For about 9 months now, recreational anglers have been making the most of changes to boating restrictions on Blue Rock Lake in Gippsland, Victoria. As part of its Target One Million Plan, the Andrews Government allowed boats of any length and engine size to access the lake with the end goal of getting more Victorian’s fishing.
Prior to August 2015, boating on the lake was restricted to craft under 4.3m and speeds were limited to 5 knots, but this seemed only to deter anglers from visiting the region.
Originally built to supply drinking water to the surrounding Latrobe Valley, Blue Rock Lake is now home to a diverse range of freshwater fish species, from trout and redfin to carp and (more recently) Aussie bass. Since 2002, the lake has seen stocked with over 160,000 native Australian bass fingerlings which have become the prime target for anglers fishing the lake.
We caught up with local angler and Blue Rock Lake Angling Club founder, Steve Haughton, to get some insider fishing tips for visiting anglers to Blue Rock and to find out how the growing population of Aussie bass is fishing today since boating restrictions were relaxed in August 2015.
So Steve, where is the best place for visitors to access Blue Rock Lake?
Blue Rock Lake has two main access points, one being the boat ramp at the dam wall off Spillway Rd which gives visitors access to about 700m of shoreline. The boat ramp is perfect for launching kayaks. When the lake is 100%, launching a boat here can be difficult due to the rocks lining the shoreline, but when the lake has dropped (like now), it’s ideal for launching boats too.
The other main access point is at the northern end of the lake where there is another boat ramp off Old Tanjil Rd. This boat ramp is ideal for those looking to access the Tanjil Arm across the other side of the lake. This boat ramp gives land-based anglers access to about 800m of immediate shoreline. A walking track was constructed last year which connects the northern boat ramp to Blue Rock Rd, just below Willow Grove, allowing 1.5km of further access to the shoreline.
Blue Rock really is a beautiful lake with a stunning backdrop of Mt Baw Baw and surrounding bushland. Freshwater anglers come from afar to target Australian bass, trout, redfin, eel and carp. The lake is suitable for boat, kayak, and land-based fishing.
Both boat ramps have terrific amenities with rotunda for shelter from sun and rain, BBQ’s, a toilet block, picnic tables and huge well-maintained lawn areas for picnics. The boat ramp at the Old Tanjil Rd has a dedicated swimming beach which is ideal for families as boats are restricted from this area.
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Where can you get supplies nearby?
There’s a general store in Willow Grove which sells your basics: food, drinks, and some fishing gear and supplies including bait worms.
What is the best time of the year to visit?
All year round! Blue Rock changes with the seasons. In winter, the air can be crisp with snow-capped Mt Baw Baw in the distance reminding you how cold it is. But pick your days to troll around because the trout action can be hot. As the snow melts in September, the trout fishing heats up even more as the water temperature starts to rise. Heading into summer, the bass start to get excited.
October through to March is prime time for bass; anglers picking a change in barometer in the evening to target surface feeding bass with poppers and surface lures. Through autumn, redfin makes a nice by-catch to those targeting late-season bass.
Are you seeing more bass being caught as a result of the fish stocking programme?
We’re starting to see a lot more bass photos on social media as the population matures. Some good trout and redfin photos are popping up too. Since the boat restrictions were lifted, there are many more boats visiting the lake; the good word must be getting out because there are many more kayakers using the lake too.
The lake got a bit of a reputation as a tough place to fish, but thanks to the Fisheries stocking programs we are seeing a lot more success out there. Now we are seeing many anglers coming to Blue Rock to target bass specifically. We are starting to see bass in excess of 40cm which is a great sports fish! I’m also seeing more and more big redfin caught. It’s only my theory, but it’s possible the bass are feeding on small reddies, helping to somewhat control the number of smaller redfin out there.
What fishing techniques in your experience have worked the best for Australian bass?
Targeting bass in the cooler months is best achieved using live baits like garden worms or crickets dropped down deep near structure. As the temperature heats up, bass become active feeders, so lures like minnow-styled hard bodies and soft plastics cast around the banks and structure works best.
My favourite technique is using surface lures like poppers in the evening in late spring, summer, and early autumn. It’s very exciting to cast out a popper and begin retrieving it to have a bass strike and smash the lure. It gets the heart racing!
Using a boat to target bass feeding zones is good but you'll have a much better chance if you have an electric motor. A kayak, however, is ideal as it allows you to slip into stealth mode to approach the feeding zones.
Fishing late afternoon into the evening is more productive as the bass tend to become more active, but they can be caught all day.
I catch and release my bass. It’s a thrill to catch them, but it’s just as exciting to see them swim off to live another day. They are an awesome fish.
What about trout fishing? Is it still best around dawn and dusk on the lake?
Certainly in the early morning you’ll see a lot more trout feeding on the surface – and in the evening as well – but the early morning has always been the most successful time for me. In saying that, two of my personal best trout were both around the three-kilo mark, and funnily enough both were caught while trolling on bright blue sunny days around midday out in the centre of the lake.
Three kilos is a decent size trout!
Yeah, it was quite surprising — I mean I knew they were out there, but Blue Rock Lake is fairly young considering it was constructed in the late 70's / early 80's. Historically it’s been well-stocked; the Tanjil River that feeds Blue Rock has a good trout population also, so there has to be some big fish in there!
It’s still got some time to develop a sustainable ecosystem, like vegetation and aquatic life, but it’s really getting there. We are starting to see a lot of fresh water shrimp in the lake. The bass are gorging themselves on shrimp so it’s only going to get better in the future.
What’s the vibe like on the lake? How’s the relationship between the boaties, the swimmers, and the anglers?
It’s a really good feeling out there. It’s exciting when you launch the boat and you see lots of boats and kayaks out there. It’s nice knowing that you’re not alone on the water. Everyone gets on really well and there’s certainly a lot of story swapping back at the boat ramps. And everyone respects the swimming area so there are no real safety concerns for recreational lake users.
Boat anglers and kayak anglers get along really well. I haven’t had any issues out there on the lake, and that will be down to the speed restrictions on the lake, which people tend to follow. And when you’re out in your yak, you’re spending most of your time in the trees where bigger boats can’t explore so you’re well protected.
What do you hope to see in the future at Blue Rock Lake?
The lake has a lot of potential seeing that it is so close to Melbourne’s south-east. Seeing a lot more activity has been really exciting as it brings in tourism to the area. I love fishing there but for me it’s more about being in the great outdoors and Blue Rock has a real sense of adventure.
I’ve seen koalas up the Tanjil Arm, deer swimming across the lake, echidnas swimming along the shoreline and witnessed some brilliant summer storms so there’s always something to draw me back. It’s hard to knock the backdrop of Mt Baw Baw and surrounding bushland too. It would be great to see some camping or more accommodation options eventually for people visiting from further afield. But being so close to Melbourne it really makes for a great day trip for anyone hoping to wet a line.
As long as everyone keeps the place tidy and takes home what they take in, then it will continue to be a great place to come with family and friends.
We'd like to say a huge thank you to Steve Haughton from Habitat Creations for taking the time to share his local knowledge! For up to date info on Blue Rock follow the Blue Rock Angling Club page on Facebook.