by Robbie Alexander •
Located in the North East Victorian hills at an altitude of 550m above sea level, Beechworth is one of Victoria’s prettiest towns. It has a lot of history, particularly surrounding the gold rush of the 1850s, and was also the town where Ned Kelly and his mother Ellen Kelly spent time in prison on various charges.
These days, it’s just a beautiful town with a lot of historical buildings nestled in beautiful countryside and is a very popular tourist destination.
Beechworth is also a very popular fishing destination, as it has several lakes that are stocked regularly with various fish species, as well as numerous smaller lakes, which have self-sustaining populations of redfin.
In the township of Beechworth lies the almost 90-year old Lake Sambell. Lake Sambell was constructed in 1928 on an old gold mining site, which had been leased for 1 pound per year by a local farmer. Council reclaimed the land and proposed the construction of a dam wall to hold back water and flood the site.
Now, Lake Sambell is a fantastic tourist attraction right in the heart of Beechworth, offering a variety of activities, including walking tracks, a kids play park, public toilets, a boat ramp, swimming, and best of all… fishing!
Lake Sambell is stocked with a number of fish species and has a self-sustaining population of others.
The self-sustaining fish species are redfin and tench, which are similar to carp, but much less invasive, and not seen as a potential threat to other species. Speaking of carp, the great news is that there are no carp in Lake Sambell.
Species stocked into Lake Sambell are golden perch, trout cod and rainbow trout.
Golden perch have been stocked in Lake Sambell for many years and have offered fantastic fishing for anglers. Each year in the spring time, the golden perch fishing heats right up in Lake Sambell. November is probably the best month of the year to chase golden perch with October and December being close behind. After Christmas the golden perch slow down a little bit, however they do continue to fish well all summer until the water cools in around April when they slow down.
Trout cod have been stocked into Lake Sambell since 2008, and last year (2015) they were opened to the public as a recreational sport fish. Lake Sambell and Lake Kerferd just up the road are the only two places in Victoria where it is legal to target trout cod. They are protected a protected species everywhere else. This is due to the fact that they are stocked into these lakes where they cannot spawn, making them a put and take species. At the moment, the trout cod in these two lakes are subject to a one fish per person bag limit with a slot size limit of 40-50cm. Everything outside of those sizes is protected and must be released.
Rainbow trout are stocked into Lake Sambell each year under the Family Friendly fishing program. Yearling rainbow trout, which are usually around 25-30cm long, are stocked in time for the winter and spring school holidays with 400 trout going in each holidays. The local kids wait with anticipation each winter school holidays for these fish to be stocked.
Lake Sambell’s wild redfin population has been around for as long as I can remember, and most likely many years before I was born. The redfin are self-sustaining and readily available. As with many redfin fisheries, small undersize redfin dominate the catch, however there are some larger redfin in the lake. The redfin fishing usually starts to heat up around October, and can vary from season to season.
Little is known about the tench in Lake Sambell. They have been there for as long as I can remember and turn up as a by-catch from time to time, usually to bait anglers. Most people choose to release them, as they are not classed as a noxious species and offer little threat to the fishery.
Lake Sambell is very easy to find. It is well signposted in town and is easily viewable from the Stanley Road. It is a two-minute walk from the main street of Beechworth.
Lake Kerferd is a very old lake, and was built in 1862 when the Beechworth council built a retaining wall to retain the waters of Hurdle Swamp.
The lake is fed from a tiny stream, which carries a self-sustaining population of very small brown trout and is exceptionally hard to access. The creek flows for a few hundred meters above the lake before disappearing underground in a disused gold mine.
Lake Kerferd has been a great redfin fishery for as long as I can remember. It has never been a great trout fishery, although the odd large brown trout has turned up. Back in the 1990s, it was stocked with rainbow trout for a while, which provided a lot of fun, but sadly the stockings were discontinued.
Golden perch were stocked for quite a while up until 2008, which provided some fantastic fishing, and lured a lot of anglers to the lake. Catching good-sized redfin and golden perch in the one session was common as the golden perch were stocked and the redfin numbers dwindled. Eventually, the redfin almost completely disappeared as the golden perch dominated.
In 2008, trout cod were first introduced into Lake Kerferd, and not long after golden perch stocking was discontinued, which was a real shame.
Since 2008, catches of golden perch have become more and more infrequent to the point where I only caught one last summer.
Sadly, the trout cod have remained elusive and catches have not been common. Hopefully, last year’s enormous stocking of 11,000 trout cod will change that.
On a positive note, the demise of the golden perch has seen the redfin numbers bounce back and once again they provide fantastic spring fishing, although most are small. A lot of kids get a real buzz out of catching these small redfin, and so do I!
From Beechworth, follow the signs and head towards Stanley. As you drive along the Beechworth-Stanley Road you will see Hurdle Flat Road heading off to the left. Head down Hurdle Flat road for about 500m until Lake Kerferd Road heads off to the left. Lake Kerferd is about 500m down Lake Kerferd Road.
Stanley Ditch Dam
Stanley Ditch Dam is quite a new waterway. It is a small, manmade and spring fed dam in the heart of the small mining town of Stanley, which is nestled high in the hills behind Beechworth at an altitude of around 700m above sea level.
