An inch of snow settled on Middlingbank at Lake Eucumbene last week; in November. But of course this isn’t unusual, the Snowy Mountains are, after all, the true top of Australia. Between Christmas Day and New Year in 1998 I was staying in a cabin at Buckenderra Holiday Village, waking early one morning to a windless day with a clear blue sky, heavy frost, and snow. I roused my protesting fishing buddy Geoff, who enjoys Bundy & Coke and long lie-ins, (unrelated he says) and we scraped the ice from the windscreen and set off to Charlottes Pass. It was magnificent. The whitest white and gum trees with icy stalagmites forming in real time. I loaded a new roll of 400 ASA 35mm slide film and took some wonderful images now long-lost to some box in some garage. Then we fished Lake Jindabyne, where Geoff caught a good-sized brown and I caught nothing.
If you fish the Snowies a lot, you become a weather watcher by force of habit. When I’m taking people out on a charter I ask them (if possible) to block off two or three days and I start weather-watching a week before, usually picking the best-forecast-day a few days before. Weather forecasts are remarkably accurate these days and if it says 1 metre per second winds (3.6 km/h) until midday, I’ve stopped being surprised when that’s exactly what happens. But this is the top if Australia and things can change quickly. A big stable high pressure weather system is not necessarily the trout fisherman’s friend but it certainly makes forecasting easier. Low pressure systems are far less predictable; something to do with all those squeezed-up isobars.
So, this week I was taking Terry and Doug out for a couple of days and all looked good (including some preliminary evening action on the Eucumbene River near Providence) right up until the forecast on the day we’d chosen. Then, the forecast began to suggest a few possible showers (just 0.1 mm/hour, which is really just humid isn’t it?). The predicted wind speed started picking up too, to the point that every time I checked, another 1 m/s seemed to be added to the wind speed. I have a boat launch limit of 6 m/s (for comfort really, not so much a safety issue) so come the day, the boat stayed in the shed and we went for a stroll up at Kiandra. When we left Adaminaby it was dry. By the time we passed the turning for Old Adaminaby it was bucketing down, so I checked the radar and it looked like a squall and Kiandra was clear. However, by the time we reached Kiandra and started to gear up, our jackets were turning white with sleet. This soon turned to heavy and persistent rain, driven by high winds blowing west/nor-west (at least the wind direction was as forecast) that allowed the rain to find every gap in our weatherproof armour.
We walked up from the bridge, through the gorge onto the open plains beyond. We didn’t see a fish, and didn’t catch a fish and the boys showed resilience and persistence against all the odds. Wet, weary and worn out, we drank tea and coffee, ate sandwiches and muesli bars, and wound our way home, dried out, and sat for an hour with Col at the Adaminaby Angler talking about flies and tactics and fishermen. Regrouped and the team went off to try elsewhere whilst I nursed the end of a cold but worse, a battered ego.
Sometimes I feel like I’m making excuses when I report slow fishing, while still saying there are fish to be caught. The trout festival has just wrapped up, which is something of a barometer of fishing conditions. The festival week had a good mix of weather from beautiful to abysmal, and whilst Lake Eucumbene levels are still low, Jindabyne is holding up and Snowy Hydro is keeping a lot of water in Tantangara. Overall, reported catches were down, and sizes were down a lot, with nothing weighed in over a kilo (unbelievable that several hundred fishers fishing seven days and throwing everything they’ve got at the challenge in search of greatness can’t catch a big trout or two). This is a sensible and positive report; there were plenty of small fish, but less than usual. But they are still there to be caught by the persistent, and they are still just as much fun. So if you want to catch a trout, come now while there are still a few to be had. But seriously, if you want bigger fish and you want to catch more, then we simply have to reduce fishing pressure which in turn means we stop taking (and I mean knocking-on-the-head taking) as many fish.
Reports from the Monaro are that the fishing is holding up well. The little bit of rain is giving the streams an occasional freshen up, and there is a lot of algae, but the fish are in good condition. The Thredbo isn’t on fire, but there are fish being caught. Lake Jindabyne is at 76%, up from a winter low of 62%, but hasn’t really fired yet. Lake Eucumbene is at 25%, creeping up from a low of 18%. The Middlingbank and Frying Pan arms can really fish well on a rising lake from a low base, and they’re accessible, and the closest fishing points to the ACT and NSW population centres.
Tantangara Reservoir is at 38% with a winter high of 54%. Last year they let it go down to 21% before spring and early summer rains took it to over 50% and they kept it up until after the holiday. Maybe that’s to make it nice for the campers? Who knows, it’s a Hydro trade secret. For your pre-Xmas fishing trip, Tantangara is my pick of the bunch. Always finicky, but on its day it’s the biz! Of course, the occasional day trip won’t always be an indicator of the fishery – like turning up for a surf at Bells and always expecting Point Break – occasionally it will be calm, but it will always be beautiful.
Tight tippets all.