Soon after a late autumn trip to the Goulburn River at Thornton many years ago, I happened to attend a meeting in the city. I’d found the Goulburn pitifully low, having recently dropped to its base flow of just 120 megalitres a day (ML/d), and the fishing had been tough. While I chatted to a senior public servant prior to the meeting, I described how the river surrounds carried the smell of decay as weed and stranded bugs rotted, and how disappointing it was to see the Goulburn suffer this low water cycle every year. “Listen,” he shrugged, “The Goulburn’s an irrigation channel. They turn the tap on in summer, and off in winter. That’s just how it is.”
Fast forward a couple of decades, and I was recently asked to name three things I believed would have a real benefit for Victorian trout fishing. On my wish-list was a 400 ML/d base flow for the trout section of the Goulburn: something to keep the river and its trout alive and healthy over winter once irrigation flows ceased. I knew this was pipe-dream stuff (I’d been told often enough since that first conversation: there was no way precious Lake Eildon water would be wasted on a decent winter flow); but hey, I was asked, so I answered.
When Mark Turner from the Goulburn-Broken Catchment Management Authority called a couple of months ago to say that a 400 ML/d base flow was looking like a real chance, I wondered if I’d heard him correctly. Then again, since Fisheries’ Wild Trout Management Program began a few years ago with its revelations about the importance of good trout habit, Mark has developed a reputation as a ‘can do’ operator when it comes to fixing where trout live. Could it be?
Yes, it could. Yesterday, in the perfect riverside surrounds of Bluegums Holiday Park near Eildon, Mark and Dr Sarina Loo, Co-Executive Officer with the Victorian Environmental Water Holder, announced an extra allocation of environmental water to provide a base flow down the Goulburn below Eildon of 400 ML/d.
If you’re a Goulburn trout fisher, this is really big news. The evidence suggests the overall carrying capacity of the ‘trout section’ of streams like the Goulburn, is substantially influenced not by maximum flows like spring floods or big irrigation releases, but by minimum flows of any significant duration. In other words, minimum flows are a critical habitat feature. Regardless of which river or stream we’re talking about, if it’s a trickle for months on end, that pretty much defines how many trout the stream can carry. On the Goulburn, there’s little doubt the previous base flow of 120 ML/d compromised the number of trout that could overwinter in the river – and were therefore available to anglers the following season. So, providing environmental water to bring this flow up to 400 ML/d on the most popular trout river in Victoria, is a massive habitat win for trout fishers.
Mark and Sarina did acknowledge that extreme dry conditions in the future could mean the flow of 400 ML/d can’t always be guaranteed – when it comes to Mother Nature, it’s only possible to intervene up to a point. But this doesn’t take away from the spirit and intent of providing environmental water to deliver a healthy base flow.
It was pleasure and pain to be up close to a near perfect-looking Goulburn yesterday without a rod, and with trout opening still a few weeks away. I expect this new base flow will quickly have a profound effect on Goulburn trout stocks and it may just be the best thing to happen to Goulburn trout fishing for years.