Most of the successes are with larger lures but even then there are variations to the rule. Hans Haalebos landed a 34kg fish on a standard sized Hot’n Tot and son Tom caught one around 27kg on a small minnow. Graeme May landed a 44kg monster on a modest-sized Double Downer. Andrew Morrow recently would have landed a massive fish on a medium-sized lure near Black Mountain Peninsula in Lake Burley Griffin if his line hadn't been severed at the last moment by an out-of-control sailboarder who, perhaps wisely, never even came back to apologise.

During the Winter we expect things to be slow in all of the urban lakes but at least we know the fish are there – and if you know that, you can always try different techniques to see what happens. I expect there will be a lot of bobbing and jigging with spinnerbaits, soft plastics, yabbies and scrub worms. It will be interesting to see what happens.


Anglers no doubt also will try bobbing and jigging in Burrinjuck, Blowering and Wyangala, even though water levels are way down and fishing generally has been. We work on the hopeful basis that the less water should mean more concentrations of fish, so we will see what happens in coming weeks.


The trout season has been interesting. In recent months, fishing in many of the regional streams has been poor to useless because of the lack of water. Many of the lower-country streams have stopped flowing and the only fish left are a few big trout dominating each of the pools. That might sound fine except when you go to stock the stream with fingerlings provided by the hatchery at Gaden, they get gobbled up forthwith. You can't win and things aren't expected to change until we get sufficient rain and snowmelt.

If you want a little more productive stream fishing, try the Thredbo and Eucumbene rivers, especially as the browns in lakes Jindabyne and Eucumbene start heading towards their spawning areas. They have been on the move for some time now and some good catches have been made on fly, especially with Mrs Simpson, Hamill’s Killer, Woolly Worm, Craig’s Nighttime and large nymphs fished after dark.

Some good fish also have been taken on fly from the wind lanes during the day. Don't forget, however, that the streams close during the Queen’s Birthday weekend and won't reopen until the October long weekend, even though the lakes stay open all the year round.


Despite falling water levels in Jindabyne and the longest low-level period in Eucumbene's history, fishing has been surprisingly good.

Bait-fishers have done well with scrub worms and especially with bardi grub-PowerBait combinations. Trollers have fared well with lead-core and flatlines and have taken good fish on yellow-winged Tasmanian Devils and small minnows, especially Daiwa Silver Creek patterns. The fish generally have been good quality, averaging about 1.2kg and in splendid condition.

During the next month we will experience more snowfalls as we descend into the depths of Winter. Fishing will be hard but the secret mostly is for trollers to get down deep and fish slowly, for bait-fishers to work the later afternoons and early mornings and for fly-fishers to make more use of full-sink or intermediate sink lines.

Above all, let’s just be grateful that during the worst drought Australia has seen for more than 100 years, and possibly the worst in history, we at least have some water to fish in. Not all of the fish may be your favourite quarry but, under the circumstances, beggars can't be choosers.

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