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Rocklands – Wimmera’s redfin Mecca
  |  First Published: June 2015



Rocklands Reservoir, under the then State Rivers and Water Supply Commission, commenced construction in March 1941. Originally, it was constructed by damming off the Glenelg River to serve an area of almost 25,000km2 for domestic, stock and irrigation water.

However construction was interrupted by the demands of World War II. Post war the construction was continued and finally the reservoir was completed and opened in May of 1953 with a capacity of 348,310ML and extending upstream about 20km.

Many indigenous artefacts and places of interest can be found within a short distance of the original river system as well as a rich history of being the site of the then Adelaide-Melbourne highway. Legend has it that in the 1840s the Chinese gold fossickers used the riverbed of the Glenelg to hide from state troopers to avoid the £1 Poll Tax.

Surviving the drought throughout the 1990s and still maintaining a great fishery was a bit of a juggling act for local water authorities but with careful management the Grampians-fed Rocklands Reservoir pulled through after reaching a level of 4%. While the trout fishery declined in this period other introduced, or non natives, seemed to thrive on the lower water levels. The ever pesky carp grew to massive proportions, but the redfin are highly regarded as the best table fish of the Wimmera. Many locals travel here on weekends to gather a feed of these tasty critters. Although the origin is unknown, cod and bass have somehow also appeared in Rocklands.

Situated only a short 15km drive from the township of Balmoral. Through rolling redgum country and partial bush, arriving at the main ramp you could be forgiven for thinking you are looking at a barra impoundment in Queensland! It is a very picturesque waterway dotted with many dead redgums, rocky outcrops, clay and sandy banks.

By road from Horsham, the drive is pleasant but allow yourself an hour as the region has its fair share of wildlife including kangaroos, emus and the odd red or fallow deer that can destroy a vehicle on impact.

Many visitors marvel at the views from different sections of the reservoir with a sensational backdrop of the recently fire ravaged Black Range and the magnificent tourism magnet, The Grampians. With many local attractions to coincide with a visit to the region I suggest you enquire at the local tourism information centre as there is designated tours, tracks, wineries, activities and plenty to do and see within a short drive.

REDFIN

As previously mentioned, the redfin would be the most targeted species and, with several ways to hook a feed, it pays to come prepared. Lures and bait fishing are the most popular.

Bait wise, gudgeon and live yabbies would be the prime fare. Sounding up schools or just fishing heavy timber, deeper holes seems to work best. Most of the older generation prefer gudgeon fished live just off the bottom on a paternoster rig and just lifting and dropping the rod tip is usually enough to present the bait to these ferocious feeders.

Yabbies presented in the same manor will work well too. Don't be afraid to use big ones either as reddies have a big mouth. It never ceases to amaze me the size of some gut contained yabbies taken by redfin.

Worms work okay here but they always seem to attract the feral carp that have invaded Rocklands.

Trolling is also very successful and with many different lures, colours and styles available these days it can be very confusing for the new angler. To keep it simple I find it very hard to go away from the traditional lures, such as StumpJumpers, Halco Scorpions and the likes that have for generations landed many fish.

Another lure I have had the pleasure of using is the Ballista Trigger with its LED technology flashing internal light.

Best colours have been the fluoro greens and brighter oranges and yellows that seem to show up better in the almost tea coloured Rocklands water, often referred to by many as tannin water.

Working the tree lines in around 4-5m of water has been most successful this year and running lures that swim in the 2-2.5m range has worked well. A lure retriever is a great investment here as many submerged trees, sticks and snags can lighten the tackle box in a short space of time.

Vibes, jigs, cast and retrieve have all had their merit but in the early days most anglers used what was called a Baltic Bobber, these days they are still available but overrun by technology and replaced by what are commonly known as ice jigs. The method was to locate a school around structure and drop the jig down to the level the fish were at and jag it up through the mob! Many times resulting in a foul hooked fish and a great fight. Vibes are worked either vertically just off the bottom or cast and worked back towards the boat or bank.

With so many submerged trees and snags it can be an expensive exercise but often a rewarding one.

Drift casting is another locating method for reddies. Working off the electric motor or simply drifting with the wind, either with or without a sea anchor depending on wind strength, cast into differing areas to locate schools then sit off them and present lures. It’s a great way to cover ground and find fish.

Another good practice is to try keeping one fish hooked up in the water at all times, as this can keep the whole school in striking distance. Often, once a redfin is lost or returned, it can mean the end of a session as the school spooks and moves on.

TROUT

Rocklands does hold a large population of both brown and rainbow trout. Pre-drought, there was a boom time where anglers could be confident of tangling with some XL fish. Using mudeye under a float in amongst the trees provided great sport.

It’s a massive challenge to wrestle these monsters out without snagging up or being busted off. These days though, the mudeye, gudgeon, yabby or worms under a float still work well, but the common capture of trout is by trolling.

Flatlining early with shallow running hardbodies or Tasmanian Devils should see you connect but once the sun gets above the horizon and the mountain range, it is best to go to deeper diving lures such as Rapalas, Diawa Double Clutches, Ballista Triggers and similar. These fish are very crafty and don't succumb easily.

