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Goulburn Valley Fly Fishing Centre

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The summer ahead on the Goulburn River - the drought and the trout of victoria

The Goulburn River is going to be different this summer. The lake is going down to 3% and the remaining water will be used to maintain environmental flows. This will occur in mid January. This means low flows at the hottest time of year with the potential for warm water to be drawn from the low lake, further warmed as it is held in the Pondage and then entering the river with very little flow. Probable temperatures up to 25 degrees will impact on the trout. Should there be a prolonged period of hot weather (most likely at this time of year) the weaker specimens will begin to die.

The last time we had a situation like this was two years ago. The lake had fallen below 12% and a spell of four days of hot weather followed. The temperature of the river rose to 25 degrees and stayed there for four days before a cool change brought the temperatures down a few degrees. It wasn't until four days later that we found four fish carcasses stuck in the weed upstream from Thornton.

They were partially decomposing and have obviously been in the water for about a week. These were the weak and vulnerable fish I spoke of. Others survived well, seeking cooler spots, cold water in the depths of the pools, mouths of creeks or cool water springs emerging from underground seepages beneath the gravel. This was in March, much later in the season when the nights were beginning to cool. This time it is different.

The potential is there for a serious disaster with larger numbers of dead fish.

As a recent meeting with NRE at Alexandra the possible scenarios were examined. Contingency plans were made for the worst possible outcomes just in case they did eventuate. Depending on rainfall, and weather patterns, the surface temperature of the lake can rise to 25 degrees and be drawn from the power station into the pondage. The pondage will be streamlined i.e. drawn down to the old river course so that the water flows directly through the pondage into the river, to prevent further heating of the water.

If the Hydro Power Station is to be used they will keep the pondage 1/3 full. This could mean a large fish kill in the pondage as the rotting weed and stillwaters with high temperatures take their toll.

Between now and until mid-January the fishing has and will be the best we have seen for years. The river is currently firing and the trout will revel in the warmer temperatures. This stimulates their metabolism and combined with the large spring hatches and large population blooms of insects, the fishing will continue to be good.

Unfortunately when the temperature rises above 20 degrees the opposite will happen. Warmer water holds less oxygen, fish need oxygen to metabolise and so very quickly they become lethargic. Eating requires oxygen to metabolise food so the fish cut back oxygen requirements by eating less. They very quickly seek relief by moving to the coolest parts of the river, shade, cold water streambed springs and cooler tributaries.

We expect large numbers of fish to move out of the Goulburn into Snobs Creek. The Rubicon and Acheron Rivers will become the repositories of our future Goulburn stocks. We would highly recommend that these stocks in the Rubicon be protected by a voluntary code of catch and release. In the latest survey more than 50% of all anglers practice catch and release on the Rubicon already. We would suggest that these are all the fly fishers.

Hopefully the floods of next winter will flush these fish back into the Goulburn to be the foundation stock for the recovery of the Goulburn fishery.

NRE-Fisheries have no plans to restore or have a recovery plan in place for 'alien' species so it will be up to us to restore our own trout fishery when the time comes.

There are vast numbers of 'doom and gloom we'll all be ruined' merchants and whilst there is the potential for disasters there is also the potential for some survival as well. After extensive consultation with MAFRI (Marine and Freshwater Research Institute) we are convinced that some of the best year class of fish will survive, but also many may die.

What concerns us more is the unwillingness of NRE-Fisheries to accede to the need for a plan for the restoration of the fishery. To this end we have recently spoken to Candy Broad Minister for Fisheries and Cheryl Garbutt NRE who have listened carefully. We expect a response from them both soon.

We need you support for issues such as restoration programs or catch and release for the Rubicon, watch this space. We will be making strategic assaults on these issues later. Today the river is 15 .2 degrees and the lake is 21.5% of capacity with 9.5 part per million oxygen content in the water. Perfect for spectacular hatches and fishing. This should continue through the next month until the lake levels falls more.

Meanwhile, enjoy some of the best fishing in ten years.

STOP PRESS Update and Progress Report 16th December, 2002

Since this article was written we have had some significant rain across Victoria which has reduced the demand for water for irrigation. Add to this the cost of water being doubled and allocations restricted further to maximum 50% of entitlement. Farmers have responded by selling large numbers of stock and curtailing their operations.

As a result the lake has been held to 19% full which is much better than anticipated at this stage. Projections indicate that at the present reduced rate of consumption the lake will last until at least February sometime - a much better outcome than previously predicted. Full flow rates will be maintained throughout January with 3,500 meg being released daily. While temperatures will get hot, at least they are saying that now we should get through most of summer ok. If the lake had run out after Christmas as some had forecast then we would have been looking at a situation far worse than the one that confronts us now.

This has been a salutary scare for the water managers who have had to urgently devise strategies to cope with the lower than normal storages.

Flow rates will drop from 3,500 to 2,000 to 1,500 in mid feb. Lower flow rates and higher temperatures will impact on the amount of dissolved oxygen and this causes fish to reduce their metabolism by not feeding as much

So we will all wait to see what actually happens this summer with some anxiety. Hopefully things will not be as bad as they have the potential to be in the Goulburn River. If we can get the fish through the worst of it we will be ok. Losing all the brood fish would really set back the fishery a long way.

So bring on the cooler nights of March and lets all hope that we get a cooler than usual summer.

More detail as it comes to hand.

- Antony, David and Geoff



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