A thought provoking article on the state of Victoria’s Trout Fishery has been getting so much unprecedented positive reader feedback that we thought we should share it with an even wider community of anglers if possible. Have a read and get your fishing friends to read it also.

Trevor Hawkins has penned this piece to get all of Victoria’s trout anglers thinking about what they want from their trout fishery heading into the next decade and beyond.

Have a read and give Victorian Fisheries or us your feedback.

Victorian Trout at the crossroads

VICTORIAN TROUT- at the crossroads?

Trevor Hawkins suggests that to get our once fabulous Victorian trout fishery back on track and thriving again may take some lateral thinking from both trout anglers and fisheries managers.

Let me say here and now I’m a freshwater fisherman first, a trout angler second and a fly fisherman third. I also love chasing freshwater native fish, but don’t do it enough unfortunately, and I also have a passion for exploring remote estuaries chasing EPs, mulloway, bass and dusky flathead on lures and flies, so what I’m about to say comes from a desire to see all our fisheries thrive and be at least as good as they once were, and hopefully better for decades to come.

I can’t remember any period in my five decades of mostly trout fishing where a state government has been more pro-active and positive towards angling (and for that matter, responsible hunting also) and trying to improve the quality of our fisheries and lifting the number of participating anglers.

People who fish, hunt and 4WD inject a huge amount of money into small and often remote Victorian country towns that often rely on that money to keep their communities viable. Our present state government thankfully realises this fact, but in the end that money injected by anglers will only continue to flow if the fishing is worth travelling for, and the hunters and 4WDrivers have access to the remote mountain areas they so often frequent.

The minister responsible for our fisheries is Jaala Pulford MLA, and while I don’t always find myself agreeing with her governments other policies, I’m over the moon with her and the state governments commitment and enthusiasm to recreational fishing and sustainable hunting. The Victorian state government isn’t just giving lip service to their Target One Million plan, I know from first hand experience they are committed to it totally. Of course that commitment means nothing if fisheries aren’t also on the same page, and again, from my personal experience, I’ve seen the dedication and effort by the freshwater division of fisheries who are implementing the governments commitment to Target One Million, and they are totally onboard. It’s worth pointing out that the people at fisheries who are striving to implement the Target One Million pledge are themselves passionate freshwater anglers, and that’s fantastic and shouldn’t be underestimated. Think about it for a minute? We have a pro-active government who are willing to pump all of our Recreational Licence fee money back into our fisheries, plus additional funds into related outdoor activities using other revenue sources, while on top of that we have a pro-active and dedicated freshwater fisheries division, all we need now to complete the trifecta is for us licensed trout anglers to stand up, be counted, and say what we want for/from our trout fisheries over the short and long term.

In my opinion we have reached a cross road in our Victorian trout fishery, we seem to be at a point where a lot of the scientific research is now being done for the sake of research, rather than driving an immediate and better outcome for trout anglers in general for the short and long term. After all, as trouties, or anglers in general for that matter, don’t we all just really want to have good access to a clean, healthy fishing environment where we have a better than average chance of catching a fish. At the very least, we need to know that when we go fishing somewhere, there are actually enough fish there to be sustainably caught, and if we fail to catch them, well we can deal with that by improving our own skills. But the fish must be there and in numbers worth travelling for to start with!

WHAT WENT WRONG?

The perfect storm of a prolonged drought that finally broke some six years ago was followed by a short period of boom, where trout numbers and sizes were fantastic, of course that sudden breaking of a prolonged drought also saw a huge increase in pelicans and large black cormorants descending on many of the lakes where young trout had not long before been liberated. One day on Hepburn Lagoon I stood in awe watching what must have been a flock of over 200 cormorants flying overhead. A year later I watched a very large mob of pelicans feeding in one small area of the Mitchell River at Bairnsdale for over a week solid feeding on small bream or bass I presume.

In that same season I saw for the first time numbers of black cormorants working the upper Mitta Mitta River, in both the pools and something I’d never seen before, in the fast whitewater also. I also encountered large numbers up on the Eucumbene River above Kiandra in NSW where I’d never seen them before in all my years fishing.

So it’s probably fair to say the fish stocks in lakes took a serious hammering first, that’s ok, those fish can be replenished quickly by further stocking, but what about the streams where the cormorants went after they’d decimated the lake stockings? Once those river fish are hit hard, how many seasons does it take to come back?

Since that period of drought breaking rains we also moved into a number of years where the temperatures in those prime Victorian trout river areas of the northeast and east of the state have been consistently higher than normal, and that’s all resulted in a few of years of the worst trout fishing I have personally experienced, and I know I’m not alone in that.

