There's a cautious sense of optimism developing in the Canberra-Monaro district as we head into Winter.
We've had a couple of rain periods and although the long drought is not over, there is just a glimmer of hope that things are going to get better. There is plenty of green grass in the paddocks, trees and shrubs are looking more robust and some previously dry streams have started flowing again. Lake levels, too, are well up on previous years.
Fish, predictably, have responded well to the changing conditions, actively hunting food and working more in the shallows as sunlight intensity decreases and water temperatures fall.
That generally has meant good fishing and contented anglers.
Redfin in particular have been going gangbusters in Canberra's five urban lakes. They are pest fish with many undesirable attributes but by the looks of things, they are here to stay and they provide excellent sport for fly, lure and bait anglers. They also are great to eat.
Because they breed effectively at a young age they build up in huge numbers and commonly match or outstrip the available food.
That's why there are hordes of small and stunted ones in all local waterways and the only way to effectively control their population is to fish them hard and keep up the predatory pressure by stocking the same waters with Murray cod and golden perch.
The lakes are stocked every two years with big batches of cod and goldens which dine heavily on the redfin but heavy angling pressure is still required.
Some anglers do that well and it is common for a single angler to take big bags in repeated sessions. Anthony Harrison, for example, parked his canoe just offshore in Lake Burley Griffin last week and caught at least 100 redfin on blade lures. Most were little but some were good eating size, up to about 42cm.
The technique was ludicrously simple – chuck the blade out, briefly let it sink, then twitch it in. Instant hook-ups were the norm with a horde of fish often following the hooked one right to the rod tip.
Another angler fared well on fish to 43cm using another favoured method, twitching soft plastics. This Scotsman used one of our favourites, the Atomic Prong, a small lure with nice dangly bits that seem to excite redfin into a frenzy.
Despite a strong background in fly fishing for trout back home, but had no trouble switching over to these ‘English’ perch.
Redfin do, however, pose a problem for serious hunters of native fish. In our urban lakes and at Googong Reservoir on the Queanbeyan River, hordes of hungry redfin descend on flies, lures and baits, commonly preventing anything else from getting a look-in.
Sometimes this occurs just as a big native predator is about to pounce on the lure – probably more frequently than most anglers realise.
Trollers, in particular, often travel for long periods unwittingly towing a tiny hooked redfin too small to even register at the rod tip. Anglers have to depend more on casting to ensure they know when they have a hook-up.
Redfin in the rivers don't build up in similar numbers or size, probably because there is not enough food. They are present in the Murrumbidgee River, our largest local stream, but rarely grow to more than about 25cm.
They have also invaded some of our trout streams, such as the Goodradigbee River, raising concern about their impact on food supplies and their predation on trout fingerlings.
Murray cod are the Holy Grail of native fish hunters but they can be elusive. Some have been taken in the urban lakes on bibless minnows, which they seem to like, and occasionally on soft plastics.
The majority, though, are falling to extra-large lures such as Custom Crafted and AC Invader deep-divers. The suggestion is that because there is so much food available in the form of redfin and carp that the cod tend to ignore smaller offerings in preference of a proper-sized feed.
Anglers have learned also to use the lures around schools of redfin, which commonly have a big cod lurking nearby. It pays to have a big lure rigged and ready when fishing for redfin; when the school develops a feeding frenzy, chuck in the big lure and see what happens.
Night fishing for cod with lures also is becoming more popular.
Anglers have realised that redfin aren't a problem at night because they mostly go off to sleep until daybreak. Cod, however, are highly active at night.
One of the most exciting ways to hunt for them is with a surface lure such as a Halco Nightwalker or a large Arbogast Jitterbug. Splash it around to convince the cod it is a tasty morsel of, say, rat, mouse, small duckling, big moth or perhaps a lizard – all prime cod tucker.
When a cod hits the lure it is quite electrifying, with lots of whoops and hollers from an excited angler.
Falling temperatures have caused the golden perch to slow down, in keeping with their normal behaviour. In the local lakes and Burrinjuck Reservoir there has been a good late burst as they pile on food reserves for Winter but pretty soon most will stop feeding or at least slow down until Spring.
Lately they have been taken on shrimps and yabbies, especially along rocky foreshores and mostly during the day, rather than at night. Some big specimens also can be found in Googong at this time of year but you have to get past the redfin to find them.
The good news in the mountains is the superb trout fishing in streams and lakes. Falling water temperatures have brought trout back into the shallows in the lakes and some of the pre-spawning browns already have moved into the feeder streams.
In Jindabyne and Eucumbene, anglers regularly bag out, mostly on rainbows, using PowerBait and bardi grubs. Some have been taken during the day but the best fishing has been after dark.
A local angler, Tony, recently fished Jindabyne for a week and bagged out every night on rainbows around 1kg. Another group fly-fished and used Power Bait in Eucumbene for 17 fish in the first 30 minutes.
Trollers have accounted for good fish, including some large browns, using big minnows, Flatfish and Tasmanian Devils such asY82 and No 36, flatlining early in the morning then switching to lead-core line later in the day.
Fly anglers have had a good run even though most of the mudeye hatches have finished. Nathan Walker recently landed three nice rainbows on mudeye patterns just after dark at Seven Gates at Eucumbene.
The most successful patterns have been Taihape Tickler, Craig’s Nighttime and the Muddler Minnow but any of the large wets are worth a try. A slow retrieve after a short sink is the preferred technique.
One of our favoured locations, Tantangara Reservoir, also has fished well. A city group that visited there recently had a great trip, catching plenty of small browns and encountering some of the local wildlife including a big brown snake, dingoes or feral dogs and lots of feral horses.
We also had a new fish species visit Canberra, a genuine 1.5m long-finned eel.
It was caught in a landing net in the stilling hole immediately below Scrivener Dam on Lake Burley Griffin and was the first of its species recorded in the ACT.
Eels do not occur naturally in the ACT and we think it came from Eucumbene via the Providence Tunnel and Lake Tantangara, then the Murrumbidgee and Molonglo Rivers and is probably at least 70 years old, having been trapped in the system when Eucumbene Dam was completed in 1957. We've nicknamed him Eric.Reads: 2683