How to

Fishing around Canberra

AS a 1960s-born Canberran, I spent a lot of time learning about fishing on the capital’s local waters. Canberra’s manmade lakes and local streams were often haunts for my school fishing buddies and I growing up, where we learnt to bait fish or spin for trout, silver and golden perch, carp and redfin. In later years we ventured further to the NSW south coast, Burrinjuck Dam and the Snowy Mountains. While Australia’s national capital regularly makes headlines for what happens in Parliament House, for local fishos and visitors there’s often more interesting activity taking place in local waterways. Here’s a rundown on some of the waterways worth checking out.   

Lake Burley Griffin

The brainchild of Walter Burley Griffin this manmade ornamental lake named in his honour was filled in the early 1960s by damming the Molonglo River. Designed as a centrepiece for the national capital and situated smackbang between the city’s northern and southern suburbs “LBG” as local fishos know it offers good fishing opportunities, land and boat based. Previously, LBG was well stocked with trout – as a kid I recall seeing local bait fishermen regularly catch big trout on various concoctions of dough and cheese baits around Yarralumla Bay and Scrivener Dam – before its waters were overtaken by European carp in the ‘70s.

Being shallow overall with an average depth of 4.5m and covering around 630 hectares, LBG has experienced weed blooms over the years which has hindered fishing opportunities in some sections. These days thanks to reasonable water quality and a regular stocking program it boasts a good population of native golden perch and Murray cod, the latter in monster category. Notably, local angler, Tom Haalebos, (a mate from high school) and his partner Marie caused a stir late last year when they caught and released a 1.3m cod estimated to weigh 75kg only a long cast away from the old Parliament House. Amazingly, it seems the couple caught the same fish in the same location only a couple of weeks apart!

While there are big cod, LBG is probably a more consistent golden perch fishery, which tends to come into its own in the warmer months from late spring on. Love them or hate them, redfin are well entrenched in the lake and while a pest, can save a quiet day on the water as well as provide tasty fillets. From late winter they can be often sounded in schools and respond well to soft and hard vibes and soft plastics. Golden perch will often hover on the fringes of these reddie schools and can be responsive to vertical jigging soft and hard vibes as well as casting with spinnerbaits and weighted plastics. Hotspots around the lake include the shoreline near Commonwealth Avenue and Kings Avenue bridges, the rocky northern side of Black Mountain Peninsular, Springbank Island and the stretch of the Molonglo River before Dairy Flat bridge which is littered with suitable native-holding snags.  

The waters of Lake Burley Griffin are managed by the National Capital Authority and boats powered by electric motors are permitted to operate via a free permit system. Go to for information.

Lake Ginninderra

Situated in Canberra’s northern suburbs, Lake Ginninderra was formed by damming Ginninderra Creek and acts as a stormwater catchment for surrounding suburbs within the Belconnen district. Filled in the 1970s, like LBG Lake Ginninderra has seen regular stockings starting with trout and natives such as silver and golden perch and Murray cod. In recent years only native stockings have taken place in Ginninderra. Being significantly smaller waterway than LBG with an average depth of 3.5m, Lake Ginninderra is a popular venue for kayaks as well as small boats where powerboats are permitted to be run without a permit on the lake at under 10 knots. There are good land based options at Lake Ginninderra along sections of bank where weed is not a hindrance to lure fishing. It fishes best when water temps rise above 20 degrees C in late spring and into summer. Trolling and casting with hard body lures, spinnerbaits and vibes are effective methods for luring Ginninderra’s natives.

Googong Dam

Just over the NSW/ACT border near Queanbeyan, Googong Dam was built in the late 1970s by damming the Queanbeyan River and Bradleys Creek. The dam acts as a backup water supply for Canberra. I recall lure fishing Googong from shore the first day it was opened to recreational fishing – the only water supply to be opened locally in this way – and was taken by its crystal clear water and obvious depth, which sees it classified as an alpine waterway, and well suited to trout. While rainbow and brown trout thrived in Googong, consequent stockings of natives turned Googong into a first class mixed fishery in the 1990s. These days Googong is more of a native stronghold as trout stockings were halted in the catchment for many years due to a discovery of endangered Macquarie perch in a tributary of the dam. While browns haven’t been stocked for many years they still naturally exist in Googong but are not regularly caught. Rainbows are stocked but don’t appear often in catches in comparison to those of golden perch, cod and the ever present redfin which exist in large numbers. While redfin have a stronghold they are also predated on by Googong’s bigger natives which have been caught in XOS sizes. Many Googong regulars locate redfin on their sounders before jigging for them with vibes to hopefully attract natives turned on by the activity. While the average golden is probably under 50cm, many stonkers over 60cm have been caught at Googong. Once they get up to this size they tend to emulate the dinner-plate shaped fish caught at other popular native hotspots like Lake Windamere in Western NSW. The Murray cod is the premier species at Googong these days with anglers having accounted for many fish over the magic metre mark over the past several years.

