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Freshwater Fishing – Trout Boom!

Stocking programs following the record rains of the past couple of years have created an amazing – but likely short-lived – trout fishery in many of Victoria’s lakes. SCOTT GRAY reports.

IN November and December 2010, Fisheries Victoria stocked 187,500 trout at very short notice late in the season as part of its “Drought Recovery Project”. These fish were the icing on the cake for anglers as part of a big stocking year for trout in Victoria where more than 700,000 were released into 120 waters throughout the state.

The idea of the drought recovery project was to stock brown and rainbow trout into many lakes and reservoirs that filled for the first time in many years so that the fish could take advantage of the productivity associated with the refilling phase. These fish went into waters that had filled rapidly following drought breaking rains with the prospect of creating excellent short-term outcomes for anglers. When water temperatures are right and there is plenty of food available, there is usually low mortality and excellent growth rates exhibited by stocked fish, which in turn provide good returns to anglers.

By May 2011 came reports from anglers that these drought recovery stockings were working well.  Hepburn Lagoon, near Ballarat, was the standout performer early, yielding big numbers of rainbows to 1kg, just five months after release. Good news then started flowing about much improved fishing in Newlyn Reservoir, Bostock, Greenhill, Tullaroop, Elingamite and Deep Lake. Right across the board the rainbow trout were growing at a terrific rate, well in excess of that experienced normally, with some fish reaching the 2kg mark.

The best and most recent good news story was the rise of the Lake Bolac rainbow trout fishery, situated near the quiet township of Lake Bolac, about 2.5 hours west of Melbourne. This lake hasn’t fished well for trout for many years. The water was generally shallow (less than 1m deep), turbid and in high summer water temperatures were extreme, which had detrimental effects on condition and growth of the fish.

In 2010 the lake filled for the first time in more than 20 years, reaching a depth of over 2.5m across the entire lake. While this is certainly not deep for a good trout water, it was perfect to ensure the survival of the rainbow trout through the summer months. The dry conditions and very low water levels experienced over the past 10 years had hardened up the lake bed, encrusting the mud, and as a result the water quality was maintained with visibility of around 1m throughout the year. The populations of invertebrates and forage fish such as Australian smelt and galaxias exploded in this water during the spring of 2010 and 2011, providing huge amounts of high protein food for the stocked fish to thrive on. In November 2010 the lake was stocked with 5000 rainbow trout yearlings which averaged about 50-70g.  At the time, conditions looked perfect for the stocked fish to thrive, but I don’t think anybody expected that they would attain on average of around 300g per month through the summer and into the 2011 season. By April the rainbows averaged 1.5kg, but the popularity of this waterway slipped by anglers as they enjoyed fishing in many other nearby locations like Lake Toliorook and Deep Lake. It wasn’t until the spring of 2011 that the water really became popular when anglers trolling lures started catching double figure totals of trout weighing 1.8-3.5kg in a session.

In September 2011, I spent many days on the lake simply in awe of the size, condition and the number of fish it was producing. While baitfishing from the bank with Powerbait and local smelt was working well for shore-based anglers, trolling and casting lures from a boat was the best I’ve ever seen.

The shallow featureless nature of this lake makes it the perfect place for trolling from a boat as there are no weedbeds, very few rocky outcrops and a consistent depth (about 2m). It was simply a matter of selecting a lure and throwing a line out the back. I preferred running two Rapala floating 7cm or 9cm minnows in a range of patterns. The Perch and Spotted Dog patterns were particular deadly. One of the benefits of the floating/diving minnows is that they never hit the bottom and you could leave the other rods out when you were fighting a fish and the lures would simply float to the top if the boat stopped. This stopped them from fouling on the bottom and still gave you a chance of catching a fish on the other rod.

