The changing face of Lake Eildon

Harleigh caught this massive trout – awesome job!

by Steve Vidler •

Over the last decade or so Lake Eildon has undergone a massive change in regard to angling opportunities. Once the centre of Victorian anglers’ attention for large trout during the cooler months and reliable catches of redfin all year round, to now being one of, if not the best native mixed fishery in Victoria.

Lake Eildon
Lake Eildon suffered drastically during the most recent drought, dropping to around 6% in May 2007. With the dramatic breaking of the drought the lake rapidly filled during 2010/11, peaking at 99% in November 2011 and maintained healthy levels since, (the lake is currently at approximately 45% in the late stages of the 2015/16 irrigation season).

These figures become much more impressive when you consider the following information. Lake Eildon, at full capacity holds 3,334,158,000,00L of water, and covers 13,832 hectares with a maximum depth of almost 79m (260ft)!

Along with the rapid filling and subsequent production, Victorian Fisheries carried out a massive stocking campaign during the 2010–2013 period with an extra 1,000,000 Murray cod stocked into the lake on top of the normal annual stocking of 30,000-50,000 Murray cod and around 200,000 golden perch. With steady catches of Murray cod and reliable catches of goldens before this filling and stocking. The fish currently being caught are in absolute obese condition – get the heavier gear out and hang on!

Many Australian lakes, dams and impoundments experience cycles of fishing ‘boom and bust’ periods. This is due to our changing and often harsh climate.

Huge rainfall and floods, that transform dry crusty lakebeds to highly productive waters, can rapidly halt periods of prolonged drought and high temperatures and create fish fattening expanses of water. Mind-blowing levels of production occur in plant and animal plankton, and invertebrates; and the subsequent fish growth that is achieved following flooding of previously dry ground is immense. This whole scenario can and will be affected by the availability of fish by way of transferral by floods, and in many cases, human intervention in artificial stocking.

Both Murray cod and golden perch can now be targeted along with redfin, trout and even carp and roach. The time of year and subsequent temperature of the water will dictate what species of fish will be more active and likely to be encountered by anglers. Winter is still a much better time to chase trout and summer to chase the natives. Having said that, great quality trout can and will be caught mid-summer and huge cod caught in the depth of winter.

Redfin are not as numerous as they have been, however, they are of great condition once you locate them!
Quality trout are not hard to find, and are more aggressive during the winter months.
Nick Taylor with a ripper cod!
The author with a standard Murray cod from this part of the world!
The condition of Eildon Murray cod is amazing; they’ve absolutely gorged themselves this season.
Ah the serenity! Pick the right day and Eildon is beautiful to troll.
The author with one mean slice of Eildon cod. You’re guaranteed to feel like a champion catching one of these big girls!
A big beauty brought undone by a spinnerbait is reeled into the boat.
Football-sized yellowbelly are the norm in Eildon.

One of the most obvious changes to Eildon’s fishing is the lack of redfin caught in the usual areas and with the usual techniques. There are still very good quality redfin in the lake, with 40-50cm fish captured and often massive schools of 50–100mm redfin showing up all over the lake. The big difference is the lack of the once regular fish of 200-300mm that in the past were at almost plague proportions.

There are quite a few possible and probable explanations for this. It is a certainty that those Murray cod and yellowbelly have grown to the huge dimensions they currently are because of a diet highly supplemented by redfin. Yes, they’ve eaten a lot of them. The other theory is that the preference of water depth, cover and space for the bigger native fish just happens to be the same ‘patch of turf’ that the redfin had previously inhabited. I’m sure if I was a colourful little reddy in a comfortable patch of water and a big bad cod decided he’d prefer the same space I’d let him have it and I would move to a new area, even if it wasn’t exactly where I wanted to be.

The redfin caught in the lake now are far more likely to be found in 11–16m of water, not the 6–10mwhere they were commonly found in the past.

Where to find them
Lake Eildon can be a daunting place to fish due to its massive size and varying structure. The lake consists of shallower, cleared agricultural land around the Bonnie Doon and Delatite end through to very deep water surrounded by natural bush in the central part of the lake around the Eildon National Park, Frasers, Dam Wall and Jerusalem Creek areas. The area from the Big River Arm through to Goughs Bay and Jamieson Arm are mostly natural bushland with varying medium to deep water and have the majority of the inflowing fresh, cool water.

Areas of reliable native fish angling opportunities are increasing year-by-year, with many good quality fish now being encountered through the system, from the shallow water around the Bonnie Doon Bridge through to the inflows of the Goulburn River near Jamieson.

The most consistent areas to find native fish are around the whole Bonnie Doon Bridge region through to the Delatite River, the Dam Wall and the Fraser/Taylor Bay region. These areas can be easily trolled with bibbed diving lures and/or fished with spinnerbaits and sinking, bibless style lures. When seeking areas to actively cast lures in search of natives, look for very deep, steep banks, areas of large structure, rocks, boulders or trees and obvious drop-offs and points where ridges of surrounding hills disappear into the deeper water.

