Two of Victoria’s most unique lakes, referred to collectively as the Crater Lakes, are Lake Purrumbete and nearby Lake Bullen Merri. These lakes take their name and uniqueness from being natural lakes and extinct volcanic craters. They aren’t the only lakes in the region with that background, but what sets them apart is they’re both deep with permanently assured water which provides cool refuge for trout and salmon in warmer months. Both lakes are known for trophy sized trout and salmon, with the rich and productive ecosystems enabling accelerated growth rates.
Purrumbete is home to some of Australia’s biggest brown trout with fish over 10lb encountered each year and true giants in excess of 15lb possible, albeit difficult to land! As with most trout lakes, trolling is effective and can result in a mix of species from brown, rainbow and tiger trout, to brook and cheetah trout, and Chinook salmon. Flat line trolling can be effective in the mornings and evenings, however finding the thermocline by using quality sonar is important. The use of down riggers is common to best present lures at the right depth. By far, small crankbaits are the lure of choice to match the gudgeon and smelt in the lake. Lure casting around the extensive weed fringes with soft plastics and small crankbaits works too. The lake is popular with fishers who move around slowly under the power of an electric motor or on kayak and even those who get out and walk the banks. This approach can see fishers targeting the wide range of species available in this lake, from the exotic tiger trout to the humble redfin. Bait fishing with saltwater baits such as blue bait or a half pilchard fillet will produce Chinook salmon once sounded up, especially if using a consistent berley trail. Mudeyes or minnows under a bubble float on the weedy edges, just on the outside of the main transit channel, will see big browns caught.
Many come to Purrumbete simply to target the vast numbers of redfin and why not? They’re an amazing eating fish with no bag limit! The best method is to fish vertically, as the redfin tend to school up in numbers and be quite deep. Look for large schools of fish mid water, or near the bottom, on your sounder and then drop-down live minnows. The lake features mooring facilities, jetties, fish cleaning tables and a dual lane concrete boat ramp capable of launching boats to six metres.
For shore-based fishers there are limited areas to walk as the lake has extensive private property along its shoreline. Fishing from the shore can be extremely effective in spring with fish moving about the flooded margins on a rising lake. Lure casting, smelting fly patterns and baits fished under a bubble float are all good approaches.
Lake Bullen Merri
As well as being a crater lake, Bullen Merri also has brackish water creating a truly unique ‘freshwater’ experience. The waters are fertile with copious amounts of gudgeon and smelt providing ample forage for all the predatory fish, resulting in fast growth rates. Bullen Merri is very deep with steep sides and few features such as weed beds. It’s regarded as having the best Chinook salmon fishery in Australia and fishers come from interstate to catch one. These salmon can be caught many ways, however the most popular and effective techniques are bait fishing at anchor or from the shore with pilchards or glassies. Alternatively, trolling lures is popular, with flatline trolling usually working well in the early morning and evening. Outside of those times a downrigger or paravane will get lures deep towards the thermocline which can be identified with a good sounder. The bait fishing approach is effective when combined with a consistent berley trail. Use baits of pilchard, glassies or blue bait.
Rainbow, tiger and brown trout are also present and can be caught on the same baits intended for salmon with the addition of the more conventional worms, mudeyes, local minnow and gudgeon. Whilst primarily regarded for the exotic salmon, Bullen Merri contains several very big brown trout which attract a dedicated band of fishers. The lake has an old population of big Australian bass to 2kg and more from early stocking. They are best targeted deep, often off the edge of a drop off. Usually, fishers target the bass vertically using a variety of methods from baits, jigs, soft plastics or by down rigging a trolled lure.
Bullen Merri has good facilities with a two-lane concrete ramp with pontoons suitable for six metre boats. While the lake fishes particularly well for shore-based fishers during the winter and spring months, due to private property surrounding much of the lake, access is limited to the north and south ends. Fishing after dark with a live gudgeon under a float is a popular method to target trophy brown trout.