Here we are in the depths of a wonderful New England Winter. It seems relatively few people outside the area appreciate just how cold and intimidating the Winter weather can be up here.
Armidale is almost 100 metres above sea level, making it the highest city (altitude, that is!) in Australia and towns like Guyra and Ebor top 1200 metres with mountain peaks and ranges around them to more than 1500 metres. In the short days of Winter the air temperature struggles to get above 15° on a clear, sunny day and a patch of bad weather can last for weeks on end.
That leaves a very narrow window of opportunity for the angler at this time of year. If you are lucky to strike a good day, the water will still be very cold and the weather can easily turn around and bite you on the bum. I’m not trying to be overly pessimistic here, just presenting you with the facts.
The water temperatures can stay at such a low level that the trout won’t even bite – that’s cold! It’s little wonder that local anglers tend to get out of the high country to the coast or the western rivers to get their Winter fishing fix.
As you my have heard, the good folk at the Bureau of Meteorology are predicting a change in the medium-term weather patterns from El Nino to something else, maybe even La Nina. This means that roughly by the end of this year we should be experiencing wetter than normal conditions across eastern Australia. That is great news for all concerned, most of all the fish, as this will cleanse all of the river systems and give them more consistent water flow.
Ironically, a lot of people I have spoken to attribute the excellent fishing (particularly Murray cod) on the rivers of the North-West Slopes over the past two years to the low water levels. While it might seem like there is less water between the fish, I am more inclined to think that the cod are just doing well in general and that we would be catching heaps of cod (maybe even more) even if the water levels were more ‘normal’.
Over the past 12 or 18 months I have reported the fate of the local trout population in this, apparently the worst drought in 100 years. To say the trout have suffered is the understatement of the year. The introduced Northern Hemisphere fish struggle to cope with prolonged periods of low, warming water and you could see their numbers diminishing each time we fished for them. By the end of the season in June, we were lucky to see a single trout in an outing, let alone catch one.
There were a few hard-to-reach spots that had sufficient oxygenated water to hold the odd tough survivor but, aside from that, the waters where we normally catch a dozen or more fish per day were devoid of trout. Part of the problem we have here is that during these dry times, this area has few reservoirs where trout can retreat to cool depths. The only refuge trout have here is the odd deep waterfall pool but they are few and far between on some streams and others have none.
Looking ahead, if there is sufficient water the streams will once again be stocked with trout fingerlings come September. That means that many waterways, assuming we have good seasons ahead, will not have catchable trout until the following season opening – October 2004. That’s quite a time to wait.
There are some exceptions in rivers like the Wollomombi, which is capable of growing rainbow trout that are catchable (but barely legal size) in the same season, so there may be some fun to be had there in May and June of next year – if it all goes according to plan.
As reported by the author last month, Bundarra policeman Gavin Berry captured this humungous Murray cod from Copeton Dam on April 10 on an AusSpin Twin Spin 1/2oz spinnerbait in purple and black. The fish measured 1.42 metres and was released in good condition. Using NSW Fisheries charts, the fish was estimated to weigh 50kg, making it the biggest cod to be captured in Copeton. Gavin loves his fishing and is devoted to catch-and-release of native freshwater fish, so the cod picked the right bloke to tangle with..Reads: 535