Trout streams near Canberra – a rough guide

DSC_0909Writing a post like this is difficult, as it’s sure to attract criticism. This criticism can be two-fold: firstly, anyone who fishes for trout wants to be the only one on the stream or river, and favourite spots are a tightly held secret. Added to this, Canberra has the largest population in the Murray-Darling Basin, and some of our streams attract a fair bit of pressure. Secondly, some people HATE trout, and wonder why they are favoured by so many when they are, in fact, a noxious pest that has completely destroyed the aquatic ecology of many of our streams and rivers…

Criticism (hopefully) aside, trout are fun to catch, and the environments in which they live can be truly stunning. I can justify giving away some of the secrets because, well, I want people to read our blog, and anyone with internet can do a simple Google search and find most of the information that is presented here in a few more clicks. Regardless of research, it still means you have to go out there, battle the tea tree, snakes, murderers and mosquitoes, and actually catch the fish, so I figure it can’t be that bad…

Once you start to look for trout around Canberra, you realise they are everywhere. The oft-heard thing is that ‘the drought really knocked them around’, which is probably true, but it must have been a damn good fishery before then, because there are still plenty around.

Cotter

Only open to fishing from the junction with Condor Creek to Bendora Dam Wall. This section is a fly and lure only water. Fishing is prohibited in all waters above Bendora Dam and Cotter Dam Wall to Condor Creek. The 1km section below cotter dam is also open to fishing.

The Cotter is probably Canberra’s best known trout stream, and for good reason. It’s close, has beautiful scenery, and holds good populations of rainbows and the odd brown. Most of the fish are small, but there are some very nice browns in there, and a recent urban myth of a 8lb rainbow getting caught. In water like this, this is a world-class fish. The saving grace of the Cotter’s trout population is the Cotter Dam, a recently enlarged impoundment that provides a sanctuary for the fish. These fish can hold up in the heat of summer and run up the stream during winter to spawn. Interestingly (and somewhat controversially), the Cotter River also holds a good population of Maquarie Perch, and there are rumours that Trout Cod have started colonising the river (coming down from Bendora where there is a healthy population). It seems bizarre that you can fish the Cotter during Macca spawning season and encounter these highly endangered natives, but you can’t fish for the noxious trout during winter…but that’s another blog, and one that is sure to attract far more controversy than this one.

Long story short, it’s a great stream suited to both spinning and flyfishing. Spinning is the easier option, as you’ll be able to cover more water and cast through some tight spots, but catching a fish on the fly in water like this is immensely satisfying. Whether spinning or flyfishing, it pays to wear waders in the cooler months as there are some deeper pools that will test the most reluctant….anglers.

Graz with a nice Cotter bow
Graz with an above-average Cotter bow

Goodradigbee

The Goodradigbee is about an hour’s drive from Canberra and eventually flows into Burrinjuck Dam at Wee Jasper. The River holds good populations of rainbows and browns, especially in the higher sections. I’ve only ever seen fish up to about 35cm, generally skinny rainbows. The road from Canberra can be a little hairy, particularly in the wet, but it’s easily accessible in a two-wheel drive. Just be careful navigating some of the blind corners on the way down the hill past Picadilly Circus.

The Godradigbee experienced a massive flood a few years ago, which gouged out huge sections of the river (and destroyed the bridge), and completely changed the river’s character. It seems to have knocked the fish around a bit, and they’re not as easy to come by as they were before the floods.

There are some really cool little campsites up there, right next to the river, but make sure you respect the landholders up here because most of it’s on private property and there are a few keep out signs, but if you are discreet and leave no trace, you probably won’t get shot at. And don’t mind the cattle that seem intent on chasing anything that moves; they’ve evidently been hand-fed and associate humans with food. And if you see some movement in the bushes with compound bows, don’t be alarmed, the bushes are humans, and they are bowhunters. As long as you wear an orange cap you probably won’t get impaled on a high velocity piece of graphite and titanium. Anyway, you get the picture. Great spot, but go with a friend. It’s also high up in the mountains and the weather can change rapidly, so ensure you have the right gear.