Being a water supply Googong Dam has specific public access hours – 8am-6pm during AEST and 8am-8pm in daylight saving – and boats used on its waters can only be powered by electric motors. Kayaks are also permitted on Googong, but entering the water apart from boat launching activity isn’t allowed. With restricted access to its waters during the prime lowlight or dark hours, cod fishing night owls tend to do the hard yards at other prime cod locations Burrinjuck or Wyangala, which may see Googong have less fishing pressure overall. A free permit to operate an electric-powered boat is required for Googong and obtainable from the ACT Government via Access Canberra at A NSW Fishing Licence is also required for fishing Googong Dam and lifejackets must be worn in boats and kayaks.

Murrumbidgee River

Australia’s second longest river, the Murrumbidgee, flows through the ACT for 66kms, along the way offering good native fishing in sections, especially less accessible stretches that see less fishing pressure. That said, many popular bushwalking, swimming and picnic sites along the river are an easy drive from Canberra’s CBD and provide reasonable access to fishing including: Casuarina Sands in the Cotter Reserve, Kambah Pool, Uriarra Crossing and upstream of Angle Crossing. The river is largely accessible by foot from these public areas although the old rule about getting way from the crowd usually leads to better fishing. Unfortunately the river’s water quality suffered from the Namadgi National Park bushfire in early 2020, with the resulting ash and soil run-off causing discolouration to this day. Despite this setback the system provided good native fishing over the past summer.

The Murrumbidgee within the ACT has a healthy presence of native sport fish including golden perch and Murray cod as well as stocked endangered trout cod which appear to be doing well in sections of the river. European carp are unfortunately also well entrenched in the “Bidgee” these days, while trout, once a dominant stocked species decades ago aren’t any more. Most keen anglers fishing this iconic river system tend to practice catch and release with its natives. While the average size of the river’s Murray cod tend to be small to mid-size, enough metre-plus fish exist to make going the extra mile worthwhile. Some stretches of the river are accessible by canoe or kayak which can open up less fished pools, although water levels need to be factored in: if too low a lot of dragging between pools will be required, and when running high the rapids in this system become very dangerous.

Pejar Dam

Situated in NSW in the southern highlands between Goulburn and Crookwell just over an hour from Canberra, Pejar Dam is an interesting fishery formed on the Wollondilly River. Completed in the late 1970s, Pejar underwent yearly stockings of rainbow and brown trout that saw it become a premier fishery for trophy trout. In its early years the nutrient rich Pejar waters saw its salmonids enjoy exceptional growth rates and the lake garner a reputation for monster browns, with many double figure (pounds) fish recorded in its heyday. Those lucky enough to land one of these fussy monsters tended to stay as tight lipped as their quarry. Unfortunately due to extended drought Pejar Dam was completely drained in 2006. While it filled again a year later to 50 per cent capacity and eventually to high levels the fishery hasn’t returned to its former glory. That said, ongoing trout stocking efforts and the introduction of Australian bass to Pejar Dam by NSW DPI nearly a decade ago has provided good fishing again for local anglers struggling with the loss of a treasured trophy lake. While the trout these days aren’t in the same size category they look to be in as healthy condition as ever. With the odd report of solid bass being occasionally pulled from Pejar it’s well worth a look.

Other options

Canberra is also fortunate to have a number of smaller waterways nestled within its suburbs that are well stocked with fish. These include Lake Tuggeranong in the city’s south and Yerrabi Pond in the north. Both are situated close to busy town centres and provide easy access to reasonable fishing for locals, both shore or boat based – kayaks are ideal for exploring these small waterways. Both offer the chance of Murray cod or golden perch bragging size and if that doesn’t go to plan, redfin and carp will at least bend your rod.

There’s a lot to like about the Canberra region for fishos and with regular stockings and improved fishing access its future looks bright.

What's your reaction?

Related Posts

Load More Posts Loading...No More Posts.