The Eildon Pondage is a holding storage situated between Lake Eildon and the Goulburn River. It’s controlled by Southern Hydro and is part of a massive irrigation system managed by Goulburn-Murray Water.
The pondage is a shallow 150ha lake that is amongst the most popular trout fishing destinations in Victoria. It boasts good access and local facilities, beautiful surrounds and a regular stocking program of large fish from the nearby Snobs Creek Hatchery. I spoke with former inland recreational fisheries manager and now Editor of VFM, Marc Ainsworth, about how the pondage is managed. I also spoke with keen flyfishers Stuart Rees, who recently won the Victorian Flyfishing Championships in September, and one of his fishing companions Lionel Coombs.
For many years, the pondage was stocked with 1, 2 and 3-year-old trout, the larger of which were used for breeding at Snobs Creek and then released into the pondage for anglers to catch.
Most of these stocked trout weighed between 200g and 4kg and provided tremendous fishing for a range of trout, including some trophy sized, double figure specimens.
Given the popularity of this water as a ‘trophy’ fishery, and the feedback to Fisheries Officers who regularly patrol the water and talk to anglers, Fisheries Managers decided a few years ago to increase the proportion of very large fish stocked into the pondage.
Instead of thousands of small yearling trout, resources were redirected into stocking fewer, but much larger, rainbow and brown trout. Additional trout were purchased with fishing licence fees to boost the number of large fish, some as big as 5kg each. This has been popular with many locals and visitors although some flyfishers, including Stuart and Lionel, have expressed concern about the short-term nature of this stocking strategy and the limited opportunities it provides now to pursue naturally feeding, acclimatised fish.
Last year, a licence fee funded creel survey commenced on the pondage to get more information about who catches what, where, when and how, including how many anglers bag out under the current daily limit of 5 trout per person. These creel surveys involved research staff from Snobs Creek walking the bank, interviewing anglers and gathering details about their day on the water.
The project also aimed to see how long stocked trout remain in the pondage before they’re caught, where anglers fishing the pondage come from, how much they spend on their visit and how satisfied they are with their fishing experience.
This information will be used to optimise the stocking strategy and, where possible, improve fishing opportunities in the pondage for bait, lure and fly anglers.
Unlike many of our trout rivers, the Eildon Pondage is not subject to a seasonal closed season; it’s open all year round, just like most of our trout lakes, including Lake Eildon nearby.
Marc tells me that some anglers have requested consideration be given to reducing the daily bag limit of trout in the pondage, given that so many big fish are stocked now. While a daily catch of 5 fish, that may have included 3 small ones and 2 big ones, was considered by some to be a ‘reasonable days’ take, others now believe that with so many big fish about, the limit should be reduced from 5 to 2.
The creel survey will shed considerable light on all of these stocking and regulatory issues, so stay tuned.
Both Stuart and Lionel told me that they fish the pondage because it’s only an hour’s drive from the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, is heavily stocked, and in most years they can catch plenty of trout, with a good chance of one over 10lb.
However both have concerns about the way in which the pondage is being managed, preferring the previous approach in which rising two-year-old trout were released between November and January. By June, July and August of the following year, the lads believe those stocked fish that remained had made the switch to feed on natural insects, clearly a good thing for flyfishers.
Stuart and Lionel don’t believe the release of only 2 and 3-year-old trout nowadays provides them with the same opportunities to target these fish on the fly because they don’t last as long in the pondage before being caught and kept.
The pondage can be roughly divided into two sections: above and below the road bridge. Broadly speaking, the stretch of water above the bridge seems to fish best in winter while the lower section performs best in summer.
Bait fishermen do well all year round, fishing on the bottom with scrubworms, earthworms, maggots and PowerBait. Fishing with bubble and quill floats is another good method for baits like mudeyes, scrubworms and live minnows.
Casting lures also produces some good pondage trout. Tassie Devils are popular and productive, particularly the gold winged no.89 and no.82, S12, 63, 6 and 38. Lazer Lures, Crocodiles, Min Mins, Wee Wobblers, Strike Pro Pygmy-205/ 71, Raider 10 and Maniac, and shallow diving small StumpJumpers are also productive.
