This is a pleasant time of the year for Canberra-Monaro anglers. We are starting to come out of Winter, albeit slowly as usual, most of the trout have finished spawning and the first of the native fish are coming up the rivers from the lakes where they spent Winter.
On top of that, trout streams are opening for business and there is a hint of bass activity at the coast.
Driving to and from fishing spots in Winter is something not to be taken lightly in our part of the world.
Firstly there are road blockages from snowfalls. We get them regularly and the high country roads around the ACT, the back road from Canberra to Adaminaby and Lake Eucumbene, the access road to Lake Tantangara and others routinely are blocked by snow.
Usually they are well publicised on radio and TV but every now and then somebody gets caught off-guard. One group that went in to Tantangara a while back was trapped by a sudden snowstorm and an overnight trip turned into a three-day event. That's just one of the reasons why it pays to carry extra food, water and clothing on a trip in Winter.
Roads and tracks around Eucumbene and Jindabyne also are routinely blocked by snow which represents a double hazard. Firstly, it simply stops you from driving because you are either bogged or you cannot push any more snow in front of you. Secondly, if snow obscures the road you can't see where to drive and you run the risk of smacking into a roadside ditch or a boulder or tree stump.
Ice is another problem and often more testing than snow. On one recent occasion there was an enormous amount of ice on many local roads and anglers heading to Eucumbene and Jindabyne even had trouble getting up the hill out of Cooma on the Monaro Highway.
There were lots of vehicles off the road further on, some on their sides and a couple upside down. One angler towing a boat got as far as Cooma airport before his 4WD slid off the road. He managed to unhook the boat and was wondering what to do with it when, miraculously, a local driving into Cooma, offered to hook up the boat and tow it into town and leave it at a service station for him. What a wonderful camaraderie exists among anglers!
I also had an interesting experience coming down from Kiandra. I was doing only about 30kmh when I hit a patch of ice on a bend and did a complete 360° as I slid down the road. I did the right thing by taking my foot off the accelerator and letting the engine braking take over but I am thankful there was nobody coming the other way.
Ice can be a hazard even in the lower country. Recently we had a massive hailstorm near Lake George that resulted in about 20 vehicles spearing off the Federal Highway.
Unfortunately some of the accidents have fatal consequences and this is a sobering thought for locals and visitors. There have been four deaths in the past month, all associated with icy roads and difficult driving conditions.
The problems are compounded by heavy traffic to and from the ski fields, with drivers notoriously tired from skiing or long-distance driving from Sydney, Melbourne and elsewhere. Keep that in mind if you are visiting our part of the world.
Lake levels are a daily topic of conversation around here.
Eucumbene has been the most worrying. This lake was formed in 1957 by damming the Eucumbene River and following good rain and snowfalls in the catchment, the level got up to 86% of capacity in 1997 but then the rot set in.
With increasing demand for water for hydro-electric production, irrigation, domestic use and environmental flows, coupled with long-term drought and reduced snowfalls, the level had dropped to 10% by 2007. Eventually, after all the snow had melted, it staggered back up 22% but this year fell again to 11%.
The best we can hope for, by about December, is that it might get back to about 22%. We are now starting to think that this may be the new norm for the lake – down to 10%, up to 22% each year.
To get any significant rise above 22% we would need weeks or months of massive rain and incredible snowfalls, hopelessly unlikely these days.
So what does all this mean to the fishing?
The glib answer of course is that with less water there will be more concentrated fish and anglers should be happy about that.
That's been true up to a point. The fishing in Eucumbene in particular has been excellent this year. The browns have been big, averaging 1.8kg to 2.2kg, and in splendid condition. They feed heavily on yabbies and have no trouble surviving the harsh conditions and seem untroubled by the low water levels.
Many of the browns have been taken from the shore, on PowerBait, bardi grubs and scrub worms, with perhaps one brown taken for every six or seven rainbows. The best fishing has been at night when the fish come into the shallows to forage for yabbies, mudeyes and other food.
A lot have been taken by trolling, although with low water and difficult boat launching there has been far less boating than in previous years. Best lures have been Tasmanian Devils, especially yellow-winged patterns, Flatfish, Kwikfish and medium-large minnows. A few have been taken on Wonder Spoon and Wonder Crocodile.
The best of them have been taken on lead-core line from three to five colours of 18lb line out and a long fluorocarbon trace. The best fishing has been mostly in 8m to 10m but this has not been a hard-and-fast rule. Some days fish can be found anywhere, with no obvious reason for being there.
Rainbows have made up the bulk of catches. They are sillier fish, anglers say, and because they often form small groups it is possible to catch five to eight fish in a night session without much effort.
Most have been taken on the traditional PowerBait, bardi grubs, scrub worms and tiger worms, but also on lures such as Celtas, Crocodiles, Wonder Spoons, Tasmanian Devils and smaller minnows. Some anglers have done well also flicking small soft plastics around, especially among the timber.
The Winter fish have been in surprisingly good condition, given that they were in terrible nick last Summer. They have been fat, healthy, pink, strong and highly acrobatic and averaging around 1.2kg.
Fly fishing also has been reasonable. Mostly it has been too cold to fish at night except for the first hour or so but some nice fish have been taken on larger wets, especially Taihape Ticklers, Craig’s Nighttimes and Mrs Simpsons. One particular angler also has done well fishing almost exclusively with Muddler Minnow.
Daytime fly fishing also has been productive and will become more so now that temperatures are rising. The best fishing has been around 3pm when the few insects around are at maximum activity.
Polaroiding should be good in coming weeks and most anglers will opt for long leaders, small flies and especially bead-head patterns. Having a mate higher up the bank act as a spotter for you is a great way to find fish, especially the bigger, more wary browns sitting or foraging in the shallows.
It's still closed season for Murray cod and I am pleased to hear that most anglers are respecting that.
It's time though to start concentrating on golden perch, which are stirring from their Winter torpor and moving into some of the rivers from the lakes. Burrinjuck and Wyangala are the best bets.
Bass, too, are starting to move and with the redfin roed up and spawning in the urban lakes I think we have a busy month ahead of us in local and more distant waters.
just before the closed season started but released it anyway. It took a purple spinnerbait.Reads: 900