We've taken a fair belting in the Canberra-Monaro region during the past five years.
Massive fires have ripped the heart out of vast areas of the countryside and burnt the hell out of Canberra and its suburbs. We have had four or five years of drought, during which many of the streams have dried up and lake levels have dropped to record lows.
We have lost a huge proportion of our trout population and significant numbers of native fish. The great survivors have been redfin and carp and, in retrospect, it's a bit worrying that even these critters can start to look good when there is little else around to catch.
The only thing that has kept us sane, apart from our coastal fishing, has been the remarkably good fishing in the mountain lakes, especially Jindabyne and Eucumbene.
We don't quite know what it is, but obviously something has clicked in the way NSW Fisheries has ‘managed’ these superb high-country fisheries in recent years.
In the past I have been critical of our management, or lack thereof, of these premier fishing locations. I argued that we lacked on-site fisheries biologists and fisheries managers, our ecological studies on the region were poor in relation to aquatic animals and their interactions with other flora and fauna, that tourism studies seemed too heavily weighted in favour of snow sports rather than angling and that overall, much of the region was left to fend for itself.
I still hold strongly to those beliefs but at the same time have to acknowledge that the fishing in Eucumbene and Jindabyne in recent times, and especially during the past year, has been absolutely spectacular. In fact I have to go a long way back, to when the lake first started filling around 1959, to remember when fishing has been this good.
It would be very satisfying, then, if we knew exactly what it was that set up this great fishing situation.
Unfortunately, nobody I have consulted has been able to put their finger on it. After all, in simplistic terms all the controlling water authority, the Snowy Mountains Corporation does is trap the runoff from rainfall and snowmelt coming down the rivers, store the water and perhaps move it around a bit from reservoir to reservoir, use it to produce electricity and then send it off downstream for the cotton and other farmers to use or abuse.
Fisheries do their part by chucking in a load of rainbow fingerlings each year, together with a handful of brook trout and Atlantic salmon and some old hatchery critters that have passed their use-by date.
There's a bit of monitoring of fish populations during the run of rainbows and browns up the spawning streams but otherwise there are few checks on the health and welfare of the trout populations, the nature, size and range of their food supplies, their pest and disease status, the mix of age and sex classes, the degree of natural recruitment and above all, the attrition rate through angling.
I am not necessarily being critical of my colleagues in NSW DPI Fisheries. They do the job they are paid to do and do it well.
It's just that I would like to see more jobs undertaken, particularly those that would determine why we have had so much good fishing in recent years and how we can ensure that it continues in perpetuity.
Otherwise I am tempted to believe that this good fishing is just as accidental as it is purposeful and thus could change for the worse at any time.
We seem to be generating vast amounts of money from angling licence sales in NSW and the Government certainly owes the sport of angling a lot of other money in return for the tax income gained from things such as GST on bait and tackle sales, travel and accommodation.
Consequently, it may be timely for the Government to think more positively about appointing full-time Fisheries biologists and/or Fisheries managers to foster, maintain and protect what are undoubtedly the premier trout fisheries in mainland Australia – before they decline again.
Now even more anglers will be flocking to Jindabyne and Eucumbene and they will be looking for the best early-season techniques to catch a fish.
Shore-based bait fishers will have the easiest task. All they need is a rod and reel, or two if they want to improve their chances, and a couple of rod holders pushed into the ground.
With a light running-sinker rig they can fish on the bottom with tiger worms, scrub worms, small yabbies or the magic bardi grubs. Later in the season, especially when the mudeyes appear, they can fish closer to the surface using a bubble float or a mudeye waggler float.
The synthetic Power Bait also has proven to be a top fish-catcher and is best fished with a light running sinker but a longer leader than normal, with a small, light hook such as a McLaughlin Mudeye or Daiichi Mudeye, enabling the bait to float up off the bottom above the algae and other debris.
Some anglers similarly use small polystyrene balls or pieces of cork to float other baits off the bottom. The theory is that trout commonly wander along the bottom searching for food items and can't believe their luck when they run headlong into a choice piece of tucker right in front of their face.
Shore-based anglers also can toss out such things as Wonder spoons, Crocodile spoons, Tasmanian Devils, Celtas, Flatfish or myriad small hard-bodied minnows. These are often very effective and provide an opportunity for more vigorous, hunting-style fishing than passive bait fishing.
Fishing with small soft plastics, especially fish and frog patterns among flooded trees, is becoming more popular each year as anglers begin to realise the potential of these deadly little lures.
Fly fishers also work mostly from the shore. The gear is simple – a fly outfit, waders and a vest with everything that you need as you wander along the shore.
You can fish day and night but early mornings, late afternoons and evenings are when the fish are most active and closest to shore.
There are hundreds of fly patterns to choose from but anglers commonly use nymphs, large wets such as Mrs Simpson, Hamill’s Killer, Craig's Night-time and Woolly Bugger.
As the season progresses, dries such as the Hairwing Coachman, Coch-y-Bondhu, Iron Blue Dun and Red Tag also come out.
One interesting late-Winter early-Spring technique is polaroiding, where an angler with polarised sunglasses carefully walks the shore searching for fish in the shallows. The trick is to spot a fish before it spots you, then cast to it without spooking it.
It's a wonderfully exciting way to fish and requires a lot of skill and we look forward to it every year.
Trollers have had great success in recent years, often bagging out within a few hours. Everybody has their own favourites, but most tackle boxes feature a range of Tasmanian Devils, spoons, wobblers, Flatfish and minnows.
Flatlining, is fishing with a normal rod and reel, is the most common technique and is particularly effective when the fish are active near the surface, such as in the early morning.
More commonly, later in the day, the fish go a bit deeper and getting the lure down to those depths using lead-core line or downriggers are the preferred techniques. Lead-core line will take a lure down to about seven metres and downriggers to perhaps 15 or 20 metres, depending on the weight of the lead ball used.
The best depth to fish is determined either by guesswork based on experience or by looking for fish with a sounder, now considered a vital accessory on any boat.
Irrespective of how you fish, right now you are pretty well assured of success in Eucumbene and Jindabyne.
The weather will be variable as always but the fish are there and they are hungry, active and ready to be caught. My suggestion is to take advantage of the best trout fishing we have seen for many years and keep your fingers crossed that it continues, even if we don't know what's causing it.Reads: 516