Constant surveillance of your sounder and trolling lures will often have you finding golden perch ‘schooled up’ during the warmer times of year. If you hook a fish in open water or see deep-bodied images on your sounder, mark or remember the spot and troll back over or, even better actively cast bibless lures, soft plastics or spinnerbaits at the school. Once these fish have been found, multiple hook-ups can be achieved when the fish are switched on. Having said that, these fish can be very frustrating at times and sometimes won’t show any interest at all in anything you throw at them. If this is the case, and you have the time, return to the general area and try again. The mood of the fish can change from day-to-day and the fish that wouldn’t look at a lure on Wednesday will smash them on Thursday. The time of day will greatly influence your chance of catching a native fish. The first few hours of darkness and the last few hours of dark leading to the first couple of hours of light are by far the best times to target these fish.

Techniques and tackle
Trolling diving lures around selected areas of the lake is the most popular technique to target native fish in Lake Eildon. This method accounts for plenty of fish and can be quite easily achieved by most boat and kayak anglers. Medium to large lures with big, deep diving bibs and high floatation capabilities are the best for this style of fishing. These lures allow anglers to fish deep and slow enough and allow the lure to ‘back up’ or be able to shake off if and when snags are encountered.

There are endless brands, sizes, colours and manufacturers of these lures. My choice of trolling and casting, bibbed lures consist mainly of Rapala DT and large Shad Raps, Paul Nicel Lures in the Ck‘n Big and Rattlin Hump, JD Eddy lures, Oargee Lures and the old faithful Predateks and Stumpjumpers.

Colours! Where do I start? With no firm rule or definite pattern I tend to aim at a bit of ‘match the hatch’ by fishing with what is available in the area, mostly redfin roach and carp colours and patterns. A couple of colours that have worked very well over the last few years are the yellow with black bands or stripes (particularly for the goldens), and dark purple and purple pink combinations – what they imitate I’ll never know.

A general rule of thumb is to fish dark, natural coloured lures in turbid or muddy water and in low light conditions and brighter, hi-vis type lures in clear, bright conditions. I have had times when fish will aggressively attack bright orange/yellow and lime greens early in the mornings, then not want anything but black and dark purple later in the morning, the next outing can be completely vice versa! The lesson is, keep trying until something works.

If you select zones where some likely structure, steep banks or fish have been picked up on the sounder, to cast and retrieve lures at I will use either a soft plastic, sinking bibless lure or a spinnerbait. I usually have rods in the boat set with each style of lure so I can grab what I want and start casting then swap quickly to another choice if there’s no reaction. My first choice is normally a subtle, natural type soft plastic lure. I have been having great success with lures imitating the Australian smelt that are currently abundant in this system. My lures of choice are Jackalls Clone Fry, Lunker Baits and Fish Arrow Flash J Shad – all these lures are life-like soft plastics.

If the subtle approach fails to attract attention I will switch to a sinking bibless lure, firstly in silent then in rattling. Lures of choice include the ever-reliable Jackall range in TN60 and mask vibe, Team Diawa, and Lucky Craft LVRTO-50. You will need to experiment with colours.

The last in the arsenal, and possibly the most successful and variable is the spinnerbait. These lures come in various sizes, blade configurations, colours and weights. In Eildon I choose natural brown, green, black and silver/grey colours to start with varying to dark skirts with bright combinations and bands.

Large spinnerbaits from 3/8oz, 1/2oz and right through to the really big 1½oz and 2oz are the best for Eildon natives, the bigger models can even be successfully trolled in shallower areas although they can be very hard on the arms in casting sessions. When casting spinnerbaits always be ready for a hit while the lure is on the drop. I have made the mistake of not clicking the reel into gear as the lure drops only to have it smashed in heart stopping aggression and missed or had to deal with the mess of a ‘bird’s nest’ and a hooked fish that just can’t be wound, (exciting but not fun).

Blade configuration is the next issue. When fish are a bit slow to react, or when water is a bit cooler and a very slow retrieve is suitable, the combination of two Colorado blades can be suitable, however I choose on most occasions to use a willow (main blade) and Colorado blade combination. This allows the lure to maintain depth with all but the fastest retrieve staying in the strike zone for much more of the retrieval.

Blade colours are again a matter of experimentation. I have caught many Eildon natives on silver, gold, bronze and painted blades, however the most consistent blades for me have been ‘hammered’ bronze or gold coloured blades. I also prefer large blades and will often replace standard blades with large 100mm+ blades.

The addition of stinger hooks and soft plastics will greatly improve both hits and hook-ups while adding bulk to the lure to tempt the bigger of the fish. Most well-known Australian brands of spinnerbaits will work in Eildon. Secret Creek (particularly the big Gigantors), Bassman and Outlaw are just a few that are always worth a cast or two.

With continued stocking by Victorian Fisheries and the massive food supply available in this great lake system, it is really up to Mother Nature as to how good this fishery can be. Nearly all the native fish caught in the lake are in above good condition, trout have increased in quality in the past few years and the redfin, although not in the numbers Eildon was famous for, are top quality once they can be located.

This lake system will be added to many fishers’ must-do list in the future and, if it’s not already, will rapidly become the best-mixed fishery in Victoria, if not beyond.