So here we are in 2016, we’ve got the money, we’ve done the science, we’ve got a pro-active government, almost everybody I’ve spoken to seems in agreement that we need to do something differently to get our river trout fishing back, and for it to be better than it’s been for decades to not only satisfy and keep us long-term diehard trouties fishing, but to offer something better than what we’ve been getting to drive an increase in angler numbers to achieve the governments One Million anglers by 2020 plan.

Landing-a-brown

SOME THOUGHTS and OBSERVATIONS

Trout anglers are nothing if not passionate about trout, we love them as a premier sporting species, we embrace the folklore that comes with them based on hundreds of years of angling literature, we’re amazed at their beauty, and we love the fact that they live in pristine bush environments where they can be hunted with bait, lure and fly. Many of us like nothing more than the taste of a fresh-from-the-water river trout when cooked over an open fire at a remote campsite, and while we may not enjoy the enforced break from our river fishing during the closed season, we acknowledge that there is and should be a closed season to show that we respect this wonderful sportfish and are more than willing to let them reproduce and replenish their numbers without interference from anglers.

The bottom line is that most of us hold trout, especially river trout on a higher level than simply as a resource to be caught and killed. All the science in the world that says there is no valid reason for a size limit on trout just doesn’t wash with most of us, in fact it simply re-enforces what many perceive as a longterm bias against trout by those that see them as a feral or unwanted introduced species.

SOME PERSONAL SUGGESTIONS

I’d like to make it clear that what I’m saying here are my personal thoughts on how we could start to improve our trout fisheries; they aren’t necessarily that of Bill Classon or this (Freshwater Fishing Australia) magazine. I think there is wide angler support for an immediate re-introduction of a sensible minimum size and a more appropriate bag limit.

SIZE LIMIT

The first thing that should be done is the re-introduction of a minimum size limit across the whole state. This would immediately show anglers that trout are seen as a valuable fish worthy of protection. Two figures have been thrown up by many anglers I speak to, 220mm or 250mm, I’d personally like to see 250mm as a minimum size, but 220mm is probably more acceptable for those anglers chasing a feed. Whatever size is settled on, we need to move fast.

Fisheries shouldn’t wait around on this in my opinion, bite the bullet and make a decision one way or other and introduce a minimum size in time for the 2016-2017 Victorian trout season. The majority of trout anglers will be singing the praises of fisheries managers for taking what they see as a hugely important step in rectifying our declining river trout fishery.

BAG LIMITS

There is no justification for maintaining a bag limit of five trout across the board in Victoria, especially on many fragile streams where variable natural recruitment is relied upon to replenish trout stocks and maintain a worthwhile fishery. While fisheries might make a case that most anglers release the fish caught anyway, that still doesn’t make a good argument against doing something to spread the amount of keeper sized trout that CAN potentially be killed over a greater number of anglers and possibly over more months of the open season.

It’s time to recognise that most anglers see trout as a true sportfish and not a resource to be harvested in large numbers for food!

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PREMIER WATERS

I think there’s a case to be made to break some rivers and lakes into two or three groups.

I’d personally like to see…

Catch and Release streams or sections thereof, where anglers must use barbless hooks and release all fish back to the water.

I think perfect candidates for ‘Premier’ status streams might be..

  • The entire Bundara River
  • The Upper Mitta Mitta River above the Big River Bridge
  • The Kiewa River upstream of Mountain Creek Road
  • The Murrundindi River along the entire scenic reserve stretch of river
  • The Rubicon River upstream of Tumbling Waters
  • The Ovens River upstream of Snowy Creek Road
  • The Delatite River upstream of Merrijig

I’d be very surprised if the results of the recent survey into the sea run rivers to Melbourne’s west didn’t come back showing that little if any natural spawning occurs and as a result those rivers in question might be opened for year round angling. If this is to be the case then I think these rivers above the sea run sections should be proclaimed ‘catch and release trophy waters’ and restrict fishing to barbless single hooks only.

 

2 FISH BAG

All rivers other than the catch and release sections and rivers listed above should have the bag limit reduced to 2 fish, this would spread the possible catchable take out to more anglers and over a longer period of each season and offer a more modern approach to a sportfish that needs protecting.

5 FISH BAGS

The only exception to 2 fish bags on rivers could be the Goulburn River below the Eildon Pondage and the Mitta Mitta River below Lake Dartmouth. Both these sections of rivers should have supplementary stocking to increase fish numbers in my opinion to offer a greater of number of anglers a chance to take home a good bag.

SLOT LIMITS

I think it’s also worth limiting the bag to having only one keeper trout permissible above 350mm in all rivers that aren’t catch and release.

