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Stellar yella facts
  |  First Published: March 2015



Yellowbelly, also known as golden perch, and known in South Australia as callop are one of the most popular species of native fish in Victoria’s freshwater waterways.

They are probably the second most popular species of native freshwater fish in Victoria behind the Murray cod, whose popularity overshadows all other species due to its iconic status and large size.

Stocking

In terms of fish stocking, yellowbelly blow all other species off the track. In Victoria in 2014, there were well over 2 million yellowbelly stocked into our rivers, lakes and smaller dams, as opposed to a little over 1 million Murray cod, and 600,00 introduced trout.

There are several key benefits to stocking yellowbelly en mass into Victorian waterways.

Durability

The yellowbelly has a high tolerance for major fluctuations in water conditions. They can survive in water that is warmer than a lot of other fish can survive in, and they have the ability to survive in water that has much lower oxygen levels than most other species can.

Sustainability

Yellowbelly are much easier to breed in captivity than a lot of others, particularly vulnerable species such as Macquarie perch and trout cod, which can be quite difficult to reproduce in captivity for a variety of reasons. This makes it easy and more cost effective to produce stacks of yellowbelly on demand. Also, it makes yellowbelly a much wiser choice to stock in areas where people like to keep a feed of fish. Taking a yellowbelly out of a heavily stocked waterway such as Lake Nillahcootie or Lake Eppalock is not going to do any damage to the fishery whatsoever as more yellowbelly will be stocked to replace them each year. That is just one of the reasons why we pay the $25 fishing licence fee.

I do not preach catch and release, however I do encourage it. I tend to put more emphasis on sustainability, and educating people on choosing where and when to keep a feed of fresh fish. Stocked yellowbelly impoundments are easily the best choice if you want a feed of freshwater fish.

Adaptation

Due to the yellowbelly’s durability, they have a wonderful ability to adapt to most conditions. They have been stocked into mountainous lakes such as Lake Buffalo in North East Victoria, right down to small dams and lakes with no inflow whatsoever in the western part of the state where water is too warm for most other species. They may not always bite when conditions are too hot or too cold, but they will sit low and sulk for lengthy periods of time until conditions are favourable and then come out and feed.

Sport fishing

From a sport fishing perspective, yellowbelly are a favourite for many anglers due to their aggressive nature and their fighting ability, particularly in the spring months. Pound for pound, yellowbelly blow Murray cod away with the way they pull drag and the resistance they put up when being reeled back into the boat.

Back in November last year, I caught my biggest ever yellowbelly at 60cm in length, and it was one of the most memorable battles I have ever had with a fish. I was using 50lb braid (my main cod rig) and this yellowbelly was pulling drag like no Murray cod I have ever caught.

Socioeconomic value

Yellowbelly, although not being held in the same high regard as Murray cod tend to pull a big crowd. A good yellowbelly bite in Lake Eildon can draw a bigger crowd than a Carlton vs. Collingwood grand final! But seriously, when the yellowbelly are really biting well it is nothing to see large numbers of cars towing boat trailers lined up at boat ramps in the popular yellowbelly fishing lakes such as Lake Eildon and Lake Hume.

Then there are the family friendly type waterways, the little inner suburban lakes and watercourses, which get stocked with yellowbelly so that all people have easy access to fishing. Little lakes like Lake King in Rutherglen, Lake Anderson in Chiltern, Lake Sambell in Beechworth and even Albert Park Lake in Melbourne are all stocked with yellowbelly, and are all very popular yellowbelly fishing spots.

There are literally dozens of these small waterways across the state that are stocked each year ranging from town water supplies, old dredge and mining holes, small weirs in seasonal creeks and any other puddle big enough to hold water all year round.

So there are some reasons why yellowbelly are such a great recreational sportfish. Probably the biggest negative to yellowbelly is that they are not self-sustaining here in Victoria. They do breed on the odd occasion, but it is not very often.

A full list of Victorian fish stocking can be found at http://www.depi.vic.gov.au.

Spawning

Yellowbelly are an opportunistic spawner, which means that they only spawn when conditions are favourable.

Seasonal spawning fish such as Murray cod and trout will spawn each year regardless of the water conditions. Their spawning is usually triggered by daylight hours and water temperature.

