Bullen Merri – a bass a Chinook fishery
  |  First Published: October 2015

In late 2012, Lake Bullen Merri received a restocking stocking of Chinook salmon and already the lake is producing good quality fish.

With the purchase of new equipment in the hatchery, managers were able to produce good numbers of yearling fish to restock the crater lakes but also included some new trial waters across the state. When stocked alongside brown trout, rainbow trout and Australian bass, this water creates a great multi species fishery, which provides something for every type of angler.

Chinook Salmon fishery

Lake Bullen Merri is known historically for its ability to produce XOS Chinook salmon and in the 1980s fish of up to 11kg were landed during fisheries surveys. Over the past few years Fisheries Victoria have tried to re-establish the once great Chinook salmon fishery with trophy fish and although fish of this calibre are no longer available, anglers are starting to catch the odd fish around the 3.5kg mark, which are great sportfish. Brown and rainbow trout have also been found to reach trophy size in this water and last season there were a number of brown trout in the 5kg size class landed.

The Lake Bullen Merri aquatic environment is unique primarily due to its depth, which can reach up to 50m. There aren’t many natural waters in Australia that reach this sort of depth and that’s is why it is well suited to Chinook salmon and other salmonids. The lake provides deep cool water habitat for the salmonids and being an old volcanic crater it is also very productive, supporting massive populations of baitfish including gudgeon and galaxias.

The crater is basically a fish bowl with limited structure and weed beds and the fish just swim around feeding on the abundant baitfish, which is why they grow so quickly. Like many other salmonids the salmon don’t live long, but what they lose in longevity they make up for with their ability to reach large sizes. They also provide a good return to anglers as they are aggressive feeders and respond well to both bait fishing and trolling.

The two most effective techniques of targeting the salmon are bait fishing at anchor or from the shore with pilchards or glassies or trolling lures usually with the help of a downrigger or paravane to get them down deep. Flat line trolling works well here in the early morning and evening, but during the day the fish often retreat to the depths and you may need to get down to depths of 10-20m to find the fish. Bait fishing is very effective when just fishing your bait off the bottom in 10-20m of water and the fish respond well to berley, so make sure you throw in small amounts often to bring them around your boat.

The depths at which fish are found will vary during the year, as they are happy to move around most of the water column in the winter months when the water is cold and saturated with oxygen, but in the summer months the fish are often found holding in around 15-20m depth on the thermocline, retreating from the warmer lower oxygen surface waters. It is important you identify the depth the fish are holding to be in with a chance of hooking up and if you can get your lure in the zone, it will have a positive effect on your strike rate.

You will pick up the odd rainbow trout when bait fishing using this technique, but for the larger brown trout in this water nothing beats a live galaxias or gudgeon fished at night under a float from the shore.

Australian Bass fishery

While the Lake Bullen Merri fishery is renowned for producing quality Chinook salmon and other salmonids, the lake actually supports a very good Australian Bass fishery. Australian bass were experimentally stocked into this water from 1996-2005, primarily due to the fact the lake went through some serious algae blooms and fish kills in the mid 1990s. Over 160,000 bass fingerlings were stocked into the lake during this period.

Australian bass are a much hardier species than salmonids and therefore it was hoped that they would survive and create a fishery in the tough times when water quality wasn’t ideal for the other species. Australian Bass are long lived and although they are considered slow growing when compared to other stocked salmonids, these stocking are beginning to pay off for anglers.

Almost 20 years on anglers are beginning to catch very good quality bass with some specimens reaching 1.9kg and 46cm. These fish are very fat and in excellent condition. What’s even better is that they hit hard and fight even better. They provide a great option for anglers who want to try something different or are a great go to option when the trout and salmon aren’t biting.

They certainly aren’t the easiest fish to catch, but with time and persistence you can expect the rewards. Simply trolling around the lake with a couple of winged lures won’t help you catch a bass in this water. The two most effective techniques are to troll the edges of the drop offs with minnow styled lures in the 5-9cm size. I often used leadcore or a downrigger to get the lures down to depths of around 10m or more, which is where I catch most of my fish.

Using your sounder is so important to identify the terrain and ensure you get in nice and close to the submerged reefs. I usually troll until I mark or hook a fish, then I can pull up over the top of the schools and fish vertically if it’s not too windy. Schooling behaviour is often observed during the early winter months when the fish school up trying to spawn (although they can’t viably spawn in this water).

As the lake hasn’t been stocked for 10 years the bass are all big and I haven’t seen one under 1.3kg this year! With bass found to reach 15 years of age in other lakes in NSW, it’s likely there with still be plenty of big fish available in the coming years.

The Future

With the bass fishery fully developed and the Chinook salmon fishery re-established it would be great to see the stocking of brown trout increase from 5,000 fish per year to 10,000 per year to help restore what was also arguably the best quality brown trout fishery in the state.

This spring is a great time to head out and chase some of the quality Chinook salmon in the lake and with the water warming up the bass will become more active so if the salmonids aren’t co-operating, you can try something different and have a go at trolling or vertical fishing on the rocky points for Australian bass. You might be surprised what you find!

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