After months of persistent rain, local rivers and creeks are running high, dams and reservoirs have been overflowing, and freshwater fishing is back on the agenda in Victoria.
According to the statisticians, it was the wettest spring in almost twenty years and with more rain forecast throughout summer, it would be safe to say the drought has finally broken. While Fisheries Victoria has commenced a major stocking campaign, it will no doubt take some time for many of our iconic inland impoundments to return to their former glory.
Small manmade lakes, ponds and retarding basins dotted throughout various suburban and regional centres have also benefitted from a substantial flush of freshwater and the generous liberation of rainbow trout.
Given that we are in the midst of summer, it is timely to explore some of the more accessible freshwater fishing options available to anglers of all ages and abilities.
Trout were first introduced to Victoria in the 1860s. Brown trout arrived in 1864 from Tasmania, while rainbow trout were released in local waters 30 years later. Unlike some less desirable introduced species, such as carp, trout are widely accepted by the angling fraternity for their sportfishing attributes and eating qualities. The Department of Primary Industries (DPI) releases between 300,000 and 400,000 salmonids (trout and salmon) each year. Trout are produced at Snobs Creek Hatchery and primarily stocked in lakes and impoundments as yearlings.
Smaller numbers of advanced yearling rainbow trout are also stocked into more than 50 designated ‘Family Fishing Lakes’ as part of the ‘Go Fishing in Victoria’ initiative. These fisheries are generally less than 3ha in size and offer anglers of all abilities a chance to catch and keep an edible fish. They also provide accessible angling opportunities for youngsters during summer and autumn.
Lilydale Lake, Eildon Pondage, Hyland Lake (Churchill), Kennington Reservoir (Bendigo) and Jubilee Lake (Daylesford) are classed as ‘Premier Lakes’ and generally receive additional stockings of larger rainbow trout. These lakes also offer family friendly facilities such as toilets, BBQs, picnic tables, playground equipment and access for anglers with limited mobility.
Many of Victoria’s inland fisheries, including small waters stocked with trout, contain large numbers of redfin and carp. Other introduced species that share similar habitat include roach, tench and goldfish.
Both lure casting and bait fishing can be successful in manmade lakes. Walking the banks with a lightweight spinning outfit and a few lures is a great way to pick up a couple of trout and plenty of redfin. Bladed spinners, small diving minnows and baitfish profile soft plastics pitched at snags, overhanging trees or reed beds are particularly effective during low light conditions at dawn or dusk.
However, bait fishing is perhaps a better option for recently released trout. Since most hatchery-reared trout are fed fish pellets, once released, they are also susceptible to similar sized particle baits sweet corn, maggots, small pieces of bread or dough, and power-bait.
Sweet corn is arguably the most user-friendly bait for beginners and it is particularly effective on introduced species, with the possible exception of adult redfin. Whereas schools of juvenile reddies respond well to most baits, lure casting often triggers a more aggressive response from the larger specimens.
Traditional live baits such as yabbies, mudeyes and scrub worms, account for some fish in small lakes, but tend to be more successful in larger impoundments where trout become more accustomed to hunting their prey. After any recent rain, however, the humble garden worm would be well worth a try.
Berley is the key to success when fishing with particle baits. Just like many other forms of bait fishing, the aim is to draw fish into an area that is within casting range. The challenge then becomes to create a situation where fish start competing with one another for a feed. A simple breadcrumb based mixture, combined with a few handfuls of corn kernels, maggots or chopped worms form the basis of a berley suitable for inland waters.
To give the mixture a bit of scent and colour, you can include some raspberry or strawberry flavouring. Gradually add enough water to obtain a consistency that binds together easily when squeezed into a ball, but breaks up slowly when introduced into the water. Start the session with 3-4 fist-size balls, followed by a golf ball size portion every other cast. Even if you’re not getting many bites, it’s important to maintain a regular pattern to keep berley going in on a little, yet often, basis.
Please note that while berleying is perfectly legal in Victoria, it is not permitted in Tasmanian inland waters.