The Goodrabigbee
The Goodrabigbee

Upper Queanbeyan River/Burra Creek

I have to be honest, I’ve never caught a trout up here. I’ve only fished Burra Creek once, and didn’t see a thing. But some recent electrofishing turned up a few rainbows, and in addition to the efforts of NSW DPI (or whatever they’re called now) in stocking Googong Dam with a few fingerlings, indicates that there are a few trouties up there. It will require a bit of walking; or even better, whack the mountain bike on the back of the car and go for a bit of a peddle.

Naas, Gudgenby and Paddy’s

Brian Pratt’s ‘The Canberra Fisherman’ was already lamenting the demise of these fisheries back in 1979. And unfortunately, it’s still seems fairly true. These creeks appear to be a shadow of their former selves, when it comes to trout fishing anyway. However, there are still a few fish around, and they are in some beautiful country, so they are definitely worth a look. A mate went up to Paddy’s recently and saw a few fish, but wasn’t able to tempt them. You could put it down to genetics, I guess. Any trout resilient enough to survive 10 years of drought, and publication in the aforementioned bible of Canberran fishing, is sure to have a brain bigger than a pea. Unless they’re coming in from the ‘bidgee, into which they eventually flow, the few fish that are in here indicates a tenacious and resilient population of wild fish.

Mongarlowe

This is getting a bit further from Canberra, but surprisingly the Mongarlowe is only 1-1.5 hours away. It’s different from the aforementioned streams in that it flows east into the Shoalhaven and eventually into the Pacific. There are some pretty sections in the Monga National Park that hold good populations of mostly small wild fish, but be prepared for leaches, mosquitoes, pigs, pig hunters and impassable vegetation. In-stream is the way to go here, which lends itself nicely to flyfishing.

Tuross

I was initially reluctant to include the Tuross, as it’s a magic little river and doesn’t really count as a trout stream, because it’s synonymous with monster flathead, bream, bass, EPs and mulloway. However, the stretches before it flows east down the escarpment hold decent populations of wild trout. Once again, be prepared for tea tree, leaches, mozzies and pig hunters. And if you come across any tomato plantations, walk away quickly and quietly. If you find any scarecrows hanging from trees with spears through them, it’s a good sign that you’re probably not welcome. If you stick to the river though, you can find some lovely pools and riffles, and catching wild trout in these east flowing catchments is somehow more satisfying than some of the taxpayer funded populations further west.

A typical stretch of the upper Tuross River
A typical slow-water stretch of the upper Tuross River

Well, that’s about all. There are numerous other streams within an hour and a half, and potentially hundreds within two hour’s drive. The critical reader might wonder about some possible omissions in the above, but you might have to do a bit more research and some walking to find these. One of the special things about fishing is finding your own spots. I found a ‘secret creek’ a while ago, and while fishing got a nice Royal Wulff snagged in a tree above me. I couldn’t reach the dry, but noticed a nice nymph within reach. Not so secret, but it’s still ‘my’ stream, which is part of what makes it special to me.

Just over an hour from Canberra but you'll have to find this one yourself
Just over an hour from Canberra but you’ll have to find this one yourself

I don’t have any strong views on catch and release for trout. There are some streams where it probably wouldn’t make much sense to kill the trout, as the streams are so modified that taking a few will not make a difference (except that they will be harder to catch next time). Other streams, where natives are hanging on, would certainly benefit from a concerted effort to make the most of the trout as both a sportfishing target and a table fish. If these environments (and the fisheries they once supported) could be restored to their former glory, I wouldn’t be complaining about the loss of trout.