One important thing to consider when trolling is staggering your lines. When fishing by myself I would fish one lure about 30m behind the boat and another way back about 60m until I found which position was working best on the day. At times I had fish hit closer to the boat than this – probably because I was fishing with a quiet electric trolling motor, which I believe was ideally suited to the shallow nature of the lake. I use the 80lb Minn Kota i-Pilot model which is very versatile and I can drive it by remote from the back of the boat. This allows me to stay on top of the rods at all times. Make sure your rod holders are up to scratch as well as I had the opportunity to watch a few unfortunate anglers lose theirs over the side this year.
Finding fish was straightforward due to the shallow nature of the lake. Many anglers who have not fished western Victorian lakes in their prime may not be attuned to the behaviour of these fish in a shallow pelagic environment where there is little structure and fish holding habitat. These trout are a long way from acting like stream fish hiding behind rocks in a stream. The opportunistic nature of their behaviour is one of the reasons that the fish feed on as much food as possible, particularly high protein value forage fish such as galaxias and Australian smelt. This season we actually found birds diving on schools of baitfish, much like you would see in the ocean. Thus it didn’t take long to find out where the fish were feeding …
On many occasions we would find the fish schooled up around bait balls. Initially it was simply a case of finding a flock of diving birds and putting out the lures. As soon as you trolled over the fish you would hook up, but the real surprise came when the second or third rod went off instantaneously as the rest of the spread found the pack of hungry rainbows. Getting double hookups on rainbows is certainly nothing new, but when the fish are all around 3kg then there is a fair bit of mayhem as fish start flying all over the back of the boat! Then it was simply a matter of identifying the locations of the bait balls or GPS marking the bait and making continual runs over the same area. 

I also cast suspending lures like the Rapala X-Rap 06 and Max Rap 07 at the bait balls with some success once the fish were located. You can catch all the action on the Free DVD in the June 2012 edition of Fishing World.


Even if you’re chasing big fish there is no real reason to overcompensate with heavier spin gear. Standard 2-4kg threadline outfits with reels spooled with 2-4kg braid or monofilament will suffice. The only suggestion I have is that if you are using braided line you upsize your leader to at least 4kg strength as there is a real chance of connecting to a 4kg+ rainbow trout in some of these lakes this season. The last thing you want to do is pop your leader on the strike, which is what happened to plenty of anglers on 3kg+ fish. Also try selecting a longer length of shock leader of around 2m, this will help absorb some of the shock of the strike.

The most important thing to remember is to loosen off your drag once the fish is hooked as it’s likely you will bend a hook or ring, or possibly even tear the hooks out of a big fish as it thrashes around near the boat. Be prepared to lose 50 per cent of the fish you hook as they just go crazy!

Put & Take

Many of the drought recovery waters are boom and bust in nature. Currently these waters are in a boom phase, but how long it will last is anybody’s guess. Rainbow trout are reasonably short-lived and usually only survive 1-2 years after stocking; however, during that time they can reach exceptional sizes, which are not often seen anywhere else in the country or even in their native northern hemisphere range. As quickly as these awesome growth rates can appear in our waters they can also disappear as a result of the ever changing Australian climate and environment. For this reason don’t feel bad about keeping a bag limit catch of fish for a feed.

In many of the drought recovery waters in Western Victoria conditions are likely to only last a few years, and for some lakes the fish may not make it through this summer as the water begins to evaporate and the lakes begin to slowly dry up. For those lakes that carry fish into their second season they are sure to produce some of the biggest rainbows seen in Victoria for some time, so as the waters cool through the autumn get out and have a look – you might be surprised what you find. Many of these waters have also received follow up stockings in 2011 so expect to find a couple of different year classes of fish in 2012.  Get out there and make the most of the boom while it lasts – you might just hook the biggest rainbow of your life!


Drought recovery waters including those mentioned such as Lake Bolac, Deep Lake and Toliorook are open to fishing all year round and you are permitted to use two rods per person at any time. The daily bag limit for salmonids is five fish per person per day with no minimum legal size limit. The best thing about the drought recovery project is that it was funded by Victorian recreational fishing licence revenue via a $181,000 grant. Now that’s a great way to spend our recreation fishing licence fees!
For all the latest stocking information check out


There are a number of launching facilities situated around the lakeshore. I had no trouble launching at any of them in my 5.4m Trailcraft Profish. The concrete ramp on the eastern edge of the lake near the rowing and yacht club has a floating jetty, which makes launching and retrieving your boat easy, but if the wind is up then try launching on another more protected side of the lake.  Note that these other ramps are all gravel, but in good condition.  If you have a small roof topper tinny or kayak make sure you take care as the lake can become very rough when the wind blows up.

Sleeping & eating

When in town I stayed at the Lake Bolac Caravan and Tourist Park ( which is situated right on the edge of the lake’s eastern shore. The park has cabins, caravan and camp sites in a family friendly environment. The Lake Bolac Pub also does a great chicken parmigiana, which is perfect after a day out on the water!

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