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Redfish rejuvenation
  |  First Published: November 2015



Through years of dwindling waterways and tough drought conditions, the toughest of all freshwater fish – the redfin perch, scientifically known as Perca fluviatilis – has proven time and again to be a survivor. Known to frequent channels, lakes, swamps, rivers, and streams this tough little fighter is extremely resilient.

First introduced to Australia in the 1860's as a sport fish they have become widespread in NSW, ACT, VIC, TAS, south eastern SA, and the south western parts of WA. Although they have been knows to grow in length up to 60cm and weight around 10kg, the more common specimen is found around 40-45cm and between 1-2kg.

In the Wimmera the biomass of redfin is still rebounding post drought. Local fisheries officers have recognised that numbers of redfin aren't booming in local waters where, in days gone by, many a fishing trip in search of trout or natives was saved by a bag of these delicious perch. Many of the older locals recount survival of the depression era on a staple diet of redfin due to their huge numbers and ease of capture. Although numbers are down, reddies are still the preferred species with the older local anglers with any reports of good numbers bringing out methods of bobbing and bottom baiting.

Redfin are a dominant predator to many fish however, larger species in the waterways are willing to devour the juveniles. Trout and cod prey heavily on young redfin if food is not prevalent or abundant in the system. Redfin’s ability to decimate stocked natives or trout make them a target for anglers in the Wimmera.

Successful methods are trolling medium to deep diving lures, casting vibes, and bait fishing with minnow or gudgeon. Redfin metabolism slows in the colder months so these fish are best targeted in autumn, and spring through to summer. Ideal water temperatures are between 12-14°C and above and a barometer of 1020 and above. A good sounder is a great advantage to define schools and the structure holding them. Side imaging on a sounder is invaluable to cover larger areas and mark schools then navigate to them. On the other hand, many rely heavily on visible habitat and structure without the use of a sounder and are still rewarded with fish.

There are many location options to try for redfin as they can thrive almost anywhere, however, the main lakes throughout the Wimmera are the hardest fished for a feed of these great tasting, tenacious fighters. There are anglers who often stock smaller redfin into dams for their own sport. These can grow to maximum size providing there is food in the waterway and over stocking or over breeding doesn't occur. It's important to manage numbers in impoundments to prevent what's locally known as ‘pygmy’ redfin. This occurs when the food source in the waterway is depleted and a breeding cycle takes place, lack of nourishment prevents the juveniles from developing properly, they become stunted and in extreme cases, suffer from spinal deformities which is then bred into the following generations.

METHODS
Trolling

Trolling is probably the most productive method and the prime way to locate schools of fish. Covering ground with a sounder will locate the fish and from there it's usually a matter of trolling back and forth through the patch. Slow speed, to match your lure selection is critical, as is the depth of the lure. I work through water to a maximum depth of 5m but focus mainly on up to 3m. Structure and tree lines usually shelter a school of fish and trolling past these can result in multiple hook ups. Trolling will also locate the deeper schools and double your options. Often a deeper sitting school is located while trying for the shallower schooling fish. A quick change of lures to the required depth can entice these fish upwards. Usually I find fish sitting deep are best targeted with bait or drop shotting/jigs. I prefer to run a split screen most of the time on my sounder. Being in side scan mode allows for coverage of bigger areas and more chances of finding schooled up fish. Normal sonar mode is shown on the other side of the split as it helps identify the actual fish in the beam below the boat. Another tip is to not stop the boat on a hook up, instead troll another 10-20m as redfin will chase the hooked fish looking for whatever it appears to be chasing and often take another lure, resulting in multiple hook ups.

Baitfishing

A long time favourite of the older generation of redfin hunters, bait fishing has almost become a thing of the past for younger anglers with technology taking over and artificials almost perfectly imitating baits and scents. Gudgeon and yabbies have been the basis of bait used in the bottom bash for redfin forever. A simple paternoster style rig dropped to the bottom and slowly lifted and dropped every 20 seconds or so usually initiates an impulse strike. Minnow also have been great bait but these dry times have seen minnow become very scarce throughout the region. Worms are prime fare but also become the target of pesky carp and can decimate your bait supply in no time.

Redfin aren't overly fussy about their feed and being a school fish, double hook ups are not uncommon nor is the chase up by the whole school to the top trying to grab the regurgitated stomach contents of hooked fish.

Casting

Anglers spend hours working rivers and streams in search of redfin and with the introduction of many different styled lures and imitations such as soft plastics in both fish and grub/worm form, the search has become easier. The older generation didn't have a lot to pick from, back in the day the choice was basically Celtas, Dicksons, and Hogbacks. Today the variations are amazing and you can pretty much buy a match up to any bait or living critter that would inhabit any waterway. For me, flashy bladed lures still dominate and always will.

