You would think the question “Why go freshwater fishing?” would be an easy one to answer. But perhaps not. Freshwater fishing holds a certain lure. The purity of the bubbling brooks and streams of our High Country and their changing character as they gather size and potential are mesmerizing. The peace and tranquility of our sweetwater holds magical elements, no matter your target species. It can be as challenging as you like, and as technical as you make it, but it never fails to produce pleasing memories. Why do we do it? It’s the challenge of success, but it’s also about leaving the day to day world behind in peaceful surroundings. Freshwater fishing is good for the soul.
Mountain headwaters are often the realm of the fly fisho whose specialised techniques combine with the elements to ‘match the hatch’. Fly flickers are specialists in nature and will identify the insect life that unfolds with time of day, temperature and season. Their quarry’s diet will change with the blossoming hatch, and presenting a suitable artificial presentation of that hatch will always increase your success.
The same is true for a bait or lure fisho. Worms, yabbies, maggots, grubs and mudeyes are all terrific freshwater baits. A simple cricket or grasshopper floating unweighted down a trickling brook is often met with a crashing strike from an unseen target. Small lures also work well in the headwaters and spinning blade lures are terrific, as are tiny bibbed divers and blades, provided the water is deep enough for their action.
As we travel further downstream, the tributaries join with others to produce rivers and lakes. The rivers are terrific places to explore, with their inevitable deep holes and rubbly rapids. It is worth remembering that oxygen excites fish and the drop-off from a deep pool at the tail end of a rapid is a prime target area. The tumbling action over the rubble not only increases the oxygen content but promotes small grubs and crustaceans that cohabitate with the fish, often becoming the food source.
A fly flicker is at home here, yet it can be difficult for the bait fisho. The flow reduces as the water tumbles into the deeper pools, creating a worthy haunt where the fish gather to prey on unseated morsels that have been washed down with the flow. Bait fishermen can use a combination of sinkers and floats in the deeper water. Often the fish will sit deep, looking upwards at the surface and picking up morsels as they sink down or float by, yet a weighted worm, grub or yabbie may also tempt the target.
Float fishing in the broader lakes and rivers is terrific fun. There’s something entrancing about watching a float, especially when it starts to wiggle, bob and dip. Many fishos have caught their first freshwater fish with a humble worm suspended under a quill or bubble float. The rigging becomes more and more important as the current slows. Fish can be downright apprehensive at taking bait, especially if they feel any resistance on their first investigation. The float must be finely matched with the sinkers and the bait to present as little resistance as possible.
Fish call shade and structure home. They may be right at your feet, laying in the shade of an underwater cutout. Snags and overhanging rock outcrops present tremendous opportunities for success, with fish using their acute senses of vibration and smell to pinpoint a floating gourmet delight before darting out from their cover to attack.
While there are peak periods for angling success the simple answer is, anytime! Dawn and dusk are peak periods for piscatorial activity and beautiful times to be in a bushland or lakeside setting. Barometric pressure holds another key. I love a rising barometer; however, fish often seem to feed veraciously when the air pressure props.
Nature moves in seasons and with it are the cycles of spawn and hatch. Moon cycles can promote a peak period and hatch. Insect larvae such as mudeyes (dragonfly larvae) are particularly attractive and crickets, maggots and grasshoppers are prime culprits for triggering a feeding pattern. Moths and butterflies, or even mosquito spinners, are all attractive food sources in summer. Baitfish, gudgeon and smelt hatches can trigger a feeding frenzy and a good downpour will often wash yabbies and worms into a stream, creating a smorgasbord for awaiting sweetwater residents.
Many freshwater species go virtually dormant when the water temperature rises and the ensuing oxygen level decreases. These can be trying periods where you need to present bait or lure virtually under their noses as they the fish take refuge in the deep water structure. Often, a lure cast repeatedly to a likely stronghold will annoy the fish into attack. This seems particularly true of Murray cod and similar territorial species.
When the flow increases and visibility decreases, it’s often better to tempt the senses with rattling and vibrating lures, live and active or even smelly baits. Burley, such as tuna oil-soaked chook pellets combined with corn and maggots, works particularly well, attracting fish from miles downstream.
Research the area you will be fishing, its likely strongholds and its target species. There’s no point fishing for a species that isn’t there, or trying to tempt a good looking fish with unattractive bait! Tackle needs to be well matched to the species. You will find it hard to catch a 20kg cod on a 3kg threadline, yet a wily trout may find any line strength greater than 1-2kg off-putting in a still impoundment.
Lure and fly fishing is an unending story and the question as to which lure and presentation method is best answered by advice from your friendly tackle shop. But remember, many lures are better at catching the fisherman’s wallet than the fish, so choose carefully. The fish don’t care if they bite on a $1 outfit or a $1000 specialist rig. Bank fishing is terrific; however, kayaks and small boats expand your angling horizons significantly!
Australia is blessed with a wide variety of freshwater species. There’s often a battle amongst experienced anglers as to the suitability of introduced species such as trout and redfin as compared to the natives like yellowbelly and Murray cod.
Further north, the iconic barramundi and saratoga will move right up into freshwater runoff and often become stranded in billabongs to enhance the sweetwater availability. There’s blackfish, catfish, perch and cardinal fish, grunters, crayfish, yabbies and shrimp – and, of course, the ever favorite trout, reddies, cod, and yellowbelly all at your disposal if you get off the couch or out from behind the desk and go get ’em!