As the New England region heads into February, traditionally the hottest month of the year up here, what does that spell for the fishing?
As they say, some like it hot, and for those with a love of our native species this is a terrific time to fire up.
River flows at the end of last year went ballistic. My old boss at the camping shop flew by helicopter into the Guy Fawkes with a couple of inflatable canoes and literally had the ride of his life. Across the Tablelands we had the best Spring for many a moon and a fair percentage of that rainfall headed east through the gorges and was supplemented by heavy falls on the escarpment in early January.
Bass of fairly substantial proportions continue to be caught, primarily in the middle reaches of the Macleay catchment from the Chandler-Macleay junction down to Bellbrook.
In the higher reaches most bass aficionados have been working their magic in the flooded backwaters where the bigger pools have spilt over into the side basins. Bass love mooching through the short weed beds here and a live shrimp under a bubble float is deadly.
A couple of fit, keen fellows recently explored the area around East Kunderang and in several days brought about 30 bass, many in the high 40cm grade, to the gunwale of their canoe.
If lure tossing is more your game then consider a small spinnerbait in natural tones.
I know the soft plastic ‘revolution’ put paid to the spinnerbait ‘revolution’ but these are a great option. Particularly when the water is high and coloured, drawing a small spinnerbait along the edge of the slower current can produce some great strikes.
Armidale local Pedro ‘the Quick’ manufactures a superb small spinnerbait for just this type of angling. If you want to get a couple, contact the gang at Armidale Outdoors on 02 6772 7744.
Lower down the river, a canoe is just the ticket. When the flows are up then don’t fight it, organise a car shuttle and work several kilometres of the big river.
By later this month I expect things to steady down and that is a great time to settle in and thoroughly work a single hole or maybe two.
The key here this time of year is to fish tight against the hard structure. The bigger dominant fish will be taking up station against boulders, drowned timber or the deeper pockets and this is where you’ll likely hook the fish of your dreams.
Around the weed beds it will mostly be action from juvenile fish – great fun but you’ll not find many line-stretchers.
Under these conditions I like to work medium divers nice and slow. On occasions I’ve even had success holding small minnow patterns downstream on a tight line.
It’s a little like downstream nymphing for fly fishers, let the current swing the lure and ‘swim’ it tight against the dominant midstream structure.
One area worth exploring after the heavy flows we experienced during the New Year period is the holes below rapids.
Traditionally there are medium-depth gravel banks immediately below the rapids. Following particularly high river volumes, these areas are scoured out and for several months the area immediately below the rapids is often the deepest in the pool.
Rather than cast lures from the head of the rapids and retrieve against the flow, work small rubber tails or metal spoons across the flow and back to the downstream banks. Fish often hang along the side margins of these pockets and you may be pleasantly surprised.
When fishing new, deeper pools I like to fit my spoons with a single hook which reduces fouling on the bottom or snagging up on midstream structure.
I recently had the pleasure of spending several days fly fishing up in the headwaters of the Namoi River chasing cod. The weather continued to be hot and stormy which made the green fish likewise run hot and hot.
The most success was to be had just on dusk with the fish eager to rise and smash our surface poppers.
Above Copeton Dam I keep getting reports of plenty of solid cod with several topping the metre mark. That’s a great fish in anyone’s lingo and by all accounts such fish don’t come easy.
The key to consistently hooking Murray Cod is to keep on casting. Trout or bream anglers simply can’t get their head around the need to hammer a fishy-looking lie over and over. Believe me, it works. You’ll never catch the cod of your life if your casting arm is not screaming for a break.
Lures to watch are larger than normal surface bugs and shallow runners. I’m talking lures in the 150mm-170mm range. Work them slowly, tie your knots well and hang on!
The ‘floods’ put a beautiful fresh back into the regional impoundments. Keepit has not looked as good for the last couple of years and there has been some talk in recent months of developing a new overflow levee at Keepit Dam.
While I’m sure the one in a 100-year flood is on the cards, the debate seems to be focusing on the improbable rather than the probable. Keepit is low because of a lack of rain and annual draw-offs for cotton.
Copeton has a wealth of flooded flats and these are holding some excellent yellowbelly. Fresh yabbies have been the undoing of some fine specimens and I have heard of a couple of local boys doing well wading the flats with fly poppers at first light.
The region’s largest impoundment continues to surprise with the wealth of angling options and is a terrific place to wet a line.
If the rain periods continue, and I think they will, I’d be targeting the upper end of the dam following each fresh.
You’ll need a canoe or tinnie to get the best of it but focus on the shallower margins. Big fish patrol the edges at this time of the year and I like slowly twitched rubber shads or spinnerbaits.
Generally I find that February is quiet for trout throughout New England. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of fish on the chew but you tend to find the periods of action shorter and less regular.
If you are going to catch a good fish down Walcha way then this is the time. Although the local streams have been quieter in recent years, this time of year with warmer water and generous stream flows always seems to stir up the resident fish.
Larger yabby patterns are often a good bet for fly fishers although I’d keep a couple of dun imitations handy.
Lure flickers cannot really go past a small Celta or, where the holes are big, deep and dark, try a yabby imitation similar to the old Rebel Crawdad. Alternatively, I like the Rapala rainbow trout CD-3 lures with their bullet-like casting and tight shimmy retrieve.
Ebor continues to keep supplying the goods with plenty of small to medium rainbows. Those in the know tell there are a few tidy browns starting to kick about although I’m yet to tangle with any this season.
Caddis and beetle patterns should work well here while heavy hardware should probably consist of small, lightly-weighted rubber tails and some light spoons for the waterfall holes.
As I mentioned earlier, this is a month of extremes throughout the New England region. But the combination of warm days and higher rainfall mean that the fish are keen to get cracking. You should be, too.Reads: 922