What interesting times. The Snowy/ Monaro region has gone from drought to flooding rains in the last 18 months, with wet weather climate drivers in full swing. And at the time of writing, I’m in Covid lockdown and have been for over a month – although we are lucky that our LGA includes the Snowy Lakes area. With no guiding and little else to do, I’ve been fishing at every opportunity, knowing circumstances may change.
Readers may already know I’ve got a thing for Lake Jindabyne. There are many reasons, including large wild trout, the chance of some unusual species, and simply because it’s a challenging fishery.
So, over winter just gone, I chose to focus on Jindy and nowhere else, even if the forecast didn’t always suit. The goal was to really figure the lake out. Along the way, I encountered some pretty exciting events, the first being the highest lake level during winter that I’ve seen since 2011. Typically, the lake drops to around 50 percent over winter to make way for incoming snowmelt. I was hoping this would happen again to expose the weedbeds like last year, but it never did. The lowest the lake got was 69 percent. (Over Father’s Day weekend at the start of spring, I fished in the rain for two days and the lake rose 3 percent – or about 1 metre in height – in 24 hours! That’s a lot of water.)
Anyway, by midwinter, the pre & post spawn fish hit the switch, and the fishing went from fair to good – providing presentations were executed well.
One particular day polaroiding with my father Rod, we found a brown acting very strangely along a deep, steep bank. The fish would cruise the bottom and every now and then, it would turn on its side, open its jaws in an almost hyperextended manner, and sweep the bottom around what we thought were shaded boulders. We set a trap with our nymphs resting on the bottom, planning to lift the flies as the trout approached. Unluckily, the flies snagged up and the fish spooked. As I waded out to retrieve them, I discovered that the ‘shaded boulders’ were clouds of tiny zooplankton known as daphnia. When disturbed, the ‘clouds’ became more obvious.
I’d seen feeding behaviour like this on the Goulburn River in Victoria, when trout would ram-raid shallow soft seams for cased caddis, but I’ve never seen it on daphnia. I can’t tell you why the daphnia were in so close; the stars simply aligned. The next trout caught, and some fish caught weeks later, had scratches – maybe sustained on the coarse granite sand or rocks while feeding like this?
There isn’t much you can do to imitate pinhead-sized daphnia. Instead, I would locate the daphnia patches and fish the area with my regular winter flies, such as Woolly Buggers, Zonkers, and nymphs, with some success. Unfortunately, as the lake began to rise, the daphnia clouds seemed to be left behind, and that opportunity closed.
As we enter early spring, the days are longer and a tad warmer. There are still plenty of post-spawn browns, big brookies, and the odd pre-spawn rainbow to be found on the western shore from the main boat ramp to Hatchery Bay. On the right day, you can spot up to 30 fish a session. As exciting as that is however, these fish aren’t silly, having been educated by us locals whether they’ve been caught or not. One flaw in your presentation and it’s over. But if it all comes together, success is sweet. One hot tip: if there’s ripple still present from your presentation as the fish approaches, there’s a fair chance it will knock you back. And of course, you really want your first shot to count. No pressure! True, you might have 29 other opportunities for the day, but my advice is to treat each as if it may be your only one.
As mentioned, 2021 seems to be following many of the patterns from last year, with a few things that could be even better. Obviously, the amount of water that’s around is welcome. High stream flows last year, which persisted into summer, may have been a pain for wading and managing fast currents, but on the positive side, post-spawning fish were happy to stick around. For the first time in 12 years, in 2020 Gaden Hatchery left the Thredbo River trap gates open in after getting their quota of browns and rainbows to strip, letting further runs continue on up the river. Historically, high spring flows on any of the big Snowy Lakes feeder streams have proven to delay the return of some browns and rainbows to their home lakes. No doubt the fish are simply comfortable with all the cover and food, and are in no hurry to leave. It’s looking like this is going to happen again – could be an interesting trout opening in a couple of weeks.
We have had a snap end to winter, with instant warm days, but the snow is back again. Last year, we had random spring cold fronts that would result in snowfalls setting the terrestrials back every time. Hopefully we keep getting the rain, but it’s the end for snow!
I hope to see the borders open soon and everyone enjoying what the Snowy Mountains have to offer. In the meantime, stay safe – at least the fish are only getting bigger!
PS: Since lockdown, a lot of the fishing stores are still open for click and collect. They sure would appreciate your support right now. Some still haven’t gotten back on their feet since the fires, and now Covid. By supporting your favourite fishing store, it could mean it’s still there for you to get supplies on your next trip and into the future.