Working overhanging trees, gravel beds and deeper holes in the warmer months is ideal for getting a good feed. Soft plastics also in minnow/gudgeon forms will eliminate the need to carry a bucket full of water, and run an aerator plus provide more fishing time. Reddies love structure, so fallen trees can hold a single fish or a whole school. Covering a good stretch of river or stream is possible in a short time as redfin normally hit hard on the first cast or so, and if thy don’t they simply aren't there. Time to move onwards!

Jigging/Bobbing

My first memories of redfin fishing are in the great Toolondo 45 years ago when, at the ripe young age of 6, my dad, uncles and cousins set out in small boats to cruise the tree lines in search of redfin. Back then Polaroid sunglasses weren't abundant and it was a hit or miss operation. In short, you pulled up at a tree, threw in what was known as a Baltic Bobber and dropped it to the bottom then lift it up a metre or so off the lake bed, trying not to snag up on branches or logs. Schooling fish would see the bobber and within minutes there would be a frenzy of action with many fish coming aboard. At times a double hook up occurred with a reddie on each hook. If no action happened it was just a matter of shifting to the next tree and trying again. Very rarely would the redfin be switched off, a trend that is currently taking shape. Ice jigs have become very popular and productive in recent years and virtually replaced the old Baltic Bobber. Same type of action required but the advantage of ice jigs is the ability to be cast and retrieved in a hopping fashion to cover more ground.

WIMMERA LOCATIONS
Rocklands Reservoir

Rocklands Reservoir is probably the most productive waterway throughout the Wimmera and holds massive numbers of redfin year round. A 10 minute drive from the town of Balmoral, it's the ultimate spot for trying all of the above methods and a great camping location too. With several other species including trout, bass, cod and carp available it's a great prospect for a feed.

Lake Fyans

Located 15 minutes from both Halls Gap and Stawell, Fyans is well and truly on the rebound as a redfin fishery after suffering huge fishing pressure during the drought. Bank and boating opportunities open up here as a great location for junior anglers to get a shot at the reddies. Also holding brown and rainbow trout it’s a magnificent location at the foot of the Grampians with a caravan park on the foreshore.

Lake Bellfield

Another lake within a short drive of Halls Gap holding several different species including chinook salmon and trout. Restricted to electric motor boats only, large schools of redfin are present here and trolling, bait fishing, and jigging work well.

Lake Wartook

A 20 minute drive from Halls Gap through the Grampians, Wartook holds good numbers of reddies as well as trout. Trolling diving lures is my preferred method here but the local angling club members do very well with both jigs and bait fish at depths. Fishing the wall is a good idea with varying depths of 3-4m in easy casting distance.

Lake Toolondo

Located 30 minutes drive south west of Horsham, Toolondo is widely known as the best trout fishery on mainland Australia but also a great redfin location. Post drought we haven't seen the population re-establish as yet but the signs are there of a rejuvenation. Trolling and casting is the best option here as abundant weed growth around the edges has restricted bank fishing.

Taylors Lake

Within 15 minutes drive of Horsham, Talyors produces some nice fish to both boat and bank anglers mainly in the warmer months. Water transfers occur in the lead up to Christmas that makes the water here turbid. As redfin rely heavily on eyesight, post Christmas will yield better results as the water clarity improves. Holding cod, yellowbelly and silver perch, it's a great fishery that also doubles as ski/recreational lake.

Green Lake

Only 10 minutes drive from Horsham, but currently receding in water levels the lake holds a good number of redfin for both bank and boat anglers. Over the past couple of years there have been good numbers taken by slow trolling diving lures or soaking baits such as worms and yabbies. May become un-fishable as summer hits with blue green algae blooms and low levels.

Wimmera River

Many kilometres of the river is accessible both close to Horsham and further afield. Out to the west of the town is the better location. Bait fishing in the turbid water is preferred but carp will most likely beat the redfin or yellas to the offerings. As far as the system stretches there is great fishing but around weirs are the prime spots for redfin. Spinning can produce fish to avoid the carp and a surprise yellowbelly is a bonus catch.

Other locations

Most waterways throughout the region that hold permanent water will usually have an existing population of naturally occurring Redfin. While sitting patiently with bait is relaxing, the best method to find Redfin by far is spinning lures. Reddies find it hard to resist a flashy lure and a few casts into a waterhole or river can on most occasions entice a strike to establish if they are present.

Gear

Light spinning rods and 2000 or 2500 sized reels are sufficient as is either mono or braided lines. Personally I prefer braid for the feel of every little bump or strike. To cover the jigging/bobbing side of things a similar stick will do the job as well as diversifying for the bait fishing. Diving lures of various depths are a must to cover all different lakes. Plastics and bladed, spinning lures are also a must and minnow and gudgeon imitations will see you hooked up in no time.

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