Drought isn’t over yet
  |  First Published: November 2003

LIKE MOST other areas we've got good news and bad news in our part of the world.

The bad news is that despite the crowing and bleating of boof-headed politicians and other city-bound drongos trying to take credit for the weather, the drought that has plagued the ACT, Snowy Mountains and Monaro for the past three years – possibly the worst drought in a century– is not over.

Our rainfall has been ratshit: The streams are dry to dead low, lake levels are way down and subsoil moisture is still largely non-existent. Most towns are on water restrictions, which means that even if there was some place decent to fish you don't have the time because you have to stand around all bloody night watering the garden by hand!

Add to that the dreadful conditions resulting from the bushfires nine months ago and it's a pretty tough scene. Blackened trees everywhere, with many dead and others showing only minor regrowth, all shrubs and grasses gone and not much new growth. Bared, blackened soil, highly prone to wind and water erosion if ever it does rain again, and streams filled with fire debris.

And because of the tough Winter superimposed on all of this, things look even worse. The tell-tale signs are everywhere – few birds in the trees, confused mobs of kangaroos, few of the usual bush noises and not even a living insect to decorate your windscreen, day or night.

It would be easy to believe, as Hanrahan said in the poem, that we'll all be rooned.

Having said that, it will probably rain like buggery tomorrow. Although, come to think of it, if it hasn't rained like buggery for three years, why should it start now?

For all of the above reasons the Opening of the 2003/4 trout season on October 4 was always going to be interesting, to say the least. Anglers who had been out checking the streams, or what is left of them, reported very few trout in most. That does not augur well for the streams east of Cooma, such as the Maclaughlin, Bobundara, Badja, Big Badja, Kydra, Kybean, Numeralla and Rock Flat Creek. Most are so depleted you could jump across them.

Other important regional streams, such as the lower Murrumbidgee, Naas, Gudgenby and the Goodradigbee, also look to be in trouble, with some water but no fish. In the ACT, only the Cotter River looks to be flowing well, because of environmental releases from three dams along its length, and it has a good head of small to medium fish.

What that means is that all the fishing pressure for the season opening and beyond will remain concentrated on the higher streams such as the Thredbo, Eucumbene and others, and on those with a man-made flow such as the Tumut. Currently the Eucumbene River isn't carrying too many fish but they are chockers in the Thredbo – browns that have lingered after spawning for a continuing feed of eggs and rainbows making a last-minute dash to lay their valuable goodies to aid next year's recruitment.

And I left you to it, folks. The last thing in the world I wanted for the opening was to get into a barney with some ill-mannered clown who hurls a lure over my line just as I finally present my fly to a fish that I have been stalking for the past half-hour. Or the equally brain-damaged cretin who chucks in a line the size of a tow rope laden with worms just as a light-line lure angler flicks his favourite Celta into the path of a patrolling brown.

Thank you, no, I was elsewhere, sipping a Chardonnay while you fought and argued and commented on what an elitist bastard this bloke was, conveniently forgetting that I like all forms of fishing – bait, lure and fly. It's just the morons I can't stand.


The lakes, of course, are likely to be the saviours this season.

The big and important ones in the higher country are a mixed bag. There has been little rain in the catchments but some stunning late-season snowfalls, including about a metre in one week in late September. The snowmelt has added to depleted lake levels and pepped up the whole system, bringing some fish closer to shore where water was rising over new ground or just making them more active and more likely to take a lure, bait or fly.

Lake Jindbabyne has the most water and is 71% full. Tantangara, only a little storage, is just 16%. Eucumbene is languishing terribly, and at 43% is now at its lowest level since it was first constructed in 1959.

Eucumbene is so low that we may now be fishing in some old cocky's farm junkyard. An angler at Seven Gates recently fished in the most atrocious conditions – a raging alpine gale so fierce you couldn't even stand up in it, snow blasting in horizontally and a wind-chill factor that brought the temperature down to about minus 20°.

He got a bite on a bardi grub-PowerBait cocktail but the fish got caught up in something heavy which he finally managed to drag to the edge of the steep bank. It turned out to be an old, rusted, car door but, unfortunately, as he tried to lever it up the bank his rod broke and he pitched head-first into the freezing lake.

His mate first landed the 1.6 kg brown on the other side of the door, then hauled his mate out and they made an executive decision that one fish was enough for a trip and went home.


The return of activity among the native fish is of course highly welcome. Not many have shown in the streams because, by and large, there aren't any, but some of the lakes are showing promise.

Blowering Dam shot up from about 4% to 50% after one significant rain event and the golden perch suddenly starting feeding around the shoreline, providing good bags for Tumut and other anglers.

Burrinjuck went from about 5% to 31% in a month and again the goldens are showing some interesting activity, taking worms, yabbies and occasionally a lure. Wyangala is also up a little and goldens, catfish and silver perch are all on the move, mostly on bait.

Googong Dam is still around 35% and not yet fishing well, although one 25kg cod and several smaller ones were caught and released just as the closed season became operative. It will, of course, be December before anybody is allowed to kill one.

No trout or Atlantic salmon, of course, have been taken from any of these reservoirs. They have all been killed by the drought, succumbing to heat stress and lack of available oxygen.

That's why continuing stocking with trout in regional lakes and rivers is so problematic. On the one hand, if we stock and the fish all die, we have wasted all of that time, effort and money. On the other hand, if we don't stock we will ensure there are no fish for the future.

It's Hobson's choice and if there is anything I hate lately it's being ruled by Hobson and Hanrahan. Or, even worse, Huey.

So for Gawd's sake, Huey, send 'er down! And let Hobson and Hanrahan get out of sight for a while.

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