Snowy Lakes Midsummer Update

Special light on the Monaro Plains, at Buckenderra, and at Brookwood Bay.

There’s something about the light at this time of year. The early and late sun hangs in the sky for what seems like an eternity, first struggling to get up, then to get back down again. I know the feeling! The evening light is extra special, changing as the clouds move and as the intensity dims, like its running out of juice, and there’s a sweet spot when everything glows and you’re an active participant in a J.M.W. Turner landscape.

The fishing has been great. Sure, catch rates are down after the plethora of catch and kill competitions, plus the holiday crowds with their bankside bait rods, lined up like star pickets waiting for Ringlock and barbwire.

Like any thirty-year veteran of the Snowy Lakes, I’ve seen the droughts and floods, the booms and busts, the word getting out and the campsites filling with the optimists, and then emptying when the kids don’t get a nibble. Nothing has ever stopped me walking and boating these lakes, unraveling their mysteries, finding the fly that will catch the fish today, if not tomorrow. For me there is no greater pleasure than this.

Fish in top condition. On this day, the skinny Murrumbidgee Brown nymph was all that would work!

I got into a discussion about the condition of Lake Eucumbene fish this week. For the last couple of years, we’ve had the perfect trout recipe: plentiful rain, with freshly flooded banks that hadn’t seen water since early in the century; very good spawning conditions; and Covid lockdowns letting stocks build up.

The whole ecology of the lake changed quickly. So much terrestrial food was coming out of the ground, while the nutrients from rotting vegetation drove an accelerated and robust aquatic food chain. Fat browns were spewing up handfuls of earthworms as they were being netted, while rainbows grew like eggplants, as wide as they were deep.

That, however, was temporary and the situation has largely stabilised. In very general terms, 2kg rainbows and 3kg browns that survived spawning have struggled to regain their prime condition. Some of them are slabby, but these represent, what, less than 5% of the total stock? So, most of the fish we catch, particularly those which are yet to spawn, are still finding enough food to grow well, and are in top condition. The places you fish, and the methods you use might also influence the condition of the trout you catch. Not surprisingly, some of the more fertile bays are better places to find better fish. 

Best lake fly

My fly of the month has been the stick caddis, and like many advocates, I always seem to be hanging one off a dropper (with a dry, or another nymph), and occasionally fishing one solo – either figure of eight retrieve or under an indicator. I thought I’d share the recipe for my most successful pattern (very similar to the Dirty Caddis described by Craig).

Stick caddis essentials.

I’m using an AHREX size 14 FW 561. Barbless, with a big eye, and heavy wire (it’s probably a size 12 in other brands. The grub is yellow micro-chenille. The secret sauce body is Dirty Bug Yarn which is available in several colours. Melt the end of the chenille with a cigarette lighter before tying it in. Tie in the yarn behind the chenille and lay it parallel with, and on top of, the hook shank and wrap it with thread down to the start of the bend. Then wrap the yarn back up to the chenille, let it hang there with the aid of hackle pliers, and use the thread to create a segmented look (something caddis grubs create when they make their natural homes). Whip finish, a dob of varnish, then run the lighter very quickly along the body to get rid of the fuzz.

Snowy lake levels

Lake Eucumbene has been stable at 62% since New Year. There’s a scar from the early season fall, but in most places there’s grass growing and even in the wet, the banks aren’t really muddy. The fish are often close in and eminently polaroidable. There have been some good midge hatches, with some good-sized zebra midge amongst them (around size 12) which we haven’t seen much of for a couple of years. I should mention that the yabby population has visibly increased. Walking the right shores, there are thousands of holes, puffs of sediment as they spook back to safety, and occasionally, the crumbling collapse underfoot of a network of tunnels!

Early morning slick of midge shucks, with a stick caddis and water fleas apparently enjoying a feed on the carcasses. 

Lake Jindabyne is at 70.4%, an uptick after the recent heavy rainfall. All reports from this lake are good. Stick caddis are reportedly working well, but the best action has been bigger flies for the browns. There has been some good polaroiding on the few occasions when the wind has stopped blowing and the cloud and rain have cleared.

Tantangara Reservoir is up, at 19.6%. Col Sinclair sent the picture below of the lake level way up the Murrumbidgee Arm almost to Mosquito Creek.

Access is still tricky. The eastern shoreline access from the top road is not recommended. The bush track is highly degraded, definitely 4WD only, and downright dangerous when wet. The best access is past the Old Currango Homestead down the Port Phillip Fire Trail, which joins up with Long Plain Road – until the lake level rises a little more and blocks the road.

Top tip for summer lake fishing

From now until the end of April, make sure you’re carrying some large foam flies. Hoppers, Bruiser Bugs, and Chernobyl Ants, or pretty much any hairy rubber-legged floater. Fish your big dry along the bank with a following wind. The fish are already looking up for large food with plenty of moths and Christmas beetles – and you can always hang a nymph or a sticky off your dry to increase the odds.