Snowies Update – Winter’s Here

On the last day of the season, flows were up to the edge of the bank – and not a soul was fishing.

The river season ended with great river flows, a good run of larger-than-usual fish, but fewer anglers than normal. No doubt this would be partly COVID-related, but it’s also likely due to the shortage of local accommodation, which is housing hundreds of Snowy 2.0 workers. (A lot more fishers were camping this year!)

As we know, there are a lot of different views about fishing the rivers at this time of year. There is no doubt that many brown trout are in spawning mode. If a river feeds a lake, like any of the Snowy hydro lakes, there can be some huge fish in that river. Some of the browns caught in the Eucumbene and Thredbo are hardly ever caught in the lakes they flow into. The habits and habitat of these fish whilst in the lakes, make them mostly inaccessible to flyfishers, as well as lure and bait fishers.

One view is that, purely from a fishery management perspective, these really big fish don’t contribute that much, and may in fact disrupt the younger and more fertile bucks from getting the job done. Of course, there is also the counter argument that removing the large fish from a population, results long term in smaller fish overall.

My view? One of the strongest arguments for governments and society at large to support the Australian trout fishery, and the Snowy fishery in particular, is its economic value. And for that, we need angler participation. Trout are not native to Australia, and they’re not threatened or endangered. Some of the most famous and respected salmonid fisheries in the world are spawn-run fisheries: Atlantic salmon in Europe, the Taupo tributary winter rainbow fishery in New Zealand, steelhead in North America, and the Pacific salmon fishery in Alaska. All these have a lot in common with the late season Thredbo and Eucumbene river fisheries.

In NSW at least, angler participation in trout fishing has reduced significantly in recent years, as the quality and quantity of trout fisheries have contracted due to impacts such as redfin perch, drought, and water extraction. If we don’t have angler participation in the fishery, we don’t have advocates. If we don’t have advocates, we lose power and relevance and investment.

What we do need, is better management of the spawn-run fishery. While it’s been great to see the new Snowy region fishery officer out and about (both fully booted and spurred, and incognito wandering the rivers with a rod in hand) we need to see more compliance officers, because there are some people out there who really aren’t doing the right thing. Maybe we could start by making our best Snowy Mountain spawn-run streams catch-and-release from 1 April, and closing some of the smaller tributary streams altogether from 1 May? Surely we’ve got to the point now where we can at least have a mature debate about something a bit smarter and more sophisticated.

Grinners are winners as Mark hunts down a few Nungar Creek browns.

Back to the fishing, and after a wetter-than-average season, it was great to see so much water in the upper reaches of Nungar Creek. I spend a very pleasant afternoon with Mark walking a couple of kilometres of this 2 metre-wide creek, tripping over massive tussocks and disappearing into wombat holes. How good was it to fish a dry/ dropper, and have 300 gram browns savaging either a Stimulator or a size 18 nymph, fanging out from under the deep undercut banks. And in June!

Tantangara reflections are amazing in winter.

Lakes Jindabyne and Eucumbene have been bank fishing well, but Tantangara is a bit of a mystery. I’ve had two recent trips to Tantangara with the boat and haven’t landed a fish. At best, a couple of half-hearted handshakes. But we did see an amazing rakali (name has been changed by Environment Australia from water rat to its much better Aboriginal name).  It was huge, happily sunning itself on a rocky bank, oblivious to us as we drifted past. It was sitting on its haunches and preening its amazing orange underbelly. A little factoid; the largest recorded is around 370mm long, plus a 350 mm tail, and weighing 1.3 kilos. Rakali were heavily hunted and under threat until 1938 when they became protected.

Rod caught this great brookie in a popular Jindabyne spot. Extra points for disrobing to wade out and free it from a snag!

Lake Jindabyne is at 76.9%, and steady. A group from Berrima flyfishers had a lake session to get away from the river and apparently all caught brook trout. Rod Allen from Crazytrouthunterz also reports good brookies, as well as Atlantic salmon.

Tantangara is at 23.78% which means the dam wall boat ramp turning circle is underwater, which in turn means a long reverse down the hill for boat launching. It’s been rising steadily since the Portal to Lake Eucumbene was closed to do the rehabilitation and stabilisation works at Providence – which look amazing by the way, and should make for a much-improved tailrace fishery once its running again.

Lake Eucumbene is at 22.86% and is still falling, if anything faster than ever, and despite all the rain. There are plenty of banks that have sandy or rocky shorelines if the mud drives you crazy (as it does me) and you don’t like skidding around, falling on your backside, and dragging yourself out of boggy soaks on your knees.

Snow on the Eucumbene River.

Lastly, and appropriately, we had our first good snow last week. I was prospecting the Eucumbene River at Nimmo with Rod. The first snow fell as we left Cooma. We spent an hour as tourists taking pictures before we got to the river, sliding around all over the place courtesy of the town tyres on the Pajero. Having got to the river, I remembered my cleat waders accumulate dangerous stacks of snow under them – I now know how far a seven foot man has to fall! We then spent two hours getting back to Cooma, showing unusual wisdom by aborting our plan to go down the steep hill to fish at Kalkite.

The druids amongst us won’t need a reminder that the winter solstice (shortest day) is next Monday 21 June. Time to plant your onions and garlic if you haven’t already done so. More importantly, the days will start to stretch out again and before we know it, it will be spring!