Soft plastics have been braining trout in southwest lakes and rivers recently and they’re likely to be as effective on pondage trout when visibility is good.
The pondage’s water level is drawn down to the old riverbed on occasion. In the first 2 to 3 weeks afterwards there’s some terrific fishing to be had, which explains the large number of people that fish at this time.
It’s easy to fish at lower levels because you can get to good concentrations of fish and, if you’re a flyfisher, you’ve got a relatively uninterrupted backcast.
At water levels above 50% you’re far more limited given that wading and boats are not generally permitted on the pondage. At the request of local tourist operators who preferred the view of a full lake rather than acres of mud, the pondage is drawn down to the old riverbed far less than it used to be.
Night-time fishing the riverbed channel at low water can be very productive. Stuart and Lionel find that fishing luminous flies is the best tactic, even when the water is dirty. Big flies all the way up to a size 2 are an advantage as well. Stuart believes that if your fly isn’t hugging the bottom then you’re wasting your time. When fishing this way the trout takes are often gentle. In the past, the lads have caught lots of big trout with this method. Lionel believes that the darker the night, the better the fishing.
In spring, the pondage can dirty up after heavy rainfall and muddy run-off. Stuart and Lionel find the dirty conditions aren’t a problem; the trout can still find your flies although dark coloured flies stand out the most.
They find that intermediate clear fly lines are best, and that slow and fast retrievals can work depending on the day. Their favourite flies on the pondage in spring are stick caddis, small nymphs, Tom Jones, midge patterns and the Dirty Harry.
The lads believe that the spring fishing over the flats is not what it used to be. Whether it’s a result of the changed stocking approach or changed water management regimes is unknown.
In summer, the growth rate of trout in the pondage is thought to be good because of the high number of mudeyes that boom with warming temperatures.
Marc believes that it will be very interesting to read the results of the research to see just how long some of those stocked fish last in the pondage. Whether or not well-conditioned trout are a result of fish putting on condition in the lake or are just recently released fish still carrying condition from the hatchery should be answered.
Regardless, pondage trout just love mudeyes, as they do just about everywhere, and summer evenings are a great time to fish them under a bubble float. Alternatively for the flyflicker, casting a Muddler Minnow can be great although Stuart really likes a hot pink Woolly Bugger as a productive summertime pondage fly.
Throughout winter, a big black Dirty Harry, which is a Woolly Bugger variation, is a deadly fly in the pondage. It came about when Stuart fished the pondage with Hal Morgan who caught plenty of trout on a large fly, fished on a sinking line. Stuart was amazed with Hal’s success and so decided to change its size slightly and add a bead head for weight. And so the Dirty Harry was born. Another fly that does well in the pondage is the B.M.S.
In autumn, many tend not to flyfish in the pondage because it’s always full and finding a spot away from the crowds can mean difficult casting so close to the heavy vegetation around the shoreline.
There are some brown trout in the pondage that are long and out of condition. Some people say that they come down from Lake Eildon but Stuart and Lionel are not so sure.
There are also a few stocked trout that make it down into the Goulburn River each year from the pondage. The bulk of these are either fin-clipped or carrying dart tags so they should be distinguishable from the wild fish in the river.
The biggest trout that Stuart and Lionel have caught from the pondage over the years was 12lb. They’ve also caught a lot of trout between 5 and 8lb.
Their most memorable day was when the water level dropped to the old riverbed. On nearly every cast four or five big trout would chase their flies in. That was certainly a day to remember!
While both Stuart and Lionel would like to see the old stocking strategy return, there are others who prefer the ‘put and take’ nature of this popular waterway.
I for one can’t wait to see the results of the research so that any changes that do occur are made with as much information as possible.
The pondage is a true Victorian trout fishing icon and has been a learning ground for hundreds if not thousands of keen trout anglers. It deserves the very best we can give it.
Freshwater Discovery Centre
In addition to trout and native fish production, the Snobs Creek Hatchery houses the Freshwater Discovery Centre. There’s a small entry fee but the displays, aquariums, information and live fish touch tank (for baby trout) make it worth every cent. For more information ring (03) 5774 2208.