More than twenty years ago, as Director-General of NSW Fisheries, I led the development of the Snowy Lakes Trout Strategy. It wasn’t a revolution, but it was a start. A new way of engagement with trout fishers, involving a permanent Snowy Lakes Trout Strategy Working Group made up of key local stakeholders; reduced bag and possession limits; a guarantee of annual trout stocking into Lakes Jindabyne and Eucumbene, and a commitment to research and monitoring to support evidence-based decision-making.
Those who’ve read some of my previous articles (e.g. Getting the Most From Trout Stocking) will have noted there is more we need to do to improve our NSW stillwater trout fisheries. I know I’m not alone in my views, and it’s nice to be able to report progress.
First, almost a year ago, came the announcement of a new grow-on facility on the shores of Lake Jindabyne. Then, on 27 April this year, I was part of a group of volunteers taxiing 10,000, 15 to 20 cm trout to nicely-scattered offshore release points on Lake Eucumbene. Granted, these were from Gaden Hatchery – partly a product of favourable hatchery growing conditions following a cool summer – but a good outcome nevertheless.
Meanwhile, those partaking in the Eucumbene River end-of-season brown trout fishery will see big developments as Snowy Hydro level the 60 year-old old tunnel waste heaps, and grade the banks of the Providence Portal tailrace.
Sometimes you sense a seismic shift. Not so much an earthquake; more a quiet, determined, rumbling (as in heavy machinery moving thousands of tonnes of tunnel waste). This late season stocking was one of those. An alignment of interests, the perseverance of a few good men, and good water conditions at Gaden (which meant the fish could be kept in the hatchery for longer) helped turn this into a reality. I don’t have any great insight into the behind-the-scenes decision-making processes, but those I know who have contributed and who should be recognised, are Mitch Elkins, the Gaden Hatchery Manager, Col Sinclair for his input into managing the Eucumbene River end-of-season fishery, and our ever-determined advocate for NSW trout fishing, Steve Samuels, President of the Monaro Acclimatisation Society.
I often talk about the Snowies trout fishery as an important economic contributor. Yet what we have seen is a long-term decline in angler visitation and participation. Without anglers, the local economy has suffered. If we want a strong economic contribution from the Snowy Mountains trout fishery, we need participation; we need mums and dads and kids to come and to have a good prospect of catching a fish. From the thousands who try, a few will become hooked as the next generation of visitors. High fishery participation brings greater economic benefits, which in turn brings better resourcing and better infrastructure. If, for example we had invested a fraction of the expenditure in the trout fishery that the region has spent to develop road cycling and mountain biking, we would have a better fishery today. The raw ingredients are there on our doorstep: cold, clean creeks, rivers and lakes… water in abundance.
Back to last week’s stocking, and it was a very social event, starting with a group briefing. The fish were bagged and sealed with added oxygen and loaded onto the the ten volunteer boats, which very slowly made their way across the lake in the thick fog to deposit the fish into deep water. I found a small disorientated tinny going around in circles, which I invited to follow me out (and back) as I followed the ‘breadcrumb’ trail on the Lowrance. We put our fish in the broadwater between Wainui and Rushy, but others went further afield – especially John Bray from Adaminaby Fishing Club who got as far as Snipe Island (almost at the dam wall). Back and forth went the procession in the freezing fog, topping up on bacon & egg sandwiches cooked on the hatchery BBQ between trips. And then, between the final out trip and the return, we were teleported into an amazing blue sky autumn day.
The following two images were taken very shortly after the fish were liberated, giving an indication of what they do when no longer constrained by a 4 metre diameter concrete tank!
I’ll also take this opportunity to introduce the recently-appointed DPI program leader for Stocking and Fisheries Enhancement Operations, Jim Harnwell (who was at the fish release). Many of you will remember Jim from his days as an energetic young editor of Fishing World magazine. Jim joined DPI several years ago and having earnt his grey hairs, will now be our Snowy Mountains trout fishery manager, caretaker, and promoter – along with many other duties I’m sure. Also thanks to Matt Caldwell and Adam Digby who were at the release, and all the other Gaden Hatchery staff for their hard work to look after our babies, and give them their freedom.
Finally, acknowledgement and thanks to Michael Piontek, the long-term Snowy Mountains District Fisheries Officer, who moved to a post in Coffs Harbour earlier in the year. Michael was a great supporter of our local trout fishing and is missed – but I suspect he was just as pleased as the rest of us to hear about these recent developments in his old ‘patch’.