The general failure of Autumn and Winter rains this year is still the main topic of conversation here, presumably mirroring anxiety over a similar state in much of the rest of south-eastern Australia.
We have had minimal rain again this year, making it eight years in a row, and stream flows and water storages are at abysmal levels.
Eucumbene is the focus of most attention. It got to a low of 10.1% in 2007 and only staggered up to about 24% after the Winter snow melted. This year it has dropped to a near-similar level of around 11.5% and is only now starting to show an increase as this year's snowmelt takes effect.
It is not expected to rise to more than 23% or 24% before it is again drained off for hydroelectricity, irrigation or domestic use.
Anglers are becoming resigned to the fact that this is now the norm for Eucumbene and the other mountain lakes – take in minimal inflow, then get drained to near extinction.
The days of storage levels of 80% or 90% seem to be over for good; the demand for water is so great and rainfall so low that it will be politically, socially and environmentally unacceptable to store large amounts of water for prolonged periods any more.
We might as well get used to the days of big storages being over.
For those who doubt that, take a look at what is happening especially the high country. We are not getting the rain or snowfalls of past years and even if we did, it would be unlikely that we would be allowed to keep water in storage – ‘locked up’, as the cockies say. Downstream users will put increasing pressure on upstream users to give them ‘their’ water and it will be a whole series of Australian communities at each others’ throats over what they see as just or unjust management of our most precious resource.
It’s a sorry mess that many saw coming years ago and did nothing about.
When will the ignorant politicians supposedly running this country take notice of the scientists, anglers, landholders and others who have an intimate, realistic, hands-on, day-to-day knowledge of what water is all about?
Despite the gloomy water levels, trout fishing generally has been satisfying. The streams are all closed while the fish are spawning, but the lakes remain open year-round and have provided plenty of hard-core Winter fishing.
When I say hard core, I really mean it, because mid-Winter fishing really separates the men from the boys. On some days the weather is pleasantly mild, while on other occasions it can be pretty testing.
At Tantangara Reservoir, for example, one group camped in a tent when the temperature dropped to about –15° overnight. It was so cold bottles of water inside the tent froze.
Another group, ignoring our advice about problems with snow on the access road, were snowed in and survived by trudging kilometres through the snow to get firewood, shelter and warmth at the old Currango Homestead. Their planned overnight trip became a five-day nightmare and it's lucky nobody died. You can't underestimate the power of cold.
At Eucumbene, too, there were good days and bad. On the bad days, visitors new to the scene happily drove to the lake shore on roads that were a bit slippery with ice and snow but otherwise solid and easily traversed.
What they didn't realise is that later in the day, when those roads thawed, they became sloppy, boggy and often impassable, even with 4WD and tyre chains.
That meant a lot of bogged anglers, often for hours and commonly overnight, and a lot of excruciatingly cold, wet and muddy digging to free the vehicle or a call to NRMA at Adaminaby or Cooma and a $400 to $500 extraction.
On the good days and nights, however, there has been some splendid fishing. Bank anglers using PowerBait, scrub worms and bardi grubs have bagged out regularly, taking mostly rainbows around 1.2kg to 1.4kg and a few browns, some up to 4kg.
The fish have been right around the lake but the best catches have been from some of the most easily-accessible locations at Seven Gates, Old Adaminaby, Anglers Reach and Buckenderra.
Most of the fish have been in excellent condition, with fat, well-rounded bodies and delightful pink flesh. Rainbows that were pale and scrawny just a few months ago obviously have relished the Winter weather and improved food supplies and have put on excellent condition.
The browns, of course, were always in excellent condition, largely because they will eat the plentiful yabbies. Rainbows, for reasons unknown, generally won't eat the yabbies, even though they are right there in front of them, and have to rely on other critters such as worms, grubs, water fleas, snails and insects.
Trollers in Eucumbene also have fared reasonably well. The best catches have been with lead-core line about three colours out, and with smaller lures for rainbows and larger patterns for browns.
Many of the rainbows have been caught on Tasmanian Devils, mostly yellow-winged patterns and especially my own Y82 Canberra Killer. I'm very proud of my little creation and delighted that it has done so well,
Other successful lures include the Baby Merlin, Rapala Minnow, Imp Spoon, Wonder Soon and Crocodile, with 11cm and 13cm Rapalas accounting for some of the larger browns.
Fly fishers have had some good Fun, too. On some days the best fishing has been right through the middle of the day when the few available insects are at their most active. The weak sunlight is just enough to bring them fluttering about and the fish relish the offerings.
Occasional fish have been taken on dry fly but most have fallen to wets such as Craig's Nighttime, Taihape Tickler and green, brown or burgundy mudeye patterns. Green and brown nymphs also have been effective.
These wets have been best fished slowly in deepish sections along the bank with minimal body movement to frighten fish.
Polaroiders also have done well with the same patterns, especially on the quieter days when there is little wind.
Lake Jindabyne was kind to Stacey Korda, 10, who fished PowerBait off the bank at Kalkite and hooked and landed a huge Atlantic salmon all on her own. It was 75cm long and weighed 3.3kg
Regular trier Rory Clibborn also did well on lures at Jindabyne, landing a 3.5kg brown and another that looked to be about 5kg. They were released and no doubt are happily producing lots of new trout for future years.
In the lower lakes, fish have been predictably quiet.
A few golden perch have been taken by persistent triers in Canberra's urban lakes. One angler using live yabbies landed two golden perch of 3.3kg and 3.8kg but put in a lot of hours to get them. Another angler caught eight big redfin in Lake Gungahlin.
Incredibly, when I ran the story on radio and mentioned that he got them in ‘Secret Spot No 46’ people actually rang up asking where that was!
Burrinjuck, somewhat surprisingly, given how quiet it has been this year, suddenly turned on a burst of golden perch.
Bank anglers at Woolgarlo took some nice ones on yabbies, shrimps and scrub worms and boaters anchoring among the trees in the Murrumbidgee Arm took some similar fish.
From now on we look forward to a gradual close to Winter, the reopening of the stream trout season early next month and perhaps a chance to fish for once without the freezer suit, balaclava, gloves, pocket hand-warmers and three pairs of socks – and look a little less like Michelin Man on the Monaro. Roll on Spring!Reads: 705