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Lake Nillahcootie - a new opportunity
  |  First Published: December 2005



The old saying that ‘when one door closes, another one opens’ may well be true for those anglers who regularly chase golden perch in Lake Mokoan. At the moment, fishing at Lake Mokoan is still good but decommissioning is likely to see water levels fall and boat launching become more difficult. The timeframes for decommissioning are yet to be finalised by it’s probably safe to say that it’ll happen within 4 years. With this change, and the uncertainty about what will remain of Mokoan, northeast anglers will be searching for new locations to chase goldens. A good alternative fishery may be just up the road at Lake Nillahcootie.

On the other side of Benalla, Lake Nillahcootie is starting to come on line with some good catches of golden perch and the odd report of a Murray cod or two. In the past, Lake Nillahcootie was seen as the place to catch redfin. Some say it is a redfin ‘paradise’, and in the right conditions, can perform better than Lake Eildon. Traditionally, redfin was the only fish targeted in the lake. Cricket scores were achieved every season until the overall possession limit of 40 fish was introduced, effectively limiting one’s ability to take huge numbers of redfin when they were on the chew. Nillahcootie, was not however, the place to go for golden perch or Murray cod – but then something changed!

In late 2003, anglers began to catch small golden perch while targeting redfin. These fish were between 20cm and 26cm, below the legal minimum length of 30cm. But they were in good numbers and stayed on the bite through late spring and summer.

Over the years, the occasional Murray cod has also been caught, once again while chasing redfin. While this was not uncommon, it was the exception rather than the rule. The fish were usually in the 5kg to 10kg range and most often taken on trolled lures intended for redfin.

Stocking History

Between 1990 and 1996, approximately 131,000 Murray cod were stocked into Nillahcootie. The Murray cod stockings ceased after a Departmental survey failed to find significant numbers of cod and anglers weren’t reporting catching them on their outings. The bulk of the cod that had been released were stocked as microfry and it’s thought that redfin predation may have taken its toll on their survival rate.

In another attempt to develop a diverse mixed fishery, Fisheries Victoria stocked 15,000 golden perch fingerlings in 2002. The summer stocking season of 2003 saw the lake drawn down very low so stocking did not proceed. But in 2004, water levels had recovered and stocking resumed with the release of another 20,000 goldens. This was repeated in 2005, bringing the total to 55,000.

Recent Performance

Redfin are still the main target in the lake but with more anglers catching golden perch as by-catch, this is sure to change. A lot of Shepparton anglers who regularly fish Nillahcootie are targeting the goldens already. Some that caught small goldens in late 2003 decided to come back and try their luck the following season.

Spring 2004 saw a big increase in the size of the perch being caught with most fish above the legal minimum length. Word soon got around and there was a steady stream of anglers willing to target the perch. And there was always the added bonus of redfin as a very desirable by-catch.

Fishing pressure would have been much greater at Nillahcootie but for the outstanding season that was underway at Eildon. Many of the anglers that were targeting Nillahcootie moved on to Eildon to chase the big bags and huge goldens that were on the bite there. The fishing quietened off at Nillahcootie during December 2004 and early January 2005, with large catches at Eildon and a lot of rain during December. It wasn’t until early February of 2005 that anglers attention returned to Nillahcootie.

Anglers were back, and caught good bags of reasonably sized fish. By autumn of 2005, there were goldens around the 40cm mark. All the fish were in excellent condition and the growth rates indicated that the food supply was plentiful.

The absence of golden perch catches from Nillahcootie prior to the stockings strongly suggest that the large increase of goldens is entirely attributable to stockings. This is similar to Eildon where catches of goldens were unheard of before stocking commenced over a decade ago.

Along with the goldens on offer at Nillahcootie, there have been some recent reports of Murray cod being taken consistently. It’s hard to get accurate reports on exactly what is happening because, understandably, the anglers catching cod are reluctant to talk about it.

The Murray cod that have been caught in the past have been large, although few and far between. More recently though, fish in the 50cm plus range has been a bit more consistent. Casting to the steep rocky drop-offs and snaggy areas has been the most effective strategy.

The appearance of these cod doesn’t correspond to the stocking history as clearly as the golden perch do. They’d have to be rather slow growing cod if they’re survivours of the stockings between 1990 and 1996. Until accurate reports on how big and how many cod are being caught, we can only guess as to whether the cod are resident stock (a wild population of cod is likely to have existed before stocking commenced) or not. Whatever the answer, it looks like Nillahcootie is well on its way to being a great mixed fishery for redfin and golden perch, along with an element of Murray cod.

Lure Fishing

Trolling medium to deep diving lures is the most popular method amongst anglers fishing the lake. The usual suspects are all popular at Nillahcootie. Lures such as the Mann’s Depth Plus, Codgers, Custom Crafted, AC’s and small StumpJumpers are all effective.

One of the most popular and successful methods is to run a soft plastic or very small hard bodied lure about 30cm to 40cm above the main lure. A rig set up similar to a paternoster is used with the main deep diving lure on the longer leader. Some anglers even go to the trouble of removing the trebles of the bottom lure so it can be bounced along the bottom to create as much disturbance as possible without snagging up.

Jigging is also very popular. Both ice jigs and soft plastics work well. Casting soft plastics into schools of redfin (once you’ve located them) also works well. Both shads and worms are successful with the standout being the Storm perch pattern.

During the early summer of 2004 the soft plastic stand up yabby was the lure that took large numbers of both redfin and goldens.

Baitfishing

Baitfishing accounts for a large number of redfin, goldens and cod at Nillahcootie. The freshwater shrimp is the most successful bait with small yabbies right up there too. Don’t discount the humble worm either. Fish as light as possible, with either a paternoster or running sinker rig. Bobbing around the trees, or fishing the points and drop-offs are all successful strategies.

Targeting Murray Cod

For those who wish to pursue cod, find a steep rocky drop-off and bounce spinnerbaits down the face. Alternatively, cast them into the tree-lined banks that have plenty of structure although there aren’t a lot of these areas in the lake.

Trolling larger cod style lures around the deeper points and along the deep banks is also worth trying. As mentioned earlier the angling reports about cod are sketchy at best, so there’s still an element of mystery about how best to target them. No withstanding this, it’s probably safe to say that standard cod hunting techniques are all worth trying.

The Future

It will take a while for golden perch fishing in Nillahcootie to reach the dizzy heights achieved in Mokoan. It might never get there – who knows.

Along with good access, the other bonus at Nillahcootie is the lower turbidity, which gives lure casters and trollers better conditions to ply their trade.

With continued stocking, we may end up with a fishery beyond our expectations. It might not be a dirty water baitfishing Mecca like Mokoan, but if things continue the way they’re going, we ought to have another mixed fishery in the northeast.

Facts

Food, Fuel and Accommodation

Lake Nillahcootie is in between the towns of Mansfield and Benalla, both of which have accommodation ranging from caravan parks to motels. Likewise, the food situation ranges from take-aways to restaurants. A bit closer to the lake, just 4km away on the Benalla side, is the Karri Caravan Park and Golf Course (03) 5768 2416. Swanpool is the closest town for food and fuel.

Facts

Boat Ramps

There is a large park with toilet blocks and a concrete boat ramp at the wall (Benalla end of the lake). This ramp is used by skiers and is a popular spot in the summer.

A dirt ramp is located under the bridge that crosses Sandy Creek. It’s mainly used by anglers and is good ramp that can handle large boats if care is taken. Due to the steepness of the ramp, a 4WD is the best choice of launching vehicle.

The lake has a speed restriction in the top section that gives some relief from the skiers.

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