Thanks for reading. There’s plenty of other content on the blog about trout fishing around Canberra and in general, so have a look around 🙂

Lee

 

flickandflyjournal.com

Hamish Webb, Dan Firth, Graham Fifield and Lee Georgeson have been fishing the south-east Australian region since 1987. Since then they’ve become avid sportfishermen who are constantly looking for new ways to challenge themselves. They are all scientists and conservationists who are passionate about the long-term sustainability of the ecosystem in which they live. They promote understanding and appreciation of the complex socio-political, economic and environmental issues surrounding fish, fishing and fisheries, while never losing sight of the various motivations that keep them coming back. In English, that means they love all things fishing and have a damn good time on the water, and that’s all that really counts in the end!

15 thoughts on “Trout streams near Canberra – a rough guide

  • September 18, 2014 at 10:03 pm
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    Great post – I had some fantastic advice last year on local trout fishing options by a very experience operator. The trip yielded a great bushwalking experience. I think there is more to it than knowing where to go… keep up the great blogs…

    Reply
    • September 19, 2014 at 8:19 am
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      Thanks Lyrebirdcomms, appreciate the feedback! I agree, getting there is one thing, and is a large part of the enjoyment of the experience, but catching a few is another thing altogether! When it all comes together, especially close to home, it’s a pretty fulfilling experience.

      Reply
  • September 19, 2014 at 9:35 am
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    Appreciate the thoughtful analysis, including the honest account of trout impacts — something that’s all too rare in trout fishing articles.

    Must admit too, the title of this article scared me a bit. Yep, I’m extremely critical of trout, the hypocrisy and eco-vandalism fishery departments indulge in with them, and the fantastic upland native fisheries we traded in for them — yet I still like my “secret” trout streams! Then again, they’re not totally secret, my mates and no doubt a few other “cryptics” go in to them.

    These days I generally I refuse to release a single trout. This is an iron-clad rule in any stream where endangered native fish or fauna hang on. My mates tend to operate on the same principle.

    I’m awfully relieved you didn’t mention one “secret” waterway … but then you got me guessing on another (the last photo). I can make an educated guess though …

    cheers

    Simon

    Reply
  • September 19, 2014 at 9:56 am
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    PS Lee, how do I get an email address for you? I got something interesting upland native fish stuff you’ll be interested to see …

    Reply
  • September 19, 2014 at 12:01 pm
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    Between the lines I sense you are promoting fishing for trout as a way to eradicate them. If so then you are inviting more controversy by doing this than by exposing a few well known streams.

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    • September 19, 2014 at 4:33 pm
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      Controversy?

      Only from unreasonable people (of which, unfortunately, there are very many in trout fancying ranks).

      It is perfectably reasonable to state that trout should not be released in the very few streams that still hold endangered native fish or other endangered fauna (i.e. frogs). Also perfectly reasonable to demand a halt to irresponsible trout stockings in such streams.

      Reply
  • September 23, 2014 at 8:42 pm
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    Amazing write up and a well analyzed blog. You must have analyzed a lot in order to tell us about these fishes near Canberra. You have made me think over the idea that I should give a visit to this place. Please keep on updating us with such wonderful experiences of yours. Thank you!

    Reply
  • October 15, 2014 at 2:42 pm
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    great read — thanks

    Reply
  • January 9, 2015 at 7:50 pm
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    You guys who hate trout. Well I’m an environmentalist that loves the fauna. However trout have converted the most serious industrialist into someone who realises what a beautiful country the high country is and why it should be protected. Without trout these people would never have seen it. Never was a cod in the upper Mountain streams. It’s too cold.

    Reply
    • January 10, 2015 at 2:16 pm
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      Thanks for the comment.

      I’m glad chasing trout in Mountain streams has given you an appreciation of how beautiful and special the high country is. One of the great things about fishing (for whatever species) is the places it takes you. There are so many wonderful places I’ve only been to because of fishing.

