Crash stocking post the millennium drought

Written by Rob Loats, VRFish Chairman and President of Mid-Northern Association of Angling Clubs

Lake Toolondo is recognised by many as Victoria’s premier put and take trout fishery where annual releases of trout in the lake has provided very significant fishing opportunities over the last 4 years.

The fishery provides an important source of income to local economies and is a tourism draw card for anglers across many of Australia’s states. Historically, the lake was previously a unique wetland ecosystem known as the Barton Swamp and was home to a diverse population of fauna. Due to the need to provide permanent water for Wimmera-Mallee water customers the swamp system was changed into one of the region’s most valuable permanent water storages. The lake, following this changed water regime received annual stockings of both brown and rainbow trout and produced great catches of trophy size fighting brown trout and on numerous occasions rainbow trout and redfin.

Following the piping of the Wimmera-Mallee open channel water delivery system Toolondo’s water capacity was reduced to only receive a 50% maximum volume of water subject to meeting Rocklands Reservoir’s defined water storage trigger points.

Due to meeting these trigger points in 2011 water became available and sufficient water was transferred into the lake. Advice provided by VRFish at this time led to the previous Minister for Agriculture instructing Fisheries Victoria to stock almost 100,000 brown and rainbow trout. The high productivity of the lake following a drying phase resulted in excellent survival and growth rates evidenced by the abundance of trout above 2.5 kg.

Due to the very dry weather conditions and quickly receding water levels VRFish worked closely with Grampians Wimmera- Mallee Water, recreational fishers and fisheries managers during 2013/14 to explore all actions that could be taken to safeguard the fishery and prolong it for as long as possible.

VRFish was thrilled when the Government and the Premier himself joined Minister Pulford and Minister Neville to ‘summer proof’ the recreational fishery in January 2014. The Government took swift action to secure the short term future of the lake and protect the interests of recreational fishers at Lake Toolondo.

VRFish played a key role in negotiating Illuka Mining’s 5,000 ML tradable water entitlement for its release into the Lake. This was a watershed achievement as VRFish actually held the water allocation that was then transferred into the Lake. In the following months our representatives provided further input on a special advisory committee regarding future water management for this iconic recreational fishery.

Management directives provided from several meetings identified that due to very dry regional weather conditions and low water storage inflows there is no current silver bullet to ensure Toolondo’s long-term water security. The input from fishers Chris Spence, Trevor Holmes, Geoff Stock and Charlie Officer was extremely important and helped ensure all options were exhausted. The work of Fisheries Victoria staff Anthony Forster and Taylor Hunt was also commended by all.

Anglers must be mindful that during water supply constraints the region’s water management rules currently identify that the lake does not have a secure water supply. Further, any water diversions from Rocklands is subject to meeting the current water diversion rules.

On a positive note trophy size trout are currently being landed by experienced anglers despite the lake’s again receding water levels. This continues to verify our efforts to maintain the mighty Toolondo trout fishery have been well and truly justified.

VRFish will continue to support crash stockings or proactive targeted action to re-create fishing opportunities when droughts break as this is a prime time to take advantage of abundant food supplies when lakes again receive water. Anglers can be assured if we face a similar situation that permits water transfers to Toolondo in the future, VRFish will once again promote a comprehensive salmonid re-stocking program to take advantage of the situation.

On a positive note offsets to provide additional year round fishing opportunities in the region such as stocking Rocklands reservoir with Murray cod are now being considered. Most importantly this action is also supported by local angling associations and fishing clubs. What a great vision and tourist draw card it would be to promote the close by Grampians region as Victoria’s place to visit and fish adjacent waters for brown and rainbow trout, redfin, golden perch, freshwater catfish and the iconic Murray cod.

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