Urban fisheries paying off
  |  First Published: December 2004

Canberra has some interesting urban lakes available to anglers.

The largest, Lake Burley Griffin, is formed by damming the Molonglo River. Three smaller lakes, Yerrabi, Gungahlin and Ginninderra, are on Ginninderra Creek and Lake Tuggeranong is on Tuggeranong Creek. All of the lakes are intimate parts of the city and suburbs, within easy driving, cycling or walking distance from people's homes and businesses.

They are a valuable part of the fishing landscape and serve as an interesting model for towns elsewhere in Australia which want to maximise recreational use of river or stormwater flows. They add greatly to the angling opportunities provided in our major drinking-water supply dam, Googong, just out of town on the Queanbeyan River, and the surrounding trout and native river streams.


The urban lakes and Googong are stocked with golden perch and Murray cod every second year. Although they do not breed in the local waterways, they grow rapidly and are accepted largely as put-and-take species. The lakes also contain huge populations of redfin and, with the exception of Googong, European carp.

The lakes are open to fishing all year round and are greatly valued by local and visiting anglers. The biggest problem with them, however, is that they quickly become turbid after rain and take a long time to clear. For that reason much of the angling is restricted to bait, with only intermittent periods suited to lure or fly.

This year, however, because of the prolonged drought, all of the waterways have been clear, with remarkable visibility of at least one metre and sometimes up to two metres. That has enabled anglers to fully expand their skills with lures and flies and there has been some spectacular fishing.

Redfin have provided the most fun because they are the most numerous and the easiest to catch. They are also jolly good tucker and many a skinned and boneless fillet has graced a Canberra dining table in recent months.

Typically, most of the fish are small because a widespread virus, EHN, normally kills a significant proportion of the population each Summer and that includes a lot of the big ones. This year it seems to be delayed and numerous large redfin have been taken.

I have had many reports of fish around 1kg to 1.5 kg and some well over 2kg. Graeme Light caught one around 2kg on a Celta in Lake Gungahlin recently and local bus driver Dooley took a heap of fish to about 1.5kg and saw a much larger monster redfin actually trying to grab one of these as he wound it in.

Redfin typically are easy meat for anglers with spinning-blade lures such as the Hogback and Celta and are a delight for kids to catch, especially those hyperactive kids who want to incessantly cast and retrieve things.

Redfin also love tiger worms, scrub worms, bardi grubs and yabbies. They can be caught at any time but commonly are at their best late in the afternoon. Fly fishers also have a lot of fun with them using larger, flashier patterns worked with a long leader or sink-tip line.


There is a love-hate relationship here, as elsewhere, with carp. Pretty useless to eat, they can be fun to catch, especially for kids who reckon any fish on the line is a good fish. They are easy to take with bait, especially corn or worms, but many fly fishers hone their skills on them using mostly small nymphs or dries. One angler recently spent nearly two hours on an 11kg carp on a 5-weight fly rod in Lake Burley Griffin before landing it.

Carp take lures occasionally, too, especially when there is easy prey around in the form of bogong moths, cicadas or grasshoppers regularly plopping on the water.

They have fooled a lot of people, too. Chris Owen recently tried a big deep diver for a Murray cod under Commonwealth Avenue bridge in Burley Griffin at 9pm. He got the big hook-up and played it for ages before bringing it to the shore and discovering it was a huge European carp. He is one of about a dozen anglers recently who have had the same experience.


Everybody likes golden perch. They take a variety of worm, bardi grub or yabby baits and lures ranging from Celtas to Wonder Spoons to myriad deep-divers. The biggest in the Canberra lakes are around 8kg mark but typical specimens are around 2kg to 3kg.

They can be found anywhere but like hanging around structures – bridge pylons, tree stumps, jetties, moored boats and the like – and along the edges of weed beds. The best of them are in deeper water and have a favourite habit of snatching a lure at the last moment, just as the angler goes to lift it from the water – wonderful heart-attack stuff.

Murray cod are the biggest fish in the lakes, growing to around 45kg, although most fish taken are much smaller. They are mostly caught on yabbies, bardi grubs, scrub worms or larger deep-diving lures and are so highly thought of that nearly all are returned to the water as unharmed as possible, even though they are not breeding fish. That's a nice show of respect for this great Australian icon, stocked here at what well may be the very upper limit of their stream and lake habitat.


We have also had a great run of trout fishing this season, with water flooding over new ground in Eucumbene and Jindabyne from snowmelt and lots of browns and rainbows on the move. Lure and bait fishing, especially with small deep-diving minnow patterns and bardi grub-PowerBait cocktails, has been excellent and fish commonly have averaged 1.5kg to 2 kg.

As the Summer progresses, fly fishing at night, mudeye fishing with a bubble float and deep trolling with lead-core line or downrigger will become the order of the day for trout fishers. Results to date suggest that there is a big, healthy population of large and medium-sized fish in the lakes, as distinct from the smaller fish of recent years, and we can look forward to some very satisfying fishing right through the Summer.

Stream fishing mostly will be poor because of low water flows but some of the higher rivers will still be worthwhile trying.

Fly, lure and bait fishing for redfin and natives will remain spectacular as long as the drought continues and the water stays clear. Apart from Canberra's urban lakes, Burrinjuck and Wyangala dams, despite low water levels, have fished well and should continue to be productive.

And as anglers increasingly do the right thing and return unwanted trout, golden perch and Murray cod to the water after perhaps taking a trophy photograph, the future is looking pleasingly bright around here.

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