      As to “hating” trout. I wouldn’t say any of us hate trout. We are all keen trout anglers, who understand what great fish they are to chase. Trout fishing has taken us to some wonderful places. As to the wider discussion about natives, trout and the rest of it, it isn’t a simple black and white issue. Trout undoubtedly provide a great social resource for Australian anglers (one we here at the blog enjoy greatly), bringing with it the rewards you’ve experienced yourself.

      While there weren’t any large native angling species right up in the Montane zones, there were various species of galaxia. Many of these suffered steep declines and some are now endangered (e.g. barred galaxia). That said, historically Macquarie perch and Blue nose cod (trout cod) were both common in the upland and slopes rivers of the MDB and occasionally pushed up into the montane zone. As you would know both species suffered huge declines in the last 100 years and are now both endangered species. Thankfully there is now a lot of work being done to restore populations of both species and hopefully, that work is successful and anglers can once again target these great native fish. Historically, its likely that trout played some role in the declines of both species. As we continue to re-introduce these natives to slopes and upland environments they formally thrived in, hopefully more research is done about exactly how our native fish interact with trout and invasive species such as redfin and carp and the magnitude of effects those species have on Maccas and trout cod. Restoring populations of those fish and restoring that angling resource is IMO something that will be good for all anglers.

      What I would say is that I do believe as anglers we have a responsibility to support the conservation of our native fish species. While galaxias don’t provide an angling resource, I personally believe those native fish should be protected and we should restore populations of these fish. Doing that can often involve excluding trout. For example, the trout exclusion devices on some the the streams near Marysville are vital for the long term chances of barred galaxias in the region.

      Management of Australian upland environments is about a balancing environmental and social factors. Trout aren’t all bad (they contribute significant social value to Australia), but they aren’t all good either and have negatively impacted a number of native species (galaxia species especially). The future management of Australian montane and upland environments should acknowledge this and manage those environments accordingly. Its not about whether trout are all bad or all good. I don’t think that leads to a sensible discussion. Its about how best to balance the management of upland fisheries, to maintain the social utility trout provide Australian anglers and regional centres, while also achieving better environmental outcomes.

      Cheers
      Hamish

      Reply
      • January 19, 2015 at 5:15 pm
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        Just adding to this: I’d be extremely careful of “no [sporting] native fish in the montaine zone”

        We already know now that actually Macquarie perch and trout cod abounded in the whole upland zone of MDB rivers in southern NSW NSW and VIC, with seasonal immigrations of silver perch and Murray cod.

        But in some cases the Macquarie perch and trout cod extended into the montaine zone. Sure, the montaine zones were *usually* the domain of the numerous mountain galaxias species and two-spined blackfish fish … but not always … and in some cases the Macquarie perch and trout cod extended into the montaine zone. And the decider in all this generally appeared to be natural barriers anyway, not water temperatures.

        In recent times NSW Fisheries have recorded naturally occurring Murrumbidgee Macquarie perch to 1,030 metres altitude. (How other parts of NSW Fisheries are trying to push all such populations to extinction with irresponsible alien rainbow trout stockings is another subject.)

        Similarly, there are reliable accounts of Maccas onces being caught above Tantangara. That is WELL into the montaine zone.

        In northern NSW, Murray cod extended into the montaine zone of a couple of rivers.

        In the Snowy system, the large-growing southern river blackfish was right up into the montaine zone … where the trout ghettoes of Eucumbene and Jindabyne now sit.

        Reply
  • March 26, 2015 at 12:03 pm
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    It would be good to note that for the Cotter, only the section from the junction with Condor Creek to Bendora Dam Wall is open to fishing for fly and lure only. Fishing is prohibited in all waters above Bendora Dam and Cotter Dam Wall to Condor Creek.
    The 1km section below cotter dam is also open to fishing.
    Matt

    Reply
    • March 26, 2015 at 1:29 pm
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      Thanks Matt. Very good idea! I’ve updated the post to make the fishing restrictions on the Cotter clear.

      Cheers
      Hamish

      Reply
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