When looking for a quiet place to dangle a line during August, most people think of heading for the coast as the river trout season in Victoria is officially closed until September. Happily this closure only affects the state's rivers, and keen freshwater anglers can still fish for trout in most lakes, dams and reservoirs.
When choosing a suitable freshwater location, many anglers head straight for the larger better-known destinations such as Lake Eildon, Lake Purrumbete and Lake Bullen Merri. One place that is often overlooked is the picturesque West Barwon Reservoir, in the state’s southwest.
The West Barwon Reservoir is located 1km south of the small Victorian township of Forrest, and just over 80km southwest of Geelong. The reservoir supplies water to Geelong, Bellarine Peninsula and other towns in the district. It was made by damming the junction of the West Barwon River and the smaller Monday Creek. As a result the dam that formed has two distinct arms.
At 194m above sea level and located in the Otway Ranges, the West Barwon Reservoir has a rainfall of nearly twice Geelong's (this being one of the reasons for its chosen location). The dam was completed in 1965 and has a maximum depth of over 20m and a useable capacity of 20912 megalitres. The water is transferred by gravity to Wurdiboluc Reservoir in a series of open channels and underground pipes, before being treated and let through to Geelong and surrounding towns.
Barwon Water controls the Reservoir and water is released whenever it is required: thus the water levels are unpredictable and frequently rising and falling. This means new ground is always being covered or uncovered, making it a great place to chase cruising trout from the bank.
The Reservoir has good population of wild brown trout that spawn in the rivers, as well as rainbow trout that are stocked by Fisheries at a rate of 4000 per year. The brown trout can grow to over 3kg (average 800g) and the rainbow trout to 2kg (average 600g). The lake also has a large population of redfin that are often encountered when casting lures for trout. The reddies can attain sizes to 1.5kg but tend to be much smaller at around 100g. There are plenty of eels for the bait fishers and the fine specimens from West Barwon are up there with the biggest I have ever seen!
Fishing is allowed from the Reservoir wall and along the banks when the water levels are low, but there is no boating, canoeing or swimming allowed in the Reservoir. There is a carpark and recreation area located at the wall that has picnic tables, free gas BBQs and toilets, as well as river and lake viewing walks below the wall and along the wall itself.
The wall offers good fishing access and is a very popular spot for both bait and lure anglers. Fishing live minnows or mudeyes under a float here has accounted for many trout, as has casting the ever-reliable Tassie Devil lure. Rainbow trout seem to dominate captures at the wall, although plenty of brown trout and redfin also come from this area. When the water is low the wall also offers access to the banks of the Monday Creek Arm and to a sneaky little spot in the form of an old quarry.
This quarry becomes isolated from the rest of the reservoir when the water level drops below a certain point and fish often become trapped in the pool of water that is left behind. Not being affected by water fluctuations the water remains crystal clear and trout and redfin can sometimes be seen cruising along the banks. Bait, lures and flies will catch you a fish here, but make sure you get there before it is fished out or you will have to wait until the water rises and falls again. Due to its elevated location within the Reservoir this can sometimes take months or even years.
You can gain access to the Monday Creek Arm off the Kaanglang Road, which can be found by turning down Hennigan Crescent in the Forrest township. When travelling along the Kaanglang Road, keep your eyes peeled for a small dirt track on the right and park your car. It’s only a short walk to the Reservoir from here, and one can fish from the end of the dirt track if the water is high. Access to the rest of the lake from here is difficult due to the steep terrain and thick bush around its margins.
The Monday Creek Arm is full of dead trees that make great hiding places for redfin and brown trout, and this is a good area to cast lures around the timber. Bait fishing is very hard unless using a float to keep your bait out of the snags. Again, mudeye and live minnow make great baits when suspended just below the surface here.
After periods of high rainfall the water can rise dramatically. This can really turn the trout on as water quickly floods new ground and the fish hunt about for drowned insects and worms. The best bait during these conditions is an unweighted scrubworm fished on the bottom, or cast in front of cruising fish.
