It's not often that you hear anglers expressing concern about catching too many fish, but that's exactly what's happening at Lake Eucumbene at the moment.
The lake has been in some degree of difficulty all through this year because of continuing low water levels. It has been dropping steadily because of the drought that is still in progress, and a continuing demand for water for hydro-electric production and, to a lesser extent, for downstream irrigation and environmental flows in the Murray River.
Normally at 65% to 75% of capacity in mid- to late Winter, the lake this year dropped to an alarming level close to 40% and, even now, as the Winter snows melt, it has staggered up to only 43.5%. That's not good considering that the demand for water release will continue and increase as Spring and Summer eventuate.
For reasons we haven't yet been able to analyse, fishing during the Autumn, Winter and early Spring has been terrific. Anglers have bagged out trip after trip, initially on browns and rainbows, then on rainbows alone as the browns went up the Eucumbene River to spawn. Good catches were taken by boat anglers trolling minnow lures and Tasmanian Devils on lead-core line and flatline and by bank anglers using scrub worms, bardi grubs and especially PowerBait. Everybody seemed to be bagging out, with five fish per day, or a maximum of 10 in possession, but many anglers boasted of landing 50 to 60 fish in a weekend.
While many of these latter catches were released to comply with the law, it has to be remembered that this was being done often by anglers with little or no training or expertise in releasing hooked fish, and a significant proportion of those fish could be expected to have died.
Common mistakes included rough handling of fish with resultant damage to mucous layers, tearing or dislocation of vertebrae, distortion of mouth and jaw assemblies, damage to eyes, gills and fins, tearing of throat or intestinal tissues in gut-hooked and lure-hooked fish and de-oxygenation of fish kept out of the water for too long while trophy photographs or videos were taken. Popular television shows should take note of the latter.
The result of all this is that a vast number of browns and rainbows have been harvested from the lake this year, wittingly or unwittingly, and some anglers are now questioning whether the lake can support this degree of harvesting and for how long.
It's a difficult question to answer, mostly because we have such a thin information base on Lake Eucumbene trout populations and regeneration dynamics on which to make assumptions. This is when we need competent biologists such as Bob Farragher and Richard Tilzey, and their proteges, back on the job.
If we are taking too many out, let's make the matter known quickly. Conversely, if the lake can support this level of harvesting, let people know that they can continue to fish as hard as they like and feel comfortable about the rewards. There's nothing worse for an angler to be doing well, catching a squillion fish, then having to feel guilty that they are doing the wrong thing when all along they really were entitled to feel quite virtuous.
OTHER LAKES VARIABLE
The other major lakes in the Snowy region – Tantangara and Jindabyne, are faring quite differently.
Tantangara is a small, high-country lake storing water which is then gravity-fed into Eucumbene. The fishing there this year, normally quite good because of the massive population of small to medium-sized browns and some rainbows, has been little short of ratshit (a new and quite valid scientific term I have adopted recently!). That's because the level has not been above 7% for the past six months as water is bled off to Eucumbene.
From Eucumbene, the water in turn is sent down to Jindabyne, which has stayed nicely around 62% to 65% right through the year and has fished very well indeed. There have been excellent catches of browns and rainbows all through the Winter and into early Spring and anglers generally have been pleased with their catches without feeling guilty about excessive take. Best lures have been Rebel Crickhoppers, goldfish look-alikes and four new Tasmanian Devil patterns which I have had the pleasure of inventing, namely the Canberra Killer, Yellow Fever, Anglers Arty and Eucumbene Bomber. They are all new to the fish, so they aren't scared of them and have been taking them with gusto.
On the downside, also, as the water level in Eucumbene drops, all sorts of goodies are exposed. We have heard of treasure-hunters finding wallets, outboard motors, rods and reels and a vast number of lures, or what's left of them.
Unfortunately, there also have been large numbers of corroding and decomposing Opera House yabby traps. These traps are banned in Lake Eucumbene and all other trout waters for one good reason – they trap and kill delightful critters such as platypus, water rats and tortoises. They get in and can't get out.
It's blindly senseless and uncaring to use them, so how come there are so many of them now showing up? Shame, shame, shame.Reads: 894