Bait Biology – the common galaxias
  |  First Published: July 2005

Our focus as recreational anglers is often directed towards our target species and its particular behaviour. However, we don’t often stop and look at the lifecycle of prey.

The common galaxias (Galaxias maculatus), otherwise known as ‘turket’ or ‘minnow’ is aptly named as one of the world’s most widespread ‘diadromous’ fish species – meaning that part of their lifecycle is spent in the sea. In Australia, the common galaxiid has also adapted to life in many landlocked lakes.

The common galaxias is just one of many species of native galaxiids in Australia and is found throughout many countries in the Southern Hemisphere. They are actually thought to be relatives of the Northern Hemisphere trouts and salmons, which are often stocked for recreational anglers in Victoria – namely brown trout, rainbow trout and Chinook salmon. Thought to be related to the Northern Hemisphere species that can grow to more than 10kg, galaxiids would be lucky to reach 10 grams!

In Victoria, populations of the common galaxiids are widespread and support trophy salmonid fisheries in landlocked lakes such as Bullen Merri and Purrumbete situated in Western Victoria.

Riverine Populations

The lifecycle of riverine populations of the common galaxiasis quite interesting! Adult fish grow to maturity in their first year of life in the freshwater reaches of tidal rivers and streams. Their life cycle is usually completed in about 1 year, although some fish breed at two or three years of age. Female fish are usually larger than male fish. In the first year of life they grow to between 7cm and 10cm.

During late summer and autumn adults migrate downstream, often over considerable distances, to the tidal reaches of rivers to spawn. At this time, breeding shoals are often observed in the lower reaches of estuaries.

Spawning takes place amongst aquatic vegetation (often grasses and sedges) at the waters edge, which is submerged by high tides and often follows the peak of a ‘spring tide’ series. This occurs with the full or new moon. Most adult fish die after spawning.

The adhesive eggs remain attached to aquatic vegetation and the eggs develop out of the water above the normal high tide level. Egg hatching usually occurs about a fortnight later when peak tides resulting from the spring tide series inundate the eggs and stimulate hatching. If these peak tides fail to cover these eggs then hatching can be delayed for up to 6 weeks after fertilisation. A good reason to watch where you tread!

After hatching, the newly hatched larvae (juvenile fish less than 1cm long) are washed out to sea where they spend the winter months. Juveniles (3-4cm in length) often known as ‘whitebait’ then migrate into freshwater reaches of coastal rivers during the following spring. The ‘whitebait’ grows to maturity in freshwater and then migrates downstream during the following autumn to spawn. The cycle begins again.

It’s a pretty amazing story for a little fish. Some of the juvenile galaxias have been found 700km from continental land!

Fish barriers, such as weirs can be detrimental to these small fish so it’s important that artificial barriers have fish ladders built in to allow them to migrate to the right habitat.

Landlocked populations

Populations living in landlocked lakes have adapted to life quite well. Without tidal influence, landlocked populations have developed a diverse range of breeding strategies. Their lifecycle is a bit more hit-and-miss, which is hard to believe when you look at how abundant they are in some of our western district lakes.

In terms of longevity, growth and the laying of adhesive eggs that develop near the waters edge, landlocked populations mirror the lifecycle of riverine populations. However, because the fish cannot use tidal influence for spawning and hatching, they migrate towards the lake shoreline and improvise.

In Lake Bullen Merri, galaxias spawn under rocks along the shoreline from April to November, so they can have quite a long spawning season. Laying their eggs underneath rocks helps to protect them from predators and from drying out. Wind and wave action helps the eggs dislodge and hatch when they have developed after about 2 weeks.

In other lakes such as Lake Modewarre and Lake Corangamite, the fish migrate out of the lake and into intermittent creeks when they flood in spring. They lay their eggs along the grassy edges. The behaviour is similar to what the riverine populations exhibit, however, they rely on another flood or runoff event to dislodge and hatch the eggs – very hit-and-miss, particularly in our climate of unpredictable weather!

Baitfish Collecting Regulations

There are a couple of ways to successfully collect minnows for recreational fishing purposes in Victorian waters. A current Victorian Fishing Licence is required, even when bait collecting.

Bait traps

You can use no more that two bait traps per person to take fish or invertebrate species. Each of these traps must be labelled with your full name and address attached to a float of some kind that remains above the surface of the water.

Plastic or mesh bait traps must not have a funnel entrance diameter exceeding 5cm and the height of the trap must not exceed 23cm. The trap must also be within the confines of 23cm wide and 50cm long. This is important to note, particularly if you intend to make your own. Fold up bait traps are much easier and can be purchased cheaply from most tackle stores.

Dip Nets

A recreational dip net consists of an open faced net with a width and depth not exceeding 90cm, attached to a handle. A dip net may be used to take a variety of fish and invertebrate species with or without the use of a light, except within 30m of the mouth of a river or creek.

The use of only one dip net per person is permitted in marine and inland waters. Note that the use of a dip net is restricted in National Parks. Consult your current Victorian Recreational Fishing Guide for more information.

Recreational Bait Net (Haul Net)

You can use a recreational bait net to take bait in marine waters except for some specified areas. A recreational bait net with a fine mesh must not exceed 6m in length. Hauling ropes attached to each end must not exceed 6m.

Rigging Live Minnows

There’s no doubt that a live minnow is one of the best baits around. Live baits will out fish dead baits by a mile! So remember to take care of your bait prior to arriving at your favourite spot.

A running bubble float rig with 2-4kg line and a number 4 hook is probably the most popular method of delivering a live minnow to the water. The option of partially filling the float with water can give you some weight for casting further out.

Likewise, a running sinker rig and a number 4 hook is effective for getting the bait down. When using a running sinker rig try to minimise the amount of lead so that the bait is presented as naturally as possible.

Hook the minnows through the tail, about 1cm short of the tail fin, trying not to damage the spine or lateral line. A two minnow rig is also very successful and is regularly used by anglers when fishing Lake Purrumbete and Lake Bullen Merri.

Remember when using live minnows for bait:

Abide by the bait collecting regulations.

Don’t collect more that you need.

Look after your bait (use an aerator and keep the water cool).

Try and minimise translocation of fish from one lake or river to another (help prevent disease travelling from one place to another).

Don’t release leftover minnows into waterways that they have not been collected from.

It is illegal to use carp or goldfish as bait in Victorian waters.

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