Early Summer in our part of the world is a bit like late Spring elsewhere.
We still get some chilly nights in the mountains, although day temperatures are mostly pleasantly high. There is still plenty of snow on the higher country, with late season snowfalls that took the average depth this year to over two metres.
The runoff of snowmelt to the reservoirs and highland rivers is pleasurable to watch, because it is about the only running water around.
What we don't have, of course, like the rest of eastern Australia, is rain. The drought is now four years old here and despite a couple of freak falls recently, things are still pretty grim.
Stream flows for the opening of the 2004-2005 trout season are among the lowest on record and we still don't know whether it will be worthwhile stocking the streams with fingerlings and fry from the hatcheries or whether they will have to be tossed into the nearest lake.
Highland and lowland streams and lakes are well below satisfactory levels and our exotic and native fish are facing a most uncertain future.
We're all hopeful, however, that things will change and it was interesting to see the good attendance at the annual free public pre-season fly casting classes conducted in Canberra by the Canberra Anglers Association.
They were held in a lovely setting on the lawns in front of the Old Parliament House for several consecutive Sundays and then finally at the Eucumbene Trout Farm, where the new chums could test their newly-acquired casting skills.
It was a great effort, well supported by the public, and it was especially gratifying to se the number of women and kids participating. Roll on gender equality and kids’ participation.
Trout streams that still have fish in them, including the Eucumbene, Thredbo, Tumut, Murrumbidgee and others in the higher country, typically take a fearful belting early in the season.
That's why most of us don't fish them, preferring to wait until the madding crowd dissipates – and then we will start on our gentle endeavours. By starting late we get less crowding, some quiet and peaceful fishing, not as many as mad snow tourists on the roads and an assurance that we will not encounter any late spawning rainbows which sometimes are still trying their luck in the middle of October.
I usually open the season with small flies in the streams, preferring black and red Matukas, Brown Nymphs, Hamill’s Killer, Stone Fly, Stick Caddis and my own purple Nymbeet.
If conditions are right I like to experiment with dries such as White Moth, Elk Hair Caddis, Hairwing Coachman or a Spent Caddis in the middle of the day. If there is a hatch in progress I will try to match it if the fish are rising but, more commonly, my best success is with tried and true patterns based on 40 years of experience and detailed records of captures.
Having said that, I can imagine fly-fishers everywhere saying, ‘Load of rubbish! I wouldn't fish that in a fit! Codswallop!’
Great. That's what makes fly-fishing such a wonderfully interesting and compelling sport. Everybody with fixed, firm and unshakeable opinions, and all correct! No other form of fishing is like it. It's hilarious.
The big lakes, especially Jindabyne and Eucumbene, are still the mainstay of our trout fishery.
Jindabyne has been reduced to an artificially low level because of work on the main dam wall to install an outlet valve to facilitate water release to the Snowy River. Despite this, it has fished well with bait, lure and fly and should continue to fish well right through the season because it carries such a big head of browns, rainbows and Atlantic salmon.
Best lures have been small to medium-sized minnow patterns, many of them simulating the resident goldfish, especially fished on lead core line or downrigger.
Yellow-winged Tasmanian Devils, including my own Canberra Killer, have been consistently effective on flatline and lead core.
Bait-fishers using scrubbies, bardi grubs and PowerBait, especially along east Jindabyne and the Kalkite reach of the lake, should continue to do well during the next few months.
Fly-fishers working the shoreline around Creel Bay, Waste Point and Minnehaha Point should still be able to polaroid browns and rainbows during the day with small to medium sized Woolly Worms and Woolly Buggers, Jindy Horrors and nymphs.
Fish should also take larger patterns of Craig’s Night-time, Hamill’s Killer, Mrs Simpson, Taihape Tickler and occasionally a mudeye for the first hour or so after dark before the cold sets in.
In Eucumbene the pattern is generally similar but it should pay to fish the more isolated and less heavily-hammered areas such as Braemar, Tolbar and near the dam wall, rather than the more easily accessible Seven Gates, Yens Bay and Frying Pan.
The latter areas carry fish but there really aren't enough to go round with the large number of anglers congregating there each afternoon and evening. That's in part because of the limited stream fishing available but also because these are the areas closest to Canberra and other population centres.
The one good offshoot of the drought is that all of the urban and regional lakes have remained clear enough for lure and bait fishing.
Murray cod are in the middle of their spawning period and although they have to be returned if caught, some excellent specimens have been taken from Canberra's urban lakes and especially from Googong Reservoir on the Queanbeyan River.
The best was taken by Len Clarke and it looked around 35kg to 40 kg. It was a pleasure to see for once that a big cod caught on a lure was subdued quickly and efficiently, handled correctly and released in as near-perfect a condition as possible.
Posers with big cod held out of the water interminably for a magazine or TV shot, please take notice.
Golden perch also are on the move. Some nice specimens have been taken from Burrinjuck ,Wyangala and Blowering, from Googong and from Canberra's urban lakes. The best reported to date was a 4.6 kg fish which took a spinnerbait in Lake Burley Griffin behind the Hyatt Hotel, just a few metres away from passing daytime traffic. Wonderful to have urban lakes such as these.
This fish also was full of small redfin, a prime example of readily available tucker in the form of fish from a foreign land for our beloved native fish. Redfin, incidentally, are providing excellent sport on lure and bait – and occasionally fly – and have just completed spawning.
Our large group of local bass bashers report continuing problems along the South Coast. In several streams low flows have prevented the bass migrating upstream to fresh water after completing spawning in the downstream reaches.
One angler reported 19 big fish stuck in one pool, hopelessly vulnerable to predators which inevitably will include uncaring or unthinking humans likely to kill the lot. In another stream, there was a report of a desperate farmer building an illegal dam across a river, preventing any upstream or downstream fish movement. Droughts do funny things to normally caring and sensitive people.
Our award for innovative thinking goes to the chap currently walking the dried bed of the Queanbeyan River which used to be the flooded Googong Reservoir.
On the assumption that sooner or later the reservoir will fill again, he is recording on GPS all of the good-looking cod lie-ups along the length of the waterway. All the rocky caves, stumps, holes and other likely hidey-holes are going into the GPS, hopefully to be pulled out again and put to good use if and when it rains again. Smart thinking.Reads: 483