In our part of the world June is a love-hate month. You can love it if you are a particular type of trout fisher because it can be so productive but hate it if you are a bass or Murray cod chaser because you are unlikely to be very successful.
The reason for that is that it is cold, bloody cold. Cold air, cold water, cold ground, cold everything. Winter is well and truly here by June.
We get some snow, lots of sub-zero temperatures, howling alpine gales and a fair bit frozen water and frozen ground. But amid all that we can also get some miraculously clear days when the weak sun shines though, the air is cold and crisp in your lungs and, if there is no wind, a great feeling of being alive – albeit well-rugged up with Winter thermals!
Fishing the big mountain lakes for trout requires a good knowledge of what the fish are doing at the time.
The browns, for example, are nearly all headed for spawning grounds in the feeder rivers, notably the Eucumbene in Lake Eucumbene and the Thredbo in Lake Jindabyne. They started early this year, probably because of better-than-average flows in the rivers.
Some fish moved into the rivers in February, which is what they used to do back in the 1960s and ’70s when river flows seemed more reliable than they are today. Others have added to their numbers progressively until the maximum rush, which gets under way this month.
So if you want to target browns, which are usually larger and stay deeper than rainbows, you fish mostly with lead-core line or downrigger if you are trolling, with sink-tip or sinking line if you are fly fishing, or work the deeper bays during the day and the shallows at night if you are bait fishing.
You should also work the areas nearest to the feeder rivers and creeks where the browns are most likely to congregate.
Lures vary day by day but Tasmanian Devils in yellow-wing patterns, big spoons and small 3cm to 5cm minnows trolled slowly are pretty useful for most of your fishing. As a change, you might like to try something different, such as trolling 10cm and 12cm lures such as gold Bombers and larger Rapalas, Halcos, Predateks and the like.
Anglers in Jindabyne and Eucumbene have started playing around with these larger lures with some success. It started a while back when two anglers who had bagged out early in the morning in Jindabyne started trolling Murray cod and barramundi lures as a bit of a joke – literally for something to do, having already bagged out. To their surprise they caught some stunning browns, much larger than the ones they had already caught and kept, and had to suffer the ignominy of putting back one huge brown after another.
It's now caught on and lots of people are trying it, with some success.
The rainbows in the lakes are getting vaguely ready to start on a pre-spawning run but they generally move two to three months behind the browns. They are mostly smaller than the maximum-size browns but are considered a bit easier to catch and at shallower depths.
They also take small minnows, Tasmanian Devils, Wonder Spoons, Pegron Minnows and the like but are not so keen on the really large lures. They take the same fly patterns as browns, notably Mrs Simpson, Hamill’s Killer, Craig’s Night-time, Scotch Poacher, brown or green Matuka, Tom Jones, brown nymph and various mudeye patterns. They also take the same baits, usually mudeyes, scrub worms, tiger worms and especially PowerBait.
Multiple catches of rainbows, especially on bait, are common and many anglers believe the rainbows rather than the browns form groups of perhaps a dozen or more fish which move around the lake progressively, seeking food.
This might account for the fact that large numbers of rainbows are caught, day after day and night after night, at places such as Seven Gates, O'Neill's Bay, Frying Pan and Middlingbank on Lake Eucumbene. These are the most easily-accessible and heavily-fished spots in the whole lake and would seem unlikely to hold such large numbers of fish as a permanent resident population.
Trout streams generally are still open but will close to fishing from the end of the June long weekend (midnight, June 13) until the start of the October long weekend. That's to allow the trout to spawn in peace and help supply a new load of fish for following seasons.
Most people respect the closure but occasionally you get somebody with a brain about the same size as a trout's who decides to take fish illegally. They do this in a variety of ways, using spears, forks or dip nets where the fish are congregated in pools or herd the fish into set nets or wire enclosures. I even heard of one clown who stabbed a couple of big browns with a pen knife in shallow water. Boy! What a hero! Tarzan from Europe!
Apart from the general stupidity of taking trout illegally, fish on their spawning run are useless to eat. They are soft, flabby, poorly-coloured and quite unpalatable, unless perhaps you have the taste buds of a moron.
In years past poaching trout was a big industry because it was the only way restaurants and other outlets could get trout to sell. These days, of course, there are plenty of legitimate trout farms which turn out good table fish of the right size, colour, shape, weight, cost and palatability all year round. That availability has knocked on the head much of the poaching industry and Australia is all the better for it.
Fishing the big runs of pre-spawners in streams such as the Thredbo and Eucumbene attracts a lot of anglers who see this as a chance not to kill a fish but to catch and photograph perhaps the largest trout they will see all year. A trophy fish to remember in days to come.
Discussions about the ethics of targeting pre-spawners have always been pretty common around the campfire but I must admit I have no problem with it as long as the fish are not unduly injured during capture and release. What I do object to is the way fish are handled by some captors who treat them too roughly, keep them out of the water too long while hunting for a camera or the best camera angle and then release the fish, not even realising that it is quite likely to die soon afterwards.
Some of the blame for this must go to TV anglers who keep caught fish in front of the camera for an inordinate amount of time then ‘release it alive’. Of course, it kicks and takes off, that's an expected reflex action of a released fish in any condition, but what the viewer doesn't see is the same fish floating injured, distressed or dead an hour or two later.
Get your act together, fellows, and either admit that a fish is to die for the sake of TV art or get rid of it in a shorter time and with gentler handling.
Despite it being Winter, some fun can be had with our love-hate exotics – redfin and carp. Mostly they are pretty quiet but they will take baits during the warmer or brighter parts of the day and redfin are nearly always suckers for bright, shiny lures. The fish provide a slight opportunity to catch at least something and I guess there is some value in that.
Most of the native fish around here have now gone into their quiet time. Bass at the coast will be headed downstream to brackish water to spawn and are largely uncatchable.
Murray cod and golden perch have gone deep, gone downstream and gone very quiet. They still feed, but only intermittently, and are hard to catch.
Occasional ones are taken on bait, usually live shrimps, yabbies or scrub worms and, some on lures, usually big deep divers or spinnerbaits put right in front of their faces by repeated casting.
It's hard work but at least it’s fishing and that beats most other activities hands-down, even in the depths of a Canberra-Monaro Winter.Reads: 565