Overall, early morning and late afternoon, fish shallow, and in between times work deeper areas with diving lures. The bonus with the deeper lures targeting trout is the by catch of Redfin and maybe a bass or cod.

Bass

Over the last few years there have been some nice bass landed and, although they have mainly been present below the wall of the reservoir, they now inhabit the lake and are a great tussle on light gear.

Size wise, there are some larger fish that are regarded as trophies but the average is between 25-40cm. I recently lost a large specimen up in the wall area that I estimate was around 55cm so the big boys are present. Vibes hopped along snags and rocky outcrops, as well as the trolled lures for other species, seem to be the most productive methods.

Keep in mind bass are aggressive fish but also a little on the shy side, so work quietly in heavily timbered areas can provoke them into striking a well presented offering.

Well known for taking up residence in snags and being territorial, you have to be right on their zone to entice a strike. Fighting qualities are fierce and upon hook up they head straight for cover, so turning their head away or slowly motoring away from their home base is paramount.

In the old riverbed I have sounded up schools of either bait fish of small redfin with bigger arches showing in the vicinity on the sounder. Most times these turn out to be bass. Drop shotting or free spooling a soft plastic beyond these schools will in most cases entice a hit, if the fish are in the mood.

MURRAY COD

As with the bass, the cod have just appeared in here and local legend has it that around 20 years ago a local angler decided to buy some and do some stocking of his own after being frustrated with the lack of variation in species.

While I haven't heard of any large fish being landed I'm sure they have but have been kept hushed up. Over the last few months I know of several fish being caught and released with some better than 5kg!

Dedicated cod anglers who know their stuff could target these fish and still wouldn't be overly confident of landing one, so they must still be regarded as a bonus catch.

Hopefully in time we may see Rocklands developed into a native fishery of an Eildon scale, as the potential and habitat is ideal for their survival. In the coming weeks I'm doing some research work with the good people of Fisheries investigating the likelihood of this being developed.

YABBIES

For many years now, Rocklands has been a great place to get a good feed of these tasty critters and most visitors carry a couple of drop nets with them and overnight secure a great feed.

Because of the abundance of predators, the yabbies will only crawl in the dark hours so a night patrol of the drop nets is required. Habitat is everywhere for them but I usually spend some time locating their burrows in deeper water with a view mask and punch the location into the GPS and return on dark and work the nets there for best results.

Fresh bait of bullock’s heart or liver is prime. Remembering there is limits in place for yabbies so please check Victorian regulations before fishing and remember all nets have to be tagged with owner’s details as per regulations contained in the fisheries handbook.

SAFETY AND SURVIVAL

Rocklands can be a very confusing place for the new angler with its ever-present treelines and surrounds that all look the same. My best advice for anyone visiting is a GPS and compass as lost and confused anglers are always found.

Take the time to familiarise yourself with the lake and mapping of it. Snags, trees and submerged logs are abundant and extreme caution needs to be undertaken at all times. Wear a PFD at all times for your own safety as there has been many stories of fishos tipped out of boats after hitting submerged surprises.

Most of the lake has mobile service with Telstra but a marine radio is advised in case of emergency. If you do get into trouble and have a mobile remember that 000 is still reachable, even in no service areas. Plan your trip, let someone know where you will be fishing and enjoy your stay at this great place.

ACCOMmODATION/CAMPING

Locally there are several options for camping with the Rocklands Caravan Park within a short drive of the main ramp close to the wall area. There is a local lodge available for larger groups as well as designated but un-serviced camping around most of the lake.

Camp grounds are located at Mountain Dam and Brodies on one side of the lake and Hynes and Glendinning on the other. With many local private accommodation options available on the internet it is best to source it before you arrive if not camping. While there is no charter or hire boats currently operating on Rocklands, Victorian Inland Charters is located at Lake Toolondo some half an hour away and available year round at both venues.

With the nearest township being Balmoral, which has most services, shops, hotel and fuel, Rocklands is isolated enough to be pleasurable but not too far from civilisation. Always check local signage and regulations for both boating and camping to avoid prosecution. Maritime Safety Victoria, Fisheries Inspectors are ever present to enforce rules and deter illegal or unlicensed activities, as are the locals from Victoria Police.

1

Rocklands reservoir was completed in 1953.

2

This is a nice little bass from Rocklands taken trolling StumpJumpers.

3

Typical redfin school just prior to a double hook up!

4

Mudeye under bubble floats equals trout!

5

Tasmanian Devils are a must-have to flat line troll at Rocklands.

6

(Left to right) Rapalas, Fishooka, Diawa Double Clutches, Ballista Triggers.

7

Rocklands from near the wall with the Grampians in the background.

8

Darryl Oshannassy with a ripper redding taken trolling at Rocklands.

9

Tash Mustafa Allan landed this beaut brown trolling the trees on a Rapala hardbody.

10

Paul Walker from Swan Hill landed some nice reddies recently.

11

Cowbells and Ford fenders will enhance your trolling in Rocklands.

12

StumpJumpers, are the ever-reliable Rockland’s lures for most species.

13

Strike Pro Redfin lures have accounted for some great catches.

14

A couple of bait nets are essential for catching live bait like gudgeon.

15

Live yabbies are essential bait at Rocklands.

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