It gives me a great deal of pleasure to be ale to write a column about the Canberra-Monaro region for once without having to worry about drought.
Not that the overpowering drought of the past four years necessarily is over but at least we have had a lot of rain. Not great floods of it, but nice little patches here and there which add up to just what we need to restore subsoil moisture levels, get previously dry or depleted rivers flowing again and to top up levels of critically low reservoirs.
The water has come as snow, hail or genuine rain but all of it has been welcome and the timing has been just right. Too much at once and we would have had massive erosion of fire-ravaged landscapes; too little and it would have had negligible impact.
Subtly but surely, the pattern of life has changed. Green grass, hardly seen in recent years, has sprung up all over. Trees have sprouted, blossom is everywhere and birds, insects, lizards, snakes and other wildlife have appeared as if from a long sleep. The gurgling of moving water has been unaccustomed music to our ears.
Anglers, too, have come awake as the fish respond to the change in their surroundings and decide life is worth living after all.
With trout active in the high country and native fish and redfin on the move in the lower areas, anglers are again realising that the coast is not the only place to go fishing and that there is a lot of fun to be had right here on our doorstep.
Among the best news is the rise in water level in Googong Reservoir, just 30 minutes or so out of town. Googong is a lovely clean reservoir on the Queanbeyan River, part of Canberra's water supply and an interesting long-term experiment as the first terminal domestic storage in Australia to allow recreational angling.
Power boating is banned but electric motors are allowed and are immensely popular. During the drought the level dropped so low that boats could not be launched and the area remained virtually unfished for several years, except for a few anglers walking the receding shoreline.
Following recent rain the level rose to 38% and boating again became possible. Anglers have flocked to the area and have caught some superb fish, including brown and rainbow trout, Murray cod, golden perch and redfin. Delightfully, there are no European carp in the reservoir.
The trout were a pleasant surprise. We weren't sure if they had survived the high temperatures and low oxygen levels of the drought but at least some have come through and one angler was delighted with a catch of two browns and thee rainbows, all around 1.5 kg, on spoons and deep-diving minnows intended for golden perch.
Not many others have since been reported but this may change as anglers realise they are still there and target them more deliberately.
Golden perch have been the main target and large numbers of fish have been taken on lures, mostly deep-diving minnows. spinnerbaits and flashy spoons. Bank anglers have taken them on yabbies, scrub worms, wood grubs and bardi grubs.
Most of the fish have been around a kilo to 1.5kg but an occasional larger specimen to about 5.5kg has been taken. Nearly all of those kept for the table and cleaned have had small redfin in their stomachs and it seems this little love-hate English import plays a important role in the diet of these fine Australian native fish.
Some magnificent Murray cod have been taken and mostly released, I am delighted to report. Most have been caught on larger deep-diving minnows, spinnerbaits, large Flatfish or oversize spinning-bladed lures. Many have been up around 15kg but there have been a significant number around the 30kg to 35kg.
These captures of Murray cod and golden perch have more than just recreational significance. They are stocked in the reservoir by the ACT Government every two years and this is probably the highest-altitude reservoir in Australia stocked with these species. They do not breed there but certainly survive well and may provide stimulus for stocking in other waterways previously thought unsuitable.
Burrinjuck Reservoir also has been firing. Currently up to around 68% full with inflows from the Goodradigbee, Yass and Murrumbidgee rivers, the dam has suddenly come alive with hungry golden perch, Murray cod, redfin and a few silver perch.
The fish commonly have been feeding close to shore on newly-flooded grass and have been relatively easy to take on scrub worms, tiger worms, wood grubs, bardi grubs and small yabbies. The best locations for bait fishers have been the upper reaches of the Murrumbidgee at Good Hope, Hume Park, Bloomfields and Taemus Bridge as the golden perch and silvers make their annual upstream migration. Numerous cod also have been caught in these places.
Lots of fish have been caught on lures in the clearer parts of the reservoir. Best lures have been deep divers, spinnerbaits, big Flatfish and large spoon flash. Many of the fish have been scrappy little youngsters around 5kg to 10kg but a few to 30kg have been reported.
One remarkable fish, caught at 30kg on a worm from the shore at Hume Park, one week later had been caught in at least three other locations and had grown to at least 45 kg, such is the power of anglers' reporting and tale-telling.
One true story is of a monster cod up near Wee Jasper, on the Goodradigbee Arm. It dashed up out of the depths just as anglers Mike and Stuart were trying to land a reasonable European carp caught on a worm. The giant cod snatched the carp, swallowed it whole and then bolted back to the depths, breaking the 7kg line with ease. A good fish, by any account, and one to titillate the imagination in weeks to come.
The Canberra lakes have provided some excellent fishing, mostly for Murray cod, golden perch and redfin.
Fishing has varied between bait and lure angling as the clarity of the water changes with each rainstorm in Burley Griffin, Yerrabi, Gungahlin, Ginninderra and Tuggeranong catchments.
Bait fishing in the turbid water has been productive with worms, bardi grubs and especially small yabbies, with golden perch mostly around 1-1.5kg but with one sensational fish of 7kg in Lake Burley Griffin.
Cod have been highly active on bait and lures and many anglers have encountered their first-ever cod with a fat little 3kg to 5kg fish.
Others have been rewarded with larger specimens and the best reported to date weighed ‘a lot more than a bag of cement’ (25kg), a nice fish which, from the photo, looks around 35kg or larger. It took a deep-diver near Black Mountain Peninsula in Burley Griffin.
The trout scene has been excellent. After the spawning season ended in September-October a lot of browns and rainbows stayed in the high country rivers and provided good fun for fly anglers practising catch-and-release fishing using nymphs and Glo Bugs. The best fishing was in the upper Murrumbidgee, Thredbo and Eucumbene Rivers.
Many of the lower country streams are out of action because although they are flowing, the only fish left are rare survivors of the drought or the newly-stocked fingerlings which won't be big enough to catch until next year.
The lakes have fished splendidly. Eucumbene and Jindabyne consistently have provided limit bags for anglers fishing lure, bait or fly. Lure anglers have done well with flatline and lead-core line rigged with Tasmanian Devils, Wonder Crocodile spoons, Flatfish, small minnows and Celtas.
Best baits have been PowerBait, scrub worms, bardi grubs and wood grubs. Fly anglers have varied from small emergers and nymphs to larger wets such as Mrs Simpson and Hamill’s Killer. Dries such as Black Spinners, White Moth, Humpy and Hairwing Coachman are just now coming into their own. It's looking good!Reads: 627