Hoping For Toolondo

We’ve all seen Lake Toolondo return to its status as a great trout fishery over the last three seasons, and I personally have enjoyed many sessions of fine fishing in what was a bone dry lake bed before the flooding rains in 2011. Like many others I share concerns for Toolondo’s future going into summer 2014/15. As a self-confessed Grampians/Wimmera fishing fanatic I thought it might be interesting to set out what’s involved in getting water into Lake Toolondo and how that’s shaping up so far this winter.

Lake Toolondo was effectively created from a swamp as spill-over storage for Rocklands Reservoir. Back when Toolondo was part of the main supply system, water was sent from a full Rocklands to Toolondo via a long channel to capture the surplus. These days both lakes are managed by Grampians Wimmera Mallee Water (GWMW). As water management authorities go, in recent years GWMW have been good overall for anglers: their management strategies for lakes Fyans and Rocklands/ Toolondo are some of the most enlightened in terms of managing for recreational demand.

Toolondo is one of our best fly fisheries - from boat or bank.

Toolondo is one of our best fly fisheries – from boat or bank.

Toolondo’s tiny natural catchment on Mt Talbot creek doesn’t do much for it in real terms – even during the massive floods in 2011, there was no more than a token natural inflow. So without artificial inflows from Rocklands, Toolondo is just a swampy depression in fairly flat country that gets baking hot in summer. As a water storage, Toolondo is incredibly inefficient and needs to be extremely full before any water stored in it can be used for irrigation, etc – much fuller than the 30,000 mega litres that GWMW put into it following the good rains we had a few years back. Funnily enough, when full it still produces great trout however it’s nowhere near as good a fly fishery. If it could get filled to somewhere in the 50-60% range every year I would be ecstatic. So what we want as fly fishers is a very large lake to get filled up to just under the level where it is useful as a water supply.

There was some controversy during winter 2013 where a number of groups in the Wimmera area expressed concern regarding environmental releases from Rocklands into the Glenelg and Wimmera rivers. I think the issue of environmental releases and how they should be managed especially in the context of whether Toolondo should have been allocated some of this released water is a much bigger issue than this blog can address. The environmental release program during winter 2013 resulted in Rocklands not achieving the level at which GWMW will transfer water to Toolondo. This Toolondo transfer is driven by the positive outcomes for the local community from a recreational and tourism point of view, as water transferred to Toolondo is effectively dead water to GWMW for other purposes. As a water management company, GWMW are stuck between the clear economic benefit Toolondo provides via fishing tourism as well as recreation for the local communities; and their statutory obligation to manage water well for their customers – which ultimately includes the environmental allocations via the catchment management authority.

While browns are dominating in recent catches, Toolondo's rainbows periodically provide great sport.

While browns are dominating in recent catches, Toolondo’s rainbows periodically provide great sport.

As a compliment to GWMW (and I am in no way affiliated with them) they work well with Fisheries on stocking, facilities installations (jettys, boat ramps, etc.) and things like the ‘carp filter’ to stop carp making their way from Rocklands into Toolondo when they do water transfers.

If you read their strategic management plans, there is a specific classification of lake as recreational and water allocations are made and levels managed to maintain the recreational use of those lakes. Fyans and Rocklands take into account minimum levels, spill-over levels, etc. in a way you do not see with many other water authorities – certainly not in written public documents with community buy in.

The key to Toolondo's continuation as a fishery is it holding enough water for trout to survive the hot Wimmera summer.

The key to Toolondo’s continuation as a fishery is it holding enough water for trout to survive the hot Wimmera summer.

So what can we do? Mainly, hope that there is a continuation of the recent good rain – and in the Rocklands catchment in particular. If Rocklands hits the 116,000 mega litre (44%) level that is supposed to trigger a transfer then I for one will be watching to make sure GWMW live up to their management strategy; however past performance says they will. With the environmental flow debt of low run off years hopefully paid last year and good rain things look positive that we have a chance.

Like all of us, I dearly hope that we get the rain that allows Toolondo to hit that 53% capacity peak, giving us at least another couple of years from this great fishery. That’s looking like a chance – the last month or so have seen up to 300 mm of rain in the Grampians: Rocklands has risen by 4000 megalitres in the past fortnight and is running 3% ahead of the same time last year. 33% down, 11% to go…   When we get rain Victoria has world class stillwater trout fisheries – we truly are a case of just add water.