Barkers Creek Reservoir Trout Fishery Recovery Project

By Greg Hellsten

Barkers Creek Reservoir, also known as Harcourt Reservoir, is located north-east of Harcourt, Victoria. Built in 1869, Barkers Creek Reservoir is a 58 ha (2,900 ML; 14 m deep) domestic water storage. Because it supplies domestic and irrigation water, boating and swimming is prohibited and angler access is limited to the bank. Its history of usage has been one of a family friendly location with toilet facilities and parking, remnant exotic trees in a heritage garden picnic area, redundant mooring point for hire boats, heritage gates and valve operation platform, and is an ideal destination for day fishing trips for anglers from Melbourne and regions using the upgraded highway.

The Reservoir has been renowned for its prolific mayfly and caddis hatches and for decades attracted fishers and fishing clubs from all over Victoria. Barkers Creek Reservoir is the closest large stillwater trout fishery to Bendigo and its growing population.  It is also the home water of Bendigo and Districts Fly Fishing Inc (BDFF) and has been the scene for many of the club’s events including an annual “Clean Up Australia” event.

In recent times the fishery has declined markedly as indicated by poor returns to occasional and regular fishers. Since late 2013 BDFF have been trying to identify reasons why Barkers Creek Reservoir has not been producing adequate returns for angler effort since drought recovery stocking commenced in 2010/2011 and a special stocking of large fish in November 2014.

The project to restore the Barkers Creek trout fishery developed from discussions with local fishers who have fished the Reservoir for many years. This included “brain storming” sessions aimed at identifying all possible reasons for decline of the fishery, question and answer sessions with Fisheries Victoria’s John Douglas in February 2014 and discussions since then with Arthur Rylah Institute (ARI) scientist Renae Ayres.

The reasons for the decline of the fishery are currently subject to speculation and the interpretation of anecdotal offerings. Therefore, a scientific approach is needed to identify issues and determine what is required to turn around this important fishery.

Initially BDFF were focusing on a study on the effect of carp which appear to have proliferated in the water since 2010.  Following unsuccessful attempts to locate a suitable biologist to participate in the project, discussions with ARI scientist Renae Ayres proved to be fruitful. Review by ARI and Fisheries Victoria of the possible research topics promoted by Barkers Creek Reservoir fishers has led to the recognition that there is a need for a preliminary analysis of the Reservoir fishery to basically determine what fish are surviving and build a stocking strategy accordingly.

BDFF, with the support of many stakeholders,  successfully applied  to the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources, Victoria, for project funding under the 2014/2015 Large Grants Program to cover the cost of engaging ARI to perform the project management of the fisheries research, assessment  and completion of the project deliverables.

The specific objectives of the preliminary analysis are to:

  • Conduct a fisheries assessment of Barkers Creek Reservoir, following methods previously applied by Fisheries Victoria, to determine the current status of the trout fishery.
  • Analyse available stocking, fisheries assessment and angling catch data to develop a time-series that describes changes in the Barkers Creek Reservoir trout fishery over time.
  • Assess available data to inform and identify stocking strategies that will re-establish high quality trout fisheries at Barkers Creek Reservoir.
  • Recommend a 5 year stocking strategy with provision for flexibility and contingency to adapt to environmental changes and angler catch effort data.

In May 2016 the survey will be conducted by taking a sample of fish using boat mounted electrofishing and mesh netting. The fish will be identified, counted, checked for a fin clip, weighed and measured for fork length. A condition factor (K) will be calculated for the trout which will allow the comparative health of the each fish to be assessed.

Otoliths, commonly referred to as “fish ear bones”, will be collected from up to twenty trout and will be used to determine the age of each fish. Otoliths, are hard, calcium carbonate structures which grow inside the soft, transparent inner ear canals behind the brain of the fish. These measures will facilitate the assessment of the survival and condition of stocked fish and will allow comparison of data from previous fisheries assessments. A selection of fish species from different size classes will be collected, euthanized and preserved (subject to animal ethics approval) for future research on the diet of trout and predator/prey relationships in Barkers Creek Reservoir using gut and/or stable isotope analysis.

Barkers Creek Reservoir is a small water which is seen as a microcosm of the climatic and environmental and biological issues affecting many impoundments in Victoria. We expect that the results may be extrapolated to other waters which have not been adequately productive in recent times. It is envisaged that further investigations may follow the preliminary analysis, including the study of the effects of predation and carp foraging habit, water quality as relates to macro invertebrate population, food supply, and vegetation quality.

Barkers Creek Reservoir is very accessible by road and there are multiple access points from roads and car parks to the water’s edge.  Its rebuilding as a reliable fishery is necessary to provide opportunities for new fishers to catch fish which is essential for recruiting and retaining fishers, including the growing regional population of culturally and language diverse fishers of all abilities. It is expected to resume its function as a destination for angling club activities, including come and try days, skills development sessions, environmental studies, and habitat improvement exercises.

An ongoing benefit of the project will be the involvement of fishers in developing their fishery; by direct involvement with catch data collection and developing a database of angler effort to aid the management of fisheries in Victoria, hands-on involvement with projects, and self- regulation with respect to practices promoting sustainability of the Barkers Creek Reservoir trout fishery.

BDFF have developed a Research Angler Logbook for recording of catch data from Barkers Creek Reservoir, and request that anglers who want to be involved register their interest by email to bendigodistrictflyfishers@gmail or at

Recommended for you

Subscribe to our mailing list

Join our 50,000+ subscribers in receiving our Fishing Lines News delivered straight to your inbox. Don’t miss out on all the issues affecting your fishing, projects improving your fishing and opportunities to have your say about your fishery.

* indicates required
Communication Preferences (tick all that apply)