The best places to target these fish are the large shallow flats that can be found towards the back of the West Barwon River Arm. Walking the banks and casting small lures to sighted fish is also a productive and exciting way to fish the West Barwon Reservoir, but watch out for the steep slippery banks and keep an eye out for snakes in the warmer months. Trout can often be seen cruising the banks or crashing into schools of minnows so move slowly and keep a keen eye for any signs of fish movement.
Access to the upper reaches is not an easy task but there are several old logging tracks that lead to the water’s edge along the West Barwon River Arm. Vehicle access is now impossible on most tracks but fit anglers can tackle the steep, long walks involved in reaching the lesser-fished waters of the West Barwon. Make sure you have a fishing partner and always tell people where you are going and when to expect you home. I have landed trout to over 3kg in these back reaches and the brown trout in particular seem to be in larger numbers then in the main body of the lake.
The Reservoir has a good population of forage fish including both small redfin and large numbers of galaxias, so the local trout are well fed and respond well to all forms of lure fishing. When the water is low, there is room for flyfishing around the lake's perimeter but otherwise the bush extends right to the water, which can make casting difficult everywhere except on the Reservoir wall.
There can be some exciting smelting that occurs from time to time in the winter so take some large wet flies in minnow patterns such as olive green BMS, Woolly Buggers or Matukas. A 6 weight outfit with an intermediate sinking line is recommended when targeting fish from the wall or banks, although a floating line is best when chasing sighted fish on the shallow flats towards the back of the Reservoir.
Scrubworms, mudeye and minnows are by far the most popular baits in the West Barwon Reservoir although other baits will also take fish. Float fishing is a good way to land fish from the wall and some evenings produce plenty of action with captures of rainbow trout being common.
Worms left to sit on the bottom will catch redfin, brown trout and plenty of eels. If eels are your main target make sure you have some heavy line as these slippery serpents of the deep take some serious power to pull in. Worms cast in front of cruising fish and given a small twitch as the fish approaches will also get a response from hungry trout.
If casting from the dam wall or in the lower reaches of the Reservoir, a winged style lure such as Tassie Devil or Loftys Cobra will allow you to cover plenty of water. Both trout and redfin will take your lure here but if redfin are your main target remember to allow the lure to sink before beginning your retrieve. In the shallower and smaller waters of the back reaches of the Reservoir I prefer to use a small Rapala or Rebel lure and cast around fallen timber or tight against the bank. Lures that represent a small redfin fry work very well in the West Barwon Reservoir.
The West Barwon Reservoir is a great spot to take the family for a picnic and a quick fish. It’s also a productive destination for serious anglers that like to get off the beaten track.
Access is very difficult along the banks and getting to the Reservoir itself can prove difficult anywhere but the dam wall. If you choose to make the long trek into its back reaches then remember to go with somebody else and let people know where you are heading. If you keep an eye on the water level charts and find that the West Barwon Reservoir has recently risen, then this is the right time to plan a trip. You can find the water level charts at www.fishvictoria.com.
When planning your next fishing trip don’t overlook the West Barwon Reservoir. It has a lot to offer in the way of peacefulness, tranquility and some big old wild brown trout.
Otways Forrest Retreat
6 Station St, Forrest
0428 689 297
Forrest Caravan Park
1 Station St, Forrest
03 5236 6275
2TIPS FOR AUGUST
The West Barwon Reservoir’s catchment area is located within the Great Otway National Park and is surrounded by lush rainforest. This means it has a very high rainfall so warm waterproof clothing is a must when visiting the area. To make your trip more comfortable I have prepared a quick checklist when packing to visit the area.
Dress in layers as you will warm up once walking but your body temperature will drop dramatically once you stop to fish. Take drinking water as the Reservoir’s water can become very discoloured after heavy rain.
The banks of the Reservoir will either be very muddy, if the water has just dropped, or lined with wet knee high grass and bushes if it has just risen. Be prepared to get wet or muddy even if the weather is fine. A comfortable pair of waders is a good way to stay dry if you slip over or have to wade through the wet grass but make sure they have adequate footwear with good grip. Flat soles and muddy banks don't mix!