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Frost, snow no deterrent
  |  First Published: August 2009



While I am writing this, the weather outside is typical late Winter Canberra: Snow is pelting down on the hills and the white stuff is piling up into deep drifts, blocking many of the roads and forest tracks in the higher country.

The sky is a mix of greasy grey with no real distinction between cloud and land.

The temperature last night was –5° and today has just staggered up to 7° at 3pm.

Some farm and forest dams in shadowed areas have frozen over and there are fragments of ice along the shores of the urban lakes. Water in the shallows is probably around 1° to 3° and survival time if you fell in is probably less than four minutes.

If I want ice cubes in my Scotch tonight, it will be faster to make them on the back patio than in the deep freeze.

And if I want to go fishing I will need an Esky not to keep the food and wine cold but to stop it from freezing.

Fishing? Surely you would not want to go fishing in this sort of weather?

You might be surprised. Of course, a lot of anglers have headed to the coast for a variety of saltwater species or to north Queensland and the Northern Territory for a barra bash.

But those who cannot do so have to get our jollies in local and regional waters. And, surprisingly, there are fish to be had, especially if you know enough about their habits to predict where they are going to be most active.

REDFIN DEEP

With a Pommy background, redfin obviously are well adapted to cold weather. They even spawn when the water staggers up to 12.5°, way out in front of most other freshwater species, which normally don't cavort sexually until the mercury gets up around 19° or 20°.

The redfin get an advantage from spawning early. The young hatching fish get first crack at all the live food and that means they have a greater survival rate and greater growth rate than other species. No wonder there are so many of them.

Redfin are canny, though. During the Summer fish of all sizes are immensely active. They eat their heads off, eating anything that moves, outdoing all the other types of fish. They grow fast, fat and strong and tend to dominate the fish landscape.

During Winter, though, the smaller ones in particular go off their tucker until close to spawning time. They settle down in deep water, conserving their energy, biding their time.

That's in some ways a blessing for anglers seeking other species.

During Summer the hordes of small redfin can be a real pest, grabbing lures, flies and baits before other fish can get to them.

In Winter you are spared that interference and can have a better, more trouble-free crack at whatever else is around.

Curiously, though, some of the really large redfin stay on the bite during Winter. In fact almost the only local redfin you catch at this time of year large, some over a kilo and occasionally topping 2kg.

You don't get many of them but they are always good fish.

Generally they are caught on worms or lures, nearly always deep down.

Anglers in Lake Burley Griffin, for example, consistently report catching fish down around 12m, close to the bottom in most areas, and it would be rare to hear of one caught in the shallows.

GOLDENS SHY

Golden perch don't seem to enjoy Winter much. They are distinctly warm-water fish, in their element at the height of Summer, when they migrate large distances upstream from their downstream winter Habitat. They feed as they go, stopping only when they run out of navigable water.

Eventually, they spawn upstream and let the eggs wander down in the current to hatch in hopefully some food-rich location.

When Winter comes they wisely head downstream, looking for warmer water. Inevitably, they are blocked by dams such as those on the local urban lakes or at Burrinjuck, Blowering and Wyangala, and cannot go any further.

But in the deep, stratified water in these reservoirs they sink down to the layer which gives them the best combination of warmth and oxygen availability and sit there quietly during Winter.

They might feed occasionally and anglers can tempt them with a strategically dangled scrub worm, small live yabby or a self-berleying bardi grub pierced by a hook.

You don't catch many during Winter but just one is a bonus when things are otherwise quiet.

Occasionally, too, some of them show an uncharacteristic burst of activity and can be caught on lures.

COD ENIGMA

Murray cod are more mysterious than other species.

Mostly they resemble golden perch in their preference for warm water and Summer/Winter migration, generally seeking stratified warmer water in the reservoirs during the colder months.

In more recent years, however, I have noticed what appears to be an increasing number of fish staying reasonably active during Winter in the Murrumbidgee River.

The cod seem to remain behind in their normal Summer locations and will take worms, yabbies and bardi grubs and certainly lures, despite the near-freezing temperatures. Interesting behaviour and one that is temping to link with possible global warming.

Either way, anglers have welcomed their presence amid the Winter gloom.

CARP FROLICS

Carp are as tough as old boots, relishing high Summer temperatures and adapting quite happily to Winter. They are so hardy they can live under the ice in lakes and fish farms in Europe so our Winter would hardly trouble them.

They slow down a lot in Winter but still provide some fun for bait and especially fly anglers.

They will eat almost any bait including sweet corn, sultanas, cauliflower, boiled potato, worms and maggots. They take small flies such as nymphs, chironomids (buzzers) and mudeyes quite happily and despite their reputation as mud marlin, river rats, Burley Griffin barramundi, swamp sailfish or Burrinjuck cane toads they are at least a fishy diversion during an otherwise quiet time.

TROUT ATTRACTION

Trout are the big attraction during Winter. The browns from England and the rainbows from North America are right at home during cold weather and provide about 90% of our Winter fishing.

The activity depends on which of the two is spawning at the time. The browns mostly spawn in June to August and the rainbows August to October but at any time there are plenty of fish to be found in all of the mountain lakes.

Jindabyne and Eucumbene are the favoured spots because of ease of access and lesser chances of being trapped by snowfalls, and also because they are rich in fish.

You could overnight at either lake fishing bait and expect to land from five to 15 prime fish. A day's trolling with flatline and lead core could yield a bagful.

Bait fishers usually fare well with PowerBait, scrub worms and bardi grubs and at least one of these always seems to work.

Lure fishers can rely on Tasmanian Devils and Rapala minnows.

If you are a fly fisher your best chance is polaroiding the banks during the day or fishing blind with small dark patterns late in the afternoon.

So Winter is testing, admittedly, but great fun and there’s no reason you should hang your rods up.

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