Active Targets – Goldens & Goodoo

Joshua Hutchins devotes some screen time to impoundment perch and cod

Twenty years ago, there weren’t many fly anglers chasing native fish in south-eastern Australia. Trout were still the primary focus.But as the interest in fly fishing has increased, so has its species diversity. Fly fishing for Murray cod, golden perch and bass has provided a challenging addition to the angler’s quiver. Despite our native species being well adapted to local environments, they faced their own struggles during the recent drought. In New South Wales, once-flowing streams were reduced to pools of water or completely dried out. It was devastating! In some locations, large numbers of fish simply ran out of water and died. Poor water management contributed to the demise of some waterways, but in other cases it was simply the lack of rain. So, how could I continue to chase these native fish in drought conditions? Simple: I bit the bullet, and ordered a boat. There’s an incredible amount of fishing on offer in NSW impoundments, and a boat seemed the best way to maximise the opportunity. As we all know, the drought broke, and the rain came. Which we were grateful for, but now it has continued to rain and rain and rain! While they have come with some challenges for property and infrastructure, the flooding rains have breathed life back into our freshwater fisheries. And this is especially true for Murray cod. Rivers that seemed completely dead, have come back to life. In some, I couldn’t fathom fish surviving, but somehow, they made it through. I love the adventure of Murray cod and have had the pleasure of introducing many fly anglers to ‘goodoo’. Catching them is about much more than the fish: open meadow streams, breathtaking gorges, boulder filled cascades, slow flowing rivers lined in willow and gum. The adventures often involve campouts, four-wheel-driving, hiking and exploring — watching the sun rise and set, and waiting for that explosion as a surface fly is devoured by a hungry fish. It’s addictive. It’s an immersive outdoors experience. In recent years, with the abundance of water, our streams have been especially fun to fish. With close hits and an immediate sense of expectation, the adrenaline is high. The size of the fish can be a surprise for small water. And, as I discovered in this past six months, there’s a way to make lake fishing for native fish more interactive too. ACTIVE SONAR After a few months of delay the boat finally arrived, and we got a bit carried away. Murray Stewart, one of our guides, gave himself the project of getting the boat set up and adding a ‘few electrics’ to create the ultimate craft for hunting fish. I am not savvy with sounders for anything other than navigation, but Murray knew what he was doing. We decided on the new Lowrance HDS-Live system along with the ActiveTarget addition. This kind of sonar technology has become very popular in the conventional fishing world, but we had not seen it used in fly fishing. And as I discovered, the Lowrance system is incredible. Almost like a live underwater ultrasound, in real time. Everything came together and it timed well for some golden perch fishing. I was keen to see how the sonar technology worked. Murray had already snuck in a few trips to Lake Lyell, in Lithgow, with success on the resident trout. We launched the boat at Windamere Dam, a renowned golden perch fishery, and began the day. ‘Check this out,’ Murray said, as he turned on the Lowrance unit. ‘Are they all fish?’ I asked in disbelief as the screen lit up and objects appeared in all directions. ‘Yep.’ This technology may not be for everyone, but wow! The insight into the underwater world was incredible. The transducer is mounted on a pole that can move in 360 degrees rotation, and the screen reflects what is underwater wherever you point the pole. It tells you exactly how far away the fish is on the grid, and its direction from the boat. When you cast your fly, the fly appears on the screen. When a fish ignores your fly, you see it. When a fish follows your fly, you see it. When a fish eats or hits your fly, you see it (and feel it). Having that kind of visibility made it almost depressing to know how many fish follow a fly and don’t commit, or completely ignore it. By the same token, seeing fish react in real time on the screen allows you to vary your retrieve, place the fly exactly where it needs to be, stop and start retrieves, and get a bite you may otherwise not get. It also gives you an informed choice about when to change flies. This style of fishing was completely new to me. It was almost like the updated version of sight fishing, via a screen. One thing is for sure, it was effective. Never did a minute go past without a fish on screen. Even to the extent that Murray pulled me up a few times saying, ‘Don’t bother casting in that direction; there’s no fish there.’ Murray, a 22-year-old, was showing this older dog some new tricks! He went on to use this system for goodoo in the lakes, with good success. They are an easy target to find, but they still have their moments of not wanting to commit to the fly. It’s early days for us, but the interaction this system brings to what could otherwise be a dull day on the lake has shown great promise. And while I understand that fly fishing via a ‘screen’ may not be for everyone, it gave us a chance to think outside the box and try something new. Winter is often when the XL cod bite the most, so watch this space.

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