Within the central goldfields of Victoria and among the apple orchards of Harcourt lies Barkers Creek Reservoir. This small 58ha reservoir, otherwise known as Harcourt, supports populations of stocked trout and wild redfin and attracts anglers from all over the state. While the trout are limited in number, they are not lacking in size, with many 1-2kg specimens on offer.
It’s a special place for me, particularly in spring when mayflies begin to hatch and encourage the lake’s trout to rise to the dry fly. However, Barkers Creek Reservoir offers more than just mayfly flyfishing. Many trout are taken every year on natural baits and lures.
Barkers Creek Reservoir can be found by travelling on the Calder Highway towards Bendigo until you reach Harcourt. A couple of kilometres past Harcourt is the North Harcourt exit on the right hand side. Follow this road for a couple of kilometres until you can see the main dam on your left. Here you can either pull into the parking area or drive further around the lake and make the eastern shoreline your starting point.
Anglers will be greeted with a lake that is surrounded by a splendid mix of native trees, apple orchards and rolling farmland hills.
The lake has a weed bed bottom that supports abundant aquatic insect life and a sandy shoreline margin.
Of all the aquatic insects, the mayfly is the most abundant. At certain times of year, flyfishers can capitalise on their abundance and catch some terrific trout.
When mayflies are hatching, careful observation is critical to your success. During the first stage of mayfly development, you will see brown nymphs (from the Leptophlebiidae family) scurrying about in the water and getting ready to ascend to the surface. The lake’s marauding trout will follow their slow snake-like movement and devour them with ease. You won’t be able to see the nymphs until they have made it to, or just below, the surface.
When this happens the first signs will be a boil of water just under the surface or a dimple-like ring on the surface. Not surprisingly, your fly selection should be an emerging nymph pattern of which there are many variations. Make sure that its size, shape and colour match the natural nymph as much as possible and that it has the ability to sit right in the surface film. At Barkers Creek Reservoir I like size 12 dark brown Seals Fur Nymphs with a few turns of hackle around the thorax of the fly.
The dun stage is where the nymph breaks free from its shuck. It looks like a nymph with wings. The mayfly dun is known as the Lamba dun and has a distinct upside-down Y shape pattern in its wing that makes it easy to identify.
The dun will drift on the surface, drying its wings in order to flutter to the nearest lakeside bush. During this drifting period, the trout feed on duns, creating either a surface or porpoise-like rise. I usually use a size 14 Highland Dun or Cripple Dun when the trout are feeding this way. As with the emerging nymph, you need to work out which direction the trout is travelling, present the fly and then let it sit on the surface.
If ever there was an insect or stage of an insect’s development that needs the right weather conditions, then the mayfly spinner is it. Days that are mild to warm with a light wind will always produce the best spinner activity.
On Barkers Creek Reservoir the greatest number of spinners will be found around the shallow edges. If you sit back and watch carefully, you’ll witnesshovering flame-orange insects mating and laying their eggs onto the smooth, glass-like water. Trout will lie in wait and either gently sip an egg layer or leap through the air with mouth agape intercepting an aerial flyer.
When this is happeningthere is only one fly you should be taking from your box – the Macquarie Red. Its size is perfect, its colour true to life, and its added body hackle makes it float so high that trout can be fooled into thinking it is hovering above the surface. An accurate cast and a gently landed Macquarie Red can be an extremely effective fly, so make sure you’ve got a few in your flybox.
This is the stage where the male and female spinners die. They lie with their wings and legs outstretched in the spent position. Although you will find spent spinners at any time of the day, I find first light to be the most productive, especially when you know that the night before had great numbers of mating and egg laying spinners.
The edges of the lake on the windward side are the best spots; keep low, watch, wait and don’t enter the water. There are many spent spinner patterns but I favour the Rumpf Spinner.
Barkers Creek Reservoir also supports a healthy population of minnows. They’re available all year round but are most abundant in winter and early spring.
Mudeyes also take trout during spring and autumn, largely due to the large amount of wood debris within the lake.
The only terrestrial insect that provides surface bait drifting is the field cricket, available in late summer and autumn.
These minnows and larger insects are major targets for trout. Suspending these baits beneath a drifting float is a good tactic. Some people like to use a small piece of cork, some a bubble float, while others favour a quill float. Whatever the case, your bait needs to be presented in a natural way.
The most common rig is set up by threading a 2kg main line through a small, clear bubble float, then passing the line through a rubber bicycle valve twice and tightening down. This will act as a lightweight stopper on the bubble float. From the bubble float, give yourself a desired length of line and tie it to a small hook, which is then threaded through the bait. When using live minnows, thread the hook through the upper jaw; for crickets and mudeyes, threading through the wingcase offers the most natural presentation.
As in most impoundments, scrubworms and earthworms are a bait fisherman’s first choice. These baits consistently work well throughout the year, especially when heavy rain increases the lake’s water level to cover new ground. This inundation forces the worms out of their holes in search of dry land.
Other good bottom baits are yabbies, dead crickets, wood grubs, maggots and freshwater mussels. All of these baits are best fished with a running sinker rig. Thread your main mono line through a small ball sinker and tie it to one end of a swivel, which acts as a stopper. Then tie 2ft to 3ft of mono leader to the other end of the swivel and finish by attaching the free end of the leader to a size 14/12 hook. Another worthwhile rig is the paternoster.
It’s imperative to use the lightest sinker you can. Even though the light rig can be difficult to cast, there’s no need to cast long distances because the trout will be searching in close to the shoreline, looking for those drowned worms.
Lure fishing at Barkers Creek Reservoir is a worthwhile technique when the water level is high. Like a few other lakes in the district this reservoir suffers from high weed growth and low water levels, which can be frustrating for anglers. Therefore, your lure selection is critical to success.
The best metal lures to cast are spinners because they run shallow, thus avoiding the weed that deeper running lures, such as wobblers, encounter. In addition, the flashy blade revolving around the centre stem produces an erratic flash and creates vibrations through the water that fish feel through their lateral lines. I recommend Celtas in red, green and black, Dixon spinners, Dotty spinners, Jenson insects and Mepps spinners.
Hard-bodied lures, such as Rapalas, also produce the goods and like the metals lures, shallow running ones are less problematic. The floating Rapalas are the pick of them because you can slow down your retrieve without fear of getting weeded.
Tasmanian Devil lures have been a big hit for trout anglers over the years and have caught many trout for me throughout Victoria, including Barkers Creek Reservoir. This winged lure has a swinging action that can be altered with the speed of the retrieve. The faster the retrieve, the shallower the lure will work. Tasmanian Devils come in two sizes but for Barkers Creek Reservoir I use the smallest model in colours 6, 38 and 63. King Cobras in gold and black or silver and black are another favourite of mine, although in the winter months the pinks are hard to beat.
Other recommended hard-bodied lures are the Min Min, Rebel minnow and the Strike Pro in Galaxia 2, Small Fry 353-70 and Pygmy 205-71.
Soft plastics shouldn’t be forgotten either. Increasingly popular with freshwater anglers, they come in a range of colours, shapes, sizes and even scents. On top of this, when the fish has a soft plastic in its mouth, it feels far more like natural prey than a hard-bodied lure. Juro Firebaits, Berkley PowerBaits and Squidgies are all effective.
I’ve fished Barkers Creek Reservoir in all seasons and enjoy it immensely. It’s close enough to Melbourne for a day trip and there are always a few redfin about if the trout aren’t co-operating. Fly, bait and lure fishing are all effective methods, so whatever your fancy, head out there and give it a try!Reads: 5184