As we move further into 2008 everybody is asking the same question – is the rain going to continue and break the drought or are we just being teased as in past years?
In Canberra, as elsewhere, we have had dribs and drabs. Each day the clouds gather in the afternoon, the sky darkens and it looks like the heavens are going to open. But a few hours later it is all over and after maybe a few spots of rain the clouds drift away and ‘somebody else’ gets the rain.
Having said that, we have had a bit of rain. Mostly they have been short, sharp thunderstorms that tend to satisfy our craving for noise, lightning and drama but don't necessarily supply the soaking rain and continuing runoff we need to fill and sustain rivers and lakes.
What we need is a return to the sort of rain we used to have, when the water drummed on the roof for a day or more and even for several days at a time. Unless we get that our lakes and rivers are not going to regain the health and vigour of past days and we will be frustratingly short of good fisheries and fish.
But February-March historically is the wettest period of the year here so keep your fingers crossed.
Our trout streams have been a frustratingly complex picture. The lower country streams, as previously during the past six years or so, have fished poorly. Most are still short of water, some are dry or just a series of pools. Not many are carrying fish and those accessible from the Murrumbidgee, our largest feeder
stream, have become infested with carp.
Because of the low flows the carp have been able to penetrate much further upstream and when we do get normal flows again it will be hard to dislodge them. Our worry is that they will become permanent inhabitants of some of our most important trout streams, with the possibility of them undermining stream banks, demolishing weed beds, eating trout fingerlings, muddying water, competing with trout for food and presenting as an incorrect target when stalking fish.
Despite that, a couple of streams have continued to provide some fun fishing.
In the ACT, the Cotter River still carries a good head of small trout which provide good sport on lure and fly and, because no bait fishing is allowed, most of the fish can be released safely with relatively little damage to maintain the population.
Even better, there are no carp upstream of the Cotter Dam which means that if you are stalking a target fish in these clear and cold waters it will be a trout, not a gold-scaled rat.
The Goodradigbee River, which runs into Burrinjuck Dam in NSW, also has fished surprisingly well. The lower reaches are infested with carp but further upstream, where it gets back into the real bush country, there have been some excellent trout on fly and lure. Several anglers have reported bagging out on fly and lure and one of my colleagues was more than pleased to land a 2.3kg brown on fly.
The Queanbeyan River, upstream of Googong Reservoir, also has yielded a few fish. Although badly affected by drought, the trout in this stream have proven remarkably resilient and with a bit of help from the local stocking agency the population has remained at a just-fishable level.
Elsewhere things have been pretty grim with the Badja, Big Badja, Kydra, Kybean, Bobundra, Numeralla and McLaughlin all desperately short of water. The Snowy below Jindabyne also is in desperate condition because the NSW and Victorian state governments, despite all the promises and hype and publicity, have reneged on their promise to restore some flow to the river.
There now will be no planned releases from the Moonbah River and Jindabyne Reservoir which were to bring some life back to this iconic river which will revert to a debris-strewn, weed-infested, silted drain with so little flow the saltwater will continue to invade farmers’ paddocks at the lower end. So much for the promises of politicians.
The picture is rosier in the higher-country streams. Despite the fact that all of the snow has long gone there have been continuing useful flows in the upper Murrumbidgee, Thredbo, Eucumbene and Tumut rivers and smaller streams to maintain the backbone of our fly and lure fishing.
Anglers have reported taking browns and rainbows on most trips and although many of the fish have been small to medium, it has been satisfying just to have some stream experience to break up the dullness of other forms of fishing.
One of the oddities has been the Delegate River. This stream is neither high nor low-country but a mixture of both and for some strange reason of catchment hydrology keeps on running even during even the worst droughts. My colleagues assure me that it maintains a good head of catchable browns and provides excellent dry and wet fly fishing right through the season.
Eucumbene, Jindabyne and Tantangara still provide our best trout fishing. Jindabyne has been up around 60% full and has provided some excellent browns and rainbows on flatlines in the mornings and lead core or downrigger during the day.
Fly fishing late in the afternoon and at night has been good and will get even better as the warmer weather develops and insect hatches increase.
Eucumbene remains desperately low. It is still providing lots of rainbows, most of them in pretty ordinary condition because of the lack of food, on bait from the bank. Boat launching is still difficult and that has restricted trolling but there are some lovely browns to be had with lead-core line or downriggers.
Fly fishing has been just average but should improve with continuing hot weather.
Tantangara has been fishing superbly. This tiny lake has a huge fish population and it is not uncommon to bag out on fly, lure or bait. There have some excellent insect hatches that have resulted in excellent, long-overdue dry fly fishing.
The urban lakes in Canberra have fished well for redfin on lure and bait and even a few on fly. Most of the fish have been small but fish to 1kg have been caught in the deeper water and occasional monsters to 53cm have been reported.
A lot of carp have been taken on fly, providing just about the only fun you can get out of these mud marlin. The warmer weather has kept golden perch and Murray cod active and goldens to 1.5kg have been relatively common.
A couple of monster cod to 1.2m have been caught and, thankfully, released in Lake Burley Griffin by one persistent lure fisher who fishes all day, every day, right through the season, proving that persistence does pay..
There have been mostly pretty ordinary reports of golden perch and Murray cod from Blowering, Burrinjuck and Wyangala but we are watching with continuing unease the water again being drained away for hydro-electric production and downstream irrigation. We still await the day when the authorities in power and in charge of water rate fish as being important.Reads: 2672