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STOCKING RIVERS

Shock horror, I can see certain people now squirming at the thought of resuming stocking in some of our hardest fished rivers.
To my mind it’s all very well for some anglers to be as pure as the driven snow and only wanting “wild’ trout, but come on, let’s get serious here for a moment, unless there is conclusive proof that trout in most of our mountain streams aren’t getting replenished at times with stocked lake trout to some degree or another I can’t see any reason why we don’t at least take a few ‘hard fished’ rivers and try some managed stocking along with angler catch research to see if we can’t lift the catch rates, I defy anyone to be able to pick the difference of a wild fish over a hatchery fish in looks or fighting ability unless they are looking at a grown-on hatchery fish with clipped or worn fins.

And finding a supply of fresh genetics shouldn’t be a problem to maintain a healthy gene pool even so.

We have a few rivers that are very heavily fished that I reckon would be ideal candidates for some serious stocking trials to accommodate more weekend and visiting anglers.

They are..

  • Yarra River
  • Howqua River
  • Jamieson River
  • Upper Goulburn River

STOCKING LAKES

The beauty of most of our lakes is that they can be managed very intensely with stocking regimes to get the best out of any given water. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I believe rather than stocking every water possible with fewer trout and have numerous ‘average’ lake fisheries, we should drop quiet a few off the trout stocking list totally at least while we concentrate on making some of the best trout lakes ‘standout’ fisheries.

I’ll give you a few examples, stop putting trout into Pykes Creek Reservoir where you’d be pushing to see two or three anglers fishing in any given month. How about we look at turning it into a premier yellowbelly water close to the growing populations of the western suburbs?

Stop stocking Bellfield Lake with trout (and salmon) that are rarely fished for and consider trying to establish a unique bass fishery people would travel to and concentrate on improving the trout fishing at nearby Lake Fyans and Wartook that are already proven prime trout waters.

Don’t stock any trout into Rocklands Reservoir, but introduce yellowbelly and EPs to compete with the redfin.

Stop stocking Malmsbury and maybe even Lauriston Reservoir and concentrate on making Coliban Reservoir, where there is better angler access, a more productive trout water.

Drop a lot of the marginal small lakes around Ballarat off the stocking list totally, lakes such as Moorabool, Bostock and Gong Gong come immediately to mind, and put those trout into a few prime key waters such as Andersons Lagoon and Newlyn where angler numbers are far greater, as is the fishing.

Concentrate on creating a few Premier Lakes such as Bullen Merri, Lake Purrumbete, Toolondo, Lake Fyans, Wartook, with restricted bags and size limits. Everybody has seen what can be done with an initial heavy and then ongoing top up stocking into ‘water secure’ trout lakes such as Lake Wendouree, there’s no reason that couldn’t be done with Lake Fyans, Hepburn etc.

The other key lake that is screaming out to be stocked far more heavily and consistently is Tullaroop Reservoir, with serious stocking levels and the possible introduction of passive boating, this lake has the potential to be a far better trout lake than Cairn Curran ever was in my opinion.

Consider introducing exotic (sterile?) species such as brook trout into the Falls Creek reservoirs to create two exciting new destination fisheries.

Stock Eildon Pondage with more trout and also possibly sterile exotic salmonids to bring it back once again to prominence as a fantastic, close to Melbourne, year round family sportfishery.

BAG LIMITS- LAKES

I’d leave bag limits as they are presently in our lakes except for Toolondo and Hepburn where I’d reduce them to two fish only with a minimum size limit to encourage trophy trout captures.

Rainbow-Trout

CONCLUSION

There you go; that’s probably more than my two bobs worth, I make no apologies for giving my views, because like most
trouties, I’m passionate about our fishery and want to see it be as good as it can be. The only thing I would add is that it’s also time for Victorian trout anglers and likeminded trout groups to put their hands up and start applying for some of the Recreational Fishing Licence grant money that gets handed out to worthwhile projects each year. The saltwater and native fishery groups seem to have the ‘wood’ on the trouties when it comes to obtaining grants, and from what I can see that’s not because of any preferential treatment from the grants committee, it’s because the trout groups simply aren’t applying for grants.

We all know that half the battle of maintaining a good trout fishery comes down to the quality of a streams habitat, how about some of the pro-active clubs and groups out there start getting their act together and coming up with some trout stream habitat proposals?

I’ve said my bit, now it’s time for all you anglers out there that are passionate about our Victorian trout fishery to let the fisheries managers know what YOU want and when!

Trevor is a Pro Staff member, Field Editor and illustrator for AFN publishing. He has over forty years fishing experience with flyfishing and light line lure fishing being his favourite angling methods. He enjoys kayaking, hiking and AFL Football. Trevor lives in Ballarat, Victoria.  

 

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