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Fire in the snow!
  |  First Published: July 2004



SOMETIMES it’s hard to believe the weather around here.

After four years of drought, the bushland that wasn’t burnt in the horrendous 2003 firestorms is starting to burn again. But this time there’s a difference – this time it’s in winter.

Recently, in an unprecedented event, we had a major bushfire in Namadgi National Park to the south-west of the city.

You wouldn’t believe bush could burn in these conditions – an overnight temperature of –6° and light snow falling – but it did.

Conditions were so bad that when the overnight crews knocked off for a break, the hoses froze and they couldn’t continue fighting the fire until the hoses thawed the next morning.

The fire was eventually extinguished but that’s just one more nail in the coffin for our rivers around here if and when it ever rains again.

As soon as we get even light rain, the ash and exposed soil will wash into the creeks and rivers, compounding the already horrifying damage that has developed during the past couple of years.

TROUT STREAMS DRY

Water, or the lack of it, really has become a critical fact of life around here. Most streams stopped flowing many moons ago and most of the trout have died. There is no point in restocking yet, wither, as they will not survive until the streams start flowing again.

To add insult to injury, in a few pools in major streams one or two big old brown trout have survived somehow and it is expected that they will quickly gobble up any fingerlings we do stock in those waterways. You can’t win.

Having said that, there are a few high country streams, including the upper Murrumbidgee, Tumut, Eucumbene and Thredbo rivers, where there has been continued flow and a chance of natural breeding and recruitment for connecting waterways and those, together with major stocking from government and private trout hatcheries, is our positive aim for the future.

The browns have been heading for their spawning streams for the past couple of months and the rainbows will start in earnest in the next month or so, so keep your fingers crossed that we get rain, snow, hail, any sort of precipitation at all, to facilitate their spawning and egg-laying.

NEW HAZARD

We also have a new hazard to contend with along our rivers and lake shores – falling trees and branches. Millions of trees were lost or damaged in the 2003 fires – she-oaks, poplars, willows, eucalypts, acacias and others and at least 12 million radiata pines in plantations. Killed or damaged, they now present a major risk from falling branches or even whole trees.

Some friends recently paused by the road near Bendora Reservoir for a comfort stop and almost had a heart attack when umpteen tonnes of burnt eucalypt crashed to the ground a few metres away. They said there was hardly a sound to alert them until it hit the ground. There have been many other reports of falling timber and this will become worse as fire and age take their toll in the forests.

LOCAL LAKES

We go fishing because we love it so much. It stirs the blood and the mere thought of a hook-up or a capture is enough to get us up off the couch and out into the great outdoors.

In Canberra we are lucky to have some great urban lakes which have remained clear because of the drought. They are full of redfin, together with a lot of carp and modest populations of Murray cod and golden perch.

The native fish have been pretty quiet lately because it’s Winter but the beaut little redfin have kept the kids or all ages captivated right through our otherwise quieter time.

The fish take hard-bodied and soft plastic lures, flies and baits with gusto and the larger ones are great to eat. In recent years large numbers of new anglers have been enthralled and excited by the thought of catching one and after a few of them they are hooked for life.

Who would have thought that a small English perch, widely regarded as a pest species because of its propensity for overpopulation and predation on other fish species, could be so welcome to so many species.

The rotten bloody carp also fill some of the fishing void here. Hopeless to eat and environmentally damaging, they at least provide some ‘comfort fishing’ when other fish are unavailable.

I’m not suggesting that we promote them as a sport fish but when there is nothing else available, at least you can enjoy something pulling on a line, even if it is a Burley Griffin swamp marlin that eats sweet corn, raisins and all sorts of other crap and digs up the bottom from morning to night.

MOUNTAIN LAKES

The big mountain lakes are the one thing that stops us from going stir crazy in winter. All the trout streams are closed until the October long weekend but the lakes stay open all year round and this year have continued to fish well even during the coldest weather.

A general pattern has emerged with rainbows dominating the catch in Jindabyne and browns in Eucumbene but there have been good mixed catches in each reservoir and also in Tantangara.

Trollers have done well with a range of yellow-winged Tasmanian Devils, including my own Canberra Killer, fished on a flat line or two or three colours of lead-core line.

A small lure known as the Humbug in goldfish colour 006 and Daiwa silver Creek Minnows have also been good fish-getters. The ever-reliable Attack minnows, Baby Merlin, Min-Min and Crickhoppers have also been worth a try.

Bait anglers have done splendidly with scrub worms but more particularly with cocktails of bardi grub and PowerBait. PowerBait on its own has also gone well and one angler recently landed a 3.9kg brown near Providence Portal on a Lemon Twist PowerBait.

Fly anglers have done well in the wind lanes during the day and river mouths during the night with all the usual suspects, including Hammill’s Killer, Mrs Simpson, Craig’s Nighttime and Taihape Tickler.

One of my fly students fished Middlingbank on Lake Eucumbene in the middle of the day and hooked a fish on his first cast with a fur fly. He lost that but landed two rainbows weighing 800g and 1.6kg. It just goes to show that if you have a fly on the water you have a chance.

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