I THINK August is our coldest month, mostly because of the reinforcement of cold weather effects that developed during June and July.
There is deep snow on the higher hills and snowfalls at lower levels and even around the fishable lakes are common. Water temperatures are at their lowest and finding sheet ice around the edges of the lakes and across heavily shaded bays is not unusual.
Lines freeze in the guides and reels and outboards full of water freeze very quickly if you are not careful.
Trout streams of course are closed to allow the fish to spawn in peace and they will not reopen until the October long weekend – but the lakes stay open to fishing all year round.
Finding fish in August can be hard but understanding what the fish are up to helps in making a choice of the right technique.
Brown trout normally head into the breeding streams during June, July and August and return to the lakes soon after spawning takes place.
Sometimes there is an overlap with rainbows, which use the same spawning grounds in August, September and October. Spawning fish dig holes in the sand and gravel to deposit and fertilise the eggs, which are then left to hatch unattended. Developing fry and fingerlings later make their way back to the lakes, completing the natural recruitment for the year.
Survival of the fertilised eggs and hatchlings can be difficult. Successive waves of spawning fish often dig up previously laid eggs which are then washed away or eaten. This is exacerbated by a lack of suitable spawning sites in our mountain streams, with the result that all of the intending spawners are forced into the same limited areas.
If a silt or soil particle attaches itself to an egg, that egg usually dies. Trout, especially brown trout, are carnivorous and eat large numbers of fry and fingerlings as well as eggs. All in all, it's a tough life for a trout.
That's why natural recruitment, satisfying though it may be, usually is insufficient to maintain trout stocks and additional stocking from hatcheries is required each year.
Anglers usually target fish in three ways.
They can lie in wait for fish heading for the spawning streams, in particular the Eucumbene River in Lake Eucumbene and the Thredbo River in Lake Jindabyne. They can then target them with lures such as Celtas, Tasmanian Devils or small minnows such as the Attack, Baby Merlin, Min Min, Rapala and Rebel.
Bait-fishing is popular and the fish commonly take scrub worms, bardi grubs and PowerBait.
Fly fishing, especially at night, can be particularly effective. Best patterns are mostly large and dark and include the Woolly Worm, Woolly Bugger, Mrs Simpson, Hamill’s Killer, Taihape Tickler, Craig’s Nighttime and the Jindabyne Horror. Dark mudeye patterns and Glo Bugs, fished alone or with a trailing nymph, also can effective.
The fish commonly move to the spawning streams at night and for this reason many fly-fishers concentrate all of the their effort in late afternoon or evening sessions.
It can be demanding, however, with temperatures as low as –8° or –10°, and lower, not uncommon.
For safety as well as commonsense reasons, it pays to wear appropriate gear for night sessions – thermal underwear, thick neoprene waders, extra socks, beanie and perhaps a balaclava. You might look like a terrorist but at least you are warm and dry!
I have a few extras of my own. I put one solid-fuel pocket warmer in my left breast pocket and another in my right trouser pocket, working on the basis that all of my blood has to pass one of them sooner or later. They offer wonderful warmth.
I also wear a spectacular fur-lined Mad Bomber hat but, for safety reasons, I hang a little sign on the back that says, ‘Don't Shoot – It's Only Me!’
Daytime trollers also target fish, most of which are deep down.
Some can be reached with lead-core line. Using four colours of 8.2kg lead-core line and some backing, a lure can be worked down to about six or seven metres.
To go deeper you need a downrigger, usually with a 1.5kg bomb. The depth at which the fish lie varies with the thermoclines which develop each day and a good sounder is useful in finding just where they are.
If the fish aren't especially obvious on the sounder it pays to troll around 10 to 12 metres down and keep changing lures every 20 minutes or so until you find fish or decide that this just wasn't your day.
Some Finnish anglers I encountered some years ago at Eucumbene have developed another deep-water technique which at times is very successful. They drop a Ford Fender or Cowbell, rigged with a Flatfish or Kwikfish, to the deeper layers, then allow the boat to drift slowly across the lake in the breeze. A drogue is used if the boat is blown too quickly.
This technique often is successful on the larger browns but I have also seen the Finns bring in some tremendous rainbows from Eucumbene and Jindabyne. The secret is in the huge flash down deep from the Fenders or Cowbells, even if they are just waggling along instead of spinning. The fact that Flatfish and Kwikfish will operate enticingly even at low speed is the key. It’s a well-thought-out technique which I can recommend to you.
A third technique, which many fly-fishers employ, is polaroiding.
There are two ways you can do this. Firstly, you can sit on a high vantage point on the shore with a good pair of polarising glasses and wait for a trout to swim along on its beat. Once you have established its feeding or searching pattern, you can try to waylay it with a well-placed fly, hopefully without spooking it in the process.
Alternatively, you can slowly walk the shoreline, watching well ahead for a fish or anything that even looks like a fish, then cast to it in the appropriate manner.
With this technique a variety of flies can work but I have had the best results with smaller patterns, including dark nymphs, fur flies and small Woolly Buggers.
The secret to this technique is to have a good pair of glasses.
I have experimented with a lot of glasses over the years and have settled on photochromic Penetrators, with glass lenses, made by Spotters – the only company that actually makes glasses in Australia rather than overseas.
They darken or lighten automatically depending on the light conditions and are remarkably tough and scratch-proof.
Winter trout fishing can be fascinating and productive but it can also be dangerous. Lives are lost in the big lakes every year and I am sure none of those involved ever expected to die.
Some deaths undoubtedly are the result of accidents which simply happen. Others, perhaps, were avoidable given simple precautions.
Boaters should be aware that the survival time in this cold water is perhaps two to four minutes. After that you can be immobilised by the cold and unable to help yourself.
You don't want a boat accident so travel at a sensible speed and keep a sharp eye out for rocks, trees and floating timber. Carry proper safety and survival gear. Keep boating at night to a minimum and travel only at low speed.
Boat and shore anglers should dress appropriately and stay off the grog. It might sound attractive and exciting but alcohol intake beyond a certain level makes you colder, not warmer. The esky in August is a place to keep your fish and food from freezing, not a major grog container!
Most other lakes in the region are quiet at present. Murray cod and golden perch in Googong, Burrinjuck, Blowering and Wyangala are mostly deep down and asleep, although an occasional fish can be tempted with a live yabby or deeply worked lure.
Redfin sometimes become active during the warmest part of the day in Canberra's urban lakes, usually in the early afternoon, and are worth a try with spinning-blade lures or soft plastics.Reads: 785