Chill Changes Pattern
  |  First Published: June 2010

Winter is with us again and each of our resident fish species is reacting in a different way, and so too are the anglers.

Carp Still Feeding

Carp can adjust to a variety of environmental and climatic conditions, having been recorded in habitats ranging from hot, arid, desert-like situations to iced-over lakes and streams. Generally they slow down significantly in winter in Canberra waters but at times may show short bursts of limited activity.

On the really cold, overcast or windy days they seem lethargic until perhaps late in the afternoon when they suddenly decide they would like a feed. That’s when they are most likely to take a sweet corn or worm bait fished with plenty of berley.

They still fight strongly and are good fun on light gear but as always are hopeless to eat. They also give the kids a species to aim for during an otherwise quiet time of the year.

On some of the sunnier days the carp respond just like humans; they come to the surface in shallow water and bask in the weak sunshine. They do this when there is little wind and even though the water is still icy cold they obviously relish the visual aspect of the sunlight. Sometimes they sit as solitary fish but occasionally show in groups of a dozen or more.

In the rivers they prefer to group up in flowing water just below rapids or in shallow pools amongst the rocks but in the lakes they choose areas near overhanging trees or bull rushes where there is perhaps a sense of protection from predators such as cormorants, pelicans and Murray cod. They will occasionally take a fly or lure but are usually harder to tempt than in summer. Even juicy scrub worms, normally one of their favourite baits, can be ignored.

Redfin Slowing Down

Redfin are a bit of an enigma. Fish of all sizes bite their heads off all through summer, and anglers are plagued by huge numbers of small fish. They attack anything that moves or looks remotely edible and make it hard to locate or attract the bigger fish we know are in the lakes. At the first hint of cold weather, however, usually during May, the little ones buzz off and most of the fish caught are larger ones.

One Lake Burley Griffin regular who resigned himself to catching nothing bigger than about 20cm for the entire summer, suddenly found in winter lots of fish averaging 35cm and occasionally reaching 48cm – And with exactly the same gear and in the same locations where he had fished all summer.

No one has yet worked out where the smaller fish go in the cold weather but it is assumed they simply move into the deeper layers where they have a chance of finding a warmer, stratified layer of water. Curiously, though, they don’t seem to react to baits and lure fished at those deeper layers. Perhaps they just don’t feed much and live on stored body fat.

You do get a few surprises, though. One angler fishing for redfin in Lake Ginninderra ran out of bait and in desperation tried a bit of bubble gum on the hook. On his first cast he hooked a nice redfin and is now happily touting his new magic bait to all of his mates.

Golden Perch dim

Golden perch are a highly migratory species that happily travel long distances each year in search of food and breeding opportunities.

In the Murrumbidgee River most of the fish move downstream during winter, searching for the warmer, stratified water in Lake Burrinjuck. They probably would move even further downstream to escape the cold conditions if they could but are blocked by Burrinjuck Dam wall, with even more obstacles further downstream.

The fish remain in Burrinjuck during the winter and do not move back upstream until spring.

In the urban lakes the fish generally are unable to move downstream because of dam barriers but they still try. When there is enough rain for the lakes to spill over, the fish quickly move to the spillways and stilling holes and although some are damaged or killed during transit some make it downstream safely.

Following a recent rain event large numbers of big golden perch moved into the stilling hole below the dam wall at Lake Ginninderra and every kid in town was there trying to catch them for several weeks. Some succeeded and I heard of a number of fish up to 5kg being taken, mostly on spinnerbaits, bibless minnows or bobbed yabbies.

The fish soon woke up to what was happening however and eventually refused to take anything at all. Eventually, after more rain they were washed downstream and probably eventually found their way to Burrinjuck.

Occasional fish can still be caught in flowing water by persistent anglers. Luke Credlin was one angler who was rewarded recently, landing a superb 4.1kg specimen on a Predatek deep diver in the Molonglo River upstream from Burley Griffin.

Murray Cod Stay

Murray cod commonly migrate in the same way that golden perch do, but occasionally they linger longer than normal in the Murrumbidgee River. A few nice ones have been taken on chatterbaits and spinnerbaits during the current winter.

In the lakes, of course, they cannot escape unless there is a massive overflow from rain and odd ones can still be caught on lure or bait in even the coldest weather. Just recently local angler Chris McGrath tangled with one big specimen trolling an AC Invader deep diver in Burley Griffin. He spent 30 minutes playing it from his little inflatable boat, which was towed all over the place on the 10kg braid he was using. Eventually the hooks pulled and he missed seeing what could have been the fish of a lifetime.

Big Trout

Anglers need to be careful during the last part of the trout season because although the bag limit is five fish per day in general streams, and two per day in spawning streams, such as the Thredbo and Eucumbene.

The bag limit in spawning streams changes to one fish, which must at least 50cm, per day, on 1 May. This is to deter the meat hunters harvesting undue numbers of early prespawning browns, which move into the rivers in May and June before the stream season closes on the Queens’ Birthday Weekend. Despite its value it is a cumbersome rule for anglers to remember, some of whom unwittingly become in breach of it and are shamed in front of their more erudite colleagues who read and remembered the rule book.

This year there were plenty of browns and surprising numbers of rainbows in the river early in winter. If there is continuing rain and perhaps some good snowfalls we might see a good breeding season.

Most of the fish caught in the river fell to fly fishers using Glo Bugs, weighted nymphs, stone flies and small Woolly Buggers, but some did well fishing dry with Elk Hair caddis, such as newcomer Ben Davidson. He also did well on one trip when he swapped his fly gear for spinning gear and landed some nice fish including a 53cm brown on green Celta.

Lake anglers have fared well, fishing bardi grubs and Powerbait from the shore, trolling my Y82 Canberra Killer and other yellow-winged Tasmanian Devils on flatline or lead core and working large wet flies such as Taihape Tickler, Craigs Nightime and black mudeye early in the evening before it gets too cold.

Most of the fish taken have been rainbows averaging about 1kg but with occasional specimens to 2.5kg and browns averaging around 1.9kg with some whoppers reaching 4.5kg.

With lake water levels around 10% higher than at this time last year we anticipate some good fishing right through the winter. All it needs is some reasonable dedication, some good warm thermal clothing and perhaps a toasty fire to thaw out.

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