Tide is turning
  |  First Published: October 2003

It’s strange to say the tide is turning in an inland fishing area, but that’s what is happening. At long last the El Nino effect is weakening to the point where we’ve had the heaviest and most substantial rainfall in the area for almost three years. That, combined with melting snow from the mountains has finally put some water into regional streams and lakes, and anglers are feeling a little more confident about the future of fishing in this part of the world. El Nina, the lady partner of this pair of notorious climate controllers, is steadily taking charge and all power to her rain-making capacity. Go the Lady!

Not that it's all coming up roses. We have suffered for three years from one of the worst droughts in living memory and have had two consecutive summers of horrendous bushfires.

Many of our fish have died. The trout went first, then many of the native fish. They died because of a mix of high temperatures and low oxygen levels, then just sheer lack of water. Fish obviously can’t live in a dried-up stream bed, and that’s what many of streams – including previously prime, healthy and productive streams – have become.

Then the bushfire debris washed into the streams and that killed off many of the most resistant survivors. Even now, as the rain tumbles down, the fire-bared earth in many areas is moving as a great mass of sludge into the rivers and lakes. Burnt trees are blowing over in the moistened soil. The chemistry of the water is changing. And on top of that, food for the fish, especially insects, is in short supply.

What all of this means is that we have a massive regeneration task ahead of us. It would be sensible to attack this on two fronts. Firstly, we have to restock the waterways with trout and native fish. That is attainable, in the sense that the private and Government hatcheries can produce enormous numbers of fingerlings – assuming that the money will be made available from standard Government funds and those flowing from the sale of recreational fishing licences.

Secondly, we have to make some hard decisions on where we use our scarcest natural resource. As just one example, when we can generate a return of $1800 on each megalitre of water used for vegetable production and just $31 dollars if we use the same amount to grow rice, somebody has to make some tough calls on water allocation.

And while they are making those decisions – perhaps for the first time in our history – we can factor in the need to support fish, and thus tourism, recreational angling and fish conservation, in the same water systems that we use to grow our plant and animal foodstuffs. It makes sense to me, but for governments?

Thus endeth the sermon.

Regional lakes re-awakening

On the happier news front, in those lakes where fish have survived we have had a spurt of attractive fishing. Blowering Reservoir went from zilch (that's my term to convince the downstream landholders that we really, truly don’t have any more water for them to waste on third-world, inefficient irrigation schemes) to a substantial level following heavy rain in the catchment. Right on schedule the golden perch came on the bite, taking worms, yabbies and bardi grubs in the murky water.

Lake Burrinjuck did the same thing, jumping from near-zilch to 14%, and the golden perch were so hungry they were even caught on bait in the shallows at the boat ramp.

Wyangala also blossomed to some extent, with some golden and silver perch at Grabine, catfish upstream in the Lachlan River and small to medium cod near the dam wall.

In Googong Reservoir the first Murray cod for the season was a 25kg fish which took a trolled deep diver. In Canberra's urban lakes there were some pleasant surprises such as a 28kg cod on a bait in tiny Lake Tuggeranong, which was released to fight again another day, and some reasonable-sized redfin in Lake Burley Griffin.

Contrast in mountain lakes

The scene in the big mountain lakes, Jindabyne and Eucumbene, is one of great contrast. Eucumbene has been at its lowest level since it first filled in about 1959, and the exposed shoreline has been a nightmare for anglers trying to drive through it, launch a boat from it or even just to walk on it.

The reason we keep on fishing it, however, is that there are lots of fish there. They crowd the shoreline day and night – browns and rainbows fresh from spawning and looking for as much tucker as they can get so they can put condition back on. In many areas catching a fish is simply a matter of wading out through the mud, tossing out a bardi grub, scrub worm or lump of Power Bait and bingo – you have a fish. Most of the fish have been of surprisingly good size and some of the browns have been outstanding. In the two weeks before the time of writing I saw three browns in the 3.5–4.5kg range, and these are trophy fish anywhere in the world.

Jindabyne has been a better proposition for boat anglers and also for lure- and flyfishers. It is well up, mostly because water is fed into from Eucumbene to facilitate draw-off for hydro-electric production, and the shoreline is firm and the boat ramps accessible and usable. Lots of fish have been taken on lead core line and Tasmanian Devils, including my four new ones: Canberra Killer, Angler’s Arty, Yellow Fever and Eucumbene Bomber. Fish have also been taken on small minnows, including those from the Rebel and Attack ranges. The best flies have been small wet beetle patterns, dark nymphs and Woolly Worms and Woolly Buggers. Any time of the day has been worth a try but most anglers seem to have fared better in the mornings rather than later in the day.

The mad kangaroos at Jindabyne also have been the source of great ‘amusement’. They seem to have worked out when a camp is empty and fair game for a bit of foraging for what used to be humans-only food. They recently worked over one camp, eating all the stew in the camp cooking pot and stealing all the bread and some oranges. One guilty-looking sod nicknamed ‘Old Yellerface’ obviously was the mongrel who ate the kid's Cheezels, and we will be watching for this particular villain in future.

In the meantime the rain is still falling, so good on yer Lady El Nina and send 'er down Hughie!

1) Redfin have started to show again in Lake Burley Griffin, much to the delight of the local youngsters.

2) Brown trout, hungry after spawning, are searching for food along the lake shorelines.

3) Murray cod are protected during their spawning season but can provide a trophy photograph before release.

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