Fish generally gravitate to the deeper sections of manmade lakes, which are often located adjacent to drains and feeder creeks. Even relatively small ledges and drop-offs can be productive. Try to choose a spot that offers nearby cover such as an overhanging tree, rocks, reed beds or lily pads. While larger predators are more active during low light conditions, most stocked trout can be coerced into feeding at anytime through the strategic use of berley.
Stocked trout and indeed most introduced species respond to modified coarse angling methods. In simple terms, coarse angling involves the use of sensitive floats, berley cages, light lines and small hooks to present baits as naturally as possible. Long purpose built float rods and highly sensitive quiver-tips are a distinct advantage, but certainly not a necessity in small shallow lakes.
A standard 2-4kg spinning outfit will do the job for most freshwater applications. As a general guide, rigs suitable for catching stocked trout are very similar to those used for garfish and bream in marine environments.
Float fishing is a highly visual and exciting way for youngster to catch trout. When rigged correctly, only the tip of a thin pencil style float should be visible above the surface. Since the bulk of the float is submerged, the rig sits in the water at almost neutral buoyancy. As a fish takes the bait, the only resistance felt is that caused by the tip dipping under the surface. This provides a degree of sensitivity that is impossible to replicate with a bubble float. It also allows the angler to see bites as they take place, which results in more lip-hooked trout and a chance to release fish unharmed.
A basic running sinker or single dropper paternoster rig is effective for presenting baits on the bottom. Small pea-size sinkers or berley cages provide the weight for casting. Hook sizes vary depending on the type of bait, but a size 12 chemically sharpened fly hook is perfect for presenting corn and maggots.
Whereas braid is recommended for most lure fishing applications these days, 4-6lb monofilament is still better suited to bait fishing with small hooks. There’s really no need to go overboard in terms of tackle, but light lines, small hooks and the careful use of berley can make a substantial difference to your catch rate.
While there is much more to be gained from fishing than simply catching a feed, it’s important for youngsters to experience at least some early success to help keep them interested. Hopefully this article will inspire some of you to take a kid fishing and teach them how to catch a few trout during the summer.
Rules and Regulations
While there is no minimum legal length for trout caught in Victoria, a maximum bag limit of five salmonids per day, of which no more than two may exceed 35cm, applies to all Family Fishing Lakes. Anglers are permitted to use a maximum of two rods at a time, with no more than two hooks attached to each line. A Victorian Recreational Fishing Licence is required to fish all inland public waterways. For more information visit www.dpi.vic.gov.au and follow the links to the ‘Fisheries’ section.
Alternative Freshwater Options
Visiting a trout farm or hatchery is another family friendly option for introducing youngsters to the world of freshwater fishing. Success is generally a sure bet and they’ll even clean your catch.
Buxton Trout Farm
Ph: (03) 5774 7370
Situated in a picturesque natural bush setting, Buxton Trout Farm is a great place for families with young kids to enjoy the thrill of hooking, catching and keeping a rainbow trout. There are a variety of different ponds containing fish of various sizes, bait is supplied and basic threadline outfits are also available. Fish are priced by the kilogram and catch and release is generally not permitted.
Tuki Trout Farm
Ph: (03) 5345 6233
Tuki Trout Farm has six areas to fish ranging from the heavily stocked ponds at the top of the hill, to the lower ponds which offer experienced anglers a chance to practice fly or lure casting. There is assistance available for youngsters and those new to fishing so success is generally assured. Well maintained fly and spin tackle is available for hire. After catching a trout it will be cleaned and packaged for you to take home, or you can have it cooked onsite in the restaurant.
Freshwater Discovery Centre
Ph: 5770 8052
Located on the Goulburn Valley Highway between Thornton and Eildon, the Freshwater Discovery Centre provides visitors with a unique insight into freshwater environments and the research being undertaken at the Snobs Creek Fish Hatchery. Facilities include; an aquarium and touch tank with a range of native and introduced freshwater species on display, a lecture theatre with seating for 50, outdoor ponds for fish feeding and guided education tours of the hatchery.