It's silly season on several different counts in this part of the world.
Firstly, we had a bit of rain and thought that just maybe the drought could be over. But no such luck. The expected follow-up rain disappeared and doesn't look like coming back.
Everything is bone-dry again with no worthwhile runoff to the streams and lakes and it’s back to square one, with falling lake levels and buggered trout streams.
Summer, too, never seem to get here. Then, when we thought all chance of it had passed, we got hot weather in Autumn. You just can't pick it. The significance of all this, of course, is the impact it has on the fish.
The majority of the trout streams in the lower country are still empty. They either have no fish, no water or both. They've been that way for years and we are wondering now if that is to be the new permanent situation.
There is some joy, however, in the higher country, where there has been some continuing flow and also some surprisingly good fishing.
The Thredbo River, for example, has fished well, even in the most easily-accessible sections such as the stretch from Gaden Hatchery down to lake Jindabyne. Anglers fishing small dries and wets have taken some nice browns and rainbows and there has been some excellent sight fishing to the larger browns easily visible in the runs.
The stream hasn't been especially crowded because many anglers have already tossed in the towel this year and given the stream fishing away. The only problem has been the massive weed growth along the banks, a result of removal of shade and competition from other plants by bushfires and a few timely rain storms during warm weather.
The Moonbah also has been worth a look. It fished well for modest-size rainbows and browns, especially first thing in the morning, using rigs such as a Hairwing Coachman or Humpy as an indicator with a trailing Bead-Head Brown Nymph. A few fish also fell to Bead-Head Tom Jones and small dark beetle patterns.
The Eucumbene River was interesting. It attracted a lot of anglers mid-season but some went away disappointed because of the roly-poly grass that blew into the water and made some sections impossible to fish. The grass had grown in staggering quantities along the river bank and around much of Eucumbene Reservoir and as it dried out and blew into the waterway it became a real hazard.
It provided plenty of cover for the fish and no doubt contributed a lot to insect food chains but there was no way you could work a fly through it.
Where there was no grass, however, there were some good fish. They took dries and wets and for the first time in a long while we actually saw a good morning rise. Anglers had a lot of fun fishing some of the old favourites, small Coachman, Greenwells Glory, Hardy's Favourite, March Brown, Tups Indispensable and Iron Blue Dun – patterns that hadn't been used in years – and there was much reminiscing about the way fishing in the Eucumbene used to be.
During the day, too, there was some good grasshopper fishing and it was a delight to plop a big hopper pattern on the water, deliberately noisily, then watch a fat brown turn and streak over to it then scoff it as though it was its last meal. Which it was, for some of the better fish.
There were a few surprises, too. One angler, frustrated at being unable to fish a section of the Eucumbene because of the roly-poly grass, tried the outflow from Tantangara Reservoir at Providence Portal. He had a remarkable day, catching and releasing 17 trout from just one run.
Other streams were of variable quality. The Gungahlin River, as expected, carried hordes of tiny trout right through the season. They were good fun for keeping your eye in with small flies but rarely provided a keeper.
The Murrumbidgee River upstream from Tantangara Reservoir, normally a pretty reliable bit of water, fished poorly in recent months. There was a big landslide early in the season and this put a huge amount of soil, rock and other debris into the river and this may have turned the fish back that normally migrate up from the lake.
There were a few nice fish in the ’Bidgee below Tantangara and although they provided good sport they were infested with a nasty-looking muscle worm which put most people off eating them.
The other anomaly among the streams was the Delegate River and its feeder stream, the Little Plains River. For some strange reason these streams flowed well right through the drought and provided some excellent fishing, especially for browns around 40cm to 45cm. As an added attraction anglers also occasionally scored one of the resident eels, redfin or blackfish.
Lake fishing also has been good, with improved bait, lure and fly fishing in Eucumbene, Jindabyne, Tantangara and Tooma as the nights became colder.
Trollers did well with flatlines early in the morning then lead-core line or downriggers during the day using Tasmanian Devils, Merlins, Wonder Spoons and larger Rapala minnows.
Bait fishers fared best on the steeper banks during the day, then in the shallows at night using PowerBait, scrub worms, bardi grubs and mudeyes. There were plenty of grasshoppers during the day and mudeyes at night, with more insect activity than we have seen for the past few years.
Fly fishers have had a ball in recent weeks using hopper, caddis and beetle patterns during the day and mudeyes and big wets such as Mrs Simpson, Craig’s Nighttime and Hamill’s Killer at night.
We can now look a little ahead to the expected pre-spawning run of browns. Some of the larger brown trout, and a few of the smaller ones, will head upstream about now and the big runs will start in June and July.
We have our fingers crossed that there will be enough water for the fish to reach the critical clean gravel beds essential to proper hatching of eggs and survival of young fish. All we will need is a lot of rain, a lot of snow and little overdue help from the gods of weather and fishing.
It's still an odd situation in the regional lowland lakes. Redfin have dominated the fisheries right through the season and anglers can still record cricket scores every day. One angler has learned to separate the larger ones from the massive schools of littlies by retrieving a popper at high speed across the surface. He varies the retrieve occasionally by slowing or stopping the lure, enabling the larger fish to grab it and hook up. An interesting technique which is rapidly catching on.
Golden perch have been the most frustrating species this season. In most waterways, even though we know they are there in big numbers, they just have not responded to bait, lure or fly.
It's been the same in Googong, Burrinjuck and all of the Canberra urban lakes. Every now and then somebody catches one, or perhaps a couple, and we think the run of fish is about to start, then they go off the bite again and nobody can catch them.
Anglers have tried everything – deep-divers, spinnerbaits, bobbed yabbies and shrimps, bardi grubs, scrub worms, largely to no avail.
Everybody has a theory about it, but the best consensus is that it simply hasn't been hot enough to bring them out of the depths where they are feeding, sulking, hiding or whatever, and that they will not become active again until next Summer.
Murray cod have been more obliging, with some nice specimens from our regional lakes. A couple of nice 17kg to 20kg fish recently in Ginninderra and Googong and a healthy 36kg fatso from Burrinjuck have more than made up for the lack of golden perch in the system.Reads: 1138