Stanley Ditch Dam was built to hold water for fire-fighting purposes, and also serves as one of the most popular little fisheries in North East Victoria.
Each year, Victorian Fisheries stock 700 rainbow trout into the small dam under the Family Friendly fishing program to give kids an incentive to get out and go fishing. This incentive works extremely well in this little dam, as kids seem to just fall out of the sky the moment it is stocked each year!
Stockings consist of 350 ready to catch rainbow trout in time for the July school holidays and another 350 in time for the spring school holidays.
As well as trout, 500 golden perch have also been stocked into the dam, but I am not sure how successful the stocking has been, as I have not heard of any being caught.
The dam was built by being dug out with earth moving equipment, and then lined by clay, which was brought in from elsewhere.
The water is quite clear in this small dam, which is not much bigger than a large farm dam, and lure fishing is very popular. The dam is 12ft deep in the middle, making it more than suitable for the trout to survive. This waterway gets the Robbie Alexander thumbs up!
From Beechworth, head to Stanley along the Beechworth-Stanley road. When you arrive at Stanley, stay on that road as it goes around a sharp bend in town and then heads to Myrtleford. About 200m past the Stanley pub you will see Stanley Ditch Dam on the right-hand side. It is only a small dam, but provides fantastic fishing during the winter and spring school holidays.
I am not exactly sure of the history of Fletchers Dam, but it is obvious that it is very old. It appears to have been built by damming up a steep gully and damming a small creek in an area close to the township of Stanley, which was heavily mined in the mid 1800s.
Fletchers Dam is a fantastic redfin fishery, however most of the fish are small. There are a few brown trout in there from time to time, but most are quite small as well and catching them is uncommon.
It is the redfin that is the main angler attraction of Fletchers Dam. Unlike Lake Sambell and Lake Kerferd, kayaking and canoeing are possible. I have fished it from my kayak and it is great fun. I caught stacks of redfin, although they were all pretty small.
As with Lake Kerferd, turn left off the Beechworth-Stanley Road onto Hurdle Flat Road. Just keep following this road straight until you get to Fletchers Dam. There is a dogleg corner where you have to go left and then right straight away, but if you just continue straight, eventually you will find the very pretty Fletchers Dam nestled in a pine plantation.
Parkys Dam is a small dam hidden deep in the pine plantation behind Stanley, about 15 minutes from Beechworth. The dam is about the size of a decent sized farm dam and has exceptionally clear water, especially in the summer months.
To the best of my knowledge, the dam has never been stocked. It contains a small natural recruiting population of brown trout and rainbow trout have been caught from time to time, however both species are not regular catches. As a fishery it rates the lowest among the Beechworth lakes. As a pretty place for a family picnic where you can wet a line and pray for a bite, it rates right up near the top.
The easiest way to get to Parkys Dam is to turn left onto the Mt Stanley Road in the middle of Stanley, then about 100m along, turn left onto Lower Nine Mile Road. Follow 9 mile Road along until you see Chinamans Road going to the right. Turn right into Chinamans Road and follow it until you get to Pastorelli Road. Turn left into Pastorelli Road and about 100m along on the right-hand side you will see an unnamed road heading to the Right, Parkys Dam is just down there about 150m.
To the south of Beechworth in the Stanley State Forest is Bates Dam. Bates Dam is another smaller dam, just a little bit larger than Parkys Dam. Bates Dam contains quite clear water, particularly in the summer months.
As with the other dams in the area, Bates Dam was built by the construction of a wall damming a small creek in a heavily mined section of the Stanley Forest. There are old bits of steel and other relics still lying around in the area and channels cut into the hills paint a clear picture of a steep mining history.
For anglers, Bates Dam offers a population of small redfin. There are not a lot of redfin in the dam, and catches of 30-40 redfin in an afternoon are not common like they are in other lakes in the Beechworth area such as Lake Sambell, Lake Kerferd and Fletchers dam.
Catches of large fish are also uncommon in Bates dam. There are a few bigger redfin kicking around, but don’t go there expecting to catch very many!
The attraction to Bates Dam is that it is a small, pretty little lake, with a few small redfin and is a great place to take the kids for a picnic. It has a picnic table but no public toilet.
To find this pretty little dam, follow the Buckland Gap Road (Beechworth-Myrtleford Road) from Beechworth towards Myrtleford. Just before the road steeply descends down toward Myrtleford, there is a track to the left called Lady Newton Drive. Turn left and follow Lady Newton Drive for a few hundred meters before turning left again onto Jensens track. Bates Dam is about 200m down that track.
Find a dam
So there are the main dams in the Beechworth area that offer anglers an opportunity to wet a line and catch a fish. Redfin and trout are the predominant species, with golden perch and trout cod also a possibility in Lake Sambell and Lake Kerferd.
The best time to visit the Beechworth area and fish any of the lakes is mid to late spring before the heat of summer arrives, however even in the heat of summer the Beechworth region is a bit cooler than the lower lying areas in the region due to its altitude.
The Beechworth region is littered with mine shafts. These mine shafts are particularly dangerous in the forest around Lake Kerferd, but can be found anywhere in the Beechworth area, and some are very deep. Once again, be very careful where you place your feet!