For example, trout spawn each autumn. When the days are the right length and the water has cooled to the right temperature the trout will make their way upstream and spawn. The water conditions dictate the survival of the fry once the fish have spawned. For example, a little bit of rain during autumn can be a great thing. If we get enough rain and some of the seasonal little tributaries begin to flow, the trout can swim up them to spawn. They can also swim more freely up and down the river looking for great spawning areas known as a redds. So, more water leads to greater distance between the fish and a higher survival rate of trout fry. In dry autumns, the trout may not be able to swim as far upstream and may not have access to small waterways away from the main river, so all of the trout eggs will hatch and the fry will be concentrated to a small area with a lot of hungry trout that have just finished spawning, which leads to a lot of trout fry being eaten, if their not already eaten before they hatch. So a dry autumn leads to poorer trout spawning, a wet autumn leads to better trout spawning.

With Murray cod, in the springtime when the days are getting longer and approaching the right length, and the water warms to the right temperature, they will spawn regardless of water conditions. If we have had a wet winter and spring and the rivers are high and dirty, the Murray cod fry will feed on tiny microscopic plankton in the water, which usually leads to a higher survival rate. In times of a dry winter or spring, conditions may not be favourable with low clear water, but the cod will spawn anyway and the survival rate of the fry will be much lower.

Yellowbelly on the other hand, simply will not even attempt to spawn when conditions are not favourable. They are an opportunistic spawner and will swim upstream to spawn when conditions are favourable, and in Victoria that is not very often, so thankfully fisheries put 2 million of them into our waterways each year to keep them a sustainable fishing option.

In order to spawn, yellowbelly require a warm water flood. When I say a warm water flood, I am not talking about a tropical deluge; I am just referring to a sustained period of high water that is around the 20-22°C mark. Yellowbelly require quite similar conditions to spawn as Murray cod, except the yellowbelly need the water to be around 7-8°C warmer.

Cast your mind back to the massive December 2010 floods. Firstly, we had major floods in September, which is not unusual. The Ovens and King river where I live in Wangaratta both had major flooding, which would have assisted in the great Murray cod spawning that took place that year. Then, just as everything was starting to settle down we had massive amounts of rainfall in early December, which led to a December flood.

Being December the water was much warmer, and as a result the yellowbelly went off their heads and spawned like crazy. I read a document somewhere a few months later that stated the scientists had found evidence of yellowbelly spawning in the lower reaches of the Goulbourn River in areas that were hundreds of meters from the main river. Places like large logs on riverbanks and small trees. Conditions were favourable, so they spawned.

I hope you got some good insight into the yellowbelly or golden perch from this article. They are a hugely interesting fish and a great resource for all pro and novice anglers alike.

Yellowbelly fishing tips

1Yellowbelly are attracted to moving water in the spring time. If you are fishing a stocked waterway in spring when the water temperature is rising, look for places where rivers, creeks or channels are feeding water into the waterway.

2Yellowbelly love moving baits. If you are bait fishing, rather than casting your line out and leaving it there, try bouncing it up and down along the bottom, or if you are in a boat try bobbing it up and down on the bottom. Yellowbelly are much more likely to hit a moving bait than they are a stationary bait.

3Small yabbies, freshwater shrimp and worms are the best baits of the lot for yellowbelly.

4If lure fishing, try medium-sized hardbodied lures such as no. 2 StumpJumpers, or medium-sized spinnerbaits like the Yellaman series by Bassman, or 60mm and 70mm lipless crankbait lures like the Jackall TN70, which have loud rattles.

5Don't be deterred by dirty water. Yellowbelly occur naturally in the lowland reaches of rivers such as the Darling River in NSW where the water is always dirty. They have a very strong lateral line, which enables them to feel movement in the water and feed well in even the dirtiest of water.

6October and November are the best months of the year to fish for yellowbelly, particularly large yellowbelly, which school up to spawn in larger lakes, even though they don't actually spawn they still have the natural instinct to become aggressive and pair up.

7March and April are also great times of the year to catch yellowbelly as the water begins to cool and they become increasingly active before slowing right down in May when the water starts getting too cold.

8Although not actually a fishing tip, it is advisable to release all yellowbelly greater than 50cm as these fish are very fatty and very poor eating. Up to 50cm they are a magnificent fish, but anything over that can be quite sickening.

9As with most native species, the twilight hours are the best times of the day to catch yellowbelly. They will bite 24 hours a day, however there is a significant increase in their movement and feeding at the low light periods, and quite possibly through the night.

10Rocky outcrops make the best yellowbelly fishing spots in lakes, particularly in spring when the water is still quite cold. The rocky outcrops can soak in the sun and warm up, which can lead to an increase in all kinds of life in the eco system both under water and above water. In spring, look for these steep rocky sun baked outcrops and concentrate you efforts on them later in the afternoon.

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