Line up for the likely lakes

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It can be biting cold fishing the Crater Lakes but STEVE COOPER reckons you feel nothing when the fish are biting:

Freshwater fishing in Victoria in winter is about lakes and impoundment, and trout are a perennial favourite. You know it’s time to go fishing when … it’s so cold that your line is likely to freeze to the rod guides, you need an ice pick to pee and it’s so cold you couldn’t swipe a credit card between the cheeks of the your backside.

As uncomfortable as the cold can be, it isn’t something you notice when the fish are on the bite. Fishing quality in the lakes comes down to Fisheries Victoria fish stockings, and the quantity of food available. In 2016, Fisheries released 844,066 salmonids into Victorian waters including 422,213 rainbow trout, 397,593 brown trout and 21,260 Chinook salmon.

There are no seasonal trout fishing restrictions in Victorian lakes and at the time of writing, lakes in the Western District are doing well. Top waters include Lake Bolac at Bolac, Lake Tooliorook at Lismore and Deep Lake at Derrinallum. These waters are producing trout to 2.5kg and, by spring, can be expected to hold trout up to half a kilogram heavier. In trout terms, these are not big fish. But they are plentiful, and many anglers are hooking their five fish a day bag limit.

Two of the State’s most consistent waters are the so-called Crater Lakes of Bullen Merri and Purrumbete. For as long as I can remember, these lakes have consistently produced trout and Chinook salmon, even when other waters are not firing.

Rodney Smith with 7.25kg Brown Trout

Fisheries Victoria salmonid releases finish about October, so figures for 2017 are not yet available. In 2016 though, Lake Bullen Merri received 15,000 brown trout and 10,000 Chinook salmon; Lake Purrumbete received 13,000 brown trout, 9,000 rainbow trout, and for the first time, 3,000 brook trout. Purrumbete also has good numbers of redfin.

Trout stocking in these lakes has been intense for many years and some trophy fish now reside in the depths of both lakes.


Lake Purrumbete is about 10km from Camperdown, and it easily ranks in the top three trout lakes in the State in terms of quality, quantity and accessibility. The 552-hectare lake is a freshwater legend; a success story for as long as I can remember. And that is as it should be when you consider that it is heavily stocked. As well as these species, the lake has a solid reputation for redfin to about 1.5kg.

What attracts anglers more than quantity is the quality of the fish. Trout achieve dramatic growth rates and, while most trout caught are between one and 2kg, fish to 4kg are caught regularly. The best fish I know of was caught in September 2003. Altona angler, Rodney Smith, caught a 7.25kg monster brown trout. It was one of several trout of a similar size he saw that morning.

Lake Purrumbete is surrounded by private property and public access to the lake is restricted. There is a boat ramp and caravan park at the southwestern corner and public shoreline access at Hoses Rocks, on the western shore, and through the quarry on the eastern side. After that, it’s shanks pony.


Lake Bullen Merri is at Camperdown. A deep, volcanic lake with saline water, Bullen Merri is stocked with brown trout and Chinook salmon, while the remnants of an Australian bass stocking exercise a few years ago can still be caught.

Access around the lake is easy. There are two boat ramps, one at the northeast corner near where the road ends at the fence, and the larger ramp at the southern end of the lake near the Bullen Merri Anglers Clubhouse.

For shore-based anglers, top spots include South Beach, near the boat ramp; Potters Point about halfway along the western shore, and the stretch from The Cave near the pine trees at the north end to the Coral at the eastern fence line. Fly fishers do reasonably well near Potters Point and the South Beach.

A lot depends on where the fish are working on the day, the main problem with this lake is the wind; regardless of the direction the wind is coming from, eventually it will swirl around and be in your face. Anglers trolling often tend to work their lures close to shore, with Potters and Wurrong Points at the southern end well regarded.


In Purrumbete and Bullen Merri, popular baits include mudeye, glassie, pilchard strip, worm, gudgeon and minnow. Manufactured bait like Powerbait also works well.

Bait type dictates hook size. A mudeye, which is a dragonfly nymph, is a delicate creature and requires a small hook that is passed gently through the wing casing. A No. 14 to 10, 9287BZ-pattern hook will suffice. For other baits, such as glassie, use a No. 6 to No. 4 Baitholder. The hook should be threaded through the bait from the tail and the point exposed in the region of the head. A half hitch is placed around the tail to keep the bait straight. Minnow and gudgeon require a No. 8 or No. 10 hook that is passed through the upper jaw of the fish, but not so deep as to harm it.

When fishing from shore, bubble floats are preferred over pencil floats by most anglers. A bubble float is not designed to keep bait suspended off the bottom at a set depth, rather it is designed to assist the angler to cast bait out. A bubble float has a tube that passes through the centre and this acts as a pump to fill the bubble with the required amount of water. The more water, the heavier the float, and the farther the angler can cast. The line is passed through this tube and a small piece of cork is threaded on the line below the float but above the bait. This cork regulates bait depth. Ideally, this should no more than the length of the rod to enable casting, hence the use of longer rods.

Anglers have achieved good results fishing on the bottom, using paternoster-style rigs to keep their bait out of the mud. Many boat anglers working bait, rig running sinkers and suspend their baits. A berley can be effective in attracting fish, especially salmon, to the bait.

Spinning, downrigging and flatline trolling techniques are all employed using bibbed minnow lures like Rapala CD5 and 7, Daiwa Double Clutch. Winged lures, such as the Tassie Devil is the favourite lure style among trollers. Fly fishers do well working Murray Wilson’s Bullen Merri Special, Tom Jones, Black Matuka and Woolly Bugger patterns.


Author: Steve Cooper

STEVE COOPER won two Walkley Awards for investigative journalism but his great love is fishing and he is renowned as one of Australia’s foremost writers and broadcasters on the subject.



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